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Fall Festival at Quarry Lake (September 2012)

Location: Greenspring, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, there was some information about load-in, maps, etc.  There was almost no visible advertisement on the part of the promoters, however.  They also spelled my business name wrong in all of the literature, even after I corrected them.

Crowd: A bit smaller than advertised.  Still, I had enough customers.

Crowd Make-Up: Mostly families, primarily Jewish.

Booth Fee: $110 for a 10′ x 10′ space

The show was a success, but I don’t know if I’ll do it again.  On the one hand, I more than broke even.  Not by a lot, but by enough, barely.  At the last show I did with Harris Promotions (in Pikesville), everyone lost money and it was a total waste of time and energy.  This show was at least financially worth it.

On the other hand, there are a ton of other shows during September, some of whom might be more well-run or more worth my time.  Next year, I may branch out.  I want to keep working with these customers; I just don’t want to keep working with this promotion group.

Honestly, I feel bad that the Jewish community of Baltimore is being offered such crappy craft fairs.  Both of the shows I’ve done in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods have been run by this same promotion group.  I don’t know if it is because the event organizers make assumptions about the kinds of products people in that community want, but they don’t recruit very many talented or interesting vendors.  I only saw a handful of other crafters there; most of the booths were staffed by big companies advertising services.  There were at least five different kinds of tub-replacement services, five different chiropractors, two or three urgent care clinics, several banks, and lots and lots of free junk.   Craft fairs aren’t much fun if all there is to do is make your way down the line and fill a bag with free lanyards and stress balls that will just clutter up your house later.  All day, my customers either complained that I didn’t have free stuff too or complained that there weren’t any other real artisans there.  It was kind of surreal.

I really just can’t get over the fact that they got my name wrong in so many different, frustrating ways.  When they sent out the list of vendors, I couldn’t find myself on it.  I finally realized that they had written me down as “Baltimore Bubble Cards.”  Now I can see confusing “Bumble” and “Bubble” (people do it all the time), but if they read my application enough to know that I was selling soap, why did they think I was selling cards?  I emailed to ask the promoter to fix the error, explaining that the word was “Bumble” because of the use of beeswax, honey, etc. in the products.  On the day of the event, they had clearly had time to fix it because then it read “Baltimore Bubble Crafts.”   So they changed it to “crafts,” but still didn’t fix the most important word in the name!

I get it; “Baltimore Bubble Crafts” makes a lot of sense … if soap was all that I do.  But I also quilt and sew, and I want to leave myself room to grow.  So nothing against bubbles, but it’s just not me.

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Gaithersburg Olde Towne Fest (September 2012)

Location: Gaithersburg, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, there was plenty of  information about load-in, zones, and directions to the event.  Staff was available throughout the event to help answer questions and help finding parking.  Parking for vendors was extremely close by; I could have unloaded (with a cart) from my parking spot.

Crowd: A bit smaller than advertised.  Still, I had enough customers.

Crowd Make-Up: Mostly families, primarily Hispanic.

Booth Fee: $70 for a 10′ x 10′ space

This was a good show, but not a great show.  I will probably do it again.  I have a feeling that the event will grow as time goes on.  The organization of the event was great.  I got plenty of information, was directed quite efficiently during the event, and there were no obvious mix-ups of spaces like you find at some shows.  They also had done a lot of advertising beforehand.

On the other hand, there was a definite difference between being near the food trucks (lots of people and relatively peaceful) and being near the train station (extremely loud and a much smaller crowd).  At least five times during the event, a train came through the fair, blaring its horn and rumbling.  It was impossible to hear or even think with the noise it made.  I know that the organizers cannot control the train, but they should not put vendors so close to it.  It really interfered with sales.

On a more personal note, now that the oppressive summer heat is gone, I am seeing a lot more bees in my tent.  They smell the floral essential oils, beeswax, and honey, and flock to me.  I love seeing them buzz around the booth.  I had one hanging out on my scarf for a few minutes even!

I know that some customers get scared away by them, but I find them soothing.  One little boy was in the booth with his mother and he saw a bee on the ground.  Instead of having my reaction (joy), he freaked out and stomped it!  Then, he and his brother proceeded to watch in fascination as it struggled.  I was horrified and heartbroken.  Here I was, welcoming the bees and enjoying their company, and he just killed it with no regard for its right to life.  It made me feel guilty for having drawn the bees over, however inadvertently.

Catonsville Arts and Crafts Festival (September 2012)

Location: Catonsville, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, I had trouble getting confirmation that I was accepted.  I had to email them myself after I got a receipt to ensure that I was in.  I never really received any parking passes or snail mail info, so I was quite stressed going to the event.  During the event, things were very well organized.  They found my space with no problem, it was easy to load in, parking for vendors was nearby, and staff was readily apparent for questions.

Crowd: Great crowd!  While the streets weren’t packed booth to booth, I was never bored and always had customers to talk to and work with.

Crowd Make-Up: Mixed.  Families, older couples, teenagers, young parents, everyone.  All of the people I spoke with were interesting and asked intelligent questions.  Lovely people.

Booth Fee: $125 for a 10′ x 10′ space (if I had signed up earlier, it would have only been $75)

What a great show!  Despite the stress of getting to the event and not having paperwork, the event went without much of a hitch.  My truck had broken the night before and I had to cancel that night’s show (which was unfortunate, but really, I also felt pretty sick, so not that unfortunate), but in the transfer of materials from broken truck to my boyfriend’s wagon, I had forgotten my booth signage.  Luckily, I live less than 5 miles down the road, so I frantically drove home, grabbed my sign, drove back, and still managed to set up the booth in its entirely in less than an hour!  I rock.

The weather really helped make the day spectacular.  The sun was shining, but it wasn’t boiling like it had been all summer.  There was a bit of a breeze, but not so much that it knocked things off my tables.  It also brought out a lot of folks.  The only real downside to nice weather is that it brings out the browsers.   When there’s bad weather, you can be sure that anyone who comes out is a hardcore shopper.  When there’s good weather, you get everyone.

All in all, I would say that this is a must-do event for me.  If I can only remember to apply early, then it will be an even better show!

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Amazing Baby and Child Expo (August 2012)

Location: Sykesville, MD

Day of the Week: Saturday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, there was plenty of visible advertising and information about load-in, zones, and maps were provided well in advance.  During the event, some of the zoning seemed to get thrown out of the window (I was moved from Yellow to Blue), but things went pretty smoothly.

Crowd: Much smaller than advertised.  We were told to expect 3,000 …. there were probably 300.

Crowd Make-Up: Almost entirely families with young children.

Booth Fee: $125 for a 10′ x 10′ space

I am torn about doing this show again.  It was very well organized and the people running the event (Caring Communities) are a joy to work with.  However, the crowd was way too small for the cost of the event and there was no weather to blame that day.  I lost money doing this show, although less of a loss than at some shows.  I sold enough that it wasn’t a total loss, but some of the vendors nearby didn’t sell a single thing — unacceptable for a show of this cost and that was advertised this heavily.

Sykesville is a beautiful town and has a gorgeous main street.  I think that the townspeople would welcome more events here, but I do think that the labeling of this show as explicitly for “Babies and Children” scared some people away.  A few of the customers I spoke with mentioned that they came despite not having children, but that they felt a bit out of place. Others, parents, were disappointed with the limited offerings of free samples, rides, and games.

This show has a lot of potential.  Considering that there are shows with a much longer history who still can’t get the basics right, I hope that Caring Communities continues hosting this event.  I would suggest that they make some changes in either audience demographic or in offerings.

I’m willing to give it another try next year, but I will really need to see if I can afford another potential “lose-money” show.

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Pikesville SummerFest (June 2012)

Location: Pikesville, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Hot and humid

Organization: Before the event, things seemed fine.  I received confirmations well in advance and received emailed directions and maps the week of the event.  During the event, none of the vendors were in their assigned places and I was told to “just take that one.”  There also seemed to be NO advertising or press beforehand.

Crowd Size: Small and sporadic

Crowd Make-Up:  Primarily families.  Predominantly Jewish.  Make sure any products you offer are kosher.

Booth Fee: $110 for a 10′ x 10′ space

This is a show I will probably never do again.  I lost money today.  For $110, I expect the organizers to do most of the legwork in terms of advertising and promotion.  From speaking to customers, it was clear that nothing was announced, even in the neighborhood in which it took place!  The few customers I had said that they didn’t know anything was going on until they left their houses and heard the music.

Rather than being in my assigned spot, I ended up right next to the stage and the music was LOUD.  I had to shout in order to talk to customers, which was completely unacceptable.  The acts were good, but extremely distracting.  I ended up putting up my walls to try to block what little sound I could (it didn’t really work). Then, because it was that kind of day, my neighbor on that side had a large display fall down into the sidewall and puncture a hole in it.  SIGH.

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From the look of things, most people were there to try free samples and listen to music, not to buy anything.  Having samples and give-aways are great, but they do tend to attract the non-buying crowd.  I don’t know if I can really blame the crowd though, there simply weren’t enough people to begin with.  It was just way too darn hot.

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Arbutus Arts Festival (May 2012)

Location: Arbutus, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Sunny with a breeze

Organization: Before the event, it was fine.  I did have to wait quite a long time for my confirmation letter, but it was pretty comprehensive.  The day of the event was a DISASTER in terms of organization–worse even than the Anne Arundel County Spring Craft Fair.

Crowd Size: Large and steady.

Crowd Make-Up: Lots and lots of families.  No pets allowed.  Generally young adults with new families.

Booth Fee: $90 for a 10′ x 15′ space

I honestly don’t know how to feel about today’s event.  On the one hand, it was extremely unnecessarily stressful.  On the other hand, I sold over $400 worth of soap!

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Let’s begin at the beginning …

Despite the fact that the festival opened its gates at 10:00 AM, vendors were required to show up to “be in line” no later than 5:45 AM.  I live two blocks from this show.  I really wanted to sleep in.  When I arrived at the designated intersection, there weren’t any volunteers or event organizers visible.  I went in a little further and met a man who told me all of the wrong advice.  After ending up at the far end of the midway, I was told to drive back and given more vague directions.  I finally found the person in charge of “row D” — a man who had us all park in a huge lot and wait … for over an hour.  There was no “line” and there wasn’t any clear sense of who was allowed on the street when.

Finally, by 7:30 AM we were allowed to drive onto the main street and unload our cars.  We were not, however, allowed to set up anything.  We were simply supposed to unload our cars, move them to the parking lot, and sit there for another hour while they fought with vendors whom the event organizers had apparently double booked.  One woman a few spots down from mine (more on her later), apparently paid for more spots than she was given (or misunderstood the size of the spots she paid for) and threw quite a tiff about it.  She got all of the people around her worked up and the vendors were having it out with organizers all up and down the street.  It was honestly the worst energy I’ve felt from a crowd in a long time.  Do you know how sometimes people just exhaust you before they even open their mouths?  This was that kind of angry, passive-aggressive crowd.  I just huddled up with my book and tried to tune it out until we were allowed to set up.

By around 8:30 AM, we were allowed to finally set up our tents and tables.  I’ve got the set-up down to an art by this point, so it only took me an hour (and that included walking all the way back to my parked truck because I forgot something).  Good thing too because the crowds did not waste any time rushing in!

The shoppers themselves were charming and interesting.  People had intelligent questions and got really into the products.  Soap is usually hit or miss, so it was nice to have a ton of people who appreciate handmade items.  There were a lot of young couples and young families.  TONS of strollers.  My neighbor (Sweet Pea Bowtique) was clearly thriving with all the new moms because she sells flower pins and baby headbands and all kinds of cute kid things.  I even ran into my college friends/neighbors who just had a baby and someone from my congregation!  Doing a show in my own stomping grounds was surprisingly wonderful!  I should warn you, though: there is a beer garden, so I think the crowd make-up really depends on whether you are closer to the kiddie zone or the beer garden.

The wind was pretty chaotic, and the only downside to the main part of the fair.  It kept blowing over my signs and knocking things out of neighboring booths.  One vendor had a whole section collapse and someone else had a glass vase tip and smash.  I cannot begin to say how glad I am that I bought the EZ Up Leg Weights!

Once the fair ended at 5:00 PM, folks started packing up pretty quickly and, once again, the place turned into a HOT MESS.  I took my time; I never try to rush because it just stresses me out.  When all of my things were packed, my neighbors were great and looked after the product while I got my truck.  Since the street was chaos, I pulled onto the curb a bit.  Without realizing it, however, I blocked the way of the “woman who threw a tiff.”  Her booth was three-spaces wide and she had a small semi-truck parked in the alleyway behind my booth.  I am pretty sure that the organizers did not know that she was parked there because they didn’t let anyone else keep their things strewn about.  Considering that she spent the entire day acting as if she was better than everyone else, I simply moved my truck fully onto the street when she asked because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

Apparently she did, however.  Despite being fully in my space and no longer blocking the alley entrance, she insisted that her large, wheeled  behemoth displays wouldn’t fit between my truck and the curb.  I tried to explain that it would only take me five minutes to load my truck and then I’d be on my way, but she wouldn’t listen.  She tried convincing me that I should block the entire road while I loaded my truck, that it was what “everyone does.”  Well I’m sorry (I’m not), but I try not to be rude and I think it is extremely rude to block an entire street’s traffic.  Why should one vendor get special treatment?  They shouldn’t.  Everyone pitches in to get everyone out as soon as possible.  Still, I scooted my truck up as much as I could without edging into my neighbor’s space and decided that I was done trying to make the miserable woman happy.  She continued to shout-whisper about how I was extremely rude.  One of the other vendors I’d chatted with during the event came to my defense, calling the woman out and they got into another shouting match.

So listen up, fellow vendors: whether you have one space or three spaces, you are the same as everybody else, for good or ill.  Paying for three spaces does not guarantee you special privileges.  It does not mean that you are better or that your products are better.  And it certainly does not mean that the entire staff of the event should bow to your whim and ignore your flagrant disregard for the rules.

… rant over.

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Fenton Street Market (May 2012)

Location: Silver Spring, MD

Day of the Week: Saturday

Weather: Sunny with a gentle breeze

Organization: Excellent! Lots of information before the event, porters available for hire during the event, and event staff throughout the market to answer questions.

Crowd Size: Decent crowd.  Not large, but steady.

Crowd Make-Up: A good mix of families with children and adults with dogs. Not as many elderly.

Booth Fee: $50 for a 10′ x 10′ space

Today at the Fenton Street Market, I sold more product than ever before!  It might have been due to the fact that there were only two soap makers there (a lovely lady from BEST, in fact), but I’m chalking it up to good organization, extensive advertising, and great weather!  I almost sold out of a couple of things!  I had steady business for the entire 6 hours and had nice conversations with plenty of browsers.

I showed up early because I wasn’t sure about the drive, but the event staff were already ready to go and helped me get set up quickly.  There was free parking for the truck (hallelujah!) and a nice porter named Jeremy to help me set up the tent.  It was in a nice part of town and we were surrounded by businesses.  I’ve never been in such a busy part of town.  Even in Annapolis, the streets were so blocked off for the festival that we didn’t get much random business traffic there. In contrast, today I met people who saw us out of their windows and on their way to do their normal shopping.

Once again, one of the vendors who was supposed to be my neighbor didn’t show so I was left with a beautifully set up booth and customers wandering around the side where they weren’t supposed to be.  It is so frustrating!  I always look at the map beforehand and try to figure out how I should set up the booth; and I always have to set up before I know whether or not my neighbors will all be there.  Inevitably, the customers don’t come in the front like they should, but go around the side.  I’m usually tempted to just turn the products around to face the outside, but then I lose a whole table’s worth of display space!

I added a few more items to the displays this time around.  I made soap balls out of the leftover Miel Citron bars and called them Lemon Drops.  They looked pretty adorable wrapped up in tulle and terry cloth.  I also finally put up a fragrance free sign.  Not everyone looked at it, but it did save some people the embarrassment of trying to smell the scentless soaps.  My corner display unit finally arrived and it was the perfect place to show off the sea salt scrubs.  Every time, my booth looks snazzier and snazzier!

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All in all, a great day!

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First Sunday Arts Fest (May 2012)

Location: Annapolis, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Overcast in the morning, Sunny in the afternoon.  Chilly in the shade.

Organization: Excellent.  Lots of information before the event and fantastic volunteers to help during the event.

Crowd Size: Big crowd in the main area, smaller crowds in Whitmore Park and City Gate.  

Crowd Make Up: Lots of families and Lots of dog owners.  Some browsers, but mostly shoppers.

Booth Fee: $50 for 10′ x 10′ in City Gate.

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What a relief to get to sleep in a bit!  This was the latest fair I’ve done so far.  Set-up didn’t even start until 10am!  How luxurious!  Annapolis is only a half hour from my house, so it really didn’t take long to get there and get set up.

I did have some trouble finding City Gate because there were so many little sections of the festival, but the volunteers were very helpful in finding my spot, setting up, and parking my truck.  The volunteer in City Gate even helped me take down my tent.

It was pretty chilly in the shade at City Gate, but I’m sure once we get into the full swing of summer, it will feel wonderful.  We didn’t have a huge crowd since we were off to the side, but it was steady enough.  We basically got what we paid for.  Our booth fees were about half of the booth fees in the main section and since soap has a pretty small profit margin, we have to be a pretty big operation to make those big booth fees worth it.

As always, I met lots of nice vendors and even saw a couple of repeat customers from the Flea Market series.  Several customers even knew about Neem oil , which was a surprise.  Since most soap makers avoid its horrible smell, I don’t think most people have heard of it.  The folks I met who had were either of Indian descent or were in the skincare industry themselves.

The new Lemongrass Ginger lotion bars were a big hit.  They were probably the most universally liked.  I sold out of several products for the first time too!  It was, all in all, a very exciting day.

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Dublin Country Fair (May 2012)

Location: Street, MD 

Day of the Week: Saturday

Weather: Sunny with a slight chance of showers.  Hot enough to ruin one of my solid lotions.

Organization: Excellent.  Plenty of information before the event and plenty of help during the event.

Crowd Size: Generally small with the exception of a two hour rush.

Crowd Make-up: Lots of families. Plenty of children and quite a few dogs.  

Booth Fee: $30 for 10′ x 10′ outside

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Today was such a fantastic day in its own right, but especially fantastic given last week’s debacle!  This was a very well-organized fair.  When I arrived, there were multiple people to direct me to my booth.  The other vendors were helpful in getting my tent set-up.  Everyone pitched in.  Parking was quite far from my booth, but it was a pleasant day to walk.  The only real downside was that there were port-o-potties.  Ick.  I avoided peeing for the entire day (not hard given that I was sweating from the heat).

My new 10′ x 10′ Commercial E-Z UP Instant shelter with 4 zippered sides
was significantly easier to put up than my first tent (a Shelter Logic).  It was definitely worth splurging on the real thing!  I still asked for help spreading the legs out, but I probably could have done the whole thing by myself, even if it took me longer.  It also came with an awning and a place to affix a banner.  I didn’t use the sidewalls or awning today, but it was nice to have them.  In fact, it probably didn’t rain because I had them.  I used the E-Z Up Instant Shelters Deluxe Weight Bags – Set of 4 and, despite the wind, I felt totally secure about my tent.  They are heavy to lug around, but that’s the whole point–they weigh 40 pounds once you fill them.  I used pea pebbles rather than sand because it’s less messy if it spills, so it may have weighed slightly less than if I had filled it with sand (like they recommend).

I started finally making the displays look the way I want them to this time around.  When people walk into my tent, I want them to feel at home.  I want them to be able to visualize my products in their own bathroom.  So, I went out and got some soft, blue, terry cloth towels to put on the tables like runners, a hurricane vase with blue vase fillers, and various bath products.  I love the way it looked and I can’t wait until the shower caddies and display cases I ordered arrive.  I really think visual layers are important, so I’m looking for more ways to display things vertically.  In the meantime, I put one of the bins under a towel and placed the worker bees on and around it.  The tiered look was really nice and drew people’s eyes.  Check it out!

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Anne Arundel County Spring Craft Fair (April 2012)

Location: Crownsville, MD

Day of the Week: Saturday and Sunday

Weather: Saturday, overcast and rain.  Sunday, sunny.

Organization: Poor.  No communication before the event.  Chaos during the event.  No evidence of advertising.

Crowd Size: Small both days.  Lots of browsers on Sunday.

Crowd Make-Up: Families with kids.  

Booth Fee: $40 for 10′ x 10′ outside

Unlike the AAC Flea Market, which was fabulously well organized, the Spring Craft Fair was a disaster from start to finish.  I never received any confirmation letter and had to email the fair organizers to get any information.

When I arrived, there was no one to greet me or tell me where to set up my booth.  When I found a volunteer to ask, he got on his walkie-talkie and spent 15 minutes being told that I wasn’t on the list, only to discover that there were apparently two different people using two different lists who clearly never communicated with each other!  I felt bad for the volunteer.  Finally, I just asked if I could take the spot in front of the restrooms since that would mean more foot traffic and less time away from the booth when I had to go.

I was told to park anywhere along a certain section and then, less than an hour later, told that I had to move my truck.  The woman running the fair was a fascist about people driving on the midway and spent the entire day harping on the PA system.

There were four soap vendors and two vendors selling soap in addition to their other offerings!  For a crowd this size, one soaper would have been ideal and two would have been doable.  As it was, there were two and a half in each building and one (me) outside.  It was absurd, especially given that at least two of us had explicitly asked how many other soapers would be at the event and were assured “NO MORE THAN TWO.”

It was windy.  It was cold.  It was rainy.  There were no customers and, from what anyone could tell, there had been no real advertising for the event.  Most of the vendors packed up and left by 1pm (hence the issue about driving on the midway).  I stuck it out because I needed to at least make back my booth fee!

So many people ditched, in fact, that I was able to move my booth inside the building.  Lucky thing too — I just barely beat the afternoon deluge!

Sunday was a much more pleasant experience, but I made less than $50.  On Saturday, only the most dedicated shoppers came out in the rain.  Fewer people, but more sales.  The Sunday crowd was bigger, but had a lot more browsers.  The whole weekend was a colossal waste of my time and energy.  I doubt I’ll be going back next year.

On the bright side, I met a number of great vendors!  Since that was the only real thing to do the whole weekend, we all hung out and chatted.  Beth from Simple and Green was a treat and, if I had made a few more sales, I would have bought the recycled plastic produce bag she made!  Gorgeous!  Michalene from Michalene’s Goat Milk Soap was also super nice.  Soapers can be territorial little divas, but it was such a crap day for everyone that we ended up chatting.

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