Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Things I Learned Having My Own Studio Storefront

First Day!!

Things I Learned Having My Own Studio Storefront
What fun! I think every creative maker has a dream of opening their own storefront. A little place where you can work on your craft, while welcoming customers to shop. 3 1/2 years ago I did just that and it was so exciting! This month, I am closing it. I've been sharing a lot with people recently about my time there, what I loved about it and what I learned.

Retail vs Festival
I think the biggest thing I learned was that the Retail Life is completely different from the Festival Life. Not only for me, but for my customers. Most obviously, the high energy festival booth vibe is completely opposite the sit in a store and wait vibe. I love the rhythm of doing festivals. I work really hard, engage thousands of people, make a lot of sales, all in a few days. Then I retreat the rest of the week either into the woods if I'm traveling, or into my studio to make more clothes. I don't really enjoy having to engage the public and be "on" every day, that's why I no longer have a day job. Also I learned that my local customers I've acquired over the years at the craft shows, are not necessarily that into shopping around town. Festival people are not always Retail people. I am totally like that! I do all my shopping at shows, and I'm not much of a consumer otherwise. 

Hours are Important
I knew this already. Really. So the first year I slowed down my travel, and tried hard to stick to my regular hours. I mean, I'm setting the hours right? Should be able to follow them. Yeah mostly I did pretty well that first year. I did Arts Alive nights regularly (our local monthly art walk) with musicians, bought some print ads, and the momentum was going pretty well! But for yr 2, I decided I needed to do more shows, since I wasn't yet making enough at the shop to really cover that income. And also because I realized how much I missed traveling... I thought I was ready to settle down, but not quite. So I cut my hours more, and I was gone more often. I also did my 5wk tours both in yr 2 and yr 3, so that didn't help.  People would always say they came by but I was closed, or they assume I moved out (I take all the clothes with me). Who can blame them? After a couple times finding it closed, I probably wouldn’t come back either. Many have suggested paying someone to run the shop while I'm traveling, but that would require double the inventory. I'm just not that big time.

When I leave I take ALL the clothes!

Location Really Matters
I know, it's what they always say. I think this whole thing would have done better in a busier shopping area. Even with my travels and closures. But around here there are very few tiny storefronts in the main shopping districts. Most of them are over 1k sq ft, and just too big and spendy for comfort. So my location wasn't terrible, it's in a downtown area with good businesses around it. It's just a bit off the beaten path for regular foot traffic. Many people, even into my 3rd year, would ask if I just opened. Advertising more would have helped that, but only if I was open regularly. Which I wasn't, so we're back to my last point.

The M-Notes playing at Arts Alive.

It's Totally Worth Doing
I think what I loved most about having my little shop, was having a Mermaid clubhouse. A place just for me and my artwork, all set out nice and lovely. It was adorable! Being able to invite 5 friends to sell their work there as well, was great. Friends and customers knew where to find me, so many nice visits and conversations. I had a very functional little work space, and it was super easy to access all my stock. What I didn't expect was how much street cred I gained, just by agreeing to pay rent somewhere. Ha! People suddenly took me more seriously, even though I had been in business for 12 yrs before I opened it. Then they acted like I was dying when I closed it. Which is sweet, don't get me wrong. I guess it's just the common idea that brick & mortar businesses rule the world.

Ambrz Art dressing up the windows.

The best part right now is watching other people get excited about the space, and achieving their dreams there. We built something special that will live on in the neighborhood. I mean, how great is that?!

Craft Fair Tips - Post List

Craft Fair Tips - Post List

Lately I've been trying to organize my craft show how-to posts, adding proper tags so people can find what they need. I seem to have a lot! So I thought it would help to have a page of links. I'll do my best to keep it updated. 

5 Steps to Start Selling at Craft Fairs:

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Start Selling at Craft Fairs #5: Show Time!

At last we come to the fifth of my 5 steps to Start Selling at Craft Fairs. Click the "Start Selling at Craft Fairs" tag at the end of this post to see the rest of the posts #1 - #4. 

Show Time!

Okay! After all of your making and planning, now it's time to do the actual work of selling things in your festival booth. My first big piece of advice overall, and my motto when getting ready for a show is...  

Always be prepared to do well.  
Even for the dinkiest of shows or the iffiest of circumstances, I will try to put my best foot forward. Meaning, I've done everything I can do to support having a good show. I have the proper stock, my packing is organized, my paperwork is in order, I've packed a healthy lunch, and had a good night's sleep.

Every show is an opportunity to put myself out there, and anything can happen. I want to be ready! It's also much less stressful and more fun for me when I know all my ducks are in a row.  Once I leave my house, if I've done my job right, I can just relax and enjoy the day.  

How much stock should I bring? 
I see this question often on craft fair forums. I think the best answer is, as much as you can. Obviously, the more you have, the more you can sell. It will take time to build up a large inventory, but don't let that stop you from doing a show. You do want to be sure you have enough to cover your expenses and make a profit. 

Chances are good you will not sell out, so plan on having double the amount that you want to sell. For example, if we follow the 10x Rule (see #4: Money Talk) and are feeling optimistic, we would say... I paid $100 for my booth, in my dreams I'll sell 10x that, $1000. I know I won't sell out, so double that to $2000 worth of doohickies. That's just a very general guideline. After you do a few shows, you'll figure out the right balance for you. 

Getting Organized

I cannot overstate the peace I feel when I use my super comprehensive Craft Fair Checklist, just knowing I have everything in order. Seriously. There is SO so much to keep track of, it's really easy to forget something dumb. Like the time I went out of town and forgot all the bedding for camping... for me and my helper. Duh! I have seen people forget their canopy. That is what nightmares are made of, my friend. Make yourself a detailed checklist and avoid the drama.

I also keep at Booth Box and a small tool box for booth essentials. I am very strict about getting everything back where it belongs, so I can find it when I need it. Then I know I am ready for anything!

Follow the Rules 

I know... rules are for suckers. Especially for us artsy free spirit types. Ha! No seriously, that is totally me. But when it comes to the running of a festival, it's much smoother to just follow their guidelines. There are a lot of moving parts being organized to make a good show for everyone involved. Be a cooperative component.

When you are accepted to a craft show, they will send you any info you need to know. Read it all. Usually there are specific instructions about where, when and how to set up your booth, where to park, hours you can/can't drive to your booth, camping info. Follow them as much as possible (I admit *sometimes* the rules don't mean much, but *normally* they are pretty important). Communicate ahead of time if you have special needs. Often there is staff to guide us and help out, or maybe there is nobody but us. Mistakes happen, adjustments often must be made. Cooperate. We are all in this together.  Be a good neighbor and you will have a much better time. 

Common Newbie Mistakes:
  • - Late Opening or Early Closing - Show up when you are supposed to, and be open for the posted show hours. It looks bad for the whole event if some booths are closed
  • - Thoughtless Parking - Move your vehicle as quickly as possible, so others can unload/load up as well. Especially after the show, it's an unwritten (or sometimes strictly enforced) rule that your booth should be mostly packed up BEFORE you go get your vehicle. 
  • - Infringing on Neighbors - Do not block your neighbor's booth, the path to it, or infringe on their space in any way. Or at least ask first. For example, don't let your display stick out so far that it blocks your neighbor's. Don't hang or tape or tie things to anyone else's stuff. Don't send your customers to use someone else's mirror or dressing room. Check with them first, or just don't do it. 
  • - Selling Inappropriate Items -  It's a growing problem, finding imports being sold at juried handmade-only craft shows.  We obviously cannot compete with wages overseas, so most of us purposely avoid shows that allow imports. If you have imports or other items not made by you, only sell them if it is allowed within the show guidelines. You may be told to remove the items, or even to remove your entire booth from the show never to return. And at the very least, it's just not cool at all.

Selling Tips
I think selling is not normally the artist's best skill. We love to make things, but selling them is a whole different ballgame. You are putting yourself and your creativity out there, to be judged by sales and interactions. It's not easy. And when I talk with artists who consider themselves introverts, it's even more scary. That's why I like having a friend help me in the booth sometimes, they can get all gushy about how great I am and how they looove this piece or that one. I can't do that. But it's really not necessary to sell. The best method is to just be friendly.

Here is my general sales technique:
  • - Keep Busy - A busy booth attracts more people than a dead one. So when there is a lull in business, I go around and fuss with my goods. Sort the sizes, arrange stuff to fill gaps, pick up trash, etc. That way it looks like something is happening in there. I also like to make jewelry or sketch when it's slow, so I'm not just staring at people as they walk by or into my booth. Awkward! 
  • - Greet People - Just say hello. It's the easiest way to break the ice when someone walks into your booth. I usually give people a minute to look around and get comfy. Sometimes I wait until they are close enough to catch their eye, or if they start touching things. Then I say, "Hi there, please let me know if you have any questions, I make everything myself." This gives them the freedom to just say "Thank you" and keep looking. But often they will ask a question and we are on our way!
  • - Be Friendly - Friendly chit chat is really enough to get things going. You will meet all kinds of interesting people, have fun visiting. If they are engaged by you, they will be more likely to buy your art. Pretty simple.
  • - Prepare Answers - Now, by this I do not mean rehearse a big sales speech. Eesh, no. But in time you will find people asking the same types of questions over and over. Come up with short, informative answers. They will become habit eventually, and that's how you become a good salesperson. Informing your customers about why your work is so awesome.
  • - Close the Sale - Yes, I've said no pressure is needed, and people generally don't like that. But on the other side of it, do not be afraid to just come out and ask for the sale. Especially when people are having trouble making a decision, sometimes they just want someone to tell them what to do. They've looked, talked, touched, is perfectly fine to ask, "So, is this the one for you?" Or , "Maybe you should just get both!"  They are at a craft fair buying things, it is not outrageous at all. Again, just be friendly.

Have Fun!!
This is always my biggest and best piece of advice. The more you enjoy what you are doing, the better your sales will be. You are out there in the world, sharing your creative heart. It's an amazing feeling! You will meet so many people, talk about your art, hear the band, soak up the sun. Enjoy this adventure you have chosen!