7 Lessons Learned from a Year of “Doing shows”…

Oct 2011 … I participated in my first holiday boutique, a craft show.  Where I “put myself out there” by making multiples of many of my creations in hopes that other people might like them too (and maybe even like them enough to buy some so I could recoup some of my costs).  Thank you to my fun friends at the Farm Stand West for kicking my rear in gear and challenging me to do this… your boutique was the first of many in a 12 month period.  Many more followed and many insights came along the way.

I decided to put this blog post together to capture some of the fun memories and some of the hard but good lessons learned.  Good times, good times…

It all started one hot day in September… I stopped at my farm stand for some produce and as I was paying for my lettuce and squash and dried apricots I saw  a flyer on the counter for a fall holiday boutique, an annual event at this location.  The top of the flyer read, “Vendors Wanted”… and as they say, the rest is history!

I started creating, and then kept creating.  And then a few days before the big show I woke up freaking out about my setup/display.  I had NEVER done anything like this before (and quite honestly, hadn’t attended too many craft fairs in order to glean from others’ ideas).  Since I had never stopped to contemplate doing this someday I truly was a newbie.  (What was I thinking?!)  That day I ran out and bought some matching tablecloths/fabric pieces and found some awesome vintage-looking display pieces … and then came home and did a mock setup in my living room.   It was a cute display.  One problem – I hadn’t created enough and needed to come up with some more ideas so I could fill up my spot.  So, I got back to work.

So, here we go..in order to capture things I probably should have pondered (if I were a less impulsive person) here goes the list of lessons I learned along the way…

Lesson #1 – Create What You Love and Make a lot of it!  If you love what you make then you won’t mind making more of it.  You’ll stay up way past your bedtime in order to keep creating. You’ll drive out of your way to pick up more supplies and the hunt is just as much a part of the process as the making and the selling.

Oh the madness I was about to get into … I had no idea. (And maybe that was for the best.)  Over those few weeks I found extra excuses to stop in at the Farm Stand so I could ask about table space, location, access to electricity (after all, I HAD to string up some lights in my area), setup time, etc

Lesson #2 – Make for yourself a Checklist of information to gather, that pertains specifically to your display/product.  While most show coordinators will do a good job of addressing these issues ahead of time, there will typically be other questions you’ll have.  Don’t be afraid to ask them…  it benefits you, and hopefully helps the show coordinator too!

Third weekend in Oct (2011) – my first show.  It was a two-day event… from 9 am – 4 pm (if my memory serves me correctly).  The vendors could arrive an hour early to set up, and since it was outside we tore down at end of the day.  The next morning we setup again and did it all over again.  Any problems?  Yes.  Several of the items sold out immediately and I was in dire need of making more items that night so my table didn’t look bare for Day 2!

Lesson #3 – Be Prepared:  as you’re packing up the car you’ll be taking with you – items to sell (obviously) but you’ll also be packing up  display pieces, signage (for your business and your items/product lines), business supplies (receipt book, extra tags, scissors, notepad, pens, hot glue gun, money bag with plenty of change, etc) … put some thought into how you want to present yourself and your business.  How will you dress the day of the event?  What feeling or emotion do you want people to walk away with after visiting your spot.  What would help shoppers fall in love with your item?  Put together a plan, and be prepared to run with it.  Think about what forms of payment you will take:  just cash?  personal checks?  credit cards?  (Several companies provide FREE card scanning devices that will work with smart phones and Apple devices. Their transaction fees are pretty competitive.  For example: PayPal, Square, etc.)

The Farm Stand Holiday Boutique was followed by a show a few weeks later, Christmas On The Farm (at a private residence, in an unincorporated area north Escondido… a beautiful farm).  It was originally going to be an outside event, where the vendors would have a 10′ x 10′ space and could setup pop-up canopies for our display.  However,  we couldn’t know that a huge winter storm was going to unleash its fury in San Diego that weekend.  Thankfully the property owner and event coordinator could make other arrangements and all of us vendors moved inside the house.  We no longer had a 10′ x 10′ space, but with some adjustments we were all still able to have a 6′ x 4′ space (just enough for setting up a banquet table).  The house was abuzz that weekend, and shoppers showed up despite the rain.  Save for a few cars getting stuck in the muddy field it was a successful event!

Lesson #4 – Be flexible.  Despite circumstances beyond our control, we all had fun that weekend and with a lot of effort on everyone’s part it was a success.  The key to the events success was for the event coordinator and the vendors to remain flexible.

The light bulb switched “ON” one day (again) and I realized that social media was going to be the perfect way to share the details of these events.  And good thing.  I quickly started sharing information on my shows with friends, family and co-workers via email and Facebook… but I also made good ol’ flyers and left them everywhere (coffee shops, community cork boards, etc).  And people actually showed up!  And they bought items… lots of items.

Lesson #5 – Market yourself / sell yourself and your product.  In terms of marketing, find what works for you and run with it.  What style are you portraying?  Vintage?  Rustic?  Traditional?  Is your audience on Twitter, Facebook (setup a Facebook page for your business), Instagram, Etsy, email or is an “in person” invite better for your target audience?  What is the age range of the people interested in your product?  Find out how to best sell yourself to them.  Is your product something that can be photographed well?  Get a decent camera, learn how to use it, take pics and share, share, share.  Talk about what you’re creating everywhere.  In line at the post office?  Talk to the person next to you and see if an opportunity arises to tell them what you love doing.  There’s a lot to be said for that sparkle in your eye when you talk about what you love doing.  Do your items sell better to a focused crowds?  Flea market?  Craft shows?  Holiday boutiques?  Art shows?  Music shows?  Car shows?  Be open to events of all type and set out the appropriate merchandise for that crowd.

And then another light bulb flickered on.  There was a HUGE holiday craft fair that I had gone to once.  What if they still had room for lil’ ol’ me to be a vendor?  I looked up the church website, and found an email for the coordinator.  I shot her a quick email and crossed my fingers.  A few days later I heard back that they were in fact already full, but that she could put me on the waiting list if I wanted.  OK!  I asked her to let me know when the deadline was to sign up for next year.  Well, a few weeks later she contacted me again, as a spot opened up!!!  OK!  I’m in!  The morning of the show (day 1) I was sick to my stomach.  This was a HUGE show … was I prepared?  Did I have enough product made?  Did I decide on the RIGHT product to bring?  My husband went with me to help haul boxes, furniture, etc… and calm my nerves.  What an encouraging challenge this was for me… and somehow I managed to calm my nerves before getting sick and it was a rather successful show!!!

Lesson #6 – Stay Inspired!   Keep learning new things and challenging yourself.  Don’t stop searching for new inspiration.  We can all improve and evolve with the times, step out of our comfort zone but still embrace what you were made to do.

If my count is correct, I did 18 shows in the past 14 months.  In addition to all the creating that’s a lot of prep work, packing, hauling boxes, and making lists.  I couldn’t even begin to quantify the numbers of products I’ve put together for these shows.  And while my product and displays have evolved over the year the premise of my love for creating has remained: I love to breathe new life into vintage items.  Sometimes that simply means rescuing it from a dark corner and shining it up  again, embracing the beauty of old… and sometimes that means altering it or repurposing the item and giving it renewed meaning.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, once I was setup at the shows and finally ready to truly enjoy the day it was imperative that I put on my smile,  stand up and interact with my shoppers and draw them in warmly.  Not in a pushy way… but in my way.

Lesson #7 – Have Fun!   Create what you love and have fun creating.  And then once you get to your show – Smile.  Interact.  Engage.  You can tell if they’re interested in your product by how long their look lingers over your display.  If they are lingering – draw them in!  Engage them in conversation… hand them one of your products and tell them a personal story about it.  If they make an emotional connection to you or the product they will fall in love.  I promise you that…

And now, for a little comic relief…

10 Things a Vendor/Crafter should Never Say or Do at a Craft Fair, as seen at various shows in 2012…

  • 10) Do not offend your shoppers.  It’s just not a smart move.
  • 9)  Do not walk way from your booth as people are walking toward it.
  • 8)  Do NOT scold their children, unless they are getting ready to break something.
  • 7)  Do not complain about circumstances out of your control.  You can’t change them anyway.
  • 6) Do not look other vendors up/down as if to judge their appearance.  That’s just rude.
  • 5) Do not talk to/interrupt/distract shoppers at the booth next to yours, until they make it to your booth or engage you in the conversation.
  • 4) Do not yell insults at another vendor.  (Yes, I’ve seen this happen.)
  • 3) Do not insult the event coordinator.  She probably has a network of coordinators at her hand.  You will be shunned.
  • 2) Do not use an old worn out sheet for a table-cloth.  No matter how much you want to call it “repurposing”.
  • 1) Do not wear plugs and sit with your arms crossed in the back corner of your booth. It just isn’t going to work for you.

Now get out there and have fun!  What are YOU creating?!

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