October 22, 2012

the pumpkin festival: 10 valuable lessons

My first back-to-back weekends of craft shows are officially done!

I worked the Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival over the last 2 weekends and, boy, was it a huge learning experience. I'd only done 2 shows prior to Hunsader - a small church show in St. Pete and an indoor event at a Lakeland arena. So we went into Hunsader with much trepidation, unsure of how our product would be received given our limited experience.

I've compiled a list of 10 valuable lessons learned throughout the 4 days at the pumpkin festival. I hope these help anyone entering the craft show circuit for the first time.

1) Tons of people will love your product yet not buy anything. It's so easy to get frustrated when shopper after shopper raves about your items and sometimes even promises to come back later, and you never see them again. The lady in the booth across from me calls them "The Be Backs." Where do they go? To the unknown land of the Be Backs, I guess. It doesn't mean that your product isn't good or that the person is intentionally lying to you. They may have just arrived and want to look around some more. They may not want to carry something all day and by the end of the day, they've long forgotten about you or have spent all their money. Or maybe they're looking for a lower price. Either way, it's not necessarily a reflection of you or your product. I had literally hundreds of people smell my candles and go weak at the knees over how true-to-life they smelled, and in the next breath they'd turn on their heels and walk out of my life forever. It just happens. I learned not to take it personally.

2) Don't expect a stampede. Most people won't buy right away at the beginning of a show, as they'll want to browse the other vendors before making a decision. Even though the festival started at 9 AM each day and there were plenty of people there early, I never made my first sale until at least 10 - 10:30 AM. I started tracking on a piece of paper at what time I made each sale, and many of them turned out to be hours apart. There were times I would be standing my booth snapping my fingers and spinning around in circles just sooo bored. I tried to look busy by rearranging candles and chatting with my mom but sometimes the hours just ticked by with no sales. And then a rush would come in and I'd make one after another. And then another hour would go by with no one browsing. I learned a) not to expect steady sales all day - they come in spurts; and b) just because you're halfway through the day with only $20 in your pocket doesn't mean you can't end up with $200. There are last minute stragglers looking for deals. It ain't over 'til the fat lady takes her tent down and drives home.

3) Keep track of all sales. This is a big one. I bought a $1 memo pad from Joann Crafts to keep track all of my sales. This way I could go home at night and review it and identify trends - like the fact that no one purchased in the first hour ever. Or that more people bought autumn/holiday scents more than floral scents. I also kept track of how much each person paid and subsequently how much money I had in my till at all times. I would periodically count it throughout the day to make sure I hadn't made a mistake and over/undercharged anyone. This list of items sold also served as a running inventory list so when I got home I could check to make sure I had the right amount of product and that nothing was stolen. 

4) Know your limits. It can get really hot at outdoor fairs in Florida, and I imagine bitterly cold up north. Listen to your body and if you're sweating and uncomfortable to the point of heat stroke, take a breather. Ask someone to watch your booth for a few minutes and go get an ice cold drink and sit in the shade. Case in point, on the 3rd day my mother kept dozing off in the heat. Eventually she went to the car to take a nap because she literally couldn't keep her eyes open. She was also inexplicably sweating profusely and had a bad headache. At home later that night she was vomitting and realized she had food poisoning from something she ate at the fair. So definitely listen to your body and if you need to get out of your booth for whatever reason, do it. Your health is the most important thing.

5)  Wear bug spray & sunscreen. I cursed the craft show gods when they sent mosquitoes into my tent around sundown one Saturday evening. Many days later, my ankles are still swollen and itchy. Never again will I assume that because it's cool outside that we're safe from bugs. As for the sunscreen, after my 2nd day of the craft fair my father was diagnosed with skin cancer, largely due to his many years of working in the sun with no sunscreen. So wear sunscreen. Period!

6) Banners are our friends! I didn't want to invest in a vinyl banner my first couple of shows because I didn't think it would make a difference other than just looking nice/professional. But I'm glad I finally decided to spend the money (only $15 using a coupon and free shipping code through Vistaprint.com. Just Google 'vistaprint coupon codes' and you'll have plenty of options). I can't tell you how many people walked toward my booth and either pointed at my banner or read it out loud and then walked in. I kept it clean and simple, only displaying the essential information to entice people - the name of my company and what I sell/what makes my product different - natural candles, soy wax, wooden wicks. People were intrigued!

7) Believe in your product and yourself. You should be your biggest fan. The more passionate you are about what you're making/creating/selling/doing, the more passionate your customers will be. Be confident that what you have is unique from the others. There were 3 other soy candle booths at the fair but mine were unique in that they were in rustic mason jars with homespun ribbons and handmade tags tied to each one, plus they had wooden wicks, which none of the other vendors used. This style appealed to a lot of people who commented that they'd never seen a wooden wick before. Quite a few people asked where I purchase my mason jars from as well since they wanted some either for their wedding or for their house. Hold your head high and speak confidently about the product you've created and people will follow suit and be intrigued.

8) Be organized. I may not dust or vacuum my apartment as much as I should but I can tell you where every doojamahicky is in that place. I know which drawer the broken stapler is in and what coat pocket my boyfriend left his keys in. I'm an organized person and this helps alleviate undue stress in complicated situations, such as craft shows. I recommend labeling everything. It'll take about 15 minutes now and save about an hour of angry searching later. I labeled my boxes with what candle scents were in each one and I placed my tins in one tote and my jars in another. I filled up a backpack with scissors, twine, a map of where my booth was, and any other in-case-of tools I thought I might need. It's a small thing but really helps you keep your head on straight in the middle of loading/unloading craziness. 

9) Don't be a salesperson. Just be helpful. This one isn't for everyone. Some people, like my boyfriend, are natural born salespeople. Like the line from Tommy Boy goes, he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves. Our first church show was so successful mainly because he was very energetic and talkative with every single customer. They were charmed by him and his salesmanship. I, however, am not comfortable approaching people with a pitch. At the pumpkin festival, at first I would only smile and say hello to each guest. It took a couple of days but I finally thought up some simple conversation starters such as, "Hi, how are you? If there's a certain scent you're looking for just let me know and I'll point you in the right direction." Helpful but not overbearing. Sometimes they ignored me and left. But sometimes it led into a conversation about what they like to burn at home, how the autumn scents are perfect because the weather is cooling down and what kind of scents do I recommend for their mother-in-law for Christmas? Other times I would see that someone purchased a bandana for their dog and would comment on how cute it is and which booth did they get it from? That would make them see that I was friendly and interested in them and would result in sales more often than when I simply said hello and nothing else.

Also, be educated about your product enough to answer questions. I was asked many times where soy wax comes from, how are wooden wicks different from cotton ones, how long does each candle burn for, etc. People love when you can teach them something new so try to be as helpful as you can!

10) Make people notice you. Our 1st day was our least successful and I blame most of that on my ignorance in not knowing that I needed to stand out from the crowd. It isn't enough to have a great product - you have to lure people into your booth to see/smell/taste/feel it. Our booth was set up beautifully but no one would ever know it because no one stopped to look. Our tables were tucked far into the tent while our neighbors had their items hanging from the front, sides, and in the doorways of their tents. There were sparkly tutus and tiaras, and colorful handbags everywhere you looked. So after a disappointing 1st day we went to Joann Crafts and Target and bought glittery pumpkin decorations that we hung in our entryway. Well, it worked because people really are attracted to shiny objects.We also pulled the tables as far out into the aisle as we could without blocking our neighbors/breaking any rules. It was like someone turned a light switch on because that next day we doubled our sales from the 1st day, and our entire 2nd weekend we made 200% more than we did the 1st weekend. Success!

October 15, 2012

chandling ain't easy

I like to think of myself as a chandler - one who makes candles - now that I've left my corporate job and am working craft fairs to pay my bills.

Well, this weekend I learned that chandling ain't easy.

It's hard to know where/how to sell your candles for the most exposure. Being as I don't have the means of having my own store ala Yankee Candle, craft fairs seemed like the logical choice. You get fresh air and are almost guaranteed that the people coming out for the fair are there to spend money on homemade trinkets. Now whether they want your homemade trinkets more than they want the next booth's is the catch.

This past weekend, with the help of my parents, I worked the Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival in Bradenton, Florida. It was Saturday & Sunday from 9-5. Temps started at 70 degrees and crept up to 95 both days. The heat was brutal but it was a carnival-like atmosphere with pumpkin picking, live country music, and deep fried Oreos. I learned (and ate) a lot.

The first day began with an early morning (5:30 a.m.) drive to Bradenton (an hour away). Once at the show site we began setting up the tent and the display and scoping out the competition. To our left were two women selling personalized college football duffel bags & purses. To our right was a retired couple selling tea towels and some kind of solar powered lamps emblazoned with sports team logos. Across from us were two ladies selling hair bows and assorted crocheted items (scarves, headbands, accessories that are generally way too warm for Florida).

The lady across from us sold hand-painted wooden signs. She told us she'd been doing the show for 10 years and that each year gets worse as the economy does. She didn't think she was going to come back next year because she felt people aren't spending money like they used to. Not the most encouraging thing to hear at your first craft show, but onward we went anyway.

Once the show started, it was an hour before anyway had made their way back to our booth (we were one of the last rows from the parking lot). We made a large sale right off the bat to a lady and her friend who collected candles, but things died after that. We watched family after family walk by without so much as a glance in our direction. No one was noticing us, not with the sparkly, glittery princess costumes and tiaras from the booth down the way or the guy selling water balloons affixed to rubber bands that kids were swinging at each other. Our booth was designed to look like a cozy little general store but we were hidden among the razzle dazzle of more kid-friendly products (there were a lot of babies and young children at this event, and, being as candles involve a lit flame, they aren't among most parents' ideas of happy fun toys).

So what to do? We racked our brains as we sat in the festering heat and at 5 p.m. we put the sides up on our tent, bid adieu to our mini general store and got us some sparkle. We went to both Joann and Target and bought the most glittery Halloween decorations we could find and the next morning we hung them in the entry way of our both. Hey, if you can't beat 'em join 'em. 

When the sun hit the shiny Frankenstein and the smiling candy corn man, people noticed and wandered over to see what we were offering. Some people even asked how much they were, thinking we made them. People are attracted to shiny objects, no doubt about it. 

We also made the executive decision the night before to move our display as far out into the aisle as we could. We moved the tables a yard or two closer to the front of the booth so people would see/smell our candles from down the lane. It worked! We made 200% more the 2nd day than the 1st.

Overall, we only made half what my sales goal was for the entire weekend, but we took a bad situation and turned it around in the course of 24 hours. I'm proud of us! We are working the same pumpkin festival next weekend so hopefully armed with these new improvements we will have a successful 2 days and get closer to that sales goal so I can continue to merrily chandle my way through the holiday season.

Special shout out to my dad for busting his hump in the heat to turn fence wood into candle crates for me, and to my mom for her awesome aprons (she sold her first one! Yay!).

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