Sunday, February 21, 2010

My handmade business

Earlier in my life, I worked in finance in various reporting positions in regulatory and investor relations departments. I worked for large companies, like Mellon Financial Corporation and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Although, these jobs were very rewarding, my life changed when my daughter was born. She is the best thing that I have accomplished and I wanted the opportunity to continue to focus on her development. So, I became a stay-at-home mom.  It was difficult saying goodbye to my corporate career because it had become such a big part of my life. I wished that one day I could find a perfect mesh of family life and a rewarding career.
It all started about a year ago when I started stamping with my friends. I would go over to their houses and play with their stamps, paper, ink and ribbon. One of my friends, who I've known since high school, has a huge collection of card making tools and has made them for years. She taught me different techniques and tricks to making handmade cards. She is a talented and creative lady, who is a terrific person and friend. Just as I was thinking of buying some supplies of my own , a distant relative called to see if I would be interested in receiving his late relative's stamps, ink, paper, envelopes and other tools for card making. I was completely amazed by this opportunity. As most people know, the hobby of making cards can be expensive. Some stamps can cost as much as $20 each. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I was so happy when I received the large supply of paper, ink, envelopes and stamps. I invited my friend over so she could take a look at what I had just received. I had her choose anything she liked or needed for her first because she was always generous to me with her things. Then, I was off to the races and having so much fun creating all types of cards. I was sending more cards to my family and friends than ever before.
In the summer, another friend of mine suggested that we (along with some other friends) participate in craft fair shows. Up until then I had only sent cards to family and friends, who gave some really positive feedback, but they're biased. I thought maybe they're just being nice and my cards aren't that great. I thought that it would be great to know if I had a shot at selling them to people. I thought that I would try it out with one show and just see how it goes. Just be casual about it. Besides I was going to share this experience with three friends and my mom, so no matter what we would be there for each other. The first show that we were aiming for was scheduled for mid September. We worked together on getting the application submitted with photos, a resale number (which we had to apply for with the state) and application fee. Once it was submitted, I worked very long hours to build an extensive supply of different types of cards: birthday, holidays, thank you, thinking of you, baby, wedding, retirement, etc. I had built up a supply of about 200 cards in just 9 weeks. Two weeks before the event, we are notified that we were not accepted to participate in the fair. I was really upset because I had been working so hard fueled by the idea that I was going to see if my cards were good enough to sell. Now, we all had spent a lot of money on supplies and time with no possibility of any return. I was not satisfied with giving up so easily. I decided to contact as many craft shows as I could find that would be running in the next two months. I thought we could apply and get at least one show. And one show we got! It was not easy to get however. The application was extensive with photos of us working on the craft, photos of the craft, a schematic drawing of our booth, resale license and heavy application fee. We had applied to the show as a collaborative team. We were to sell handmade cards (myself and three other friends) and handmade baby items (another friend). The promoter who reviewed the applications decided to go with just the baby items for the show. First, I called my friend who made the baby items and asked what she thought. I wanted to get her opinion before I called the promoter. I wanted them to understand that most of our team was making handmade cards and that we needed to work together on this show in order for it to be successful. After several conversations with the promoter and my friends, we got to sell both the baby items and the handmade cards. What a relief! Finally we were going to get our shot. Here are some photos from that show.

The show was a three-day event, where vendors lined the sidewalks for a few blocks in the downtown city of Walnut Creek. There was record heat those three days. The weather made it challenging in a few ways 1) it was difficult sitting and selling in such heat 2) there were less pedestrians walking down the streets, so less people present to buy 3) it was hard to get pedestrians to stop when they were on their way to air conditioned shops and restaurants. Despite all these setbacks, we sold well. People gave us positive feedback on all our merchandise. I felt really lucky to have worked this show because it taught me so much about sales, customer service and working as a team. I will never forget how great it felt selling my handmade cards for the first time. It was a wonderful way to launch my new handmade business. It was then that I realized that my wish of finding a perfect mesh of family life and a rewarding career was becoming a reality.
Currently, I have participated in 4 craft shows and am scheduled for 2 more this year.  The shows have given me the opportunity to interface with my customers personally, which has been key in learning what people want and seek in a greeting card.    I enjoy having a conversation with them and getting to know them better.  I love seeing them smile when they look at my cards.  It doesn't even matter if they buy one or not.  It is enough for me to know that they were happy when they saw them.  Stay tuned for next week when I discuss the online business venture. 

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