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If you’ve done your share of craft shows you know that accepting credit cards is a must.  People forget to bring enough cash for all your awesomeness and its so much more convenient to take a credit card then send them looking for an ATM.  There are several companies out there catering to mobile transactions like these but many are very expensive and some you don’t actually find out if you have the money until you get home and can officially process the transaction online.

That’s why I’m in love with Square.  Its this handy little, well, square that plugs into the headphone jack on your smartphone.  You download the app and sign up for the service all on your phone.  Then you just swipe the card!  The customer even can use their finger or stylus to sign for the transaction on the screen of your phone, can enter an email address to get a receipt sent to them.  And if you use an iPad rather than a phone you can create a database of your stock and actually add create an itemized receipt.  Best part is that within second you get an confirmation that the transaction went through!  No guesswork, no stress, no finding out later you didn’t get crucial information.  And if there ever is a charge-back you have their signature captured electronically and that can go a long way.

But the reason I’m writing about Square today of all days, they just announced that they are lowering their transaction rates!  No more swipe fees!  Now its just 2.75% per transaction and really you can’t beat that when you consider there are no monthly or annual fees.  And the little gadget for swiping the cards is FREE (I will say, it takes seemingly forever to get your free square gadget, so sign up well in advance of your first show to make sure you get it in time.)  You only pay to use it, which in my opinion is perfect for crafters who might only do one show a month.  Or hey, even if you only do one a year you have nothing to lose!

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With the snow having melted, I’m beginning to think spring, in particular spring cleaning.  Yesterday I walked into my supply storage area to get some buttons and a bag of yarn fell on my head.  I took it as a clear sign that it’s time to sort, purge, organize and clean my studio.

Wendy Smedley wrote some great tips for getting started and staying motivated.  Here are a few extra of my own:

1)  As you purge, put your items in a box, tape it and once full, immediately remove the box from your studio.  This will keep you from having second thoughts and returning all the contents back to your shelves.  I take my boxes to my garage.  If you don’t have a garage, store them by your front door so they are super ugly and annoying.  This will motivate you further in removing them permanently.

2) Don’t throw away what you’ve purged!  I like to have garage sales, so as I purge I price the items as they go into the box.  When it’s time to have the garage sale, everything is ready to go.  Too much bother?  Think of local schools and art centers.  These places are always in need of supplies.

3) Last but not least, crank the tunes and bring out the chocolate.  Spring cleaning need not be a dreaded chore.

The above image is from Ali Edward’s website.

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In 2003, Brandy Agerbeck of Loosetooth.com and former Chicago Craft Mafia Member wrote a very lengthy, conversational online article about doing the first Renegade Craft Fair. Eight years later, here is a Cliff Notes version.

Inventory

You’ve gotten accepted to a show, and you should have a good sense of what you are selling. How much to make? Very good question. I wish I had a very good answer. I can offer a few pointers:

  • If you’re not doing one-of-a-kind items, make multiples of a set of designs (i.e. six copies of the green one, six copies of the blue). Keep a clear record of your inventory so you can track what sells best.
  • Manage your own energy as you manage your inventory. For years, I went completely overboard with inventory. I’d be completely burned out before I had to do the work of running my booth. And I had loads and loads items left over. While that makes the next show easy to do, it can be disheartening if you have low sales. Set yourself up with a product making schedule that has you doing a chunk of work every week up to that first show, hopefully avoid that terrible crunch week right before.
  • If you’re worried you have too little inventory, think about how you can best display your work so it doesn’t look sparse. I’ve seen folks do very enticing displays of jewelry hung on a few branches, or potters who can arrange a few pieces on blocks at different levels and a handful of pieces look fantastic.
  • Consider having items at different price points. Especially with the holidays, organized shoppers have a price ranges for coworkers that’s different than their price range for parents. Having some low price items may temp impulse shoppers.

Showing Your Wares at Their Best

Displays can be easily overlooked in the stress of your first show, but they are vital! Think of your display in these easy steps:

  1. Know your booth size. Most outdoor shows give you a 10’x10’. Doublecheck with the organizers to see what your  foot print is.
  2. Figure out how you’ll set up your tables. Think of how to draw people in with the placement. Consider how your setup will flow with your neighbors (yes, hard to know until you get there).
  3. Cover your tables. Think of the best colors and texture to show off your wares.
  4. Containers to hold your wares.
  5. Think of levels. Laying your work out on a flat table works, and it also evokes garage sales. Think of stands, bowls, blocks to put your work on. Can you make some items vertical? Some hanging? Some sitting on the  round? A great way to learn is to go to other shows and see what others are doing. At the 2007 DIY Trunk Show, I thought our ground of vendors did a stellar job at their displays!
  6. Items that support your brand: banners, business cards, postcards, giveaway items, pricetags, packaging. All of these details make an impression and help people remember you. Think of consistent colors and design across items.
  7. Lighting. Few shows give you outlets for lighting, but consider bringing lights with you to spotlight your work.
  8. 8. Be adaptable. Bring extra containers to adapt your display. Pack for weather contingencies.

Cost of Doing Business – Supplies

That first year, the Renegade booth fee was $50, but I spent about $600 all told. It was an investment in future fairs. If you are testing the waters with this one show, figure out how to pare down this list and borrow items. Here’s a list of what I brought:

  • Inventory! Make sure everything is tagged and priced. Photographing your inventory to recreate popular  tems later.
  • 2 Tables Rent or buy? I bought two plastic “blow mold” tables from Walmart. 30″ by 6′. $106 They folded in half and fit into cars. Strong and sturdy. Five years later, I like renting tables to avoid the hassle of carrying those heavy suckers.
  • 1 Tent They are a big expense, but if you’re joining the show circuit, it is a given. EZ-UP brand tents are super. Some shows dictate white tents only. Thanks to fellow CCMers, Leah, I borrowed her tent for most of my outdoor shows.
  • Display Stuff See above
  • Banners I use two banners: a $150 vinyl banner and a handmade, cloth one. The former hangs outside my tent, the latter in the tent. It helps orient people.
  • Twine for hanging banners
  • Tablecloths Most tables look shabby, so tablecloths are a must. Buy cheap plastic ones to skirt the table  and hide your boxes). Fabric is best for the table tops. Choose colors that best highlights your wares.
  • Chairs I stand most of the time, but chairs are a very comfortable for your helper, a friend who stops by or when you finally drop during a slow time.
  • Tape I bring duct, masking Scotch and clear packing tape.
  • Bulldog Clips Great for hanging banners, clipping down tablecloths.
  • Snacks, Beverages & Cooler You won’t know your eating options –or- how much time you’ll have to eat. Bring less messy drinks and nibbles with you.
  • Aprons Preferred over a cash box, to have what you need at your fingertips. I’ve made mine for holding change, buttons, pens, receipt books.
  • Cash plenty of singles, fives and tens. If someone hands you a big bill, you can ask if they have anything smaller. Avoid a midshow currency exchange run!
  • Receipt Books I like the duplicate copy kind.
  • Ball Point Pens and Markers for impromptu signs and writing receipts.
  • Paperwork Get the proper business, tax or vendors permits or numbers in order, and give yourself time to do so.
  • Garbage bags Be sure to clean up your mess!
  • Bags for purchases. Not many folks need one (ask first), but it’s good to have around. Minimum order on bags are high, so consider splitting a order for others.
  • Other packing materials if you have fragile stuff
  • Extra price tags
  • Calculator
  • Scissors
  • Mirror for trying on jewelry or accessories
  • Radio Don’t be a nuisance, but some quiet music can move the day along.
  • Mailing List Sign-Up Encourage folks to sign up. Shows are about onsite sales, but they are also good for future sales and marketing.
  • Customer Bait: Buttons, Business Cards and/or Postcards. Make sure they have your logo, contact info, URL and hopefully a product photo on them.Bring loads to give away. If people walk out of your booth without a purchase, make sure they have something in their hand with your name on it.
  • Friends to help Its so, so good to have a friend to help. Both for the grunt work of setting up and taking down, but also for the company to make the day go faster. Feed your booth helpers, give them free stuff. Granted, you could pay them, but you can’t guarantee that you’ll make money that day, so someone willing to work for stuff or out of friendship is the best!

Finally, Beware and Enjoy!

Fundamentally, craft fairs are a lot of prep work and always a crap shoot. Work: making and collecting inventory, designing an enticing space, protect your work from the elements, collecting the uninventory stuff and then the schlepping to and sitting at the show. The crap shoot: is it your kind of crowd? are they buying? are your prices right? are they too many others selling what you’re selling? how’s your works’ quality by comparison? your display? The Chicago Craft Mafia can tell you – a show that’s a boom for her can be a bust for me. You have dreams of totally selling out your inventory and dancing to the bank. Just keep perspective!

Remember, enjoy the show! It’s the best way to learn from other vendors, get real feedback on your work, get questions, custom orders, hopefully lots of sales. Keep on open mind and a smile on your face. Best wishes from the Chicago Craft Mafia!

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Do you have a blog that you use to promote your craft product and company?  Are you struggling for blogging inspiration?  Are you wondering how to get more readers and followers to your blog?  Wondering why people don’t leave comments?   Is it possible to promote and sell my product through my blog successfully?  These are all valid questions which can be answered.  To get started on the right foot check out this great article from the Biz Ladies of Design Sponge.  Another great resource for blogging comes Tara Gentile of Scoutie Girl.  She has written an e-book that might help you jump over some of these hurdles.

52 Weeks of Blogging - the digital guide to creative blogging

Blog away my friends!

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While we all hide inside during the snow-pocalypse it’s nice to day dream about warm weather.  And with warm weather comes outdoor craft shows!  If you haven’t made the leap from an indoor to an outdoor show you should know there are so many more logistics to consider.  Tents, weather, zip-ties (they have saved my life many times!), and a variety of things to prepare for whatever nature throws at you.

I really wish I had this fabulous article from The Craft Report the first time I set up my tent!  It could have saved me a few tears for sure!  Take a read at this practical and thorough approach to craft show planning:  6 Simple Ways to Avoid Dumb Mistakes at a Craft Show: What You Can Learn From a Boy Scout

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Meylah is the latest in a long line of handmade selling websites but with a lot of fresh features that make it stand out for me.

  • The design and layout of the site is so clean and simple.  Let’s face it, every time Etsy adds a feature another thing gets slapped onto the homepage and quite frankly its a little much.
  • You have the ability to create a blog that’s attached to your shop, even easier to connect with customers! And give them insight into what you are working on that’s new.
  • You can choose between a few different layouts for your shop.
  • Shipping calculator!
  • You can even start out with the free version to see if Meylah works for you before going Premium for more features and listing space.

I’m giving it a whirl, after all, you can’t beat free.  If you have been selling with Meylah, let us know what you think!

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Entrepreneur’s Blog recently wrote a rather fabulous post comparing and contrasting the simplest, most user friendly shopping cart options out there.  And as someone who knows from experience, when you start to consider e-commerce on your own website it can be horribly overwhelming.  Thankfully this article takes a lot of the guesswork out of it!  What I really like is the honestly of the pitfalls of each platform, things the platform itself would rather hide, I’m sure.  Read the full article here.

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What exactly is a brand?

If you ask the American Marketing Association, a brand is a “name, term, sign, symbol or design or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers, and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” (That kind of run-on sentence is probably why no one asks the AMA very many questions.) So let’s break it down into simpler terms:

Brand = all the things you create and use to make your company/products stand out from everyone else’s.

That means that everything – from your company name to the font you use on your packaging – works together, creating a look and feel that clearly says “YOU” to anyone who sees it. There are many companies who do branding well, and it’s a good idea, before you take on branding your company and products, to look around at who’s gotten it right. Being a crafter, I assume you’ve been to a craft store in the not-too-distant past. Did you happen see an aisle of Martha Stewart projects and tools? Next time you’re at the craft store, take a look. That line is branded within an inch of its life – the packaging shape and colors, the typeface, the use of images – everything is consistent, so when you see even part of a package, it’s instantly identifiable as part of the Martha Stewart line. That instant recognition is what branding is all about.

So why’s branding so important?

There are three major reasons why it’s a good idea to create a brand for your company, and they break down like this:

1) Simple = memorable.

Keep in mind that having a name that’s easy to spell and remember means that it will be easy for someone to find you at shows, and afterward. If your etsy shop name is higgletypiggletypoppinshop.etsy.com, that’s going to be tough to remember for someone who sees you for a few minutes at a craft show, then wants to buy somethingelse from you a month later. Keeping it simple makes it finding you again an easy thing to do – without looking, could you spell the name of the etsy shop at the beginning of this paragraph? Probably not. So maybe popshop.etsy.com would be a better choice.  If you’ve already started your business with a name like higgletypiggletywhateveritwas, it’s not the end of the world. You just need to work a little harder to make sure that your name gets out there and is remembered. For example, you’ll want to have lots of business cards or hand-outs with your name on them at shows, and put your name and web address on your products and their packaging – the easier you make it for people to find you, the more people you’ll bring back to make additional purchases.

2) Consistency = recognition.

If your products are packaged in a way that’s quickly recognizable, and it relates directly back to your company name, logo, website, etc, you’ll help your customers find all of your products, not just their favorite one. This is true if you’re selling wholesale to stores (so a customer in a boutique can find all of your products easily, even if some are in a different part of the shop) or if you’re selling at craft shows (that way, a customer who buys fromyou at a show and then later comes to your website can tell right away that he/she is in the right place).

3) Cohesive look = professionalism and credibility.

It sounds a little silly, but making sure that everything has the same look and feel can go a long way to

establishing credibility, even for the newest company. Taking the time to really develop a cohesive look and feel (also called a company aesthetic or visual voice) for every aspect of your public presence – from your business card to your product tags – will inspire people to take you more seriously. Which would you trust – a guy in torn pants who tells you he’s a successful financier, or a guy in a nice suit? It’s the same principle. You want to be the guy in the suit. Well, maybe not literally, but you get the point.

Creating your brand – the essentials.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll need a name. Whether it’s your own name (Jane Smith Studios) or one you’ve invented (Girl Metro, Inc. comes to mind), you’ll want to think long and hard about what you’ll call your business. Make sure you love it, because you’ll be putting it on everything you do. Keep in mind that you want to make it easy to remember, and easy to spell, or you’ll have extra work ahead of you in terms of keeping customers coming back. Once you’ve got that name in place, start to work on the visual voice of your business – this is that cohesive look and feel mentioned earlier. The biggest component of this visual voice is your logo. Spend the time and/or the money to create a great, professional-looking* logo. Your logo will become the basis around which everything else will revolve, so be sure you love it from the very beginning! Once you’ve got your logo created and you’re thrilled with it, put it on everything.

Repetition is the key to memory, so you want to be sure that logo is everywhere you can possibly put it, from your business cards, to your product tags and product itself (if you can), to your etsy/trunkt/supermarket shop, to your website… and remember that it doesn’t have to be huge, it just needs to be there.

*A note about professional-looking logos… that’s not to say that your logo needs to look corporate – it should reflect your business and your customer base. So if your customers are mainly high school girls, your logo and visual voice should appeal directly to them, not to their grandmas. Professional-looking is also about making sure that anywhere your logo appears, it looks good – for example, you would never use a gif file of your logo for a printed piece, like your businesscards, because it would look bitmappy and unprofessional (that’s the guy in the torn pants all over again).

Finally, if you’re struggling to create that visual voice for your company, try this. Get a piece of posterboard or paper – at least letter-sized, or larger if you like. Print out your logo, and stick it at the top of the page. Then, go to the web, magazines, newspapers, your fabric stash, whatever you’ve got lying around, and cut out things that remind you of how you want people to feel about your company and products – the images can be anything – type faces you like, fabric swatches that have the feel you’re after, smiling people, etc… Take all the things you’ve cut out, and stick them on your page. Notice that there’s a trend there? That’s your visual voice coming out. When you’ve finished, hang the page in your workspace, so that whenever you’re working on something for your company – whether it’s choosing a font for your packing slip or creating new product tags – you can think about how it would fit on your board. If it doesn’t fit in with the things on there, then you can take another look at it and think about what could change to make it fit in. Creating a brand for yourself is a little like creating your own personal army of representatives. Each thing that marches out into the world with your name and branding will point people right back to you. And if one item goes out and says “hi, I’m X,” then when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of little voices out there, they make a really big impact.

–Richelle Albrecht, Girl Metro, Inc.

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If you missed our Craft Racket last night about wholesaling your handmade product check out the info. below.

Why Wholesale?

  • more exposure for your company
  • get your products in more storefronts and reach a larger audience
  • create another stream of revenue for your company
  • plan your production schedule and cash flow more easily
  • take your business to the next level

Basics of what you’ll need to wholesale

  • wholesale catalog and line sheets
  • samples of your product
  • order form
  • invoice form
  • item numbers for your products
  • a list of stores that you’d like to approach
  • enough manpower, time and inventory to fill the orders you get
  • wholesale terms

Wholesale Terms

  • order minimum
  • reorder minimum
  • keystone or MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price)
  • COD (cash on demand)
  • net 30 (payment is due 30 days after order is shipped)
  • accepted methods of payment (credit card, check, paypal)
  • return/exchange policy

Books and other resources

  • Craft Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco
  • Craft Inc. Business Planner by Meg Mateo Ilasco
  • Making a Living in Crafts by Donald A. Clark
  • The Crafting an MBA Guide to Wholesale and Tradeshows, e-book by Megan Auman available for purchase at www.craftmba.com

Wholesale shows for the handmade marketplace

  • -New York International Gift Fair—Handmade Division (winter and summer shows in NYC)
  • Buyers Market of American Craft (winter show in Philadelphia and Summer show in Baltimore)-all products handmade in the US & Canada
  • Beckman’s Handcrafted—shows in Chicago and San Francisco
  • National Stationary Show in NYC
  • San Francisco International Gift Fair
  • Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market—Handmade Design
  • American Craft Retailers Expo (ACRE)—Las Vegas and Orlando
  • Surtex—NYC
  • The National Needle Arts Assoc. (TNNA)
  • American Craft Council
  • *also see http://www.museumstoreassociation.org/events/trade.cfm

Wholesale websites

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How to Get into the Craft Show of Your Dreams was just one of the many topics we’ve featured at our seasonal Craft Rackets.  These events get area crafters together to talk about topics pertinent to starting, maintaining and expanding your craft business.

Once you’ve found a show you want to be in, you need to present yourself in such a way that you’re going to stand out and make the show organizers pick you. I hope that the following points will make it easier for you to get organized and get admitted to shows you want to join.

  • Make sure you provide correct contact info. A mistyped email address or phone number may be the only thing that kept you from getting in that last show.
  • Each show requires different things from its applicants so make sure to read thoroughly and provide everything you’re asked. If they ask you to email your responses or fill out an online form, don’t print it out for faxing or mailing. That’s likely to have your application land in a trash can instead. If you’re asked to email images of items you’ll be selling, don’t just send a link to your website. Make sure that you provide everything all at once, instead of trickling pieces in a little at a time. When organizers gets hundreds of applications within a short period of time, they don’t have time to email you to remind you to send in your pictures, ask for missing information, or organize what you’ve sent.
  • Take good pictures. Whether you have to submit digital photographs, slides, or traditional prints you want to make sure that your pictures are the best that you can possibly take. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to get decent pictures. Make sure they’re not dark and blurry by taking your pictures in bright but not direct sunlight. Make sure that your background contrasts with your item (shiny metal on black instead of white, for example). Make sure that you’re filling as much of the frame as possible with your subject. Crop the image if you have to back up to get in focus. Don’t clutter your image with tons of extra items. Simple is better. And don’t take pictures at night with all the lights on. The pictures will still be dark, and yellow. Instead of waiting until you’re ready to apply for a show, take them now, or at least tomorrow. Be ready ahead of time.
  • You’re going to be asked to describe your work. It’s hard to write about yourself, but this is just as important as taking good pictures. You need to write something that will let the reader feel like they know something about you and your work. Be as descriptive as possible and avoid calling your work original, creative, couture, high-fashion, top-notch, innovative, etc. Why? Because everyone uses these empty words to describe their work. Which means that your description doesn’t make your work stand out. And unless you only make one of each piece, don’t call your work one-of-a-kind.

–Cinnamon Cooper of Poise.cc

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