Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The reviews are (coming) in!

I was thrilled to be contacted today by Gertie Packbiers at Look What the Cat Brought, who posted a very complimentary review of my new winter gown, Soir d'Hiver.

From the sweet rose on her cap and the warm fur over her shoulders, this long coat from Montagne Noire called Soir d'Hiver modeled by my friend, Perdita, is sure to please.

A few other reviews have popped up on the web in the last year, including a mention by Kembri Thomsen in the October 2009 issue of The Primgraph (page 115). In her column, "A Ladies Dressing Room: Exploring Autumn's Glories," Miss Tomsen has many kind words for my Autumn gown, "Fleur d'Automne."

My friend Diogenes Kuhr, in her blog, "The Ephemeral Frontier," made mention of the campaign desk and chair set I made on a special commission.

Earlier in the summer, Miss Emily Orr, in her blog "Welcome to the Trainwreck Love life" bestows compliments on my mourning gowns as part of her report on a trip to the Old West sim Deadwood, where my oldest shop location resides.

A year ago, the reviews got rolling with Bamika Easterman's review in her blog, "Patent Pending," of my "Domestique" outfit for maids & servants.

I can't tell you how tremendously flattering, and inspiring, it is to get such positive feedback on my work. I'm very grateful for the support; I hope that my work continues to bring people pleasure during their time in Second Life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The sky is falling! (again)

After reading dozens of posts across the web regarding Linden Labs' announcement of major changes to the XStreet shopping portal, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to broach the subject here.

Initially I was gobstopped; the idea of being charge 10L per month, per listing, on top of the commission LL collects on sales, seemed heavy handed. Charging 99L a month for listing freebie items was even more stunning.

The outcry has been considerable, and in protest many merchants have been removing their entire inventories from XStreet, even though the policy is not set to go into effect until 30-90 from now (leave it to LL to offer a vague time line for implementation... though they "promise" they'll give 2 weeks notice before they begin charging merchants).

Already this policy is having an effect on the shopping experience, both good and bad. As a shopper, I certainly would like to be able to wade through the junk and find quality items more easily. But of much greater priority to me would be having a search function that actually worked -- both in XStreet AND SL itself.

As a merchant, I have more than 200 items on XStreet at the moment, and I don't relish the idea of slicing an additional 2000L a month from my profit margin at a time when my RL household budget needs every penny of the supplemental income I make on SL. I am in the process of examining my inventory to determine which items have become "stale" and need to go... but this is actually something I have already been doing in world.

So far I've managed to deactivate about 1/3 of the more than 200 items I have in inventory. I haven't outright deleted them -- I'm still trying to decide what kind of sales record actually qualifies an item as "stale," considering I am a merchant in a "niche" market.

I guess I took for granted the idea that XStreet could serve a complete catalogue of my merchandise -- my philosophy was that if everything gets a sale sooner or later, slower selling items could be parked there indefinitely. Every sale counts, right, even if some items only sell about every other month?

I'm not sure if that was an unreasonable expectation, since LL was getting commission on every sale... my expectation now is that I should regard XStreet as a marketing tool, and fine tune my listings and descriptions to drive customers to the in world store.

When I made my first freebie about a year and a half ago, the SL marketplace was a much different place, At that time I could track that the majority of people who took my freebie clothing item also purchased clothing from me.

That has changed dramatically in the last several months.

Most of the shoppers who "buy" my freebies now? Never buy anything else from me.

There is a sense of entitlement that has become prevalent among newer residents that they shouldn't have to "pay to play" -- which is why I think we've also seen a sharp rise in content theft. This entitlement attitude baffles me, because there are few other places, both in online worlds and in RL, where you can "live" without spending a dime.

I'm not sure which came first, but the SL marketplace has experienced a drastic drop in prices in the time I've been a merchant. The economic recession has also added to this downward spiral. But many merchants are pricing quality items for ridiculously low prices both in SL and on XStreet, when many, many of them could charge more for their work.

It distresses me when I hear people say they don't care about making money on their work. I wish they would understand that if you make a quality item, you are selling yourself short by not selling it for market value. You are essentially devaluing the work you do. A consequence of that is that you also devalue the work of other community members. If we are all here in SL to live in a community, that means supporting each other and valuing the contributions of other members.

The distressing part of this new policy is that it puts "niche" merchants such as myself in a difficult position. My items serve a specific (Victorian/Steampunk/Western/historical) audience, even if that audience is not a large one. Because of that I'll likely never be a high volume seller, unless I consider diversifying my business.

So as I review my sale inventory in XStreet, how exactly do I gauge if an item is "stale"? An item that I would regard as "popular" in my niche might likely be viewed as a slow mover in a mainstream market. At some point will LL decide that niche items like mine don't meet their criteria for inclusion in the SL economy anymore?

This also raises another issue: How will niche communities maintain a presence in SL if the content creators for them can't afford to, or are no longer allowed to, sell their items? Or are specialized, thematic sims also on the endangered list too?

Finally, however, the biggest lesson in these changes is that, as in RL, the SL marketplace is also in a state of constant flux. You cannot rest on your laurels. You have to be constantly reinventing your "brand" -- even if you are just a "hobbyist" merchant.

That doesn't mean that all the joy is going to be sucked out of your experience, it merely means you need to think on your feet and adapt when market conditions change. While I'm not thrilled about the direction LL has decided to take XStreet, and where SL itself looks like it's going, I see it as a chance to challenge myself both as a content creator and a business person.

If indeed the landscape of SL is changing, and an influx of new corporate residents (presumably) with deeper pockets is on the horizon, perhaps this is the opportunity for many of us smaller merchants to start thinking bigger.

As they say, life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Montagne Noire news & new releases - 11/09


I've been on a creative kick lately, so I've not been keeping up on my blog posts, however, this also means you should expect to see more frequent updates in the coming weeks...


Montagne Noire Clothiers introduces "Soir d'Hiver" (French, "Winter Evening"), a rich mink and velvet coat, gown and matching Russian style "Zhivago" fur hat.

Available in emerald, ruby and sapphire, Soir d'Hiver is a fashionable winter outfit for the lady who wants to look her best on errands in town or visiting friends. It retails for $250L.


This season's early addition to our line of specially priced holiday gowns is for young ladies: "Le Petit Noel."

Available in holly red and ivy green, "Le Petit Noel" is a rich velvet and fur trimmed holiday gown for the Victorian or Edwardian girl, and retails for just $100L.

The gown comes with a modifiable velvet ponytail holder, which can also be copied, in addition to the white fur barrettes, giving you more hairstyle options -- MNC recommends a curly formal updo.

These gowns were designed to compliment our ladies Noel holiday gowns -- for mothers and daughters who wish to coordinate their holiday attire. You'll find both sets of gowns on easels at the entrances of all our locations!

Montagne Noire's main store is located in Caledon Oxbridge Village.

See all my inventory via Xstreet as well.

I am sincerely grateful for your support, and wish you a wonderful start to the holiday season.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Introducing: The Mackinaw

There's a distinct chill in the air, which has put me in the mood for making winter clothing.

Right out of the gate I've finally completed a jacket project I tinkered with all summer, a Mackinaw coat. A gentlemen's double breasted woolen work coat, it's available in red plaid and blue plaid.

According to my research, the Mackinaw, a heavy dense water-repellent woolen coat, is said to have been invented by native Metis women in 1811, when John Askin, an early trader on the upper Great Lakes, asked them to design and sew woolen jackets for the army. "They were all to be blue, but when this colour ran out they used red and then the black-on-red plaid cloth that we associate with the jackets of today."

Mackinaws later became an indispensable accessory of American and Canadian loggers in the northern and northwestern part of North America in the mid to late-19th century logging boom. "The term later spread to be universal, and in Canada the "Mac" is regarded as a marker of national identity and working-class values."

MNC's Mackinaw is modifiable, allowing you to tailor the garment to your proportions. The coat top comes in both a shirt and a jacket layer, depending on what you wish to wear underneath. It retails for 100L. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genteel thoughts on guerilla marketing in SL

There are probably about as many opinions on how to market one's business in SL as there are SL residents. Despite this, or in spite of, I try to carve out a certain amount of time each week to read up on the current issues of interest to merchants in SL via both LL sanctioned and independent forums. I've culled a lot of very good advice from other merchants, both large and small.

There are some very helpful, experienced businesspeople out there who are happy to share their tips for marketing their content. Scorpion Agency offers 140 Second Life Marketing Tips & Ideas, which are relevant for both SL and RL businesses; a recent post at the New Babbage ning site demystifies how to use SL's search to boost your business.

I would not call myself a "cutthroat" SL businessperson. In RL, I abhor certain types of marketing, like telemarketers who call during dinner (even when you're on the Do Not Call list). Other methods I respond to very generously with my hard earned cash. I love coupons, discounts, free shipping, etc. The businesses who politely offer these kinds of marketing campaigns generally have a repeat customer because they are willing to reward me for my loyalty.

So thinking along those lines, I wondered if there was a way to harness the loyalty of both new and longtime Montagne Noire customers, without being the dreaded dinner interrupting telemarketer.

Since Linden Labs effectively crushed the community that was the XStreet merchant forums with their new and confusing blog format, I've been visiting other independent forums to see where all the merchants have gravitated. I decided to ask about the issue of "gaming" traffic and search results at SLUniverse, which is emerging as the merchant go-to site. You can see the discussion my question generated here.

The response was an interesting mix. I asked if it was unethical to offer an incentive reward to customers who put Montagne Noire in their Profile Picks. Some said yes, some said no. Some said it depended on whether you gave it only to people in your update group and people who already had your shop in their picks. Some thought it was gaming search results to offer an incentive to anyone walking in off the street.

What almost everyone agreed on is that it can be a real challenge to publicize an SL business -- even more so as the business landscape in SL has changed dramatically in the last year or so. It takes a lot of creativity to effectively get the word out, especially when you are working with a modest budget.

Probably the most powerful tool for promotion -- and least understood -- is the SL search engine. It turns out one of the methods of improving search ranking is having people add your business to their profile picks.

The SL search engine counts each pick from an "Account Verified Resident" (an SL resident with credit card or Paypal payment information on file with Linden Labs) as a vote for that location when determining its rank in search.

After a good deal of thought, I decided to try an experiment.

I sent a notice to members of the Montagne Noire Fashion Society update group, and to a select group of friends.

Now my sincere hope in all of this is that my friends and group members won't regard this promotion as the equivalent of the obnoxious junk mail the postman brings everyday. I'm hoping that my friends know me well enough now to know I am not a scheming, money-grubbing capitalist who just has them on my friends list so I can flood them with marketing campaigns.

Would you like to earn an exclusive hat and dress set FREE while helping spread the word about Montagne Noire Clothiers?

If you are an Account Verified Resident (an SL resident with credit card or Paypal on file with Linden Labs) all it takes is putting MNC in your "picks" tab in your profile. Picks are a great way to show off your favorite people, places and merchants in SL.

It's a quick and painless process: Simply place Montagne Noire's Main store in your "picks."

If you don't know how to add your favorite locations and business in SL, it's super simple:

1) go to the "Edit" pull down menu in the upper left corner of your SL browser.

2) select "Profile" then click on the "picks" tab.

3) Click on the "New" button at the top of the picks page, and the location will be added (be sure to actually be standing in Montagne Noire's parcel location before you add it to your picks!).

If you already have MNC in your picks (thank you!), update the tab by pressing the "delete" button at the top of the picks page, then click on "New".

Once Montagne Noire has been in your profile picks for 24 hours (enough time for SL search to read your updated profile), return to the shop to claim your prize! Touch the sign below the one you received this notecard from and vendor will process your reward and deliver it!

To encourage users to actually keep MNC in their picks, I'll be changing out the special gift every so often.

To build subscriptions to the "Montagne Noire Fashion Society" update group, I'm now also working on a way to offer special discounts & sales for group members, where if you wear the group tag while you shop, you'll receive a discount on certain item(s).

So what do people get if they add MNC to their picks? This special limited edition onyx version of my "Fleur d'Automne" set.

A last thought on being a business owner in SL. I don't really think of myself as being in competition with other Victorian designers -- we all have unique styles, and our clientele all have unique tastes. I'm here to have fun, and if that also means I might be able to grow my business into something that pays a few RL bills, I'd be thrilled. But I am also thrilled when I see other designers succeed at something they love to do, too.