Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The value of Listening to Customers (and the customized softball jewelry market)

Listening to Customers can sure be well worth the time and effort! Earlier this year I designed a collection of baseball jewelry and softball jewelry with the "hook" that they could be special ordered with most colors of beads on the beaded chain and a fake scribbled player's "signature" to make them unique.

As I mentioned in a previous post on the softball jewelry, it was originally a softball mom who saw my baseball necklace and asked me if I could make a softball necklace version (i.e., 25% larger with Dayglo yellow softballs) who was responsible for inspiring me to design the softball collection.
Recently a prospective customer contacted me looking for an "economy version" of the softball necklace, something that would be affordable for the tweens/teens on their teams. That's how the new softball pendant necklace version came about. Then a prospective customer got in touch with me wanting to know if the softball pendant necklace could have his daughter's name written on it instead of the fake brand name I had used on the bat. I said, "sure, GREAT IDEA, thanks!" The very next day another prospective customer from a different selling venue contacted me wanting to know if a team name could be written on the bat instead.
Light bulb moments! People seem to like customized items with names, especially when they are to be given as gifts........and I think particularly if a child/teen is involved. There appears to be a market and it's not that hard to do with my trusty Sakura MicroPerm pen. No brainer, so I edited the softball listings at my shops to reflect the customized personal name or team name option for the bat.

I'm so grateful for the creativity and imagination that my customers share with me. THANKS!
Softball bats under construction
Varnished Softball bats on drying rack
The items in the baseball and softball jewelry collections are all available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Softball Necklace and Earrings and spotting a Niche Market

Neon Dayglow Yellow abounds in this new Softball necklace handmade from Polymer Clay
Last spring I wrote a blog post about some baseball jewelry I had designed in honor of Major League Baseball, including a necklace with a beaded chain that could be custom ordered in the team colors of most teams.

I was wearing my baseball necklace and earrings while shopping recently and struck up a conversation with a woman whose daughter was an avid softball player. The daughter wanted a softball necklace for her birthday and her mom told me that she was having such a difficult time trying to find one to purchase. Admittedly we live in an area without easy access to metropolitan-type shopping, but I thought if she was having trouble locating a softball necklace perhaps that might be a niche market worth exploring. (Softballs are 25% larger than baseballs and are a bright neon yellow color called dayglow or DayGlow or DayGlo).
As I was analyzing my data from a search ad I had placed at Etsy I realized something that was quite enlightening. There were almost 50% more searches for SOFTBALL jewelry/earrings/necklaces than there were for BASEBALL jewelry/earring/necklaces. I think that's probably because there are more females playing softball than baseball.

So those two events were my impetus for breaking out the neon yellow polymer clay and setting out to make softball jewelry. I've been baseball fan for most of my life, but knew very little about softball equipment and had to do quite a bit of research. Bryant Riggs, Technical Sales Manager at Fujifilm/Sericol and a member of the Softball group at LinkedIn was so helpful with his guidance into softball bats and balls and pointed me in the right direction for the online resources I needed. Kathi Briefer-Gose, a former avid softball player and artist member of Polymer Clay Central discussion group, enlightened me on softball, bats and the proper size proportions between the bat, ball and glove. Thanks go out to both for their valuable help!

Softball is no longer played with a wooden bat (who knew?). Aluminum bats can be used, but it seems like the majority of players prefer the relatively new composite bats. These are brightly colored and many have graphics on them that remind me of those on skateboards and surfboards.

One of the major bat manufacturers is the "Easton" company. I wanted to pattern my on a real bat, but I was concerned about copyright issues, so I decided to go with the made up brand name of "Weston" for my bat.

EDITED 7/24/13: The bat is now available with an custom option where a person's name or team name can be written on the bat instead of a brand name. Click to read a post about that option as well as the unveiling of a new economical Softball Pendant Necklace.

I tried to limit the labor intensive aspect of having to make the 10mm balls myself by searching for a source of commercially available well made yellow softballs with diminutive red stitching lines. Alas, non were appropriate. So, I ended up handmaking the balls and then meticulously hand painting the red seams on with Sakura's red Pigma Micron pen using a magnifier. Alas, these colored pens are not color fast on polymer clay unless one takes precautions. I heat cured the painted ball for 15 minutes at 200F. Then I used a very thin coat of Matte Varathane varnish, dabbing it on with a makeup sponge rather than dragging the sponge across the surface, Normally I would water down the Varathane a little, but had to use it straight for this application.
Some of the raw materials, tools and supplies used in making the softball jewelry
My entire baseball and Softball Jewelry Collection is available for sale at MelodyODesigns at Etsy

To access my other blog posts about making my baseball jewelry please click on the links below:

Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Necklace and earrings

Baseball Necklace featured in “Polymer CAFÉ “ magazine