Monday, September 5, 2011

Prepare for the upcoming Christmas Craft Fair Season!

Vancouver Island Etsy Team member feature
Ettie Catto - Over the Rainbow Designs

Have you started preparing for the upcoming Christmas Craft Fair Season?
For a seasoned market and fair crafter, September marks the end of summer and the beginning of holiday craft fair preparations. You may have started filling out applications as early as January, and are now preparing stock, sketching your display, and mentally preparing for the hectic holiday season!

We’ve asked Ettie Catto from Over The Rainbow Designs to help give us some background on craft fairs and tips for experienced and newbie fair/market vendors.

Please tell us a little something about yourself.

Home Economics teacher, school counsellor, mom to Ben and Nate, new grandma to 4 month Petra Rose, Over the Rainbow Designs (Quality handknits for Infants and Children) since 1993. Sell on eBay and Etsy. Lived in Sooke since 1980, consuming interest in craft fairs, member of All Sooke Arts & Crafts since 1993, ASAAC Show Convenor for past several years, producer for Earthly Goods Craft Market, event management certificate program at Thompson Rivers University, confessed wool-aholic (my stash runneth over), write a crafting column for Sooke Voice News

What is your experience/obstacles/challenges etc with selling online on Etsy. (and stores if you do that at all as well)
Etsy has been a delight to discover. Sales are brisk and the buyers are wonderful to work with. I love to browse the shops of others and am overwhelmed by the incredible talent and inspiration I find on those pages.This is a sharp contrast to my eBay experience where the cut-throat competition, under-cutting and commercialism has taken over and made it almost impossible to sell. Etsy's vision Fits with my passion for “all things handmade”. Obstacles and challenges with online selling have been the commercialism, selling of commercial imports that are passed off as handmade off as handmade, and most recently, the theft of my photos to be used by other sellers. I have done some consignment sales in stores but have stopped since I have no trouble selling everything I make as fast as I can make it, so don’t need to give up the consignment fee to shop owners, also found my product to be a little worse for wear being handled in stores.

What is your experience with craft fairs/markets. How long have you been doing them, why do you do them?
I have been doing craft fairs since early 90's and over the years have tried most of the holiday shows in our vicinity. My favourites are Out of Hand, Kris Kringle, and of course Sooke's ASAAC show, because of the focus on quality and handmade articles. Also have participated in Nanaimo Professional, Vancouver Island baby Fair, A Touch of Saltspring, First Chance/Last Chance, Creative Craft Fair, Port Alberni, Art in the Park, Sooke Rotary and many others over the years. I decided to offer my own two craft fairs this year to offer alternate venues for dedicated crafters. After being Show Convenor for the ASAAC show I became aware of how many vendors were seeking show space and wanted to open things up a bit more for the talented artisans in our area. When I saw the two new venues, Eagle Ridge Community Centre and Sooke Prestige Oceanfront Resort, I felt like they were each begging for a craft fair, fabulous new spacious locations for quality juried shows, something we haven't had available in Sooke and Westshore, so decided to take the plunge and offer something different. I want to offer the best of show services to vendors and attendees, and focus on all handmade items without resorting to admitting vendors of commercial products to fill space. It is a consuming passion, a labour of love, and an exciting ambitious venture for me to organize these shows. Response from vendors has been enthusiastic and appreciative, the shows are filling up, and the pieces are all falling into place. It is a privilege meeting and learning about the many talented artisans who live on Vancouver and the Gulf Islands. I plan for these shows to be annual events.

What is the biggest obstacle/challenge in doing markets and fairs?
Probably the weather! I have stopped doing summer markets since my product does not lend itself to the outdoors or the warm weather. The winter weather sometimes makes travel to distant venues a challenge, and also can affect the attendance at a show. There is nothing more disappointing than setting up at a craft fair and experiencing low attendance and poor sales! Another frustration of mine, my own pet peeve, is the flood of commercial items into craft fairs. As a knitter, I cannot compete with the prices of the Chinese and Peruvian handmade knit and crochet items, and even though the quality is unmatched, buyers usually look at price first, so it is sometimes hard to compete with this.

What are the most important things to remember when planning (on attending/exhibiting) a show?
Plan your display, use the height in your space, as well as the width and depth. Don’t clutter your display (I struggle with this), don’t under-rate yourself and price your product too low. It doesn’t matter what product you prepare in advance, it won’t be the one that is the biggest seller, you will always wish you made more of one and less of another. Look around to other vendors and learn from them. Talk to other vendors and share experiences, and look for mentorship. Interact with your buyers; say hello, explain your product, repeat yourself over and over, that’s how things sell.Take things in stride, laugh, enjoy, keep trying. When it all comes together and sales take off it is a heady experience that can become addictive!

What advice you can give to those new to the industry?
I think it is important to focus on our own growth as an artist and professional development as vendors. Every craft fair is a learning experience, in spite of the sales we may or may not make. Always freshen up your product and change your line from year to year; things get stale very quickly and if your display looks just like it did last time, shoppers lose interest.

Here's a little piece I wrote for my column in the Sooke Voice News:

A Crafter is Born
If your eyes light up at the sight of a colourful array of nubbly yarns or a sparkling assortment of glistening beads, you probably are inflicted with the love of crafting. More than a hobby, crafting starts as a pastime and grows into a consuming passion. Your stash of supplies begins to grow, spilling out of the closet, and you dream of having a studio. You plan your day around your craft, and look for moments where you can slip away for a creative break. As you play with combinations of textures and colours, inspirations swirl, ideas take shape, and you feel the projects come alive in your hands. At first, you are modest about your creations, keeping your projects tucked away; then gradually you share your work with those you trust. As you listen to the feedback you feel surprised, then humbled, but your confidence builds. The sweet sound of praise encourages and inspires. You are a crafter.

Thanks so much Ettie for all of your great advice, tips and sharing your experience! Good luck to all in the 2011 Holiday Craft Fair season!

Visit Ettie’s Shop and Earthly Goods Craft Market

Over the Rainbow Designs:

Earthly Goods:

Also check out this free service offered by Earthly Goods that has an extensive listing of local craft fairs in BC:

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