Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Jumping into the Deep End ==> Craft Fair

EXCUSES: I'm not going to start this blog with the beginning of my jewelry-making obsession 18 months ago (see Intro above), but with my first attempt to "be discovered" ==> My First Craft Fair. It was last weekend, The Fremont Sunday Market.
To be perfectly honest, several personal friends had suggested doing craft shows as essential for finding a market beyond these loyal friends & family. But I had & still have a ton of excuses for nixing that suggestion. And some excuses are real, especially this one: I have NO ROOM AT ALL to store "fair stuff" like the required 10x10 canopy & large tables! But recently an opportunity came out of the blue, & I said YES, before I could open my bag of excuses.

HOW IT CAME TO PASS: I belong to a group of Seattle-area crafters called the ETSYRAIN Team, a supportive, local selling "family" and part of the national group of ETSY artisans. Marlo had a brainstorm ==> share a booth at the August 5 Fremont Sunday Market! Wow... SHARE!! She & Jenny even offered two 10x10 canopies, plus Marlo's expertise & encouragement as a life-long professional crafter. Yikes! My jewelry was ready. My Aug. 5 calendar was empty. I had no excuse at all to pass this up. So I RSVP'd & my fate was sealed.

CONFIGURATION: I arrived with my trunk full of "stuff" at 7:45 am. Already all the cafeteria-type tables were lined up inside our rectangular 3-sided store. Since there was no room in the table line-up for my card table, I put it in the mid-point of the store's open side & barely under the canopy roof. Marlo's clothing rack of handmade satchels was just outside the canopy roof & right behind my table. So I made my jewelry set-up face the long row of tables forming the back wall of the store.

MY TIGRESS TABLE: I was really proud of the "look" of the table, though I'm not so impressed when I look at the picture! I chose a tigress theme because Wild Roar was about the most popular jewelry set in my latest Spring-Summer Collection.
Besides, have you noticed all the orange & black animal prints in the stores lately -- shoes, coats, purses, blouses? Didn't check underwear or socks, but wouldn't be surprised. Here's a Tiger tank by Fashionista at Nordstrom's.

The only unresolved display issue was how to label each sale-able entity with a price tag, a requirement. I definitely didn't like the ugly white tag on a 3" string. Any ideas on this???

THE WARES OF ETSYRAIN TEAMMATES: Eleven of us showed up to sell, crafting everything from knits & greeting cards; cotton fold-up satchels; decorative cotton letters of the alphabet, funny waterproof shower-art ("Never marry ugly"), knit accessories & bottle cap belts, to at least 3 other displays of jewelry, which is a typical ratio of jewelry sellers to all others. I have lots of tough competition out there. A special thanks to Ambika for giving me the final push into blogging, another challenge. My boothmates are a great group of folks, some with years of craft show experience, but most of us with none.

WAITIN' FOR BIDNESS -- We were all set by the 10 am opening, but where were the customers? Finally about 1pm, great hordes of bodies began entering the fair at the other end of the 2 block street.
Folks finally did make it all the way down the street & walked through the U of our store, but most with their eyes focused on the tables lining the sides & back. Many didn't even turn their heads to notice that tigress growling for attention in the middle! Unfortunately our store had very few sales. The most positive thing we say about our sales is that every seller had at least one. Too bad my only sale was to my daughter, who came down with the baby for moral support, (and because she's had her eye on Coppertones for a long time :)

It was a tough day, if selling was the goal.


a) THE PHOTOGRAPHER -- What do you say when someone with a fancy camera & close-up lens is taking pictures of your unique designs? Another dilemma. But we ended up talking for an hour -- very nice psychiatric nurse, taking a beginner photography class for his own sanity & doing an assignment to shoot one of the local fairs that weekend. He liked my jewelry a lot. I gave him my new "hip" business card (Is "hip" still a word?) & brochure with a request that he email me. I'd love a chance to ask him to snail-mail prints of his shots!

b) THE TAN LADY -- Along came a serious looker with a copper tan. She was examining Wild Roar, no surprise, as it was perfect for her copper-colored strapless bandeau. She said she loved my pieces -- "all of them." Her parents had owned a jewelry store, where she worked for years. She volunteered the suggestion that I approach exclusive clothing boutiques in Kirkland or Redmond to sell my jewelry! And Nordstrom!!! I was speechless as she went on and on. Why would I want to interrupt? She made my day! I gave her a hip business card, brochure, & a little gold-fill earring promo made for this event.

I'M TAKING A POLL: Which business card do you like better? Does either qualify as hip- lol? You can vote anonymously ... no hard feelings :) See VOTE below this writeup.

LESSONS FROM THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS -- When I got all my "stuff" back home again, I didn't know whether to cry, box up my beads & pliers forever, or sleep. After all that effort, so little interest & just one sale -- to my daughter. The bruise on my fragile confidence needed strong medicine. But I went to bed instead.

A glorious 7 hours later, I could easily list in my head all the valuable lessons I had learned during those hours at the fair. Here they are, in no particular order --

A. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION -- Really true. Get a space near the start of the buyer's route. By the end of the route, they've spent their budget, a reality especially painful to sellers with expensive items like mine.

B. LOCATION WITHIN A GROUP STORE -- Get a table surface within the line-of-sight of the traffic flow. I would have done better to squeeze into the cafeteria tables lining the sides & back wall in the |_| configuration, so my items could be facing buyers as they entered the booth. I can only sell if a buyer sees me.

C. SIT NEAR YOUR SET-UP -- Having a table out in the middle means there's no place to sit at the table without blocking the safe flow of people through the store. When I got tired of standing in the street, I'd go out behind the back wall of tables & their sellers. Often I couldn't even see my table from there, but I had to sit down.

D. STANDING AROUND -- Because of (C) I stood around a lot. How? Where? What should I do with my hands? When do you offer to help someone looking at your wares? I felt awkward, as I knew NONE of these answers. Thankfully Marlo, our organizer & probably as experienced at this business as anyone anywhere gave me some amazing tips --

(1) BODY LANGUAGE: Don't stand out in the street near the booth entry like a sentry with arms folded or behind the back. It's off-putting. Standing like that at an angle is slightly better. But standing with a clipboard that gives you something to write on or something to do is the best.

(2) LOOKER VS BUYER: A Looker eyes your wares with her body angled away from the table or with hands behind back or in pockets. A Buyer stands parallel to the table examining carefully. If her hand comes up to her chin in thought, it's time to approach to help with a decision or to answer a question. She's almost ready.

ALL CHILLED OUT: Looking at this experience with some perspective now, I must admit I still feel frustrated. I'm working hard to gain confidence in my new art, and Aug. 5 (except for The Tan Lady & Photographer) shook my confidence. But I'm very hard-headed. Some would say DOGGED! Plus the lessons I've learned are valuable. The only way to test them is to do this again. I can see in Meet-Up's Online Forum that the Etsyrainers are getting serious about sharing other booths before the holidays. But I have no idea when I'll be ready to jump into the deep end again...


Dawn said...

Jewelry is always a difficult sell at a craft fair--my best friend from back home, who was my craft fair buddy there, made jewelry and she always had a lot of competition at our craft fairs too. The key is to offer something unique, which I think that you do! The idea about approaching boutiques is definitely a great idea, and I know that some of the ladies in EtsyRain can give you better advice on that than I can! :)

Don't give up! If you do, you'll never see what you could have done! :)

ambika said...

Cheryl, you blog like a pro! This was a great read and a very informative take on things--especially since I was there!

I think, given how competitive all craft markets are getting, tenacity is really one of those things that's going to make the difference between the hobbyist and the person who's in it for the long haul. I hope I'm in the latter category :)

Kayce said...

Great blog! You are much more courageous than I am. Rather than taking the plunge, I decided to scout it out before I committed. I think your way is much more effective.

Your jewelry is beautiful, so keep plugging away! I think art is a personal thing, so we often takeit personally when it isn't accepted by all. Yet, everyone has different tastes, that's what makes it great.

jenny Fillius said...

Very nicely done. You are a quick study aren't you? I was thinking about the market and I think I have figured out what is wrong with it. No tourists! When I sold there it was the tourists who bought the most stuff. Now it looks like all locals.

Anonymous said...

Cheryl - you can use fishing line for your price tags! For attraction make a booth out of Greg's airplane -- stick in there girl and come to Las Olas Blvd and Worth Ave. in Palm Beach, FL.

Gail has been trying to get me to use my free SW Airline ticket - got to use it up before Oct. Maybe fly out there! We are going on our cruise Sunday for 7 days.

Seattle Bead Creations (aka Classic Beadwear) said...

hey guys, thanks for the good vibes... re the fair & the blog. and anonymous, brilliant idea about using fishing line :) why didn't i think of that?

i've been reading about the mysterious RSS FEED, which i'd heard about but never researched. i might try putting some feed into the blog. check out THE BEST TECH VIDEO ON RSS EVER!!!

i've just got to put this toy away, clean the house, & make some jewelry... in that order. we're in emergency status around here.

Beth Lisa Goss, Wire Tree said...

Great job! I'm not nearly as prolific! I was also thinking about lack of business at the fair. Maybe the tourists were all at Seafair Sunday!

imakecutestuff said...

Hi Cheryl!
I finally had a chance to check out your blog -- very nice! Thanks for the compliments too...I'm glad I could help :)

Congratulations on the great contact (the tan lady) and hope that turns out to be a good thing for you! Yay!

Hang in there! You're doing great!!
Marlo M.

Anandi said...

Thanks for the great post about the craft fair. I found your blog from the fall craft fair evite, so I hope to see you there!