The Board Chronicles: Big Hat Days   7 comments

The Board Chronicles is a new 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.

big-hat-bannerThe Clovis, CA Chamber of Commerce sponsors Big Hat Days every April, and they claim attendance of over 100,000. There’s no doubt that the street was filled with people strolling through the 300+ booths offering everything from custom pocketknives to parasols to gourmet balsamic vinegar (guess which Velda bought?).

Big Hat DaysThe event is laid out in “Old Town” with most vendors lined up along several blocks that run north & south (so vendors either face west or east). We got an east-facing booth, which was good to keep the lotions out of the sun most of the day. In addition to the vendors, there were some carnival rides, a stage & adjacent beer garden I regret to have missed, a pony ride, petting zoo, pet adoption center….

This is a very big community event. Clovis must have decided that it needs to act like a big community, because it had an incredibly long list of people that Mrs M’s certificate of insurance had to name as additionally insured. I actually had to produce 3 different certificates, as their laundry list of names wouldn’t fit on a single form.

The vendor packet we received about 3 weeks in front of the event was large and full of rules. There were assigned set-up times, along with very specific routes for you to get in and get out of the event area. They used lots of capital letters and red ink. It was professionally done … and insistent that You. Will. Follow. The. Rules. They were very concerned that no vendor exceed their allotted space (our booth was a 10′ x 12′). I called to check, and was told I couldn’t bring our awning to provide shade if it stuck out beyond our 10×12.

Imagine my thoughts when I went walkabout on Sunday morning, and saw 3 vendors with awnings up.

Logo-300xMrs M and I went to the event with very high expectations: this was the farthest we had ever traveled to an event, and it was the highest booth fee we have ever paid.

What were we thinking?

We spent most of Saturday thinking “what have we done?!?” Sales were definitely below expectations, and FAR below our hopes. We weren’t over our booth cost until much, much later in the day than it should have been, we felt. Sunday turned out to be better, thankfully. By the time it was all over, this was our highest sales weekend ever: # 1 in our vast experience of 13 months as a vendor.

Note that this was not our highest profit event. Far from it, in fact, given the high booth cost, hotel and travel expense. We felt good that we were opening a new market, but there was definitely some sweat equity involved getting here. It was odd to be asked, “Are you local?” Our normal answer, “YES!”, had to change to “We’re from Santa Clarita, down by Magic Mountain. Just a couple of hours down the road.”

OK, three hours.

Good people in Clovis. We definitely enjoyed this event, and will consider returning in 2016. I doubt that we’ll increase the size of our booth, given the very high value that the Clovis Chamber of Commerce places on their space. We might opt to apply for section I, which is designated the Arts & Crafts area of the event. Unfortunately, that designation is only on the Chamber’s vendor map, as near as I can tell, and some of the vendors in that area were definitely not handmade.

New Products

  • Lip Scrub. Velda’s tried some recipes, and has settled on the one she likes. She thinks. Only problem is that her formula seems to gush oil that must arrive constantly through a warp from a parallel universe. In any event, more oil was weeping out of the containers than she ever put into them. The lip scrub containers wept all weekend, and every purchaser (there were several!) was warned to keep their container out of their purse and upright. Many labels were ruined, so the bottom layer of jars in one container – about a third of the product – could not be sold. Mrs. M needs to find some little self-sealing jars….
  • Mr-Ms-Logo-RTPig cutting boards. This product introduction was explained in an earlier blog, here. Bottom line: in spite of my best efforts, I’m back in the pig business.
  • Juice grooves. For the first time, I showed boards with juice grooves. The hard maple end grain with a juice groove was the # 1 Most Commented-on board at this show. And it didn’t sell. However, I did sell a custom, engraved board with juice groove based on that design.


  • Remember Magda in There’s Something About Mary? She was a senior citizen that was amazingly overtanned, and wore Barbie Doll pink lipstick, which glowed against her skin. Put that image together with the ‘fro’d out hair of Rosanne Rosannadanna, and you’ve got the vision I had walking down the street on Sunday. Obviously, Clovis can be a scary place.
  • Velda was frightened by the sizable man walking down the street in his white t-shirt … showing side boob through the arm hole. Vendors are people watchers; there’s a lot to see here. Sometimes, too much.
  • You can’t choose your neighbors, and ours were annoying. Again. On one side we had a long-time Clovis-based vendor that told us she didn’t have to follow the rules about staying inside the boundaries of her booth. And, she didn’t. On the other side, we had taser sales, so we heard “ZzzzzzT” every 30 seconds. All day long. The taser guy left after Saturday, and we had a guy hawking dried salsa spices on Sunday. He was a somewhat annoying hard sales type, but at least he didn’t make frightening noises every 30 seconds. All day long.
  • Here’s a note for all of the 19 year old young ladies that read the blog. When you go to Big Hat Days, don’t wear 4″ spike heels. Be kind to yourself. He’s really not worth it, trust me.
  • Variety is the spice of life … and proved to be important for board sales here. For the first time, I took 11 different styles or designs of boards to an event. That’s a good thing, because I sold at least one board from each of the 11 categories. I’ve already got the 12th and 13th styles in my head, thank goodness … and now I can’t stand to have them in my head another minute.
  • Strangest conversation of the weekend: discussing doing a deer’s head-shaped cutting board with a backwoods lady that whipped out her knife to show me the shape she would want. This conversation was prompted by the shapely pig cutting board … I hate being in the pig business.
  • I often say that if you sell the most expensive board on display, then it’s a good day. I did that – twice. It was a good weekend.
  • Three people asked to negotiate price on my boards. I declined the opportunity each time. Only one made the purchase anyway, and I’m totally fine with that.
  • The jerk of the weekend told me he knew about wood because he worked for some kind of landscaping company (you can’t make this stuff up). He told me that pine was the same as maple, that he knew the board I had marked for $35 wasn’t worth that, and he’d give me $20. Surprisingly, this young man didn’t buy anything from us. Oh, and Velda almost threw him out of the booth.

The Food

  • Friday Dinner: Carl’s Jr. on the road. I got the cod sandwich, which I won’t be doing again.
  • Saturday Breakfast: McDonald’s. I had # 4. I mean, wouldn’t you?
  • Saturday Lunch: Velda decided to go get lunch during the crush of food gathering by the tens of thousands of Big Hat people. She said she barely escaped with her life, and brought me fried fish and fried cheese. Our booth was busy with customers, thankfully, but I did manage to eat some fried stuff. After it got cold. Yuck.
  • Saturday Snack: Strawberries & Desert Topping. $7. Fabulous.
  • Saturday Dinner: El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant, Clovis. We followed their 4 star reviews on Yelp … to find very Americanized Mexican food. It was OK for tired vendors. But noteworthy? No chance.
  • Sunday Breakfast: Best meal of the trip. Holiday Inn Express Biscuits & Gravy. Mmmmm. Just us, the U16 girls traveling volleyball team, and some National Guard soldiers.
  • Sunday Lunch: Meat on a stick with garlic fries. Thank goodness it came with peppermints. Yes, we were immersed in the festival experience.
  • Sunday Snack: Gorilla Gurt … froyo, don’cha know. Served under a giant inflatable purple gorilla. (Marketing note: brand awareness is important.) They were out of chocolate, so I got strawberry/vanilla with blackberries, almonds & chocolate. Later, the truck’s mother bought lotion from Velda since we bought desert from her child. Serendipity.
  • Sunday Dinner: At home. 9:45pm. Cheese & stale crackers. Velda didn’t even use a cheese board. Sad times … but I did fix myself a bourbon on the rocks. So, good times. She also let me throw away the stale crackers we didn’t eat, so better times are ahead.

The Facts

  • Total miles driven, between our 2 cars: 803
  • Booth cost, 10×12 w/adjacent walkway (so, 2 sides open): $405
  • # of people we met from the producer, the Clovis Chamber of Commerce: 0
  • Total sales: $1,797
  • # containers of all products taken: 18 (the reason for 2 cars)
  • # boards available: 103
  • Saturday alarm: 5am
  • Sunday alarm: 6am
  • # transactions: 67 … 49 selling lotion
  • # soap vendors: 5
  • # lotion vendors: 4
  • # woodwork vendors: 4. There was a routed sign guy who couldn’t get out of bed to open on time Sunday morning (just sayin’). A very nice man named Grandpa Bob sold his unpainted wooden toys for $8 and up … and he far outsold my higher cost boards, he said. Highlight of his booth: a very large & prominent sign, saying: “I make these toys in my garage in Clovis, CA.” There was another guy (missed his name) selling custom baseball bats he made. I didn’t talk to him, because I think turners are crazy.
  • Edge grain v. end grain = 16:3

Here are some of my favorites that sold this week:

Boards sold: 19

  • Cheese Board: 4 *
  • Lazy Susan: 3 *
  • Surfboard: 2 *
  • Large Sous Chef: 2 *
  • Pig Board: 2 *
  • Small Sous Chef: 1
  • Large Cutting Board: 1
  • Small Board: 1
  • Custom Design: 1
  • Engraved Board: 1
  • Bread Board: 1 *

* sold my favorite piece in this category this weekend

Here's the Mrs M booth for 2015. Ready for business!

Here’s the Mrs M booth for 2015. Ready for business!

7 responses to “The Board Chronicles: Big Hat Days

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  1. What an experience! Thank you for the fun read!!! I’m glad you’re now safe at home and ready to create more beautiful boards! Hmmmm…I think they want some moose and elk boards up where my sister lives. Just kidding!

  2. What a fantastic assortment of creative items. The pig cutting boards are really awesome!

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