"19 Days To Renegade LA" is what my mirror says in erasable ink.
Every day, we march a little closer to The Big Weekend.
What is "Renegade LA"? It's my shorthand for the Renegade Craft Fair, Los Angeles. It's the first in two back-to-back weekends of MAJOR craft fairs, starting July 11.
There are hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of craft fairs in the United States. People who make stuff by hand bring their wares in booths, and then throngs of shoppers (hopefully) come buy those wares. Some craft fairs are very small (think of the non-food section in a farmer's market) and some craft fairs are huge (Renegade), and of course there's the full range in-between (the Harvest Festifall in Columbia, CA is one we went to last October, for example).
These fairs can command very high booth fees for small businesses like ours, but they also can bring in thousands of dollars in revenue in a single weekend, so they're a big gamble. Plus, we have to pay the booth fees months in advance, so we have to have that cash ahead of time. It's tricky.
Aside from the revenue, though, going to craft fairs gives us an opportunity to meet people, which we both really love.
At first, we thought one of the best parts of our business was that we could work entirely from home and ship out orders from the internet, never having to schmooze or drag a whole bunch of inventory around to farmer's markets or craft fairs. But over the past three years, I've found out what a joy customers are. Seeing someone's face light up with delight when they first smell one of our handmade soaps, hearing a person exclaim "Whoa! This is the sexiest soap ever!" when they smell Blazing Saddles, and enjoying a burst in income -- all these make going to shows really worthwhile.
Not to the extent that we want to do shows all the time -- they do take a lot of work, and sometimes people can't even cover their booth fees (if turnout is poor), so we have to pick and choose which shows we decide to do.
One of our ALL-CAPS BIG PRIORITIES for 2015 (I have a physical list on my office door) is "NO CRAFT FAIRS EXCEPT RENEGADE."
This is because last year, we spent a lot of time and money going to craft fairs and we didn't make our money back on most of them. If we don't even make our booth fee back, that means not only was the show a waste of money, it was a waste of time. Time is arguably more valuable than money, because you can always get more money, but you can never get more time.
Renegade, though, was a home run both times.
Not only did we have a fantastic time, we also made money and made valuable wholesale contacts like the Bath and Beauty buyer for Whole Foods in the Bay Area (yes, we're selling our handmade soap and lip balm to Whole Foods soon).
When applications opened this year, I wrote the organizer personally and asked what I could do to sweeten our application -- whether that means including an interactive workshop, promoting the event, or offering some soap customization options. I wanted to support making the event as fun and rewarding for people as possible, taking our presence there beyond the standard "hey, buy our stuff" to "hey, experience this with us."
We agreed that giving people the opportunity to stamp soaps with their names and custom messages might be a fun way to create low-effort customization and create an avenue for interaction. Yeah, it's going to be extra work, but we're sure it will be worth it in terms of how people enjoy the event.
Yesterday, I ordered the stamps on the advice of my friend and fellow craftsperson, Miriam Dema.
In addition to creating this opportunity for interaction, I wanted our booth to create an atmosphere ofopen-ness and adventure. My vision was to create a 360 panorama of the great outdoors... but of course 360 wouldn't be very conducive to people coming into our booth.
Also, I didn't just want to order some photo blown up; I wanted it to be something that reflected our handmade nature. So I started learning to paint large landscapes.
That may seem crazy, but this business was built on the foundation of "if I don't know how to do something and I have seen someone else do it, there must be a way to learn to do it."
Did you know Bob Ross is not just a funny guy with huge hair, but an excellent painting instructor as well?
So, I painted a test painting 10' tall and 5' wide just to see if I could actually convincingly do it. It wasn't bad, so I went ahead and undertook a 20'x5' canvas drop-cloth, using regular ol' latex house paint, cheapo brushes, and even a couple rollers.
At the Jack of All Trades Market, we set it up in our booth just to see how it worked out (see photo). Not bad, eh? Yeah, it needs some straightening out and some better lighting, but the idea is solid, in my not-so-humble opinion.
We're going to continue getting our stuff ready for Renegade (and writing about it, of course) and hope you'll come visit us in person! We'd love to meet you!