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The Board Chronicles: Camarillo Fiesta & Street Fair 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.

It was at this event, several years ago, that I first saw an iPad with a Square card reader in action. I remember my jaw dropped. Technology had made a great leap.

This was back before we were vendors; we’d gone to see the booth of our good friend Heather of Heather Hill Clothing. Once we became vendors, we had talked every year about doing this big community Street Fair that promised attendance of 30k, but we were always put off by the temperature … it’s July, and Mrs M’s products don’t do well in the heat.

This year, the event fell on the weekend that Mrs M had to work at her “job,” so we decided that I should do a solo event with just my stuff.

Yes, “we” decided that “I” should work. Did I mention that the Saturday of the event was on my birthday? I wrote about that, in It’s My Birthday: A Special Edition Of The Board Chronicles.

This will be my 2nd solo event of the year, and it seems like my expectations for solo events are almost never met. Time will tell….

 New Ideas

  • This is the first solo event that I took the trailer to … so I had the full setup with the roll-off cabinets. You know our slogan: go big, or stay home.

Observations

  • So disappointing when I arrived and the guy with the clipboard (a youth volunteer) could do no more than confirm my booth number. No map for me to take. No clear direction on how to get to my booth! “It’s just over there” was all of the information I got.
  • Booth numbers were not clearly marked on the curb when I got there. This event has been happening 50+ years, but they didn’t seem to have their act together. No clear paths for people to get in and out for loading and unloading. Very disorganized when compared to last week’s 4th of July event that had the same basic setup!
  • I need more Goncalo. The board I have on display is so striking! It didn’t sell, but it did inspire a special order and many comments.
  • The booth was located on one end of the event, so I got a lot of people that had just arrived and didn’t want to carry/commit, so I heard a lot of “See you on the way back.”
  • The event is 5 blocks long, with a beer garden/concert stage on each end. Food & carnival rides are in the middle. It’s really laid out so the booths get seen, which I appreciate.
  • At this event, many of the “See you on the way backs” actually did come back. Always nice when that happens.
  • I was greeted on Sunday with bags of trash behind the booth, next to the trash can. Nice of the near-neighbor caramel corn/lemonade vendor to leave their trash for me.

  • A guy was looking at my boards while his wife was next door buying a hat. She got the hat … but wouldn’t let him buy a board (sigh).
  • Good crowd here, and they did walk the booths. No complaints about the attendance; just wish I would have sold more stuff.
  • My main problem at this event was boredom. When I’m alone – so alone – and I go an hour + without a transaction, I start wondering why I’m there. Over 25% of total sales happened in the final hour of this 14 hour event, so I spent 13 hours staring at the crowds wondering what was wrong. Hard to overcome all of that contemplation.
  • I get so many compliments on my beer bottles … and so many people wonder about why the bottles are empty. And then they see the MBO demo. And they smile.

  • Several repeat customers came through and gave me kudos for what I do, which is very uplifting. One guy came in to buy his 4th board from me. He doesn’t use the first 3, he said, but he enjoys looking at them. He may use #4. He said.
  • Requests were for hot plate trivets, a Cribbage set (x2!), coasters (x2!), a cutting board stand (x2!) … and a chess board (x2!). I am committed to having all of those things available by September’s events.
  • Did I make my low goal for this event? Nope … but I was close.
  • Maybe my whole solo event strategy is wrong. Something else to contemplate….

The Food

Saturday Breakfast: Hello, Old Friend.

Saturday Lunch: Velda’s deluxe ham sandwich.

Saturday Snack: A giant chocolate chip cookie.

Saturday Dinner: Lasagna at Bella Cucina. Yum.

Sunday Breakfast: Santa Clarita’s 2nd best breakfast burrito, from Jimmy Deans.

Sunday Lunch: See Saturday.

Sunday Snack: See Saturday.

Sunday Dinner: Papa John’s. It was easy … and the Dodgers scored 5 yesterday so it was cheap!

The Facts

  • Total miles driven: 262
  • Booth cost: $250
  • Food cost: $129
  • Travel cost: $136
  • Total sales: $960
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $445
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 0
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: 1
  • Saturday alarm: 5am
  • Sunday alarm: Nope
  • # transactions: 17x
  • # soap & lotion vendors: No clue.
  • # woodworking vendors: No clue.
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 16:1
  • Returning next year? Nope.

Boards sold: 17

Magic Bottle Openers: 6

Large Cheese & Cracker Servers, AKA Surfboards: 2

Domed Cheese & Cracker Servers: 2

Small Sous Chef Board: 2

Cutting Board: 1

Small Board: 1

Lazy Susan: 1

Cheese Boards: 1

Bread Board: 1

It’s My Birthday: A Special Edition Of The Board Chronicles   2 comments

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.

2a – It’s my birthday. Why am I awake?

4:04a – Ugh. Cannot sleep.

5a –  Alarm. I’m up. I’m up. Dress. Pack the cooler. Go.

5:29a – On the road.

5:44a – Hello, old friend. Here’s a thought: I could do a diary of my day and blog it, since I think I’m going to be bored today. OK, done. Welcome.

ed. note.: I am doing a solo event today, which we decided was a good plan since Mrs M has to “work” at her “job” and summertime events aren’t good for her since she would melt. I mean the lotions would melt. Or something. In any event, she’s out. I’m in. I decided to do a solo event on my birthday: the Camarillo Fiesta & Street Fair. Welcome.

6:43a – Arrival. Found the guy with the clipboard … who has no map to give me. Who cannot tell me how to get to my booth. He calls over Joe, who also has a clipboard. Who cannot tell me how to get to my booth.

6:45a – Going for it. Drove through, dodging canopies, vendors and vehicles … didn’t find my booth. Found a guy, who gave me a couple of landmarks and I drove through. In the other direction, still with my trailer. Of course. Dodged canopies, vendors and vehicles again. Also rolling freezers. And trailers. And portable lights. And generators. And barricades. And golf carts. Threaded the needle, and didn’t hit anything. This is what I do for fun. I guess.

6:51a – Found the booth … about 50 yards from the original guy with the clipboard (and he couldn’t tell me that?). Hidden, faded chalk marks on top of the curb marked the booth, but they were not visible unless you are standing over them. But, no worries, they’re putting visible papers with booth numbers taped to the face of the curb for the next guy. Unfortunately, their vendor check-in started over an hour and 15 minutes before I got there.

6:52a – Unloaded the trailer. Drove out to park it, and got lucky. I must be early. Parked on a street 2 blocks from my booth.

6:55a – Setup begins. Opened the bag for the canopy … pieces fell out. This is not good.

6:56a – I know these pieces. This is the same thing that broke in Ridgecrest last year, so I know how to fix it. I’ve got this. I have duct tape.

7:03a – Canopy up. Duct tape in place. First thing I do is move the canopy 18″ away from the curb, and farther into the street. Have to get out of the gutter. Nothing good comes from being in the gutter.

8:15a – Setup ongoing, but mostly done. First walker in the booth. He bought a cutting board just 2 weeks ago, and he loves it. Good for him. He did not buy from me.

9:21a – Set up complete. My neighbors are a chiropractor, and a vendor of imported crap. 2 for $5. Or, 1 for $8, 2 for $15. Like that.

9:28a – Street is empty, so I go walkabout. Vendors seem to be just what I expected: heavy on the imported cheap merchandise. No organization that I can see. A few handmade items, mainly food.

9:38a – Bought 2 massive chocolate chip cookies. Handmade. Of course. Happy birthday to me.

9:51a – First sale … had to break a hundred. Great start.

10:15a – Handed an entertainment schedule for the event … and a map! Come to find out, there’s an entertainment stage and beer garden on both ends of the event, with 5 blocks of booths between. I’m at one end, near one of the entertainment stages (but it’s across the street, in a park, so I can’t see/hear it).

1023a – She said: We will be back later.
He said: I knew I wouldn’t get past this booth.

11:07a – Chiropractor’s assistant is now 2 steps into the Midway trying to grab people to get their posture evaluated. Lovely.

11:18a – He and She came back. Bought 2 boards!

11:24a – “I just came from the gym. I am not here to shop.” That’s fine … she almost bought 2 boards. “Settled” on one.

12:54p – 90 minutes later … no more sales (sigh). Yawning. Time for lunch.

1:12p – Another sale, and the sandwich is now dried out.

1:53p She #2 asked: Are your boards dishwasher safe?
I said: No. No, they’re not … and I kept a straight face.

2:13p –  The worst part of a solo show is the boredom. No Mrs M transactions to fill the time. The worst part of a bad show is the boredom. No quality conversations to fill the time. And when it’s a bad, solo show….

2:20p – Another He said “I still have your board that I bought 3 years ago and I still love it.” Love. This.

3:02p – The battery on the chip reader died. This cannot be from use. I know I charged it. Heat? Bad charge? One more problem to contemplate. Luckily, I have a swiper. The Lady packed the bag bag of supplies (with bags in 3 sizes) well.

3:32p – Most heard comment of the day: “too pretty to cut on.” One lady saw the pic I have of a cheese & cracker server in action, showed her husband, and used the picture to prove her point that the cutting boards weren’t really cutting boards … they were serving pieces that were too pretty to cut on. Geez. Speechless.

3:40p – Open-mouthed reaction to the MBO demo. I own the demo. Didn’t sell the MBO, though.

3:45p – What kind of a crowd was it? I noticed a lady, older than me (on my birthday), who was wearing a Todd Rundgren t-shirt. Not something you see every day….

4:08p – Fun conversation with a couple that came into the booth, and were clearly having fun looking. The guy eventually admitted he was a turner (meaning he’s crazy), and the woman also goes into the shop with him to turn smaller stuff like bottle stoppers (good, they’re crazy together).

Why are turners crazy? They take a perfectly good piece of wood, put it on a machine to turn it at a high rate of speed, and then they stick something sharp into it just to see what flies off. Crazy. But I digress.

4:09p – The couple eventually admit that they’ve thought about vending as they like making stuff … but they’re running out of relatives that will take stuff they’ve made. He shows me smartphone pix of the work, and it’s really exquisite. Great, great looking stuff. I caution them that to vend, they need to figure out how to make things for under $50 that will sell … what he likes to make takes a month per piece and should cost hundreds of dollars each. Difficult to vend with art pieces like those. I point them to this blog to read more of my supposed vendor wisdom. Welcome.

4:31p – Hot. Drinking my cooler dry.

4:37p – Another She tells me she bought an MBO at Champagne on Main (April, Ventura) and she loves it. Her He loves it, and uses it every day. Love. This.

4:59p – A lady in the booth is looking for a charcuterie board. Last year, I didn’t know what that was. Now, I’m so continental. And a year wiser.

5:36p – The only thing I like that’s sold by the importers of crap are the battery operated bubble blowers. Every kid should have one. The 4 year old kid in front of the booth had one, and when he stopped walking, he held his finger on the trigger. Bubble blizzard! You couldn’t see through my booth for the bubbles, and I was all good with that.

5:40p – Bubble blizzard cleared up. First time explaining end grain vs edge grain today. First quality conversation about cutting board-sized cutting boards. It was 7+ hours into the event. Geez. Not good.

6:27p – My new catch phrase: “I start with lumber and I end up here.” Works.

7:04p – Shutting down. Wrapping it up, even though people are still in the booth. Doesn’t matter. It’s my birthday.

8:25p – Home. Quick, quick turnaround & out to my favorite Italian restaurant: Bella Cucina. Yum.

9:43p – Home. Check the tally, which was right. 10x boards sold.

10:10p – Return emails with birthday wishes. Haven’t even looked at Facebook. Not today.

10:18p – In the chair. Ahhh.

10:  p – Asleep.

The next day, today, 2:46a – Awake again, still in the chair. Bed.

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When Nature Fights Back: A Special Edition Of The Board Chronicles

The Board Chronicles: 4th of July Street Fair 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.

Happy Independence Day!

We’ve “celebrated” for the last 2 years by going a-vendoring at Ventura’s 4th of July Street Fair, held each year on Main Street just down the hill from city hall. This is a very well attended one-day event. It’s a party. It’s a Street Fair.

And you know how much I love going to the Street Fair.

We’ve had consistently good results at this event over the last couple of years (you can read those blog posts – 2015 and 2016). However, this is a one day event with a good deal of stress put on the vendors to Get. Out. after the event is over. Event volunteers are also stressed: they allow vendors to set up for 6 hours, but tear down must happen in 90 minutes or there’ll be hell to pay.

Apparently.

I’ve written about this in previous years. The event goal is to close the event at 5pm and re-open the street to vehicular traffic at 6:45pm. At 5pm, every year, the street is still filled with customers and the vendors are given Hobson’s choice of doing tear down NOW, or doing what they came to do.

Why don’t they keep the event open until 6pm, and then open the street at 9? No clue. I guess a $385 booth fee only gets you so much….

No matter; we’re in. Time to see what Ventura’s 42nd annual 4th of July Street Fair has in store for us.

New Ideas

  • This is the only one day event that we will do as a double booth this year. I’m going to do a couple of one day events solo, but this is the only “full set up” one day event we’re doing in 2017. I promise.
  • After a month off from events, including a week-long excursion to the midwest to see family, it feels like we’ve totally lost our vendor rhythm. I forgot to bring our weights for the canopy. We were unweighted.
  • Yes, we were those people.
  • Mrs M provided holiday decor to liven up the booth. We had red, white & blue accents, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Observations

  • This city-sponsored event requires a city of Ventura business license, and applications are not processed until that license is in hand, which takes some time. I also made an error on the application – claiming a $25 booth fee discount as a resident of the city. Ooops. We got the paperwork straightened out in April … I had asked for the same booth position in the 400 block, but they gave me a new booth at the end of the 500 block. We were in 501/503, which was right by the information booth and shuttle stop. It was an upgrade. I think.
  • Last year, we left before 5am and had the booth set up by 8:30a. This year, we left about 45 minutes later … and set up was finished much later. We didn’t bring our “A” game to set up, I’m afraid.
  • Booths are set up in the middle of Main Street. Vendors are assigned side streets to enter from, and then it’s one-way traffic to get to your booth, park at the curb (blocking other vendors from driving through), unload your gear, and then find a parking space. The rules are very clear: unload, drive away & park, then set up.
  • The vendor blocking the street when we drove in at 6:30a was not doing it that way. Her booth was set up. Her display pieces were set up. Table cloths were on the tables. Her inventory was organized in front of those tables. And she was still unloading, blocking traffic.
  • Event organizers began to counsel her on what they required of her (which, apparently, had not been done until I pointed out the problem). I soon had an uncharacteristic and direct conversation with the lady about my expectations as well. After about a 5 minute delay, she moved her van.
  • I did not make a friend.
  • We had our trailer unloaded in perhaps 10 minutes, and then I drove away to park. By the time I got back, our vendor friend Craig had helped Velda set up the pop-ups, and the booth was already taking shape.
  • The official 10a start of this event is meaningless. We had walkers at 8:30a, and a full street of customers at 9a. It felt like a very big day was coming.
  • Saw several customers at the event, and really felt the power of doing events for several years and growing the brand over time. It’s good to have people tell you how much they love your stuff after they’ve used it for a year or two. Mrs M heard it; I heard it. This is fabulous.
  • Two women walked into the booth:
    • Lady 1: My sister loves her cutting board I bought from you.
    • Me: Great!
    • Lady 2: I bought my sister a clipboard from you, and she loves it.
    • Me: Great!
    • Lady 2: I only have one sister, though, so I don’t need another.
    • Me: I understand what it’s like to have one sister. I have one, and I wouldn’t want another.
    • Lady 1: He’s funny!
  • We were ‘whelmed at 11a. Totally lost control. One lady bought a board from Velda: I never talked to the lady, and I never saw which board she bought. I missed the whole transaction, talking to other customers.
  • Several customers bought boards without talking to me at this event. That’s very unusual … but speaks to the quality of the work itself. I hope.
  • Who wants to talk to the sales guy, anyway?
  • I disappointed one loyal prospect who returned to the booth … and was again disappointed that the long-promised cribbage boards had still not made it out of the shop. I promised him I would have a selection for him at an event in September.
  • What have I done?
  • We stayed busy all day. The traffic seemed much greater this year, and there were no long pauses between conversations. I never got a minute to go walk about. After set up, I saw a total of 6 booths: our neighbors. That’s it.
  • Requests were for a breakfast tray, an in-counter board, an in-sink board for an RV and salad tongs.
  • The rules are clear: stop selling at 5pm. Pack everything. Go get your car, and load out. Be off the street for the road opening at 6:45p. And, we had volunteers encouraging us to begin tear down early (and therefore stop selling!) so we could drive our cars onto the street at 5pm to load out.
  • Why is it that civic-sponsored events always have misinformation and always have stress for volunteers and vendors, alike? Why is it that almost every downtown event has event organizers freaking out about opening the road back up to traffic … and it’s never done safely?
  • There were cars on the street at 5p. And pedestrians. And baby strollers. It was, unfortunately, crazy time as we packed up our stuff. We were efficient, though. We started taking down our 4th of July decorations at 4:40p, and began serious packing – as required – at 5p. When everything was packed except for the pop-ups, I talked to the traffic director about bringing in the trailer, and he told me where he wanted me to park. Communication is a wonderful thing. We were in the Jeep, driving home, at 6:20p.
  • Finally got to the numbers after dinner. Found a couple of errors, of course, from when we were ‘whelmed. Luckily, cash doesn’t lie:

Best. Single. Day. Event. Ever.

The Food

July 4 Breakfast: Bagels & cream cheese.

July 4 Lunch: The world’s worst Polish hotdog. Fair food is for the birds.

July 4 Snack: Our neighbor makes amazing caramel apples, and she sampled them all day. The paying customers got the good slices; we got the cores. Fabulous!

July 4 Dinner: Being Independence Day & all, we wanted to eat American. After determining that all of the Mexican restaurants were closed, we ate at Kabuki, a Japanese restaurant. Yes, I ate tolerated sushi, and really enjoyed the shrimp tempura and BBQ beef.

The Facts

  • Total miles driven: 104
  • Booth cost: $385
  • Food cost: $24
  • Travel cost: $54
  • Total sales: $2,592
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $2,129
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: none
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: 2
  • Tuesday alarm: 4:30a
  • # transactions: 71
  • # soap & lotion vendors: No clue … several, I’m sure
  • # woodworking vendors: No clue … several, I’m sure
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 20:3
  • Returning next year? Yes

Boards sold: 23

Cutting Boards: 5

Magic Bottle Openers: 5

Small Boards: 3

Large Sous Chef Boards: 2

Cheese & Cracker Server, AKA Large Surfboard: 2

Cheeseboards: 2

Bread Board: 1

Custom Order: 1

Medium Surfboard: 1

Legal-sized Clipboard: 1

The Board Chronicles: Montrose Arts & Crafts 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.

45,000 people come to the Montrose Arts & Crafts Festival.

They say.

Last year may not have been a good representation, though, with temperatures soaring over 100*. We still had an OK outing, though (read about our 2016 event, here). And this year, the forecast is better, with the high on both days projected at 83. In addition, we have the coolest booth on the street, with a giant shade tree.

Maybe our patrons will linger in the coolness that is our booth.

Last year, this was one of our most expensive events ever. This year, that’s no longer the case. The vendor fees aren’t cheap ($650 for a double booth with an open aisle on one side), but we’ve definitely paid more. We’ve also had much better sales at other events. This year, we’re hoping to do better than last year – and if we do, it’ll be the first event this year at which we’ve done better than in 2016.

It’s the end of the Spring Fling … think we can gather some momentum and have a very nice event?

New Ideas

  • Back to our pop-up canopies this week; the early Saturday morning set-up has dissuaded us from doing the 10×20 Trimline canopy. It adds 30+ minutes to both the set up and the take down. It’s worth it … but when time is of the essence, we need to use the pop-ups.
  • I don’t like leaving the trailer parked on public streets, and this event does not provide any off-street parking. At all. So, I drove the empty trailer home Saturday night and then back to the event Sunday morning. Velda especially loves the rattling & bouncing of the empty trailer.

Observations

  • Spring Fling event # 7 of 7.
  • 7 events, 7 weeks.
  • Done.
  • Just like last year, I’m across the aisle – about 10′ away – from a direct competitor. Exotic Chopping Blocks is the company name, and the woodworker is Glenn. His style is very different from mine, though we do make some similar boards (cheese boards, especially). We’re really OK being in close proximity – we both like our current booth locations, so we’re not moving. Not ideal, but we’re both OK. We enjoy the camaraderie, for sure.
  • We both get comments, though: “Don’t you hate being right by that guy?” “Are you in business together?”
  • This event is in downtown Montrose, and there’s a lot of early/late walkthru traffic with people going to get a coffee, going out to eat, or going to the farmer’s market. That business outside of the published hours of the event is significant … I sold the last chess board before we “opened” at 10am Saturday.
  • Why do people touch a board, and then do a double tap on the surface with a finger? Are they verifying that the wood is an unyielding surface to a fingertip? I’ve seen so many people do this; it’s an odd human habit.
  • A mother and daughter were having fun looking at boards, choosing which big board they wanted. Eventually, the daughter said, “we’ll do this next year.” The healthy-looking mother said, “I might be dead next year.” The daughter walked away. The mom did return to the booth later, but didn’t buy. No clue what that human drama meant!
  • Saturday was down 20% from prior year. Not looking good….
  • Overheard: “I pocket dialed you? I don’t know how to do that. I’ve heard about it, but I don’t know how to do it.”
  • Standing in the booth, we heard a pop and then a loud “SSSSSS.” We looked at each other … what was that? Someone passing by the booth told us: a branch had broken off the tree, landed on the canopy above our heads, and then slid down the canopy roof into the gutter between the canopy where it stopped. Odd sound for a random occurrence!
  • Sunday picked up, thankfully, but still was short of last year’s “heat impacted” results. Is this just not that good of an event?
  • Tear down was at 5pm, and we started promptly.
  • A mom & 2 teenagers wandered by at 5:25pm:
    • She said: “I really like this board.”
    • Son said: “You should get it.”
    • I said: “I like your kids.”
    • She said: “Do you have anything in Walnut?”
    • I said: “I do. Here’s a Cheese & Cracker Server in pure Black Walnut.”
    • Daughter said: “You should get it.”
    • I said: “I really like your kids.”
    • Everyone smiled.
  • She bought the Black Walnut Cheese & Cracker Server, plus a couple of soaps for the kids. That $92 walk-up transaction with a lady that had no idea the event was happening, over 30 minutes after the event “closed,” put us over the top. For the first time this year at a repeated event, we beat last year’s number! But, even better, by an eyelash ….

Best. Spring. Fling. Ever.

  • Requests were for a fleur de lis-shaped board, a board with plastic cutting board inserts, a cheese & cracker server with a larger glass dome, a board for cutting turkey (massive juice groove), a board with a meat hook to easily flip meat over (huh?), a big lazy Susan/compartmentalized serving piece and another request for a board with an over-sized juice groove. Oh, and the # 1 requested item? Yup. Chess boards.

The Food

Saturday Breakfast: Jack In The Box # 23. I’m moving JITB off of my approved list for breakfast.

Saturday Lunch: Velda’s cheese & cracker plate, with a fruity assist from our friend, Jan.

Saturday Snack: Nope

Saturday Dinner: A chicken burrito at Margaritas, still our go to for Mexican food in SCV

Sunday Breakfast: Hello, old friend.

Sunday Lunch: Soupy pizza from the joint down the street … easy, but very disappointing.

Sunday Snack: Paradis ice cream. Yum. There’s another reason why we like this booth location!

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Parm at the best Italian restaurant in the SCV: Bella Cucina.

The Facts

  • Total miles driven: 140
  • Booth cost: $650
  • Food cost: $227
  • Travel cost: $73
  • Total sales: $2,150
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $ 1,127
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 1
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: 1
  • Saturday alarm: 4:30a
  • Sunday alarm: nope
  • # transactions: 35+
  • # soap & lotion vendors: Several, though none had the range of products that Mrs M offers. Together, though, there were many competitors
  • # woodworking vendors: Several, including 1 cutting board maker … and, I believe, 1 cutting board importer at this “exclusively” handmade event
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 9:0
  • Returning next year? Probably.

Boards sold: 20

Magic Bottle Openers: 6

Lazy Susans: 3

Cheese Boards: 3

Cheese & Cracker Servers: 2

Cutting Board: 1

Large Cutting Board: 1

Small Surfboard: 1

Medium Surfboard: 1

Wine Bottle Holder: 1

Chess Board: 1

The Board Chronicles: Arroyo Grande 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.

Just last week, we went to the California Strawberry Festival … this week, we’re moving up the coast & going to perhaps an even bigger celebration of my favorite fruit.

The timing seems right for this event. After all, I spent many Memorial Day weekends when we lived on the farm, helping the family harvest our strawberries from Grandma Mowry’s incredibly large strawberry patch from hell.

But, oh, those strawberries.

There were 6 of us working the patch for hours to do one picking (and I’m certain I did the least of all), and 2 pickings over the holiday weekend were normal.

I did learn an important lesson picking those strawberries all those years ago: Never look back. Because, if I did, I always saw strawberries that were hidden from me when I looked at the vines from a different perspective. So, never look back … unless you want to see what a bad picker you really are.

Flash forward, uh, 50 years, and let’s see what the pickings are like in Arroyo Grande at their 34th Annual Strawberry Festival.

New Ideas

  • We’re situated at the end of the T-shaped vendor area. We’re told we’re near a fire lane so we can’t use our awning for this event. That means our big banners go inside the canopy against the mesh walls … hardly ideal, but the first time we’ve done our signage like that.
  • Our booth was on a sidewalk, which means you had to step up onto the curb to enter the booth. That meant we were not handicap accessible, and that was an issue for two customers in wheelchairs. Luckily, they both had attendants that assisted them (in both cases, before I could get there to assist). First time we’ve ever had this as an issue.
  • This is a big event with 400 vendors. The wacky thing is that the majority of those vendors are located on Branch Street (and I do mean ON Branch Street), and all of those booths must tear down each night so the street can be open, 6p – 6a. Tear downs had to be accomplished in 1 hour, and the motorcycle cops were not shy about telling you how much time you had left to strike your gear … in 5 minute increments. Many booths are on Bridge Street, and a few are on sidewalks (like us) … those booths can stay up overnight. Thank goodness.
  • This is a buy & sell vendor event. If you need cellphone accessories, or a back pillow, or a EuroWhip (whatever that is), these vendors had you covered. For the first time this year, the organizers put together a handmade section and put us there. Thank goodness.

Observations

  • Yes, I’m just about all flung out. This is our 6th event in 6 weeks. After this event, next weekend will complete our 3rd Spring Fling.
  • Arroyo Grande is a 3 hour drive up the coast from us. We took days off and took advantage of the holiday weekend so that we could enjoy the trip. A few years ago we always went camping in the Sequoias on this weekend; will this be our new Memorial Day tradition?
  • Before the event got going, I had a volunteer in my booth telling me they had 1s & 5s they could sell us if we ran short on change. Great … but vendors traditionally do that???
  • We do not.
  • Mrs M successfully added shelf tags to her display with pricing. First time! Her conclusion: when prices were well displayed, people made their selection and handed her money. Putting prices up cut down on customer confusion. Go figure.
  • We are getting better at what we do, at every event!
  • A stranger walked into the booth, told us that we had a really nice display, and walked out. Didn’t buy anything. That’s really OK … if random passers-by are so struck by our display that they have to tell us “good job,” then we’re doing it right.
  • Heard it before: “You’re not Mrs M.” At almost every event, some old wise guy (OWG) looks at the tag on all of my boards, looks at me and says, “You’re not Mrs M.” The OWG then gets to hear my explanation that Mrs M is standing over there, the company started with her and our daughter-in-law, and, finally, that Mr M’s Woodshop is officially a subsidiary of Mrs M’s Handmade. Not sure why the OWGs want to point out that I’m not woman enough to be a Mrs, but, uh, I’m not.
  • A guy saw my Magic Bottle Openers, and saw my demo of the MBO. His comment, “Why can’t my kids ever get me something like this? I have more socks than I’ll ever need.”
  • I could not help him. Unless his kids are reading this….
  • This event promises attendance of 150,000. That is a fantasy, in my estimation. I don’t have a good way to estimate total event attendance based on me being anchored to our booth for the majority of the event, but I believe the number that passed by our booth was a small fraction of the projected attendance. 20,000? I believe that. 50,000? Perhaps. 150,000? Not buying it … nor were our sales commensurate with that kind of exposure. In my opinion.
  • Requests were for a small charcuterie board for two, a wine bottle opener, wine bottle stoppers, a pillbox, a smaller cutting board with a juice groove (2x), a cribbage board, and notepad clipboards (2x).

The Golden Strawberry

I blame Velda. Of course.

Velda took this nicely composed picture of me with the Golden Strawberry, and posted it to the event’s Facebook page as well as on Instagram. I posted it on Facebook – made it my profile picture – and our friend, the Happy Texan, captioned it with “And the Golden Strawberry award goes to … Henry Mowry!”

It was a great caption, but it was not true. The ‘net was not to be denied, however, and the congratulations and likes of the photo began flowing in while we were at the event. We were busy vendoring … but the internet was blowing up with well wishes from friends who thought it was great that someone had finally given me inedible fruit.

In reality, the event had decided to create some social media. The organizers got a golden strawberry and asked their fans to take a selfie with it, post it to the event’s Facebook page … and whoever got the most likes would get a free t-shirt. We saw selfies being taken throughout the day. I pointed out to Mrs M that her submission was not a selfie … but she was not to be denied, either.

And I didn’t get the t-shirt. All of my likes & congrats were on my page, not the event’s page.

Velda blames me.

Of course.

The Food

Saturday Breakfast: Something from Burger King. It was on the way.

Saturday Lunch: Chicken on a stick. It was the daily special, I was told.

Saturday Snack: Strawberry Parfait … not as good as last week’s shortcake, and more expensive @ $7 each.

Saturday Dinner: We ordered BBQ for in-room delivery. This was not a wise decision, but it was easy.

Sunday Breakfast: Holiday Inn Express biscuits & gravy. Yum.

Sunday Lunch: I asked for a hot dog, but got a Navajo Taco. Communication is the hardest thing we humans do.

Sunday Snack: Nope. Too busy.

Sunday Dinner: We walked to the Rooster Creek Tavern for the nicest meal of the trip.

The Facts

  • Total miles driven: 332
  • Booth cost: $800
  • Food cost: $198
  • Travel cost: $729
  • Total sales: $2,374
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $474
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 1
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: several
  • Saturday alarm: 5:15a
  • Sunday alarm: 6:15a
  • # transactions: 88
  • # soap & lotion vendors: There were a few. One soapmaker was in our immediate area. There was at least one corporate type selling lotions; one company with organic in their name was making illegal medical claims for their products. The usual, in other words.
  • # woodworking vendors: Several, including one direct competitor offering cutting boards & Lazy Susans.
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 25:2
  • Returning next year? Maybe

Boards sold: 27

Magic Bottle Openers: 7

Custom Orders: 4

Cutting Boards: 3

Cheese Boards: 3

Large Cheese & Cracker Servers: 2

Lazy Susans: 2

Bread Boards: 2

Small Board: 1

Medium Surfboard: 1

Domed Cheese & Cracker Server: 1

Chess Board: 1

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

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.

 

The Board Chronicles: Hillside Farm Arts & Crafts 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.

We found this event the best way: networking. My good vendor pal Dalinda told me this was one of her favorite events, so we signed up.

If she’s wrong, I will have to extract my revenge. After all, this is our first foray into Riverside County to do an event … who’s actually been to Norco, anyway? I’ve only been there once, to help Christopher buy a truck. Other than that … nope.

Google tells me this is an 87 mile drive, and I’m going to be doing it 4 times. Lovely.

New Ideas

  • Mrs M had been off playing at the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild annual convention in Las Vegas earlier this week, so she has to work Friday. That means I’m driving to the event, setting up solo, and then driving back home on Friday evening through the Friday commuter chaos. Saturday, we’ll get up at O dark :30 to go set up for the event’s 9am start.

Observations

  • This is our Spring Fling’s event # 3 of 7. Miles to go before we sleep. 87 miles one way, this weekend … and Memorial Day Weekend will be farther. Miles to go before we sleep.
  • It’s always an adventure when you pull into a new event site and know nothin’ ’bout nothin’. All was good; these are good people. Many of the vendors have been doing this twice yearly event (the weekend before Mother’s Day in the spring, and Thanksgiving weekend and the first weekend of December for the holidays) for a long time.
  • Set-up was uneventful, once I got the trailer backed in. I didn’t do it well, and the men that live in this horsey community definitely noticed. And commented. One said, “You never owned a boat, huh?”
  • Nope.
  • Lots of woodworkers here, though none are as single-minded as I am. I’m very comfortable being “the cutting board guy.” Another vendor commented that he had more than just bread boards.
  • And he did. As Hamm said in Beckett’s Endgame (say it with me), “Each to their own speciality.”
  • Many customers assumed that I was the guy they bought a board from last year at this event (I’m not). One couple came to me, upset that their board had warped. I gave them the “some other guy did it” explanation, and then told them why their board did what it did. I showed them my thinnest cutting board with bread board ends to ensure it didn’t warp. They left frustrated they bought a board from some other guy.
  • Things you don’t see every day: a lady walked by the booth, and kissed the chicken she was carrying. Live chicken. Kissed.
  • Lots of vendors at this community event – 74, to be exact. That’s too many for this event’s traffic, IMHO. We did OK, but not great on Saturday.
  • We had time to go walk about on Sunday, and we always introduce ourselves to vendors that do what we do. I met all of the woodworkers, and they were a nice bunch. We all do something different, and I enjoy encouraging my peers by recognizing their good work. I will note that I try to visit their booths, and only 1 visited my booth.
  • Mrs M did the same thing, and had a rather unpleasant conversation with a long-time soaper at this event. This other soaper was, uh, marking her territory when she talked to Mrs M. This other vendor lied about the science involved and was rather imperial in her attitude as an obviously accomplished soaper. In her mind.
  • Good thing Mrs M hadn’t visited her website yet to see the medical claims and outright falsehoods that are included there. Best practices of soap making were clearly being ignored in addition to the flouting of the FDA regulations. We’ll always have snake oil salespeople, it seems. It’s a pity they have to act like the snakes that they are.
  • I think I was madder about it than Mrs M.
  • Sunday, there was a forecast for thunderstorms throughout the day (yikes!). Luckily, that did not happen, but the downpour did arrive shortly after the event closed at 4pm Sunday. We got drenched for about an hour, and then the sky cleared and we were able to quickly load the trailer. We don’t think that we lost any product to the wet … well, except for one monkey that escaped from the zoo and was later found, face down in a puddle, drowned.

  • Requests were for a cribbage board, a top for an island, and a surfboard-shaped MBO.
  • Chess board sales: $0.

The Food: The Lost Weekend

Saturday Breakfast: Bagel & cream cheese at home. Yum.

Saturday Lunch: A hot dog, which came from a high school group that was doing a fundraiser selling lunch. Somehow, they managed to get the hot dog bun both soggy and crunchy. Not recommended.

Saturday Snack: Some fabulous soft molasses, ginger bread cookies. Warm from the oven. Fabulous.

Saturday Dinner: We went to Con Amore Ristorante in Corona, which had absolutely rave reviews on Yelp and Google. Many, many reviews with an average of 4-1/2 stars. We were seated quickly, and that’s the only good thing that happened. Velda wrote a Yelp review giving it one star (only because they require one star. You can’t give a review zero stars). She had a pesto gnocchi, and it was truly tasteless. She swears that the warm bread (or was it stale?) was served with a canola/olive oil blend, not true EVOO. And when her flavor analyzer says it, I trust it. Interestingly, the owner of Con Amore messaged her within 3 hours of her review posting, citing a personnel problem resulting in him being alone in the kitchen on a Saturday night (!) and offering a free meal for us to go back … not going to happen.

Sunday Breakfast: We stayed at Corona’s Holiday Inn Express, and Sunday’s breakfast was the dreaded plastic cheese omelette. Velda intervened: an English muffin, pork sausage, an omelette and mayo made a much better sandwich. It was like I was on a Cub Scout campout again. It was definitely good for the pork and mayo to hide the taste of plastic. Almost.

Sunday Lunch: We switched to burgers from the Chuck Wagon fundraiser, and they were better … though Velda fetched the meal this day, and didn’t remember that burgers taste better with ketchup and mustard. Oh well…. At least they were better than the hot dogs.

Sunday Snack: More cookies, saved from yesterday. Still fabulous.

Sunday Dinner: We went to Wolf Creek – that is open until 9:30p on Sundays! That’s an important find for us. I had the sun-dried tomato pasta with chicken, whatever they call it. Best meal of the weekend, and it wasn’t close.

The Facts

  • Total miles driven: 342
  • Booth cost: $220
  • Food cost: $123
  • Travel cost: $179
  • Total sales: $1,452
  • Net Revenue (does not include product cost): $930
  • # of people we met during the event from the producer: 2
  • Visits in our booth by a promoter’s representative: several
  • Saturday alarm: 4:30a
  • Sunday alarm: nope
  • # transactions: 28
  • # soap & lotion vendors: several – 5 soapers; a couple of people with other skin care products. Please note that if medical treatments for acne or eczema are offered, don’t buy their soap!
  • # woodworking vendors: 5 or so. 3 turners, a scroll saw artist; a couple that made toys. Several sign makers, of course. One guy made cheese boards and handled cutting boards with juice grooves (that’s a thing?).
  • Edge grain vs. end grain: 6:3
  • Returning next year? For the holiday event, it’s our plan. For next spring … we’ll see, but probably. We think it’ll take a while to become part of the in-crowd of vendors here.

Boards sold: 9

Magic Bottle Openers: 3

Large Cutting Boards: 2

Cutting Boards: 1

Letter-sized Clip Board: 1

Large Sous Chef Board: 1

Cheese & Cracker Server: 1

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