I Tried to Quit, but I Couldn't!
(Farriers' Greeting Cards Acquires Hoofprints)
written by Gina Keesling, January 2004
Several years ago, in reviewing the profitability of the various products, I concluded that the art prints as a group were the least profitable section of products in the entire catalog. All catalogers do this, it's called cost-per-square-inch analysis, you take all costs associated with producing the catalog, add them up and divide that by the number of square inches in the catalog. Each product needs to make a profit after it pays for it's square inches used in the catalog. After deciding that I was not going to go above 16 pages in the new catalog (postage costs more to mail a heavier piece) I made the decision to get rid of the art prints and replace them with some more farrier-specific products that would likely have higher sales and bigger profits.
I was poised to start work on this new direction when I got a call from the owner of HoofPrints. Judy Sprague and I had grown to be friends over the years - chatting each time I called to order farrier art prints from her. We had discovered that our businesses were about the same size and we had many of the same dilemmas in managing them, even though we were 1000 miles apart. Now, she was telling me that she could not keep up with all that she had to do, and that she wanted me to take over her business, with very attractive terms.
This definately did not fit in with the direction I had planned on taking with my company. I was hesitant to accept her offer. I had all I could handle, and I had already made the decision to axe the art from the next catalog. What a dilemma! My husband thought I was crazy not to take her up on her offer, (he is one of those people who is able to take on large projects, figure out how to get them done later, and still manage to pull it off without losing his sanity) So, we made the trip from Indiana to Massachussetts to pick up the HoofPrints inventory, and finally meet Judy in person.
The transition did not go as smoothly as I had hoped - HoofPrints sold a lot of dog art; all the different dog breeds. It seemed like every order I got was for a print we did not have and could no longer get. A lot of stock came from England and I had little experience with international dealings. I wondered why something that fell together so easily had turned out to be such a pain. I expanded the number of pages featuring prints to reflect some of the inventory that we'd acquired, and sales remained flat. I tried to enhance the appeal by offering some of the pieces framed. That was a pain, too - packing and shipping the large pictures in a way that they would not get damaged. None of it seemed like it was worth the trouble and I was very discouraged.
We did a few trade shows, and the framed pictures were a big hit. Our booth was busy the whole time, and I really enjoyed seeing the farriers' fascination with all that trade-related art in one place. Interest was high, but sales were still disappointing - considering the effort it took to prepare all the products for transportation to the show, and the work setting up the booth, etc. Framing the prints did not really seem like the answer, either.
Well, in a manner consistent with things not going how I had planned... a good friend of my husband called to inform him that their family business was closing after over 100 years of operation. This was a paint store that carried art supplies and did custom framing. They had done some framing for me. Now they were telling us that the stuff needed to be sold and they wanted us to take all the framing supplies and equipment. It wouldn't bring much anyway, and they thought we needed it. In a manner consistent with his "plunge in now-figure out the details later" strategy, Rob borrowed a large cargo trailer and we went to the store to see what they wanted us to take. 100 years of business can accumulate a lot of stuff. After about the third load I wanted to sit down and cry. There was no way I could find time to make this work! Undaunted, Rob continued hauling things home until the store was empty, and our shop was full.
I always thought I had a good eye for picking mat color combinations for artwork. Boy was I humbled. Now I had control of the whole deal - thousands of choices of frames and mats. It was overwhelming. We were fortunate to have one of the former employees of the paint store come and help us out. Bob Henderson is also a minister, so he helped us keep all this in perspective with some occasional prayers.
Rob learned how to do the framing, and now he does almost all of our larger prints here. I am a little less tense about the whole thing, and I've found that now that my attitude has changed toward the prints and the framing, sales have really improved.