When I started my business at the end of last October, I rushed to get things ready to launch as soon as possible, because I knew that I could do really well in the upcoming Christmas season. For years, I’ve made polymer clay Christmas ornaments for my family members’ Christmas gifts, and selling them over Christmas seemed rather logical. So, sell I did. I sold hundreds of clay ornaments and almost as many beaded necklaces and earrings. During the Christmas season, I definitely experienced a “Christmas rush,” so much so that my husband and I never did decorate our house for the holiday. (Note to self: starting a new business by jumping feet-first into the Christmas rush was probably not a good idea!)
But even in the midst of the insanity that was our Christmas season, I was struck by the persistent question, what happens after Christmas? People love to buy ornaments in November and December. In January or July …. not so much. Where do I go from here?
My first impulse was to begin by developing my Quilted Accessories line. My first two designs in this product line, the Kindle Case and Kindle Cover, were the items that prompted me to start JennJill Designs in the first place, so throughout November and December, my plan was that, as soon as Christmas was past, I’d roll out all my purses and totes and laptop bags and ereader carriers and …. and … After all, purses are hardly seasonal items.
As many of you probably know, that didn’t happen. Not even close. The only quilted items in my shop right now are Kindle, Nook, and iPad Covers. I haven’t even listed my Kindle Case yet.
So what happened? What changed my plans? In a word: craft shows.
In 2010, I participated in exactly 2 craft shows. Neither was juried, meaning they were both full of vendors (people who re-sell items, such as Tupperware or Tastefully Simple), rather than just crafters. They were also both between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which (I’ve since discovered) is actually not a very good time for craft/vendor fairs.
(My theory is that, once the Christmas shopping season is actually underway, people are shopping from a list and are much less likely to shop at a place where they don’t know what they’ll find. Why waste precious shopping hours at a fair where I may or may not find a gift for someone on my list, when I can spend that time at the mall or shopping online, where I can be assured of finding exactly what I need?)
While neither of my craft/vendor fairs presented ideal situations, they did convince me that craft fairs are something I want to do. The excitement in the air, the people you meet, the joy of having all my lovingly created items on display at once – it’s great fun. But I knew that doing small vendor fairs, like those I’d already done, simply wouldn’t cut it. I’d have to find something bigger and something dedicated to crafts only, where people will come expecting to pay more for exquisitely crafted, high-quality goods.
Shortly after Christmas, I began combing through every event listing I could find, from forums to fair postings to lists of events attended by other crafters. Eventually, I came up with a list of 31 craft events between March and December 2011 that fit the bill: all not too far from my home in Cincinnati, all craft-only, all juried. While I’ve since winnowed down that list considerably – some are on conflicting dates – I’ll be applying to no less than 15 juried craft fairs for the year. I’m sure I won’t get into all or even most of them, but it’s wonderfully exciting to have this many possible opportunities to share my craft and my art with people who otherwise might not have any exposure to my fledgling business.
The only problem was that most of these fairs have application deadlines coming up very, very soon. (I’ve already applied to seven, and two more applications are due this week.) To apply, I have to have application materials, and the application materials that best fit the requirements of the majority of the fairs are not my quilted accessories, but rather my clay items. The wall plaques and other clay items are the most unique, most unusual, and most striking items I have in my current arsenal.
So, I’ve focused all my time and energy for the last month not on quilted items, as I’d originally planned, but on my wall plaques and clay creations in the hopes of giving myself the best possible chance of being accepted into these fairs.
The last 3 months have been a whirlwind ride. At times (not infrequently), I’ve questioned whether or not I’m doing the right thing. Maybe I should have stuck it out and stayed in the day job I didn’t like. Was it really right to neglect Christmas decorating in favor of fulfilling Christmas orders? Maybe I shouldn’t have rocked the boat by trying to start a business.
But throughout it all, I keep coming back to the joy and contentment I feel when creating something with my hands (be it music with my cello or a Christmas ornament with polymer clay), and I know that this is what I have to do. I have to give it a shot.