Friday, February 28, 2014

Are Craft Shows for You?

 Ever since my first time selling crafts at a festival (circa 1995), I knew immediately it was for me. The energy, the direct contact with customers, talking about my work... and just the excitement of putting myself out there. It was electric. I felt then, and still do, that when I'm selling my work at a show I am my best self. It's so much fun! But it's also a ton of work. Physical, mental, emotional work. Which also feels good in its way, but may not be for everyone. Here I will lay out some of the pros and cons to consider when you're deciding if the craft show life is for you.

Pro: Good Fun 
Oh man. There is plenty of good fun to be had while vending at a festival. In fact, many of my friends think I have the best job ever. Well, I do. There are bands to hear, beers to drink, neighbors to visit with, customers to say nice things to you... oh and money to be made. All kinds of fun times. I mean, it is a festival. Most everyone is having a good time and looking to spend money. Woohoo! I personally enjoy a view of the stage if I can get it, and I love a pretty venue. Free camping is a bonus. That's why I'll never be rich, I can't stand the big city shows. Give me a free camp spot next to the lake and a pancake breakfast and I'm good.

Con: Heavy Lifting at Dawn  
Oh man again. It's always funny when I get a friend to be my helper for the weekend, and then they get to see how much work is done before super funtime. I actually don't mind the setup part, at this point I don't even think about it. Just put on my headphones and start unloading the van. But it's definitely physical work and long hours. Depending on what you make and your mode of display... well pretty much anything takes lifting and carrying and a couple hours of work to set up. Sometimes you're not able to pull right up to your booth spot, and must haul things a distance. In hot weather. You may have helpers in your home town, but on the road you must do it all solo. Are you ready for that?

Pro: Direct Customer Feedback
Maybe the best business type thing about doing shows is the direct contact with your customers. It is awesome. Whether they buy or not, they will have things to say about your work. Most people who come into your booth do so because they are drawn by what you do. They want to talk about how you do it, your inspiration, your techniques. How fun! I mean, you work in a room for weeks alone with no input... getting out there can really feed your fire. You may get requests and ideas for new products, or hear that a certain design has issues you never considered. Even at shows where the audience wasn't right for my work, I learned.

Con: Long Days On Stage
This could also be under Pro, a lovely day in the sun at a festival is not a bad way to make a buck. The thing is, you are out there no matter what the weather, sometimes up to 12 hrs or beyond. The show goes on, rain or shine. Most shows will not refund your booth fee for any reason (I once had a heart attack two days before a show and could not get a refund). Hundred degrees, drizzle, downpour, wind, dust. You're in it. All day long. Add in slow sales activity, and hooboy a day can last an eternity.

And you are "On" the whole time. It doesn't matter how you slept, what time you showed up, that you set up in the rain with no breakfast... you better be perky and friendly when those revelers show up. You will spend the day chatting up customers, telling your story, smiling, selling. Dancing on stage from start to finish. This, to me, is the most exhausting part of it all. I love doing it, but after a show I need a whole day to recover. Physically and mentally I am spent.

Pro: Work Independently
Hello! Maybe this should be at the top of the list. We creators and entrepreneurs are not so hip to work for someone else. Freedom is a big draw of having your own business, and as an artist is almost required. Of course, showing up for a paycheck is easier and more secure by far. But for me, being able to choose where and when I work, keeping all the money for myself (vs wholesale or consignment), making a chunk of cash in only a couple days of selling ... that feeling of freedom and independence is huge for me. If I need time off, I take it. If I want a sweet vacation with my husband and his motorcycle in the mountains, I find a show there and make it a working trip. If at any time I want to change my artistic style or medium, I can. I love my job because I make it do what I want it to do. It's all me.

Pro and Con: Travel
If you live near a big city where shows are happening all the time... great for you! But most of us have only so many local shows to do and must at some point travel away to fill our weekends. From where I live, it's at least a 4 hr drive to anywhere.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the travel. I actually really like the driving part, the van singalongs, listening to stories on my ipod, soaking up the scenery. It's a nice relaxing prelude to the work of the show itself. I try to find some sweet camping wherever I go, which makes me happy. Occasionally I indulge in a hotel room, with its lovely refrigerator, microwave, wifi, and oh yes shower. It's fun to hit a new town, find a cool brewery or breakfast place. I just love all of it!

But later in the season, even I can grow a little tired. Long miles, long hours, multiple weekends in a row out of town... and all while creating work in between. The housework starts to pile up, my partner gets a little whiny about when I'll be home, I start to really miss my bed and shower. But the shows must go on. (I will talk more in detail about traveling and camping in future posts.)

In the end, how you sell what you make is completely up to you. You may decide to do some shows, but only in your home town or only indoors at holiday time. Or, you may join me on the show circuit every weekend. Maybe you'll decide to stick with web sales and gallery commissions alone. This business adventure is whatever you will make it, and isn't that the fun of it?!

Start Selling at Craft Fairs #3: Marketing Materials

Part 3 of a series of posts I'm calling (5 Steps to) Get Started Selling at Craft Fairs. Read Step #1: Find Your Shows and Step #2: Booth Display.

Marketing Materials
Even at the dinkiest of shows, you have the opportunity to get your name and your work out into the world. I think it's the most basic marketing requirement to have a card to give out to your customers, with your contact info and what you make. People will see plenty of other booths throughout the day. If they are interested enough to buy your work or ask for a card, give them something to take away that will keep you in their minds long after they get home. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be a good reminder of what they saw in your booth, and where to find it later.

My big 3

I have 3 marketing items I always give out in my booth - flyers, business cards and hang tags. I print all of them with my computer on card stock. You can get fancy stuff printed online for pretty cheap these days... I know Vistaprint and send me all kinds of great offers for cards and postcards. So far, I have (mostly) stuck to doing them myself. I enjoy doing it and it's easy to change things when I wish.

My hang tags are attached to each of my items for sale. I make tiny square cards with a hole punched in the corner for the price tag string. On one side they have care instructions for my hand dyed clothing. The other side has the Bohemian Mermaid definition and my web site. When I sell something, the care card goes into the bag. I tell the customer that it contains care instructions and my web site. (I usually give them an info flyer as well.)

My business cards have my standard contact info, including my phone number, email, and mailing address. Many folks will ask you for a card just to have a reminder of you for later. I keep my business cards for actual business contacts; a shop owner, a fellow artist, a custom order request. The rest I give an informational flyer.

I think my flyers are the most important thing I give my customers at a show. On one side, I have my business name, a small color example of my work and a bit about me and what I do. I want them to remember why they asked for a card to begin with, since they will see many other booths that day. On the other side, I list my show schedule, retail outlets and web site. In fact, I think my web site is on both sides. Even if you just have your name, some clip art, and your etsy site... it's better than nothing. I have started to print my flyers on card stock, mostly as a better response to folks who ask for a 'card', but also because a card is harder to crush and toss away than paper.

When preparing for your first craft show, don't let your printed materials (or lack of) hold you back. I have seen people not sign up for a show because their logo isn't quite right. Ugh you're killing me. Your priority should be producing good work and figuring out a nice display. Just have a little something with your basic contact info (simple is fine!) to give out to your customers. You'll have plenty of time to add to them as you grow.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I love Facebook Ads

I talk to a lot of artists and craftspeople, many of whom have Facebook pages for their businesses. I'm always a little surprised that they don't do Facebook ads. I think to most people, the whole process is pretty mysterious. I don't claim to be an expert, but I can say after some trial and error... they are cheap to run, very easy to point at your specific target market, and have served me pretty well. 

Cheap you say? Yes. When I run an ad before a sales event, ie craft show, I usually spend $10-$20 for a week. The cool thing about FB ads is that you set your own daily spending limits. You do need to check that number each time you edit your ad, it will default to some ungodly number automatically. I believe the trick to keeping the cost down is to choose the Pay per Impressions option. This charges you each time your ad is shown 1000 times. Usually less than .50. Hey now! I did try the pay per click, and I found they only showed my ad a few hundred times or less per day. No bueno. I don't pretend to know exactly why that is... but I assume I'm competing with higher bids for the same demographic, not sure. All I know is when I set my ad for impressions, it is shown thousands of times per day for the same fee.

Since my ad will be shown a lot, I make sure all the pertinent info is in the ad itself... name, date, location of the event where I'll be selling. That way, even if they don't click, they have me in their brains. 

Probably the best thing about FB ads is the ability to point it toward exactly the audience I am trying to reach. I choose to target only women over 25, within a certain radius of the location of my event. In this example, I'm doing a show in Kelseyville, CA which is near Clear Lake. Since I've done shows there before I feel like this is a good way to target, keeping it within 50 mi of the town. By adding Santa Rosa, I could double the audience, but I'm not sure I'd reach people who might actually go the the festival. So I decided 98k was plenty. 

The last time I went to this area for a show, I ran a similar ad and spent about $10. I only got 2 page likes from it... but one of them came to the show and spent $150. Bam! This is why I tell my vendor friends to give it a try. It only takes one customer to make it pay off.

Also, since opening my little shop, I run ads off and on geared toward local ladies. I have added a couple hundred *local* likes to my page just by paying $1 per day. I'll do a week or two on, then off. Change garment photos and try again... focus on towns north or south of me, then back on my town. I usually get a few likes per day for my one dollar. Not a bad deal!

So, I encourage you to give FB ads a try. Set a spending limit, do some experimenting and see what works for you!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wait, Have I Mentioned My New Store?


A lot happened I guess while I was away from my beloved blog. In November I opened a tiny store front in downtown Eureka, CA. I guess it was about a year before that when I started fantasizing about it... a place where I could sell my goods between festivals, even in winter when I usually pack all my stuff into boxes and get sad. A place where I could have some tiny bit of self discipline and a regular schedule to my work day. Something my husband thought I could never put up with... being tied to a thing like a schedule. Haha that is what I run from in normal day jobs, it's true. 

But this is mine. That's the difference. This is all me, my place, my work... even my schedule. I dare say it's the best day job ever. Well, because it's not a 'day job' it's just my job. I love it. 

It's still growing of course... I chose a location that is a little off the main shopping drag, but there is a lot of fun stuff happening in my neighborhood. A popular beer bar, a great pizza place, 2 big art galleries. And I am right next to the town's oldest chocolate shop. Hello! 

I also chose the tiniest retail space I have ever seen. They tell me it's 292 sq feet, but that is a generous evaluation. More like 250. But for me it is really perfect, it doesn't seem cramped at all. I even have a work table and have added artwork from local friends. Compared to my usual 10ft x 10ft space, it's great. I also knew that if I opened my first store in the middle of Old Town with 1500 sq ft... I would freak out trying to fill it and pay my rent each month. I feel much more comfortable starting small and growing slowly. That's how I roll.

My tiny clubhouse is perfect for me right now.

I have even hosted musicians during our monthly Arts Alive art walks, what a blast that is. I mean, it's much like being at a festival... some great music, drinks, selling my clothes, meeting folks. I really feel like since opening the shop - well, it feels like a creativity magnet. I am meeting so many interesting people, making new business connections, meeting more artists and musicians. Things are happening there.

I really love it. Have I said that enough? Here's a slide show I put together showing the evolution of my shop. If you are in the area, I hope you will come check it out. 511 6th St. (6th & F) Eureka.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Something fun happened to me because of this little blog... are you ready for this?? My goofy yet popular tutorial for making Beer Can Hats got the attention of one fabulous author in Portland. "Author of what?" you may ask, "A book about making stuff out of beer cans? Yeah right!" Yeah. Right! 

That's exactly what happened. The lovely and talented miss Shawn Gascoyne-Bowman asked me to contribute a couple hipper variations of my crochet can pattern to her book Beer Crafts. She even put one on the cover! I am famous as hell now. Or soon will be, so get ready. But seriously... this book is SO stinkin cool! So many creative projects that I can't wait to make. Far beyond your old beer cap earrings, way beyond.

Soon I will have these books for sale right here on my little blog thing. For now, please watch this book trailer video. This alone will show you the extreme levels of awesome this book reaches. So happy to be a part of it!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Start Selling at Craft Fairs #2: Booth Display

This is part two of a series of posts I'm calling (5 Steps to) Get Started Selling at Craft Fairs. Read Step #1: Find Your Shows.

 Booth Display

Figuring out a booth display can be a little overwhelming at first. So many options and issues to address. You might not have much product to display or money to spend. I suggest, for this reason and many more, you find a friend you can share space with. That cuts your booth fee in half, gives you less space to fill, and a helper during the show for breaks and whatnot. In time you will grow more stock and maybe a desire to fill a whole booth alone. Help and company are still nice to have.

Start by looking at other vendors' displays for ideas. You can find samples of booth setups all over the web, search for "booth shot" or "craft booth" on google or pinterest. If possible, attend some craft shows and pay attention to the displays of booths selling the types of crafts you make. Take notes, talk to vendors... but ask before taking photos, artists are touchy about that. Start with a few useful display pieces and assess after every show. As you make more things and do more shows, you will find the best ways to display your wares.

Walls or Tables
For my clothing, I use steel gridwall panels from a store supply place (another good source of ideas). They cost between $15-$20 each and come in different sizes and finishes. I like how flexible they are, how they use the space efficiently, offer tons of accessory options (hang rails, baskets, shelves, etc), and can hold a lot of weight. I would recommend walls for just about anything, even if you are a table user. They are a great way to use your vertical space. There are plenty of lighter and cheaper options like lattice and pegboard. Or fancier options like art panels.

For all the things you can't hang on walls, it's tables or shelves for you. My main advice on this subject is to use as much of your space as possible. As I discussed in my previous post, don't forget your vertical space!  Use varied levels of shelves, pedestals, racks and boxes. Whatever you do, please PLEASE I implore you, avoid laying all your goods flat on a table. Boooring! And hard to see walking by the booth. Do anything you can to add levels and interest to your table displays. The big thing here is that the shopper walking by in a crowd can easily see what you have for sale.

Keep it Clean
The main idea around your booth display is to show your work as clearly as possible. Try to balance your display between too cluttered and too sparse. You want to look full, but not messy or overwhelming. Any extra supplies, boxes, personal items should be tucked away as much as possible. All eyes should be on your beautiful goods. If you use tables, make sure the table cloth reaches the ground. You will want to store things under there and nobody wants to see your piles.

Please, puh-leeez, hang fabric backdrops to block out background clutter. As you look around at other booth displays, notice how many do not do this. It's really hard to focus on what's going on in there! In a pinch, the white walls that come with your canopy are okay, if you have lots of colorful items in front of them...but colored fabric looks so much nicer. I made my booth curtains out of cotton muslin which I dyed light purple. I sewed a casing at the top and bottom, and I run long bungees through them to attach to the canopy (I also added button holes at the center points for zip ties, to prevent sagging). If sewing isn't your thing, you can just clip and drape table cloths or big pieces of fabric onto the plain white walls. Trust me, it makes a huge difference.


Yes, You Need a Canopy
If you are doing outdoor fairs at all, you will definitely want a canopy. You'll quickly realize the benefit of shade, shelter from drizzle, and a more pro way to mark your space.  It's also essential for hanging curtains, banners, and products for display. Of course, at first when money is tight and the future uncertain... a cheapo tent is fine. I think my very first one cost $50. There are draw backs to the cheapo tent of course. Some are not that easy to put up, may have odd angles, and most are not meant to hold much weight. But overall, it can get the job done for the short term.

If you plan on long term selling, you will need to invest in a nice canopy. I have only used EZups and they have served me very well. I hang and strap lots of weight to mine, with no problems whatsoever, even in wind. AND I can put it up all by myself in less than 10 minutes. It cost me around $250 including the walls and carry bag, and has lasted for years. You can spend a lot more on fancier digs, but I wouldn't spend less if I were you. Beware! All canopies are not created equal! Here is one vendor's review of the Caravan canopies sold at Costco, which are about the same price. Do your homework and figure out the best canopy for your needs and price range.

The Layout
There are countless ways to lay out your racks and tables within your booth. How you decide to position them will depend on many factors. Overall, consider these aspects when creating your booth layout:

- Show your work in the clearest, best way possible. It should be easy for people walking by in a crowd to see what your are selling and what it does.
- Use all of the space you have. How can you push your display to fill the depth, height, and width of your booth area? Fill it up in an interesting way that shows off your goods.
- Traffic flow. Multiple people should be able to shop and talk to you easily. 
- Booth position at the show. Will you have an in-line space or a corner? If the booths are back-to-back, will that affect your storage or sitting position? 

I try to figure out my layout ahead of time as much as possible, to avoid pre-show freakouts and time loss. I use Word to create a top view sized to scale, then print it out for reference. Before your first show, I suggest setting up a trial run in your yard. You'll be able to take your time moving stuff around, make sure you have everything you need (tools, fasteners, etc), and really work out the kinks. Believe me, you'll sleep much better knowing you have a good plan. Also, most shows want a photo of your booth setup, so this is your chance to get a nice picture.

I like my tall chair in the back of the booth (side view). Out of the way, but I can see everything.
Don't forget to include a spot for you to sit in the booth. You should plan to be inside your official booth area (usually 10ft x 10ft), not every space has room to sit behind or to the side. My experience has been that many people don't like to enter a booth where the artist is sitting at the entrance. Some folks want to chat and meet you, some want to shop quietly and avoid your gaze. Give them a choice if you can.

Finally, walk by your booth as a customer. Can you tell what is being sold easily? Does it look pretty and inviting? Clean and uncluttered? Is there room for more than 2 people to shop at a time?

A Few More Tips
Get a sign of some kind with your business name, even if it's just printed from your computer. A large banner is ideal, which can be attached to the top front or back wall of your canopy.

Consider floor coverings. Shows on grass or indoor floors are great... but often a show is in an oily parking lot or a dusty field full of potholes. Carpets or mats create a nice finished 'store' look for your booth, and also a pleasant walking surface for your customers. 

If you have a small amount of inventory, figure out how to spread it out a little. Use props if you have room... like a mannequin, tree branch, or something that shows your work in action such as a small table setting for your pottery or woven place mats.  

Have fun!! The most important tip I can give you is to relax and enjoy your day in the sun. Admire your hard work and make notes for next time. Every show is a learning opportunity and your booth will change and evolve over time. Enjoy the process!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Start Selling at Craft Fairs #1: Find Your Shows

Since I posted 5 Essential Tips for Craft Fair Selling, I've received some questions about how to get started... finding shows, figuring out a display, etc. Since I never get tired of these topics, I put together a list of 5 steps to get started selling at craft fairs. They got pretty long so I am splitting them into a series of posts. I hope they are helpful!

Find Your Shows

Start Your List
This is probably the topic I get asked about the most, how to find the shows to begin with. You probably already know of a few craft fairs that happen in your area. Start a list. Check your local arts and events publications, chamber of commerce, newspapers, and art groups for lists of local events. Search online for your city or county's 'festivals', 'shows' and 'fairs'. Talk to people. I find many of my shows by talking to other artists. There are also publications out there that list events for us. I subscribe to Craftmaster News. It's cheap (about $50/year) and offers a printed book along with a great website that includes reviews and maps.

Once you find a potential show, contact the event folks and ask for an application and to be added to their mailing list. Keep in mind that most shows want you to apply at least a month or two (or longer) before the show dates.To organize my show list, I use my google calendar. When I find a potential show, I add it to my calendar along with the pertinent info including cost, type of show, web site, and whether the ap is online or has been requested. If I'm really interested, I enter the deadline on the calendar separately. When I decide not to do a show this year, I change the date to next year so I can find it when I need it next time.

Big or Small - Where to Begin
For your first show, I would keep it small... as in costing under $100. You will not make millions at a dinky show, but you will have less invested to lose also. The smaller shows are a great way to get your feet wet, test your display, get feedback on your work, and network with other artists. Mostly, to just get out there and be seen. Don't be discouraged if you don't make much money at your first few shows. The real money is at the larger shows, which will be much easier to do after you have a few smaller shows under your belt. But DO listen to feedback, take note of the clientele and how they respond to your work. Every show will not work for every seller, it's a constant learning process.

As for what types of bigger shows are the best... it totally depends on your craft and your type of customer. When you consider doing a new show, learn all you can about it. Check out their web site, search for photos of the event, check out the people and the layout if you can. Some questions to consider during your research:
   - How many people do they claim to attract? 
   - Will there be buy/sell or imports allowed, or is it a juried artists-only event? 
   - Is there a rodeo, race, pet parade, concert, or chili cook off? 
   - What is the area like in terms of demographics, income, types of businesses? 

Now consider how all this info matches with what you know about your best customer and the style of your work. The best you can do is make the most educated guess possible, and then go for it. 

I love love love talking to new artists wanting to sell their work, it's so exciting! Getting out there and saying, "Here's me and what I do, love it or leave it." It's a little scary because it's different every time. It's a gamble. Even the same show can be drastically different from year to year. But every show is an opportunity to network with other artists and expose your work to a new set of customers. Learn and grow and then... find another show!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Etsy Time Again

I'm back on etsy posting things not available on my web site, like these beading sets. Each set comes with full strands of glass and shell beads with a pretty centerpiece. The possibilities for jewelry sets and crafty holiday gifts are endless.