100 Craft Shows

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Craft shows & art festivals are important to my business and I meticulously track them. My very first show was Indie Craft Parade in 2011. Doing that show changed everything for me. It's hard to believe I just did my 100th event, but the spreadsheet doesn’t lie.

My craft show spreadsheet turned out to be a great evaluation tool. I track everything - expenses, sales, and the ever so important column “Would I come back?” There were shows when I made a grand total of $80, there were shows when I made a whopping $14,000. Some of these events I only did once (for good reason), but the others I’ve been doing for years and look forward to every time. There were years when shows accounted for nearly half of my total income, which felt awesome at the time, but now that I look back, I realize that may have been a foolish business model.

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The purpose of this post is not to share tips and tricks for successful craft shows (but here’s an older post if you’re interested - scroll to the bottom of the post for 10 tips). Today I want to look at the big picture and share 3 reasons why craft shows have been amazing for my business growth, and issue 3 warnings about relying on them too heavily (because I’m 100% guilty of that).

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3 reasons you should do as many shows as you can (at least in the beginning)

1. You will undoubtedly find your target customer.

Pay attention to who’s buying and if they’re purchasing for themselves or as gifts. Study them, not in a creepy way, but notice how they dress, their life stage, and what else they’ve purchased. This info isn’t always available when you do the majority of your sales online, but it’s literally right there in front of you at a craft show.

2. This is a major marketing opportunity.

Yes, you’ll sell a lot at in-person events, but you’ll also give out tons of business cards. You’ll never hear from most of these people again, but a surprising number will pop back into your life at the holidays or when they’re ready to move forward with that commission they were asking about. Marketing in person can double or triple your craft show sales if you’re patient.

3. Real life feedback.

If you sell online, you don’t know what customers are thinking when they’re browsing. However, in person, you’ll likely hear verbal comments about your prices, sizes, and styles, and you may also notice people asking the same questions, so even though the answers may seem obvious to you, there’s a good chance it’s unclear to your customers. Find a way to communicate these things better and take that knowledge and apply it to your website or adjust your product if necessary.

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3 warnings about leaning too heavily on craft shows (if you want a sustainable business)

1. Shows come and go.

One year, the show is huge and everyone is making a killing. The next year, there’s no sign of the event. And that’s fine. Nobody owes you a craft show. Real people are behind these events, they take an incredible amount of time & money to produce, so sometimes the plug gets pulled. Established shows usually stick around, but even good shows can change their model, dates, or location, and that can make or break the whole event. Don’t count on them always being there or being the same as previous years.

2. Bad things can and will happen.

You could get a terrible booth location, a blizzard or hurricane may blow in, or you could get sick the night before. A few shows require you to apply for multiple categories if you work in different mediums, and they may only accept you for one and not the other, dictating what you can and can’t bring. The show may have an astronomical entry fee for shoppers and hardly anyone attends because of it. Do you really want to tie the vast majority of your livelihood to these things that are completely out of your control?

3. The burnout is real.

If you travel out of state for shows all year long, the exhaustion will eventually catch up with you (unless you’re young or super energetic, in which case - ignore all this). Depending on the type of work you do, all that time on the road away from the studio may mean you fall behind on other orders. As soon as you catch up, you’re back on the road again. It’s a tough cycle if you work alone, and the physical & mental exhaustion can affect other areas of your life. Having experienced this burnout year after year, I’ve gotten extremely picky about how far I’m willing to travel now, and how many shows I’m prepared to do in a season.

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You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket…don’t do it!

If you’re considering trying craft shows, just jump in, even if you’re not 100% ready. You’ll get a lot out of them even if it’s only for a few seasons. In 2013, I decided to sign up for every craft show that came my way. There were some really bad ones, but there were some gems in there too - ones that didn’t sound all that good on paper, or were not yet established, but turned out to be fantastic events that I still enthusiastically participate in years later.

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If you’ve been doing shows awhile and notice you’re planning your year around them and relying on them to make your numbers each quarter (that’s me, up until last year!) please be careful. Consider having some other income streams like online sales, commissions, or wholesale. These may be more steady in the end, which is important when you’re earning a living. If you do this Maker thing long enough, you’ll probably have an off year eventually, and if you put all your eggs in one basket, whether that’s the craft show basket or something else, that might be enough to put you out of business. However, if you’ve diversified your income streams well, a bad year will just be a little dip on your sales bar graph and nothing more.

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10,000 Etsy Sales

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It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a decade.

I opened my Etsy shop on January 8th, 2009. Back then, this Once Again Sam thing was just a hobby and any money I made felt like easy money because I was doing something I enjoyed. I probably spent whatever I earned on shoes and yarn. I didn’t save it, I didn’t invest it back into my business. The whole point was creative fulfillment and a little extra spending money, both of which I received.

Things really started getting interesting in year four. By then, I was earning more on Etsy than in my full time interior design career. That was the year I realized this was way more than a side gig and I started getting serious about running a small handmade business. I didn’t know that was what I wanted to do until I was in the middle of doing it. I may have been a Maker long before Etsy came along, but I certainly wasn’t a small business owner. Thanks to Etsy, its easy-to-use interface, community full of support, and readily available self-paced education, I became an entrepreneur in my mid 20’s, something I never had the guts to daydream about prior to that.

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As you can see in my sales bar graph, some years my Etsy sales plateaued, other years were so good they made the rest look bad (looking at you, 2016), but overall it’s been a slow and steady climb to this big milestone. I’m celebrating 10 years on Etsy soon, and today marks 10,000 sales with the platform that made Once Again Sam possible in the first place.

The reason I wanted to share my true story is because I think a lot of people have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they should be successful on Etsy (or other avenues). I’m sure it happens on occasion, but I have yet to personally meet a maker who’s had that elusive “overnight success.” What I HAVE seen over and over is makers, including myself, work their butts off for years and years, and slowly but surely see success, but at the same time see their definition of success change.

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I hope my ordinary story, as undramatic as it may be, inspires someone out there to start something, pick back up, or keep at something. Decide for yourself what success means to you and go for it (and it’s okay if that changes in the process).

Every year I’ve been in business I’ve thought “I can’t believe how well this is going, there’s no way it can get any better than this” and every year I’m wrong.

 Photo from 2013 when I was part of the Etsy section at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, IL.

Photo from 2013 when I was part of the Etsy section at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, IL.

The Mountains in Autumn

It’s the first week of October, and sadly everything is still green here in Greenville, SC. However, I’m daydreaming about the mountains in fall, and it’s showing through in both my jewelry and fiber art. Burnt reds, golds, deep orange tones, shades of sienna, olive greens … they’re coming soon to my backyard, but until then, they’re alive and well in my studio.

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A small collection of needle felted wool landscapes showcasing my favorite season are now available on my website. These small to medium pieces are framed and ready to hang. If you’re after something specific or have a special scene in mind, please get your commissions in at least 3 weeks in advance!

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My all new painted landscape pendant series titled “The Mountains in Autumn” are also available online as of today. Checkout this new Maker’s Eye View process video showing how I create these one-of-a-kind pieces from start to finish.

And lastly, a new colorway for my popular splatter painted series called “Autumn Leaves,” which features all those vibrant seasonal colors I crave, is also live on the website. I painted this series in tandem with the autumn landscape shown above, so the colors are identical between the two collections. I personally love the way the splatter painted earrings look when paired with the landscape pendant. They’re the same colors but it’s not overly matchy.

TIP: An easy way to filter down all of these new autumn launches on my site is to type “Autumn” in the search bar. It makes things really simple!

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Alpacas & Art

Yes, you've seen other Alpaca-related blog posts here if you've been a reader for awhile. Here's another one! I'm a little obsessed with these sweet-faced creatures, but it's not just because they're so stinking adorable. They're also part of my art. Literally. 

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Recently, I visited my dad and his wife at their new home in Brandon, VT (it's actually a very old home - built in 1880 - but it's new to them). They recently retired there, and I can see why. It's such a beautiful place! Just down the country road from their horse farm was an unexpected surprise. Maple Creek Farms is home to a few dozen alpacas, which is already enough to get me excited, but then I learned they actually process all of the fiber onsite and have a mini-factory for making roving, batting, and even yarn. All the things I'm interested in! 

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I've been a knitter and felt fiber artist for almost 10 years now, so I know my materials and I work with a variety of tools every single day, but I have never actually seen how fleece is processed before I get my hands on it. I always buy roving and yarn that's completely ready for use - I don't do any cleaning or dying myself, so seeing how the fiber gets from the alpaca's back to a ball of colorful roving in my living room was quite the treat. 

Needless to say, I took about 100 pictures of the baby alpacas, some of which were just a few weeks old, and I stuffed my suitcase full of colorful roving for my return trip. I love seeing how things are made, and truly understanding the process by seeing it for myself, so this whole pit stop was right up my alley. Now I have an even deeper appreciation for the material I use every day. 

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TOWN Magazine Feature

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Greenville SC people probably already saw this, but for everyone else, I wanted to share this article in a local magazine about my time as Artist-in-Residence at Poinsett State Park back in May. The full article can be found on TOWN's website. It's such an honor to be featured in the July issue! I enjoyed recounting my experience and sharing how all of my expectations were blown away. 

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Flip through the entire issue if you like...and stop on pages 49 & 50 ;-) 

 Photography by  Eli Warren   Thank you all for being so patient while I listed all of the wool landscapes from The Poinsett Collection. Everything is now available on my new website:  www.onceagainasam.com   Several of the pieces sold during my 3-day Art in the Wild Exhibition a few weeks ago, but everything else (plus a few more) are listed online. If you've had your eye on any of the work I've been sharing post-residency, incluing the piece I'm holding in the photo above, now's your chance!    

Photography by Eli Warren

Thank you all for being so patient while I listed all of the wool landscapes from The Poinsett Collection. Everything is now available on my new website: www.onceagainasam.com

Several of the pieces sold during my 3-day Art in the Wild Exhibition a few weeks ago, but everything else (plus a few more) are listed online. If you've had your eye on any of the work I've been sharing post-residency, incluing the piece I'm holding in the photo above, now's your chance!