A sign at the start of the garden welcomes all the fairies to 'saddle up!'
A cowboy fairy forgot his hat after it fell off a ride on a buckin' bronc!
An abandoned wagon wheel leans against a succulent, ready for a fairy to reattach to another wagon!
Follow the horseshoes down a path lined with turquoise through the desert...
... to a fence where the cowboy fairy left his rope!
There’s an irony to accidentally cutting yourself while carving a door inspired by the man of steel. It’s not the first time I’ve done it. I carry enough bandaids with me on a daily basis for my purse to be considered a first aid kit. During the last craftsman’s guild fair I received a very nice scar on my finger. On the bright side neither of these injuries required stitches. But it reminded me of something I and some fellow crafters talked about during the HMSB Maker’s Retreat last weekend, the difference between a hobby and a business.
One of the crafters there talked about how it was the difference between something like Handmade in South Bay and something like the Torrance Craftsman’s Guild. On the ride home from the retreat, though, we decided it was more than that though. For us in Handmade in South Bay, it’s our business, our income, our livelihood or what we’d like our livelihood to be, but it’s also our passion. There is a flame that refuses to die. Yes, we get frustrated and walk away for a bit. We put down the needle and thread and paint and brushes, but we always come back. We walk around with idea books stuffed in our bags and purses. We have our planners as our brains. And we never stop thinking about our business. Even when it’s something as simple as spying all the trees that would be perfect for a fairy door, or dreaming up a new design. We are our business and we take it with us, in our purses, in our notebooks and phones, in our brains, and in our soul. You can hear it in our voices and see it on our faces when we talk about it. We live and breathe not only our businesses, but what our businesses can do for the world at large.
And we bleed for it. We cry for it. We try for it. We risk for it. And we work for it. From the moment we wake, to the moment we rest our heads on our pillow. We do not work a nine-to-five. I don’t think we know how. Sometimes dinner, when we remember it through our painting pallets and sewing machines, is at 9 o’clock at night. Lunches are optional and breakfast is accompanied by updating social media and scheduling posts. When Degas was going blind, he switched to sculpting, because there is no such thing as idle hands for a passionate artist. Again, we don’t know how.
We are disciplined enough to accomplish it amidst the mind-sucking everyday distractions that come with working from home. We are brave enough to bare our souls to an often unkind world, sometimes even in the circles where we should feel the most safe in doing so and who should be able to understand the most. We push ourselves further than we ever thought we could go. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Passionate handmade entrepreneurs do hundreds on a daily basis. Larger events. Events out of state. More events. Different events. New products. And we do it with very little respect, sometimes even from our fellow crafters who use air quotes whenever they refer to their work as a business. Because while to them they fail to see it for themsevles, us who are businesspeople, who are passionate, who do what we love and love what we do, it is an insult to us.
We are crazy. Crazy to think we can do it and put ourselves through it. To be this passionate. But as Jack Kerouac said, “The only people for me are the mad ones.”
So, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” (Apple Inc.)
“Stop thinking about art as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers.”- Roy Ascott
In my family there are a lot of traditions that include the Christmas tree. We tend to put it up the day after Thanksgiving. (We’re a little late this year.) We blast Christmas carols as we decorate. By far, my favorite, though, is the ornaments. We don’t do themed Christmas trees. You will find very few simple or elegant glass balls. Our tree tells a story and every year that story starts with Grandmom’s star, a gold and red ornament. It’s always the first on the tree. Next, I put my baby’s first ornament, a brown bear laying on a group of blocks that have my birth year on them. Following that are ornaments we’ve received every Christmas since we were first born. Every year my grandparents would get us an ornament. Each ornament represents an interest of ours from that year. It’s what we liked, who we wanted to be, where we wanted to go, where we went, who we were. It’s a story about each of us individually, but also who we are as a family. And I have yet to see a tree more beautiful. (I may be a little biased on that count.)
My ornaments range from The Comfy Couch and Madeline to ballerinas and teachers, from Crayons and beloved books to feminist quotes. Photos of beloved pets who have since crossed the rainbow bridge to handmade ornaments marking milestones. Each is a memory. It makes the tree feel more special to me. It is unique and it is specifically mine. No one would look at my tree and doubt who it belonged to.
I like to achieve something similar with the ornaments I carve. I like them to be unique. I like them to be special. I like them to reflect and capture people’s interest. That beloved books or movie, that milestone, something important, something my customers can looks back on with a smile, something that tells a story. That captures this moment, this year, forever. And maybe, just maybe, something that would mean as much to them as Grandmom’s star.
Another great event, the last one for the year! It’s ending on a good note, which makes me happy. There are definitely exciting things to look forward to in the new year (for both you and me), but before the year is over, there is still plenty of time to buy online. If you couldn’t make it to my last event, here is some of what you missed.
Handmade in South Bay puts on two shows annually, our holiday boutique (this last event), and our Spring Boutique in April (one of the exciting things to look forward to… honey, you’ll be buzzing about this event)! This was our second holiday boutique and it was pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. 50+ handmade vendors, including the always fantastic DJ Ozzie, 6 very professional young entrepreneurs that will be back for Spring (YAY! Really, these guys are the bomb!) and 5 incredible local artists in our artist alley (I really hope they come back for the spring!)
I talk a lot about what makes a good event, often saying it’s not just the monetary element of it. The customers really made this event, even the ones not buying from me. It was the kids especially. Santa handed out free ornament kits and this one little boy in a batman shirt was so happy about his gingerbread man ornament kit. He would not let it go and he kept walking up to my booth and just showing it to me.
By far, the very best moment of the show came from the little girl in the booth next to mine. She kept coming over to look at my fairy bottles. When the little girl walked away for a little while, her mother came over and bought the fairy bottle as a surprise. At the end of the show, when we were packing up, the mother told me the little girl was all upset when she came back. Her exact words were, “The. Fairy. Bottle. Is. Gone!” Her mother kept telling her it was okay and it would all work out, but she was still very upset. Finally, her mother just told her to look in the bag. She is very happy with her new fairy bottle!
Between that and the money I raised for my two charities, TSWGO and V-Day, it was worth it, regardless of my wallet when I come home.
After a fantabulous event at the Torrance Craftsmen’s Guild, my best event yet, where I not only made yet another customer cry (this time over the Rosemary Remembrance Fairy Pillow), but also had repeat customers from a year ago, I’m gearing up for more upcoming events, not only the last ones for the year, but also for next year as well. As my calendar starts to fill up, I’m planning and brainstorming products and production time for each individual event.
It helps, of course, to take certain factors into consideration when planning and brainstorming, such as themes for the event and close by holidays that potential customers could be shopping for. Four days at Whisky Flats means a lot of product, but also going western and vintage! Two days two weeks later at the Long Beach Comic Expo means comic and superhero related items and plenty of product for that event as well! Then there’s the bee themed HMSB Spring Boutique in April and the Torrance Craftsmen’s Guild Spring Event (If you couldn’t come for the holiday craft faire, here’s your second chance for the year)! Before all of that, I have to restock for the upcoming HMSB Holiday Boutique in two weeks. Needless to say, I’ll be busting my butt and cranking out as much as I can! The excitement really helps!
So, what to make first? Well, my most recent upcoming event is the Holiday Boutique. I need to focus my attention on restocking the raggle taggle fairy dolls, some doors, and plenty of ornaments. A few new fairy houses will be needed for any repeat customers (cue wink and fingers crossed). After that is a small event at a local school, but it is only a six foot table space and any product left over from the HMSB boutique can be used there. That gives approximately two months to build up inventory for Whisky Flats (this will be the longest event I have ever done) and the Comic Expo. Arguably for every comic and superhero related item I make, I should make two items for Whisky Flats.
This begs the question; do I put out the superhero and comic products I have already made at one of the events before the comic expo? Or, to be fully prepared for that event, do I put them to the side? By putting it off to the side, am I running the risk that I could lose out on a sale? To Spiderman or not to Spiderman, that is the question.
At both the Comic Expo and Whisky Flat Days I am sharing with Jessie’s Custom Greetings again. We have both agreed that our comic and superhero products will be put off to the side for Whisky Flats due to the events being so close together. These are not easy decisions to make, but it feels really great to have to make these types of decisions.
How am I, of all people, going to keep this all straight? Why, piles, of course! I have the start of my Whisky Flats piles, currently, two fairy dolls. I have a pile for the Comic Convention, both doors and ornaments, and soon to be Gotham Fairy House (keep an out for upcoming pictures)! I’m rearing to go! And now that I’ve celebrated this bursting of excitement with all of you, I’m going to get back to work! Wish me luck!
At my most recent event, a customer mentioned how cool they thought it was that I had very ancient symbols, such as my goddess fairy door, and some newer symbols, such as my Mockingjay inspired ornament. I had something for everyone, they said. As Seeds of Inspiration put it when I was talking to her about it, it’s almost like a secret handshake. Whether it’s the knowing look and smile I receive from a customer picking up the goddess fairy door, or the squeals and shouts of excitement over my TFIOS inspired products, it kind of feels like a secret handshake. The customer and I share more than a mutual understanding and knowledge; we share a connection.
Certain symbols like that of the goddess or the okay… okay clouds from TFIOS fit into certain niches. If you know Divergent you recognize my Divergent door. The same can be said for many of the symbols I use. Some people who have never heard of TFIOS will buy a TFIOS inspired fairy house because the glow in the dark infinity sign on the top reminds them of their wedding. Most of my sales, though, when it comes to a more specific audience comes from people who fit into the niche. Teenagers tend to gravitate most to my products that are inspired by young adult fiction. A woman wearing the celtic knot necklace and matching earrings is more likely to pick up my celtic knot tree of life door.
That being said, there are certain universal symbols, recognized by all and it is all who seem excited to see them. A sixty year old man will pick up the same spiderman fairy door that a six year old girl picked up not five minutes ago. An eight year old boy will gush over the same Lorax fairy door that a thirty year old woman gushed over an hour or so before. There is a connection there, too. Everyone knows Thomas The Tank Engine. Anyone can recognize Thing One and Thing Two. There is no one who does not know the Batman Symbol or The S Superman wears on his chest.
Then there are the personal symbols, like my logo. This is not universal. This does not fit into a specific niche. No one I have ever come across knows the artist. But it’s not so much the artist. It’s not even so much the artwork itself, though it is a huge inspiration. It is a connection, too; a connection to my grandmother that I then share with my customers.
Deep down all symbols are somewhat personal, even the most universal. There is a reason we feel drawn and choose certain symbols over another. When it comes down to it, it can be as personal as scent, and yet it still holds a capacity to connect two total strangers.
Acorn Tops is proud to be able to have a little something for everyone. I extend my hand… you know the handshake.
There’s a beauty to strangers that I can’t really explain. Don’t get me wrong, when your best customers are your best friends, it’s great to know they love your product just as much as you love your product and, as handmade entrepreneurs, that support means the world to us. When a customer is a complete stranger, however, there is this excitement that I find hard to put into words. I think the first customers are always that first circle of support, your family, your friends, your partners/significant others, and their families and friends. When it’s a stranger, there’s this feeling of it expanding, past your inner circle, even past your local area.
There’s nothing like finding out that a fairy house ornament is being sent across the country. Acorn Tops is now in PA! OH YEAH! And through an online source like etsy, it tends to save money. 20 cents per listing versus the money for travel, money for a place to stay, money for the booth fee and whatever other cost would go into a show in PA. That being said, online sales present something of a challenge.
First, is getting people to even look at your online store. You don’t have sales if you don’t have views. An online store means an online presence. Social media is an essential for views and while you might save on money, there is often a struggle between making the product to sell and keeping up active social media accounts. The old adage is right, time is money in this biz. This is not to say that keeping up active social media accounts is a waste of time. This is just to say it can be difficult to figure out how best to structure your time.
Social media accounts are important for your online store, not only because it’s a way for those strangers to find it, but also because here is where you get that social interaction that is so essential to the handmade small business. Online you do not get the same opportunities you would have in a booth at a boutique. You do not get the face-to-face interactions. Online you have a limited time window to grab their attention and often in 140 characters or less. On top of this, you are competing with the latest cat video and a picture of someone’s dinner and which Kardashian did what. You do not get the chance to greet a captive audience walking by your beautiful display and draw them in with a cleverly crafted spiel. It’s a very different way to sell. And while a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s never the same thing as seeing the product in person. Reading a description is not the same as being told the story behind it in person.
While an online presence is beneficial for your shop, it also opens up a whole new list of endless questions about this customer who is a stranger. Where did they hear about the store? How did they find the product? What made them want to buy that product? What was it that made them take that next step from a simple view or like or heart or reblog or repin to actually hit the buy button? These are questions that are sometimes answered when you meet face to face and yet are rarely answered when facing a computer screen. Where you get tears from customers for your work with charity and you receive stories and dive into discussions of favorite books and the why and when and how and what, often times the only thing you receive from online are numbers and statistics. While this can tell you which social media account gave you the most views, what most people seem drawn to, the words some people searched to find it, it does not answer most of the questions and it never tells you about that one stranger.
If this most recent sale of mine on Etsy is like the others, I might never know what the customer thinks of them. I will never know if they're going to hang on a tree or be given to a friend. Though, this time I asked for a review, which is a big accomplishment for me because I always feel so funny asking. We’ll see. I’ll be content with guessing. Because a stranger bought my product and Acorn Tops is now in PA and that is pretty freaking exciting!
This fairy garden will be available at my next event, Torrance Craftsmans Guild Holiday Craft Faire.
Selling at events is a bit of a double edged sword for handmade small business entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to products and inventory. As I’m gearing up for the last couple of shows for the year, the next event being only two weeks away, the pressure is on. Or, at least, that’s the way it feels. It’s sort of the equivalent of test anxiety, the ever prevalent preparedness anxiety. Do you have enough change? Do you have everything needed for your set up? Do you need to make signs? What about tags and business cards? And then there is your inventory, which without a doubt is the most important aspect of craft fairs and shows. If you don’t have anything to sell, everything else becomes moot.
I’m starting to pack everything up, if only to get the small growing Fairy House Village and piles of fairy doors off my floor and bookshelves (I can actually make it to my window now and no, that is not an exaggeration). Products to go down to the car are piled on my bed and seeing it all piled up and trying to pack everything has led to a startling discovery. Holy, handmade! I, for the first time since starting my business, have an actual inventory! It’s not quite at The Seeds of Inspiration level, mind you, but I have more fairy dolls and fairy doors than can fit in their respective bins!
How on earth did this happen? Here’s where the rejoicing meets a bit of rain clouds. The past several events have not been the greatest for me sales wise. This has left me with a larger than normal inventory. Enter the double edged sword.
At an event, there are always two ways to view sales and the lack there of. That is to say, you have a great event, sold a lot, woo hoo, cue the tap dancing penguins! But the celebration never last long because, oh (insert frustrated expletive), now you need to make more inventory. And during this time of year, with events closer together, that does not provide a lot of time to rebuild the number of products to make this next show just as great.
On the flip side of that, you have the piles of fairy products on your bed and shouting ‘holy handmade’ at the top of your lungs. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take the sting out of the bad shows of the past. You still need to listen to some feel-good-music, eat some ice cream, while watching a great tear-jerker of a movie to lick the wounds, but there is still that feeling of elation that at this next event, my booth will be bursting with product, and I’ll still have enough to restock.
We, handmade small business entrepreneurs, struggle with this double edged sword for every event. While the celebrations might always seem short lived, there is something to be said for our determination and perseverance when met with this blade.
On Fairy Wings and Acorn Hats
The magic behind it all!