Friday, June 25, 2010

Ups and Downs

Jessie is taunting me with her Rice Krispie bar. She keeps sneaking it under my nose, almost in reach of my teeth--but not quite. Oh the exquisite weight watchers torture. I think I'll console myself with another swig of Harp lager. My consolation music is "Delirious" by Prince.

Another day, another work week (at least the traditional Monday-Friday part) is over. As usual, we had our ups and downs.

Let's start with the biggest up--we have neon! Thanks to Brian Renoud--our torch instructor and boro/neon artist extraordinaire--we have bright studio green address numerals lighting up the front corner of our building. The photo above shows what they look like in full daylight--you should see the glow at night.

Adding to the up of the week, orders keep coming in and we have as much on the books right now in receivables due or orders scheduled for the next month as we did for August through December of last year. Whew. We may be rising from our slump!

Date nights, too, just continue to build with an increasing number of people interested in kilnforming dates. This weekend alone we have three glassblowing date nights and one kilnforming date night scheduled. In the marketing department for Date Night I got our follow-up letters created which include coupons for discounts on future lessons (or other date nights--glassblowing this time, kilnforming the next!). Now working on a database of attendees (and students from classes, and people who buy supplies) so we can make sure we completed all the steps for a successful date night from the initial booking notification to the follow-up email.

Finally, even though I have been a slacker about getting newsletters out and classes scheduled, I am getting people in for open studio. The first open studio I offered for kilnforming was project-based, priced by the piece, and all materials and tools were provided. It was really aimed at introducing children to kilnforming and enabling them to make little projects for gifts. Though I still offer that one, last week (because of a request for it) I also added a variation based on Bullseye's model. It is so nice sometimes to leave the thinking to someone else! Why invent the wheel when someone hands you a perfectly round one that works. I also have a torchworker interested in beadmaking open studio for next week so we need to finish the small renovation of the torchwork classroom.

The week also had its share of downs. Like many, I am struggling with UPS price increases--especially the $8.69 charge to schedule a pick-up. That is fine if I have several packages going out in a day, but if there is only one and the shipping charge on it is only $5.65, e.g., adding $8.69 is just too hefty a bite. So I experimented with the USPS free scheduled carrier pick-up. The first time--one package going out--was great. Yesterday--six packages going out (all small--all date night stuff so only 14 lbs total) the carrier was a no-show. Customer service at the USPS is really friendly, but incredibly ineffectual; (raise your hand if you would prefer surly and effective to friendly and useless). I put a note in the box to day to PLEASE pick-up the outgoing packages, but I am not holding my breath.

Another minor irritation in my week is a client that put in three PO's with me in May, and right after I accepted them all, sent me an email saying they would not pay for any more shipments that didn't come with artist info cards--a LOT of artist info cards. They kindly sent me a template and instructions for how to create them (if I didn't have my own). Their template came with a requested kind of paper, their logo on the front cover, their website address on the back, a request not to change the front or back, and room on the inside for the artist bio and photo... You know, if they want their own branding all over the marketing materials that go out, then they should produce it and pay for it. The style they are asking for is not expensive, but they have already asked to provide them with photos and bio information for them to use in their marketing materials. Now they are asking us to take the information they already have and use it to make materials that have their branding all over it. I don't think so. If I am going to take my time to create marketing materials for anyone, it's going to be me!

So I worked up the first version of the new artist cards for Siyeh Glass and Studio that feature just Todd and me (I will add Lee as soon as I have a good photo of him or great photos of all of our work to use instead of our mugs). I was just ready to pack them up and send them out when I realized I had made a typo. Be the first to identify it in a comment on this post, and I will send you a lovely little dish in "Peacock".

Now I need to get ready to open the doors for the day (this post started Friday night and morphed into Saturday morning) and send out the summer camp reminder emails for camp next week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hubris Nemesis

Coffee is brewing--I hear the final gurgles now, Ernie and Jasmine are playing in the sun on the front porch... Well, Jasmine is playing with the beach ball (she pushes it around with her nose) and Ernie is regally ignoring her and eyeballing the squirrels in the front yard with feigned disinterest. My glass day begins now.

Tomorrow one of my customers is pitching a custom glass and steel piece to one of their customers as a welcoming gift for a huge celebration they are having next year. It might seem like there's a lot of time until next year, but we are hoping they tell us really soon if we're chosen as they will need 800 of these pieces created and custom-wrapped.

A few years ago the thought of doing even 100 identical pieces for an order would have given me anxiety attacks for days. Now I'm amazed to realize that I look forward to doing 800 with placid equanimity (I think Bill is much more stressed about having enough time to do the metal than I am about having time for the glass--of course he's also typically much busier at the end of the year than I am). We have a couple of current orders in the pipeline for 40 of these and 60 of those, and they are not registering on my radar one whit differently than the orders I have in the queue for one and two pieces. Wow.

Last night the two couples we had in the hotshop for Date Night were fascinated with the entire studio (one of the couples had done a bit of kilnforming glass previously). While I took them on the tour, we got to talking about how long the studio's been open for teaching, selling supplies, date night., etc., and when I said the end of October last year, I think we were all surprised. They were very impressed at our set-up and had a hard time believing that we managed to get so much done is such a short time.


An hour has passed since I wrote on this post. An hour that that was spent talking on the phone with Bill about the details of the 800-piece proposal we are sending in tomorrow. Hubris was indeed my Nemesis on this one. Sure I can do the work, and I also committed to packaging and shipping the work in custom packaging (the custom packaging would be purchased and shipped to me by the customer). And I have no problem doing the packaging and shipping, but Bill brought me a bit back to reality when he started doing the actual math on the space required to store 800 14X14X4 boxes, and how many of them would feasibly fit on a pallet for shipping... and by extension how many pallets would be required to be held for shipping and loaded onto a truck from the studio. Yes, it's still all doable, but I am MUCH less smug than I was when I started this post! Time to slink off and have some coffee.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


No coffee yet, I should change that. The house is totally silent, all I hear is the sound of birds outside and the clicking of the keys as I type. I don't think either of them are enough to keep me awake. Jessie and Mom still slumber, Dave's in Austin (not slumbering, I'm sure), and I wish I was not up, dressed, ostensibly working and waiting for the dryer installer to come hook up the new dryer. (Oh I wanted the red washer and dryer, but I just couldn't see my way to paying an extra $200 for the pleasure).

Atlanta in the summer is not really a place for working with hot glass, and yet that's just what we're doing! Are we mad? This week is all about production glass (and website, marketing, and other administration) and next week is all about summer camp again (and website, marketing, and other administration). I find myself longing to be in elementary school again where summer means staying up late, sleeping in late, lounging, reading, and playing. This whole grown-up thing is not all it's cracked up to be. It figures that by the time you really get to make your own decisions, you find yourself deciding to Be Adult and Be Responsible. (Let's go to Greece!).

Okay, off to pick up the new studio shirts from Mike, get more blank cd's from Office Depot, make a deposit at the bank, and buy food and beverage for tonight's date night. No rest for the wicked glass artist.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Seven-Day Work Weeks R Us

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from someone wanting to schedule a date night for last night in the hotshop. Even though it was Father's Day, Lee was game so I shopped (they had to bring their own wine as it was Sunday and you can't buy alcohol in stores here in the lovely south on Sunday) and we put together a nice date. Welcome to a true seven-day work week. I know, I know--I didn't have to answer the phone. But that's the problem with having the studio phone ring in the house too--the phone rings you (or at least I) answer it--regardless of the time, day or night. Might have to rethink that one.

I mentioned in a post last week that I taught the little summer campers how to cut glass, but I didn't post any pictures as I lost my camera for a couple of days (sadly not an uncommon experience, the camera losing). But my Mom found it, and there were some great camp pics of the water slide and cutting glass that I'll share today.

This week is all about production work and marketing. We still have a couple of spots in our Glass Craft Camp for next week, and we have more than a couple available for July 19th. We also need to fill one spot in the glass-blowing camp next week. Busy, busy, busy. The next three weeks actually all have orders scheduled to ship so I have got to get most everything fired this week. It would be too much to try to fuse orders and do camp.

Okay, time to go cut the last pieces of opaline and Tekta for the last of the transparent opaline-a-palooza samples and GET THEM FIRED. Does it seem to anyone but me that this is a project that just won't die? This is definitely the last time that I agree to do 2" X 1" pieces of clear AND another color (opaline, in this case) for each 2" sample square of glass. Either that, or I have the participants cut their own half squares! Heck, since I am responsible for the firing, the post-fire clean-up, and the labeling (even though the latter two are really done by Judy), maybe I should have workshop participants cut ALL the glass!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

She Does!

Yesterday was a very special day in the glsss studio. We had a glass blowing date in the afternoon, and at the beginning of it the man proposed! He had arranged it with us in advance and everyone in the studio got into the act. Jessie thought that Todd should make a wire man down on bended knee holding up his hand to offer the ring. I wanted the man to hold a red rose, Todd made the man, Lee distracted the bride-to-be so we could get him set-up on the steel marver, and the groom to be did his part by getting down on bended knee himself to propose. She said "yes of course!", they kissed, drank champagne... and got on with the glass blowing! A butterfly even landed in the hotshop and blessed them with good fortune. I leave the video to tell the rest of the story for me.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Camp Endeth

Coffee in the Denver skyline mug, "Cloudy This Morning" by George Winston on the iPod. I am at my desk in the studio on this fine Saturday morning. We have three glass-blowing dates today (can't very well call them date nights when one is at 10:00 am, one is at 3:30 pm and only the third is at night) and after getting the first one set-up, I am catching up on everything I didn't get to during the first week of summer camp madness. I think I broke Todd... again. To be fair, it was a bit of a bait and switch week for him. He was told he'd be doing the camp for three hours in the afternoon and he ended up being there from at least 9-5 every day. He has a week to recover now (as do I as we do not have anyone signed up for either of my sessions this week--kilnforming in the morning and jewelry-making in the afternoon. I should be at least a little disappointed about the lack of campers, but, frankly, I can't work up the energy. As usual there is no dearth of tasks clamoring to get done and I am hoping to get up a new website, do a class schedule for July, make the forms for a smoother date night, write about Groupons, and send a newsletter this week.

The first session of summer camp was a rousing success. All the campers had a good time (we wore them out too!) and they made some beautiful pieces. I learned some unexpected lessons with this session. As a parent I suppose I should have known, but I didn't take into account that 7-9 year-olds need free time during the day to read, sketch, or just turn their brains off. Going from one project to the next all day for five days is just too much for them (not to mention for me). I am also bad in that I tend to give too many choices for everything. Instead of offering a limited color palette, I let them choose from every color Bullseye makes. Instead of saying we're going to use frit for this project, I let them use frit, confetti, stringer, and cut pieces of glass.

However one thing that worked out way better than I thought it would was expanding the difficulty of their projects. They were way more interested in and excited by learning to cut glass than I thought they would be. They made a ton (really, a metric ton!) of kiln beads during the jewelry afternoon.

For the next Glass Craft session (the week of 6/28) I am going to both limit their choices and expand their technical range. Two of my campers are returning for the next session so I also need to make sure that they are doing enough different that they won't be bored.

Today I need to switch gears and get going on orders for my work. I took three new orders last week and I still have to get them entered into the POS system and the firing schedule. Okay, to work! To work!

Friday, June 18, 2010

2:30, It's the New 4:00 AM!

Nothing to drink, the sounds of the clock ticking, the dogs snoring, and Tuffy the hamster running in his wheel upstairs for my early morning music. *Very* early morning music. As I lay away at 2:30 this morning I decided I might as well just get up and do some work. I have been fretting about not having enough hours in a day to get everything done, and being wide awake this morning while everyone else slumbered (Jessie in with me and Mom back in the guest bed) seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

This week has been a chaotic blur. We had a full house Tuesday and Wednesday nights as friends who moved to Bangkok today occupied the guest room and Jessie's room. Mom, J and I bunked together in my bed for those days. Ho boy, a whole new snore pattern to get used to (just kidding Mom). This morning as our friends were finishing the repack of all their boxes and suitcases, the cleaning people arrived (they *never* come before noon--this morning 8:50) and hot on their heels was the repairman for the washer and dryer. Pandemonium reigned. (Don't forget summer camp started at 9:00--thank heaven for Todd!). But everything worked out--as it is wont to do. How? I don't know. It's a mystery.

Summer camp has been exhausting and exhilarating. The projects have been fantastic. My main worry is that I have been so focused on making it a really great, full glass experience that I have worn the kids out. Today they very much wanted free-draw and reading time so we had a pretty low-key day. They put together their picture frames, cleaned out their kiln beads, made hammered-copper bookmarks, and did a little free-form fusing. We did not have water slide time again today as at least one of them was so covered in mosquito bites from yesterday that another bite would probably have caused him to turn into a giant mosquito (ala Jeff Goldblum in "The Fly"). The campers also made invitations to an exhibit of their work which will take place tomorrow (scratch that--TODAY!) from 3:30-4:30. They are going to set up pedestals to display their work and we are going to have a gallery reception with lemonade, iced tea, and nibblies to show off their amazing portfolios.

But summer camp is not all that has been happening in the studio this week. Date Night continues to be wildly popular--we have three scheduled for Friday and Saturday. I am doing the Farmer's Market this Saturday morning and handing off to Lee about 11:00 as Judy has the day off so I need to head into the studio to work there the rest of the day. We also have a very special Date Afternoon scheduled that day--more on it next week. Orders are trickling in from customers who aren't coming to the shows, and I got a request for a proposal to do 800 glass and steel pieces for a corporate gift by January... A job like that comes in and I won't be adding either Beckman's OR the One of a Kind Show this winter.

The week has not been without its pitfalls. After doing the penultimate enormous load of opaline striker samples the other day I had an epiphany. I was pretty disappointed at how they turned out--they weren't at all as striking (oh what a witty 3:00 am punster poster I am!) as the ones I had seen at Bullseye last summer. And then it hit me: I was putting the opaline on top of the other colors and firing it and that's not at all how it's best used. Yes, over opal glasses it has to go on top or you wouldn't see it--and we were all a bit underwhelmed with how the opaline-on-opal samples turned out. But to get the most bang in combination with transparent glasses, the opaline needs to go on the bottom. Oh. Damn. I flipped a couple of the samples and re-fired them opaline-side down and (predictably) got bad devitrification from firing shelf-side up on the second firing with only a washing in between firings. But the color was much better.

(I think I am finally tuned into it being Friday and not Thursday in terms of this post. I did go to bed last night and slept from 10:00-2:00--I haven't been up since Thursday morning. But it is confusing nonetheless.) Yesterday (meaning Thursday) I tried another firing with devit spray and I am hoping to refire all the transparent samples from the last load and to finish firing the rest of the opaline samples today (the majority of the transparents--and they'll be opaline-side down!).

Now it is after 4:00 and I should probably toddle back to bed to get a little more sleep before the alarm starts shrieking. Groupons post still coming--and a quick question on them, gentle reader. Are they as popular in your area of the country as they are here? Or is this an Atlanta phenomenon?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can It Be Shorter and Sweeter?

Sauvignon blanc in the stemless again--it's been that kind of a day (week?). I have adorable pictures from summer camp today, but I am too tired to post about it. Tomorrow is another day... Hey, at least I posted!

PS--I really will post about Groupons in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Camp, and Kiln Loads, and Groupons, Oh My!

A little (well, more than a little) Woodbridge Chardonnay in a Riedel stemless glass, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for background music. What a day!! Two more orders from wholesale customers came in today, it was the second day of summer camp, and I had a second look at a relatively new on-line marketing tool. It was a full and... thought-provoking... day.

Yesterday's summer camp project was the glass sketch for 7-9 year-olds.I put up photos of the pictures they drew on yesterday's post, here is a quick side-by-side of a couple of them in paint/pencil on one side and pre-fired glass in the other. I finish with the glass post-fuse. These kids are AMAZING!

Today's summer camp project was chalk drawings in the morning with the the campers as the stars of their drawings, and fused glass picture frames in the afternoon in which to hold the photos of the drawings and their camper stars. It was a another scorcher in Atlanta, and the little campers sweltered in the pursuit of their art. Heh.

The worst part was when the pictures were done and they had to lay down in them so I could take pictures of them. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the sun was directly overhead and their little grimaces of pain from the sunlight in their eyes somewhat spoiled the effect of the pictures.

At the end of the day we got a summer storm and all the chalk was washed away. The drive looked a bit like the fairgrounds the day after the carnival pulls out--tawdry and sad.

Between summer camp and date night cd's and phone calls and and and, I didn't even get started on my kiln loads till about 6:00 pm--bad as I was already a day late (I should've fired Monday, but the day ran too long, and I should've fired Sunday but, and I should've fired Saturday but but, and Friday and back to Wednesday--my first day home from Vegas).

By 8:00 I had the penultimate load of opaline-a-palooza pieces in, shards for Todd for orders from Vegas, the picture frames--and the first ever sheet of glass I've had to make specifically for Todd. The premise of my work with him is that he repurposes shards of Morceaux de Verre pieces that have been smashed because they are imperfect in some way. I don't throw them (anything) out--and I have never liked selling "seconds"--so it has been a great combination of work to put his metal around my glass and make it into something new and great.

Anyway, Todd has an order for about 60 of his trees for a catalog, each tree uses three pieces of glass in the base, and they want the trees as close to identical as possible (i.e., the same glass) so for the first time we didn't have enough of the right glass and I had to make it. I'm curious to see how it will turn out tomorrow, this 20" x 35" 1/4" thick sheet of Earth glass. I'm also curious as to how well the colors work when it's smashed (and I can't wait to see Todd and Judy's reactions when I make them smash it--you wouldn't believe how many old pieces that would have made great shards were "rescued" because one or the other of them couldn't bear to break them up).

Though summer camp and the kiln loads would each have made a full and interesting post, it has been such a day that I am just now getting to the most interesting happening of the day. Some time (months?) ago Lori approached me to ask me what I thought about Groupons...

I am such a tease, but it can't be helped. I just looked at the clock and it's almost midnight. I will turn into worse than a pumpkin if I don't get TO BED NOW. Speaking of what I could turn into, I need to remember to take a picture of my birthday present from Todd so I can post it. It was too perfect. More on Groupons tomorrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Camp Has Begun!

Coffee is some weird conglomerate of espresso, Starbuck's House Blend, cappuccino and hot chocolate from the Tassimo machine (I was caffeine-deprived). Today is the first day of Siyeh Glass Summer Camp and we are out of the gates with four campers in the 7-9 Glass Craft Camp.

It's only the first day and I've already changed the program around--Todd has them in the morning and I have them in the afternoon (hence my being able to post right now :-). This morning they got their art baskets--their totes of camp goodies and supplies from pencils and sketchbooks to sidewalk chalk and paints--from Mr. Todd. Then the fun began...

Today's project was to draw a fish bowl on paper in the morning, and then this afternoon to translate the picture to glass and make a plate that would be slumped. Danny started the slide sideways by asking if he could do a dinosaur instead of a fishbowl. Then the girls decided to draw their favorite Pokemon characters instead of a fishbowl. Then they all wanted to do square instead of round pieces...

Clearly they had too much energy so after snack Todd filled water balloons for them and we herded them all out back by the picnic table. No, we didn't line them up and splatter them ourselves (tempted though we were). Instead we set up Steve (the big aluminum man) on some old glass crates and let them have at it. After much wet hilarity, we brought them back inside to finish up their drawings. It's now about time for lunch, and this afternoon I take over and it will be time for GLASS! More pics tomorrow...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Welcome to Sunday!

White jasmine "sun tea" for my beverage, the sounds of air conditioner and fan for music--welcome to summer in the south! And welcome back to seven-day work-weeks. Don't get me wrong, I'm not working all day everyday, but I am working some of every day. Summer camp starts tomorrow and I have at least ten other directions to go in right now too--and that's just for Siyeh Glass and Studio. Add the things I would like to do in the house this summer to the mix--like paint my bedroom and bathroom (and you know painting for me is never just about rolling on a color and being done--there has to be glaze and faux techniques, and silver stars included), make lush, silk curtains for the bedroom, put in the pond/bog pond/vegetable-herb garden, build a bunny hutch with a ground-level run for Jasmine, fix up J's playhouse by putting in a new floor and carpeting the loft area--and maybe paint it too, and as a stretch goal ('cause everybody needs a stretch goal) paint J's room like a jungle (with the direction, artistry and help of Elaine Snell).

But this is Glass Incarnate, not Stranded in the South, so let's get back to glass "stuff". While I was in Las Vegas Lee and his son Miles added a shade and rain roof off of the hotshop (wood with a metal roof blending in seamlessly with the rest of the structure) and Judy sorted and organized my scrap glass, tools and supplies into student and personal areas--I actually have a shot at finding everything I have now! This weekend Miles is building an outdoor storage hut for the oxygen and propane tanks (and putting in new hoses and shut-off valves) so we can get them out of the bead classroom. I am going to take the time today--now that the year is over half-over and the month is almost half over in the time it took me to blink--to plan out the studio goals and tasks for the rest of the year and to schedule them! Wow, big task. I'll post the results tomorrow ;-).

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's No Longer 1995

No coffee, no music. Went to bed after posting last night, but couldn't sleep. Gave up trying as Dave dulcetly snored and came back down to the computer to enter my show orders into the POS program. Got all but a couple entered and slid back to bed by 1:30. This east-coast/west-coast thing is really beating me up. For yucks and grins going to throw Chicago into the mix in July and back to Montana in August. My poor internal clock!

Enough whining, time for glass thought if not actual glass work. We had Date Night in the studio last night and we have another scheduled tonight and one tomorrow night. Our biggest source of daters right now is the $20 paid listing (I started with a free listing) I have on the Access Atlanta website--an online component of our daily paper The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC). Giving credit where credit is due, what the AJC did well is choose the right technology partner. Too many businesses (maybe mine too) realize that they need to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this Internet Thing and so they whip up a website or other presence themselves thinking that's enough to compete in today's market. Too wrong.

It isn't enough just to have a website or a blog or a Facebook page or twitter. Side note: I still don't get why people think social media sites are a good idea for business in general and a local business in particular--I find constant twits (I mean tweets) and advertisements (I mean business updates) annoying. No, in order to be successful on the web you need a GOOD web presence with a user interface designed by someone who actually understands usability. It is no longer 1995, people! A mediocre website is as useless as a bad one.

The AJC made the smart choice of using ZVents as their technology partner for providing information about things to do in Atlanta. They put their own face on the site, but you search for events and how they are presented is all ZVents. This is what you get when you search with just the qualifier of "tonight" in Atlanta. There's our listing--right at the bottom of the page! Not bad for a tiny, intimate, urban studio!

The lesson I learned from this experience is also extensible to the studio art side of my business. It's not enough anymore just to go out and do shows and hope the customers will come to you and place orders. Again, it's no longer 1995. It's also not enough for show organizers to throw up a website that shows the work of the exhibitors and maybe offers store and gallery owners another way acquire it. Face it--anyone can put a shopping cart up on a website today. I am completely underwhelmed by my experiences with both Wholesalecrafts and the BMAC web interfaces (from the perspective of uploading and maintaining information about my work). And I hate the necessity of having to go out on my own, one little person, to find a better solution!

This post, unfortunately, only offers frustrations, not solutions. I don't have solutions yet. Now I'm off to the basement to do some yoga and maybe meditate a little to relieve my business frustration. But look at the bright side--at least I'm posting again!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Have You Seen My Groove?

Just let the dogs out in the backyard for their nightly ablutions and I have a couple of minutes to put up a quick post before they come in, and I head to bed. I have lost my groove. Maybe the show knocked more stuffing out of me than I thought, but I have been down in the dumps since I got home. I am interested to hear how Tahmi does at Beckman's as I have been considering that show myself. I am reconsidering participating in the One of a Kind Show again this winter--even though I had previously sworn off retail shows.

I am getting so tired of struggling like a salmon heading up stream every year! Lately I just want to chuck it all in and float back towards the sea. But I won't, because I'm a salmon and that's just not what we do. We're fighters, and I am going to make this glass business thrive if I have to swim everyday till next year...

So much for slowing down.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Revolution Does NOT Continue For Me

Coffee at Kavarna (and it's good and strong), music is from the cd that accompanies the book R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country and it's very 1920's/'30s and GREAT. Thank heaven for strong coffee as my body is beat to sugar from me dragging it back and forth across the country and three time zones twice in a month. But enough about my old and tiredness: Let's get on with it, let's do the annual ACRE (American Craft Retailer's Expo) review!

I am not going to pull any punches in this post. There is a lot wrong with the wholesale show market right now, and I have my own theories on why and what I need to do about it for my business. But let's start with the positive...

Set-up--in spite of me not shipping the clear acrylic stands to hold the work on the wall panels--was really short. We were done by 5:00 on Friday (and we had finished at 7:00 the night before) for a total of 14 hours--down from 23 last year. I had the box of extra stands and Todd wired me up a bunch more so we were able to get all the work up.

The first day was slow and the orders were small. Most of my buyers were new customers for me, and the best-selling work was Todd's aluminum and glass (especially the people). The second day was pretty dead, and the third day I only took one order, but it was a really good re-order from an existing customer. The bad news on that order was that I had been playing phone tag with them for a month about the order and they would have placed it had I been at ACRE or not--which is the same information I got from a new buyer who said she'd started an order for me several times over the past month and never gotten around to finishing it. Now let's go into raw numbers.

The first year of ACRE was 2007. My numbers were pretty dismal, but I didn't expect anything big: It was a first-year show, my location wasn't very good, and my booth layout was good, not great. ACRE 2008 was my blow-out year. My average sale was $1,041 and 83% of the sales were to new customers. It was my best wholesale show ever. Then came 2009. While the number of sales only dropped 6%, the average sale dropped to $559 (down 46%) and the gross sales were down 49%. The number of new customers dropped 53%. Whew. But we all knew the economy was shot to sugar in 2009, so we put on our big girl panties and forged into 2010 determined to survive and grow. But though the economy seems to be making little gains (my data is from my numbers at the February BMAC show and the cautious optimism I am hearing in the voices of the buyers placing orders with me outside of shows), ACRE was down in every way for me this year. I felt I had the largest body of work and one of my strongest booth layouts ever (debuted at the BMAC in February), but the sales did not match.

Though new customer orders were up 15% over last year, the average sale dropped another 22% to $433 (number of sales only dropped 6%) and the gross sales were down another 29%. I left the skew of the two big orders from existing customers in the mix, and even with that advantage, the numbers are not telling me a good story about my future at ACRE. There seemed to be far fewer buyers than ever before (I am waiting for the official attendance numbers to be published on the ACRE site to validate that feeling), and of the buyers who were there, I didn't feel that my work was a good match for the majority of them--for type or price-point

What I took away from the show is that the people who shopped at ACRE had small budgets and were looking for low-cost gifty things. I hate to say it, but when I walked the floor I felt that their expectations were met by the work represented there. While there were a few artists with incredible work (Lynne Meade, the potter in the booth next to me immediately jumps to mind), I did not see enough fine-craft artists. I felt there was a disproportionate amount of country, cutesy, or both. When I went looking for a gift to bring home for Dave I had a hard time finding anything that I couldn't live without. I do not take it as a good sign when one of the artists has an "everything at under $30 retail" sign in their booth.

THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM OF ANY ARTIST'S WORK! There is value and beauty in *every* labor of love and they are all desired by different people at different times no matter what the price. What I am trying to point out is that a show needs both homogeneity of expectation and caliber AND diversity of work to be successful. Let me explain....

It is important for everyone's success (vendors and buyers) to be well-matched at a venue. One of the big complaints that American craft artists have of other large wholesale shows (gift shows, I mean you) is that many of the vendors are there with inexpensive, mass-produced goods from overseas and because of the preponderance of them, the buyers who attend the show also favor them. Think about it: If you are a buyer, you are going to attend shows where there is a lot of what you're looking to buy. If you can't afford/don't sell high-end craft, you won't attend a show where that's mainly what you see. If you are looking for unique, high-end American craft, you don't want to go to a show where there are booths and booths of little gifty items made in East Somewhereovertheristan.

When a new show comes out, it takes a few years to get the vendors matched to the buyers. When ACRE started, the organizers heavily courted (and still do) the fine-craft artisans who produce unique high-end work, and some of them came to the first shows. But (AGAIN--ALL MY OPINION HERE) the promoters also had to fill the floor space, and to plump up the show they took a lot of work that did not interest the fine-craft buyers, and annoyed the fine-craft artists who came. In 2008--the biggest year of the show so far for buyer attendance--I heard from over 15% of my buyers that they were disappointed in the quality of the work at the show. I still get repeat orders from those buyers, but they don't attend the show anymore. Likewise, I heard from several fine-craft artists (primarily in glass) that they were disappointed in the other work represented at the show AND the quality of the buyers (high quality = big budget, big piece buyers).

Yes, people were born to complain. There is always someone who has something negative to say, and artists are more cantankerous than most people. However, cranky or not, I think there is some grain of truth to the criticism that each year ACRE has an increasing representation of cottage craft over fine craft. In the organizers' favor, there were several really promising emerging artists this year (I wish I could remember the name of the woman who had the fused glass bowls that were frit and chunk and layered and transparent and beautifully coldworked). But I was still left wanting at the end of the show. Wanting to buy something special for Dave, something that caught my eye and made me covet, and it just wasn't there.

So where am I going with all this? "It's the economy, stupid" doesn't seem to be the answer to the questions why are many fine-craft artists making less and less at wholesale shows and why are fewer of them doing the shows. The BMAC has also suffered greatly in the wake of the economy. The attendance at their last two shows--both artist and buyer--has been down too (though that was partly the fault of the weather in February--see the bicycle at left). However they seem to have been able to maintain a higher proportion of fine-craft to cottage-craft artists for their shows and a higher number of fine-craft buyers. Don't get me wrong--I think they're limping along too, but they seem to be faring better than ACRE is. Is that surprising? No, they've been around longer, they have more reserves of buyer and artist credit to burn, and burn it they are.

In a time when sales at shows are plummeting, both the BMAC organizers and the ACRE organizers are increasing the number of shows they put on--and pissing on each other's turfs (and by consequence on the artists) in the process. There's a new ACRE show in Orlando at the end of January--right before or maybe even at the same time as the February BMAC (if the timing of the BMAC show is changed to the end of January as rumors predict). There's NICHE the show (aka BMAC west), which was just held in Vegas concurrently with the ACRE show--ostensibly to piggy-back off of the JCK show. All this scrabbling for turf and buyers is doing is squeezing the artists. Our show expenses have not gone down. I was encouraged to do *both* ACRE and NICHE by show staff. Can you imagine? It costs me about $5,000 to do a show and I did not even make that amount in gross sales for ACRE!

Conclusions? Unless I am given a really compelling reason (and I mean seriously compelling), I am not doing the ACRE show again next year. I am doing the BMAC in Baltimore this summer, and I have no expectations for it. The show staff for it has just spent all their time and effort since the February BMAC on NICHE the Show, and they are just now shifting to the summer BMAC which is less than three months away. It is being held in a new venue in a new city. One of my BMAC buyers placed an order two weeks ago and said "See you in Philly in August" at the end of the call. When I asked her didn't she mean Baltimore, she was dumbfounded. She didn't even know about the change of venue. Color me underwhelmed.

I think I may have a better place for the $15,000 in marketing money (not to mention all the time and energy) I spend a year on the three wholesale shows I do. That's what it is, after all--marketing money. It's not like you get it back in wholesale. More on that in another post. I've been working on this one all day and I'm tired.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Viva Las Vegas!

Dee has just run down to the coffee shop (26 floors down) to get me another cup of coffee (is she a great friend or what?!) as she is dressed (from the first coffee run) and I am not. It's almost 1:00 pm Atlanta time and I have only been in Vegas since last night, but I am already adjusted to the time change. The week in Montana a couple of weeks ago primed the biological clock and I am right back to being a westerner (no surprise there). Now if I can just get back to being a blogger!

Life has taken me somewhere unexpected over the past few months. I can't say I was spiraling down (or up), nor can I say it took me down a new path as both the spiral and the path imply some predetermined (if potentially unknown) direction. I have been more like a leaf on a lazy stream: I have floated left and drifted right... No, that is the wrong analogy too. I know! I've been an ant foraging for the hill. I wander here and there and on some missions I find something and come back successful, while for others I am tired, footsore and empty-handed at the end of the day. There is a long-term goal and a drive to any given action, but everything I do is a bit scattered and haphazard when taken one action at a time.

It is good to be flexible enough to catch life's curve balls and throw them back, but a life of reaction instead of action is draining and joyless. Time to put the joy and purpose back into my days, and one way of doing that is to get back into a routine. Routine and budget, those are two great lacks in my current existence. And so I begin the effort of renewed routine by posting here from Vegas on the first set-up day for the American Craft Retailer's Expo.

We haven't been to the convention center yet (set-up doesn't begin till 2:00) and right now everything is shiny and bright with possibility. Set-up can go quickly and smoothly, the electricians won't hassle us about putting up our own lights, the show will be well-attended, we'll take lots of orders, and maybe we'll even have the energy (and the money) to go to the Thunder From Down Under one night... "Anything can happen, child. Anything can be."

Now I best finish the coffee Dee so thoughtfully brought me (after I whined and pleaded A LOT), and get dressed for my day!