Creating Product Experiences: Melissa of Small Company Artworks

The holidays are upon us and I know you are probably thinking of the best way to showcase your product online. This can feel overwhelming and sometimes we just stick to what we know best. But when I came across #ahasmember Melissa of Small Company Artworks' recent "unboxing" video, I was so enchanted! It made me want to give someone that gift.

We asked Melissa about the video and why she chose this marketing strategy. I hope you enjoy!

Q: Tell us about yourself and what you make!
A: My name is Melissa and I sculpt little people – sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always one-of-a-kind. My sculpture becomes gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, new jobs – any life milestone, really. I also have a line of custom wedding cake toppers that make special keepsakes.

I didn’t start my working life as a sculptor, though. I spent a couple of decades in the business world, first learning, then advising companies about strategy and business growth. Sculpting tabletop, abstract figures was a hobby that sometimes made sales through art shows.

I heard from my customers over the years that abstract figure sculpture is 1) difficult to display, and 2) sometimes a challenge to “connect” with. So when I had the opportunity to change careers in 2013, I decided to create small figures with a lot of meaning, that were portable and easy to display. I thought of them as “a little art to keep you company,” so “Small Company” was born.

Q: What has been your process with coming up with your current final packaged product?
A: To me, a piece of art is always a gift, whether to yourself or someone you love. And 90% of my sales are bought as gifts, so it seems I’ve struck a chord. Because of this, I knew that my packaging had to feel like a special present, and be gift-ready when it arrived at the customer’s door.

The challenge came in creating a package that felt luxurious, while also allowing the buyer to open the box to see the sculpture before they gifted it. Buying a gift over the Internet is always a little nerve-wracking for me, and I wanted buyers to have peace of mind that they could inspect and approve their gift without damaging the gift wrap.

And of course, all this had to be done with an eye to overhead. I had to find a package that didn’t cost too much or take too much time to assemble – but that looked like it was both expensive and special.

Q: Why did you choose the packaging you did and how you did you source it?
A: I thought about my own shopping experiences, and what went into gift packaging that had the feel I was going for. What did the boxes, tissue paper, and bags look like? What were they made of? How was the item wrapped? What made it feel special? Tiffany products achieve the pinnacle of the perfectly-packaged gift, in my mind, so I started there. Nordstrom was another inspiration, especially since my target customer shops there, too.

Then I did what we all do these days, I expect – I googled until I found some sources. Since I knew what I was going for, it was mostly a matter of ordering some samples and testing ideas. I continue to tweak my packaging as I go, and have simplified the original design a couple of times. I doubt it will ever be “finished.”

Q: How do you translate this to wholesale?
A: I’ve chosen not to wholesale at this point. Pricing is a big struggle for one-of-a-kind art, since I have the downward pressure of mass-produced art counteracting the time investment that each piece takes to create. And since each piece is one-of-a-kind, I have to be continually coming up with new designs. My art’s appeal has to be to customers who value the truly unique and personal, and who recognize the worth of one-of-a-kind sculpture.

If I could create one sculpture and manufacture dozens of copies, wholesale would make more sense to me. But offering wholesale pricing on my art as it stands would require me to either increase my retail pricing out of my market, or to pay myself about 10 cents an hour.

I have started a couple of new lines of smaller, made-to-order sculpture with designs that can be replicated. If that does well, small scale wholesale could become an option for me.

Q: Why was this is important and what has been the customer response?
A: Not only is gift-ready packaging convenient for buyers, it also helps with gifts that are sent directly to recipients. I send wedding presents, birthday gifts, and sympathy gifts around the world, and my customers don’t have to worry about gift wrap. I also include handwritten notes with messages from the buyers, on request.

I’ve gotten a number of comments from customers about how much they like the packaging. A man who bought a romantic sculpture for his wife sent me a private note, even, to tell me he found the gift box was “exceptional service” and “an unexpected touch of your dedication to your work and by extension to your clients.”

Another customer commented that that “it smelled nice,” too – which was pretty funny to me. I guess I had perfume on that day, since I don’t do anything special to scent the package! (But it did make me careful about what smells are around when I’m packaging. I’d hate to trigger allergies.)

Q: What was the idea behind posting the "unboxing" video you did of your product on your Instagram?
A: I’m part of a wonderful Facebook group run by Eleanor Strong. Eleanor challenges us from time to time to think about new ways to connect with our target market. One day she asked us to create a Facebook post that offered a helpful tip instead of promoting our product.

Eleanor’s challenge got me thinking about the kinds of issues that my customers face. Since I knew “inspecting” a gift before giving it can be important, I started there. My tip suggested looking for companies that offer gifts in boxes that can be opened and rewrapped without damaging the gift wrap. Creating a video of me unboxing and then re-boxing a sculpture seemed like the clearest way to demonstrate that idea, while also showcasing my product and packaging.

Q: Where can people find your stuff?

My newsletter subscribers also receive shop specials and have advance access to new collections, so they have a chance to buy my one-of-a-kind sculpture before anyone else even knows about them: