We are approaching the end of the winter season (hopefully), but despite my anticipation of spring, I find myself working on projects intended for colder weather—namely, more crocheted, fingerless gloves. When you sell seasonal items, it’s a bit like writing articles for a magazine: you’re always six months out of sync with the current season.
In any event, I’ve been developing a new fingerless glove pattern that takes advantage of the chevron trend you’ll see everywhere–in clothes, jewelry, accessories, home decor and other types of items. And because this month’s challenge theme for Blogging Business Artisans involves the color red, that is the color I used for my chevron-style gloves.
“February is about hearts, love, roses . . . the color red. Create any project you like using the color red!” suggests Edi of Memories for Life Scrapbooks.
So, here goes. This is a unisex glove, appropriate for either guys or gals, depending on the color you choose. This coming week, I’ll be listing this style of glove in other colors.
Thanks, Edi, for generating February’s challenge theme!
Don’t you hate it when your source for a favorite item disappears, or worse yet, when the store that carries it goes out of business? That’s what happened two-and-a-half years ago in June 2009, when Creative Corner, known to locals as the Pink House because it was painted a hot pink, closed its doors after 36 years of business in the historic downtown shopping district of West Des Moines, Iowa known as Valley Junction. Despite its garish exterior, the shop that was likely someone’s house at some point was charming on the inside. Most of the yarn products—many them quite unique—were found downstairs, while specialty threads and stitchery tools were found upstairs in the attic. I was dismayed when the shop closed, since I couldn’t easily find elsewhere locally one of my favorite yarns, a worsted weight blend of silk and wool that I used for felting projects.
One day when I was reading the newspaper, however, I latched onto an article about the octogenarian owner of Rose Tree Fiber Shop, Rosemary Heideman, who opened a yarn shop near the University of Iowa in Ames in 1988 at the age of 60. She sold yarn, patterns and stitchery tools, taught classes, spun her own wool, and even designed her own patterns. I was delighted to discover that she carried a full line of the silk wool yarn I could no longer get at the closed Pink House. Every time we were in Ames, I dove into the apple basket carrying my favorite yarn to restock my inventory. Sadly, Rosemary retired last year, and the new owner decided to let that same yarn retire. The last time I visited the shop, only a few skeins were left in the dullest colors. Although I couldn’t believe it, I was told that “people weren’t buying that yarn anymore.” To be fair, I was offered the opportunity to do a special order by purchasing 10 skeins in the same color from the manufacturer, but that wasn’t a very appealing offer. I was accustomed to smaller lots in a wider range of colors, spending more than $100 each visit. Time to scavenge again!
It wasn’t until this January, when we were driving home from a visit to our son who lives in the Chicago area, that I found a jewel of a yarn shop in St. Charles, Illinois. That shop is called Wool & Company, and though it does not carry my favorite silk wool yarn, it does carry fantastic substitutes in a rainbow of colors. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the shop is filled in every corner with fiber, patterns, tools and inspiration. Wool & Company describes itself as a full service knitting and crochet store. “Our mission is to spread our love of knitting in a fun, creative and informative way,” states their Web site. “We have the largest selection of knitting and crochet supplies in Chicago and Illinois. Whether yarn, books, patterns, classes and workshops, needles or craft themed gifts, we’ve got them. Both at our store and online we are always adding new items for the knitter, crocheter and needle arts fan.” The business supports Project Heartstrings, a scarf project that aims to show young girls with eating disorders that handmade scarves are like their bodies: imperfect but of great value. Wool & Company also has plenty of charity yarn that is available, just for the asking. They do ask that you complete a form describing your cause, and that you supply photos of the completed project, so they can inform those who donate the yarn how it is being used. One of the unique online services that Wool & Company offers is a Chicken Auction, which involves bidding on clearanced yarns. If you win the bid, the yarn is shipped to you.
Here are some of the wonderful yarns I purchased. What great yarn sources, especially online, have you discovered?
I walked my fingers through my wool yarn the other day, touching and rearranging the skeins, admiring their colors. In reality, I was pondering the idea of introducing a new line of products in JN Originals, my shop on Etsy which features crocheted and felted items.
Whether you’re a small shop owner like me or have a large business that reaches into every household across the nation, I suspect that all sellers go through some sort of “research and development” phase—more than one phase, to be sure, since the marketplace is fickle. What’s “in” one year is “out” the next. The super-long, fuzzy “eyelash yarn” scarves of four years ago, for example, have given way to shorter scarves that keep you warm but don’t flap into your face when a gust of wind comes along. If you’re lucky, as a handmade seller, your timing is on and what you sell leaves your doorstep almost as soon as you create it. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? In reality, there is always a certain amount of risk involved, so you can’t afford to make too many of any one item, or you’ll get stuck with product you cannot sell. But without experimentation, your business is stuck in the water like a ship without sails because nothing is ever static.
Before I began selling handmade goods on Etsy, nearly everything I made was gifted to those I knew, both family members and friends, so to some extent these people represented the source of my market analysis. Their “oohs” and “aahs” translated into the sections of my shop including hats and scarves, felted journals and needle books, coffee cup sleeves, fingerless gloves and flower brooches. What I have discovered, however, is that people’s admiration or appreciation of these items does not necessarily result into sales. What people are excited about receiving for free does not excite them so much when they have to reach into their pockets. And there is always a price point beyond which they will not tread, no matter how wonderful your product may be. I have also learned that what sells well online may not sell equally well in person at craft shows. In a word, we’re all on a perpetual search for that one special item that will make our business bloom and sales take off. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. I tried selling felted napkin rings on Etsy and failed, for example. Research and development can make the bravest among us grow faint of heart!
Despite the risks associated with any new item you introduce, there is something magical about the research and development process. You check out your competition for similar items and decide how you want to stand out. Finding a unique angle must always be your goal, for you simply cannot assume you are the only person to generate that idea. And when you finally unveil your product, it feels somewhat like a gift you unwrap and pass around to get everyone’s reaction. So, that is what I am doing below, where you’ll see a small felted bowl that represents a new product line in my shop. What do you think?!
Click on image to learn more about this Challenge.
In a little over a week, I’ll be “doing it again!” That’s right—another upcoming arts and crafts fair, this time at Dallas Center-Grimes High School’s 9th annual FOFA (Friends of Fine Arts) Arts & Crafts Festival. For me, this represents the fourth time I have sold at this growing-in-size venue, which maps out space within its brightly-lit high school gymnasium. This year there will be at least 49 vendors, not all of them crafters. You’ll see such “brand” names as Silpada Jewelry, Tupperware, Scentsy Wicklesss Candles and Longaberger, but you’ll also see booths for hair bows, felted wool needle books, fabric purses and bags, melted glass bottles, bling jeans and Dutch letters. In a word, nearly every booth has a unique product.
The organizers play both live and recorded holiday music throughout the event, and intersperse announcements about vendor-provided giveaways to elevate the shopping excitement. They do charge a low admission fee, but that buys customers a ticket they can use in a random drawing for a vendor gift. Breakfast, lunch and snack items are sold throughout the day, with lunch orders being filled and delivered directly to the sellers so they don’t have to leave their booth and miss a sale. Sellers are provided with a flyer they can distribute locally, and with links to a craigslist listing and Facebook FOFA event.
As I complete some last-minute items for this arts and craft fair, it occurs to me that not all fairs are created equal. Some fair organizers invest very little time in planning their event, do almost no advertising, and provide cramped booths at high prices. The fair in which I am participating on Saturday, November 12th is not one of those. I am looking forward to it, and to meeting some of the other vendors that I haven’t seen since last year at this time. It warms my heart when a potential buyer approaches, smiling, and recalls she “saw” me last year. I hope she’ll be excited about the headwarmers, scarflettes and felted wool items I will have on display. Below, for example, is a scarflette I’ll be selling.
A successful arts and crafts fair or craft show does not not need to be large to be successful, but there definitely are some elements you’ll want to consider before you book it on your selling calendar:
Does the event get good traffic?
Do the organizers advertise for you?
How big is your booth in relationship to its cost? Is it enough space for your wares?
Is electricity available, and is there a cost? (Do you need electricity?)
How well lit is the space?
Are there competing events going on at the venue that might redirect buyers away from vendors?
How many vendors will be there? What is the range of products or services being sold?
How many other vendors are selling the same type of product you are selling? (How can you make yourself stand out?)
Does the venue feel friendly?
Is the venue easy to find?
How much do you want to earn in order to feel successful at this venue? Do you think you can achieve that goal at this venue?
If you’ve visited my JN Originals on Etsy shop recently, you may have noticed an announcement beneath the banner, letting buyers know that for each item they purchase that month, they will be entered in a random drawing for a free scarf. This giveaway is in effect for October, November and December, so one winner will be announced at the end of each month. Since I actually draw a name on the second-last day, anyone who purchases on the last day of the month will have their name entered in the drawing for the following month.
So . . . insert drum roll here . . . I’d like to announce the winner of October’s random drawing. She is Joyce L. from Ohio. Congratulations, Joyce! Joyce has selected the crocheted multi-yarn strawberry pink scarf shown below.