Did I really buy a booth space for CyclopsFest? Yes.
For the past 6 months, I’ve enjoyed–and at times endured–a crochet marathon in order to have more than a handful of things to sell at the annual CyclopsFest in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Through migraines, aching hands and finally creative burnout, I soldiered on, and ended up having a fairly successful experience this past weekend (September 14, 2013). Never bothered to count my inventory, but I hauled out one full Rubbermaid container and a fully stuffed blue Ikea bag. Beanies, fingerless gloves and a few cowls represented the bulk of my work.
A l-o-n-g day. The event started for exhibitors at 7:30 am and finally ended at 7:00 pm. Buyers began arriving when the event officially opened at 10:00 am. We had been blessed with a beautiful fall day–cool, sunny and dry–so a big crowd was expected. This is only my second festival experience and once again I shared my booth space; this time with a friend who creates wet- and needle-felted creations. Like me my first year, her inventory was slim, but stunning, and she ended up covering her share of the booth fee and having money in the bank.
For the first hour or two, there are more lookers than buyers. Everyone wants to complete the vendor circuit once or twice than narrow down future visits to booths that intrigued them. My friend Tracy and I were fortunate to have people come back once and sometimes twice as they weighed choices offered among vendors. There were the close calls when repeat visitors tried on the same hat several times or held a scarf in their hands for a few long minutes before setting it down and moving on. Luckily, there were more who ended up making a purchase. I restrained myself from kissing their feet and simply gave them a sincere “thank-you” and gently folded their scarf, hat or gloves into one of my special shopping bags (it’s the little things!).
When event organizers stopped by to ask if I was selling anything, I assumed the neutral countenance of someone who does this all the time and conceded that “yes, I think I covered my booth fee.” I was afraid to jinx things (or reveal my beginner excitement), by jumping for joy about the sales I had made. Organizers assured me that most sales were made in the last hour or two, and to my delight, their prediction proved to be true.
- It’s normal to be anxious, afraid and even panicked about having strangers stop by and judge your work. Not everyone will love it or even like it. You’ll hear the occasional person mutter to their sidekick that what they are looking at is “simple to make.” You may hear a mother admonish her son (as I did) not to try on a hat because “it might have bugs in it.” To those I say: “Go away.” Fortunately, there are many more who compliment you on the quality of your work, who ask for your card or even make a purchase. To those I say: “Love!”
- In my experience, fellow vendors are universally friendly, kind and generous with their compliments and advice. Your neighbors will help you set up or tear down the tent designed to pinch and smother you, they will advise you on the best smart phone app for credit cards, and they will ask about your creations, compliment your genius and sometimes make a purchase. If you attend and participate in these events often enough, you see many familiar faces who eventually become your friends. We are lucky in the Dayton area to have a talented and generous community of artists and craftspeople (Handmade Dayton).
- Know your personality. I’m not one to sit and demonstrate my craft (in my case crochet) during an event. I’m too wound up to concentrate. My friend, however, could sit and needle felt while clearly explaining the process and happily interact with folks without breaking a sweat. She has five kids and a couple of jobs outside the home, so this may have something to do with her unflappable nature. I on the other hand, have performance anxiety and am not a natural talker. Smiling and greeting shoppers, demonstrating how fingerless gloves work (really!) and counting out change when someone makes a purchase is about all this old gal can handle. I had to chase a lady down after realizing a few minutes after she walked away that I had shorted her $10. Even though I was a little embarrassed, I did get some honesty points from her.
Where’s the balance? Spending the bulk of one or two days sitting in a booth at an arts and crafts fair is not something I want to do every weekend. So far, once or twice a year has been enough for me. While gratifying and worthwhile in many ways, it is a bit of work. I am the only person crocheting the things I sell, and I am limited in how much time and energy I am physically able to devote to my craft. As I’ve learned, the more inventory you have, the more likely you are to sell things. When shoppers have more styles, colors and items to choose from, the odds are greater they will find something they like. The first year I participated, I had less than 15 items to sell. It did not really occur to me that some of my things simply would not sell. They were all beautiful to me!
Figuring out what people will buy and having more of those items is not an exact science. In fact, it’s a crap shoot. After selling a lot (OK, three) of a particular short bulky scarf, I made several for my next outing. Fail! Only one of these sold, and the next time out, none sold. (Anyone need a small bulky scarf cheap?) Next I’m going to gamble on the success of my fingerless gloves (this time with wearing instructions).
Hope you enjoyed hearing about my experiences. Let me know what you’ve seen and felt when you’ve put your wares on display. Also, please take a moment to like my Facebook page and check out my etsy shop (merchandise being added regularly). Feel free to contact me by email if you are interested in placing a special order.
Next time: Credit cards or not? Finding the right storefront for your wares and more.