Waggons West Etsy Shop

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The People You Meet: The Polite Professional

Over the past few months we have participated in many different shows from pure art to a mix of festival and craft.  We have been to shows with fewer than 200 visitors and shows with over 100,000 visitors.  It has been a wild ride for us. But at each one we worked hard to observe and learn.  We observed how people interact with our displays and then experimented to see how we can improve their experience. We also observed the other vendors.  We wanted to see what they were doing that was working and to see what wasn't working.  Over time, we have come to recognize some basic vendor styles both good and bad.  We learn something from all of them. 

The vendors around us have ranged from first-time-wet-behind-the-ears newbies to been-there-done-that-made-more-than-you experts.  Upon reflecting about our various booth neighbors I realize we have developed a sort of short hand to communicate the various styles and a set of responses to them. I thought I would start to share them here.

 As a general note, what I am saying applies to vendors of all stripes from fine artists, to crafters to direct sales.  While the products and customers can vary greatly the approaches generally apply.  

Probably the best kind of booth neighbor is the polite professional.  This vendor has been doing it for a long time.  They probably make their living doing shows. 
  • They have their booth design and load in/load out practices down to a science. 
  •  They follow the rules.  If cars have to be out by 9 they are moving them by 10 till.  
  • They stay within their assigned space and always ask if they have a real need to move through a neighbor's space (to access a tent wall or retrieve a dropped item).  
  • They speak positively about the show, customers and other vendors.  Even if it is a rough show they are polite in their conversation. 
  • Some of them go strictly about their own work and don't chit chat. Some may be more involved with their neighbors.  But they are always aware of the customers in their booth and in yours.  They understand that it is perfectly fine to stop a vendor-to-vendor conversation in mid sentence to tend to their own customer or to allow you to tend to yours.
  • They understand the constraints of working a show for 8 hours. If they know where things like restaurants are they will share that information.  They may offer or usually kindly agree to watch your booth if you need a potty stop.  They aren't gone forever if they ask the same of you.  
  • Their prices are clearly marked. Their signs are professional.  If they are handwritten it is neatly done and consistent with the rest of their branding. 
  • Their space is tidy.
  • If possible they work on some part of their product during the down times and are willing to talk about what they make, what inspires them and a wee bit about how they make things.  Don't ask them (or any vendor) detailed questions about sources, supplies, equipment or processes.  They have worked long and hard to perfect their craft and asking how to duplicate things is rude. 
  • They don't leave early unless it is a dire emergency or they have been dismissed by the show organizer.  Boredom or lack of customers is NOT a dire emergency.  The professional fulfills their contracted obligation.
You should take time to observe the polite professional.  They've been around for a long time because they have figured things out.  You can learn from them.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Upcoming Shows

October 16:  Wine Country Market.  11 - 4
     (Sugar Creek Winery, Defiance, MO)
October 22:  FHC Craft Fair  9-3
    (Francis Howell Central, Hiway N, Cottleville, MO)
November 18:  Fall Charity Christmas Bazaar.  6-9pm
    (Perez Family Chiropractic. 2261 Bluestone Drive, St Charles, MO 63303)
November 19:  Waldorf School Holiday Faire 9 - 3
     (Peace United Church 204 E Lockwood Ave. Webster Groves, MO)
December 10:  Handmade Marketplace Craft Show 9-4 
     (Webster University, Grants Gym)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

tap, tap, tap... is this thing on?

It has been stooopid crazy around here for the past several months and it isn't going to get better any time soon. In addition to my usual 'hobby' organizing trash clean ups and kayak races, WaggonsWest has stepped up into a bunch of new activities.  Creatures keep appearing out of nowhere and they demand attention.

These two showed up on night saying they were from the South Seas.  They seem to be quite polite and sweet but there is just something about the one on the left...

As always the llamas are causing trouble.

Then there are the badges. Lots and lots of new badges coming.   I'll try to post more pictures. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

PQ 7.5 The Bery Scary Topiary

When my youngest was three we worked together to make some Halloween topiary.  We still use them when we decorate for the season. They were styrofoam balls on sticks in flowerpots.  He drew the faces and they are adorable.

The challenge for this week was to use children's art as my inspiration.  I (finally) decided to make a table runner based upon those Bery Scary Topiary. 


 The quilt is approximately12 x 30.  It is uneven and has a raw edge instead of a binding.  The topiary are raw edge applique.  They may faces some day but, given that I woke up at 7:30 this morning determined to start and finish a project, and that I was taking pictures by 9....  well, we'll call this one done. 

Project quilting is the brainchild of Kim Lapacek  The challenges are thought up by her evil genius mother-in-law Dianne.  You can check out all of this weeks quilts at Persimon Dreams

Saturday, February 20, 2016

PQ 7.4 I Need a Vacation: Cutastrophe

This week's quilt is called Into the Forest.  It is in response to the Project Quilting Season 7 week 4 prompt, I need a vacation. Just taking the time to make a quilt was a vacation for me.  I have been working flat out designing and making plushies and badges for the Spring season and really needed the excuse to put that all on hold and just make a quilt.  

My initial purchase was just a third of a yard of each of three fabrics.  I had resolved to learn to use the Thangles for pieces half square triangles I had acquired years ago and never had time to play with.  Given any choice at all, I will never make HST's any other way ever again.  No fancy cutting.  No bias edges to manage  Sew two seams... well two kind of funky seams, cut on the lines and voila, HST's in multiples.  No trimming needed.  Wow!

Having made the triangle blocks, I was ready to cut the focus fabric, stitch it up and be done on Wednesday.  Ha!  The focus fabric wanted, no deserved to be fussy cut.  So I did.  I had to make a cardboard pattern but I did.  I felt a strong connection to my grandparents who would sit at the dining room table for hours tracing blocks around cardboard patterns and then cutting on the lines with scissors.  Yep.  That is what I did.  All 12 blocks and most of my fabric. Lovely, perfectly centered 3.5 inch fussy cut blocks. Yay! Me.  

Except that the pieced blocks, well, they were all a lovely 4.5 inches.  

Another day.  Another dollar.  Literally.  By the time I cut a few blocks of the correct size and stitched a bit together, it became clear that the quilt not only wanted blocks of the proper size but it wanted borders and enough fancy fabric to do the back.  A trip back to the shop.  An hour auditioning border fabrics.  A sizable bill and the quilt had both its backing and its border.

But it wasn't done with me yet.  It didn't just want a border.  It wanted a MITERED border.  A MITERED DOUBLE border.  Turns out it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it might me.  I really love the clean look.  I'll probably be adding them to more of my quilts in the future.  

So all in all, this was a great learning quilt.  And I quite like the results.  

 The details:
The fabric for this quilt was all purchased at Barb's in Huntsville.  She has a small but eclectic collection of fabrics that appeal to me.  The main fabric is from a collection called Gentle Forest by Tea and Sympathy for StudioE.  

It measures 34 x 26... a good stroller quilt size.  It is made from quilter's cotton with warm and white batting.  It has free motion leaves in the (mitered) border and stitch in the ditch around the (properly fussy cut and thangle pieced) blocks.

Oh, and the real vacation link... I love going to the woods for vacation!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Easy Tumbling Blocks

I need to save this video.  It shows how to strip piece tumbling blocks.  This is a quilt pattern I love but...  without inset seams I just might try it.  It isn't as easy as she makes it look. There are plenty of places to mess it up. However it certainly looks doable.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

PQ 7.3 Challenge Thread

This post is long and rambling, something I wrote late at night and then had to wait for the sunlight to get a decent photo of the quilt.  Unfortunately, the sunlight hasn't added much clarity to the post.  So I am adding my pictures to the top and leaving the rest for perhaps a more clearheaded edit at a later date.

My last stitches, once I got the hang of allowing the machine to move the fabric rather than trying to control it myself 
My notion for this quilt was to start learning how to use the decorative stitches on my sewing machine.  I've played with them before and had enough experience to know that they are challenging.  Mastering these stitches is the first step in learning how to do heirloom sewing.  Besides I bought a fancy machine not a doorstop.  It is about time I figured out some more of the bells and whistles. 

Early stitches full of jumps and skips and do overs.  See the hearts and bells?   Neither do I.  That is what happens when you try to move the fabric rather than guide it. 

The project started out poorly.  I was trying to push and pull and direct the fabric.  I had to learn to guide it. Really I was just trying to keep the edge of the pressure foot parallel to my guide lines.  Even slight corrections on my part would throw the whole thing off.  I also learned to rip back to the start of the repeat, reset the machine to the start of the pattern and set my needle at the end of the last pattern in order to start again after a thread break.  I also learned to use a water soluble topper to keep things moving smoothly.
The whole quilt.  Lovely to me only because it represents my learning process and my steps towards mastering an intimidating style of sewing. 
Finished quilt is 18 inches square.  It is made of muslin with a poly/cotton backing and binding.  The batting is warm and white.  The thread is an assortment of Sulky and Isacord embroidery threads.  It was sewn on my Babylock Ellegante 2.  The binding is machine stitched with another fancy stitch!  The colors are turquoise and red because I always wanted to make a quilt in those colors 

OK.  Read on for some quilting philosophy if you wish...

I love Project Quilting because of challenges and the deadlines.  Well, I like most of the challenges.  I find myself thinking of Diane as the evil Diane or the diabolical Diane as I am trying to figure out what to make or as I am trying to finish a project that fits the theme but is way more than a week can hold.  I am quite sure that Diane is a lovely lady and I do hope some day to meet her in person.  I only hope when that day arrives I don't slip and call her names.  But even if I do, they are meant with best intentions.  It like a student of mine who was fed up with me pushing him to do his best.  He turned to me and said "I hate you.  You make me think."  It was the best compliment I've ever received relative to my teaching.

So  I love most of the challenges and I really like the deadline.  Deadlines are good for procrastinators like me.  But I also add my own twist each season.  I try to add my own goals to the project.  I want to stretch myself, learn something new, develop my skills.  A couple years ago, my personal challenge was to make large quilts.  That was a wonderful year and I have have a stack of great quilts to wrap around family and friends.

My challenge for the Focus Through the Prism off season challenge was to work on my piecing.  I think that the quilts I produced represent some of my best technical work.  Even better, the time and patience I exerted working on seam allowances and matching have paid off in terms of my continued improvement.

I know, you are all thinking what is up with the woman who penned that famous quilt anthem "Corners Don't Match and I Don't Care"?  Well I will always say that a finished quilt is warmer than a perfect UFO on the shelf.  If it holds together in the wash it is good enough for me.  Yes, I can hear some of your appalled voices telling me that it has to be perfect.  It has to be better.  It has to match.  And I ask those of you saying that to please revisit your first quilt.  If it was perfect (without hours and months of ripping and tearing and re-cutting) then I bow down to your superior skills.  If however, you tore your hair out making it perfect or if you had a few wonky seams here and there, remember the feeling when you finished it  It was a thrill.  You made that and wrapped your baby, or your mother or your best friend in its warmth and love  And they didn't care about the corners.

We all have to start some place.  It is far better to encourage new quilters to get to the wrap them in warmth stage.  How many would be amazing quilters have been shut down by unkind words or unnecessary rules and ripping?    So I am a firm believer in finish it up and move on, Dearie.

But I also think that working on the fundamentals is not a bad thing.  We can all use practice on those seam allowances and there is always room for improving technique...  IF you want to.   Matching seams and perfect points should be a thing to celebrate when they happen.  And if you want to make them happen more often then that is wonderful.  To each her own.  Lets all find our best path to wrap the in warmth.

oh... better step off my soapbox and tell you about this quilt.  I invoke the galloping horse rule for this one.  This was one of those 'evil' Diane challenges for me.  I did not want to make a thread quilt.  It did not help that my husband suggested it would be easy.  Just make a whole cloth quilt and do amazing quilting in bright colors of thread...  Arghhh.

So, I made a whole cloth sandwich and stared at it all week.  Finally I decided what I needed to do was practice working with the built in decorative stitches in my machine.  It would definitely take a lot of thread.  And I definitely need the practice.  It started pretty rough.  I was crooked.  The thread broke.  The fabric stuck to the foot. The satin stitches bunched.  The spacing was random.  The stitches did not look even remotely like the picture.  But, eventually, I started getting the hang of it.  I used a water soluble topper to solve the sticking and to keep the stitching crisp.  I learned to let the machine to the walking and to stop trying to guide it.  I learned which stitches I actually liked.

So while the project is far from perfect.  It is finished.  And it represents my own personal growth in sewing and patience. And that is really why I don't much care when my corners don't all match.  I'll just continue to celebrate the ones that do. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Project Quilting 7.1 Confetti Challenge

Tiny but finished.  My PQ challenge quilt "After the Party is over: Under the Couch.  It is made of black Kona and satin ribbon.  This one measures 8 x 8 inches.  It has a knife edge instead of traditional binding and is machine quilted.

Not what I started out to make but finished is always better than still in the imagination.

If you want to see all of the quilts check out Project Quilting and Challenge quilts on Facebook  and flickr or drop by Kim's blog for all the details and links. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

How Much Stuff Do I Need to Make???

As much as time and resources allow.
If you don't take it, you can't sell it.
As much as you can fit in your car.
A cash value greater than the dollar amount you want to sell.

Yes, those are the standard answers to the eternal question.  How much stock do I need to have available at a large show.  Of course you are going to make as much as you have time for.  Of course the amount of money you have available for raw materials is going to affect how much you can make. Of course it has to fit into your vehicle and you have to be able to carry it in and set it up in the time allotted.  And, of course if you want to walk out of the show with $3000 you need to walk into the show with more than $3000 worth of stock,

The next question, the real question is what does that actually mean?   How does that translate to my products at any given show?  How can I even begin to figure out what to expect to sell, how much to expect to earn?  How best can I prepare for my show?

There are several ways to estimate numbers that will help you determine what to make and bring.  I find it useful to try and estimate the maximum number of sales I can possibly make over the course of the show and work backwards from there. There are two different ways that I do that.  One is to calculate it based upon the amount of time it takes to complete a sale.  The other is based upon the number of expected attendees. Both methods give me a high end estimate of what could happen if absolutely everything is working to my advantage (weather, booth location, fit with customer base, turnout...). 

First, lets talk about the time constraint on the maximum number of sales you could make during the course of a show.  How long does it usually take you to interact with a customer from the time you first engage with them to the time you hand them their filled shopping bag and receipt? 

My sales tend to be pretty quick.  I estimate that my average sale takes 2 minutes.  That means that at the very most, I can make 30 sales per hour.  If I have help, which is a must for me at a big show that number could be as high as 60 sales per hour.  That is clearly nuts.  In addition to working with individual customers, I need to consider the logistics of moving that number of customers (plus their friends and kids) as well as an even greater number of browsers through the booth.   Taking all of those additional factors into account, my best estimate for a busy show is about 5 minutes per sale. That translates to 12 sales per hour.  Multiply the open hours of the show by this number and you get a number equal to the greatest number of sales you can possibly make during the show. 

If the time you spend with a customer is 10 minutes then you cannot expect to make more than 6 sales per hour of show.  You don't need to make enough stock to handle 20 sales per hour because you simply are not able to interact and make that many sales.  Also keep in mind that most shows are not going to have full capacity traffic so you really can't expect your maximum sales per hour over the course of entire show.  You will have rushes and down times.

One good place to look for real data is your Square sales report.  It tracks sales per hour over the course of the day.  You could use it to get all fancy and make a bell curve but we are into quick estimates around here.

If the show you are doing has huge numbers of visitors you may want to plan your layout and staffing to increase your capacity for making sales.  How can you move people through your booth?  Is there a typical bottleneck you can eliminate?  Can you bring in some one to take the money and package the goods while you move on to interacting with the next customer? Anything you can do to increase the rate at which you can make sales will increase your maximum sale potential. 

Once you know your maximum possible sales, you need to multiply it by your average items per sale.  This may even vary for different products as well.  Let's try some simplified examples here to make it easier to explain...

Maximum sales per hour 10  x 10 hours of selling time at the show = 100 sales
That is, the most sales you can physically make over the course of the show is 100.

If you sell pink widgets then you need to make 100 pink widgets.

That is pretty simple.  Particularly if you only make pink widgets.  If however you make pink widgets and blue gizmos you need to do some more estimating.

Lets say that by looking at your sales book you see that half of your customers buy pink widgets and the other half buy blue gizmos.  Then you need to make 50 pink widgets and 50 blue gizmos.

But as well all know, customers are never that simple. Some of them, let's say 10% buy a pink widget AND a blue gizmo.   That means you need to make an extra 10 of each.   If your average customer buys 3 items then you need to make 3 x 100  or 300 items to be sure you can cover the potential number of sales.  And so on.

If time and resources allow, you can make 100 of every item in your inventory to cover the potential sales at this show. Look at your receipts from previous shows or do your best to estimate what percentage of sales is represented by each item and go from there. (OK.  I know that it is a total crap shoot as to what is going to sell today versus what sold yesterday.  But most of us have a general idea of what our best sellers are.  This simply gives us place to start thinking about prepping our stock.)

Another way to figure out how many sales you might be able to make is to estimate the number of potential customers.  I do this by estimating what percentage of actual attendees end up buying from our booth.  At one show we do on a regular basis we sell to 5 - 10% of of the people who come to the show.  While that sounds pretty cool, don't get too excited it is actually a VERY small number.  For several reasons, it is an extremely high number and one I only use to estimate stock for that show.  At most shows the number of sales is to  0.5% - 1% of the show visitors.

For a 10,000 guest show that means I would expect to make between 50 and 100 sales.  (10,000 x 0.005 = 50) 

As in the first method, you take that estimate of number of maximum sales and multiply it times the number of items per sale and/or your estimate of the percentage of those for each item.

You are going to have to track and estimate your ratio of sales to attendees to get the best number for you.  If you have a niche product (i,e.targeted toward new mommas, or middle-aged men) you will have to base your estimate on the likely number of attendees that fit that description.  A show with 10,000 guests may only have 500 new mommas.  That reduces your potential customer pool to 500 but also increases your likelihood of selling to them.  You may make sales to 20% of the new mommas who visit your booth.  My products seem to sell across the board so I use the general attendance number. 

Going back to the pink widgets, if they are generally appealing then you can expect to sell them to 50 customers over the course of the show, thus you need to have at least 50 widgets made and ready to go to cover that potential.

I have to emphasize again that both of these methods give you an estimate of the BIGGEST POSSIBLE number.  Rarely are you ever going to meet or exceed that number.  You are going to have off days.  Green whatchamacallits may be the big thing at this sale and you only have 2.  The audience may not turn out.  The weather is bad.  And I can't say that I have ever done a show where the traffic was steady and at capacity for the entire time.  Yes, it can happen. Yes, we all dream of that day.  But do NOT stress out if you don't have the time and resources to make 50 pink widgets. This is where you fall back to the position of as much as you are able to make and transport.  Use these estimates as guidelines and targets.  I make them to keep myself motivated to make the extra stock when I might otherwise slack off and write a blog post or something.

Hopefully this gives you a place to start thinking about your inventory and a notion of what sort of data you might want to collect as you go about your shows. 

Update:  You can also use these numbers to estimate the amount of money you might make at a show.  Simply multiply the number of sales by your average sale dollar amount.  That is a high end estimate.  If that isn't enough to cover fees and travel costs with a tidy profit it is probably better not to apply.