Goal update!

Good morning!

I have to say that our whole “word of the year” (mortgage) thing is already way more effective than any resolution that I’ve ever made. I won’t say that it’s been smooth sailing during this first quarter of the year, but it has definitely helped us stay on track and say “no” to things that don’t move us towards our goals.

The biggest roadblock we hit was a medical thing that came up in February. Charlotte had had recurring ear infections since last December, and the pediatrician finally decided that it was time to send her to the ENT after they’d tried several rounds of antibiotics. Sadface. That lead to her having to get tubes put in her ears. Double sadface.

They did the surgery in early March and everything went great. We put our goal on hold and saved everything we could to try and avoid dipping into our emergency fund to cover our portion of the expenses. When I got the bill in the mail I was a little nervous to open it just in case we hadn’t saved enough, but we had saved almost exactly what we needed! We ended up having $100 left over to throw on the mortgage in April. I was so thankful that we were able to cash flow this “emergency” (which never felt like an emergency because we had a plan and we worked it) in one month, plus celebrate Charlotte’s birthday and prepare for Easter. It’s one of the most amazing feelings that we’ve ever had.

So here’s a recap of my first quarter goals, how they went, and how I’m moving forward into next quarter.

Goal #1: No spend January (I did this again in April–for the most part)

Recap of January:

I made it my goal not to shop for the business at all, and it yielded some decent returns.

You might remember my heart banners:

 

heart banner

These did pretty well at shows and in my shop. I kept on experimenting and looking forward, and created a bunny version for Easter that did even better. It is still selling for baby showers and nurseries! This was one of the things that I really wanted to come out of my no spend month–expanding my vision and therefore my product line.

Another side effect of not shopping in January was that I scoured the garage and the basement for vintage pieces that I had never cleaned, photographed, finished listing, etc., and actually sold a lot of pieces that I had previously been reluctant to list. This was super exciting as well–I have a tendency to buy something in the moment, decide it isn’t right for my shop, think about getting rid of it, and then ultimately hold onto it because I might “need it someday.” My no spend month helped me get over that a little bit.

For April:

I shopped a little bit, but mostly for new inventory. I found an amazing estate sale at the end of the month right in Rochester, and got some great pieces for my Etsy shop. My struggle last month was definitely the weather–by mid-April last year I had a huge pile of stuff going in the garage already for my late April shows, but no such luck this year. It was STILL snowing here in the middle of the month and I was stacking pieces all over the house in an attempt to still get work done and keep from freezing to death out in the garage.

I did get one or two warm days where I was able to get a new display piece finished using a bunch of stuff that I had laying around, so that was good.

Goal #2: Stock up my shop.

My goal was 200 listings by February 15–I didn’t actually keep track of when I met it, but I know it was later than that. The good news is that I’m there now, right?

I’m around 220 listings now and listing consistently really brought up my sales in March, which was officially my best month ever! I hit 900 sales and was able to save almost everything we needed for the tubes, which was super amazing.

For April:

Obviously my next goal is to make it to 300, but I don’t know if that will happen for this quarter. My more realistic goal is about 260, but we’ll see how it goes. I think one of the biggest things that has come out of my devotion to consistently posting new listings has been a big increase in sales.

The increase in activity in my shop has led to me making my biggest sales goal yet for my business in April (factoring in two shows, Facebook sales and Etsy sales), and the Richmond show put me beyond my target for the month, which was really exciting. The business part of things used to be really frustrating and time consuming for me because all I wanted to do was create things, but over the past few months I’ve actually begun to enjoy it a lot more, and I think it’s because I’m setting hard targets and then watching as I get really close or even beyond them each month.

Goal #3: Find new things to try.

I haven’t decided on the co-op yet. We tried a spring Junior League show at the Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township at the beginning of March, and it was really disappointing for a lot of reasons, none of which I want to get into right now. Maybe I’ll do a post on it if I can figure out whether it would be worth it or not.

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to newer Goal Digger podcast episodes though I still refer back to a lot of her early ones. I’m still loving Allie Casazza’s “The Purpose Show“–there was an amazing episode about perfectionism a few weeks ago that I’ve already listened to about 3 times. I’ve also started listening to Christy Wright’s “Business Boutique” podcast, after attending a one-day event in Grand Rapids two weeks ago. I want to do a quick post about that as soon as I’m done digesting all the great information I got.

So far, my favorite books have been Fervent and Missional Motherhood…both focused, obviously, more on faith and family than on business, but it’s all connected, right?

I’ve still been getting most of my planning, writing, and Rochester College work done in the mornings or while Charlotte is at preschool, though I’ve been sprinkling in walks with my dog and a little bit of working out, too. Starting off my day with nothing but a cup of coffee hasn’t been super effective with helping me maintain energy throughout the day (go figure, right?) so adding some physical activity has been super helpful with that. Plus, I’m super unlikely to fit that in at the end of the day…


How are your 2018 goals going? I’d love to hear about them!

 

#metrodetroitmaker Goals for 2018

Good morning girl bosses!

I love this time of year! My slow time of the year corresponds with the New Year, which makes it the perfect time for setting goals, building up inventory, and plotting out how I want the year to go (which also means planning the shows I want to do).

Yes, I said, “setting goals” not “making resolutions.” The thing I don’t like about resolutions is that they often become more like wishes rather than achievable goals. I have no idea what my New Year’s resolution was last year. I probably didn’t make one. But I also didn’t have a focus for the year like I have for this year. Wanna hear what it is?

Mortgage.

Let me back up a little. This post will eventually get around to my business goals for the year, but first I want to give you a little background on what’s going on with us and our personal goals for our lives (it’ll all make sense eventually).

When I started this business, it was to help with our debt snowball. For more on that, hop on over to Dave Ramsey’s website. His stuff is gold if you’re really ready to buckle down and tackle your finances like an adult. If you’re not into delaying gratification, driving an old car, and pretty much never eating out while you’re working his plan, you’ll probably want to stay away.

We’ve been out of debt for about two years now, and our next step has been to tackle our mortgage, but we haven’t been pounding on it like we should be. The reason is partially because I stopped paying us out what I had been so that I could build up the business a bit more—you know, investing in a better camera, a design for the shop, fancy business cards, lots of shows, etc. etc. For a little while, I was toying with the idea of really bulking up my business savings so that I could invest in renting a retail space of my own.

Fast forward to last month, when Dan and I were thinking about and planning for 2018 and doing our budget for the year (yes, the whole year. I’m a huge nerd. I can’t live without that kind of structure).

I had already decided that I wanted to pick a word for the year, and I told Dan about the idea. Looking at our budget at the priorities that we had, it was pretty easy to decide on our word.

We have an aggressive goal of paying down 33% of our mortgage by the end of this year. I say it’s aggressive because the income from my teaching job plus the set amount from Dan’s income that we’ve decided to dedicate to the mortgage will only cover about 18% as it sits right now, which means my business has to contribute an additional 15%. That’s a lot, but I know that I can do it if I stay on pace with what my business produced last year (here’s hoping that I can surpass it and contribute even more).

So how does that affect my goals for 2018?

So glad you asked.

I want to start with my goals for this quarter, which I hope to transition into each quarter (with some tweaks) as the year goes on.

Goal #1: No spend January.

That’s right. I have vowed not to darken the doors of JoAnn’s, Hobby Lobby, or my cluster of beloved thrift stores this month. AT ALL.

I’ll give you a minute to recover.

I’ll admit, this is hard for me. I get a lot of inspiration and creative energy from these places, not to mention materials for my pieces. But you know what else I get? A lot of stuff that I don’t even remember purchasing! Good stuff. Stuff that I could really use.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending my January creating pieces that I already have the materials for, and I have plenty—wreath forms, felt, fabric remnants, paint, furniture, wood scraps, card stock, notions, ribbon, dowels….the list goes on. And you know what else I have a lot of? Half started projects that I never got around to finishing! I have nine dowel lengths painted and ready to be made into fairy wands. I have at least twenty (and probably more) tea wallets already cut out and ready to iron and sew. I have a telephone bench that needs to be painted. I have a wire wreath form spray painted gold and waiting for some felt flowers. I have felt flowers that are all cut out and waiting to be put together. The list goes on and on.

And do I need to go to JoAnn’s in order to complete any of these pieces? No, I don’t.

Not only will I save time and money by not visiting these stores, but I will also be decluttering my work spaces by using up materials that I already have laying around! Just this past week I finished two pillows (the forms have been sitting there for at least 6 months) and several linen heart banners for Valentine’s day from leftover fabric from over a year ago:

heart bannerheart pillows

It’s already the 15th, and I’m feeling the withdrawals and trying to convince myself that the excuses I’m coming up with to head to the craft store are actually really good reasons for me to break my vows and buy a bunch of new stuff. So far, I’ve been able to resist, and I’m putting a lot of obstacles in my own way by making sure that I always have a project in my face that needs to be completed.

One side effect of this experiment that I didn’t anticipate was that my creativity has been engaged in a different way than it has been lately–by forcing myself to use only materials that I have, I’ve been seeing the items in my basement and garage in a whole new light, and seeing new ways to use materials without even having to browse Pinterest for inspiration. It’s been fabulous, and I can’t wait to share more of the pieces I’ve been creating lately!

Goal #2: Stock up my shop.

As I’m going through bins and boxes of materials and pieces that I’ve purchased for one project or another, I’m discovering some amazing things that I no longer need but are going to be great additions to my shop. As of writing this post, I have 113 listings in my shop, and I’m on a mission to get to 200 by the middle of February (that’s about 2.8 listings/day, which is more aggressive than I’ve ever been in the past. The number one thing that I’ve found that consistently drives people to my Etsy shop is consistent postings, so this is a really good goal for me, and one that I actually have time for right now!

Stocking my shop is always on my radar, but during slow times when I’m at least a month out from my new craft show I can really buckle down and focus on getting as much new inventory photographed and ready as possible.

Goal #3: Find new things to try.

This one is still developing. There are at least three new shows that I’m planning to apply to this quarter, and I’m also toying with the idea of renting some space inside a larger co-op type store. There are several places where I’ve thought about doing this in the past, but now there’s a new place opening in downtown Rochester, and that is almost too close not to make it worth it.

I’m still an avid Goal Digger podcast listener, and I’ve recently added The Purpose Show to my playlist, as my new podcast material. It’s a little more focused on motherhood than on small business and goals, but it’s a nice way to round myself out and make sure that I’m focusing on my family and not just on my business for the better part of the day.

I also want to add a few books to my reading list for this year that have to do with my business, and I’m hoping to start with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I haven’t come across any other business related books for the list yet, though I have TONS of fiction books that I’m hoping to get into this year.

I’m also shaking up my morning routine (I’m just now getting back into my routine of heading to Starbucks at 5 a.m. on non-preschool mornings) by adding morning pages to at least a couple of my mornings each week. I typically brain dump into my planner each week, but my planner is a bit tight on space, and my brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish which is a little overwhelming for those neat little lines and boxes. I’m hoping that doing a massive dump will help me to streamline so that I don’t overwhelm my poor little planner.


What are your goals for 2018, both personal and business related? Do they overlap at all? I’m hoping to get some of my fire back with a solid goal that will really affect our family’s life going forward into the next two years. When I started this business, that fire was there, and it fueled some major growth!

I’d love to hear from you about some of your strategies for a productive year, month, and week, too! Do you bullet journal? Use a planner? Do morning pages? How do you release all that extra “stuff” from your brain so that you can be free to concentrate fully on the most important tasks for your week?

Here’s hoping to a wonderful January and an even better 2018! Get your goals on, girl bosses!

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.

vintage suitcase

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:

IMG_6217DIY boutique suitcase displaychalkboard sign

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.

DIY suitcase diaply

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?

shelf inside suitcase display

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

 

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.

invest in business

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.

goals

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.

dream

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.

working

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

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

My Creative Entrepreneur Identity Crisis

I’ve already shared with you a very brief snapshot of my identity issues in my first post, but I really want to dive deeper into it today. The reason for this is partly because I think we all struggle with this to some extent as creative entrepreneurs, and partly because I think I might just need to get it out on paper (or screen) in order to deal with it completely.

Fun fact: I actually do a lot of writing by hand, especially my first drafts. A lot of these posts come from my own journal entries, or excerpts of them. Someone once told me that when you type words, you’re writing with your head; when you physically write them down, you’re writing with your heart.

I’m trying to avoid talking about this. Can you tell? I’ve basically been writing versions of this post in my journal for about the past four years, but I’ve been really resistant to even talk about it to anyone but Dan. So this is a bit of a leap for me–so much so that I even wrote this post in two parts, having given up on it back in June after I wrote the first part, and then coming back to it recently (but still a little while before I could bring myself to hit the “publish” button).

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I think, to some extent, I’ve always been creative. I did an exercise a little while ago that asked the question “How would most people describe you if they only had to use one word?” and I immediately wrote down “talented,” but “creative” would be a close second. I was really into art and music in high school. In college, I got into theater (incidentally, I still use a lot of the skills I learned building sets when I’m building my furniture). After Dan and I bought our house, I started to get creative with decorating it, since we were on a budget and trying to get out of debt. When people ask me to help with things like weddings or events at church, there’s almost always a creative element to what they are asking me to do, because that’s what I’m good at.

It feels hard to talk about this, though. I think so often, especially as women, we are conditioned to be humble and defer to others and say things like “oh, anyone can do that.” It’s hard for us to take pride in the things that we are good at without feeling like we are hardcore bragging on ourselves. So many times I’ve given a variation of “anyone could do that” in response to people telling me I’m talented, when the reality, when it comes to my particular vision for the furniture that I recreate, is this: someone else could do something like it, but no one could do exactly “it” because I found the piece, saw its potential, and carried out my design (sometimes through several revisions).

I think realizing that is so important to realizing your value as a creative entrepreneur and realizing that the things you as an individual have to offer to the market and to the creative community have value as well. Girl bosses, #metrodetroitmakers, no one else can do exactly what you do!

Here’s the other part of my identity crisis. As silly as it sounds (or maybe it doesn’t sound all that silly to you–if you’re reading this, maybe you feel the same way), being a creative entrepreneur doesn’t feel serious to me, especially when you compare that to being a college professor. Or a doctor, medical engineer, EMT, nurse, attorney, or executive, which I happen to be surrounded by in both my family and my husband’s family. I feel like an underachiever extraordinaire when I hang out with these people and hear about travels to Russia and Africa, emergency C-sections, rubbing elbows with Dick Cheney, or saving someone’s life with CPR and a plastic pen.

Often, I feel like a hobbyist rather than a businesswoman, especially because all I have is an online shop, an occasional weekend outdoor booth, and a garage full of broken furniture that hardly anyone sees as having any value (that is, until I finish a piece).


Note: The above all pretty much came out without a lot of self-editing–drawn from journal entries and emotions and comments that have built up over the past few years. The problem is, once I had it down, I was like “No one will ever want to read this.” So I put it away for a bit. Then early in July I came back to it.

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photo credit: Pexels

7/9/2017

None of these issues are helped at all by well-meaning comments and questions like “how’s your little business going?” or “that furniture painting thing; are you still doing that?” My business isn’t little—many months I bring in as much or more than Dan does with his “serious” finance career—but it feels little when compared with something that is easily recognized and firmly established, like a medical or law practice. Those comments and questions are part of the reason why I’ve gotten in my own way when it comes to my business, and part of the reason why I’ve held on so long to this idea of a career as a college professor when, in reality, that is looking less and less like my best option for fulfilling my career and life goals.  

Luckily, Dan is my biggest supporter, and he’s constantly telling me how much he values everything I’m doing to try and make this business work. I don’t think I’d be pursuing this seriously at all if he weren’t on board with the idea. He’s always told me that he wants to work at his job and provide everything we need so that I can do what I’m most passionate about, whether that’s teaching, running my business, or raising our family. The hardest part for me has been figuring out exactly what I want to pursue—again, partly because of my own identity issues.

As a Christian, it’s super hard not to get wrapped up in defining myself by what I do, or how much I make, or whether or not I have a white slipcover sofa like all the other home décor bloggers out there do (or at least, seem to). The thing is, when I’m in my garage, painting and listening to worship music or podcasts, or when I’m out with Charlotte, exploring the park or playing at the library, or even when I’m in front of a computer screen blogging or invoicing or lesson planning, it’s not that hard to rest in my identity in Christ. I belong to Him first and foremost, and the most important part of my identity is that I am His child.

But that’s hard to talk about (for me, anyway). It would be weird as a response to the question “what do you do?” And when I’m in my booth during the summer, or in front of the classroom in the fall and winter, or sitting around the dinner table with family, it’s the last thing on my mind. I’m trying to navigate and respond to whichever identity is uppermost in my mind at that moment, whether it’s business owner, professor, wife, or mother.

It’s really easy for me (and I think for all of us creative entrepreneurs) to think that things will be better when I make X amount of money from my creative business, or when I have X amount of followers on social media, or when I have my physical store, or…or…or…

But I’ve met goals before. Goals on Etsy, goals for inventory, goals for the number of shows I’d do in a given year. I’ve exceeded plenty of goals, too—goals for the year, goals for a particular show, goals for income in a set period of time…and exactly none of those times was my overall happiness or sense of identity in the least affected. At the end of the day, they were just numbers, or dates, or pieces finished. They were just arbitrary things. I still fall into the trap of thinking that the next goal achieved will be different, somehow, but getting all of this out on paper helps me to keep that feeling in check.

So where does that leave me in my struggle with my identity as a wife and mama, girl boss, and part-time English professor? I’m not sure. I guess my best answer is: I’m working on it. It’s funny, because in almost every other area of my life, I actually feel ok. I’m a natural introvert, and I’ve always struggled with that part of my personality—I just work better in small groups or one-on-one, and I feel a bit awkward interacting with large groups of people (unless I’m in charge, like in front of a classroom—then I’m in my element, for some reason). I’ve struggled with my body image too, and I always feel like people are judging me for being super unhealthy or unattractive. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what people think of my personal style, or the way that I parent, or the things that I believe.

I think all that has really started to change over the past couple of months. Suddenly, I’m not really thinking about everyone else so much. I’m oddly focused on what’s best for our family, what’s best for my business, and what’s best for me. What other people think seems so much more insignificant to me now than it ever has. It’s not that I don’t care at all about other people—I do. I just don’t care what they think.

Maybe that means that resolving my identity crisis when it comes to what I should “be” or “do” is right around the corner. Fingers crossed!

 

Do you struggle with the same things I do? How does your family respond to your small business, dreams, or goals? What do you see as your primary identity, and how did you get to that point? Tell me about it in the comments below—I’d love to get some more perspective on this!! As always, feel free to email me at metrodetroitmaker@gmail.com, or follow me on Instagram and use the #metrodetroitmaker to connect with the community.

Talk soon,

Jessie

Craft Show Review: St. Augustine Parish Festival

Good morning friends! As I write this, I am definitely feeling this past weekend—two different events, in two days, in two totally different areas takes its toll! I’m writing about our experience at the St. Augustine Festival in Richmond today, and next week I’ll be sharing a review of the Shed 5 Flea at Eastern Market.

St. Augustine Booth 2017

We decided to do the St. Augustine Festival back in May, and we had three reasons for signing up. The first was that we were coming off of a really good show just down the street at Junk in the Trunk, and we were thinking (since we’d never been to Richmond before) that it was a great area for our items. The second was that the booth fee was very reasonable, which is always appealing to me when I’m thinking about the third reason that I’m doing shows this summer, which is to provide resources and information about local shows and events for all of my wonderful readers!

After four years and nearly 50 events, you would have thought that I’d have learned everything there is to know about doing a craft show, but I’m so surprised at the things that I’m still learning, and this show provided some great experience. Of course, I have this sneaking suspicion that I may have already learned some of these things, but they are so much clearer now because I’m writing them down and thinking analytically about them far beyond just the moment in which they occur.

So here’s the breakdown of the St. Augustine Parish Festival Craft Show, which was held this past Saturday, August 12, 2017, from 12-6 p.m.

Price: The show only cost us $25, which, again, was a big reason for why we signed up. For that small of an investment, the festival was publicized quite well—both on Facebook and on several large signs throughout the town and on the front lawn of the parish, which is on Main Street in Richmond.

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Location: The organizers put us out on the front lawn of the church (which, incidentally, is really beautiful), for a really nice reason, they explained. They’d met us when we were in Richmond for Junk in the Trunk, and they wanted us out by the road to really attract traffic that wasn’t already flowing to the event. That’s really nice to hear, but it had an adverse effect on us in a couple of ways.

First, there was no way to bring our vehicles right up to our booth, which is pretty important for most vendors, especially those who have a lot of heavier pieces. We had to carry our items all the way from the parking lot to the front of the church, around the side of the building. There were volunteers available to help us with this, which was very nice, but I always get a little nervous handing over my pieces to someone else—just in case. That’s probably something I have to learn to let go of, right?

The second adverse effect it had on us was that the traffic was very loud. Part of this was because we were literally ten feet from the busiest road in town, and part of it was because we were also right on the corner where there was a stoplight. If a group of motorcycles or some guy with his bass up really high had to stop at the light, you couldn’t hear anything else for several seconds, which made it difficult to talk to customers during those times. As pretty as it was to be on the front lawn of the church looking up at the beautiful architecture, I would have so preferred to be in the parking lot, where nearly half of the vendors were, where it was quiet and traffic was more predictable.

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The last thing that was a little strange about it was that once we were all set up, the side of the church along the sidewalk was roped off by these colorful flags, and it had the weird effect of cutting off the flow of people near our booth and forcing customers to walk along the grass on the side of the church, which felt strange and unnecessary. It made sense to have them across the front of the lawn to let people know there was an event going on, but having them run down the side street? We had a couple of people walk by our tent on the other side of the flags and ask how they were even supposed to get into it; we responded by telling them to just hop over the banners.

Traffic: The crowds were light, and most of the people seemed to be there to shop at the very reasonably priced flea market and country store/farm market that the parish was running. We made our booth quickly with the sale of one large piece, but then for the rest of the day sales were very slow.

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Part of the reason that traffic was slow could have been that the weather was being super weird—one minute the sun was out and it was warm, the next minute the sun was behind a cloud and it was freezing, the next minute the sun was back out but it was raining, and then it would pour for a minute or two, and then the sun would come out again. It was crazy. The vintage pieces we had outside the tent must have gotten damp and then dried about four times throughout the day.

In addition, noon is a strange start time—we might have had better luck with a 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. time slot, especially since it’s usual to do most of your sales in the morning at an event like this. Apparently, services at the church started at 6 p.m., so this may have been a reason that the event was structured in the later part of the day—hoping to capitalize on that church crowd on its way in.

Especially in light of our success in April, I was surprised by some of the comments that customers made and the reactions to our prices this time around. Granted, our show in April was more vintage and antique pieces and not really crafts, so maybe it’s an unfair comparison. One customer asked for a discount on a sign as soon as he saw it, and then when I offered one,  he asked that I come down even more, stating how high my original price was. That kind of thing can be really hard to swallow, and I honestly thought about his comments for a couple of days before I was able to shake it off. It’s hard to know how to respond when something like that happens—it’s one thing to haggle over a piece that needs work or might be slightly damaged, but it’s another to ask for a discount on a finished piece (I always have trouble with the word “art”—I feel like that should apply to paintings, drawings, and sculpture—but that’s probably a discussion for another post).

That wasn’t even as blatant as the customer who came in talking very loudly about how she could do this or that herself, and about how we probably got all of our furniture for free and just marked it way up. She was particularly incensed about this headboard bench:

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She kept insisting that we must have gotten it for free and how crazy it was that we were charging $180 for it, and how easy it would be for her to make one herself. Her comments and questions were mostly directed at her mom, though she consistently made eye contact with us. Once again, it’s difficult to know how to respond, other than to offer clarification on the paint we use, the experience we have with building furniture, and the option for delivery. But this particular customer wasn’t really interested in that, so we just kind of smiled and nodded. What else can you do?


I make it a point not to leave events early, but this one was so slow by 4 p.m., and the weather was getting worse and worse, so we asked the organizers if they would mind if we called it a day. I’d been feeling sick all day anyway, and literally, all I wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed (of course, Dan was sick that weekend, too, so it was just super fun for everyone).

They were really nice about it, and once we were done packing up, my mom and I walked through the rest of the show and did a little shopping, which was nice. We should go to more events just to shop and have fun. I’m making a mental note to do that.

I’m really glad that we packed up when we did, because the two closest spaces to park (where we parked to unload in the morning) were handicapped spaces that weren’t reserved as a loading/unloading zone for breakdown—when the church service got close, parishioners parked in those two spaces for the service, and the crafters in front had to park even farther away while they broke down their booths, as we observed when leaving. The volunteers who helped carry things in the morning were nowhere to be seen, either. The set-up had been staggered that morning—they gave segments of the show different arrival times to make the whole thing smoother, but that always makes me nervous for breakdown since there’s no way to stagger that, and someone is probably going to get screwed and have to wait around forever (though it usually ends up working out in the end).

I always feel like craft shows are a little tricky in June and August, especially for smaller shows–June is graduation month and August is back to school–there’s just so much else going on. Though the St. Augustine festival was a decent enough show for what it was, I can’t see us returning next year–it just didn’t command a big enough crowd to justify the trip out there. We are still really looking forward to doing Junkstock in downtown Richmond in September–this time MI Junktiques is hosting a weekend long sale during Richmond’s fall festival, and the crowds are supposed to be very good as long as the weather holds out. Look for that review in mid-September, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions or comments for me! Thanks for reading, friends.

Talk soon,

Jessie