This weekend I took part in a fall fair in Markham. I paid $150 plus tax for two days in a booth in a pavilion called "Just Crafts." I was excited about my prospects at this fair because the Markham Fair is a very popular fair here in Ontario. I myself have been many times as a visitor, but this was the first time I would be participating as an exhibitor. This was not a juried show. I applied late, and it took the coordinator about two weeks to let me know if there was any space left. I sent in my application and fee, and she confirmed my booth space about one week before the sale. I was pretty sure I had enough stock, but I had a lot of last minute pricing, display sprucing up, etc. to do. I stayed up until 12:30 a.m. on Friday night getting myself organized.
Saturday morning dawned, grey and cold. Since the coordinator had gotten back to me so late, she didn't have time to mail me my exhibitor passes, so I was worried about how I would get in. I needn't have worried, though. When I arrived at 7:30 Saturday morning, there was nobody at the entrance to stop me. I managed to find the picnic shelter in which the sale was to take place, despite a discouraging lack of signage. I parked next to the venue and my daughter and I began to unpack. The picnic shelter was small, with space for only 7 exhibitors. There were huge open doors at both ends, and two more huge open doors on one wall. I chose a table in the corner and began setting up. Two eight-foot tables and three chairs were provided, which was really convenient. As other exhibitors began to arrive, I was dismayed to realize that of the seven exhibitors in the picnic shelter, three were selling jewelry.
I had some trouble setting up because I'd added a couple of new elements to my display, and hadn't had a chance to do a practice setup. I live in a three-floor walk-up, and damned if I'm going to drag two eight-foot tables up the stairs to do a practice set-up. Finally, my friend Sophie arrived to help. She was unpleasantly surprised to find out that the venue was an outdoor one. Apparently, I'd forgotten to tell her that part. Luckily, I'd brought extra socks, gloves, etc., and there was a Tim Horton's on the fairgrounds. That mollified her sufficiently.
People started trickling in as we were putting the finishing touches on the tables. It didn't take long for us to realize that the shape of the picnic shelter and the position of the doors created a kind of wind tunnel. The first to go were my new, flat necklace forms. They blew over almost instantly. Then the tablecloths had to be stapled to the tables. Throughout the day we fought the wind, constantly adjusting the tablecloths, replacing flying earring cards and rethinking display elements as they proved to be too top-heavy to survive the gusting wind. Not only did the wind wreak havoc on my display, but it was bloody freezing. It was colder in the picnic shelter than it was outside. Outside, the sun warmed everybody, but inside it was damp and cold. Although there were quite a few people at times, and many people stopped to look at my wares, not many people actually purchased. My prices were comparable with the other jewellery sellers there, and people exclaimed over my stuff, but not a lot of wallet action. Throughout the day, I sold just enough to cover the table fee. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of money, too, buying lunch, snacks, souvenirs, etc.
All day long, the smell of barbecuing food wafted through the picnic shelter. At first it was nice, but after 13 hours, my eyes were sticky from the smoke, and I would have been happy never to smell cooking meat again. The venue was right next to a stage, where dance, gymnastic and jump rope teams performed all day. I think they shared soundtracks, because they played pretty much the same 10 pop songs all day long. Really, really loudly.
By late afternoon, Sophie had to leave to go to a family event, and my fourteen-year-old daughter began to regret volunteering to help. Although she'd been a great help throughout the day, by four o'clock her energy began to wane, and she took to sitting in the corner, wrapped in a blanket, with a face like a week of wet Wednesdays, looking like the proverbial sullen teenager. Thank goodness my sister and her husband arrived. My brother-in-law took my daughter home, and my sister stayed to help. As darkness fell, I realized that I'd chosen a table under the only burnt-out lamp in the place. I hadn't brought lamps because I didn't think there would be electricity. We rearranged the tables to take advantage of the nearest overhead lamp. By this time, my face was windburned and my toes and hands were frozen. I had brought supplies to make jewellery during lulls in action, but it was too cold to take my gloves off. Plus, the chairs were made of metal, so sitting down was like sitting on an iceberg.
Finally, 9:30 arrived, and we began to pack up for the 10:00 closing time. I was so happy to get into the warm van for the drive home. All in all, it was a disappointing sale, and I don't think I'll apply next year, unless it's for an indoor booth. I suppose I could have been better prepared, but I've only ever done one outdoor show, and it was in July. I did learn something, though. Outdoor shows are great in the summer, but in the fall? Not so much.
Pics of my booth at the Markham Fair
This blog is meant to be a record of my adventures as a new home-based business owner. Starting my jewellery business was one of the most daunting things I've ever done, next to giving birth. Especially since I was (am?) pretty technically stunted. In this blog I will describe the trials, tribulations and, hopefully, eventual successes I experience while navigating the world of (really, really, really small) business. I also plan to use this blog to talk about all the aspects of jewellery design that fascinate me, keep me addicted, and cause me to spend thousands of dollars (What, honey? No, I didn't say thousands...) on gemstones, beads, findings, etc. I welcome your input, ideas, and stories of similar experiences in beading, jewellery design, or running a handcrafts business.