Friday, May 16, 2008

Expanding horizons

If business were predictable, we'd all be billionaires.

When I first started my own business, I began at small local craft shows. The very first show I did was one from the most well-known local promoter.

I put together as much merchandise as I could. I had expensive tags made so that I could label the kinds of beads that went into each necklace. I borrowed earring racks from a friend. I pulled out some black fabric that had once been part of a store display.

I bought T-bars and forms from Rio Grande. I also bought velvet tray inserts and I found a Diana statue in Robert Ham's catalog that actually ended up traveling with me to many, many shows until she became stained from being packed damp against black cloth.

I became nervous about not having enough inventory, and I worked feverishly, staying up every night after my day job (where I worked 10 am to 9 pm) to make more jewelry.

This was my first proud attempt at a display:

I was thrilled with it. I felt like I had finally worked hard at something and been rewarded, in a way.

This is more or less what my display looked like at my first show. I was so certain that I'd have lots of customers that I asked my sister to help me.

We set up, and I was a basket case, trying to fit everything onto the table and trying to make everything look "perfect." I had even made a sign explaining the name to put on checks. A friend who was in the business thought that I would sell nearly all of it at the show.

By the end of the day, I was nearly in tears. A few people had bought my most economical items--$5 wire-wrapped Lake Michigan stones on cords--but that was it. Even worse, everyone who bought something made a face or was annoyed when I charged sales tax.

I barely took in $100 at the show.

The pattern repeated at every show I did. I would get one customer who would like what I did, and buy $30; the rest would buy earrings, and I would barely eke out $150.

Completely by accident, I signed up for an outdoor art fair. When I realized what I had done, I was horrified. I called and found out that a tent rental would cost $80. I had to make new displays, and it ended up costing another $80. By the time I put together the fee and the expenses, I realized that the $150 I had been making at each show wouldn't even begin to cover this.

I set up anyway. I was miserable. It was raining. I expected the very worst, and just sat there like a lump when the show opened.

The first customer spent $150 without even batting an eyelash.

I don't even need to explain how excited I was. By the end of the show, I had made $1200.

I changed my entire show strategy and began to do outdoor art fairs, which were ten times better for my jewelry.

Of course, my life has changed, and my business has changed. I've been doing bead shows with my closeout beads, hoping that I would be able to make a new niche for myself, but I'm just not reaching the right market.

So I signed up for a small community garage sale for the weekend. I thought it would be a great market--as long as I get a bead addict or two, someone who can recognize how incredible my prices are, I'd be able to go home satisfied--but it was one of the worst shows I've ever done. The day dragged by, and I'm going to cut my losses by not going to day #2. (Sometimes it's better to do something that will make you money instead of cost you money. I'm going to spend the day working on eBay stuff.)

But I won't stop trying to expand my market. There has to be a place for closeout beads somewhere!


*>Jewels<* said...

Really good post. That experience really helps new jewelry designers, like myself, realize that sometimes you have to try something different to be profitable.

laurelmoon said...

Thanks for the comment, Jewels! It is really tough to know what works--that's why experimenting is so important. Though sometimes I really don't want to try because it seems like too much work, lol!