Friday, May 22, 2009

A Business On the Move - Part 4

I didn’t have much capital to start a business and every penny made (and then some) has gone back into buying supplies and improving displays. While in Florida, I had purchased folding tables – the kind that are 2' x 4' and fold in the middle for storage (since my storage space is so extremely limited). They’ve worked out really well for me, too, because it seems that the booth size of every craft show is different. I have 3 tables, and can configure them in several different ways, depending on the size of my booth. I also acquired a canopy and got matching table cloths. My craft show set up was starting to look professional.

We also developed an idea for new jewelry displays. I needed displays that would be easy to transport, take minimal storage space, and assemble and dis-assemble quickly at craft shows. Because my je
welry is made with Swarovski crystals, the displays needed to allow plenty of light to show off the crystal’s sparkle and they needed to be as elegant as we could make them. I wanted them to be white so that no color would distort the color of the crystals -- but I didn’t want just any white -- I wanted the white of a grand piano. I wanted that deep, rich elegant white. And in our design, unfortunately, we also had to be able to have a good view of everything because some people just aren’t trustworthy. So after much research and thought, we came up with an idea: Keith would make some wooden boxes that would serve as a base. On the ends of each box, we have uprights that look a bit like stairsteps. In each step there’s a little notch where we place a steel bar, loaded with earring cards. Each box has 7 steps and each step holds 13 earring cards – so we can put 91 pairs of earrings on each display and 2 displays fit on each of my tables (they’re about 22" long).. But there’s more!
On the front of each display, there is a detachable shelf, sitting on a slope, with 4 ovals in a row – each oval is the perfect size to display a necklace, so we also have 4 necklaces on each display.

We finished in Florida last year in April and our next building project brought us to Wisconsin. I was able to participate in several craft shows in the fall (including my first juried shows) and I’m planning my 2009 show/market schedule now. Our show set up has been improved again with the addition of table skirts, which I designed and made (I sew too). Things are looking pretty good and I’m looking forward to the new selling season. Now, if only the economy doesn’t kill me .....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Little Sunshine to Help Things Grow - Part 3

Just as things were starting to pick up for my jewelry business, the church project we were building was done and it was time to move on. We had been in the north, but it was October, and we just don’t start new projects when snow is about to happen. There was a church in Port St Lucie, FL who needed to get their pre-construction work done in anticipation of building – prints have to be approved, sub-contractors and materials found and a lot of little details worked out. So we were off to Florida!

I didn’t know much yet about finding craft shows on the internet and we weren’t really sure how long we were going to be in Florida so planning was difficult. I also didn’t realize how many craft shows there are in FL in the winter – or that many of them are “professional” shows which are very strictly juried, have high entry fees, have very strict display requirement and do not benefit any local organizations. I knew I wasn’t prepared for that yet ... but what to do? I ended up selling at a flea market for a couple months. The flea market definitely was NOT my best venue – my handcrafted items in with a lot of foreign made bargain junk. I didn’t fit. And it was the beginning of the big hikes in gas prices -- fewer people were coming to Florida so there were fewer tourists in the flea market. But I was getting some exposure and learning more about the business part of a jewelry business. The creative part had come easy – the business part was a process ......... a long, slow process!! We were blessed to meet a couple other vendors who had years of experience in flea markets and craft shows – I learned SO much from them! Before we left Florida, I was also able to get into a couple local craft shows and a festival – they were good experience and I picked up a little more knowledge from them.

At my early craft shows, I’d gone alone, or sometimes took a friend. At the flea market, my husband was able to go along with me. With Keith there to keep the selling going (and yes, to keep an eye out for light fingers), I was able to concentrate on making jewelry “on demand” – if someone saw a style they liked, but wanted it in a different color or wanted it on a post instead of a French Hook, I could make it while they waited. That service now makes up about a 1/3 to 1/2 of my craft show sales.

Keith is a pretty handy guy and when I suggested that I still needed to do something different for my displays, he understood what I was needing and why. It became our Saturday ritual to go do the flea market in the morning and early afternoon, then pack up and stop at a restaurant to eat on the way home. At those dinners, we began working out the plans for new displays that would better meet our needs and suit my jewelry. I was up to about 40 designs of earrings and 5 designs of necklaces. And because I use Swarovski crystals, we needed something that would allow plenty of light to show off their sparkle. The next display would also have to be very portable, easy to assemble and take down, easy to store and be a more refined way of displaying my work. I had decided that I wanted white so that no color would reflect and distort the colors of the crystals. But not just any white – the kind of white finish on a white grand piano – that deep, rich elegant white. I had been looking at displays on the internet and we spent a couple Saturday evenings haunting Home Depot looking for ideas. We finally came up with a plan. More later....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Nurturing the Baby - Part 2

I grew up on a farm, and I’ve always had a garden – so I have long understood the concepts of nurturing and patience. (They also came in handy as we raised our kids!) Once the seed was planted to start a jewelry business, things began to happen. I began to develop designs and started looking for supplies. I told the ladies at church about my interest and a couple of them started watching for ads for craft shows. I was a total rookie about this stuff – and somewhat like the gardener needs a little rain at just the right time, I was learning a little here and a little there – just when I needed to learn it.

I have to tell ya ... those first craft shows were a little rough. I only had about 7 styles of earrings. My “display” was a foam board covered with white lace, propped up with plate easels. Earrings were on homemade cards and the cards were tacked to the board with clear push pins. In each show, I had a board full of sterling earrings and a board of silver plated. As I look back now, it was NOT pretty. But it got me through my first few shows and in spite of the terrible presentation, people liked my work – and I made a little money.

Our youngest daughter went to work for a small Midwest chain of jewelry stores. Unfortunately, the stores failed and she was out of work. But when her store was closing, she was able to get some of the displays for me (for free!). So I graduated to spinners for my earrings, put my earrings on real earring cards and I had a couple busts to display a necklace or two. I felt like I was in the big time! As I made the transition to the new displays, I also decided to go exclusively with sterling silver and eliminate the cheap plated stuff – it was a good move. By this time, I was also up to 18 or 20 earrings designs. My craft shows were stepping up and business was improving.

At one of the craft shows, I met another vendor who was VERY sweet! She had a nice business card and had a web store on a site called “Etsy”. I’d never heard of it, but as she explained it, I found myself intrigued. Etsy is an online marketplace for artists and crafters to set up shops – kind of a web based craft show. This gal, who was selling children’s items, was enjoying quite a bit of success. I signed up! But there was a lot I didn’t understand about doing business online .... and I made quite a few mistakes. More to learn. (Sigh)

As I look back at taking those first baby steps, I’m amazed the baby learned to walk!! And like any baby, once they learn to walk, the next thing you know, they’re running! More later...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Crafty Conception - Part 1

I’ve always been crafty – able to work with my hands, take some basic materials and make something pretty out of them. And I’ve used that ability in many settings, but particularly in making a home. Those years when “country style” was popular – well, they were MADE for me! And I’m one of those people who can pretty much just look at something and figure out how it’s made. The one exception was making baskets – I took a class to learn how to make them because, while I knew weaving, I didn’t know much about using reed or finishing a basket. If it involves fabric, I can usually figure it out in minutes and I think I have a natural eye for balance and color – I know that I have memory for color (which has come in handy on more than one occasion!).

A few years ago, I bought a new outfit that was very pretty, but the color was a complete deviation from the rest of my wardrobe. Now, I don’t really wear a lot of jewelry but this outfit was dressy and I knew I would want earrings to go with it (at least). I browsed several costume jewelry shops but found nothing that stood out. I went to visit my daughter, who had recently been to a jewelry making party/class – she showed me a couple basic techniques – and we were off to the craft store! I picked up a couple basic tools and a few jewelry supplies and we headed back to her house where I made my first necklace. I knew about “lead crystal” but I hadn’t heard of Swarovski – but I’d found some Swarovski crystals that looked like they might go with my outfit. They were the Padparadscha color and I mixed them with white pearls – it was a stunning match! And I was hooked!

Because of the travel involved in our ministry (and for a long list of other reasons) I homeschooled our 2 youngest children – over 15 years. For those who are unfamiliar with homeschooling, I can only say that it is a huge commitment of time for the teaching parent. When our youngest daughter graduated from high school, I felt a little at loose ends. I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. Because we are missionaries, and have never been fully supported, I began looking at a job to help financially. But because we also move so often, my options were very limited – employers don’t usually like to hire someone who is moving in a few months. And I didn’t want a job that would interfere with our ministry and the commitments I have there (these are my first priority). I’ve done home-based businesses and considered them, but they are most successful when you develop repeat customers and some require maintaining stock – neither of which suited our circumstances. I needed to do something with flexibility and mobility but requiring only a small space.

I’d gotten a lot of positive comments from the ladies at church about my jewelry – and they seemed impressed that I could make my own. Then a friend, who’s daughter was getting married, was complaining about how difficult it had been to find nice jewelry that was reasonably priced. Timing is everything! I began to consider a jewelry business – and B-Jeweled By Susan was born! More later....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Whew! The Roller Coaster!!

Have you ever felt like life was a roller coaster? That feeling that you're going WAY too fast? That you don't have much control? And you're hoping the hardware holds out?
That's been my last couple weeks!

Lets' see ... on Thursday, the 23rd, two days before the craft show, we were still in MI working on our daughter's house (they had a water problem in a house they're trying to sell and they've moved away). We had hoped to head for home in WI that morning .... but there were glitches (aren't there always?) and we didn't leave until after midnight. The 7-hour drive was a killer but actually, it was great driving through Chicago -- there was NO traffic at 3 am!! We got home in time to go to work Friday morning. My husband did all the driving but I was afraid he would fall asleep -- so I only got a couple 20 minute catnaps all night.

I was actually pretty amazed how well I did Friday -- hung in there pretty well without sleep -- until about 5 in the afternoon. Then I started really dragging. By the time my husband got home at 9 that night (he had to work out of town that day -- poor guy -- more travel for him!) I was done in. I told him we weren't going to do the craft show Saturday -- I didn't feel prepared and I was totally exhausted. The idea of getting up the next morning at 5 was just too overwhelming! So we went to bed -- nothing packed in the car. Originally, I figured we should leave for the show about 6:30 am to allow us plenty of time to get there and get set up --haven't done a show since December and knew we would be "rusty" about our set up.

So Saturday morning, at 6:20, I got up for a nature call ... felt a whole lot better .. so woke my poor hubby and said "let's go!!". He had been really disappointed that we weren't going so I didn't even have to ask twice -- he was out of bed like a shot. By 7, we were on the road. Given that we had to dress and pack up, that's amazing!

The show went ... ok. It wasn't great but it wasn't bad. We didn't know what to expect but we did expect more people to come. It was a rainy day -- I know that didn't help. And when the show organizers planned the date, they had checked on road construction -- they were told that the road would be resurfaced from June - August. Somebody's calendar was really screwed up because it was all torn up in April! And we expected that the economy would have some impact -- didn't know how much. This show last year had about 2000 attendees -- we figured there were only 700-800 this year.

The show itself was really pretty neat. Some fun vendors -- someone was selling decorated hula hoops -- their booth was really bopping!!-- the booth across from us were selling their own dip mixes (oh my goodness ... SOooooo good!!) and there were just some interesting things being sold. The guy a couple booths down from us was selling metal lawn sculptures -- they were amazing! One lady was selling hair pieces -- sort of for an instant updo. Another was selling bras -- she had her own little booth for trying on. There were some wonderful handmade soaps. Lots of jewelry, but none of it like mine. And the chocolatiers -- yes, there were choclatiers! and the samples? almost heaven!!!

I had a couple of fun sales -- both ladies wanted very custom made pieces. One lady was probably in her late 40's -- she picked a pair of earrings she liked, then pointed to a necklace and said she'd like something like that, only a little different. We talked about what she had in mind, then I made up a couple samples -- she loved one of them and bought it! Later, a younger gal came by -- mid 20's -- getting married in July. She had the jewelry picked out for her wedding party but hadn't been able to find anything she liked for herself. She chose a pair of earrings in white/clear but wondered what they would look like if one of the crystals was sapphire instead (the color of her wedding) -- I made it up for her -- and she LOVED it! But then she wanted a necklace -- I made one similar to a style I have but, like the earrings, substituted a sapphire crystal for a clear in part of the necklace. It came out perfect! It was so cool to do wedding jewelry -- it's an area I want to work in to -- and it was SO fun!!

As for the marketing mix, there were more young women at this show than at the typical craft show -- and I had a lot of attention from most of them. It confirmed that my work has a bit younger appeal than I've been thinking -- which should help with my marketing strategy.

And my shop is open -- it was pretty slow getting things listed and I have LOTS more listing to do -- but that's a story for another day. Come check me out:
So far, the feedback I'm getting is very positive. Most of my photos are pretty decent. No sales yet but I really didn't have enough listed until yesterday. It's really a relief to have it open and be able to list. I've been working on it for so long -- taken SO many pictures! And getting them edited and cropped. Woohoo!! This is me doing the happy dance!!!