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We turned in the parking lot slowing to pay the $5 parking fee. The man at the gate took our $20 bill and asked if we had anything smaller, calling my husband Big Spender. This made me giggle a little as he handed back two $10 bills in exchange. As we drove away we realized he just gave us back the $20 we paid. He didn’t have change, so played it off without questions for the next guy. We parked, having no idea where we were headed, picked up the plastic tote full of my shirts and onesies and headed to my friend’s booth. I sold a shirt out of my tote in the first 15 minutes before we reached our destination. We were in Canton at First Monday Trade Days. This would be a good day.
I make hand designed, cut and sewn appliqué children’s wear and accessories. Starting as a hobby making shirts for my granddaughters, this business turned in to full time in its first year. But because I’m still in my first year I am still building this business. I’ve learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. My primary sales outlets are Etsy, Facebook and craft shows. As I’ve grown I have been searching new venues to balance the fees with the sales. My business focus is to provide boutique quality children’s wear to families in all income levels. So, most of my items are priced $20 or less.
Some of the challenges I’m facing today include how much inventory to prepare for the fall / holiday season, how to balance the online / trade show sales and fees, managing the daily sewing schedule and shipping costs. In the midst of this I am challenged by the church / work / family rhythm of my life. I am very blessed to have this business and to work from home while helping raise my grandchildren. It is truly an adventure in this season of my life. These are some of the things I plan to do as I make the decision on new venues.
Talk to other vendors – I spent time yesterday talking to vendors of children’s wear to get a gauge on how this venue worked for them. Most vendors are more than willing to share information. We are all in this together and help each other out as much as possible. I came across one disgruntled vendor who will not return when her yearlong agreement is up. The rest I talked to were encouraging, informative and asked me to return to let them know how it works out. I believe there are different opinions in everything and craft / trade shows are no different. This particular vendor was upset at having other vendors copy her products and even purchase one of her items and sell it on special order in another booth at the same show. I can’t blame her for being upset. On the other hand at some level we must remember why we do this, and if someone is dishonest in their practices we can only be the best vendor and person we know how.
Weigh the costs versus anticipated revenue – I calculated the cost of the gas to / from each day as I am two hours away. I would either have to drive four hours each day or stay in a hotel. The hotel I found outside of this area is just over what I would spend in gas. I’m not sure yet, I may drive just so I can sleep in my own bed. On the other hand, there is a group of women staying in this same hotel who invited me to join them for dinner and fellowship if I decide to stay. I will determine the overall cost of the show and what my sales would need to be to cover them and make it profitable. I personally do not look at hourly rate because I get great benefit from working at home and completely enjoying my job. I also anticipate my business will make much more in another couple of years. I wouldn’t expect to make a lot while still establishing my business. I do not have personal money to invest, however, so it is imperative my business pay for itself. There are other factors so this decision is not yet final.
Location, location, location – I’ve found in most venues the booth location can make or break your sales. However, in many cases it is just a small difference. For instance, in a couple of high school shows the location was not as impacting as the larger trade markets I’ve done. I currently sell at the McKinney Trade Days and was originally in a location literally on the other side of the creek. That made for a very slow month. The next month I requested and was granted a move to a much better location and my sales tripled. In the case of Canton, I will wait to see what booth they assign me. In querying the other vendors I’ve discovered what areas to turn down if necessary. I’ve also discovered what areas to accept and the alternatives. If necessary I will take an outdoor booth over the wrong indoor booth. Once I am assigned moving is very difficult in this venue, unlike McKinney.
Finally, I believe you must have confidence in your items. Did you rush through making them or are you happy with your work? Are you doing this just for the money or do you get benefits as I do from working at home, flexible schedules, etc.? I prefer to spend my efforts on my business rather than worrying about what others may or may not be doing in theirs. I hope this helps some of you as you step in to the craft business world.
What do you consider when growing your business?