Listening to Your Customers and Responding to Their Needs

Understanding your customers and their needs has the power to transform your business. Today we’re talking to Ali Puckett of Buttonhead, a personalized keepsake shop. Since 2007, her business has transformed and evolved from providing what she describes as ‘random retail design’ to a successful, highly personalized customer experience. Today, she shares how she reached that turning point and what she's gleaned from that experience. Thank you, Ali!

Q: Tell us about yourself and what you make!
A: Hello, Academy of Handmade! My name is Ali, and I'm the owner of Buttonhead.  We make personalized keepsakes for parties, events, and promotions.  Our current catalog includes a collection of ready-made or personalized button pins, magnets, pocket mirrors, sticker labels, and temporary tattoos. I started the business in 2007, and I have managed it full-time ever since.

A: What experience helped you to better understand your audience?
In 2007, Buttonhead was born when I bought my first button-making machine.  By 2008, I was looking for other interesting products to add to the catalog, so I started making temporary tattoos.  What a unique idea, right?  I was totally in love with the product and believed it could be a huge success for me. However, I was approaching it as a ready-made retail item.  I offered a bunch of different random tattoo designs that never sold, and in fact, the 'random retail design' approach was not working for the button business either.

One day, an ingenious bride-to-be sent a message to see if I'd be willing to make a set of custom temporary tattoos for her wedding guests to wear. I did! The tattoos turned out awesome, and it was a big sale. I never would have thought of it on my own, but I grabbed the idea and ran with it. Today, wedding temporary tattoos are my biggest seller! Identifying the right client for this product made a huge impact on my bottom line.

Q: What was the catalyst that made you change your approach to designing your tattoos?
A: As soon as I had the 'ah-ha moment' of realizing who the right client is for my temporary tattoos, it completely transformed my entire business, including the rest of my product catalog.  I was no longer designing for the type of client I thought I wanted.  I was designing for the type of client who wanted me.

Q: How did this shift in focus impact your business?
A: I started listening closely to what every client was asking for, in every area of operation, not just with a single product.  My customers wanted my products to have a personalized design just for them, to have it made fast, and to experience human service online.  So, that's what I do!  In 2007, my business was mostly ready-made retail.  Today, the majority of the products I make are custom.  I realized from one experience with one customer that I needed to develop my business around the market niche, instead of trying to force myself into a larger market that didn't necessarily need me.

Q: What did you learn from the experience?
A: Along the way, listening to my customers has told me everything I've needed to know to create the type of business I want.  If my customers are doing anything other than buying products, there is a type of communication taking place.  So, I'm listening.  They may be telling me there is a market gap to be filled – and I intend to fill it!

Q: How are you using what you learned in your business today?
A: If I hadn't fully absorbed what that first ingenious bride was asking for, I never would have dreamed that my business would service wedding clientele.  Today, not only do I make wedding temporary tattoos, but I've developed so many other products for the brides who are shopping with me: bachelorette party temporary tattoos and name tags, save the date magnets, bridal shower name tags, wedding pins, wedding favor labels.  Listening to my clients and being intuitive about their requests has opened up a whole new world of potential for my business.

Q: What advice would you give others who are struggling to understand their customers' needs?
A: If your customers aren't giving feedback, it's ok to ask for it!  Every inquiry, every order, every review is an opportunity to understand how you can fill a market niche, discover a new product, improve your process, better serve your customers, and grow your business.  It's not a flashy 'get-rich-quick' piece of advice, but I think it's a principle and a practice that can change your business over time in an incredibly significant way. Thank you for the opportunity to share this experience!

Q: Where can people find you?

Have you ever listened to your customers and been surprised at what you heard? Let us know in the comments!

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