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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.

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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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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!

At the booth I

First Craft Fair Reflections

Yesterday was our first craft fair and, wow, I learned a lot:

  1. Rain sucks, especially for soap.
  2. I need a foldable table with a handle instead of the monster banquet table I borrowed from my mother.  My hands hurt from gripping the metal underside.
  3. Wheeled carts for hauling all of the plastic bins are genius.
  4. Put as much product as possible on the table, people like to touch and smell and see things.
  5. Buy a pop-up tent for outdoor shows … again, RAIN.
  6. Get a smartphone credit card reader … impulse buying!
  7. Men and women, old and young, everyone needs soap.
  8. Bring more plastic baggies to protect the soap from the rain AND cute baggies with our logo.
  9. Don’t worry about the competition; everyone has a different market.
  10. HAVE FUN, talk with people, and stop stressing about sales.  Friendly, approachable people make more money anyway.

We didn’t make a killing by any stretch of the imagination, but we more than broke even with the cost of the vendor fee.  For now, that’s all I wanted.  I met a lot of great crafters, got good advice, and signed people up on the mailing list.

The next show is in a couple of weeks, and I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.  I want to experiment with some new soap, shampoo, and lotion recipes.  I want to add some embellishments to the products and packaging.  I want my new business cards and banner to come in the mail! Weeeeee soap!