My CGS Family

Although participating in the California Gift Show was difficult, frustrating and expensive, there was something positive I took away from the experience: connections with my fellow exhibitors. From the moment I arrived, every exhibitor I met there was extremely kind, helpful and friendly. It didn’t matter if they were total newbies like me, or seasoned sales reps who had exhibited for over a decade. Contrary to the competitive environment I had envisioned, there was in fact a strong camaraderie between exhibitors, as if we were fellow soldiers on the battlefield. Perhaps this comparison is not so far-fetched considering that we were all making ourselves vulnerable, even if some of us were killing while others of us got shot down.

My experience was not unique. When I went to say goodbye to Sepi and Gerardo of Yep Yup, all of the exhibitors in their aisle rushed up to me holding out cameras so that I could take photos of the entire group. They called out to each other to gather ‘round as familiarly if they had all grown up together. It made me think there is a bright future for American business — at least in the gift and design worlds. Business owners are apparently much more interested in supporting one another and building relationships than in tearing each other down. This might even turn out to be better for business than good old-fashioned competition. According to this recent post on Sellout, being entrepreneurial and symbiotic is the pathway to financial success in the arts. Therefore, in that spirit of symbiosis, I would like to present a few members of my CGS family in the hopes that you will support these small artisans and designers. They are, after all, not just the antidote to the cold, impersonal, and low-quality world of the big boxes — they are good people.

Susan of Natural Paradise

This is Susan of Natural Paradise. She makes all-natural bath and home products — herself! Every product, down to the packaging, is made by hand in her house. Her surfer’s paradise lotion is fantastic. It smells like a tropical vacation and disappears right into your skin. No greasy residue whatsoever. Susan’s booth was right across from mine so we spent the slow hours shouting jokes and making faces across the aisle. She was my show sister.

purse hook ladies

These lovely ladies (from left to right) are Nichole, Laurie and Susan of Pursehook, LLC. Nichole, along with her sister, Natasha, are the founders of the company, and Laurie and Susan (their aunts) are sales reps. When they found out I was at the show alone, they simply declared “You’re coming with us!” and took me to the show’s Hollywood mixer. They gave me advice, support and of course, a pursehook, which is one of the niftiest little pieces of female engineering I have ever seen.

yepyupThis is Gerardo and Sepi of Yep Yup. They have an unusual business in that they sell both pet products and stationery. The line is really well designed and also cohesive. This was their first show, too, so we did a lot of comparing notes and providing encouragement to one another.

leeThis is Lee from Scentimental Decor. He and his wife make all kinds of beautiful home accessories that smell great without being overwhelmingly perfumed. The second I started to put my booth together he looked concerned about me. Perhaps it was just that his paternal instincts recently kicked into high gear with his new baby boy around, but he offered lots of assistance during my first hellish night. He helped me lift and turn over a totally unwieldy piece of acrylic plexiglass and came to the rescue when I ran out of wood screws.

laceyThis is Lacey. She’s a spokesmodel for Dr. Yermian beauty products (yes, that’s her in the poster to her left). She’s like Los Angeles antimatter — a person who is a model and a television actress to pay the bills while she works on her real dream of becoming a 911 dispatcher.

I don’t have pictures of these folks, but I also want to give a shout out to Victoria of Correia Art Glass, who was my show mom and was so helpful she would physically steer buyers with whom she had relationships to my booth; Diane and Jackie of Purple Rock (they sell beaded bra straps — tons of them); Lauren at Soul’s Calling, who sells items with inspirational messages that are actually cool-looking; and Jerra and all the ladies at Sugar Hooker Entertainment, a feminist D.I.Y. clothing line, record label, Internet TV station and lifestyle company.

And what have we learned?

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news this week, the economy has been on some kind of bizarre roller coaster ride. The stock market has made huge gains and losses from day to day, the Fed cut their short-term interest rate by a staggering 0.75%, one of Europe’s largest banks was defrauded out of billions of dollars, and the President and the House have settled on a bipartisan “economic stimulus package.” All this comes on the heels of rising unemployment and the sub-prime mortgage crisis, not to mention during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

So what does all this economic craziness translate to? In short, making things hard for the small wholesaler like me. I’ll go into the details of my recent sales experiences in a minute, but let me just put some general advice out there first. If you are thinking of releasing a line of design goods for wholesale:

  • Make sure you have a back-up source of income.
  • Take a bookkeeping class and price exactly how much your line will cost to produce, ship, store and market, so that you know exactly how much money you will need to raise, save or borrow to pay for your entire first shipment.
  • Start with something small. Smaller, less expensive items are easier and cheaper to ship, to store, and to find buyers for, because it means less investment in cost of goods and store space for owners.
  • Start early in the year. The whole process, from pricing manufacturers to receiving your first shipment can easily take six months and stores begin buying for the holidays in July and August. You will definitely want to ride that wave your first time around.
  • Set up a website where you can sell your goods retail, in addition to wholesaling them. You may sell fewer items at a time this way, but you’ll make a much higher profit off of each one.

These pieces of advice are ones I wish I had received before starting out on my Sweet Meats venture. It turns out that releasing a line of plush toys is a royal pain in the ass. Not that I regret doing it, or that I will give up anytime soon, but it is an expensive way to learn through trial and error.

Last week I exhibited at the California Gift Show in Los Angeles. The show ran from the 18th-21st, and while many people expressed interest in my products, none were really buying. I got the same response from everyone when asked if they would like to place an order: “Let me talk to my sister/wife/partner/boss about it and we’ll let you know.” This is exactly what buyers say here, too, when I visit their stores. I find this especially frustrating with buyers who already know my products. A few have mentioned seeing them sell out at craft fairs and one even owns a Sweet Meat already. What gives?

I have a few theories about the lack of sales to store buyers — all of them, I think, equally likely and valid:

  1. It’s after the holidays. Business is slow, and the last thing store owners want to do is buy more items that will just end up sitting around.
  2. The economy is not great and people are much more cautious in their spending in general, but specifically don’t want to invest in anything new and untested.
  3. I’m not a good salesperson yet.
  4. My price points are wrong.
  5. I’m waiting until March (when I can sell these retail, as well) to send out press releases.

I’m going to give door-to-door visits a couple of more weeks to work out. At least this way, if people don’t order from me, I can ask them why, face-to-face. Then hopefully I can fix whatever I’m doing wrong and get back on track. Either way it works out, I’ll keep you posted.

Working with the Press

I know I haven’t been keeping up with writing very well lately.  I apologize, but I’m being forced to prioritize a lot these days.  Know, however, that I’m working on a lengthy write-up of the California Gift Show I just attended, in addition to a review of Brian Tracy’s “The Psychology of Selling” CD and a description of the uber-weird Westin Bonaventure hotel.

In the meantime I would like to point out yet another free workshop being given by the awesome folks over at San Francisco’s Small Business Administration.  This one is on working with the press (and is so titled).  It is being held from 6:00-8:30pm this Tuesday, 1/29 at 455 Market Street in downtown San Francisco.  Luckily, the SBA recognizes that many of us have day jobs to support our businesses and hold most of their classes during reasonable hours like this.  This week and next I’m working full days at Klutz and teaching some sewing classes at the Stitch Lounge at night, and even I might be able to go to this.  The SBA says that you need to register here (and I do recommend this if you want a seat) but I have seen many people come to these things at the last minute without signing up.  They just take your info once you get there.  Please leave your thoughts in a comment if you attend!