My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #285: Planning for the Future

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 03-15-2011 02:02 PM 3868 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 284: A Little Demonstration Piece for Class Part 285 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 286: Another Piece of the Puzzle In Place »

Hiccups are a part of life, it seems. Yesterday things went pretty well, although it seems that there are always little things to get in the way. There was a time when I felt that I was ‘over-preparing’ for this little adventure, but as I get closer to the day of departure, I am happy that I have done things the way I have and have allowed a good buffer zone for these little things that come up.

I know it will sound silly to some, but part of me has felt lazy in the past month or so because I am not really “producing” any new patterns. After all, I am a pattern designer and that is what I do. It seems the design part of my job has just come to a standstill the past month and a half and it is so much out of the normal rhythm of my life that it feels quite odd.

However, on the other hand, it seems that I have been working from dawn to dusk every single day on things and details that relate to this trip and part of me is really tired. I look back to last summer and my little “day trips” and think of how we just took off for the day to take a break and enjoy the outside world and it seems so long ago. I seriously can’t remember when I even just sat down to watch a movie without doing something work related on the side.

I am not complaining, mind you. It seems that I am justifying to myself why there hasn’t been a great amount of new patterns made at this time.

The logical side of me sees the global impact that this trip will have on my life and my own career if you will. This isn’t just a holiday that I am going to take to visit friends and family, it is an important stepping stone in my life and my business that can invite many different successes that are not possible to achieve from working only from my home.

Many shows are like that. Unfortunately, people often assess their success or failure when they do a show solely by the dollar amount of what they sell minus what it cost them to participate. Although those figures are somewhat important to a growing business, what can’t be ignored is the long term impact that participating in the event would have on the business as a whole. That is a bit more difficult to measure.

When I used to design and sell my mohair teddy bears, I participated in a posh show that would come to the Chicago area (Schaumburg, exactly) twice a year. It was a juried show and you needed to be approved to even participate. After approval, the tables were nearly $500 (that was over 10 years ago!) and you were also expected to stay in the hotel and participate in the pre-show auction, as well as the Saturday night banquet and other activities, which required at least two, if not three nights stay in the large hotel. My friend Cari used to come with me, as it was our chance to have a ‘girls weekend’ and get out for a bit while our children were small.

In the end, these shows would cost me approximately $1500 to participate in. As most of you know, I am not a wealthy woman and with a growing family and other financial responsibilities, it took careful planning for me to participate. (Not to mention that the mohair fabric that I used to make my teddy bears cost approximately $150 per yard) It was an expensive business/hobby and at times it was difficult to justify.

As far as the return from the shows, I mostly made back at least the money that I put out to be in them. I say “mostly” because I didn’t keep very good books and I think that in part, I wanted to sway things in my favor so that I could continue to do a hobby I loved and justify it as a business. I see that a lot in woodworking too. There are many who sell what they make just so they could buy more wood.

There is nothing wrong with that, I feel, and for myself at that time, I was not supporting myself. I was married and my husband was the main supporter of our family. I appreciate that he always encouraged me to do what I wanted with my creativity (within reason) and was always happy for whatever success I have achieved. Even to this day he is a good friend and encourages me to continue to follow the path I have chosen.

One thing I learned at those shows was that one had to have the foresight to recognize that it is the long term effects of the show and not just the day’s receipts that are important.

After one of the teddy bear shows, I was contacted by a museum in Japan that purchased one of my bears for their displays. I was also contacted by a toy maker in the Chicago area (a firm called Breslow, Morrison and Tersian) which did ground-level development of toys for the big companies like Mattel and Tyco. BMT were the designers of the first electronic game, “Simon” as well as hundreds of other well-known toys. When you walked into their offices, they had a train that ran on a track suspended over your head and their offices were a mix of Star Wars technology and Santa’s work shop. Their main conference room had several shelves which held award after award for their designs.

I worked with them as a free lance designer for several years before leaving Chicago. I had the pleasure of making prototypes for toys like “Little Talking Bubba” as well as some Simpson merchandise and Sesame Street musical characters, and I even had the honor of making prototypes for some of the toys that came from the Dreamworks movie “Chicken Run”. It was fun to see the cells of the movie more than a year prior to its release. When the movie finally came to the theaters, it was a wonderful feeling knowing that I had been a very small part of it.

Unfortunately, they only needed me a couple of times a year (that would have been a KILLER full time job!!) and my main job with them was to make the soft sculpture prototypes for presentations to their clients. They would call me to a meeting and show me pictures and drawings and I would make them into ‘things’. Several times things had to be reworked over and over to fit the mechanical ‘guts’ in, but it was fun and interesting work and it paid very well.

All of this came because of the teddy bear shows I did that I barely made my cost.

So who knows what the next month will bring for me. This time the unknown is very exciting for me. I think that this is the chance of a lifetime and it warrants my full attention in preparing for it so I can give my best impression possible.

And now I have rambled again. I suppose I made up for yesterday’s shorter post, didn’t I? But I want others who do woodworking shows to realize that you will never know where the next ‘big break’ will come from. You need to look at the big picture and remember that you don’t always realize the full extent of your returns on the day you are counting up your receipts. I hope you can look at my story and see how this is so.

One week left. I had better get busy! :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

4 comments so far

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6860 posts in 4037 days

#1 posted 03-15-2011 03:11 PM

Hi Sheila;

I know what you mean about doing shows. I used to do woodworking shows, back when I first started marketing my Ezee-Feed units. The first show we did, was very spur of the moment. We had only a few days to prepare. I rented one booth, for $500.00 and set up a table saw with my units on it. We had some brochures, too. We couldn’t demonstrate it in use, since 10 feet by 10 feet isn’t enough space to rip sheets of plywood.

Well, I sold exactly zero units during the 3 day show. The next show, I rented two booths. More space but stilll not enough to demonstrate how the units worked. Still no sales. One of the other vendors must have felt bad for me, because he came he came up to us at the end of the show and proceeded to give us some advice.

I followed the advice, now renting four booths, with a table saw and shaper set up, along with a dust collector. I had a banner made, and a table set up with a continous loop video, as well as brochures and business cards. With this space we were able to rip plywood sheets. I also had my portfolio, which has about fifty pages of 17” by 13” photos of my cabinet work. Between all of these things, we managed to sell a few units.

It was pretty obvious that there is a learning curve to selling things, especially something that is new to the market. Myself, and my buddy Bruce, aren’t salesmen, by any means, and we proved it. LOL

I did one more show after that, and we sold close to thirty units, I believe. I’m pretty sure if I were to start doing the shows again, we would be able to pick up where we left off, and sell units, but with the economy being what it is, I’m not taking the chance.

We did continue to get sales from those shows, for a couple years after we did them. So, you are right, it’s not what you end up with at the end of the show. Plus, as you point out, you do make a lot of friends, and contacts that will last for years to come.

I’m beginning to think I talk as much as you!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2977 days

#2 posted 03-15-2011 05:05 PM

I like hearing stories like that Lee. It makes me feel like I am on the right track. I think that so many people only see the current success of someone and don’t consider that it took a lot of “dry times” to get there. I have said in earlier blogs that I don’t believe in “Overnight Success” I believe that every successful person has had a period of time when they struggled to realize their dream (even Bill Gates!)

As far as you “talking too much” – I appreciate reading about your experiences. I know some days I ramble on too, but I truly hope that in some way I can help others by telling them of what I have gone through and still do go through in my daily business. I appreciate that you are willing to share too. Thanks!


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6860 posts in 4037 days

#3 posted 03-15-2011 07:23 PM

Hi Sheila;

I’m of the belief that overnight success takes about 10 years.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3172 days

#4 posted 03-15-2011 10:29 PM

thankĀ“s for sharing a corner of your experiences Sheila and Lee :-)
it is good to read about such first hand knowledge
I know from my own trade that its the long tuff pull that will get the money
on the bank account or enoff to give the income so you can take care of your beloved ones
nomatter what people tells
I know there will bee made fortunes on the stockmarket in theese days just becourse of Japan
but they will be gone and even more next month and every single one of those persons is unhappy
and have stress… LOL

take care

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