Periwinkle Bears sells its creations world wide
by C.J. Veach
Down the Schurman's Point Road near Summerside, a flurry of activity rivaling that of Santa's workshop can be found at the Periwinkle Bears studio. There, Nancy Cole and husband John Perry, are busy finishing up the last Christmas orders of their handmade, artist bears.
Now in their eighth year of operation, Cole and Perry have both found full time work in supplying some 250 creations annually to customers around the world. "Collecting bears is close behind stamps and coins in terms of popularity worldwide so there is a definite market out there," Cole offered.
She and her husband basically came upon the idea of selling bears nearly a decade ago by chance. "I had been working for the government in computer systems but was always thinking of self-employment," explained Cole. "I had sewn and quilted my whole life and one year I made a set of bears as a birthday present for my sister. The feedback was very positive and the rest is history."
But there was careful planning and hard work to that history. "This wasn't just a hobby-gone-mad. We approached it as a proper business with a business plan, five year projection," Cole said. "We realized marketing was extremely important. We needed a product that people really want and would search for. Our approach to marketing was opposite what the books will tell you-things like mass-producing, saturating shelves. we make a very few and people end up looking for us."
And it's through the internet that people worldwide can find Periwinkle Bears. "We've designed our own website and update it daily," said Cole. "We complete a bear, take a picture of it and it's on our site in five minutes. We call it the `catch of the day' and a lot of our collectors log on to our site every day to see what's new." Cole went on to say their site has around 12,000 visits a month attesting to their popularity.
Early on it was doing wholesale trade shows that got the ball rolling. "We did a couple shows in Halifax-open not to the general public but to buyers only-and a couple Christmas shows in Charlottetown," recalled John Perry. "It helped to get our name out there but we found we were selling our whole year's supply too quickly to wholesalers and it was becoming embarrassing to turn them down all the time. But within several years our percentage of wholesale went from 90% down to 10%."
The appeal of Periwinkle Bears to customers goes beyond the fine craftsmanship of a finished product. Owning something handmade and unique is a strong selling point. Cole and Perry make their own materials, including the handwoven mohair which is then hand-dyed for color. Other exotic materials are used such as llama, alpaca, and giviut (muskox down). "Our bears are probably 90% mohair. We buy about 350 pounds a year then John weaves it on a loom," said Cole. "The whole process of making a bear can average around twenty hours so we do charge a fair price for them."
Cole and Perry work and 6 and 1/2 days a week and recently took their first vacation in over 4 years, but they have had no problem finding homes for their unique artists bears. "We find that people are looking for things handmade in Canada using Canadian products," said Cole. "For us part of the marketing is that you're not only getting a one-of-a-kind bear, you're getting it from a beautiful place, a magical place. We're selling a product that comes with a lifestyle that people really want to have a piece of."