I can remember it clearly like it was yesterday. I was taking a pottery workshop in Middlebury, Vermont, back in the day, eavesdropping on a conversation.
The talker in this convo worked as a potter’s assistant. He was going on about how his own work doesn’t sell, but all the work he makes for the potter sells like hot cakes.
Not only that but the potter had multiple “hot cake” items. I am just sitting there listening to this, the whole time thinking about actual pancakes that are shaped like money signs.
This conversation made an impression on me.
Since that time, I have followed a strategy of hot cake items in my crafts booth.
Which is to say, find those items that really resonate with the buyer and explore various strategies to make the sales of those few items really take off, and become the focal point of your sales.
The typical hot cake is so hot because it’s qualities and values are reflected in the broader culture, and in demand at this particular time.
Compare this to something that is just so completely unique, fantastic and before it’s time. We artists see this as optimal; the regular guy on the street (who is standing in your booth with a wallet) is fairly skeptical.
If that thing or idea is out there in the broader culture, the guy on the street wants it.
I can tell you that a craftsperson with 3 hot cake items in their booth is usually raking it in.
Hot Cake Stock VS. Regular Stock
Once you have one of these items, your life just got a whole lot easier – now you know what you’re going to sell and make most of your money from at a fair (shops and galleries too).
Make plenty (lot’s more than you think you can sell), offer different sizes & colors if you can. Display these items prominently and spend time building and enhancing your display to showcase these items to your advantage.
Often it is the story or features that we offer through our verbal selling and printed materials that will really push these items to their full potential.
OK, what about your other stock? Doesn’t this strategy make it seem like your other work is just filler? Yes, it is filler, but hopefully, the good kind that gets’s some sales and makes the customer gravitate to your booth or display. The sales of all your other work together may be less than the hot cake item in many cases.
The hot cake theory works for high-end as well as low-end work.
Most high-end artisans will not really want to acknowledge such vulgar and cheeky strategies, but question them, and yes they do have their items that they know they can count on, they call them, “work that sells well consistently”, you will notice the same grin creep over their face when they tell you this.
Hot Cakes I have known
I had a potter friend who was after me for a few years to take my cereal bowls, that sold very poorly, and put holes in them to hold chop sticks.
I thought this was just ridiculous, “I will not wreck my bowls for any amount of money”, I told him. “Ok, but it is kind of a lot of money”, he told me.
Urrr, about 1000 bowls and 4000 holes later…….”thanks so much for that killer product advice!”
I love throwing bowls, now I was getting to make more and my income went up substantially. I was just being stubborn, and I was holding myself back. Nowadays I am a good deal more playful with my work, I try more stuff out.
Something to consider here is that if you are going to make a lot of one item and take advantage of trends, make sure that you enjoy making it and that it is profitable for your time and materials.
Pricing Can be the Crucial Factor
Sometimes the price can make or break it, so be very astute when pricing…..work your way up. Consider offering a special price for buying multiples, example – $12 each or 3 for $30.
If you have gone too far, back it down. By definition, the item sells like hot cakes, so you are dealing with a kind of volume here.
You are looking for brisk sales, make sure your customer is able to see the objects intrinsic value, as well as the price value. The typical shopper for handmade is very sharp, take this into account when pricing your wares.
Avoid the common mistake that many make when they start seeing brisk sales of an item, thinking “oh no, this is priced too low”, then raising the price until it barely sells, and never even noticing that they had one of these quit your day job gems.
Consider Any and All advice!
Ask for advice from seasoned craftspeople and artists. They may sell in markets that are perfect for your work or know of a small tweak you can do to make the item really take off. This may be the fastest way to finding a lucrative and hot selling item.
Especially take the opportunity at craft fairs or gallery openings to listen to what visitors are saying. Some times you will hear what is going wrong with the item. Most artists will just shut this out, or take offense. Instead, use this information to understand your market and what they want.
Basically, being out there and selling stuff, making friendships, listening to the customers and people knowledgeable in my field, this is what has made it possible to develop any of the good selling items that I have had.
Identify and Develop your Hot Cakes
First thing, and hardwire this into your brain….
Develop and Identify your first Hot Selling item – Just concentrate on that one goal.
All the other zillion things you have to do for your business, make those things subservient and supportive to this one goal.
Consider the possibility that you already have a potential hot seller but it is not being presented advantageously, or even in the appropriate marketplace. Sometimes it is just a small detail…the size is too small for the price…or the color selection is not current. Try to identify stuff like this early on.
The best feedback involves setting up a booth or cycling your work through different galleries and shops as much as possible.
Do the math, look for items with low-ish labor and materials costs. You are looking for a lucrative item.
If you would like to share your hot cake tales or are struggling to come up with your first good selling item, please feel free to share below.
Here are a few of my other articles that may help you in your quest. Holly