If you’re making cloth grocery bags to sell, you need to know your grocery bag competitors. Why should a customer fork over $10 for a cloth bag? You have to be able to make a case for your superior, reusable, locally made in the U.S., cloth, lead-free bags.
At the head of the pack of competitors are those “free” plastic bags that every store hands out. What many people aren’t aware of is that they aren’t really free. The store has to pay for them and then pass the costs to everyone in the form of higher prices. Some stores have turned to charging a few pennies for each plastic or paper bag you use. Other municipalities have banned plastic bags, shoppers have to reach for alternatives, hopefully yours.
A customer may tell you that “free” bags from the store are the cheapest bags of all. A plastic T-shirt-style bag or a brown paper bag can last through many uses if you’re careful handling and storing them.
Serious thrifties will use “free” bags until they rip to shreds and get more “free” bags on their next shopping trip. You might be able to reach these customers by emphasizing the environmental costs of plastic T-shirt bags. You can also remind those customers that your cloth bags will not rip unexpectedly, flinging expensive groceries onto the ground, as reused grocery store bags are wont to do when they’ve been repeatedly overstressed.
The next step up in reusable shopping bags are those 99¢ wonders that every store sells nowadays.
These bags last far longer than plastic T-shirt bags, but they still rip, tear, or otherwise unexpectedly dump their expensive contents onto the ground.
If a customer questions your cost per bag, help them to understand that your cloth bags can be hand-washed and repaired. You can’t do either of those things with a 99¢ bag. They are not made of cloth at all; instead, they’re made of a plastic, cloth-like substance. When this rips, the bag is just as dead as the ripped plastic T-shirt bag. If the straps tear free, the bag is useless. Moreover, the designs stenciled on the bags are often printed with lead. Lead is very toxic and it is possible that the lead design can rub off onto the bag contents along with every surface the bags touch.
Then you come to cheap, thin, canvas bags.
These may have a grocery store logo stenciled on the side, making sure everyone knows where you bought it. My example cost me $3.99 at Giant. It is a functional bag and far better made than one of those 99¢ polypropylene wonders. This bag can be repaired, and it can be hand-washed. The indifferent, stenciled design probably has no lead in it.
This bag, though, is not as wide as your cloth grocery bags. The seams margins are very narrow and finished only with serging. The seam margins are not sewn down and can’t reinforce the bag’s structure. The straps are secured only by a 1-inch-by-1-1/2-inch rectangle at each end.
If your customer is comparing your cloth bag to this type of reusable bag, remind them that you make your bags yourself, locally. The money you make goes to support your family. Moreover, your bags do not come with a dreary store logo stenciled on the side. You have an interesting mix of patterns and solids to choose from. Your bags are made in limited runs, depending on what fabric was available. That gives some exclusivity. Your customer knows her grocery bags are unique and unlikely to be mixed up with someone else’s. Your cloth bags are stylish enough that they don’t have to be reserved strictly for grocery store runs.
Then we come to more expensive reusable bags. These bags compete directly on cost, or they cost even more.
I spotted this bag being advertised in Parade magazine.
The baggu T-shirt bag is $10. The company says they’re made of nylon. I will assume this not the nylon used for stockings and is instead the ripstop nylon used for windbreakers. They are made in China.
This shopping bag is patterned after a grocery store plastic T-shirt bag. It has no shaping of its own other than the pair of gusset seams that force a simple sack into a three-dimensional bag. The straps are an integral part of the bag body, which your customer may not like if they want to carry the bag on their shoulder (my check of the reviews on Amazon confirm this).
If you are selling your bags for $10 each, you can point out to the customer that you are right there, locally; your bags are the same price; your bags are shaped to hold groceries; and your earnings go to support your children.
There are plenty of other reusable bags out there suitable for groceries. Take a look at them online and in stores. Examine them closely, looking at how they are made and whether or not they can be repaired or washed. The more you know about your competition, the easier it will be to sell your customer on your own beautiful hand-made bags that will last a lifetime.