Saturday, February 23, 2008

Part 3- Cottage Industry Espionage

Cottage Industry is a fancy term for small, home-based businesses, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use a little 'recon' to ascertain what would be good for our business.

Ok, so maybe espionage is a bit strong... doing research on what to sell, where to sell it, and any tips seasoned veterans will share... you can't really call that espionage.

Once you have an idea of who shops/attends a sales venue, and what folks in your area like to buy, next look at the vendors at the various venues.

How many other vendors in the show are selling crocheted items? Don’t make my mistake: just because a show has no crochet vendor, doesn't mean that you can step in to fill that niche and make lots of money. The lack of crochet vendors could mean that crochet vendors couldn't sell at that show, so they don't return.

Approach the director/organizer of the venue- like you are a customer- and ask if they have ever had any crochet vendors, because you were looking for a baby blanket. Ask this question, and he might give you an answer that is more than a half truth.

DO NOT approach the director as a potential vendor and ask why there are no crochet vendors; he will give you an answer designed to secure your booth rent the next time they host an event.

Are there numerous vendors with the same type of merchandise? Too many vendors selling the same basic items can drop the value, by offering too much competition for a specific item.

Is there a wide variety of products offered; lots of products will draw in larger crowds, because there is something to appeal to everyone. The larger the crowds, the more potential customers for your product.

What types of crocheted items do you see vendors offering?

You must be cautious in how you approach vendors; commiserate with them how people love your crochet, but your family and friends don’t want to pay you for the work it involves. If you start with something like this, most of the time, crochet vendors are polite enough to talk to you.

They will generally talk about the current show, and their favorite shows in the area and even the types of things they sell. They probably won’t tell you what they sell the most of, because they don’t want you to become a competitor, but they will give you some valuable information.

The one thing most folks won’t talk about: what is the Dollar Amount they consider a Success. For some folks, that means covering booth rent and a few dollars extra. For some folks, leaving a show less that $5000 was a disaster.

About the only thing I could get folks to tell me was, if they covered booth rent, and what sold best: big ticket or small ticket items.

Now that I am an established vendor at the largest craft show in my area, I do go around on Sunday and openly ask vendors, "Are you doing well this year? Have you had a good show?" And I openly tell them how my sales are doing. Again, I commiserate with them, and I gain valuable information... but I also share valuable information.

It is my opinion that if you improve a venue in general, everyone can benefit. If we all understand why type of merchandise and what price range the customer base wants, we can all gain more sales if we deliver what the customers want.

Taking time to learn the customers and vendors at various sales venues, will save you money, time and effort when you do start selling your crochet. Knowing this information will allow you to better choose which events/venues will garner you better results, as well as, what merchandise to take to various events.

Tomorrow’s Post: You get what you pay for- right?

© Angela ‘ARNie’ Grabowski 2008. All rights reserved. For more crochet fun, visit
For a complete list of my Copyright Permissions, please click the link below and then click your browsers Back Button to return here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Part 2- You Be The Judge and Jury

In this series of blog posts, I’m offering my experience on trying to sell finished pieces at craft shows and other sales venues, so you can learn from my mistakes.

Research the craft shows, craft malls, community art shows, and open air or flea markets- BEFORE you pay rent; this means you should spend 1 entire year visiting every selling venue you would want to attend as a vendor, and visit them all at different times in the year.

As I said yesterday, When you visit these venues is important, too.

It’s been my experience that Craft Malls and Flea Markets do the majority of their business on the First Saturday of the month. That is when folks have the most money to spend, since they tend to run out of paycheck before the end of the month.

For Craft Shows, Saturday is usually the best shopping day. Friday afternoon shows, don’t get the professional folks who must work; Sunday afternoons between 2 and 4 have their own type of shopper that knows what they want-how much they can spend-and don’t waste time browsing.

When you visit a selling venue, you want to take note of:

  • How many folks are walking around with bags of merchandise they have purchased?
  • Did the majority of visitors leave their purses in the trunk of the car?
  • How many visitors are in small groups of ladies that are carefully studying merchandise, but not buying?
  • How many visitors have numerous children buzzing around them getting into trouble?
  • How many folks are aimlessly walking and carrying food?
  • What is the noise level?
  • Do the organizers make loud announcements every 10 minutes making it almost impossible to speak to customers?
  • Do they have a live band near by with amplifiers that, again, make it impossible to talk to customers?
For your own financial well being, and the safety of you and your product, you need to ascertain if this venue:

  • is truly a 'buying event' for the community
  • or a place for the Looky Lous to steal your ideas (Looky Lous are folks who look, but don’t buy)
  • or {shudder} is this a carnival type of event where parents drop kids off, while mom spends her time and money elsewhere.
Look at the attire of the customers:

  • Are they well dressed, or at the very least, neat and tidy?
  • Do they look interested in the products?
  • Or do their eyes look glassy and glazed over from boredom?
  • What age groups are represented?
  • Does it seem like one age group has more people than other age groups?
  • Does it seem like many of the customers all work in similar jobs?
If they are all retired folks, that could mean limited income. Older, limited income folks only purchase small ticket items, and more times than not, they are looking for things for their grandchildren.

Young professionals generally want more home decor type items OR very chic fashion items; but in my part of Texas, young professionals with money don’t shop at craft shows or open air markets or craft malls.

Teenagers usually want trendy fashion items, but don’t usually have the money to pay for things... so watch them carefully; they aren’t afraid to us a ‘five finger discount’ (shoplift).

A customer base of families will generally buy baby items or things for toddlers, and inexpensive kitchen items. Do you see see a lot of Dads and adolescent boys trudging around behind Excited Moms and Sisters? You can cash in on this market by having hats, neck warmers & wrist warmers/fingerless mittens, in these colors: camo- that is apporpriate for your areas, local schools, area colleges, and pro sports team. These will catch the eyes of dads and sons and possibly garner a few sales from them, as well as, causing the ladies in the party to stop and look at your merchandise.

Each Socio/Economic group will tend to have totally different wants in products and price ranges. This is true for the various geographic areas: in the north they want winter hats, mittens, ‘muffler’ scarves, sweaters, etc. Some places can sell trendy accessories ; some places can sell high fashion... you must research your area to see what customers want and how much they are willing to spend on those wants.

Oh, and if the customers don’t have money to invest in decent attire and personal hygiene, then they can’t afford the luxuries of your quality hand made products. Too many of these types of visitors to a sales event tells you that this venue doesn’t draw the type of customer you want: ones with money to spend.

I hear you...ARNie is telling us one of those Texas Tall Tales...

Believe me, I have paid booth rent at shows where the customers couldn’t afford a cup of coffee, but came to the craft show for cheap entertainment, and brought numerous children to play with toys they could not afford to pay for.

I’ve paid booth rent at shows where the majority of customers would stand in the door of my booth-preventing anyone else from getting in. They stand there counting stitches in a little crochet motif that had a pattern page - priced 25 cents... and they wouldn’t buy the pattern, nor the motif.

I’ve paid booth rent to shows where the vendors would come look at my jewelry designs and take notes on the type of gemstone beads I used and my bead counts, as well as pricing, but not pay for anything. I greeted this mother-daughter pair who where carefully studying my jewelry, but they were 'only looking.' When I began to identify each gemstone bead they were looking at, they replied, 'Oh, we know. We're jewelry designers, too.' After they made that announcement, they began to quietly discuss everything I had on display... I was so surprised and mortified at their gall, that I couldn't say anything... and I should have asked them to leave.

I’ve paid booth rent at shows where the only people in the building were Kids and Teenagers, because there were a few ‘carnival’ type things out front, so paying customers wouldn’t brave the chaos outside to come indoors to shop.

I’ve spent an entire day at ‘free outdoor markets’ where the only people there were vendors, because the organizers forgot to pay for ads, or only paid for a short line ad in the classifieds.

And I keep it a general rule of thumb: if you are afraid to leave your car in the parking lot of a venue, or are in fear of your life to walk to and from the selling area, or if everything that isn’t mobile is covered in gang graffiti.... I don’t care how cheap the booth rent is; it won’t draw the kinds of customers you need: those with money to spend.

It has been my experience that advertising is important to announce an event, but advertising does not guarantee a good turnout, nor paying customers.

I served as the advertising director for a local crafting group, and I carefully saturated a local network whose audience were 20-45 years old... instead of the retired crowd we normally had at our shows. I even invited our locally based 'Meals for the Elderly' group to join us at the show (which got me double the number of ads), and we did a raffle for them from merchadise donated by the crafters.

The end results were dismal, for everyone by the charity org. This crafting group had been around for so long, that everyone knew their shows and what merchandise would be there. Paying customers had stopped coming, because the show always had the same ol' stuff. Which proved to me that no amount of advertising can draw in paying crowds if the show/venue has a bad reputation in the community.

Save Your Money, invest a year in researching the various selling venues in your area, before you pay rent at one. One show may be the absolute best at selling holiday motifs and decorations. Another may sell only small ticket items. Another venue could have the dream customer for all crocheters: someone who knows how to crochet, but doesn’t have the time, and has the money to pay what a piece is worth. And all of these may sell absolutely nothing, at other times in the year.

Know the customer base of the venue, before you pay rent to sell your crochet.

Tomorrow’s Post: Cottage Industry Espionage

© Angela ‘ARNie’ Grabowski 2008. All rights reserved. For more crochet fun, visit
For a complete list of my Copyright Permissions, please click the link below and then click your browsers Back Button to return here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Selling Crochet Part 1-Cart Before the Horse

For the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing my experiences and suggestions on how to sell crochet for a profit.

First off: Craft Shows, Art Shows, Outdoor Markets, Flea Markets and Craft Malls...

Too many people believe they should try to sell what they like to crochet, only to discover that they don’t crochet what other people want to buy.

Research your area first and see what will sell.

You can’t give scarves away in my part of Texas- ok so that needs some clarification... I know lots of ladies who stitched thin little scarves from fuzzy, furry, sparkly yarn to give as gifts, and the recipients all loved them. But the stitchers gave them away; they did not try to sell the scarves.

For my part of Texas, all winter hats must be in camo colors for the hunters or local school colors, or college team colors or the Dallas Cowboy colors. Yes, I know we have several other professional sports teams but the only colors I see folks wear are the Cowboys Colors. Texas professional sports teams colors... Spurs... Black and Silver/White. Rockets.... Red, White and Black... OH, like the Texas Tech Raiders.... nope sorry, the Blue, silver-gray and white of the Cowboys is unmistakable. I digress....

Other small pieces do sell, but only if they were the same as Wal Mart's prices, and only if you have such a huge assortment that they can eventually find one the in color and style they like.

Baby blankets sell well, but only if you have one of every color, in every style of blanket you make, and you sell them for a price that barely covers the cost of the yarn.

See, in my part of Texas, just about everybody crochets, knits or knows someone who does. Most folks have seen so much crochet, that it has no ‘value’ to them... most folks have given more than one afghan to the pets that great aunt martha or granny crocheted for them, and they still have a piece of crochet on each bed and on a rack in the living room for watching TV.

How do you find out what will sell in your area?

You have to go to events, look at what folks are buying, and carefully talk to buyers to ascertain their general 'price range.'

Look at numerous craft shows; numerous craft malls; look at flea markets, too. I have had the best results when I visit these places on their Busiest Shopping Days. You will get the most information on what is selling, only when the place is busy.

It’s been my experience that Craft Malls and Flea Markets do the majority of their business on the First Saturday of the month. That is when folks have the most money to spend, since they tend to run out of paycheck before the end of the month. The one monthly Art Show my town has, is held on the 1st Saturday of each month. The gargantuan flea market in Canton, Texas is held the weekend before the First Monday of the month... which usually includes the 1st of the month when all government support and military checks are issued.

For Craft Shows, Saturday is the best day to talk with customers and see what they are buying. Friday afternoon shows, don’t get the professional folks who must work; Sundays tend to be when folks are resting or doing the family thing after church.
With that said, Craft Show Sundays do have a specific type of shopper: they come after they have had lunch following morning church service. They know what they want, what they can spend, and don’t waste time browsing. You can easily spot them because they are in Church clothes and they walk purposefully, quickly giving each booth a ‘once-over glance.’ If this is a good Craft Show, these folks will leave with several bags of merchandise from several vendors.

Spend several hours at a sales venue; this will give you a better idea of how strong a following it has; ie, how many customers will visit each time the show/market is held.

Do you see customers leaving a Crochet Booth with a purchase, or do they just look and walk away? Do you see a particular booth with lots of customers looking, or waiting to enter because it’s so crowded? When you see a busy booth, check it out.

First of all, what item is generating all the interest? Maybe it is something that you can create using crochet, or add crochet to it for a unique twist.

What are the crochet booths offering? What is their price range? This vendor may be selling lots of crochet, because their prices are artificially cheap. They are not making it themselves; they are importing it from a third world country whose peasants are paid pennies for each piece they complete.

Talk to customers at these places, You can hold a piece and say, ‘Isn’t this just lovely?!’ And usually the other customer will say, yes, and then offer their personal opinion: it’s too expensive or I have too much crochet.... regardless what they say, you gain information and knowledge.

Don’t be afraid to be friendly and talk to folks, that is the best way 'subtley discover' what they are buying and how much they will spend on it. Act like a fellow customer, and most folks will tell you anything you respectfully ask them.

I’ll offer more techniques on what to say to folks at craft shows, to get the information you want, in the next few days.

Tomorrow’s Post: You Be The Judge and Jury

© Angela ‘ARNie’ Grabowski 2008. All rights reserved. For more crochet fun, visit
For a complete list of my Copyright Permissions, please click the link below and then click your browsers Back Button to return here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Conquering the Obnoxious

I’ve been talking about what to do when someone asks you to crochet something for them...
how do you ask for compensation and get what you are worth,
are there times when should you do it for free,

Now I’ll deal with those folks we would rather not talk to at all.

Someone once complained that her cousin was so selfish that she demanded the crocheter 'invest in a pattern, so it could be made for the cousin free of charge'...

ok, so these types of folks really do need a whack upside the head, or a reality check at the very least.

However, if one of my cousins had demanded I buy an expensive pattern and make the project for them... I would be tempted to make the very thing she asked for and donate it to the auction at our family reunion.

I would make a big deal of asking her, 'is this what you wanted?' and gleefully explain that it is my donation to the auction... that way, if she truly wants it, she will have to bid on it.

If it is truly stunning piece, others will run the bid up... if no one but her wants it, I'd run the bid up, and back out when you get her to her top bid.

No, I haven't had to deal with cousins like her... ;-)

Yes, this is Passive-Aggressive at its worst, but these types of people can’t be dealt with rationally or logically.

If your family doesn’t have an auction at their reunion, you can donate your piece to another charity auction.

Tell the obnoxious cousin that you thought the piece was so nice, and could truly be a big money maker for your chosen charity. Thank her profusely for convincing you to buy the pattern and work it up, and include the date the bidding closes, so she could bid on it, too!

Hopefully, she will get the idea that she was was rude and hateful for making such a demand... unless she is a true narcissist, and believes you owe her that project, because she is so special in this world... in which case... I would just walk away. You truly cannot reason with a narcissist. I digress.

I’ve heard more folks say that no matter what technique they used, they still had one person who persisted in wanting the crocheter to do a project completely for free-they won’t even pay for the yarn. I've had customers like this at craft shows.

These kinds of people like to use guilt trips:

  • this is stress management for you
  • this is a hobby
  • you do this while watching tv
  • I’m an important person in your life {hack cough, choke and puke... since when?! is the typical answer to this ploy}

For those folks, I offer to teach them to crochet, after all:

  • this could be stress management for you
  • this could be a hobby for you
  • you could do this while watching tv
  • I’m an important person in your life, & I’ll graciously and generously teach how you to crochet.
And then I have fun {she says maliciously grinning.}
I thrust yarn and a hook into their hands and 'genuinely' show them how to crochet.
After twenty minutes of them fumbling around, while I gracefully manipulate hook and yarn... then they either give up disgusted and appreciate my talent, or they are 'hooked' and I truly enjoy teaching them more.

As the Animaniacs are fond of saying: The Moral of the Story Is.... don’t discuss Money when someone asks you to crochet for them. Instead, let them buy the yarn and Barter with Time or some service they can do for you.

And if that doesn’t work, teach them to crochet.

© Angela ‘ARNie’ Grabowski 2008. All rights reserved. For more crochet fun, visit
For a complete list of my Copyright Permissions, please click the link below and then click your browsers Back Button to return here.

I can get that at WM for half that much!

My last post discussed what to do if a cherished family member asks you to crochet for them.

Today I discuss a way to be compensated for your work and not offend an acquaintance or co-worker.

"An acquaintance got angry when I asked to be paid for my labor to crochet something for them!"

This is another complaint I’ve heard numerous times.

It’s been my experience that people’s attitudes about Needlework break down into these groups:

  • Those who know someone who does needlework or they themselves do a different type of needlework and appreciate the amount of time and energy that goes into the creative process.
  • Those who know so many people who do needlework and have seen so many ‘plain old afghans or doilies’ that needlework is common place and worth less than something store bought.
  • Those who have never seen someone do needlework, and believes this is just a hobby you do at night in front of the tv; therfore you shouldn't be paid -because this isn't work.
Because of these attitudes, I don’t recommend you try to discuss money for your labor to crochet something.

Let's be honest, trying to charge by the hour can make a piece so expensive that nobody will pay for it. Yet, how do you help someone to understand that despite crochet (or knitting) being a passion and a hobby, stitchting for someone else- on command- makes this work, which demands payment.

Instead of money, I suggest you barter your time and talents for their time and talents.
If the lady at work wants you to crochet baby blankets for her, then estimate the time it will take you and see if she would be willing to spend that same amount of time doing something for you; whatever her hobby/talent is.

Maybe she could bake a dozen loaves of bread for you, or 12 dozen cookies.

Maybe she could babysit for you the number of hours it takes you to crochet her blankets.

OH, and remember: regardless if you want compensation for your labor or not, always, always, always, make the person requesting the project -pay for the yarn. It is your choice whether you keep the leftovers or not- as payment for your time.
Yes, you can barter the yarn for baking ingridients, just make sure you get enough baked goods to cover the cost of the yarn.

Tell the ‘customer’ that they will need to go to the store and buy the yarn they want you to crochet. Give them specifics such as brand names, yarn weights and the amount they will need, but make them actually go out and buy the yarn.

Of course, we know that they will probably look for the yarn, not find all that they need at WM and have to go to HL, Michaels' or ACMoore or Big Lots to find enough to finish their project. The customer will have to invest their hard earned money in that yarn, and most likely, a sizeable chunk of time, and this helps them to understand your time and talent are worth something.

I’ve heard stories where a Spouse asked the crocheter to make a hat for someone at his work. The spouse didn’t ask for any type of compensation, and had only the basic idea of what the co-worker wanted.

If I remember correctly, the poor woman had to make 3 different hats to suit the co-worker and then when she asked the woman to pay for the yarn, the co-worker became irate! One week's worth of stitching and $7 of yarn and the woman thought she was entitled to the hat free of charge!
Oh, the nerve of some people!

In cases like this one, you can respond, "Sure, I’ll crochet a {small project} for them free of charge, but they need to buy XX oz of 'this brand of yarn’ in their choice of color."

The next day, the spouse can say, "My spouse will make the {requested project} for you, if you buy the yarn." This clearly establishes that the customer will need to pay for something, without actually discussing money.

Let your family members know that if they volunteer your services like this, then they will do chores for you while you crochet the project. That is only fair, since you are doing something for them, they must do something for you... yes, even the spouse. This will help your family understand the value of your Time.

If it takes you 2-3 hours to 'whip up' that hat, then they can -for example- clean the house for 2-3 hours.

Now a days, putting a monetary price tag on your work will only insult folks who don't do needlework... you will get that familiar: "Well I could get that same thing at WM for a fraction of what you want!"

When you barter TIME with folks, you force them to to put a price on THEIR time, and if they can't afford the terms, they can bow out gracefully or offer monetary compensation.

Time is money, but it is easier to politely discuss Time, than it is to discuss money.

Tomorrow's subject...Truly annoying, obnoxious and insensitive jerks....

© Angela ‘ARNie’ Grabowski 2008. All rights reserved. For more crochet fun, visit
For a complete list of my Copyright Permissions, please click the link below and then click your browsers Back Button to return here.

Crochet For Free? Are you nuts?!

From time to time, I’ve heard folks comment or complain on how rude co-workers or other acquaintances can be when asking you to 'whip something up' for them and then not want to pay for it.

OR that dreaded quandary: a family member asks you to make something for them to give as a gift or give you such lovely compliments on a piece and ask you to make one for them.
Questions like those always spawn more questions.....

How should you respond, so that you can convey your feelings without causing any tension?
What should you charge for something that you do while watching tv at night?
Should you ask a family member to pay for something that you would probably give to them as a gift?
How do you respond to an acquaintance or distant cousin who selfishly believes that you should create a huge project for them out of love, when they wouldn’t give you the time of day on the street?

I’ve gathered my responses over the years to these questions into this series of blog posts....

The first decision you have is: Do you want to be financially compensated for your work? If a cherished family member asks you to make something for them, or to create a piece for them to give as a gift... most crocheters don’t want money for their labor.

(My responses to ‘less than cherished family members’ will be given in a different post.)

So you've decided to be generous and not charge them for the labor, but what about the cost of the yarn? Some pieces can need upwards of $75 in yarn, that isn’t fair for you to foot the bill, especially if the other person is using your work as a gift to someone else.

My suggestion is:

Regardless whether you expect payment for your labor or not, when someone asks you to crochet something for them, always, always, always, make them pay for the yarn.

Even if it is something as simple as a hat or scarf, make them buy the yarn... it is your choice whether you keep the leftovers or not- as payment for your time.

Give the specifics on the yarn, such as brand names, weights, and the needed amounts for the project and let the person who ‘ordered the piece’ go to the store to buy the yarn. This gets them emotionally and financially invested into the project, and they just might have fun ‘petting’ all the yarn and want to learn how to crochet for themselves.

Also, once they see how expensive yarn can be, this gives them the choice of gracefully backing out of the arrangement and opting for a different gift.

Tomorrow's Post....I can buy that at WM for half that much!

© Angela ‘ARNie’ Grabowski 2008. All rights reserved. For more crochet fun, visit
For a complete list of my Copyright Permissions, please click the link below and then click your browsers Back Button to return here.