Creative Tenacity: The Importance of a Great Display

Morning folks! I hope everyone’s month of May is chugging along nicely - I seriously cannot believe how fast this month has flown by! This month I decided to continue to talk more about craft fairs. For most of us makers who sell at craft fairs, the season doesn’t really get into full swing until about May/June (maybe late April), so I feel like a second craft fairs related post is timely for most. 

Today I want to focus on one main topic: effective displays. Such an important and nuanced part of selling your work at craft fairs!

Your display matters at least as much as the quality of the product you are selling. Without a great display you’re going to have a difficult time pulling customers into or up to your booth as they walk along, taking in many points of visual stimuli at once. Your display needs to be pleasing to the eye, but also needs to make sense with your brand. Sometimes a great display will actually be rather simple, as that can be the best way to let the items shine.

When I put my display together at craft fairs, I often think of the fashion editor, Diana Vreeland, who was known to say “The eye has to travel.” You need to give your audience various points of visual interest so if the first thing their eyes land on is not to their liking, they can naturally find something else of interest to take in. To put it much more simply: create layers of height and depth in your display! There are many different ways to do this, from commercial risers that you can buy, to a basic cardboard box or container hidden underneath a table cloth, to more interesting elements like old trunks, and wooden fruit boxes. Obviously, I am most adept at creating displays for jewelry, but the basic concept of creating height and layers to a display can apply to most any product. 

craft fair booth display

I belong to the SF Etsy team, and one of their wonderful members (Lisa Spinella of Tickle and Smash) has put together a Pinterest board that has a lot of great inspirational photos to help you out with display ideas if you’re not sure where to start. Another great place to look is through the online photo albums that various craft fairs will put together and make avaible to the public after an event has passed. Renegade, West Coast Craft, and Urban Air Market are just a few great ones. When you look at photos of others’ displays I encourage you to take inspiration from these great displays and make it your own. Just as we, as artists, do not want to copy others’ work or have our work copied, to blatantly copy another’s booth display is not the best idea either. You also want your display to make a mark, and if you look too much like other vendors, you will loose this great opportunity to form a lasting memory in people’s mind.

Creating a beautiful display doesn’t have to cost a lot either. My display has evolved over the years, but early on I simply used cardboard boxes of varying heights hidden under pretty cloths or tablecloths to create different heights and layers in my display. 

Another important part of your display will be your pricing. Specifically, making your pricing easy to find and read and understand. Whether you choose to price each item individually, or create price signs for items that are all the same price, is up to you. The easier you make it for your customer to find the prices and understand them the more likely your customer is to stick around and look for a while and hopefully buy. Many customers want to be able to compare and shop around through your display, selecting an item or items that fit two categories: fall into their budget and are pleasing to their tastes. If they have to ask over and over again what the price is on an item, they will often loose interest and venture elsewhere. If you’ve priced everything clearly and someone still asks for the price on an item, always respond politely! I tend to reply by saying something like this: “That necklace is $40. And if you’re wondering about the price on any other necklaces, just look for the gold tag on the chain.” I’ll then point out the prices and mention something like “it’s easy to miss these!” Basically I do everything I can to make the customer NOT feel stupid for asking about the price. I can’t tell you how many vendors will simply reply, vaguely about the price being on the tag leaving the customer to feel like they were an inconvenience. I don’t think I need to say this, but your customer is not an inconvenience!

You also want to think about creating a space for any promotional or branding materials you may have. Business cards, flier or postcards for other upcoming events you may have scheduled, and a newsletter sign up form all fall into this category. 

Overall I find it helpful to look at your display as your main way to communicate the essence of your brand. It is the thing that people will notice before they notice your product as they meander through busy events. And it is often the thing that will either draw them in, or make them decide to walk the other way. Also of import: clear signage indicating what your business’s name is. This is twofold: as you develop a following people may come out to events specifically looking for you. And two, you want people who like your work to remember you. Clear brand signage will make that much much easier. 

I want to wrap this post up by emphasizing oner thing: you can always change it up! If at the first event you venture out to, you find that your display does not work for you the way you need it to, then dedicated yourself to trying something else at your next event. (This is good advice regarding any area of your handmade business: you can always change whatever it may be if it's not working the first way your conceived of it!)

Good luck in all of your craft fair adventures this craft fair season! Now I'd love to hear from you guys - what's been an effective displaying technique for you? What really hasn't worked? I'd also love to hear any of your fun or unusual craft fair stories in the comments below. 

Have a wonderful Tuesday!

Creative Tenacity: Attitude, Mind-set, and Craft Fairs

Morning you guys! I’m happy to be back with my next addition of Creative Tenacity! Thanks to everyone who read my first post and commented, emailed me, or just said “thank you.” I do hope that this series is resonating with people. Writing it is also eye-opening and expanding for me, as it gets me reflecting on my own way of handling things, and how I might be able to do things better with Tangleweeds in the future. 

I decided to move into arts and crafts fairs with this next post as it’s an area I have a lot of background with. Long before I started Tangleweeds I had a small handmade jewelry business called Designs By A Hummingbird. I also sold at craft fairs under my first business, and while it was also jewelry, it was a very different type of jewelry. I feel like these two different businesses helps to give me a well-rounded perspective on events. (With all of that said, this is of course all from my perspective and my perspective alone and is in no way an exhaustive, all encompassing account of everything you need to know about craft fairs!)

There is also SO MUCH to cover in this arena! I’m only going to cover a section of topics related to craft fairs in this post. More will come in later posts in this series. 

Choosing An Event

Choosing your events can be much like a game of chance. It’s pretty much impossible to know if an event is going to be a good fit for you until you try it. Yes, you can ask fellow artists and vendors for their experiences, yes you can walk the event and get the lay of the land before you apply (for the following year or season), yes you can google the shit out of the event and look at an endless array of photos from the event, analyzing and picking apart if you think your brand will be a “good fit.” Ultimately all of this will only give you a relative idea if the event will be profitable for you. 

I have done events that should have been hugely successful only to find that my sales were mediocre, and I have done events that were small and new and in a weird location and done fairly well. My advice on choosing events basically boils down to this: If you want to try out an event, do your homework and look into it by all means, but you really need to DO IT in order to know anything about it. You of course will need to assess the risk factors: How much does the event cost? Is there travel involved? Will you be okay if the event is a complete bust and you don’t even make back your booth fee? These are important questions to ask yourself and should always inform your decision to do an event or not. 

As an aside - initially, in the beginning, you will need to be prepared to do events and not make a profit. You will be in the initial “figuring it all out” stage and you will be learning a lot. Sure, there are brands and products that do amazingly well from day one, but you should be prepared for the possibility that this is not how it will go. (Enter: the day job or side job!) The more you set yourself up to be okay with taking risks the more room you are going to have to grow with your handmade work and your business. An example: in general I find that while it may be scary to put down $300+ for an event, these are typically the events that make the most money for me. I know this sort of craft fair price tag is a bitter pill to swallow in the beginning, but oftentimes, the more expensive events are the ones that really bring in the buyers and sales. There are EXCELLENT smaller and less expensive events as well, nothing is absolute! 

As far as finding out about events goes, there are many ways. One of the easiest is to join your local Etsy team and ask others in your group about events they would recommend. Also, one way that I will search for events online is to simply Google the name of a particular city I would like to do an event in along with the words “holiday craft fair” or “summer arts and crafts fair” or something similar. This is a good way to expose yourself to new events that you haven’t heard of, and it’s always a positive to try a new locale, especially if you feel like the locales you have tried have not responded that well to your work.

Attitude, Mind Set and Unsolicited Advice

This is an area that I really wanted to cover, as I think it’s one of the most important and possibly the most elusive when you’re first getting started selling your work, and especially at in-person events like craft fairs or other pop-ups. 

In general, craft fairs and other shows are A LOT of work and can be both physically and mentally draining. But there are things you can do to alleviate some of the stress and make for a more fulfilling experience, regardless of how the event goes sales-wise.

Before I talk about attitude, a bit about my experience selling at events: When I first got started selling at events I felt so incredibly awkward. Everything from the load-in, to creating the display to talking to customers about my work was stressful and anxiety producing. It was all too easy tolet how I did financially at an event affect how I felt about myself. That is a terrible spot to be in.

But I kept at it for months and then years until I go to the point where it all started to fall into place and at times even feel effortless. I am now at a place in my life where I can sincerely say I LOVE doing events. That love has come from years of culling together knowledge from my lived experiences. 

Basically my point: if you’ve had a few terrible events, try to learn from it. I bet there are ways you can make events in the future more fulfilling and worth your time. In the meantime, here are some of my suggestions for doing just that. . . 

1. This bit has served me very well over the years. Treat everyone who comes into your booth or up to your table at an event as if it does not matter if they buy something. In other words: treat them with respect, act genuinely interested in connecting with them, and be nice! Now, obviously it helps to WANT to do these things. Because if you’re being nice just to be nice or following this advice because you think you should that’s all going to come through and you’re going to come across as fake and kind of plastic-y. 

For me, I look at events as a way to connect with people. I truly enjoy this part about events. Yes, some folks are going to be not so nice, or say slightly rude things, but this is true in every aspect of life. You shouldn’t let it scare you away form craft fairs. I’ve met some wonderful people at events, and I don’t honestly think I would be able to connect with folks in the same way if all I saw when they walked into my booth was a giant dollar sign above their head (or two or three dollar signs =)

2. This next part is going to happen to you at least once in a while and can be a tricky topic to navigate: the unsolicited advice. (insert dramatic, tense music here) Yes, there are going to be customers who think they know what your next product should be, how much something should cost, how you should display things differently, and so on and so forth. In the beginning I think this kind of advice would rankle my nerves so much because I was filled with a lot of self-doubt about what I was doing. It was easy for me to see other people, having what they thought was a better idea about how I should be doing things, as a threat.

Now, when someone has advice for me while I’m at an event I try to respond politely but in a way that makes it clear that I know what’s best for me/Tangleweeds. (Because at this point in my trajectory I do!) I will say something like “I hadn’t thought of that, I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.” I think it’s important to clarify something here: it’s not about placating someone, but rather remembering that most everyone means well. When I used to work in coffee shops and had to deal with problem customers, I tried to remind myself that everyone is doing the best that they can at any given moment. Sometimes someone’s best is going to rub us the wrong way. In the end, just remember that it’s you making the decisions about your product and your biz at the end of the day, and let the suggestions and advice roll off you like water on a duck’s back. 

3. Which brings me to my last section about attitude and mind-set and that’s talking about your work/product. This is where listening to your customers, even the ones who don’t buy anything, and taking in that well meaning “advice” as graciously as you can is really going to pay off. 

When I first started selling at events, I was super nervous talking about my work. I usually didn’t try to strike up a conversation with a customer unless they initiated one first. As you can imagine, my sales weren’t that great at many of my early events. Over time though, as I listened to the people who would come into my booth and paid attention to how they were describing my work as they spoke to me or to there friend/shopping buddy, I started to see my work through the customers’ eyes, which started to illuminate the talking points for me. 

Obviously you’re going to want to filter out the outliers and the bits of feedback that are idiosyncratic to one person and one person only. But over time you will notice over-arching themes that you can begin to incorporate into how you talk about your item. 

As an example: One thing that I started to notice when my customers would try on my earrings was how many people commented in a complimentary way about how lightweight they were. I quickly came to realize that this was a huge selling point as many women (myself included) don’t want heavy earrings weighing down their ears. I was so close to the work that I didn’t realize that something I was intentionally doing (making earrings that were by design lightweight) was an important talking point with my customers. . . at least I didn’t realize it until they made me see it! 

If you’re really wanting some initial talking points though, and don’t want to go into your first event with nothing to say, my recommendation is to start with the obvious and remember that customers most likely know little or nothing about your work when they walk up. Saying something as simple as “I make all of this (jewelry, ceramics, pillows, etc.) myself in my home studio in San Francisco” opens many doors for conversation. You’ve just clarified for your customer that yes, your product is handmade and (if the event is in the SF bay area) you are local as well. Other good talking points:

  • point out your current favorite design and why (the back story) OR point out your newest designs
  • talk very briefly about why you started making what you make (keep it simple because you don’t want to overwhelm the customer)
  • tell the customer that they’re welcome to try anything on/pick anything up to have a closer look
  • mention any sales or promotions that you may be having
  • and always remember to say “hi” or “good morning” or something else simple when they walk   into your booth/up to your table. Acknowledging their presence is a HUGE plus and amazingly something that many vendors simply don’t do. 

If you can keep some of the above points in mind, I think you will find events to be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, even if they don’t start out initially as profitable as you might like. I do acknowledge that craft fairs and other events of this ilk will not be a good fit for everyone’s brand and product, but I do think that you have to give events everything you’ve got before you can safely say that retail events are not right for your biz. 

On that note, I’ll wrap this post up! I know we’re moving back into fair season for many of us soon. Mine really starts to get underway in April, although I’ll have a couple of events in March. I’d love to hear what anyone else might have to say about how they keep a good attitude when they’re at a selling event. Feel free to leave a comment (or a question!) below. 

Happy Tuesday!

Gravenstein Apple Fair

Last weekend was one of my favorite events of the year: the Gravenstein Apple Fair. It was such a great time, that I actually had a bit of a come down on Monday when it was back to reality and back to the usual programming. I think I'm fantasizing a bit about moving to Sebastopol. Maybe one day, it's not such an outlandish dream. 

In all seriousness tho, this moving to Vallejo thing has been tough. Keeping my studio in Oakland has definitely been the right thing to do (at least for the time being, and most likely for the rest of this year), but the back and forth between the two cities is challenging. My weeks are feeling full before they've even begun lately, and I'm often feeling like I need to be in two places at once. 

I'm not gonna lie. I wish the rental market wasn't so astronomical in the bay area. I definitely would have stayed in Oakland if I could have afforded to, or moved even further away but the timing on that wasn't quite right just yet (that's a few years down the line "plan." I only put that in quotation marks because the older I get the more I laugh at the notion of "planning" in any traditional way for the future. Life often has it's own "plan" for you.) Writing that out really makes me see why things are feeling so wonky lately: I'm living in an "in between" place right now. In between some big life choices, in between two physical locations, in between what I desire and what I can afford.

I am grateful, oh-so-grateful, that I get to do what I love for a living. I just think I'm in a place where it's now time to start thinking about other areas of my life beyond Tangleweeds, and what I want it all to look like in the years to come. 

If you like, share you're own moments of difficult decision making in the comments below. I always love to hear from you guys, even about the heavier, real life stuff. (maybe especially that stuff!)

(p.s. the two photos above are from the Air BnB I stayed in during the fair in Sebastopol)

Open Studio Event Announcement

Details are all set for our first EVER open studio event!

The essentials: We are located at 301 Jefferson Street in Oakland (cross street is 3rd Street). The event will be from 11am to 4pm on November 22nd, see our events page for more details. We are located in a securely locked building and cannot leave the door open all day, so if you're interested in attending you'll want to RSVP to A few days before the event we'll send out an email with details about what to do once you arrive.

Hope to see you there!

-Jeannine and the Tangleweeds gang

Full Circle ~ Craft Fairs, Craft Fairs, Craft Fairs

It's that time of the year folks! When the Tangleweeds schedule gets chock-a-block full with great events for holiday shoppers. Two important things to take note of if you live in the bay area. The first: I'll be debuting the new Traverse collection in person at the Urban Epicurean event the weekend of the 7th and 8th of November. (See my events page for more details.) And secondly, I am definitely planning the open studio holiday sale. It's gonna happen folks! Right now it's looking like I'll have the event in mid November, before everyone goes away for Thanksgiving weekend. Once all details get settled (most likely within the next week), I'll post about it here and on all of the usual social media venues. 

a little sneak peek of the studio coming together - still lots of work to do!

a little sneak peek of the studio coming together - still lots of work to do!

Happy Monday everyone!

Gravenstein Apple Fair

Last weekend I vended at the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol. This event has become one of Tangleweeds' best events, hands down. This was my fourth year, and the overall goodwill and support from many returning Tangleweeds collectors really felt great. The community there is very supportive of handmade, slow food, local community, the DIY movement and a sustainable lifestyle in general. 

Pictured below are many of the local farm animals that a couple of my friends and I schmoozed with on Sunday morning. (The cow's name is Lily.) There's also this great, relatively new space in Sebastopol, called The Barlow. I stopped there to get coffee at Taylor Maid Farms and had dinner at Zazu on Saturday night with my friend, Maggie. 

I have to admit, after this trip there is a little part of me that is quietly planning my move to this area north of the bay area. Not any time soon. My home is in Oakland for at least the next 3 to 5 years. But it did get me day-dreaming about a bit of land with room for some animals and a lovely little in-home studio. Maybe one day!

Full Circle ~ Life Lately

Summertime! Running Tangleweeds really creates such a dichotomy during the summer. Lazy summer days? Ha! One things that's been made vividly apparent to me is that July may actually be the busiest month of the year for me (even a bit busier than December.) But it's been a really great summer thus far and I'm excited for what the rest may hold. Especially my five day camping trip next week! Below are some snapshots from my days throughout the last couple of weeks.

Pictured below, some sneak peeks of new designs that are coming soon, later in September! One of the biggest challenges for me, in the last, oh I'd say year and a half, is finding the time to create, photograph and roll out new designs while keeping up with all of my current work. I have to say, it's a challenge that I didn't really anticipate when I set off down this handmade jewelry business path, but it is one that I'm better learning to rise to.

(that last photo includes some older designs too)

I'm hoping to put together a post about the Gravenstein Apple Fair that I vended at last weekend.  It was a wonderful event that I was kind of sad to see end. I'm already making plans for next year's fair! In the meantime, time for me to get some lunch. . . 

Renegade Craft Fair - San Francisco

This past weekend was the Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Masson in San Francisco. What a great weekend! I didn't take as many photos as usual, but trust me, it was a veritable smorgasbord of amazing handmade goods and independent design. This year the event was in TWO buildings (both the Festival and the Herbst Pavilions) which basically meant double the number of vendors! I can't thank my wonderful Tangleweeds collectors enough for all of the love and support at the event!

As always, I had my trusty assistant, Alice there with me (on Saturday) so I could walk around and take in the sites and pick up handmade goodies from other makers. I snagged a new dress from Make it Good Apparel (out of Portland), delicious jams from Lemon Bird Preserves and luxurious soaps from Etta and Billie. I'll try to post a Listening-Wearing-Making post with the dress the next time I wear it. 

In the meantime, I'm getting really focused on the new collection, and getting so excited to share it with you guys! I will admit, I am not quite as far along in the whole new collection process as I would like to be, but I'm trying to accept where I'm at and do what I can. So much of running a small business is about recalibrating goals and expectations around one very important and limited resource: TIME! 

With that said, I'm off to the workbench. Have a wonderful week everyone!

Full Circle ~ Selling at Craft Fairs

Sunday was the annual Temescal Street Fair and it was a great success! I just want to thank everyone who came out and said hi and supported my small handmade business. Your support means the world to me and it's how I'm able to do what I love for a living. 

I got my start selling my handmade jewelry at craft fairs, trunk shows, and other forms of in-person selling events (which are often called "Pop-ups" nowadays) about 10 years ago. For all their hard work and challenges, I am still a HUGE proponent of them as a way to break into selling your handmade goods. There are so many advantages to them. You get direct feedback from customers (and potential customers) about your products, you get to experiment with how best to merchandise your products, and you get to become well-versed in how to talk about what you make (not as easy as some might imagine.)

The more I've participated in and sold at all variety of arts and crafts fairs and events, the more comfortable I've become with selling my work. That can be a hard thing for some makers/artists to work out in their heads, and as with most things it only gets easier the more you do it. I would encourage those out there who are curious about selling their own wares at craft fairs to give it a try! It can be kind of scary and intimidating at first, but there are great resources out there to help you prepare for your big day. I would also encourage makers out there who have tried fairs and feel like they were a big failure, to try again, but first scrutinize what it is you're doing and look for the holes. Could your merchandising be better? Could you offer a more diverse price range of products? Do you need to work on your salesmanship? Or maybe you need to try a different type of event? 

I make that last point about trying events again even if you've already tried and felt like it was a miserable failure because generally most of us makers who look like a "big success" have had countless events that were BIG TIME FAILURES. Myself included. When I said at the beginning of this post that I got started selling at fairs 10 years ago, that time span is what it is because I first got started, vended for a couple of years at events and then realized that I needed and wanted to pull back out of events until I figured a lot out about my brand. I took two years off from selling (but continued to sell on Etsy and on consignment at a limited number of shops) and then re-entered the world of fairs and events much more prepared. But even then it was still a very bumpy ride. 

I'm writing this post because after yesterday's Temescal Street Fair I'm feeling very buoyed up by all of the compliments and general love for Tangleweeds. And I've been meaning to write about vending at fairs for quite some time. I'm also considering putting together an e-course of sorts all about vending at fairs. Over the years I've been approached by many fellow makers seeking advice on this topic. As I mentioned earlier, I think there are some great resources out there already that cover this arena, but I think that many of these resources fall short of covering many common scenarios. Or I might turn it into a blog series. Not sure just yet, just something percolating in the background of my mind while I work on production for the Renegade Craft Fair

In the meantime, happy Monday everyone!