Review of May Events: Capsule Design Festival

I have attended two previous Capsule events as a shopper, but this was my first time as a vendor.  All in all it was worth it (I made about twice the cost of my booth) but it wasn’t an investment with major returns.

The event happened on Sunday, May 25th, from 11-6, on several blocks surrounding Patricia’s Green in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. The booth fee is a fairly steep $190, considering you are not provided with shelter, parking or furniture of any kind.  We all got nervous when it rained the day before, and a chance of rain was predicted for the day of the festival as well.  Luckily, things stayed dry.  If nice weather had been assured, the turnout may have been better, but nonetheless there was a pretty steady stream of customers throughout the day.  I was set up on Linden Street, however, and a fellow vendor told me that his table on Octavia Street between Hayes and Grove was only receiving about half the traffic — a good thing to know considering you get to choose your own table location.

Compared to other craft/handmade events, the Capsule Festival has a reputation for being a little too cool for school.  It’s definitely hip and on the high end price-wise, but it seems like a good venue for artists whose goods are too time-intensive and costly for the average craft fair.  At Capsule, there are plenty of buyers who are prepared to spend over $100 on a well-made item, provided you accept plastic.

Scattered thinly amongst the uber-hip artisans were a few typical “street fair wear” booths.  Their goods may have been technically handmade, but not by anyone in the U.S.  I heard complaints from some artists who were placed next to such ventures, since their prices were glaringly cheaper, and a few customers were so relieved to finally find a “bargain” that they failed to realize that they came out to Capsule just to shop at H&M.  I know that Capsule juries it’s applications, and I know that they walk the fair themselves, so I can’t imagine they allow such vendors to return in the future.  It used to say specifically on their website that Capsule is not a venue for mass-produced discount merchandise, but I can’t find that statement anymore.  Maybe the definition of “independent design” has changed?

Depending on my schedule and how busy I am in general, I may sign up for the October Capsule Festival.  It’s right in my neighborhood so it’s ridiculously convenient.  It’s also nice to have an event earlier in the holiday season.  You can do some first-hand market research before the big rush and adjust your inventory accordingly.

Tip: Sunscreen the [email protected]$T out of yourself before any seven-hour outdoor event.  I had such a wicked raccoon tan I couldn’t take my sunglasses off in public for a week.

Review of May Events: Bazaar Bizarre @ Maker Faire

(May 3-4th) This was the third annual spring Bazaar Bizarre held in conjunction with Make magazine’sMaker Faire.” I love participating in this event but it has changed drastically from year to year, so you never really know what it’s going to be like.

At the first Maker Faire, the Bazaar Bizarre was pretty small, and held outdoors. I didn’t vend that year, I only visited, so I don’t know much else about it. The second year, the Baz Biz moved indoors to a huge hangar-like pavilion. There were hundreds of vendors, and we shared the space with the main stage and dozens of workshops, demonstrations and displays. Many customers complained that they felt confused and overwhelmed by the barrage of multi-sensory stimuli, so the Bazaar switched gears again. This year’s event was held indoors, in a comparatively small and carpeted room. There were fewer than half as many vendors as last year, and the overall atmosphere was much quieter and calmer. Even the knitting drummer was deemed too disruptive and made to move outside. Had she not been a vendor, I think the postcard “machine” may have been next.

As usual, Jaime and her family were on-hand to make sure everyone was fed, happy and provided for. This year they also started a raffle to help offset the cost of running the event, to which I happily donated a Family Size Hambone. Anything that helps keep the Baz Biz the best deal in town ($120 for the whole weekend!) is something I will fully support.

The only area which could have been improved was parking. It was a bit confusing getting to the lot, and also figuring out at which gate to park once you were inside. I had to move my car twice. There also seemed to be some confusion about whether or not vendors had to pay for parking. I was told, for example, that parking would be free in the following instances: if I left the lot immediately after loading in; if I moved my car to the far end of the lot, where I would not be competing with paying customers; if I arrived prior to 8am. All of these statements were either false or not communicated properly to the booth attendants, because we had to pay the full parking price both days. It wasn’t really a big deal, but it would have been nice to have definite information about everything in advance.

All in all, the Baz Biz was totally worth it (and always is). I cashed in about 50% more than last year and even got a couple of return customers this weekend at the Capsule Festival. As an added bonus, on my way to get lunch I saw a wedding at the life-sized Mouse Trap game! The giant weight at the end crushed a white wedding cake, which was a little sad but also kind of awesome.

New L.A. Area Craft Fair: Handmade Brigade

Here’s one for all you SoCal Biz Misses:

Handmade Brigade Craft Fair
Saturday, July 12th
Tall Mouse Arts and Crafts in Cerritos, CA

Application period: May 3rd-31st
Fee: $30, includes table and two chairs
Vendors notified by June 7th

This might be a good craft fair to apply to if you live within driving distance and you’ve never done one before.  You have very little money to spend up front and since it’s happening in a craft store, you’ll have a walk-in audience whether they knew about it or not.  I personally don’t know anything about the Tall Mouse stores, though, including how well equipped they are to host such an event. If you live in the area and are considering applying, I would go check out the Cerritos location and see how big it is, what the lighting is like, etc. They are ultimately accepting 30 vendors in that space.

It was difficult for me to find the application page (even though the entire web site is only three pages), so I’m linking to it here.  I didn’t realize you had to click on the little blinking advertisement because it only says “click for more info” on the fourth frame or so.

The Rumors are True

The Renegade Craft Fair is happening in San Francisco July 12-13th! Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until this past weekend, which happened to be a week after the application deadline.  Luckily, there are many other craft fairs happening in the area this season with applications still open.

AltCraft: (American Craft Council) August 15-17th at Fort Mason.

  • Cost: $300 for three days, 10 ft. booth space.
  • Deadline: May 23rd (e-mail [email protected] for more info)
  • Comments: Fort Mason doesn’t really get foot traffic.  Luckily, AltCraft is well established so they get a good number of visitors.  I might consider applying for this is it weren’t happening the same weekend as my wedding!

Mission Bazaar: May 17-18th at the Armory at 14th & Mission

  • Cost: $300 for two days, 8 x 10 ft. booth space, includes table and two chairs.
  • Deadline: Today!  Payment deadline extended to May 13th.
  • Comments: This is happening the same weekend as Bay to Breakers and the public is being charged $5 admission, perhaps to cover the cost of entertainers.  I’m going to wait until the holiday Mission Bazaar at least.

Roadworks: (Center for the Book) September 20th on De Haro Street between 16th & 17th (12-5pm)

  • Cost: $80 for a full table, $40 for half
  • Deadline: June 13th (tables $100/$50 after deadline)
  • Comments: Sounds like a cool, fun event (they print linoleum carvings with a steamroller) but it’s only five hours long.  I’ve got some time to think about it.

While I fully support having outlets for crafters to sell their wares I have to wonder, are all these craft fairs saturating the market?  I mean, Baz Biz, Mission Bazaar and Capsule in May, Renegade in July, AltCraft in August and Roadworks in September gives San Francisco residents more than one event every month.  Even I don’t shop for gifts that often.  I fear that with application fees rising and more events crowding the calendar that fewer crafters will be able to afford to vend.  That means customers would start seeing the same people over and over (a complaint I’ve already started hearing) and attendance would start to drop off. It’s a vicious economic cycle, I know, but I don’t want to see it hurt the handmade “industry” by turning craft businesses into a passing fad.

Fred Flare's Next Big Thing

Deadline: Friday, May 2nd

According to fredflare.com: “The NEXT BIG THING contest is best suited for designers, artists, crafters and creatives who are serious about taking their business to the next level.”

In short, it’s a contest in which you submit your art/design/craft products for $5 an entry in the hopes of winning $1,000 and having your stuff sold on fredflare.com.  There will be 27 finalists, each of whom gets a spot and a bio in the limited-time Next Big Thing Boutique section of the web site.  Then in June, the polls open, and customers vote on their favorite product.  The winning artist/designer gets $1,000 and Fred Flare will buy out the rest of their stock.  In the future, if your item does well, they will keep you on as a wholesale vendor.

Although there are traditionally a huge number of entries and you face some pretty stiff competition (Jay McCarroll of Project Runway, Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching, and Amy Sedaris have all been finalists), there’s a lot to potentially gain and only $5 to lose.  I’m definitely going to enter the Sweet Meats. One tip: read the rules carefully because they’re very specific.

Think Outside the Shop

I made a couple of sales calls in the Upper Haight today and got the same response everywhere I went: “We’re not buying anything right now because it’s slow. Come back again in April and we’ll see.”

On the way home I lamented to my fiancé about how I wish there were stores in the Lower Haight that could sell Sweet Meats. After all, that’s the neighborhood we live in, and it would be really nice to have my products so close to home. There are no toy stores in the Lower Haight, however, no pet stores, no home accessories stores and only a couple of gift stores that do not have a decidedly ethnic slant. I sent an e-mail to the owner of Doe, my personal favorite neighborhood shop, but if I’m going to be honest with myself and with her, Sweet Meats are not really a good fit with her woodsy collection.

Then, as we were passing Costumes on Haight, my fiancé said: “Maybe you could sell them in some other random store, like a record store, or clothing store, or Costumes on Haight.”

“Costumes on Haight? But how are plush meats a costume? You can’t wear them.”

As the words left my mouth I saw the strangest, most wonderful thing. Taped over the crotch of one of the costumed mannequins was a paper t-bone steak, the exact size, shape and color of the plush one I happened to be carrying. I walked into the store and approached the register.

“Excuse me,” I told the man behind the counter. “I live in the neighborhood and was just walking past when I noticed your paper steak in the window. I think you can do a lot better.” And I plopped my plush t-bone on the counter.

“Oh. My. God.” said the clerk quietly, “How much is it? I’ll buy it from you right now.”

“Well, these are just samples,” I said (I still needed to show them to two more stores this afternoon).  “I’ve been showing them around for months and they’re a little ratty. But here’s my info in case you want a fresh one or the store wants some for display or prop purposes.”

The clerk took my info and I offered to come back in a couple of hours and drop off a sample that the store could keep for a while.  He said that would be fine and that he would show my info to the owner in the meantime.  Just then, I was spotted by my friend Christine, looking more natural in a hot pink bob wig than anyone I’ve ever seen.  We chatted for a minute, and when I turned back to the counter, the owner was standing in front of me, ready to order his first set of  meats for the front window.

Needless to say, I felt luckier than ever to have such a smart, problem-solving, future husband.  It just goes to show you, there are many unexpected, potential outlets for your stuff, especially if you’re a local. I thought I had enough to work with already, but beyond the usual suspects of gift stores and food establishments is a whole world of unexplored options.  So if you’re feeling frustrated that the well has run dry in your area, try hitting up those costume shops, video stores and record stores. Because anything on earth can be a display, and if it can be displayed, it can be sold.

Baz Biz Maker Faire 2008

baz biz header

Well folks, it’s that time of year again. The Maker Faire is coming up and the Bazaar Bizarre is accepting applications for this much-anticipated springtime event. The Faire is happening Saturday and Sunday, May 3rd and 4th at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in San Mateo, CA.  Visit this page for more specific info about the craft fair.

I can’t recommend the Bazaar Bizarre highly enough (see my review of the Holiday Baz Biz here). It is run like a well-oiled machine that hands out milk and cookies and it gives you incredible bang for your buck. Here are some of great benefits of participating:

  • The booth fee is only $110 for the entire weekend. I’ve always grossed at least ten times that, so it’s definitely worth it.
  • You get into the Maker Faire for free. Bring a couple of friends to work the table with you and you can take turns going to awesome free workshops and demos all weekend.
  • Jamie Chan is not only extremely nice, she’s totally on top of her shit. I’ve never had to go looking for chairs or parking and she always provides snacks, drinks, and craft fair survival kits (courtesy of the Sampler) to the vendors.
  • There’s always lots of local press roaming around.
  • No matter who they are, your booth neighbors will be awesome.
  • Post-show trading! You can do your gift shopping early and barter for all of it.

I know there’s more, but I just can’t think of it right now. People come from all over the country to sell at this event, so this is not just a posting for local folks. Especially if you’re within driving distance, it’s worth it in my opinion to apply.

Finding Stores to Sell Your Stuff

Okay, so you’ve got a brilliant, well-designed product. You’ve gotten the ball rolling on getting it made, and you’ve done all of your promotional work. After all this, you have a dozen orders to show for it. So what do you do now?

All of the press you get and marketing you do will only cover half of your sales — the half in which stores come to you. Despite all work that goes into creating marketing materials, sending press kits and exhibiting at trade shows, this is the easy half of selling, because any buyer who approaches you is 10 times more likely (in my personal experience) to place an order than a buyer you approach yourself. On the other hand, there are at least 10 times more buyers out there who don’t know you exist than those who do.

So how do you find good sales leads? You don’t just want to look names up in the phone book. Casting that wide a net will surely not be worth the time. Here are a few tips for finding stores that really fit your style:

  1. Go door to door. If you haven’t visited all the shopping districts in your area yet, this is a good place to start. You can take a good look around prospective stores and ask up front who does the buying. Usually it will be the store owner, who may be amenable to arranging an appointment to see your products. Store owners are also more likely to take a chance on a new product if it’s designed by someone local. One note, however: many stores will not want you to sell to more than one other store in the same neighborhood, so go for the big fish first (e.g. stores with additional locations in other towns).
  2. Shop online. Using links from a favorite blog or just searching for products similar to your overall aesthetic, you can find a ton of stores around the world that might be a good fit.
  3. Travel online. Starting with the cities closest to you, visit chamber of commerce or tourism web sites for links to stores in that area. AAA also has a huge online archive of articles from Via, their travel magazine, like this round-up of bookstores in the Western U.S.
  4. christopher jagminTrade! This is by far my favorite way to get info about stores. Contact an artist or designer you know in another city, or find a sympatico design buddy through a favorite web site or message board, such as Etsy or Craftster. Give them the names of stores in your area that might carry their products and receive some names in exchange. Last month in L.A., for example, I met a really nice designer named Christopher Jagmin who’s also releasing his first line. I sent him some stores to contact here in San Francisco, and he sent me some in Boston and Phoenix. Luckily, we’ve both seen each other’s products in person, so it’s easier to tell where we can really “see” those products being sold. If you and your design buddy don’t have this advantage, send each other a sample.

No matter what happens, be patient and keep at it. Many store owners are extremely busy, so it might take weeks or even months for them to place orders (or respond to your e-mail at all). That said, you should always follow up after giving them some time to look things over. It takes me an average of four to five conversations with any buyer before actually making a sale.

Craft Fair for Designers (SF)

If you’ve ever wanted to sell your wares at a craft-fair-type event, but you’re more of a designer than a crafter, this is the fair for you! The Capsule Design Fair is held semi-annually in the Hayes Valley neighborhood in San Francisco, and also sometimes at the 111 Minna gallery downtown. I’m ashamed to say this, but I live in Hayes Valley and have shopped at the Capsule fair for the last couple of years, but I never figured out who ran it or how to join it until now.

capsuleThe 2008 fairs are happening on May 25th and October 19th form 11-6. They are always outdoors, but I’ve never seen it rained out. One of the nice things about the Capsule fair is that is often coincides with the Hayes Valley Merchants’ Block Party, the Linden Street Fair, and other events that make the neighborhood a true destination on that date. Most times I’ve visited the fair, the surrounding residential blocks have also had giant communal yard sales — another draw for passersby.

You can register to be a designer at the Capsule web site (yes, crafters can participate, too). Once you’re approved, you can also reserve your booth right on the site. The fee for the day is $190 (a little steeper than usual) and gets you an 8x 10 booth (a little bigger than usual). I can personally vouch for the great attendance at this fair, and it’s an especially great place to show if you carry goods that typically price you out of the traditional craft market. There are lots of vendors with average price points of $100, for example, but be aware that customers willing to spend that much will want to be able to pay with a credit card.

Resident Tip: arrive really early — by 9am at the latest — to get first pick at the local yard sales and skip the huge line at Blue Bottle Coffee on Linden.

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.