Well, it was a good decision to turn down the last minute invite into the Atlanta Sugarloaf show. I visited the show and it didn’t look like there were more than 100 crafters and a lot of empty spaces. I got a hold of the final show numbers and it was dismal. Sugarloaf Shows tend to average 15 – 20,000 attendees and total sales of over one million per show. In fact, some of their shows hit over two million in total sales. The Atlanta show had 4500 attendees and only $267,000 in sales. They also canceled the 2009 show.
I guess the best way to summarize my science project is to say it has been an interesting ride this year. It all started in January with a cutting board I made for myself which somehow turned into craft shows and shipping products all over the country from Internet sales. I’ve gone from exclusively cutting thousands of feet of melamine, to my shop having red, purple, and dark brown dust all over the place from padauk, purpleheart, and walnut boards. A pint of Titebond glue use to last me a year. I have gone through five gallons so far this year.
I spent most of the summer building inventory, analyzing the craft business model and learning about craft shows and online sales. The first of my three shows this year didn’t start until October and I only got into three because I missed the application deadline on most of them (I was a no-show at one due to weather). I won’t make that mistake in 2009. I have a stack of applications right now with deadlines clearly marked on my calendar.
In March, I joined Etsy and set up a shop. I also created another web site with shopping cart that I promote in different places in cyberspace. I didn’t make my first online sale until June on Etsy. In fact, I had three sales in June. It then went quiet until around Thanksgiving. From Thanksgiving to the week before Christmas, I sold 25 boards, some candle holders, and coaster sets between Etsy and my Appalachian Craftsmen web site, with the majority coming from the AC site. I was surprised at the sudden activity on the AC web site. The referring URLs were coming from Flickr, Google, and my craft show site (DGM Woodworks). Just about every day resulted in one or two sales. I have spent a lot of time this year posting pictures and blogging all over the place, including getting mentioned in others blogs. I think some of this exposure is starting to pay off. However, it is still a bad economy and I think online sales are going to continue to suffer until we get out of this funk.
Packing and shipping was another learning experience. I found out the hard way that when you wrap a board with bubble wrap, it grows in size by another couple of inches (duh!). I had bought a bunch of boxes from Uline, only to have to buy more to accommodate the larger size requirements because of padding. Styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap add a lot of bulk to an item. I also didn’t anticipate people ordering multiple items. I had a customer order three large boards and another order four dipping boards. I had to go to Office Max and get boxes big enough to accommodate multiple items.
Most of my items ship via UPS with the occasional small item going through USPS. Shipping via UPS is very simple when you have a UPS online account and order their free printer labels. I originally bought 8½ x 11 labels at the office supply store, but if you have an account, they will provide free labels. I just slap a label on the box and drop it off at my local UPS store. Shipping via USPS is just about as easy, however you have to download and install their shipping software to do the same thing. Unfortunately, I cannot pay online because I need a special printer to print the postage label, so I just print the mailing label and take the package to the post office and pay for it there. USPS is a little cheaper and will deliver to post office boxes, but I hate standing in lines, which seems to always cost me about 15 – 20 minutes.
One surprising side benefit of the craft shows is the few “after the fact” sales. I had a couple of people call me before Christmas from a card they picked up in my booth during a show. These were local, so I just delivered them myself.
My inventory took a huge hit because of all the sales in December and I had planned to try to replace as I sold, but surprisingly, my closet business all of a sudden increased making December my best month this year. I had a lot of repeat and referral customers buying new homes and so I worked on installations up until a couple of days before Christmas and started back at it the day after Christmas. This turn of events put me back into “melamine mode” for most of the month. Working on two fronts in December made it really intense. Fortunately, my next show is not until the last weekend of March so I have time to get my inventory caught back up. I also have just finished some jigs for a new product line I will be offering this year. I’ll be posting those projects soon.
So, I am anxiously looking forward to the 2009 craft season. Now that I have gotten past the initial startup shock and have a little experience under my belt, it’s not as scary or confusing to me. So far, I have found that I really enjoy doing the shows and feel confident that I have desirable products and the right price points. It feels good to get instant feedback from perfect strangers and that people are willing to buy my products. – Later -
-- I don't make mistakes, only design changes....www.dgmwoodworks.com