Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How To Be a Steampunk Vendor -A Completely Biased Opinion

This is me at my last show. 
          I was looking around online trying to find some more shows to do, since I have had several dreams viciously crushed lately (It's okay. I apparently wasn't ready to do bigger renaissance festivals yet. Admittedly, it does make my stomach clench when people cheerily suggest, "You should TOTALLY do this show! You would make a KILLING!" and it's a show that I sent in an application to, and then got denied entrance.) I understand it. I have vendors that I work with (you know, the businesses that I buy fabric, grommets, and boning from) have blessed my life and I want to continue relationships with them to grow my business. If some other company came along and said, "Hey, you should work with me!" I would really be hesitant. These HUGE festivals than run 8-10 weekends have a lot of stuff to protect, and it can especially be hurtful for them to allow TOO many types of the same kind of vendor in, because then it spreads the "success" out a lot thinner, and then everyone is angry and no one has a good show. I understand a scarcity mindset. I've been there many times in my life. I'm there right freaking now, trying to claw my way out, but feeling very raw and overly sensitive.

         Anyhow, back to the subject at hand. AT LEAST if I can't get my dreams right now, I can help build other people up. This is a post intended for any of you who have wanted to take your hand-made items to a show. I'm focusing specifically on the "steampunk" genre, but really these could be applied to lots of shows where there is fine, handmade wares being presented. I hope this is helpful, and I hope that you can remember that these are just my opinions, based on my own unique experiences and observations. I don't  mean to belittle or criticize anyone.

Several Tips that You Might Violently Disagree With:

*Do not lower your standards. 
I have met and seen vendors who chose to have a section of their booth that is the "cheap stuff" for people who don't have money. It's usually buy-sell stuff from China that you could find on a quick Amazon search. The strange thing is that LOTS of these people are incredibly talented artists, and they have their quality, well-priced things right along side the cheap things.

I could be totally wrong here, but in my experience, the people that are coming to these events are truly looking for something unique, hand-made, and full of life! If you are vending at a festival that is juried, and your art was good enough to get you there, then focus on giving people that experience with you and your art! I LOVE to meet my customers in person, and I hope that they have had a good experience meeting me, the lady who hands her hands all over their corset. ;)

I'm not saying that you CAN'T have little $5-$10 items to sell slowly to make your booth fee, because lots of times people truly could only afford to pay to get into the show, and they still deserve just as good of an experience as anyone else. What I'm saying is that you might want to really think about the whole picture and vision of what you want a customer experience to be. Are your smaller priced items TRULY unique and hard to find? I just met a girl who had done an incredible job of curating very interesting buttons, and had big, beautiful trays full of marvelously quirky steampunk buttons. GREAT example of how to do it RIGHT! The prices were low, but the display and the message was clear.

It can actually be hurtful to the other fellow vendors to purposely have a pile of "cheap stuff" table. The reason here is that if you are a patron, walking through a show, and you walk into one booth and see hand-made leather bullet belts for $95, and then in the very next booth you see a felt mini-top hat for $10, it can be very confusing. The price difference ends up being a shock. It's like, "Holy crap, that belt was EXPENSIVE" and then the huge price of the belt makes the cheap items look even CHEAPER, and you think, "Wow, that must be a piece of junk". No one makes money. No one wins. The vendors get bitter and the customers are confused.

I'm hoping that I'm clarifying this in a clear way. I totally LOVE seeing little stickers, buttons, and trinkety things that match the business and are specially made for the booth. I'm just lovingly encouraging you to remember that what comes out of your own brain will be better than something you bought in bulk off of alibaba.
*Always Work on your Display, but don't let it take away from your Products!
I have a little bit of a struggle with this one here, because one of my MAIN goals for my booth is to have as many SIZES available as possible. I am  keenly aware of how painful it is to walk into a shop where they don't even have anything approaching your size! It's embarrassing and just makes you feel like you are wrong and bad. Even with carrying about 30 different sizes, I STILL am not always able to fit ladies that come into my shop, at least not into the corset that they wanted. Anyhow, because I am so crammed full of corsets, I don't even have as much space for display.

This is going to work better for you if you have maybe smaller items, and you want to really let them shine! I read a funny blog post about a vendor who had found this gorgeous antique butter dish, and she put her business cards into it on a doily. She said that about 10 people came in and asked to buy the dish, not even looking at her other products. One lady even dumped out all the cards and said, "I just want this dish".  She took away the dish.

A good way to navigate this field is to just take careful note of what you DO and DON'T like, visually, with other booths. With the beauty of the internet, you can find never ending amounts of images to inspire you, and you can make the most delicious pinterest board ever! I remember that one time I walked into my aunt's house, and she had decorated it absolutely BEAUTIFULLY. I was blown away by her sense of style and taste, and when I asked her about it, she laughed, walked out of the room, and came back with a magazine. She opened up the magazine, and there was her room. She literally just found something she liked and copied it with her own pieces. The differences were slight, but good glory, it was stunning!
These ceiling tiles were only about $10  a PIECE! I had a good friend make some hinged "corners" for the ends of my Snake Oil Beauty Makeup booth, and then he glued these gorgeous tiles to them. The effect is elegant, eye-catching, and expensive looking. Do you know where I got the idea? There was a "kids fort" at a children's museum in Tacoma Washington that had walls with these drilled and patchworked into them. I thought it was so beautiful and that someday I would use the same idea! I took pictures and have remembered it for 5 long years before I finally implemented it!
*Do What You Want To Do.
Okay, I simplified that. What I really mean to say is that you should carefully think about what YOU, YOURSELF, want to see, and then follow that. I've met tons of creative people who will be wearing some amazing costume piece, and I ask them about it, and they'll explain that they couldn't find just what they wanted to buy, so they made it. I always suggest that the should do their own booth, and I will be their first customer, and they usually just laugh and blush.  COME ON, friends! If you are wearing something, and you are getting constantly stopped and asked about it, figure out how to produce it. I know that lots of people are like, "Well, this took me 40 hours to make, with much pain, suffering, and profanity and there's no way I can get people to pay me $500 for it."  First off, you would be surprised. Second off, the first piece is ALWAYS the worst. Do you think I would even have a company if I made everything in the same way I made my first piece??? Good NIGHT! I would not have been in business for 12 years now!! You will be inspired. You will be lead. You will possibly even find another company who can take one element of your design, produce it by the thousands, and allow you to sell your awesomeness.

An example of this is our steampunk trim on our corsets. Did you know that I used to sit and watch TV while I held a huge roll of belting and carefully cut them by hand into 4 inch pieces, and then took a lighter to the ends to finish them and melt them....one....by....one......
I looked into a machine that would automatically cut to length and singe the ends....and it was $30,000.  Yikes. My beautiful, wonderful husband figured out what to search on google, and he found a company who HAD these machines, had lots of different types of belting, and would cut them in batches of 10,000 for us. Now, granted, the up front cost is still *cough* significant, BUT I'm not spending hundreds of hours burning my fingers. We gave business to a company that was already set up to do what we wanted, and they were good at what they did! We blessed them with our business, they blessed us with their machinery and knowledge. Heck yes!!!

Well, friends, this is honestly all I have right now. I truly have to get to work, but I wanted to write this while it was in my brain! I truly hope this helps you to find courage, because that is what I am actively seeking in my own life. I know that as I keep improving myself, the good things I'm hoping for will  naturally come into my life at the right time and in the right way.

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