Craft Show Review: Ray Township Fall Festival in Ray Township, MI

Good morning friends!

I have been having a wonderful and relaxing past few weeks—I know I should really be gearing up for the winter, but it’s always hard to keep going full force once the school year begins and I’m back at Rochester College—even with reduced hours. I’m only teaching my creative writing workshop this semester, and I really couldn’t be happier. It was a struggle for me to turn down part of the schedule that I was offered, but it’s turned out to be the best thing about my fall.

After Junkstock, I didn’t have anything planned until the first weekend of October, but when we were in Richmond someone came by our booth to invite us to the Ray Township Fall Festival. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but she also happened to mention that the event was free.

That, of course, made me take a closer look. What gave me the most pause about the show was that the hours were 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and we usually have more luck selling in the early part of the day. I was nervous that we’d drive out there, set up, and then listen to crickets for four hours. I guess the reason for the later hours was that the organizers also run a farmer’s market in the early part of the day, so there was a conflict doing the festival in the morning.

I didn’t end up signing up to do the show until a few days before, but I’m glad I did. It was a relaxing event, it wasn’t too far away, and we did decent business. I also actually got some work done, so it was a win-win-win.

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Price: When I heard that the show was free, I thought two things (besides “how awesome!”):

  1. This must be the first event of this kind.
  2. They probably aren’t expecting a big turnout.

Even with those potential negatives, however, my mom still really wanted to give it a try, and since the weather was so nice and we already don’t mind driving out to that area, we decided to go for it.

I guess there’s not much else to say about the price–free is free, right?

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Location: The event was held at the Ray Township Hall and Park, and it was really a lovely little spot just north of Wolcott Mill (one of my favorite fall destinations). It’s about a half hour from my mom’s house, and forty-five minutes from mine, but again, I love driving in the country, so that’s really not a downside for me. We also really like this area because we spent a lot of time out here as a family when we were little, and because my brother and sister-in-law live out here now. It’s a really pretty part of southeast MI.

The park had a walking path and some wooded trails, which I walked a bit during the 5 o’clock hour. The event also boasted live music—the band kept busy doing covers of mostly 60’s hits, which was fun, and they had pumpkin decorating for the kids and an array of vendors that were mostly farmer’s market type things. There were also some clothing booths and Big Time, Bag Time— my mom met these ladies back in the summer at a one-day Frontier Town event and they are super sweet (and happened to be our neighbors for this show, which was fun).

 

Traffic: Nothing really started happening until after four, and then we had a few sales between four and six. We made a grand total of $50, which wasn’t bad for a free show.

Overall, traffic was slow, but steady, especially from four until six. There were a lot of folks there with their kids, getting faces and pumpkins painted and playing on the playgrounds. They had a food truck and a coffee truck, which drew in a lot of people, and probably the final number of attendees was around 200 or so.

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I managed, for the first time since 2015, probably, to get quite a few projects done during the show:

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I always go back and forth about whether to work during a show—sometimes it’s really distracting for me, and I want to just focus on the piece and not stop to talk to customers. On the other hand, sometimes they just want to stand there and watch, which means they stay in the booth longer, which means they have a greater likelihood of making a purchase.

Because they let us leave our cars parked right behind our booth setup, it worked out really well for me to get some work done that I could then just stash back in the car. We set up a blanket behind the booth and hung out back there for most of the night:

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Another great thing about this show was that it gave me a chance to work on a new display for my MI signs:

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I’ve struggled with how to display these for a while—when I first started making them, they sold really well just out in crates on the ground, but lately, people haven’t been noticing them as much (or maybe the market is just so saturated now with MI products—it’s probably a bit of both).

Dan pulled these closet doors out of the trash on our street for me a little over two years ago, and they’ve been sitting in the garage ever since. He actually recognized them when I brought him out to look at the new display the other morning.

I’m especially happy to have that out of the way and ready for the show next weekend—it’s one less thing I have to do to get ready for The Vintage Market.

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The event was put on by the Bruce Township North End Market, which, again, hosts a weekly farmer’s market every Saturday in Romeo. They invited us to come on Saturdays through October, but I think we are busy every weekend, sadly. Apparently, it’s been free all year and the other vendors that have been doing it say it’s been working out well. They don’t just have farmer’s market items, either–she said they accept a variety of vendors and items.

The Ray Township show also gave me a chance to set up and play around with the display for next weekend in my head a little bit—I have a few good ideas for how I want to set up that booth since it’s a two-day event and I put a little more time/effort into designing the booth.

Have you ever done a last minute event just because it was free or really, really cheap? How did it go? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Talk soon,

Jessie

DIY Vintage Suitcase Craft Show Display Piece

Hey friends! I’ve had so much fun with this series, and I want to shift just a little today to talk about a recent display piece that I finished for my craft show booths, upcycled from a vintage suitcase. Still in the vein of craft show how-to’s, but a little more specific, I suppose. Booth design seems like it should be a huge thing for me, but I struggle with it, especially with all of my big pieces. I just want to paint furniture and throw it in the booth (and then carry it back out)–and I don’t always think carefully about my booth or table design. I’m always trying to get better, though, and designing small elements like this suitcase display is one of them.

I’ve talked a lot about how I hate having little pieces scattered all over my furniture, and this summer I’ve been trying hard to come up with unique ways to display my smaller items so that the furniture in my booth doesn’t have to serve as a prop for my other pieces.

I really like the way that this piece helped to showcase some of my smaller items, and I’ve been positioning it right at the back of my tent in an effort to draw customers into my booth and get a conversation going. People almost always ask about the journal covers once they’ve noticed them, and it’s fun to talk about how much I love books and creating art out of old, forgotten ones. It’s rare for me to pass up a bookshelf at an estate sale without at least looking it over, and I’m a huge sucker for antique books.

It’s been a while since I’ve created a piece specifically for display—in fact I want to say that the last one I designed was almost four years ago, when I first started doing shows. I didn’t build that one—my brother did—but it was a tall lattice frame that we used to hang wreaths and signs on. I can’t remember when we stopped using it, but it might be time to figure out how to get that piece back in the rotation. I’d love to be able to display my MI signs more effectively.

Anyway, on to the DIY vintage suitcase display:

 

I picked up this handmade wooden suitcase at a killer estate sale in my mom’s neighborhood earlier this summer, and I had it for sale at a couple of vintage markets before I decided that I was going to keep it and use it for something awesome. The display I created with it worked out really well at Sterlingfest, and I was super excited for how I’d be able to use it for the rest of the year’s events, as well.

There are several small items that I make using upcycled vintage books, and I’ve been wanting to showcase them somehow for a while now, so I went in that direction with this display piece. I wanted to try and get my keychains, necklaces, journal covers, and coasters all in one spot.

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This suitcase looked like it was made in shop class or something, by M. W. H. in 1977. I was going to paint the whole thing, but I didn’t really want to cover this up, because it feels kind of special to me, and no one is really going to see this side of the display anyway. So I left the outside as is. The inside still needed to be painted eventually—I wanted it to be bright and clean so that my items would really stand out against a neutral backdrop.

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The first thing I did was attach some hooks to the top of the skinny side and to the top of an old chalkboard sign I had left over from a baby shower I styled last year. I would have just painted a chalkboard section on the inside of the suitcase lid, but it wouldn’t have been smooth enough, because the top and bottom of the suitcase was made from an old piece of paneling or something, and it has these deep grooves in it:

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I almost rethought this project when I realized that my original vision for the chalkboard section wouldn’t work, but I actually really like the fact that the chalkboard sign is a separate thing. I think it adds a little more dimension to the piece, and it’s a lot easier to change the wording of the sign mid-show if I never need to if I can just unhook the sign and leave the rest of the display set up. If the chalkboard was painted on the back of the actual suitcase, it would be a lot more awkward to try and change it (with any kind of legible writing) without laying the whole thing down flat and totally disrupting the booth.

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I put another row of hooks in a line under the chalkboard sign for the key chains and necklaces. The paneling was pretty thin, so I just screwed them in by hand. The first few poked through the front of the suitcase, so I had to feel out how far to put them in without pushing through to the other side every time. I didn’t use a ruler or anything to make the line of hooks perfectly straight, which I probably should have done, but hey, nothing’s perfect, right?

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On the deeper side, I knew I wanted to do a shelf for some of the coasters at the top, and then leave the bottom for the journal covers. I didn’t buy anything special to make the shelf—I just used a scrap piece of molding that I had sitting around on my workbench. I put a couple of screws in from the sides for that, and then I was pretty much done with putting it together the way I wanted it.

The inside needed a few coats of Old White in order to be fully covered, so that took a couple of days to dry. My garage was so full of furniture ready for Sterlingfest that I couldn’t really work on big pieces anyway, so I had to spend my time getting little things ready. I was also working like crazy on my fairy wands, if you remember.

Here’s the photo of my completed and stocked DIY Vintage Suitcase Display:

upcycled suitcase boutique display

During shows, I also prop a second chalkboard under the key chains with the individual prices of these pieces, since I don’t usually bother to tag all of my smaller items, and I add two more hooks on either edge of the inside lid for the necklaces, since the chains for those are too long to hang on the same hooks as the key rings.

I love making the vintage dictionary coasters using the large engravings of insects, flowers, and plants, but I never sell as many of those as I do the Michigan map coasters—I don’t think I’ve ever done an event where I haven’t sold out of those. I’m always on the lookout for vintage and MI maps when I go to estate sales—just another one of my obsessions, I guess.

This piece is ideal for almost everything except the coasters–that top shelf is just too small to hold anything other than two sets, so I still end up having to pile the coasters around the bottom and to the side of the display, which is mostly fine. I’m almost to the bottom of my current box of tiles, so maybe once my current inventory runs out, I’ll take a break from making them for a while so that I can figure out a better display.

Thanks for reading, friends! Have a great weekend!

Talk soon,

Jessie

 

Vintage Market Review: MI Junkstock in Richmond, MI

Hello friends! I’m excited to share my experience out in Richmond this past weekend with everyone today—after this week, I’m taking a much needed break from doing shows (for three glorious weeks!!), so I am really looking forward to that, especially after a show where I was sick the whole weekend!

I am still a little burned out this morning—not to complain, but after a weekend-long show, fighting a cold (right now I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a sinus headache), Charlotte’s first gymnastics class (which I bought a leotard for about 10 hours before the class, which was absolutely not my plan!!) and her first day of preschool on Monday, excuse me while I sit back and enjoy an hour of just sipping coffee and doing….nothing (except editing and publishing this post, that is).

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MI Junkstock was put on by Kathy of MI Junktiques in Richmond—her store is full of great painted pieces, vintage finds, and salvage items that can be turned into amazing new pieces, so if you are into DIY and don’t mind a really pretty drive through the country, you should go check her out. I haven’t tried her line of paint yet, but I’ve heard great things from Danielle of Tillie Jean Market, and I’m excited to try it the next time I’m out that way. You know me–I love, love, love Annie Sloan, but I am also a big fan of trying new paint.

We did a show with Kathy in the spring (Junk in the Trunk), and it was probably the best one-day event we’ve ever done. I honestly can’t think of a show where we sold more—it was just wall to wall people all day, and they all seemed to be looking for exactly what we had. We even had to have my dad and Dan bring out additional pieces, and sold almost everything that they brought us during the second half of the day, too. It was basically everything that you dream of for a craft show.

I signed up for Junkstock back in July during the same frenzy that led me to sign up for about six shows at once (at least one a weekend all through August), encouraged by the fact that it was being held during Richmond’s Good Old Days Festival, which was similar to Sterlingfest, minus the art show part of it and plus a couple of parades. Here’s the breakdown of how the weekend went for us:

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Price: This show was $100 for three days (I don’t know why this sign said only Friday and Saturday, because the market was open Sunday, too), which is a reasonable price for the amount of time we spent there and the placement in the show. In the vintage market section, there were about 7-8 tents selling furniture, vintage clothes/jewelry, and antiques, and then on the side street there were some direct sales vendors, crafty items, and information tents.

The hours on Friday were 1 p.m.-6 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday were 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. I think we probably could have done without the Friday hours (though it rained most of the time, which probably cut down on traffic quite a bit–if it had been nice, the Friday hours probably would have been a lot better).

I was probably the sickest I’d been during my cold–my nose was already running and my aforementioned sinus headache was at it’s absolute worst–of course, right? My mom had to work that day, so I was there by myself, and I couldn’t even make it the whole time. I had to close up the tent at 4 because I was getting soaked and I wanted to try and avoid getting any sicker.

Saturday and Sunday were both beautiful, though we probably could have opened a bit later, since the crowds from the parade didn’t start filtering back towards the market area until after noon on both days.

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Location: Richmond is a little under an hour drive from my house, but unlike the downriver shows we did in August, it’s north of us, which makes the drive automatically better, in my opinion. I’d much rather drive through the countryside than spend an hour on I-75, so I had a lot more fun doing this one. Of course, unlike all of those shows, this one was three days long, so there was a lot more driving time with this one than with the others.

MI Junktiques is in the north part of the downtown area, and the show was held in the park just east of there. We had a nice spot on the grass by the tennis courts. Like I said before, this show resembled Sterlingfest in quite a few ways—carnival food, a midway, craft/vintage show—with the added attraction of a parade and some historical buildings and demonstrations (hence “Good Old Days”). Dan and I took Charlotte out there on Saturday and she had an amazing time. The wristbands were only $20—a little cheaper than Sterlingfest—and the rides that she couldn’t do alone let one of us ride for free, instead of making us buy tickets just to go through and make sure she didn’t get stuck/injured, so that was the real money saver.

I brought the EZ-UP on Saturday and Sunday, too, so we had a similar set-up with a relaxing second tent where one of us could chill while the other one talked to customers. My mom took Charlotte on a bunch of rides at one point and Dan legit fell asleep on the blanket for a good 45 minutes. That’s how nice it was.

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Traffic: There were a ton of people at the festival—I think estimates were around 10,000, but, again, like with a lot of these shows, a good chunk of the traffic were people there to watch the parade or do the rides with their kids. Crowds were slow in the mornings and didn’t really pick up until it was almost time to close—my mom ended up staying open until 7 p.m. on Saturday night because the crowds were just starting to pick up at that time and the other vendors were hanging out, too.


Overall, this was a decent show. We made our booth partway through Saturday, but about broke even when you add up food, travel, and time. The best part of the show was how relaxed the vibe was, and how nice the weather turned out to be on Saturday and Sunday.

My biggest pet peeve was definitely about parking for the show—vendors weren’t given any kind of identification or any special place to park, and the show was so crazy that people were walking for blocks and blocks to get there. When we got there on Saturday, I ended up just blowing off the barricades and driving through a blocked off part to go and park across from the historical buildings, which was the closest I could get to our tent. It was a good thing that no one stopped me—without any kind of identification, I was afraid that we were going to get kicked right out of there. But again, it was pretty chill, so no one seemed to care.

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We were able to set up on Thursday night–I love anytime we can set up the night before– and break down pretty smoothly right after the show ended on Sunday. With such a small number of vintage market vendors, there wasn’t a big hold up getting vehicles in and out.

I should mention that the Good Old Days staff was really on top of their game, too. There was a lot of effort put into making sure that the festival goers had a good experience—there were programs detailing all of the events and times for the weekend, a special barn where the volunteers hung out and where you could get emergency services right away if you needed them, and a huge signpost that listed everything that was going on.

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As far as festivals go, especially if you’re looking for a super fun day as a family, this one would be at the top of my list–it’s late enough in the year that you don’t have to worry about the weather being super hot, there’s plenty of kid food available, the rides are reasonably priced, and there’s a ton to do.

From a vendor perspective, I’m not sure that we’ll do this one again–if I were going to choose between doing the Peachfest in Romeo and doing this show again next year, I’d probably pick the Peachfest (even though it always falls on the weekend of my wedding anniversary). For the Romeo show, people come expecting to shop, whereas at the Junkstock show, it really seemed like the bigger draw was the rides and food.

What did you think of Good Old Days? And what are your favorite September shows to do? I’m very intrigued by the DIY Street Fair in Ferndale coming up the 22-24, and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on being there as a shopper (I’m really looking forward to picking up a few things for my October favorites post as well). There’s also a show at the Canturbury Village next weekend that I’m hoping to go check out. Danielle will be there with Tillie Jean Market in case you’re interested in shopping for some amazing furniture and decor pieces!

Have a great week everyone!

Talk soon,

Jessie

How to Deal When an Event Isn’t Going Well

Hey friends! Today I’m sharing a not so fun post in my craft show tips series, about how to deal when an event doesn’t go so well. These are always hard to go through, and maybe even harder to talk about, but hopefully we can all work through those hard events together and learn a little something from each other about how to deal.

I won’t propose to be an expert about how to deal when events don’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’ve have my fair share of days when the morning goes really slow and I just sit down in my chair, open a book, and call it a day at 11:45 a.m., when there are still three or four hours left in the event. My most vivid memory of that happening is at a Chippewa Valley spring fundraiser a few years ago—it was the first nice day of the summer, and no one in Michigan wanted to be doing anything inside that day (including me, actually).

But even though I’m not an expert, I will share the things that I try to do and keep in perspective when I’m at a slow show. It can be really frustrating to go into an event with really high hopes, just to discover that nothing is going to happen that day, or that weekend, or at least not happen the way that you hoped. I’m not going to pretend that doing any of these things will take that frustration away, because they won’t, but I at least try to practice these things and bring something positive out of what would otherwise be a “wasted” show.

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Plan and Reflect

Writing for this blog has helped me a lot, even over the past few months, with reflecting on how events went and how my expectations might have been out of line with reality. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing a notebook with me and making little observations about shows throughout the day so that I don’t forget the little details of the show (again, mostly for the benefit of this blog), and I wish I’d been keeping that kind of a journal for longer.

Even though I’ve been experimenting a lot this year with different shows and branching out into doing events with new promoters, I have been trying to do a bit more research into the events that I’m signing up for, which is a lot different than how I used to do things. When I first started out, I was very susceptible to promoters who would walk into our booth at a show and say things like “I’m doing an event next month and I love your booth. You’d be a perfect fit! Do you want to join us?” It’s always nice to be wanted, and I did a lot of shows back then that were terrible, because I just went with that feeling and signed up basically on the spot.

Things are a lot different now than they even were four years ago, too—Facebook is a huge way that I do research for my shows, and the event page for a show is usually a pretty reliable way to gauge the projected traffic and figure out if an event is worth doing or not (of course, it’s not an exact science).

When I’m at a show, and it’s slow, I tend to have a lot of time to reflect, because I really resist pulling out my phone when I’m in the booth, other than to check the weather or make a quick Instagram post about the event. I like to disconnect for that time and just be alone with my thoughts, which can be hard, especially if I’m super frustrated. On the other hand, that “quiet” time has also been the source of some good ideas for the blog and for new projects that I want to start.

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Set Goals

I did this at the Saline show first thing. Communication had been rough, the show was misrepresented, and I was feeling like not much was going to happen for me that day, especially after I sold my first piece (the only chalk painted piece I had and the one that fit in best for that particular show).

So I set myself a goal—I wanted to make 10 sales that day. That might seem like a lot, but I was expecting to do even better than that when I first signed up for the show, so I was really lowering my expectations. Now, I think I know what you’re thinking—what good is setting a goal when traffic is slow and you have a bleak outlook about what you’re going to do that day?

If I hadn’t set that goal, I might have just sat down in my chair to stew and read and mentally check out of the whole deal. But having that goal forced me to stand in the middle of my booth, to greet the people that walked by, to talk to those who came in even more (I always ask if they are looking for anything in particular and if I can answer any questions), and to offer prices on things that people were eyeing or picking up so that they didn’t have to look at the tags.

The longer someone stays in your booth and the more you talk to them, the more likely they are to buy something. And if I was sitting down in my chair not greeting people or talking to them or drawing them into the booth, I wouldn’t have made half the sales I did. Having the goal of 10 sales really helped me to stay positive and keep my head in the game. And guess what? It worked. I actually exceeded my goal and made 11 sales (I might have beat it by even more if it hadn’t started raining at 2:30). Again, I don’t always make my goal (see the Shed 5 post), but it really helps me to stay motivated, positive, and on task during the event if I have a clear vision laid out for what I want to accomplish that day.

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Dream

I have to be really careful with this one because dreams often turn into thoughts like “when I have my store I won’t have to worry about [insert show-related concern—like rain, for example—here]…” It’s easy to think about what I won’t have to worry about and see that “obviously” things will be much easier *when* I have my store, but in that moment I’m not thinking about how difficult it will be to deal with increased overhead, employees, the stress of running a retail store, etc. etc.

But if I can avoid getting entrenched in that line of thought, dreaming about the future is probably my best defense against a slow show. I’m doing these events for multiple purposes, after all, and everything I’m doing, even at a slow show, is moving me towards that goal. Making money only seems like the most important part, but other really valuable things are happening, too—I’m expanding my client base, getting exposure, building my email list, and meeting new artists. All of these things fit into my dream in some way, shape, or form, and keeping that in perspective and being positive about the future really helps when things aren’t as positive as they could be in the present.

Talk to Customers

I mentioned this already in the setting goals paragraph, but it’s so important that I’ll mention it again. People will stay in your booth longer if you actually talk to them, and the longer they stay in your booth, the more likely they are to buy something from you.

It’s hard for me to always remember my prices for everything from show to show, so as I’m setting up, I try to look over the tags so that I can just offer prices as people are shopping. Sometimes tags get lost or ripped anyway, so it’s always good to offer so that the customers aren’t searching around looking for the tags on everything.

If they seem interested or comment about how they love the style of the pieces, I tell them about the paint I use and how much I love it. If it’s a newer piece, I tell them that it might feel a little tacky (especially if it’s a hot day) because the wax hasn’t cured yet, and I let them know that it will just take a little time for that particular texture to go away.

Sometimes they will tell me that they’ve tried a certain paint or technique, and I’ll ask them more about that—I’m always interested in learning more about other paints and products anyway, and I almost always ask them where their favorite place to bargain shop is—I’ve found several great new sources for furniture that way, which is always fun.

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Work on Your Email List

I put my email list front and center in my booth, and if someone comes into the booth and has a positive reaction to my pieces, I always direct them to sign up. I send a newsletter once a month, so they don’t get totally spammed with useless emails, and I let them know where I’ll be in the coming weeks, what I’m working on, how to contact me, and any other news that I have.

I’ve talked about how important my email list is in a previous post, and I love Jenna Kutcher’s podcast episode on why this is such an important aspect of small business ownership—if you want a refresher on why email lists are so awesome, check out those two places for more info.


How do you deal when an event doesn’t go as planned? Like I said, I am nowhere near the point where I am able to keep it all in perspective, and I have those moments of utter fear and despair that I will ever have a good event again at times, but I’m always trying and learning and figuring it out fresh. Leave a note in the comments about how you deal with slow shows to let me know your tips and tricks!

Talk soon,

Jessie

Vintage Market Review: Finder’s Keeper’s in Belleville, MI

Good morning ladies! Today I’m reviewing our last official summer show, the Finder’s Keeper’s Vintage Market in Belleville, MI. This show was held at the Wayne County Fairgrounds, which was a great venue for this type of event, and we had a pretty nice day weather-wise as well—it’s been cool here for a Michigan August (about which you will hear no complaints from me!!), and the shows have been nice and mild this month.

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This show was a great mix of DIY, antique and redone pieces (in the furniture category anyway), and I brought a mix for my booth as well. My expectations were about what they were for the Shed 5 show—I had some pretty high hopes, and while we did better at Finder’s Keeper’s than we did in Eastern Market, our booth wasn’t nearly as busy as I’d hoped it would be, though the traffic overall was great in the morning.

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Price: The normal price for this show would have been $125, but I went through a frenzy of signing up for August shows in mid-July, and I was too late to get in at that price and had to pay an extra $25. Definitely on the high end for a one-day vintage market, and on top of that, they charge customers $5/head at the gates, which seems like a lot to me.

From a customer’s point of view, I’m not sure it’s worth that much—the variety of the booths and food trucks is pretty much the same as it was two weekends ago in Brownstown (there were a lot of repeat vendors from that show, actually), and Brownstown was free. I’m guessing that Finder’s Keepers had to charge admission to help pay for the venue and staff (which there were a lot of, I’ll admit), but again, it didn’t seem worth it.

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From a vendor’s perspective, I’m always uncertain of the effect that an admission fee has on sales. On the one hand, I would expect that if you’re going to pay just to get into the show, you’re going to be serious about shopping, but on the other hand, it’s also pretty cheap for an hour or so just to walk around and get inspiration. Plus, since you’ve already spent money to get in, you might be more careful about what you’re going to spend on purchases…again, I have no idea how that all actually works, but that admission fee has got to have an effect somehow or another, right?

There wasn’t a ton of advertising as far as signs along the route towards the show, and I don’t know how much was done outside of social media for this one. The market seems to have a large following, so I didn’t worry about it too much, but again, for such a high fee, it seems like there should be some extra promotion going on.

Side note: another slightly annoying thing was that they held my check for weeks before cashing it, which I don’t understand and is always a little irritating. I mailed the check the first week of August, and they didn’t cash it until after the show. I don’t know if that’s a normal policy, but if it is, it’s really inconvenient.

Location: The fairgrounds were easy to get to—pretty much right off of I-94, and they had the market set up with a petting zoo and pony rides on one side, and a food court, stage, and food truck fleet on the other. There were three rows of tents packed pretty tightly into the main space, however, and with all the room at the fairgrounds, it really seemed like they could have spread the show out a bit more to make loading and unloading much less stressful and congested. Getting out wasn’t a huge problem for us, since we got in right away, but we had to wait for a bit when we got there in the morning, even given the fact that at least half of the tents were already set up, and appeared as if they’d been so since the night before. There were a lot of campers set up on the other side of the barns where the food court was, and it seemed like the market had allowed quite a few people to come and set up the night before. This option wasn’t made clear on the contract, which stated that set-up wouldn’t begin until 7 a.m. the day of the event.

Overall communication wasn’t that great. I filled out a preliminary application on their website, after which they sent me an email with the contract attached. That was pretty much it. They did not email me to confirm acceptance or that they had received my check, and since they didn’t even cash it until after the show, I couldn’t tell whether I was accepted or not that way, either. I also never got any reminders or information the week of the show, which I would assume would be standard for an event this big. The only thing they did was post a map of the show on the Facebook event—I found my name and booth number on that map three or four days before the event. I know what you’re thinking: “if you were that stressed out about it, why not email them?” I probably should have. Next time.

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Traffic: The morning traffic was a little lighter than I’d expected, but busy enough. We made a few sales right away, but then it dropped off considerably and never really recovered. Again, I’d brought mostly big pieces, and we didn’t sell a single thing that was priced higher than $50. People were negotiating, too, and asking for steep discounts (one customer offered $10 on a window that I had priced at $25!). This, of course, makes me think that my prices were too high, and they might have been for that market. There were quite a few booths that were almost giving things away—the same furniture vendor from Saline was there with her insane prices (once again, I was tempted to buy several of her pieces)!!

After 1 p.m., traffic was barely a trickle, and my mom and I took turns walking around and shopping. It’s my birthday week, and I’m already thinking ahead to future Friday favorites posts and to Christmas and some birthdays of friends that I have coming up, so I was in the mood to shop a little.


There were indoor restrooms here, and plenty of volunteers to help us unload. They came around to all the vendors with big pieces and let us know that there was a cart available for customers to move large pieces from the show area to the parking lot, and one lady who bought a coffee table from us took advantage of that, which was a nice bonus for us and for the customer.

There was live music as well, and it was nice because the band was inside one of the barns, and even if you were close to where the stage was, it wasn’t so loud outside that you couldn’t hear your customers, because the barn contained the sound pretty well.

I don’t know how many more of these downriver shows that we will do—I would like to try the Plymouth show in the spring, and possibly go back to Brownstown, but this particular market didn’t really do it for me. Doing a show for the first time is always hard—we almost always do better the second time around than we do the first, with just a couple of exceptions. It’s always a learning curve in a new area, and it’s hard to know what kinds of things will do really well and what things will flop.

With the exception of Shed 5, I think the reason these August shows were so slow is partly due to the fact that it is August and partly because I just didn’t have the right mix of pieces. June, July, and August are always pretty slow months in my experience, but I know the right shows for those months are out there. We’ve found one good one in July–we’ve never had a bad year at Sterlingfest–and I’m looking forward to finding a few more shows this fall that will stay on our calendar for good.

Here are some shows I’m looking forward to attending or applying to this fall/winter:

Junkstock, Richmond, September 8-10

Michigan Antique Festival, Midland, MI, September 23-24

Hocus Pocus, Monroe, October 7-8

Detroit Urban Craft Fair, Detroit, Dec 1-3

Faith Christmas Gala, Shelby Township, December 5

My schedule is a little light right now, but I’m looking for a few more quick shows to add in there–I’d like to do at least two in November. There’s a small show in Auburn Hills that I’m considering, and a few more that are rattling around in my brain that I can’t think of right now. Fall is my favorite favorite season, so I love to be out and about during it!

What shows are you doing this fall? Have you done a Finder’s Keeper’s market? How did it go? Leave your questions and comments below, and have a great week!

Talk soon,

Jessie

 

 

6 Tips for Shopping Estate Sales

I love estate sales. I won’t go as far as to say that I’ve nearly been in an accident swerving in response to a little fluorescent sign on the side of the road, but I’ve been close. There. My secret is out. It probably isn’t much of a secret that a person who redoes furniture loves estate sales anyway.

Today I want to share my top tips for shopping estate sales. Even though I mostly shop for furniture, primitives, and antiques, I think these tips should be useful to anyone who is interested in finding great deals–in addition to items for my business, I’ve purchased so many things for my home and garden for so much less than retail–usually in perfect condition! So here are my tips if you’re just getting started:

1. Be Nice: I was at an Integrity estate sale in June where a guy was trying to get a bargain on one of those metal windmills that people put in their backyards. It was pretty big—probably 8 or 10 feet tall, and in pretty good condition. Integrity was asking $100 for it, which I thought was pretty reasonable. On top of that, the folks running the sale were saying “everything is negotiable today” to everyone who walked in. It was the afternoon of the middle day of the sale, when you’re likely to get things at 25%-30% off (the final day of the sale things are usually 50% off, and in the final hours of the sale you can really start asking for deep discounts).

I was out in the yard when the guy went over, looked at the windmill, and remarked to his friend that it was way overpriced, even at 50% off (which, by the way, no one had offered him). So he went back inside and I thought that was the end of it. My mom and I shopped around a little more—this sale was packed, so we made a pretty big stack of stuff—and then went to check out. As we were going through everything, one of the ladies with Integrity Estate Sales came back into the house looking frazzled, and announced that everything was now 50% off. We may have done a little arm pump in celebration.

The same lady was holding the door for us as we were making our multiple trips in and out and then followed us out to the driveway as we were loading things onto this vintage wagon we picked up:

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Isn’t it the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen? No? Well I don’t have any pictures of puppies or kittens, so just go with me.

Anyway, the door lady told us that she had wanted to give us 50% off all along (my mom had already stopped by and bought a bunch of stuff earlier in the day), but that she was waiting for grumpy windmill guy to leave, because he was being a jerk about the price and trying to get them to basically give it away. She waited on purpose for him to leave! I was a little surprised that she was sharing this with us, but I probably shouldn’t have been. It pays to be nice, friends. I’m not above haggling with people, but there’s an appropriate way to do it, which includes either walking away or paying their price if they say no. It’s their job to run these sales for their company and their customers, and being super rude just because it seems like the price won’t affect them isn’t going to get anyone what they want, least of all you. In fact, you’ll likely be sabotaging yourself, like this guy did.

2. Build Relationships: This takes being nice a step further. While my particular situation might not apply to everyone, I’m going to share it anyway. I go to a lot of estate sales. Like, four or five a week during the summer. I see a lot of the same people over and over. It has paid off to learn people’s names, remember certain epic sales, and even dig a little deeper into their lives. There’s a guy who works for Action Estate Sales that had a baby a little bit after I did, and he still remembers talking to me in line at a barn sale when Charlotte was so little that she was still in the baby Bjorn. I remember his son’s name and ask how he’s doing, and he gives me good deals, even on the earlier days when the same deals aren’t offered by a sign on the wall.

Putting this all out on paper (or the screen) like this might make it seem like I formed this relationship so that I could get something out of it, but the truth is that it actually just formed as I practiced being nice and asking genuine questions about this guy’s life instead of just badgering him for a lower price until he was practically paying me to take stuff. People are nicer to nice people, and you’re standing there waiting for them to make change anyway. It doesn’t hurt to be friendly and admit that yes, this is the 17th time you’ve seen them this summer. Making new friends is a good thing!

3. Ask for Deals: I know this makes some people uncomfortable, and honestly, it made me uncomfortable too at first! It really does take some practice to get the hang of asking for discounts at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

First, let’s address the appropriate time. Unless it’s a large piece and you know for sure that it’s at the top end of the spectrum when it comes to being reasonably priced, I would never ask for a discount on the first day of the sale. As a matter of fact, I rarely go to estate sales on the first day of the sale unless it’s something that I really want and I’m prepared to get there early, stand in line, pay the asking price, and muscle through the crowd to make a beeline to whatever it is I want. A lot of estate sales line up hours before the start time, and in the first couple of hours of the sale, they only let so many people in at a time. I like to avoid crowds (you’ll never see me out on Black Friday for example), so unless it’s something special, I generally wait until the end of the second day to go.

Now for the appropriate way to ask for discounts. I’m sure there are any number of ways that people go about politely asking for a discount at these things. I’ve certainly heard a lot of different approaches. The one that I use, and  that I feel the most comfortable with is:

“What’s your best price on the…”

Trust me, the folks who run these sales expect customers to ask for discounts. There is nothing rude about it (unless you’re rude). At the end of the day, the estate and the estate sale company are still going to make more money if they sell an item a little cheaper than if they don’t sell it at all. Generally, especially after the halfway point in the sale, people are going to come down on (even already discounted) items at least a little.

One last pro tip: I love going to sales that are packed with stuff—again, I go on the last day, select what I want and make a big pile near the cashier (these sales usually have a holding area for larger items, so you don’t have to try and carry everything around), and then we add it all up at the end, subtract the discount (usually at least 50% on the last day), and then I still almost always ask if they can take another $10-$20 off, which they usually do. Again, this kind of thing takes practice to get totally comfortable with. I started small figuring out my estate sale strategy, and now all these things are basically second nature.

I will say that I don’t always ask for discounts. With the companies I don’t mind, but when it’s a private sale and I know I’m already getting a really good deal on something (companies are a lot better about knowing the value of certain things than sales that are run by individuals or families), I don’t generally ask for a discount. I bought two amazing dressers at a private sale earlier this summer for $25 each—they probably would have been priced at $100 each, at least, at a company sale—and I didn’t ask for a discount on those. That was a living estate sale, where the ladies were downsizing their mother’s things so that she could move into an assisted living facility, and once I know something like that, I just don’t feel right asking for more money off of something that is already basically a steal. Again, you have to kind of feel it out and decide how you want to approach asking (or not asking) for a discount in some situations.

4. Look High/Look Low: Last month I snagged two things in a garage at an estate sale that had several people saying “where’d you find that? I would have bought it!” as I was walking to the car. That actually happens to me a lot. Have you ever heard the thing about how companies pay more for product placement in the grocery store to get their stuff on eye level shelves because the consumer scans those shelves way more often than looking down to the shelves below or up to those above, even if doing that extra scan might save them a couple of bucks?

Doing that extra scan at an estate sale will find you some awesome stuff. One of the first things I saw in that garage was a long, primitive hinged wood box on the floor at the very back. I think something may have been on top of it, but I don’t remember for sure. That box was the first thing that went in my pile. Another item that had people lamenting as I left was a chippy carpenter’s stool that was over in the corner of the garage, holding up a box fan that the estate sale company had set up to get some airflow going in the garage (it was a little musty in there). I think a lot of people just walked by and assumed that the stool wasn’t for sale, since it was being used in that way, but there was a price sticker on it, and I asked as soon as I saw it if I could move the fan and take the stool. I would show you a photo, but it sold in Saline, and I never got a good picture of it. 

I typically do two passes at the sales that I go to. The first one I grab anything that obviously has to come with me and stash it in my pile, making sure to look underneath tables, on top of cabinets and shelves, and behind and around any bigger pieces that might have treasures hiding in back of them. On the second pass, I tend to go more slowly, contemplating bigger pieces and examining the questionable ones closely. Waiting on some things until the second pass gives me time to really think about whether I can fix/sell that item, whether it really fits with my brand, and whether I’ll regret buying it in a few months.

5. Shop Strategically: I’ve already touched on this a little bit, but I’ll do a quick recap of my strategy. Depending on what you’re into and what kind of work you do, you’ll develop your own strategy as you go along doing this estate sale thing. Hopefully you’ll only have to develop a strategy for looking for one type of thing (say, furniture). I’m constantly looking for primitives, small vintage pieces for my Etsy shop, craft items, and solid, quality furniture to redo…it gets a little exhausting (but still fun!).

As I said before, I rarely go on the first day of a sale unless I see something in the pictures that I really want that will probably go fast. For example, I’ve been looking for a telephone bench to redo this summer—I almost always have at least one for Sterlingfest—but I haven’t found one anywhere! That is an item that might bring me to a sale on the first day as they seem to be really popular right now.

Typically, I like to find a packed sale and wait until the very end of the second day, when it’s likely that I can ask for last day discounts a little early, without dealing with the last day scavengers.

I use estatesales.net to find the sales that I want to go to—when I know I’ll be in town for any given weekend and I’m not doing a show (or sometime even if I am), I’ll go through the site on Monday or Tuesday that week and write down the sales that I’m interested in. I try to find at least two or three on the site (then, as I’m driving around, I look for private sales that may not have been listed online). I look for a mix of old and new in the photos, a little heavier on the old. If a sale is 80% or more new stuff, I usually won’t bother. It’s just not likely that anything I’d be really interested in will still be there at the end of the second or third day. On the other hand, if the sale is really heavy on older pieces, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the best deals there. Sure, the prices will be better than they would at an antique store, but not as good as at a typical sale. Again, those sales might tempt me if there’s something really cool (I went to one in May that had a letterpress cabinet that I really wanted but knew I wouldn’t buy because it would be too expensive—I did buy a few other things, though), but I go to them more to enjoy looking at the pieces than with a serious intent to buy (at least for now).

6. Avoid Impulse Buys/Examine Pieces Closely: Guys, there have been many times when I saw a piece from afar (or a few feet away—usually when my hands are full of other treasures) and fell in love with it, especially after seeing the price. Embarrassingly, this just happened to me the other day—I was walking out of the Utica Antiques Market, had my hands full, saw a Victorian corner chair for only $20!!!!  and bought it without even touching it. Once again, I’d show you a photo, but it’s already gone.

Sometimes this turns out fine, but often, the piece ends up having structural flaws, a smell, or some other issues. My Victorian chair was super wobbly on the top—it needed a lot of extra loving to get it to a piece that I could re-imagine. I bought it to redo and resell, but once I got it home, I discovered that it wouldn’t really be worth the trouble. If it was a piece I was doing for myself, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but the time it would have taken me to really make it an awesome piece for my booth wouldn’t have been worth it, so I let it go as it was on Facebook, which made me a little sad. 

This whole story has a point, I promise. Examine the pieces that you buy! Sit on chairs, test the wobble factor, smell upholstery, open and close drawers—make sure that piece is solid before you invest in it, even it’s only $20.


Do you have any estate sale shopping tips to share? What is your best strategy for asking for deals? Which impulse buys have worked (and which haven’t)? Do you have any horror stories of rude customers making a scene while you’ve been shopping? Let me know in the comments below, email me at metrodetroitmaker@gmail.com, and connect with the community on Instagram using the #metrodetoitmaker!

Thanks for reading, friends. Talk soon,

Jessie

Meet Your Maker: Introducing Rita Van Scyoc of Crafty Life in Style

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Good morning friends! Today I’m talking with Rita of Crafty Life in Style, a wonderful creative small business owner who does events all over metro Detroit. I first found her on Instagram when she was the only other person using the #metrodetroitmaker, and we met for the first time in person just yesterday at the Shed 5 Flea in Eastern Market (stay tuned for my review of that event next week). Her best friend is definitely on point in describing her as fun, and I love the spirit of support that she has for small, creative business. I can’t wait to get to know her better as we continue to do events together as furniture vendors and creatives. Read on for more about Rita and her husband Bill, and Crafty Life in Style!

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mdm: Let’s start off with the dreaded question. What do you do?

Rita: Hello! First off, I wear many hats! I’ve been married 27 wonderful years to Bill! I am a spouse, wife, mother and friend to many! I’ve worked full time in Program Management for the past 17 years and I’m looking forward to retiring in the next 3 years to do what I love…CREATE!”

mdm: How did you get started doing what you’re doing?

Rita: I’ve always had a flair for creative things and enjoy home decorating. A few years back, I began an endeavor with another business partner and well, things just didn’t work out. My husband Bill was involved in the business and after circumstances changed, Crafty Life In Style became our baby, our passion!

mdm: Why do you do what you?

Rita: There are many reasons I do what I do…the main one is CREATING, making things, crafting décor and gifts that bring joy and happiness to others. I love taking things that have been discarded or thrown away and breathing new life into them, whether through upcycling (putting old and new objects together) or creating something entirely new. Crafty Life In Style has 2 sides. One is creating gifts and helping our customers get the perfect unique gifts for their gift giving occasion. The second is up-cycling vintage wood furniture by either painting or refinishing/staining. We also create seasonal items of home decor that tie in with our furniture remakes. My husband Bill is a woodworker, he repairs and refinishes furniture but also has awesome furniture building skills. He has been retired for 4 years now and I’m so appreciative of the blending of our creative skills! Our biggest challenge is that I’m still working 9-5! Crafty Life In Style is doing well now, and I can only imagine what it would be if I could consistently devote more time to our business. We are working hard to get to the time when we can solely do what we love full time!

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mdm: What does your typical day look like?

Rita: There are no typical days! For the most part, I get up and work 9-5. During that time Bill works on scheduled projects and has certain things done by the time I get home from work. Then, I work and put my touch on and finish projects he prepared for me. Oh don’t worry, we have many late nights and burning the midnight oil before shows/markets! Sometimes things do not go as planned, but that’s life! We keep on going to the next big thing on our horizon.

mdm: Do you have a dedicated work space? What is it like? How is it different from your ideal work space?   

Rita: Well, we have 2 work spaces, the wood shop and then the basement. Our office desk has turned into my work space. It’s not ideal, but it works for now. In the future our retirement home will have everything we need and then some!

mdm: What is one short-term goal that you have?

Rita: One short term goal I have is to build inventory. It’s been tough prepping for shows/markets and keeping 2 stores full with our products.

mdm: What is one long-term goal that you have? 

Rita: The main long term goal I have is to get my bills paid off, so I can build more of retirement nest egg!

mdm: How do you go about setting goals for yourself?

Rita: I’m not a put down on paper type of goal setter, but I do have a paper calendar that I write everything down in. It’s my life line. It’s like a map of where we’ve been and where we are going to.

mdm: What is your favorite part of being a creative entrepreneur?

Rita: I love seeing our customers reactions to our products! I love hearing how much they love them or how much the person they gave the gift to loved it. We hear all the time how unique our products are and how well made/finished they are. Brings joy to my heart!
mdm: What has been your most successful product, post, event, strategy, or interaction? How do you celebrate your successes?

Rita: One of our most successful events this year has been the Armada Lavender Fest, just recently held this past July. It was a three day event at Blake’s Farms. We had a steady stream of customers, loved seeing and hearing everyone’s reactions to our display. We actually sold out of all our furniture pieces except one! I would definitely say that it was a successful event. Part of that success was due to the constant promoting the event coordinators did as well as our own promotions on Instagram. We constantly are promoting events we will be at throughout the year. To celebrate, Bill and I took a short break from creating and headed out to Saugatuck for a little getaway! It’s always good to get away and recharge those creative juices!

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mdm: What was the least successful product, post, event, strategy, or interaction? What did you learn?

Rita: I’ve had to refrain from doing smaller events with lesser known promoters. Our strategy before was to fill our calendar with many events. This has not been a great strategy; it’s actually very stressful. We now know that with the right events for your product, more isn’t better. We are more discerning now, and do the events that are the right fit for the customers attending.

mdm: What is your top piece of advice for a #metrodetroitmaker just starting out who does what you do?

Rita: I would say, have a plan. Network with other makers and creative small businesses, you can learn a lot from what others have done before you. We have such a network of fellow makers, we all support each other in our businesses. Also, I rarely go to retail stores; always shop with a fellow creative maker!

mdm: What is something that scares or intimidates you about being a creative entrepreneur?

Rita: Ahh! I’m always afraid that people will not like our creations! Which is totally unfounded! We try to get ideas from our followers through surveys or we listen to their comments while they shop our booths.

mdm: What is something that inspires you?

Rita: Nature! Thrift shopping, antique hunting, picking! I love finding great pieces and then formulating my plan for up-cycling even before it hits the back of our van!

mdm: How would your best friend describe you in one word?

Rita: Fun!

mdm: You have one hour of “me” time, and, miraculously, every goal you’ve set in your business for that day is complete. What do you do?  

Rita: Get a pedicure!

mdm: What is one thing that you wish you could tell every customer, reader, or student of yours about?

Rita: Do what makes YOU happy!

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mdm: What is the question that you are asked most often in your creative business?

Rita: How do you come up with ideas to create things? or How do you do that (make certain items)?

mdm: Where are you online (or what events do you have coming up)?

Rita: We are on Facebook and Instagram and have our own website as well.

Our next event is September 17th: The Finders Keepers Vintage Market at the Chelsea Community Fairground in Chelsea, MI.

You can also find our products in Royal Oak at Made in the Mitten and in Roscommon at Made Up North.

mdm: What is the best way to get in touch with you?

Rita: Text or call/ 313-815-2535 or message through Facebook.


Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you enjoyed meeting Rita as much as I did! Click here to read last week’s Meet Your Maker, and feel free to leave any comments below!

Talk soon,

Jessie