Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Recap: The 2012 Rusted Gingham Barn Sale

When I made the decision to pursue this "jewelry thing" for real earlier this year, I was unsure where art /craft shows would fit into my long-term business plan. My focus for 2012 for my jewelry-making generally has been that this year is my time to experiment and plan for my first full year in business for 2013. I used to do vendor fairs and home shows when I was a rep for a national jewelry company, but I'll be honest and say that I didn't really love doing the fairs. Mostly, I did home shows and only did vendor fairs when it was part of a fundraiser for something I was interested in supporting. So I decided to try one show this fall and see how it went. My thinking was that I needed a learning experience, so I could get a better sense of what I need to focus on - both in terms of product and displays - and what show-related things I might need to plan for in the coming year.

My only criteria for this first show was that it had to be well-reviewed and juried - I wanted to make sure that the items being sold at the show were all unique and high quality. The Rusted Gingham Barn Sale fit the bill - they're one of the top 50 shows in the U.S., and organizers Tracy and Suzanne personally review photos of displays and products before vendors are approved. I was thrilled when I got the call that Francesca Watson Designs had been selected!


The show was this past weekend, and overall I would say it went really well. I made back all my show-related expenses plus enough to buy the Foredom flex-shaft I have been drooling over for months, which was the goal I set myself for the show. Everything over and above that was gravy! (I'm paying for a new Lortone tumbler and ordering a complete set of Thompson enamel samplers with the rest.)

And, as hoped, I learned a lot.

  • Bring a friend. My best friend Kimmy went with me, both for company and as an extra pair of hands for toting stuff and watching the booth. (My husband would have been willing but we really needed him at home to take care of the animals. He came up for a few hours on the last day of the show to visit, though!) I don't know about you, but hyping my own stuff is not my strong suit. Kimmy, on the other hand, has no difficulty talking about me and my jewelry because she loves them both. And she was great company when things got slow or tough.
  • Have a checklist. I had one and there were still things I forgot to pack! Make sure you keep it updated from show to show, which we did by bringing along a small notebook and jotting down things as we discovered something would have been useful. A huge thing we didn't think about was a work table of some kind - even just a small TV tray - for closing out orders and making change. Somehow I thought we could work from the back of the display table, but we wound up working out of our laps or the seats of our chairs. Awkward.
  • Make up a personal care package for yourself. I got so focused on preparing the jewelry and displays for the show that I really forgot about my own comfort. We had lawn chairs and a cooler full of beverages, but it wasn't enough. Some things I would have liked to have on hand: a straight backed chair (those lawn chairs were uncomfortable after the first two hours); some wet wipes; a small first aid kit, including allergy and headache meds; low-sodium snacks (my face and ankles were RIDICULOUS on day two!); and more water than we thought we'd need, especially since it was an outdoor (though covered) show. We went through all our water the first day.
  • Change up your display on the second day of multi-day shows. We left the display elements the same but moved the jewelry around. Several people who came by for the second day saw things they'd just missed the first time around. "Did you have this out last night??!"
  • Use unusual display elements in addition to traditional busts, etc. My favorite unusual element were silk flower arrangements with floral picks stuck in them to hold earring cards. Also, I used a set of nesting boxes from a few Christmases ago to create levels underneath the table drape. Added bonus: they nest together into a single box for easy transport to and from the show, taking up very little space, but unpack into about 12 different size boxes that create interest on the table. These are popular gifts around the holidays, usually for chocolate or snacks, so keep your eyes open for these in the next couple of months.
Francesca Watson Designs at the Rusted Gingham Barn Sale 2012
The floral picks in the arrangement of silk grasses meant we could put the bust in a place of prominence and still have room for lots of earrings that people could get to easily.

Francesca Watson Designs at the Rusted Gingham Barn Sale 2012
Some of the nesting boxes formed elevations in front of the necklace display.

  • Make friends with your neighbor vendors. Get to know the vendors around you. It makes a world of difference in the tone of the whole day, and it might mean extra back-up if you need a hand. During this particular show, we had a very breezy first afternoon - several people around us had things blown down or blown over, and we all pitched in to get them put back together quickly. Likewise, we helped one another with change, pens, and watching one another's booths when something came up. And near the end of the last day, we did a little bartering - I got an awesome Texas-themed bench from my neighbors, Red Rock Porch, in exchange for some of my jewelry. And my neighbors across the way, Dean and Patty Gary of Bizz-zz Bee Vintage (sorry, no website), gave me a great deal on a wonderful little rolling child's closet that will be perfect for vertical storage of sheet glass.
Francesca Watson Designs at the Rusted Gingham Barn Sale 2012
Me with the lovely Camille from Red Rock Porch
  • Set a goal for each show. If it's a show you've done before, the goal might be doing some percentage over sales from the previous year(s). Or the goal might be to make a particular sales number (after recouping expenses) to buy new equipment or upgrade something you've had a long time or take additional training. Just make sure you have some reason for doing each show that goes above just earning additional money. Money isn't a bad thing, obviously, but you'll be far more invested in each show if that money translates into something that means a lot to you. As exhausted as I was, I came home late Saturday night and placed the flexshaft order before going to bed!
  • Bring actual jewelry stuff to work on during the show. This might be a no-brainer for some of you, but it was a revelation for me after one hour at the table. Especially with my friend Kimmy available to help customers, it would have made a lot of sense for me to stay busy with things that could double as a demonstration for people who were really interested in how we do what we do. We've decided that next time, we'll bring a mini-bench setup and I'll foldform or something.
So there you go - my "lessons learned" for this first Francesca Watson Designs vendor show. And I cannot recommend the Rusted Gingham Barn Sale highly enough. If you're in the South Central part of the U.S., I strongly encourage you to consider applying for next year's show. It's well-organized, well-attended, and headed up by two of the nicest ladies you could hope to meet!

Until next time!

Francesca Watson Designs on Art Jewelry Elements


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience, it sounds like a good show with really wonderful people. I do a few shows each year and you can never have to much information!

  2. Excellent post - so much good information. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Francesca, what a helpful post for so many to read! I am so glad you accomplished your goals and that you were so pleased with the show. My goodness, you did so many things RIGHT! And I love learning from what you learned! I also must add that you were a tremendously helpful FRIEND and Prayer Support to me prior to and during the sale. You have great capacity to create beauty, to love, and to share what God has put inside you. I love who you are and I love that He chose for our paths to cross and to encourage our friendship! We will do coffee soon...maybe when it's cool enough to enjoy something warm to drink!!! Thank you for helping our barn sale be a super success. We were so thankful and pleased. Much love to you! Tracy

    1. Oh, Miss Tracy!! You made me tear up. It was such a joy to get to know you and I am grateful to have made such a wonderful new friend. We really did enjoy the show, so much - looking forward to getting together for a drink and to catch up soon. xoxo

  4. Your floral picks are a great idea!,

  5. This was a wonderful post - love your idea of the floral picks! So happy you did so well! Congrats!

  6. Nice post! Especially for those beginning their "show" journey :) I went full-time in my business this year, and I do about 50 markets/shows per year. It is definitely something you either love or you don't. Some fellow vendors taught me to use a large plastic 3 drawer organizer. (the ones that resemble a small night stand) I keep my money and bags in the top drawer and my boxes and bags in the remaining two. Comes in very handy when it's rainy outside and keeps the damp off my boxes. I secure it with bungees to keep the drawers closed when I transport it. I agree with you, my #1 best item to take is baby wipes. I can clean my mirrors, book cases, dirty tables and hands with them. Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Loved the great ideas; the floral pics are a wonderful idea, and your hints about things to bring are great also. Know what you're sayin' about the water and the place to cash out!
    One small comment.....please, please, please don't let your "brought work" become a fence between your and your customer rather than a demo. That is the biggest thing I see when I go to craft marketplaces...people heads-down working, or reading, without even an acknowledgement that people are at the booth.
    Although you certainly don't seem to be that kind of person, I think many vendors have much difficulty connecting with the public~which you certainly must do at a show/sale. Bringing along a friend who can and will is a great idea.

  8. The floral picks are a wonderful idea!! I make long dangly earrings and struggle with how to arrange them. The picks in an artificial plant is a wonderful idea. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned with us!

  9. Glad you had a successful show! Great advice to those new to shows. After a while it becomes second nature - its nice to read this, reflect on my system, tweak things.

  10. All these lessons are so good to know and I will refer back to them if I ever decide to do a show!!!


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