Friday, August 26, 2016

Early "custom" work.

My first wholesale customers were - in order as I recall - The Red Pony in Fairport, NY - Harmony in Wood in Pittsford, NY - Parkleigh Pharmacy in Rochester, NY. I will write more about each of these customers, and how they became customers, in another essay at some point, but for this piece I want to talk about The Toycrafter's early forays into making "custom" pieces.

The picture shows a rhinoceros that we made for Harmony in Wood.  As I recall, there were about 5 or 6 other exotic animals in the set.  The folks at Harmony in Wood told me that they had lost their supplier for some good selling wooden animal figures, and asked if we could make something similar.  The originals were silhouette shapes cut from 3/4" maple as I recall.  I cut ours from the thicker material that we had readily available, and rounded the ends over on our vertical belt sander.  This created a unique piece, but I will readily admit that this collection was certainly "inspired" by the original samples lent to me by Harmony in Wood.  As time went along, and I became more savy, I became very careful to not "copy" any designs.  In this case, I would say that we came dangerously close to the line.  More about Harmony in Wood in another essay.  Today when customers ask for what seems like a copy of another person's work, we politely indicate that we would very much like to design something of our own that would fill their need.

Another similar but more blatant story comes from my interaction with our very first wholesale customer - The Red Pony in Fairport, NY.  I'm sure the woman's name will pop into my head at some point in the future when I stop trying to remember it!  Somebody had suggested The Red Pony as a good prospect, and I knocked on her door with great excitement and trepidation (my first cold call).  She ordered about $100 dollars worth of the toys I had created, and then brought out a "Bunny Cart" that she had sold a lot of at Easter time, but her supplier had gone out of business.  (Do you see a pattern here?)  I wish I had a picture, but this takes place around 1974? or so. Photography was not as easy as today, and I did not save any samples. There was a box with about 4" dia. wheels pulled by a way too cute bunny.  I agreed to make her some bunny carts for the price she wanted, but even back then I knew I had lost money on the deal by the time I finished the two dozen Bunny Carts!  Years later I told this story to a couple of other local craftspeople who told of her doing exactly the same deal with them when they were just starting out.

Our third wholesale customer was Parkleigh Pharmacy in Rochester, NY.  I walked in with my cardboard box of samples, spread my toys out on the floor as I recall, and Bruce Kost said.  "I like them ..... give me $75 worth of your best sellers.  You know what sells better than I do."  Not one mention of anything "custom".  Parkleigh is part of this story only because they were part of that initial trip from Ithaca, NY to Rochester to see if wholesale could be part of the future of The Toycrafter.