Saturday, February 20, 2010

Failing Big

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

-- Theodore Roosevelt

This week was my first experience as a vendor at a show. Christine and I had a booth at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo in Tampa, Florida. Here are some shots of our booth:

Here's Christine behind the table, wearing one of our "gwyn hug" shirts, embroidered by Lori (Girls in the Garden).

The cards were included in the New and Noteworthy section of one of the Threads magazines, and we had the blurb framed and on display.

My favorite bit was our cartoon banner. It got a lot of smiles. :)

So, let's get the bad news out of the way. We didn't sell anywhere near enough sets of cards to even cover the booth fee, never mind all of the other expenses that went into going to the Expo. Truthfully, it was pretty discouraging. There were a lot of quilters there, who weren't interested in garment sewing. I still believe that the cards are a good idea, but I'm pretty disheartened regarding my ability to manage a small business. I really lost a lot of money... :(

(Don't get me wrong - my husband and I each have full time jobs. It's not like our mortgage is in jeopardy or anything. You don't need to worry about us - we're fine.)

Now, to the fun and interesting stuff. First, we met some of the nicest people! The other vendors at the Expo were especially wonderful! The ones with the booths around us took us under their wings and gave us lots of pointers and advice. Wendy has her own sewing center in Ft. Myers, Sewing Boutique, where she sells machines and teaches sewing and quilting classes. She had the Tin Lizzy booth - demonstrating a free-arm quilting machine. Trisha and her husband, of Salem Manufacturing Company, sell cutting mats and templates made right here in the USA. And Teri's booth, Thread & More, was a treaure chest of notions and gadgets for sewers and quilters. They all made us feel immediately part of a family. :)

There was also some interesting behind-the-scenes drama. A major chain sewing store was there, and the rumor was that they had worked a deal with the show producers and hadn't had to pay for their combined SIX booth spaces. They were offering most of their merchandise at a 40% discount, undercutting the small business owners and taking away a lot of their business. All of the vendors that we met were really upset about it. A mini-version of what is going on everywhere, I guess... :(

All in all, it was quite an experience. I think it's going to take me some time to process the lessons I've learned and regroup and figure out how to proceed from here... But I'll never forget the kindnesses that the other vendors showed us. They are special people and I wish them all the best! :)


Lori said...

Sorry about the sales of your product. Remember it is your first show and how much you have learned from that show. Now get some rest, I am sure you are exhausted!

gwensews said...

I'm sorry you had some misfortune. I've been to a lot of shows, and used to work for a shop that displayed at expos. I believe that in most cases, if a vendor breaks even, they did well. It seems that advertising is how most vendors proftit.

Faye Lewis said...

Your booth was beautiful and I know you had to put a lot of work into that. That was such a big thing to do and we are all proud of you.

meredithp said...

It does take time to become a househould name for a sewing product. The more visability you have (Threads, shows, online mentions, etc.), the easier it will get.

linda said...

It can take three or more years to "make a profit" in a new business. The more exposure you have the more your will become a household name.

Keep plugging away at it. Get rested then look at it from a "fresh" perspective!

julia said...

I didn't have a very good experience with my one and only show of this type. You just never know what someone will want and when your product will take off. Your booth is gorgeous!!!!

Becky said...

Sorry to hear things didn't go as well as hoped-- I still think it's a great idea (I am intending to pick a set up when I have a bit more disposable income again), and your booth looks great!

SunnyQ said...

The booth looks AMAZING! I wish I could have come by to see it!

Julie said...

I've never worked a booth as the owner of the product but I've been forced to work booths at TONS of health fairs. This is what I learned, maybe some of it translates to sewing sales? (1) Have a gimmick: something free to give away, something for people to play with, something interesting to watch (notice I said "watch", not "read"; people don't read at shows/fairs); (2) Don't sit behind the table. Get up & introduce yourself to people as they go by. Smile! (3) Have a quick 1-line opener to get people to stop and talk to you. It doesn't help that you had more quilters than garment sewers but I hope the other vendors gave you some useful info for next time.

Zep said...

Everyone's giving great advice. One reason why I blog is to learn from others in so many different things.
My lessons: I was in Miami Herald 3 years ago. Do you know I still have people call me about that article. You just keep putting your name out there. Everything comes full circle...everything! Some circles are bigger than others which takes a lot time to go around but I promise you if you follow your dreams you will be rewarded! And.. our rewards don't always come to us in financial ways. I'm sure as you said you got so much more out of it than you put in.

Keep saying to yourself: Good things come to those who wait while you strive for your goals daily. Feed it and it will grow, you can't tell when it will have the growing spurts as long as you feed it daily.

Hey Thanks:

Be good to yourself!

patsijean said...

Well, I bet in the long run, some of those who did not purchase will be sorry. I have my set and I use it all the time. It is worth every penny, and not that many pennies anyway.

Does you display mention how many patterns and the process used to come up with those fabric estimates. Maybe that information could be used in the video mentioned in another comment. People will remember seeing you at the show. Don't despair.

Danielle said...

You never know who saw your cards and who'll they speak to about them - it is about exposure and weighing up the risk. In hindsight do you think there might be a better expo/show to go for - something not so quilting based that you can head to? Love the cards - am blogging about them this week - Australians love this type of innovation :-)

Anonymous said...

I use mine all the time, and I am constantly getting asked where I got them (and I tell them, I started carrying around a post it pad with them to give the info out). Dunno if you got any orders from it, but I walk into the only fabric store here with them in hand and use them the entire time I am there. (I also do this at Wal-Mart where I still have a fabric department.)

Sorry it didn't go over too well, I think these are fabulous!

CarlaF-in Atlanta said...

I'm sorry that sells weren't great at the Expo. Running a small business isn't for the faint of heart. You have a great product don't give up on it. It can take time for somethings to take off.

Anonymous said...

I have worked and attended some very big shows before and it is easy to get lost in the mix. My two cents: Know your audience(potential clients), get out from behind that table and draw people in, make sure you get your money's worth by talking to everybody that you can--your are there, you spent the dough, so work it--or as Tim Gunn says "Make it work!". Everyone there might be quilters, but I bet they know alot of people who sew garments. Word of mouth advertising is priceless! By the way, it is not unusual to not make money at these things. So you did just fine. Good luck, I love the cards and will order a set myself. I think I waste a lot of money guessing how much fabric and always over buying.