Worried about the "small" shows

I know that some people will disagree with me on this one, but to be fair much of what I am going to say here is perception anyway. To me this is the hierarchy of many arts & crafts shows / festivals what have you.

Small: these are local events. Typically they are put on my churches, community boroughs, historical societies and other local places and they tend to draw from a local community and demographic for their customer base. These tend to me inexpensive and draw anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people.

Medium: often these have started as community events but have a long history, are run by a professional promoter rather than by community volunteers, or are multi-day events. This to me is something like Mayfair, the events at Peddler's Village, and even Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Show. I expect 5000-20000 people to attend. They usually pull from a larger geographic circle due to the fact they have an adverting budget. Often they even get in buses of people through travel agency trips.

Large: These are long events, multi-day or multi-weekend. They are professionally run, have a jury process, deadlines for applications, rules about your set up, and maybe even a dress code. These can bring in up to 100,000 people or more, typically have a large cross section of demographics attending, and are the kinds of events that people make plans on attending, maybe even taking days off or a mini-vacation. Musikfest, Kutztown Folk Festival and Chriskindlmarket fall into this category for me.

Professional: To me the these are true "art" shows. Very exclusive and very expensive to participate in. These are shows put on my the American Craft Council, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, the Smithsonian Craft Show, just to name a few. Honestly, in my opinion most artisans you see at your local or even regional events are not at the level to be accepted into these types of shows, because if they are, few go back to the lower levels. This is a whole different animal than anything I know anything about.

So why am I on this soap box this week? Because I am afraid of the demise of the small show. I have been seeing a trend in the past year and that is an increase in the cost of these shows. I have one that jumped 30% between last year and this year, a few others by 20%. Here are my worries:

1) Higher costs keep out smaller crafters. Right now there is a great number of people producing wonderful high quality crafts, just on a small scale. The Etsy revolution has so many people making things after the kids go to bed, or on the rainy weekends, or after a hard day at the steady income job. They are exquisite craftspeople who often can't afford a huge display, an expensive tent, or even the time to put into long show hours or multi-day events. They either can't (or won't) take a chance on a higher priced show.

2) Higher costs drive out seasoned crafters. I have a very specific formula to figure out how "good" a show is and ones that fall into the "bad" category are switched out for something new the next year. This formula includes the show price. So a show that was "good" in 2013 at $35 would not be "good" at the $50 they are charging for 2014. Do I give it one more year or do I drop it and try something new? That is a hard decision to make. I am grateful I have the extra $15 to pay and give the show a chance in 2014, but some do not have that luxury and will go on to the next available show that weekend.

3) We talk. There is a huge social network of artisans and we talk amongst ourselves a lot. We share bad shows in a heart beat, and share good shows with people we like and respect. It is tougher to spread the word amongst us for a good show than it is for a bad one. I have seen great shows die in just 2 or 3 years due to simple changes: a new location, a new production staff, an increased entrance fee. That "good" show I referenced above, as of yesterday when I received the application (with the price hike) I would have passed it on to other people to try out, now I will but have to also say that for the current price, if I make the same income this year, I wouldn't do it again in 2015.

4) They are the "gateway". I am concerned about medium and large shows too but they are not the typical "gateway" into the industry. More often than not, people start with the small local shows to get their feet wet, figure out their display, build a customer base, and learn the ropes. Making these shows less accessible through higher fees may just have an industry wide impact over the next 5 to 10 years.

I just hope this is just a trend I see for a year or two and then things stabilize. It would be sad to let go of so much of my show schedule if things keep changing.


Confusion Creates Cash

Many moons ago I worked in a different industry than crafts and we used this saying all the time: confusion creates cash. I may be one of the only people to admit it, but it is true for most savvy businesses, no matter what your industry.

When I am approached for a special order, it is my job to walk you through the process. It is my job to send you samples, it it my job to quote you a price and a time frame for the work to be completed in. Those are all things I need to do if I accept special orders, and these are actually all things that I really enjoy doing.

I love the process of what I do. I love to sit down with someone who has a hint of an idea and work through all the possibilities and scenarios. I love to talk about what things will cost and how long they will take to make. I love the challenge of getting things done on time and in a manner that will make my customer insanely happy with my work. I love making people happy.

When it comes to orders of something for a special occasion I truly believe there is no higher compliment than someone being willing to share my products with their friends and family at a special event. Wanting my products to be a part of a special day filled with memories that will last forever just overwhelms me when I sit and think about how undeniably wonderful that it.

So far I have been blessed with very little drama in this area of my business. I think special orders are amazing, they keep my creativity flowing, they help me figure out what may be the next trend I should be watching, and they help me build my business- what better way to reach new people- they get samples of my work!

However, there comes a time where confusion creates cash. It may be a bridezilla scenario, it may just be a short time frame, it may just be plain indecisiveness. Approving a sample and then changing your mind after ingredients have been purchased will cost more. Wanting special labels designed and printed in just a few days, will cost more. Having a time frame so short that things needs to be sent overnight delivery just to get them here on time will cost more. If the only way I can physically get your order done on time is to pull an all-nighter, or to hire in help, this will cost you more. I am sorry but your confusion has created cash for someone. It may be for the delivery service, it may be for the graphic designer making your labels, it may be for the printers, and it may just be for me.

So just keep this rule in mind anytime you are asking any business to do something special just for you (even if doing something special is their primary business). You will save money by doing things early, being nice about it, and making timely decisions.



I am a horrible procrastinator. I really am. Every morning I start my day with "the list" of things to do that day. In theory this list is the 13 most important things I need to accomplish before I go to bed. It could be anything from making that batch of soap to paying taxes to making sure dinner makes it into the crock pot. But on any given day at least 2 things go undone.

As new things to do come to light, I typically put them onto the next day's list (or the day after) unless it is something that I just MUST take care of right then and there. These "little fires" as I like to call them are things that are just burning to be taken care of and if I don't deal with them right that second they could engulf me later on. These little things often add up to enough time or energy that I have to bump a few things from today onto tomorrow and then so down the line.My problem is that I like to use these little fires as an excuse to not accomplish something on my list. Typically it is something I don't like to do or don't want to do. I hate returning phone calls, it is a odd anxiety I harbor and will do anything to avoid, even though I haven't had anyone yet be mad at me for calling them back in a timely manner.

Typically on any Monday I am full up until Wednesday and starting on Thursday's list already. I try and put on some things I don't like to do. (writing this blog is actually one of them). Why do I do it then? because I think it is a good way to get out into the air some of the things that go on behind the scenes, I think it will be cool to look back on when I am 80 and see what was going through my brain back in the day, and I think it is a good way for me to work through some of my own issues, fears, and thoughts by putting them down on paper and sharing them with you. But it can be hard and time consuming and there are weeks I can't think of anything to write about so it just keeps getting pushed down the days until I just need to sit and so it because I am sick of looking at it on the page.

So here I am a great procrastinator. I get things done, often just not what I meant to do when I woke up that day. I have lists and lists. Daily lists, long term lists, and sometimes I actually accomplish things that matter. Typically I just get them done to get them off my list, the great motivator.

So it is time for me to go on to the next thing on my list for today. I hope I can accomplish them all without putting something off for tomorrow. Maybe that just be the first thing on my to do list: "Do it all".


Getting Leaner and Meaner

Ok, not really meaner, but I am trying to streamline the business this year. I am approaching the maximum number of things I can make/hours to be worked in a year. I figure based on growth the past two years, I have two more years before I am only sleeping four hours a night and only taking a day off when my husband kidnaps me and takes me out of the country by force (ok, really he just shows up with non-refundable tickets and I can't say no).

So what is an artisan to do? Well for one thing I am trying to reclaim hours by doing things a little differently this year. I have bought some new equipment that will let me double my production. (This amounts to a second crock pot and some new trays to hold the lip balm tubes). What I used to do was make a batch every time I needed some. This meant hauling out the equipment, making the batch, cleaning the equipment, putting it away, and then printing the labels I needed. If I needed two kinds then I would clean the equipment, make a second batch, and then clean the equipment again before putting it away. Now I can make two flavors simultaneously. It doesn't half my time, but it does shave off a good 25%.

I also have decided to use some outside services. Instead of printing all my own labels, I have sent some out to be printed, saving me hours at the printer making sure it isn't jammed. By the time I looked at buying the labels and the ink and then factored in my time dealing with the printer malfunctions, it was actually less expensive to have them printed for me. Plus if they come out badly or crooked, I can go back to the printing company for a refund, I didn't have that option when I did them myself. I am having my flyers printed and folded by a copy and print service now too. No more standing at the paper folding machine putting in 20 pages at a time. Now a big box arrives and they are ready to go. Once again, by the time I factored in paper, ink, and time, the service was worth it.

It is scary to spend money on things I usually do myself, but I am at the point where I have to look at things from a different perspective. Should I spend four hours folding flyers or making soap? Even though many things I would do at night while relaxing after dinner, is that really relaxing after dinner? Is it better for me mentally to spend that time reading a book, going for a walk, or even just doing research into my next product rather than the mind numbing hours of folding a flyer?

So each day I try and reflect and see what I could do differently and to save some time. Sometimes these ideas do cost too much, or are not yet feasible, but they go on a list for maybe some time in the future. I never know when I may need them:)