Business Tips – Using Handmade “Sampler” Programs to Advertise Your Business

Small Bar Sample - Naturally Gentle, Biodegradable Laundry Stain Bar by picnicbasketcrafts

Perhaps yours is a new business, you’re getting a feel for who your market is, and trying to reach them.  Perhaps sales have been slow and you start thinking of ways to “get yourself out there”.  Will participating in a “sampler” program work for you?

There are a few of these programs, The SamplerThe Little Black Box, The Spotted Box, and Out Of The Box, are among the most popular.  Marketed primarily for women, these programs compile samples of handcrafted goods from an assortment of indie businesses and distribute them to paying subscribers, typically on a monthly or quarterly basis.  Depending upon which program you partner with, contributors can be jewelers, soap-makers, zine-writers, musicians, and more.  Each box will contain a variety of samples and promos, and subscribers will pay between $15. to $25. plus shipping, per box.

There seems to be a good argument for participating.  These programs have a wide reach with a variety of paying subscribers.  Some, such as The Sampler, state that they represent contributors at events such as the Oscars, The MTV Movies Awards, and more.    The Spotted Box focuses on family-oriented and eco-friendly goods which can be beneficial if that’s your market.   Aside from distributing the samples, these sites also work to promote the business that have contributed as well.  For example, Out of the Box’s blog does a feature on their contributors, and does giveaways, etc. that drive traffic to the contributor’s Etsy shop or website.

As a contributor, you would need to send 25 to 200 samples of your work.  It is suggested that you offer a tangible piece of your work whenever possible; something small and representative of the kind of work you do.  Discounts and coupons are nice, but leave less of an impact than an object that can be touched, held, listened to, etc.   Making 25 to 200 pieces of something can be a bit daunting both in terms of cost and time, for the average craftsperson.   Before you contribute, do the math.  Add up the time it would take you to create your samples, factor in your material costs, then decide if  is it worth spending X number of dollars to put one of your samples in the hands of X number of people.

Sampler programs are a common topic in the Etsy forums, and are met with varying opinions.  Some people have found it to be beneficial, and others have not.  EcoEtsy team member Tiffany from picnicbasketcrafts is one of those that did not have a positive outcome from her participation in a sampler program.  She says she did get a few trades from participating, but felt that she couldn’t justify sending 60 samples a month for the response she received from the program.  Tiffany decided that she would continue to make 60 samples a month, but instead would include them with her Etsy sales.  She says ” I have found that, for me, samples are my most effective method of marketing. MOST of my business comes from repeat customers, and many of those are returning to buy more of whatever I sent as a sample last time.”

If you do decide to partipate in a sampler program, here are a few tips for you:

  • Mark your product or promo with your business name.  Subscribers will be opening a box full of samples.  If your card gets separated from your work, how will they know who made it, and how will they find you?
  • Send an example of your work, whenever possible, rather than a coupon or flyer, and send your best work.  Don’t use your “seconds” or “oopsies” as advertising.  You’re making a first impression here, after all.
  • Sign up for more than one month if you can.  Some contributors reaped benefits after a few consecutive months of participating.

If you decide not to participate, how about trying some of these tips:

  • Include a relevant sample product with current sales, like Tiffany did.  Show your customers what else you offer, give them a chance to smell that soap in person, or feel the texture of something.
  • Use your Etsy profile to talk about your work, your philosophies, you…  Often people will pull from this information when doing blog mentions or articles.  If you didn’t know you, would you find your profile information interesting?
  • Direct customers to your blog, facebook fan page, flickr, etc. by including a short signature in your Etsy convos.  Hyperlinks are clickable in convos, and this offers a chance to network further.

Have you tried any of the sampler programs?  What was your experience with the program?

1,492 total views, 6 views today


  1. After having seen and read about a lot of these Sampler boxes, I was really struck by the fact that none of the profit is returned back to the contributing sellers. I’m a bit biased here (I just started my own Sampler with a profit-sharing model), but that part always confused me – I mean, isn’t the fundamental goal to *support* the sellers who offer their goods?

    I think that picnicbasketcraft’s suggestion was a really good one, but it doesn’t so much attract new customers as much as it encourages ‘already customers’ to return. On the other hand, your advice about including your business information prominently is such a valuable tip. From my experience of assembling a sampler, I can’t tell you how much of a difference there is between a sample that is properly labeled and branded, and one that was hastily put together. Because your item will be mixed in with 10-20 others just like it, you really need to do everything you can do to differentiate yourself.

    One tip that I would offer is to include a coupon. Since sampler customers are opening a box filled with many items (and, in some cases, duplicates of the same kind of item, ie: soap), attaching a coupon to your item gives added incentive for a potential-customer to invest in a full-size of your product over that of another seller.

    Great article!

  2. Thank you, Lisa! Have never tried those programmes but after reading the article I might give it a go. Thinking of making earrings as samples, low cost, quick to make.

  3. I heard about The Spotted Box but I didn’t have the time to make all those samples. Also, I make various items for my shop – and I’m still changing the types of items – so I didn’t know what to make to submit. Time to think about it again though. Thanks!!

  4. i have not heard of these programs..great article and lots to consider..

  5. Excellent article Lisa. I had never heard of these programs – thanks for providing a balanced viewpoint on the pros/cons. Thanks also for the tip on putting your blog link in your convos – I’ve never thought to do this. Informative piece and very well written! Thanks!