Know when to fold them

The most difficult thing I have to do when I am at a craft show is to figure out how to give my time to my customers. I wish it were really as simple as saying "treat everyone equally" but that just isn't realistic at all.

I try to do just that, but there is always the time that you get the difficult customer. The one that asks you the in depth questions, sometimes the same questions in different ways. I had one last year that went a little like this:

Q: are these good for sensitive skin
A: yes, they are all considered hypoallergenic, but you need to use caution. If you break out harvesting lavender from your garden, I would avoid my lavender soap, because it has real lavender in it. Hypoallergenic is not a 100% promise, it means most chemicals that bother the most people the most often are not present in my products.

Q: But these are for a gift, how will I know what bothers them
A: I would try something like the Oatmeal, Milk, & Honey. But all my products have their ingredients either listed on their packaging or on my web site, so the person who you are giving them to can look them up and decide for themselves if they want to use it or not.

Q: But I don't want to get them something they can't use.
A: I am sorry ma'am but I don't know the intended recipient. I can only tell you that I have been making products for 14 years now and haven't had a complaint about the soaps I am suggesting to you.

Q: you've made Oatmeal soap for 14 years
A: Actually more, but it was more of a hobby before 2000.

As this goes on and on, at least 12 more customers come and go. Some stop and tell her they have been using my products for years. Some get upset that she is obviously monopolizing my time. In the end she decides again buying anything and leaves. Should I have given her so much time? I think so...the questions she was asking aloud are often things people think to themselves. I had no problem with answering all of the questions in the most honest way I knew how.

Another example:

Q: what makes these washcloths better than store bought?
A: they are 100% cotton, all hand knit, and have two different textures for both your body and face

Q: but how did you make this one yellow?
A: I don't know much about the dye process. I buy the yarn already in colors and just knit the washcloths, sorry.
Response: But I thought you said they were hand made

OK, I have to tell the truth. I know quite a lot about dying techniques. I like the chemistry behind it. I love to knit. I like to learn all I can about the things I like to do. But in this instance I chose to not get into the intricacies of  dying yarn. I am a soapmaker, not a yarn dyer. The washcloths are made as an adjunct product, they are not what I make a living at. This customer had never even picked up or smelled one soap. Giving an in depth answer would not have helped me in any way. It probably wasn't a sale, or if it was it was for something I consider secondary. What I would be saying wouldn't be teaching anyone else in my booth anything relevant to my products, and the time I would take to explain could have taken away from real potential sales or relevant questions.

So I one thing I have learned over the years is to know when to fold them and walk away. Not every question has to be answered, not every customer deserves your undying attention, and not everyone who walks into the booth is going to be a sale, no matter how much time and energy you give them. It is all OK.  Just try to be fair with your time, try and make everyone feel welcome, and if someone out stays their welcome, know when to give up and tactfully move on to the next customer.


Craft Show Attendance

I have been in deep discussion lately with family, friends, and colleagues about why exactly the general public attends a craft show.

I have to admit I very rarely attend an event unless I am either selling at it, or looking at it as a potential for future participation. This means I look at things from a completely different view point than 99% of the other people there. I am watching how many bags people are carrying, where the artisans park, how close the booths are to one another, the quality of the items being sold, the types of things being sold, the way the show is laid out, and even the porta potty situation.

I believe there are three types of shows. The first type typically takes place at historic houses, churches, and small parks. These shows attract a very local demographic. Sometimes even just the town the event is held in, or from just a few blocks from around the event, or in the case of religious buildings, possibly just the parishioners to that particular house of worship. People attend because they are loyal to the event and/or where it takes place. They are there to show their support of something. Most artisan participants are from nearby as well. Local example: Moravian Historical Society Craft Show

The second type of show is usually a little larger. It takes place in a little bigger city, on main street or the like, sometimes in a large park or social hall. This show gets a larger diversity of attendance. I think people may dive an hour or so to get there. They plan a day: a meal, the show, a relaxing drive. The artisans that participate are both from the vicinity and from a little farther away. You may get a few that come a long distance but more because they know the area somehow, through friends or family. Local example: Bethlehem Mother's Day Craft Show

Finally is the regional show. Artisans will come from several states away to participate. Customers come as part of bus tours and could plan vacations around the event taking place. They expect to see the best work from a larger area and even some from other regions of the US. Local example: Kutztown Folk Festival

So here is what we have been talking about: If a there is a show that falls into the second category above (mostly local talent exhibiting), do you as a customer go there to see and support this local talent? If they changed their format and you came to the show only to see your favorite local artisans were no longer there, would you stop coming?

In a society that has been trending toward buy fresh, buy local, buy small business, support your neighbors, do you care if an event stops supporting local and brings in more talent from far away? Or are you happy to see something fresh and new: they are still small artisans, it doesn't matter where they came from?

I think there are a few local shows that are trying to make the leap to becoming a regional level event but are pushing out local talent and are undermining their own customer base in the process. Other people think that competition is good, it keeps everyone striving for greatness.

Only time will tell.


Product Evolution

I love the way one idea can turn into something else, or how one product can evolve or spin off over time. There are just so many ways I feel as though my business just leads me places, that if I just listen to it and to my customers that all the ideas I need are right there at mu finger tips, waiting to be discovered.

A few years ago I met Alyson who owns The Maid's Quarters Bed & Breakfast. She really liked my soaps but they were too big for a weekend stay at her establishment. So we talked and worked out that she needed soaps about 1 once in size. Off to the drawing board I went (really it was off to home depot I went). I found some smaller PVC that I could use as a mold, and once I worked out some kinks (like capping it, keeping out air bubbles, and ultimately removing sticky soap from a small tube), figured out what thickness would produce the perfect sized soap. Mini soaps were born and I now make them in the six fragrances she wants to use in her establishment. This has also turned into my most popular soap for wedding and shower favors. Just this year I found the perfect glassine bags and off the soaps went to the Bethlehem Visitor's Center to be sold as guest soaps, and to the Knitter's Edge to pair with the mini washcloth kit they offered. I even had tiny little crates made that would hold one of each soap. These mini samplers have become a best seller and are hard to keep in stock.

My soap has always been round, so I think I got asked if I made a shaving soap almost every show. In the beginning I didn't, and it quickly became apparent that I needed to. Shaving soap became shaving mugs (made by my friend Bebe), then it was shaving brushes (made by my friend Ed) and now it has turned into two fragrances of shaving soap, plus soon an exclusive fragrance for another local wood turner, Brad, who makes complete kits (brush, razor, mug, stand). 

Ugly bars of soap started out as what I used in my shower. Then there were too many and they were trash for a time. I then realized they usually had a good half, and that if I cut them, I could use the good half in samplers. So for a time I used the good half and threw out the rest. I kept having customers come in to tell me they just used my soap to freshen their drawers and closets. I felt like they were spending a lot of dough for a drawer freshener, and that each sale that wasn't being used on someones skin was work that wouldn't be turned into a repeat customer, that soap wouldn't need to be replaced for a long time. So the extra soap that I was throwing out, began to be ground up and put into muslin bags to be sold as sachets. Then customers came by telling me they used the bags when they traveled as their soap. The cotton bags made a great washcloth and the soap inside lasted for about a week, a typical vacation,. That way they didn't have to use bad hotel soap or travel with wet bars of soap. This became part of my marketing of my sachets/travel soaps. Low and behold, the demand for the sachets stated to out weigh supply, and my line of air fresheners was born.

So next time you have an idea, a desire, or a special order, let me know. I never know where it will ultimately lead me.