Rainbow of paint brushes

Trends… you either like them or you hate them.  Some can’t wait to get their hands on the latest new “thing”.  Others hide in the corners and think the rest of the world is crazy to spend so much money on it.

That would be me.  I’ve always found this a funny trait about myself, but have come to accept it over the years.

Now that I run a stationery shop, I have had to find ways to embrace the new trends more.

Customers want designs that feature the latest design ideas.  Not things of the past.  One of my jobs is to know the trends that are cool, whimsical and creative.  I then need to showcase these trends in my designs before they become popular.  No sweat, right?

Believe me, this isn’t always an easy job and not one that I have fully embraced.

Take the recent unicorn horn trend.  While my fellow stationery designers were putting unicorn horns in their shop left and right, it took me nearly two years to accept that the unicorn horn was a thing.  Yes, I was being stubborn.  No, there isn’t anything actually wrong with a unicorn horn except that I didn’t like it that much.  And, yes, I lost serious money because I didn’t fall in love with that silly horn. (And my own daughter featured the unicorn horn at her last birthday party.  Believe me, it’s a thing.)

Trends can do that to you.  You can’t take them personally.  It doesn’t matter whether you love a trend or hate it.  It matters what your customers think.  Little girls have been lining up for unicorn horns for nearly two years and I refused to help.  I need to get over it.

Your job as a creative business owner is to recognize the current trends and the things that are coming into the market.  My rule is always once it hits Target Dollar Spot, it’s over.  Time to move on.  The market will be oversaturated in a month.

As a creator and successful shop owner, your goal is to find the things that people are looking for today, but can’t easily get yet.

But how do I figure out what those things are?

There are entire careers built upon the idea of predicting trends – called a buyer in the retail world.  When you are a small business entrepreneur, though, it’s your job to be your own buyer.  You can’t rely on someone else to spot the trends for you.

Luckily, there is a simple process that I follow for my shop to identify the upcoming trends.

I make sure that I always stop, look and listen.

First, you need to stop and slow down enough to pay attention.  Trends are normally sitting right in front of us.  Unfortunately, in our chaotic world, we don’t slow down enough to notice them.  Instead of rushing by stores or shop windows to get to your next destination, slow down.  Take time to breathe and notice the things around you.

Next you need to look at the things going on around you and see how they are related.  As you notice things around you, try and make connections between them.  Make note about what people are wearing, carrying, playing with and doing?  All of the things that they are buying are linked back to the themes that are trending today.

Lastly you need to listen to others – potential customers – to get an idea about what they want to buy.  Make it a goal to talk to people all of the time.  Those you know and people that you pass on the street.  Use your conversations to learn about what is popular beyond your shop’s walls.

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But how do you stop, look and listen when you are busy doing so many other things every day.  There are many ways that you can pay attention and train yourself to get better at spotting trends.  Here are 5 ways to spot new trends to help your shop grow.

Browse magazines

As a designer and shop owner, magazines are a girl’s best friend.  They provide you with a window to what is happening in the stylish world without having to leave your studio.  Magazines tell you what is exciting, new and happening.  If you browse through the right magazines, you can pick up on what is popular right now.

Remember, magazines have money to spend on teams whose job is to know what’s hot.  Let them help you – for free.  Take a look at magazines in your genre and make a list of what you see.  Check out the products they showcase, article topics and editor commentary.  Note what elements connect all of them and which images pop up over and over again.

But, how do you get your hands on all of these wonderful magazines?  Truth is magazines can be expensive and you will need a lot of them to get an idea of what’s going on.  I recommend getting subscriptions to the ones that you like to reference over and over again.  (For me it is Southern Living, Magnolia and Martha Stewart)

For the ones that you just need to do a quick glance through, set up a magazine browsing day.  Head to your local book store (Barnes and Noble usually does the trick), grab a coffee and start browsing.  Make notes about the things that are featured, the topics people are writing about and other elements that might show a trend.

If you see one or two magazines that have true inspiration, pick them up.  Magazines are ephemeral.  Once the month is over and they are pulled from the shelves, they are gone for good.  Back copies aren’t always the easiest to get.

Personally, I love the feel of flipping through the glossy magazine pages.  But time might be of the essence and you only have a quiet naptime for your browsing.  No worries, most magazines have online versions these days.  Amazon offers a wide assortment of magazines in its Kindle Unlimited plan.  You can also check out your local library.  Many of them offer free online copies of your favorite magazines.

Stroll shop windows

One of my favorite things about living in a big city was strolling the shop windows.  I could see the products that other shop owners were featuring.  Just a trip to Paper Source can really be inspiration overload.  It showcases what is selling and what their customers are into.  Since we share a similar audience, I can take cues from the items they are featuring and know the current trends.

Take some time to go stroll the local windows of your favorite small shops.  If you live only near big box stores, you will have to travel to a bigger city.  The windows of the big city, though, offer the best view of what people are into these days.  Take the trip.  Have lunch with friends and enjoy a day out.

Make notes about the themes of the windows, specific items they are featuring and the color schemes they use to design the windowscape.  These are all things that are part of the current trends.  If all you see is pink, then you can conclude that pink must be popular this year.

Try to visit shops that are in your genre or sell similar products to you.  They are doing what you do, just on a bigger scale.  You might have the opportunity to make things for them wholesale one day, so you need to know what these shops are selling.

You can also browse some of your favorite online retailers for trend inspiration.  This is a bit harder though, since there are no windows up front and you can’t see what’s popular.  If looking at an online shop, check on the best sellers list and see what they are featuring in their scroll bar.  Make a note of themes and products that they think will be popular this season.

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Talk to others

This one is a little secret that most forget about.  The key to finding out about the current trends is to talk to people about what’s going on.  For our stationery shop, I love finding out what celebrations others are hosting, what designs their bringing into their homes and what their kids are into.

Go on a fact finding mission of your own.  Talk to people whenever you have a chance – at the grocery store, your kids activities, school pick up.  Get to know them and what they are interested in.  You can find a whole wealth of information just by talking to someone.  Write down your discoveries and start to connect the dots.

If you find you don’t bump into a lot of people who are interested in what you are doing – say making salt and pepper shakers or other more obscure art forms – take your search online.  Scan your personal Facebook and Instagram feeds.  See what your “friends” are doing, where are they going, what they are buying.  This informal research is a great way to get an idea about what others are interested in – without having to leave the couch.

If you already have a business that’s up and running, consider asking your customers about the things that they like right now.  This is called audience research and can be a great tool for figuring out the latest trends.  Send a survey in your newsletter, ask questions on Facebook or create a post on Instagram for them to follow.  Your current customers will be able to provide information about what they want to buy and see in your shop.  It’s also a great way to stay connected with them and make them know they matter.

Pay attention to Pantone

I first learned about Pantone when I took a color class in design school.  Truthfully, I always thought that it was a make up brand.  You can imagine how silly I felt when it turned out that Pantone was the color giant in the design industry and I had never even heard of them.

Pantone started out in 1962 as a manufacturer of color cards for a small cosmetics company (see there was make up involved after all).  Eventually they designed the first color matching system and grew into the color behemoth they are today.  Every December since 2000, Pantone has announced the color of the year.  For 2018, the color of the year was ultra violet.  Not purple as they keep reminding us.  Ultra violet.

Have you noticed anything in ultra violet (or a brighter shade of purple) this year?  Think about the clothes you’ve seen, home décor pieces and graphic designs that you’ve viewed.  Purple (or ultra violet) have been mixed throughout.  Pantone’s color of the year sets the tone for the fashion, graphic design and interior design industries for the year ahead.

You will especially see Pantone’s color influential in weddings.  There have been a lot of ultra violet tones in the wedding industry this year.  These colors are not used by chance.  They are there because of Pantone.

So if you are looking for the next big color design trend, pay attention to the design newsfeeds come December.  See what color Pantone announces this time and, then get to work incorporating it into your shop’s products.  It’s a sure way to predict a trend and start selling.

Stop by online marketplaces

Although lots of great things are going on at brick and mortar retailers, even more amazing things are happening at small, independent online sellers.  If you are looking to spot trends and get inspiration, spend some time browsing online marketplaces such as Etsy and Creative Market.

When looking at Etsy, see what items they are promoting on their first page.  They tend to place popular items in front of buyers, so identify the themes and what people are buying these days.

If completing a marketplace search, look for items that are best sellers.  What are people buying right now?  Note the themes, colors, typography style (if you work with fonts) and options they are giving customers.  Make notes about the trends that you see currently.

Please note that scanning marketplaces for trends and inspiration is meant as just that – ideas.  It is not okay to copy anyone else’s work.  You can get inspiration and trend ideas from colors, themes and fonts.  But you then need to use this information to build your own designs and products.  Don’t be the one who copies.  You can get into a lot of trouble and end your business before it even starts.

Make connections on Pinterest

Looking at online marketplaces isn’t the only place to find trend ideas it turns out.  The trend queen – Melissa Johnson from Best Friends for Frosting – says she is always a step ahead because of the time she takes browsing Pinterest.

Melissa looks for patterns among the pins she adds to her board.  She has made wonderful and important connections over the years – including flamingos, pineapples, chevron, glitter and many other things that have taken off over the years.  Melissa then takes those trends and infuses them into her content creation.

For example, when she noticed that unicorns were trending in fall 2017, she designed a floral unicorn pumpkin.  Melissa pitched her idea to Better Homes and Gardens magazine, who made a video tutorial for their website.  It went viral and the rest is history.

Final Thoughts….

So what do you do with all of this great information you have collected?  As you go through the stop, look and listen process, write down all of the interesting things you learn.  Note types of items, themes, colors, graphics, typography and what people are buying.  Now, sit down and see if any of the dots connect.  For example, if “unicorns” were written down five times you can bet that there is a unicorn trend going on right now.

Once you start gathering this information, collect it in a notebook or journal.  Before deciding on what to add to your shop next, sit down and look at the information.  How do the dots connect?  Where is the marketplace going next?  After you figure out the next big thing, create your products and designs around that.

After you see a direction in the trends, think about how you can incorporate them into your new designs.  Which elements of the trends can you use to make your products fresh and stand out in the marketplace.  Then, work on making your items.  Lots of them.  Since it’s a trend, don’t just use it in one product and walk away.  Incorporate it into lots of products so you can have a whole section of the shop dedicated to it.  For example, Paper Source has a whole area of their shop for unicorns.  It includes a mix of their designs and other unicorn themed products.  Believe me, give your customers some selection and they will buy.

Trend spotting is an ongoing process.  You should do a formal stop, look and listen process at least quarterly.  But, no matter what, you should always have your ears open for inspiration and popular items.  You never know how all of your observations will come together to create your next shop product or product line.