Follow me during my daily trials and experimentations as I try to survive 40+ hours of over-the-top stress working with people who are homeless while balancing home life and now trying to make it in the jewelry making business. Yikes!!
I'm nearing the end of a very long first semester of graduate school. I just submitted my final assignment which was a policy analysis of Public Housing...yawn. So I can get back to focusing a little bit of attention on AlyxAndrea Design again.
My daughter, who is now officially a teenager
created a TON of kids jewelry over the summer and I am finally getting a chance to take pictures of them and get them listed on Etsy.
So I've been hitting the books...HARD...for the first time since finishing my undergrad 14 years ago. I just started a fast paced graduate program in Social Work that meets every Saturday for the next 4 years. It's been rough but I'm doing ok so far. My first class is especially accelerated because it's only 8 weeks so in 5 weeks I've already written a paper and had a midterm yesterday which also corresponded with my only child's 13th birthday. So, after a test and another 4 hours of class, I went home to clean the house, threw the child a skating party then had a house full of teens for a sleep over.
Ugh...I'm glad that's over. So proud of my sweet baby girl who is becoming an amazing young woman though.
Needless to say, I have not at all been active in creating, promoting or selling any jewelry...what so ever. I even missed promoting the RAW Artist of the Year voting which happened earlier this month.
I'm hoping to get some things going before the holidays though. I've been using a mini-mall on Pintrest to post some of my items and do a little searching for my own shopping needs. Never used Pintrest to shop before but I'm really liking this board.
AlyxAndrea Design is nearing it's first anniversary in a few months and it has been one hell of a ride. Tents blowing away, failing miserably at product photography and wasting hours and hours learning how to properly use social media. But I also got to know a TON of new people. I have seen an amazing amount of talent at art and craft fairs and have a new on-line family at Etsy - https://www.etsy.com/teams/7512/promotional-frenzy-team
This last weekend was my last show of the season and I wish I could say I'm sorry to see it end. I'm unable to continue through the winter because I was excepted into this amazing graduate program at UW-Madison. I will be attending classes every Saturday for the next FOUR YEARS!! I won't have full summers off but rather a few weeks and since I spent so much time and money preparing for shows this year I should really probably keep doing a few shows a year. If for nothing else but to maybe make the cost of my tent back.
Today I'd like to share a little of what I have learned in the hopes that I can help someone else avoid some of my misfortunes.
First and definitely most important....buy a good tent!!! I was unsure if my fibromyalgia would allow me to do shows so I didn't want to spend a ton of money in case I wasn't able to do it. BAD idea! Although the wind gave all of the vendors trouble and the fair ended up being cancelled due to wind my tent was the only one the lay broken in a heap.
Second, create displays that are easy to store and transport. I thought I was being all creative by finding some fun treasures at a thrift store but they turned out to be a big pain in the bottom.
Does and Don'ts
DO...Chose a display stand that is sturdy
DON'T...Use fun little decorative candle holders that blow over
DO...Get as much display space out of as little weight and space possible
DON'T...Use Bulk wooden easels that are heavy and don't store easily
DO...Have plenty of vertical display space
DON'T...Fill all of your table space with flimsy candle holders and bulky easels
DO...Devise a good plan for storing your product
DON'T...Put each item in little baggies and expect that you will not eventually get sick of putting 70 items in 70 bags and instead throwing them all into a big pile that later turns into a big tangly mess
DO...Make sure everything is secure on your displa
DON'T...Use pretty little ornament hooks and twist them onto your display and expect that they will hold anything.....at all....
DO...Make sure you have enough space so that the customer's eyes can focus on individual pieces
DON'T...Squish everything together and expect people to see anything but a big pile of color
DO..Have different price ranges that are easily identifiable
DON'T...Mix everything together so that when someone picks up your best piece and looks at the price tag they don't quickly run out of your booth
So yes...I have some work to do if I'm going to do more shows. I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do for next year's display but I know what will be in my garage sale next year.
I also learned a little about how to pick shows that best fit your product. If you sell $5 items that were made in China you will probably do well no matter where you go and certainly take away from the people who labor over handmade products and pay themselves $2 an hour to try and compete with your prices. But if you put labor and love into a product that was made in the backyards of you customers there are a few things you should consider when looking for shows.
1. Pick shows that do not allow commercial products. (However, the show I did this last weekend said they didn't allow commercial products but there were several booths that did. I'm assuming they have a few things that they make themselves then the rest is all made in Thailand. However, I'm not sure how the packaged dips vendors made it in. Doesn't matter....not going back to this one next year anyway.)
2. Try to find juried shows. These shows are less likely to have commercial products and more likely to have vendors with similar price points as yours.
3. Avoid themed festivals. If 100,000 people are going to a festival which is featuring the local harvest - cranberries, corn, pumpkins etc. that doesn't mean there will be 100,000 people looking for a nice handmade product to tote with them through carnival rides and games.
4. Don't think your saving a buck by focusing on shows that have low booth fees. Higher fees means more advertising and a history of having a good turnout filled with people ready to spend money on local, handmade goodness.
5. Figure out if you are an "art" or a "craft" vendor. If you are a crafter, go to "craft fairs." Have a ton of each item you sell and price them to move. The woman selling $2 kids hair ties must have sold a million of them on one of the slowest shows I went to. The only customers where families with small children. Moms were all too willing to shell out 2 bucks to make their kids happy because they got to buy something. However, I can only imagine how little the vendor actually makes per hour when you factor in the labor time. I also got to know a woman who sells painted gourd bird houses pretty well. She needs to keep her cost down to compete and people still complain that they are too expensive. The products you see in big box stores are cheap because they are made in 3rd world countries where labor costs are in the cents not dollars. You can't expect a person with American bills to pay to live off of a few cents per hour. But this women creates because she enjoys it and goes to shows because she loves talking to new people all day.
My husband spoke to a vendor who makes gorgeous and very good quality metal yard art. She had this intricate garden bench that was VERY reasonably priced considering how very long it must have taken to make. I customer asked her the price then quickly replied "F*** you, that's way too expensive." This handmade metal bench that would last a lifetime was less than $200. I can not image getting something similar from a retail store for anything less and who knows where it was made or how long it will last.
If you are an "artist" go to "art fairs." Customers are expecting to pay for art which inherently is more expensive but also more labor intensive and hopefully of good quality. Kids hair ties and $3 trinkets will not likely be at these shows.
6. Talk to your neighbors. It is inevitable that you will go to shows that don't fit well with what you are trying to sell. Talk to the other vendors and find out what shows work for them and why.
7. Don't give up and don't get discouraged. If you have made it as far in your trade that you are considering showcasing your work you are probably doing something right. You're not going to do everything right at first. Your prices may need adjusting, you signage my be lacking or your display might not be working right but all you can do is learn and make improvements. Like any small business it is common for people to lose big bucks the first year. Learn from you mistakes and try not to look at the customer that just keeps walking as a sign that your product isn't good enough. You just need to find the right venue and have a display that works well for you. All of that takes time and practice.
I realize I should have written this a LONG time ago since the showcase was more than 2 months ago but it's better late than never. If you've been keeping track you would have seen that I was excited and a little nervous about this showcase which featured a ton of amazing artists and I was worried I would look like a newbie putz but I did just fine.
There was hoop dancing, rapping, popping, pun rock and little ole me at the RAW Artists Showcase in Madison WI on June 20th - http://www.rawartists.org/madison I picked a spot for my display near the stage so that I would be sure to see all of the amazing stage performers and I was glad I did. Some of my favorite artists included:
Watching the performance artists and meeting a ton of people was a blast but when the show ended at midnight I was exhausted!
I packed up as fast as possible then went to a friends house for the night. The show was in Madison and I work in Madison but live 45 minutes away. We were having a team building day at a ropes course the next day so I didn't want to take the day off so I stayed with a friend in Madison so I wouldn't have to drive.
The next day I got up to POURING rain. I went to the ropes course and we played a few team building games but weren't able to climb the ropes course because of thunder and lightning. So I went home and slept the afternoon away instead.
It sure has been a LONG summer! I think I over booked myself just a tad. Full-time job has gotten too stressful for words and then I started a part-time job facilitating groups for men on probation and parole. It's something I've done before and REALLY enjoy it. However, 12 hour days just aren't for me.
Got some great news though, I got into graduate school so I'm actually going down to part-time at the one job and switching from working with women who are homeless to families who are homeless The families are not yet in the shelter because we have a long waiting list. I'm sure no one really thinks to get put on a waiting list before they become homeless! So, it will be nice to go down to part-time but I'm not looking forward to seeing kids who are sleeping in cars or on the floors of other people's homes. But working with single women gets difficult too because there is so much mental illness that makes everything so difficult. NO ONE would deny a person housing solely because they have cancer or heart disease but a person with severe mental health issues really struggles to obtain and maintain housing sometimes. It bothers me tremendously that people seem to think that mental illness is some sort of choice or a consequence for poor choices or something. Mental illness is biological and develops by no fault of the person.
I really do have a passion for helping people with mental illness and I could probably go on all day about the injustices but I am BURNT OUT. I very much plan to return to mental health related work but if I don't take a break I may end up quitting forever. So, I'm going to work with families for awhile and see how it goes.
As far as AlyxAndrea Design goes you may have noticed that I've been a little absent. I've been doing a few art fairs but my on-line presence has been nearly non-existent. Just too busy but as I switch to part-time soon I'm hoping I will be back in full force. I also only have one more craft fair of the season which is the:
Sweet Corn Festival
Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18
Sun Prairie WI
http://www.sunprairiechamber.com/Sweet-Corn-Festival.68.0.html This will be my first 2 day show and I'm a little nervous that my fibromyalgia body won't be able to handle it. But, I am excited because it is a really large festival and I'm hoping for some good traffic. Many of the other fairs I did this summer have been really slow. But since this was my first year I'm treating it as a learning experience. I rather expensive learning experience but I'm hoping I will do better to choose shows that will work for me next year. Coming soon....I need to finally share my experience at the RAW Artists Showcase. I need to tweek a few things and get that up because it has been 2 months. I'm excited to share how it went but just haven't had time to write it all down. I wish had some new products to share today but I haven't made much time for creating. The only thing I've been doing is getting products for a $10 and $5 table for craft fairs. My daughter made a ton of kids jewelry to be sold at $5 and I made some really simple adult jewelry for $10. I'm not planning to put any of the kids jewelry on Etsy but maybe whatever is left of the adult stuff after my last fair. I've listed this one sad pair of earrings recently: