- Work Box (Thank you Barb Lieberman for pointing out this one)
It's a good idea to keep some type of work box, or in my case a work bag. In this bag includes all necessary equipment for repairs. This will vary depending on what you make and sell. This can include needle and thread, pliers, jump rings, glue, etc. This also includes all necessary equipment for making the sale, such as receipt book, pen, calculate, anything that goes with a sale (such as the instructions for how to take care of your fairy garden). I also include yarn, tape, scissors, extra pens, my folder with everything from more business cards to tags to stickers for my bags to important paperwork regarding the event I am attending. Your sellers permit or business license is another good thing to include in there just in case you need it. And if you are anything like me, keeping a first aid kit on hand will be very wise. The more experience you have with events, the more you know what to bring to be prepared for the next event. Barb from Seeds of Inspiration advises making a list of items you know you need while first packing your tool box and then just keeping everything in that particular container so you know you always have everything you need.
- Dress comfortably
At the Steampunk Expo, one day I dressed in my Robin Hood costume in an attempt to dress the part. I added gears to it and I had these boots which were rather comfortable. The costume as a whole, while cute and somewhat fitting with the theme, was not. My skirt was short and because of this I am not too comfortable bending over in it. This makes it difficult when dealing with customers and trying to grab bags or bins to restock from under the table. In short, pun not intended, not my best idea.
For Whiskey Flat Days, I was considering a longer skirt, one I can bend over in and move around as need be, and that also fits the theme. However, the first day of Whiskey Flats we have to set up. Personally, I have yet to master how to set up tables in a skirt. I decided to stick with jeans this first day. They offer comfort and I can find other ways to dress the part and match the theme, such as my cowboy hat, customized to be specifically Acorn Tops with the help of The Delightful Bee's acorn felt hair clip! It also works well to avoid the inevitable sun burn that comes with warm days in the desert/mountains.
The skirt will be reserved for tomorrow and Sunday, the busier days.
On the fourth day, when we will have to tear down and pack up, I'll return to the long skirt.
- Use the bathrooms first thing in the morning, especially if they are port-a-potties.
This is a good rule to apply to most events. First, mornings, especially during set up, when it is not as busy, is a good time to slip away from the booth without worrying about missing a sale. Second, the bathrooms will not be as crowded. Third, there will be plenty of toilet paper, especially when dealing with port-a-potties. Nearing the end of the day, they tend to run low on those much needed essentials. And fourth, near the end of the day, the port-a-potties stink. Outside of stuffing a Seeds of Inspiration's dash sach up your nose, you can very possibly pass out from the green fumes rising out of that particular restroom. Save yourself the trouble, limit your liquid intake and go first thing in the morning.
On a similar note, you will want to have some hand sanitizer on hand. Occasionally, they will have hand washing stations, but expect and plan for them to not.
- The First Day Phenomenon
The first day of expos and multi-day events will be shorter and slower. There is always less traffic on the first day. It's the look-and-see day, the day customers make mental notes of which booth they want to come back to. Jess and I saw this at the Steampunk Expo and many vendors who have done Whiskey Flat Days in previous years told us the busiest days, the days 40,000 people descend upon this small town, are Saturday and Sunday, the second and third day of this four day event.
I suggest using this day to work on your product in the booth. (Normally I do this every day at every event because it's a good way to draw people's attention and explain product, but tomorrow I'm planning on being so busy, I'll be unable to carve at all.) This way, you won't feel a whole day is wasted sitting around with very few sales and there will be less frustration at the many people who will not dish out their wallet for reasons stated previously.
- Bring a variety of work
If you bring things to work on in the booth for the whole event, make sure to bring a nice variety to work on if you can. By the third day of the Steampunk expo, I got a lot of ornaments carved, but I was so tired and bored of it, I had to put it away. (As stated above, this will not be a problem for me with this event. However, still a good thing to keep in mind.)
A few tips and tricks I have forgotten and some new ones after this first day at Whiskey Flat Days!
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!
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!
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.
How do you define a good show? The ideal situation is to sell out and get back what you make tenfold, right? I mean, let’s be completely honest here. This is a business. This is my job. This is my source of income. Idealism, however, is not always the handmade small business entrepreneur’s friend. That is to say, craft shows tend to be hit or miss. Even shows that proved to be a big hit one year, sometimes turn out to be a miss the next. There are many reasons for this, whether the organizers changed the layout, the date of the event was different, the economy, or something as simple as weather.
Branching out, which is necessary to grow the business, results in taking the chance on that event we’ve never been to before, which may or may not be good. Yet another risk we entrepreneurs tend to take. Brave little guys aren’t we? But there’s that word again. Good. What exactly are we saying when we define an event with this term?
So, selling out seems a little far-fetched, at least for me at this point. No, this is not pessimism. It’s more acceptance that this has been the trend thus far at my events. This then means, I’m probably not going to walk away from a show a sudden millionaire or even a thousand dollars richer. (Wouldn’t that be nice, though?)
If we define a good show in terms of money, then based on experience, research, and learning from Handmade in South Bay and fellow member’s experiences the money earned must equate to multiple factors, including booth fees and gas. Let’s say at the end of the event, you glance at your receipt book and spontaneously break out into celebratory song and dance for making all of $200. This must have been a good event, right? But let’s take into consideration what you spent on the event. Everyone have their calculators out? Let’s say you spent $40 on gas and $150 on the booth fee, that’s $190, meaning you technically only made $10. That is not enough for groceries, for rent, not even enough to restock the product that sold. A bit of a downer, right?
To figure out a good show a very basic equation should look something like this: (gas)+(booth fee)+(materials to make more product to restock)+ (daily expenses whatever they be)+ (etc.) = good show and celebratory song and dance.
As this is a business and a job, finances are a BIG part of it. So where do we, as handmade small business entrepreneurs find our umbrellas when our receipt books and wallet decide to rain on our parade? If we just defined good shows by money, especially while we’re still young and growing, face it, we’d all drown. There’s another way we can define good shows.
Handmade small businesses are not just making product and collecting money and working social media. We are also in customer service. And could anybody deny our clientele is a big part of what can make a show good?
This is not to say that it isn’t frustrating to have people walk into the booth, spend hours gushing over your product to never take that next step and actually buy it. This is not to say it doesn’t make us want to pull out our hair when someone distracts or steals a potential sale. And this is not to say that it doesn’t make our teeth grind when a customer criticizes or demeans our work. (Handmade small business entrepreneurs must be saints for some of what we put up with.)
Originally posted on Acorn Tops tumblr: On Fairy Wings and Acorn Hats
There is a lot to social media, and all of it can seem very overwhelming, especially the upkeep. I can understand being wary of it as a handmade entrepreneur because time spent online is time spent away from making the product you need to sell. However, the flip side of this is an online presence will equate to sales. The more you get your name out there, the more people will know about you. That being said, whatever social media you decide to do, you want to do well.
People don’t want to follow a social media account that is inactive. With everything a handmade entrepreneur already does for their business, how is one supposed to keep up their accounts? Here are a couple tips:
In the type of business I am in, it is important that the tap of creativity does not run out. Whether or not we think creativity is as endless as Legolas’s arrows, there are times where it feels like the well is dry. We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. We’ve hit a wall, a block, call it what you like; it is frustrating.
After banging your head against the wall and pulling out large clumps of your own hair, and still getting nowhere, the question is how to get out of this creative slump. How do you get passed this?
You remind yourself you need to make product because this is your job, it is your livelihood. No one else is going to make it if you don’t. And if you don’t make it, you can’t sell it, and if you can’t sell it, you don’t make money and now, if you are like me, a thousand worse-case-scenarios are popping into your head. Not to mention, you already said you would be at two shows. This only adds on more stress and pressure, which does not help this creative constipation.
In a handmade business, creativity and inspiration is key. Instead of pressuring yourself to make something, take a step back and look for that creativity and inspiration. Sites like Pinterest let you search through countless photos and can give you countless ideas.
Find the internet distracting? Find yourself drooling over snapshots of someone’s dinner or cooing at the adorable puppy your friend posted rather than searching for ideas? Get off the computer and go green. Return to those third grade “what I did this summer” collages. Finally those stacks of magazines and catalogs collecting dust in some corner can be put to good use.
At a Handmade in South Bay meeting, one of the activities we did was a vision board. After creating a fairy house I was less than happy with, I decided to take that idea and run with it. Searching through magazines and catalogs for anything that could inspire new designs of fairy houses and fairy doors, I took some time away from carving and painting and became more inspired than I have felt since my last show. It took some time, but it was fun and it was worth it. Now, I’m itching to get creating.
Other ways to return to that endless quiver of creativity is to return to your roots. Think of the people around you. What do they like? What reminds you of them? Make something inspired by the people in your life.
Go with what you love.
Go with nostalgia.
If you’re seeking inspiration and creativity go with what you’re passionate about, be it a book, a movie, a television show, pop culture, or video game.
Get out of the house and go play on a swing set. Put away the serious, brooding, anxiety-ridden, deadline-procrastinating businessperson whose constantly checking the wallet, phone, or watch every two seconds and go for a walk, watch some clouds, take a breath, and watch the world, even if it’s just for ten minutes.
Inspiration doesn’t always hit at the work table, and the more you force it, the less willing the muses are to help.
There is a magic to reusing and re-purposing and using a child-like wonder of the world to re-imagine the way we use certain items. An earring without it’s pair turns into a door knocker. Broken tea cups turn into a garden.
On this day, we stop and think about this earth we are living on. We consider the damage done to it in the past and seek new ways to remedy the damage done to it presently for a future that is more green. On this day, we plant trees, we talk about saving the bees, and recycling, reusing, and reducing. On this day, we celebrate the earth and strive to be more conscious of the impact we have on it. However, for some handmade businesses, Earth Day does not just occur April 22nd. It occurs everyday.
Businesses like Seeds of Inspiration craft and create with ecological consciousness everyday of the year. Their impact on the environment is considered in many of their products. Their pet toys, for one, are made using recycled denim. They have bags of denim jeans friends and friends of friends outgrew and would’ve thrown away otherwise.
Their dash saches and scented specialty pillows are organic. Some of these ingredients, such as some lavender for instance, come directly from their garden. Tanza Botanicalscreates organic herbals salves.
Then of course, there is the round robins of fabric between Seeds of Inspiration, Acorn Tops, and Jessie’s Custom Greetings. Scraps of fabric from Seeds of Inspiration’s products go to either Acorn Tops for our Raggle Taggle fairy dolls or to Jessie’s Custom Greetings to use on their cards. The scraps of those scraps are then returned to Seeds of Inspiration to create handmade buttons for a new product!
Nature is a great source of inspiration for many businesses. In learning the plight of the honey bees, Lainie’s Lathers created honey soap!
According to Handmade in South Bay’s Interview with Samantha Haymes, her handmade business, The Crowned Heart, “is chocked full of things I love which includes beautiful things gifted to us by Mother Earth.” This is evident is her beautiful crystal and gem jewelry, for example and the way her art “utilizes and harnesses nature’s energies” (The Crowned Heart’s Shop Announcement).
Earth Day does not just exist one day a year. Earth Day should be and for many handmade small businesses is everyday.
Let’s talk collaboration! I don’t just mean two business working together on a single product, like Jessie’s Custom Greetings and Seeds of Inspiration’s Mug Hugger Greeting Cards, or my collaboration with Seeds of Inspiration on our needle felted mushroom fairy bottle, (though I am a huge fan of both). I’m talking a different type of collaboration, that not only benefits both businesses but this beloved planet on which we live.
The beauty of an organization like Handmade in South Bay is you have a community of like minded business entrepreneurs who are able to rely on each other for things like support and promotion, but also materials. Sometimes this means sharing suppliers, splitting shipping costs with someone who uses your same supplier, or sharing supplies.
That’s the collaboration I’m talking about. Any one who knows Seeds of Inspirationknows they use fabric. They give Acorn Tops the scraps. Using those scraps, my raggle taggle fairy dolls are made. The scraps of the scraps then goes back to Seeds of Inspiration for their handmade buttons for a new product they’re working on. Between the two of us, our products are made and the earth weeps with joy over our clever reusing and recycling.
Always remember, sharing is caring!
On Fairy Wings and Acorn Hats
The magic behind it all!