The Board Chronicles: California Strawberry Festival 2017   1 comment

The Board Chronicles is an ongoing series of articles about the adventures of Mrs M’s Handmade as a vendor at community festivals & craft fairs. Mrs M’s subsidiary, Mr M’s Woodshop, has been approved to create this chronicle for the good of vendorkind.

“Do you do a lot of food events?” we were asked. The answer is no (though we’re scheduled for 4 food-based events this year!).

This year, we’re doing 2 strawberry festivals, an avocado festival and a lemon festival. We very much regret that we’re not doing Gilroy’s Garlic Festival … but that’s a story for another day.

Oxnard is about an hour west of us, and it hosts the California Strawberry Festival to celebrate my favorite fruit. This is the 31st annual event, and the organizers proudly trumpet that this Festival has raised over $5,000,000 for local charities during this event’s run.

Did I mention they sell Strawberry ale?

Did I mention they sell strawberry shortcake, strawberry parfait and chocolate-covered strawberries? You bet we love this event!

New Ideas

  • I was selected to appear on KTLA Channel 5’s morning news show to represent. Friday’s alarm was at 3:15am.
  • This is the first time that I set up our new 10×20 canopy solo … and I did it after the TV appearance. True celebrity is elusive.
  • Even though this is our 3rd annual entry into this event, it’s the first time that the elder Mrs M (she hates it when I write that) got to work the event, on Saturday.
  • On Sunday, the younger Mrs M worked this event, which is the first event that she’s gone a-vendoring in over a year. Important side note: Camdyn, Granddaughter # 2, turned 1 last month.
  • Our juggling reached a new level of chaos with an extremely important, simultaneous event: MrsMowry got her MA in Secondary English Education from Cal State Northridge this weekend … so we had to do things a bit differently. For the first time ever, a non-Mowry helped us work the booth during the 2 hours that I was absent due to the 8am Sunday (!) Commencement ceremony.

Observations

  • Our 3rd Annual Spring Fling is purring right along, and it’s time for the big events. This is event # 5 of 7.
  • Nap needed. Definitely.
  • At the TV shoot Friday morning, the PR person’s husband fell in love with the pig I had on display, so he bought it on the spot.
  • I’m out of the pig business. All my pigs have found new homes.
  • Love this event! Troy & Dana, the promoters, do a great and professional job. One huge perk: they keep private bathrooms (well, bathrooms may be overselling here) just for their 174 vendors. Much appreciated!
  • “I saw you on TV!” I heard it several times, both days. Attributable sales = $0.
  • The cutest little girl had Mom buy her a duck from ZooSoapia. That little slip of a girl approached Mrs M and solemnly announced, “I promise not to break it.”
  • Well done, Mom, well done.
  • A guy announced “It smells better in this booth than anywhere here!”
  • Our new motto: We Don’t Stink.
  • A 30-something got all excited about my small sous chef boards on display … until I explained, no, they were not pizza stones, and no, you couldn’t put them in the oven to hold the pizza as you warmed it. She genuinely thought it would be good to bake pizza on wood – in an oven with high temperatures.
  • One guy walked into the booth and got upset I wouldn’t embrace his use of pure tung oil to finish cutting boards. Other than potentially hurting people with nut allergies and the possibility that this oil imported from China can eventually turn rancid in the board … great idea. In my (sarcastic) opinion.
  • Sunday we needed help to run the booth, since Velda & I were attending MrsMowry’s commencement. Pam Leighton and her daughter Chelsea wanted to go to the festival (attending this festival several years ago, Chelsea was discovered & began a modeling career!). A BIG THANK YOU for Pam & Chelsea for the assist. We could not have done it without you! When Pam goes a-vendoring, she sells sterling silver jewelry & scarves as Dazzle Me Designs. See some of her stuff, and her upcoming events, here.
  • A lady walked into the booth, and got all excited that I was willing to make her a pig cutting board. She then bounced out of the booth to talk to her husband:
    • She said, “I got a pig cutting board!”
    • From the side of his mouth, he said, “Figures.”
  • I’m back in the pig business. It was demanded of me. I anticipate a substantial celebration among Petunia’s pals … I predict a big litter.
  • By the way, this sale was accomplished using my smartphone. I showed the lady a picture of pigs gone by, and she bought one, sight unseen, from the next litter.
  • Note to self: deduct the smartphone.
  • A lady was discussing a special order with me when my engraver, Teri Diamond of Lavene & Company, walked into the booth. Fun to introduce her to a client!
  • The new canopy definitely got noticed at the event. 2 vendors talked to me about buying one. I blogged about our purchase, here.
  • My inventory is shrinking … and that’s  a good thing? I’m below 200 pieces again. I’m out of notepad clipboards, letter clipboards, blanks for engraved boards, pigs, bears, hearts, pizza servers and large sous chef boards. I need shop time … which I don’t get any, in any meaningful way, until July.
  • Sunday was a full day of fun. Up early to go to Commencement, then on to work the event that lasted until 6:30pm. We began taking it all down then, but the younger Mrs M had never packed product with this new display. She’d never touched ZooSoapia before. For my part, the new canopy had to be taken down; it’s my 3rd time doing that … and we were down at 8:30pm. Then, I had to go get the Jeep, go to the trailer storage area, hook up, return to the event area, and commence loading. That took another hour or so. I got home shortly after 11pm.
  • Requests were for cutting board stands (The elder Mrs M applauded. Again.), a reading stand (nope), e-cig holders (double nope), a backgammon board (still nope), a knife to go with the cutting boards, a travel-sized chess board (now I’m expected to have different kinds of chess boards???), and a Lazy Susan made from Black Walnut (patience!).
  • Chess board sales = $0.

The Food

Saturday Breakfast: Bagels & cream cheese, on the run

Saturday Lunch: Velda’s cheese & crackers = no waiting in the famously long food lines at the event (which were not so bad this year. Perhaps they brought in more food vendors? That is good!)

Saturday Snack: Strawberry Ale, before 12noon. We didn’t buy it soon enough.

Saturday Dinner: Marston’s Linguine with chicken … for when you don’t want to count the calories in its creamy goodness.

Sunday Breakfast: Bagels & cream cheese, on the run

Sunday Lunch: The younger Mrs M brought me a PBJ from home. Bless her.

Sunday Snack: Strawberry shortcake. It was perfect.

Sunday Dinner: .3 miles north of the event, I stopped the newly loaded trailer, got gas at the Arco & dinner from the adjacent Jack in the Box. Back on the road, munching as I went … at 10pm.

The Facts

  • The Board Chronicles: California Strawberry Festival (2015)
  • The Board Chronicles: California Strawberry Festival 2016
  • Total miles driven: 496
  • Booth cost: $765
  • Food cost: $59
  • Travel cost: $0
  • Total sales: $3,617
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $2,793
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 2
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: several
  • Saturday alarm: 5:15a
  • Sunday alarm: 5:15a
  • # transactions: 151 … tied for our record number of transactions in a 2-day event, and exactly the same number of transactions done at this event last year!
  • # soap & lotion vendors: there were a couple of others; both had been bitten by the “all natural” kind of presentation, it seemed.
  • # woodworking vendors: several, including one direct competitor. There was also a cutting board maker selling relatively inexpensive, shaped plastic boards.
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 25:3
  • Returning next year? Yup.

Boards sold: 28

MBOs: 6

Small Boards: 4

Cheese Boards: 4

Domed Cheese & Cracker Servers: 3

Custom Orders: 3

Cutting Boards: 2

Large Sous Chef Board: 1

Large Cheese & Cracker Server: 1

Lazy Susan: 1

Large Cutting Board: 1

Small Clipboard: 1

Pig Cutting Board: 1

Watched   Leave a comment

Go Away!   Leave a comment

A pair of greater sandhill cranes react to the approach of a bald eagle. The bald eagle is closing in on a sandhill crane colt (juvenile) hidden nearby. Both of the adult sandhill cranes aggressively drive the bald eagle from the area. Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS. Taken on 5/15/17 and posted on Flickr by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Posted May 21, 2017 by henrymowry in Photography

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Be Calm And …   1 comment

Photo taken from the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina by John Donofrio. Tweeted by the US Department of the Interior, 4/7/17.

Posted May 20, 2017 by henrymowry in Photography

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The Rut   Leave a comment

Here’s why they call male bighorn sheep rams. During the mating season or “rut” in November and December, the rams butt heads while sparring for females. The massive impacts can break horns and sends a cracking noise echoing through the mountains. It’s an incredible natural event to witness. Photo from the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming by Adam Jewell. Posted on Tumblr by the US Department of the Interior, 5/18/17.

Posted May 19, 2017 by henrymowry in Photography

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Apostle Island National Lakeshore   2 comments

A National Lakeshore should be picture perfect … just like Wisconsin’s Apostle Island. The sun rises over Lake Superior. Photo by Michael Dewitt. Posted on Tumblr by the US Department of the Interior, 5/18/17.

Posted May 18, 2017 by henrymowry in Photography

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My 15 Minutes Of Fame   4 comments

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to appear on LA’s top rated TV morning show on KTLA, Channel 5.

This Friday, 5/19, the show will be on location from the California Strawberry Festival’s site in Oxnard, and I’m one of two artists selected to appear on the show and talk about what we do.

I don’t know exactly when, of course, but I’m told that the segments are projected at about half past 6am and “in the 9 o’clock hour.” Here’s the link:

Watch KTLA Channel 5 News Live

And it’s all in celebration of my favorite fruit!

The Board Chronicles: Rotary Art Show 2017   Leave a comment

The Board Chronicles is an ongoing series of articles about the adventures of Mrs M’s Handmade as a vendor at community festivals & craft fairs. Mrs M’s subsidiary, Mr M’s Woodshop, has been approved to create this chronicle for the good of vendorkind.

This is about being comfortable in your own skin.

Last year, this event was our first “art show,” and I was nervous about whether or not we belonged.

We did.

This year, we were oh, so prepared for this good event. After debuting her new display and her handmade soap at this event one year ago, Mrs M made new soap just for this event.

It’s always dangerous to have expectations for an event, as you know, but we were definitely expecting to repeat last year’s success in 2017.

We’ve had 3 straight events with poor weather – high winds and rain – so we were ready for a non-stressful event. The forecast for this weekend was for blue skies and temps in the 70s.

Sounds just about perfect for a SoCal weekend, don’t you think?

New Ideas

  • We have a new canopy! We have a 10×20 Trimline from Flourish (read the blog about that, here). Yes, it’s more difficult to set up than a pop-up. Yes, it’s much better. Our booth is sooo much more open & airier now.

Observations

  • Our 3rd Annual Spring Fling is getting going now: this is event # 4 of 7. We are over the hump.
  • While we were setting up on Friday, a pair of ladies stopped by to confirm that I was Henry. Uh … yes? They went on to explain that I met them 2 years ago at an event, invited them to read The Board Chronicles, and that this was the first event they’ve come to on my recommendation.
  • Wow! Hope they do well.
  • And they did!
  • A guy wanted to buy a lip balm, and handed me $8. I confirmed that he only wanted one lip balm for $3, and he said, “Oh. I thought they were $8. I figured they were handmade, so that was the price ….”
  • Prices gotta go up.
  • Saturday started strong with some lotion sales before 10a, but then settled down and was oh. so. slow. Still an OK day, but wasn’t this a good event for us last year?
  • Yes it was … and Saturday was only 29% of our sales last year, I learned when I got home. I should come with more knowledge to end any premature freaking out on Saturdays.
  • Our friend Linda sells handmade, inexpensive jewelry … and her booth was JAMMED all day long. Saturday was definitely good for her!
  • I never restocked my business cards on Saturday. What is happening???
  • Would it change your opinion to know that this dog’s mistress was wearing the same shirt?

  • After several days of vendoring where we generated all kinds of bills, on Saturday normalcy returned. We generated 5s & 20s … and ate 1s and 10s. All was well with the world
  • When we generate 1s, I take that as a bad thing. The goal is to exchange my 1s for our customers’ 20s, 50s & 100s. Please.
  • Saturday was our 39th wedding anniversary. Mrs M enjoyed showing off the wedding board display piece as proof that we were married 39 years ago. Perhaps we’ll need to choose a different celebration for next year’s anniversary, since it has a zero in it.
  • Yes, that anniversary will be on the Sunday of this event next year, which is also Mother’s Day. No, I’m not certain that we should spend that auspicious day a-vendoring. But, then again….
  • Simple banners work! One customer said they saw our banner from the road, and that made them stop and come to the event.
  • This event is always good for celebrity sightings. In my booth: Neil Flynn, AKA Mike Heck on The Middle. He contemplated the balancing act that is a Wine Bottle Holder, and then set off in pursuit of his actual family.
  • The most interesting conversation of the day was from a guy that enjoyed my work, and shared how he wants to take tree hugging to a whole new level. Trees sing, apparently.
  • Best hour of the weekend: the final hour. We sold 21% of our total in those final 60 minutes. Go figure.
  • Requests were for a backgammon board, a utility cart top, routed cracker bowls, a sink cover, a Tak gameboard and a bread board with a crumb catcher.
  • Chess board sales: $0.
  • Load out got a bit emotional for some, as vendors wrestled with the event’s very common rule: don’t bring your vehicle in for loading until you are 100% packed. Some vendors flout this rule, of course, and park their vehicles while they are packing up. By the time we were packed up, I only had to wait a few minutes to get a parking spot. It would have been better if those that had slipped through the cordon of Rotarians to park & abandon their vehicles would have been caught and rejected, but that didn’t happen. I only wish that those that flout the rules won’t be here next year.

The Food

Saturday Breakfast: Just like last year … hello, old friend.

Saturday Lunch:

We got several compliments on how good this looked. I don’t think it sold any cheese boards, though….

Saturday Snack: Nope

Saturday Dinner: The 2nd best Chicken Marsala in town, at Bella Cucina. Mrs M doesn’t always cook on our anniversary … she, of course, makes the best Marsala. Did you have any doubt?

Sunday Breakfast: The 2nd best breakfast burrito in town, from Jimmy Deans.

Sunday Lunch: A cheeseburger & chips from Troop 210, Burbank, who have been catering this event as a fundraiser for years

Sunday Snack: Nope

Sunday Dinner: Papa John’s, though Mrs M proved incapable of ordering a pizza correctly at 9pm on a Sunday event day. She ordered it to be delivered to the Papa John’s store, which even the store thought to be strange.

The Facts

  • Rotary Art Show 2016
  • Total miles driven: 184
  • Booth cost: $300
  • Food cost: $71
  • Travel cost: $0
  • Total sales: $1,857
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $1,486
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 1
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: several
  • Saturday alarm: 5:45a
  • Sunday alarm: nope
  • # transactions: 69
  • # soap & lotion vendors: two others, both of which did hot process instead of Mrs M’s cold process, apparently. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if you’re going to limit yourself. Hmmm. I must be getting snooty.
  • # woodworking vendors: Several. One guy that’s well known to me from a few previous events we’ve shared does what I do, but uses many, many more kinds of woods and does a lot of what I would call chaos boards in all different sizes & applications. Coasters, boxes for decks of cards, sushi servers … he’s got a lot of good looking stuff. There were also 3 or 4 other woodworkers making stuff from pallets, making collapsible baskets (which are unusual), and more.
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 14: 1
  • Returning next year? Not sure. Is this the way we want to celebrate our anniversary?

Boards sold: 15

Magic Bottle Openers: 4

Domed Cheese & Cracker Servers: 2

Small Sous Chef Boards: 2

Small Board: 1

Cheese & Cracker Server: 1

Custom Order: 1

Large Cutting Board: 1

Large Sous Chef Board: 1

Wine Bottle Holder: 1

Pig Cutting Board: 1

Mrs M’s 100th Event: We’re Smarter Now   Leave a comment

When we started, we had a borrowed canopy using concrete blocks for weights. We had mismatched table cloths, a pocket for a cash register, and no clue what was coming next.

We didn’t know we needed storage for boxes of boxes of containers. We’d never owned a hitch carrier. I didn’t even know what a tottle was.

Today, Mrs M is just back from attending her first ever national convention … about making soap. She even took a test, and has been certified by the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild as a Basic Soapmaker for both cold process and hot process soap. She got a certificate. It was signed. In ink.

So after years of being certifiable, Mrs M is now certified.

Mrs M’s Handmade is now 3 years old, and we have just completed our 100th event. Whatever we’re doing, we’ve done it a lot. And I can say with certainty, after 100 events, we’re smarter. A lot smarter.

We now know what it means to lose a hallway and 2 bedrooms to a “hobby.”

We now know what it means to stay up into the wee hours because you “must” have more product ready for the next day’s event.

We now know that no matter what anyone tells you, you will never, never, ever know what an event will bring until you actually set up and do your thing. There’s a reason you have to play the game, because you just don’t know until you know.

That stated, here are 13 things we’ve learned from when we go a-vendoring.

1. Going Big

When we started, we fit everything into a Jeep. Soon, everything was fitting into a Jeep & a Honda.

Barely.

Or, occasionally, the younger Mrs M would bring her truck. I learned all I know about ratcheting straps, but not before a lid blew off one container on a freeway one dark night. That’s when I knew I could only buy locking containers.

No matter. We decided that the only way to do what we wanted to do – whatever that was – was to go big. Soon, we were only booking double booths, and we had to fill a 10×20 space with display pieces, products and customers.

Packing everything into the limited space in our cars was a constant challenge … and having to drive 2 cars to events that were 200+ miles away was somewhere between no fun and a bad idea. But, it was the best we could do at the time. We thought.

Today, we have a 6’x10′ cargo trailer to haul the roughly 70 locking containers, a 5-gallon bucket, 1 tub & 5 coolers full of product, 2 rolling storage/display cabinets, a shade canopy, 5 tables, 10 display crates, 6 gallons of water, 1 fire extinguisher, 3 rolls of paper towels and 150 pounds of concrete that are in our typical load out these days.

Other items of note that we carry everywhere: 4 different paper inserts, gift tags, shredded paper, raw newsprint, a canvas bag of paper bags, scotch tape, paper ribbon, a logo stamp, and 8 kinds of cellophane bags. And that’s just for the on-site packaging of things we sell.

As a wise man once told me, be careful what you wish for.

When this is the view, you’re in trouble.

2. Hunting For Events

One of the hardest things to do is finding good events.

Unicorns, they are.

Beginners and low budget operations usually do very small, very local boutiques in churches & schools … which are impossible to find until you’re “in the know.” Networking with other vendors is the best way to find these events, though it’s important to know that everyone’s results are different. You need to find your audience – upscale, downscale, family-friendly or hipster-reliant. Will car shows work? Chamber of Commerce events? Foodie events? Art events? Swap meets? Farmer’s markets? Music events? It’s a big world out there, and I’m just getting started.

When you are a vendor at an event, you’ll often be pitched by other event producers to come to their event. The only good way to find events is to get out there … and sometimes, they’ll find you.

Mrs M is a member of FestivalNet.com, which does have a good database of events – especially the larger ones. We always use this resource to check out regional events that are outside of our experience (which would be most of them). At this point, we’re willing to drive about 250 miles for the right event … and we won’t leave home for an event that doesn’t pass our sniff test. Here are our key questions:

  • Estimated attendance? (of course this number is hyped)
  • How many vendors? (this counts all kinds of vendors)
  • How long has the event been done in this location?
  • Typical sales from other vendors? (you almost never get a straight answer to this question)
  • Is the website/marketing pitch professional?
  • How is the event marketed to attendees?
  • Does it sound like fun?
  • Does it fit into the existing personal, professional and Mrs M calendars?

There’s really only one solution: network obsessively at events. Find more experienced friends (especially those that have different products!), and they’ll share info on events that might work for you. You’ll then get to do the work and choose what you want to do.

Not our best display, but I was limited to one 6′ table. Is it good to only display half of your merchandise at a new event? If current customers see your half-baked display, is that bad?

3. Know Who You Are

And, in context, we’re not who we used to be. We used to go to every vendor event we could find – as many as 4 in one weekend! Today, we only want to go to big, weekend-long events, and the bigger the better. We may never eliminate one day events entirely, but we’re on that path. Go big or stay home.

As beginning vendors, we were ecstatic when anyone bought anything. We had so much to learn. Today, we are choosing what we want to make, and then working to find a market for those items. I’ve stopped taking one-off commissions on things I don’t really do … so you won’t see me making backgammon sets. Or counter tops. Or picnic tables. Or wine barrel decor. I just don’t wanna.

And since that which is Mrs M’s Handmade is our hobby – our serious, totally out-of-control hobby – then we get to choose what we want to do. After all, if you don’t choose, the world will choose for you, and that could be a very bad thing.

4. Sometimes, Events Require Things

We’ve been required to have a city business license for a 2-day event. We’ve been required to leave a $200 cleaning deposit in case we don’t leave a city street as clean as we found it. We’ve been told that being a couple doing 2 things in one booth is too confusing for the event; we have to register as 2 vendors, not 1.

Being unusual can be such a burden.

Every event is different, and they are sometimes, uh, creative in what they make you do to be a part of their event – you know, beyond paying 100% of your fees in advance in a “no refunds no matter what” environment. You have to pay to play this game. You have to read every application very carefully and make sure you check every little box when you send in the application.

Every time.

When your canopy is held together with duct tape, it’s time to get a new one.

5. Sometimes, You’ll Need Stuff

I knew that we’d need stuff to go a-vendoring, but I really didn’t know. Truly, what we needed was a surprise to me … and the list keeps growing.

We’ve ordered 3 shade canopies, custom table cloths and boxes by the bundle. We fret over UPS rates and pay them with an automatic monthly charge. I still weigh cutting boards for shipping on our bathroom scale, though!

I’ve broken a table, a shade structure, a rolling cart, untold numbers of plastic tubs and much more. Buy quality display pieces … and then if you keep at it, you’ll wear them out.

Don’t forget that you’ll need patience – and a lot of it. Unfortunately. I’ve dropped and ruined product. I’ve had customers drip rain on my glass-smooth finishes … and had to re-finish those boards. I’ve had customers tell me I’m doing it wrong because I’m not doing it like they think it should be done. I’ve taken on too much to do, and missed at least one Christmas delivery.

I’ve built 3 iterations of our booths, and I’m sure there’s more in front of me. We’re in search of the perfectly portable, perfectly viewable themed product display. Seen one?

We now have liability insurance that covers both Mrs M’s skin care products and my handmade wooden creations. I’ve had to submit as many as 3 different Certificates of Insurance to a single event with unique language that is always dictated by some lawyer you’ll never meet opining on what they think protects their interests. Not yours.

6. Can They See You?

It’s really important that your customers can see your products (who knew?). It took us a year to have good verticality in our presentation … and another year to have a great display for the varied products that Mrs M brings to the market. It takes a long time to figure out a good display, we’ve found, and it’s really the second-most important thing. If they can’t see your good products (those good products are the MOST important thing), they won’t buy them. Oh, and on that note, Mrs M used the google machine and found the best lights ever for events in the dark. I installed full spectrum, low watt bulbs, and our booth stays breathtakingly bright. Every time we use this setup, vendors go ga ga over our lights.

Here are our lights in use in the daytime, at an indoor event that offers less than wonderful lighting. Note the brightness of our booth compared to the one off to the right. Who do you think had the better day?

7. Prices Gotta Go Up

There are 3 ways to increase profits: increase selling prices, decrease costs, or increase your volume of sales. When you can do all 3, you’re doing it right.

When I started, cheese boards were $25. Lazy Susans were $50. I priced an end grain, full-sized cutting board at my first event for only $75. I soon learned … prices gotta go up. And they have.

I have received many compliments on my price tags, which identify the woods in each board. Some have told me my prices are reasonable; others have definitely communicated the prices are too high. Who should I believe?

Back then, I was using about 7 species of woods and my largest cutting board was 12″ x 16″ x 1″. Today, I’m using over 20 species and the largest cutting boards that I have on display are 16″ x 21″ x 1-1/2″, which is over 2-1/2 times larger than the one in my first display.

Size comes at a price, of course, as do boards that feature the most expensive woods.

The good news is that today I can give customers those options, and they now get to choose what they want.

Today, my least-priced board is $35. My highest priced board is currently $375 and I have done commissioned orders that are many times that amount.

I make no apologies for the prices as displayed (which, as I explain, are dictated by the size of the boards and the woods used). I don’t negotiate price. I’ve seen people jerk their fingers back from a board like the price tag was burning them, and I truly appreciate that many people don’t want to spend $300 on a cutting board. I have no problem with that.

When people find the price list, they are happy. When they don’t find the price list….

I also have no problem charging $300 to the people that do want to spend that amount on a quality, handmade, hardwood cutting board.

8. Helping Customers Find You

Most entrepreneurs are great at product development and terrible at marketing. They have a great idea – and expect customers to find them. That’s just not the way it works.

You have to find the customers. You have to make a great product, yes, but THEN you have to find a way to market that product. That means you’ll have to:

  • Talk to people
  • Embrace website development
  • Talk to people
  • Spend time developing marketing strategies and promotions
  • Talk to people
  • Sell strangers on the benefits of your product

If that’s not you, you’re in trouble. If you want to go a-vendoring, it HAS to be you.

9. Unending Social Media

I admit it, I’m old.

But I’m going to say it: it’s impossible to engage in every brand of social media out there and do so well. You are far, far better off to choose one or two and do them very well, rather than try and do them all … because you will fail.

In my case, I run our 3 websites (!) including this daily blog, and post on Facebook with some regularity. I am the photographer, but I don’t do Instagram. Or Tumblr. Or Snapchat. Or YouTube. Or … well, you get the idea.

I very much appreciate it when Mrs M or Little Girl does share a post on Instagram, as I know that gets reactions. Mrs M has played with Facebook videos a bit, and I have a vendor friend that does a lot of nice videos from her events (way to go, Kathy!). As Hamm said in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, “Each to their own speciality.”

10. Information Overload

I have a spreadsheet that simply tracks events of interest, and keeps track of where we are in the internal approval/application/payment/acceptance process with each event in real time. This spreadsheet is already tracking events into 2019. We have 2 confirmed events in 2018. Already.

I keep a copy of every application sent to every event. I have copies of the checks. Copies of the pictures of products I submitted and the forms I’ve filled out. And, I still don’t remember every single detail on every single application when I go to the next weekend’s event. I’ve got standard lists of products, pictures of products, pictures of booths and pictures of myself and the Mrs. actually making the handmade goods we propose to take to targeted events. Many of those events are juried – and if you don’t submit a good enough package, or a complete package, or the right package, then you will be rejected by the event. We’ve been rejected by one event already this year and rejected and encouraged to properly reapply by another. We get a rejection or 3 every year now, and I think that’s a good thing. It keeps us sharp.

And frustrated.

But, no worries, because we’re doing this for fun.

11. What’s Your Goal?

Thinking you can retire on your BBQ spice recipe’s sales?

Hoping that you’ll be able to make Christmas ornaments out of pine cones and make enough to buy a new car?

Good luck.

Most crafters believe if they sell 3 times booth costs, they are successful. Most professional vendors think if they’re selling 10 times booth costs, they are approaching doing it right. There’s no right answer here … but you better know what you’re trying to accomplish. Paying for an annual vacation? Possible. Paying the mortgage? You better be doing everything the right way, or you’re in trouble.

Not the best way to brand a board, especially when you’re making a few hundred of them!

12. Get Help

Mrs M’s fingers are not compatible with putting the shrink wrap tubes on the lip balm containers she uses. Little Girl can do this much more easily, thank goodness.

Labeling soap with the cigar band wrappers favored by Mrs M is a challenge for me: I type the labels and get them laser cut, but putting them on the bars? Not for me. MrsMowry is much better with paper crafts & glue sticks. She views it as therapy and an escape from the toils of teaching 13 year olds. Thank goodness.

I started making boards and branding them (literally) with an electric brass stamp. The Engineer is the one who told me that there was a better way … and we eventually found Lavene & Co. Teri Diamond has a pair of laser engravers and delivers a very professional branding to every board I make – and she laser cuts the labels on every bar of Mrs M’s soap, as well.

Mrs M is too busy making product (and doing whatever she does at her “job”) to find her almost-new sewing machine, so we reached out to a friend to help get the skirts done for our new rolling cabinetry.

You can’t be expected to be an expert at everything and do everything. Find help, and you’ll have a better result on many levels. And, possibly, a bit more sanity.

13. Do Multiple Ideas

Mrs M currently has a website, and that retail site (which costs $300/year just to start) is paying for itself, but annual sales are still less than one good event. I am getting custom orders on a consistent basis, so my “through the front door” sales are a signficant part of Mr M’s Woodshop. Do those custom orders surpass event sales? Nope.

Together, Mr & Mrs M do 30 or so events every year, and that’s the mainstay of what we do. The majority of our sales happen at these events. Is it possible that we could cut back on the events so that we’re not working as hard on weekends? Perhaps … but then where would those sales come from?

I haven’t embraced online sales yet. I just don’t have the time. I think.

Mrs M hasn’t embraced blogging yet. She just doesn’t have the time. She thinks.

We almost never do email marketing, though Mrs M was just told by a supposed-expert that 30% of her sales should be email-driven.

What should we do? What should we stop doing? Should we stop having a family life in order to excel as entrepreneurs?

Guess what my answer is to THAT one!

So, we’re 3 years in and we’re smarter … but not nearly smart enough. Here are the things we still haven’t figured out; any wisdom you can share will be most appreciated:

  • Printing labels for Mrs M’s extensive product line is a real headache. Should we go to professional labels, or stick with our semi-pro approach using our laser printer?
  • Mrs M is not always a perfect communicator, nor a visual thinker with good spatial awareness. In my opinion. The next time I have to design a display piece based on what’s in her head but not what I can hear coming through her lips, who will be willing to mediate? It will either be very entertaining or very scary. You choose.
  • Is it more important to open new markets or service the home crowd that got you where you are? Last year, we did 6 “hometown” events. This year, we plan to do 4. Is that a good trend? What should we do?

Your thoughts & opinions are welcome. I hope that these hard-earned ideas will help you, should you decide to go a-vendoring.

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Mrs M’s Handmade

Mr M’s Woodshop

Buying A 10×20 Trimline Canopy by Flourish   3 comments

When your canopy is held together with duct tape, it’s time to get a new display.

After getting thrown on the pavement, the grass and the dirt, enduring wind gusts over 30mph and getting soaked in the rain on several occasions, our original Caravan steel canopy (commercial grade!) was done. It was the California Poppy Festival that finally did it in – the canopy seemed fine, but I felt it give in a wrong way when I set it up.

I knew it wasn’t right.

The canopy still did fine at the Poppy Festival, but when I took it out of the bag for the KHTS Home & Garden Show the next week, the canopy frame was in pieces. Too many pieces. Luckily, we were in Santa Clarita so I could go home, cut some hardwood to size, and splint the broken struts. Duct tape to the rescue.

That’s a good temporary fix, but we were in the middle of our Spring Fling. Events were happening every week, and we needed shade.

Our solution to date had been to have two 10′ x 10′ Caravan pop-up canopies, both of which we purchased in 2015. They served us well … but they were both definitely wearing out. There were small holes in each roof. Velcro was ripping off of the walls, which also had small holes. One canopy frame was now broken … what should we do?

I researched the cost of a straight replacement of the Caravan, and I looked at the available alternative high quality pop-up shade canopies. Pop-ups have an advantage in that they’re easy to put up … and a disadvantage in that they break. Also, they don’t have all of the advantages that better canopies offer.

Like the Trimline by Flourish. We first saw their mesh walls at our favorite event, Santa’s Art Shop, in 2014. I was knocked out by the possibilities offered by this unique feature. So, as I researched canopies and potential solutions for Mrs M’s Handmade, I kept going back to Flourish, which offered these significant upgrades:

  • Zippered wall/roof connections protected by velcroed flaps, giving us tight weather proofing
  • Heavy vinyl walls
  • 7′ high walls (or 8′ or more), with a curved canopy roof above them for an open, airy feeling in the booth
  • A skylight in the roof itself, offering improved filtered light on our products
  • A full awning on 2 sides and the corner (!), allowing us to fully protect our products from direct sunlight
  • Quality banner holder on the awning
  • Mesh walls, offering additional filtered light on the sides and back, as well as the opportunity to hang signage and artwork – even cutting boards! – on the walls for display.

Flourish is based in Arkansas, and is a small business with 15 employees. They primarily work with 2 other local businesses to make the canopies and all of their hardware. I’m a fan of small business successes; I work for a couple of those myself.

Like me, they don’t have a “click to buy” website. They insist that you talk to one of their reps. Because everyone’s uses are just so unique, they feel all will benefit from the personal touch. I’m a fan of that philosophy as well.

After calling in to describe Mrs M’s Handmade, Bob walked me through the various decisions that I would need to make:

  • 7′ walls
  • Regular skylight in the canopy – more light than we’re used to, but not too much for Mrs M’s products
  • 54″ awnings in the front, one side, and a corner. They have a smaller option, but you know us: go big or stay home
  • Banner mount on top of the front awning for each of our banners
  • Only 3 mesh walls, not 4 (we typically get a corner booth with my side wall open, so we don’t need the 4th wall that many would need if they don’t upgrade to corner spaces)
  • No gear bags since we have a trailer. That’s a substantial savings, and Chris recommended we live with the canopy for a bit before we buy more bags. We bought vinyl bags to hold the canopy, walls & awnings. Flourish provides bungee ball cords to hold the poles together; that’s a new piece of hardware for us.

We made the commitment to buy a Trimline. The biggest downside is that the pieces come apart … with a pop-up canopy, you unfold it, pop it, and you’re done. With the Trimline, assembly is required. Every time.

Luckily, our trailer allows us to keep the structure partially assembled: the 10′ long pipes will stay assembled with all hardware already on them, so putting the canopy up will be much simpler than for those that start over 100%, every time. The videos show veterans putting a 10×10 canopy up in about 15 leisure minutes … and after putting the canopy up a couple of times, I can tell you my time is not approaching that. The 2nd assembly, with full unloading of all products & transport from the trailer 50 yards away, was 90 minutes. So, the canopy went up in perhaps 45 minutes. We will get better.

The instructions arrived written for each piece (10×20 canopy, mesh walls, 10×20 awning, 10×10 awning, etc). You have to be smart enough to understand you can’t follow the canopy instructions to their end without embracing where the awning instructions need to be followed instead.

After the first day at an event, I was still 100% certain that this canopy was a HUGE upgrade for us. My only real quibble was that we bought 7′ walls … but the awnings were about 6′ high when assembled. Had I known that, I might have opted for 8′ walls and a 7′ clearance for the awnings. Other than that quibble, I’m 100% satisfied with our purchase of the Trimline canopy.

 

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