The Future of Trade Shows

April 3, 2010

(Note: Kate Harper, a designer in the gift industry read some of my thoughts on the long-term viability of trade shows that were scattered throughout a couple of issues of Creative Leisure News and asked me to write a piece for her blog. I did, and here it is.)

First, a little introduction: I’ve been reporting on the arts & crafts industry for 30+ years, served a total of 12 years on the boards of directors of three industry trade association that sponsored trade shows, and attended approximately 100 trade shows.

I recently returned from the Craft & Hobby Association’s winter show – the largest in the industry – convinced that trade shows as we know them today will not exist a decade from now. I’ve written about it in my newsletter, Creative Leisure News ( and Kate asked me to summarize my thoughts.

The craft industry is dominated by six major chains – Michaels, Jo-Ann, Hobby Lobby, Hancock Fabrics, A.C. Moore, and Wal-Mart. For many trade show exhibitors those chains comprise 80% of their sales.

1. Some vendors, whose new products have already been shown to, and approved, by at least one chain store, spend $50,000 or more on a show hoping the chain’s top execs will stop by.

2. A major vendor filmed his booth; at each major product line, an employee would show-demonstrate each new product. The video was then posted on the web for any retailer who couldn’t attend the trade show.

3. One vendor flies individual chain buyers to its home office.

4. There are trade shows in which vendors pay $15,000, set up in a hotel room, and then are guaranteed they will have at least a 20-minute visit from each major buyer. Part of that exhibit fee pays for the buyers’ hotel and plane bills.

5. Some vendors admitted they exhibit at a show primarily because their competitors exhibit.

6. Others exhibit because they are afraid rumors will fly if they don’t exhibit.

But what about independents? Do they need trade shows to see new products?

1. I talked to an independent retailer who spent almost all of her show time in seminars and workshops. Didn’t she want to see the new products? “My sales reps back home will show them to me.”

2. Seminars on improving your business are an invaluable element to trade shows, but consider this: Last year I moderated a webinar for 100 bead/jewelry retailers. The audience heard the speakers via their telephones or computers and saw the speakers’ power-point presentations on their computers. If they had a question, they would type it and it would appear in real time on my computer; then I’d ask the question. It was a great seminar, and no one had to travel.

3. So many exhibitors use websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to reveal their new products before a trade show that retailers can see hundreds (thousands?) of new lines without attending a show. It’s reached a point now where often Internet-savvy consumers know about a new product before a retailer does.

4. For many independents, there’s the cost of attending a trade show, but also the time spent preparing for the show and staffing the store while they’re gone.

5. A needlework company said it only exhibited at the TNNA hotel shows; the large, convention-center shows are too expensive for the number of buyers they attract.

So what’s the future?

1. Needlework already has a virtual trade show. Visit

2. Another site that is for business-to-business transactions – without trade shows:

3. Consider how much technology has improved in the past decade. You can assume it will improve again at least as much in this new one. In just the first two months of this decade, Google announced it was testing a system that is 100 times faster than broadband, and 3-D TV sets were unveiled at the Consumer Electronic Show.

4. The end result? Buyers will be able to remain in their offices and stores and visit any vendor’s virtual booth any time. But what about the lack of personal interaction? A CLN subscriber told me she toured Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood DreamWorks studio and saw a conference room with technology so advanced that a person could have a meeting with people thousands of miles away and feel like everyone was sitting at the same table – and making eye contact. is just the start.

Some things we do know

Rest assured, the cost of travel, hotels, and food will increase. Exhibitors will also have higher expenses for building and shipping a booth. If a buyer can attend seminars and see new products without those costs, will he/she continue to attend trade shows? And if the number of buyers attending a show declines, won’t exhibitors reach a tipping point and decide a show – any show – is not worth it?

The downside of all this is incalculable: The lack of networking, squeezing out independents who can’t afford the fancy, yet-to-be-invented technology, and the increased difficulty of a new vendor breaking into the market, to name a few. The result will be a touch-and-feel industry that loses its touch. The greatest value of trade shows is intangible, but as beancounters assume more and more control of the companies, they will ask, “Explain to me again why we have to spend $50,000 on a trade show?”

Think of it this way: for the exhibitors who pay the bills for a show, trade shows are a form of advertising. David Ogilvie, the founder the famous ad agency Ogilvie & Mather, defined it this way: “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody.” If a company can “see” its customers – and they can “see” the company – without a trade show, what will happen to the show?

I don’t like what I’m predicting, and by 2020, I probably will have been led off to the Home for Confused Journalists. But for those of you who plan to be in business 10 years from now, watch and be ready to change the way you do business.



The Future of Trade Shows

April 3, 2010

The Future of Trade Shows

April 3, 2010

Some Thoughts on “Made in America”

March 14, 2010

The basis of the uproar over imported ribbon (and trust me, it’s an uproar), are laws designed to protect U.S. jobs against unfair competition. I have no problem with the intent of the law, just like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s goal was to keep lead paint away from children. But like everything these days, nothing is simple and there are unintended consequences.

1. A few years ago a major industry U.S. manufacturer led a “Buy American” campaign, but then I learned all of the machinery he used to make his products was from Germany. So were his products American made? Well, sort of.

2. Then an importer called, frantic because his container load of spring silk flowers was being held up at a west coast port because a customs official decided this shipment was taking away jobs from Americans. Obviously, if his retail customers don’t receive the flowers in time for spring, they don’t want them, and the vendor had to hire a high-priced Washington lawyer, just as the retailers in this ribbon case have done.

The lawyer asks me to write a letter, which I did, saying that container load was not taking American jobs. Why? Because there were no American jobs making silk flowers for mass consumption. All of those jobs had been lost years before this container ever reached the port.

3. Sometimes I worry about what this country will be like if we don’t “make” anything anymore. But if this was a hundred years ago, when millions of farm kids were going to the big city to work in factories, I probably would have wondered about America’s future if we didn’t “grow” anything anymore.

4. When I was editor of Craftrends, the U.S. Air Force asked one of my writers, Jackie George, to conduct business seminars at a meeting for the managers of the craft stores on U.S. bases in the “Pacific Theater.” (Yes, military bases have craft stores.) The Reagan administration had thrown so much money at the Defense Department that the stores had never had to worry about breaking even, let alone making a profit. But now, after the fall of the Berlin wall and shrinking defense budgets, could Jackie help these managers improve their bottom line? I tagged along to the meeting at the Osan Air Force base about 30 miles from Seoul, South Korea.

There was no room for us at the base motel, so we had to stay at a local establishment a few blocks away; it was little more than a brothel. When we arrived we had to push our way through the prostitutes at the front door. I have no experience judging the ages of Asian women, but some of the prostitutes looked about 14 years old. I was dumbfounded.

When I returned, I read a book that was a doctoral thesis about the sex workers in Bangkok. What these women submitted to – far worse, far kinkier than simple prostitution – made me ill. And why did these women accept such degradation? To keep their families from starving back home in rural Thailand.

What would you submit to, to keep your parents from starving?

Ever since then, I’m not so concerned about conditions in Asian factories. Are the women there underpaid and overworked by our standards? Absolutely. Are they taking jobs from American workers? Maybe. But if those factory jobs keeps these women off the streets and bars and brothels in Bangkok, well, maybe it’s not so bad.

5. I’ve written about the subject before. To read my thoughts on “free” trade, visit


The Wrong Attitude: A Recipe for Failure

January 3, 2010

Twice in recent years I’ve had conversations with scrapbook people, one a vendor and the other a retailer. It was apparent that they were not familiar with Creative Leisure News and therefore were potential paying subscribers. But after I had talked to them for a while, I never bothered to tell them about CLN. Why? I didn’t think they’d be in business long enough to pay for it.

My conversation with the vendor happened while we were waiting for the shuttle bus to take us from our hotel to the convention center in Orlando for the CHA summer show. Apparently everything wrong with the vendor’s business – and maybe his life – was CHA’s fault.

“The CHA board doesn’t care about scrapbooking!” he declared. I pointed out to him that approximately three-fourths of the board were directly related to scrapbooking: distributors such as Peterson-Arne and Notions Marketing, retailers that either specialized in scrapbooking or had large scrapbook departments, and manufacturers/publishers of scrapbook products.

That cut no ice with him. Nope, nobody on the board cares about scrapbooking.

Moving on, he then declared that CHA doesn’t do anything to educate the retailers. I took out the show schedule and pointed out all of the business seminars CHA was sponsoring at the show.

Nope. CHA isn’t doing anything.

At that point I gave up. Rather than accept the world as it is, and try to figure out how to better meet customers’ needs and profit from it, he seemed content to complain.

Does that sound like a recipe for success?

Having Fun

I talked to the retailer at a trade show a few years ago when scrapbooking was at the height of its growth. We were both waiting to talk to a Design Originals staffer and the booth was mobbed. We started chatting as we waited, and I mentioned that if I were attending the show with the idea of opening a scrapbook shop, I would be overwhelmed by the choices: sooo many vendors of paper, tools, carry-alls, stickers, albums, etc.

I said I think what I’d do is go to a distributor such as Notions Marketing, explain what I wanted to do, how much square footage I had, and have them suggest what I should carry.

“Oh no,” she said. “You don’t want to do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because that’s no fun! It’s much more fun to run around the show floor and order from all kinds of folks.”

“Do you have a set spending limit, a certain open-to-buy amount?”

“What’s open to buy? Oh no, I just use my credit card.”

She did not understand the difference between being a missionary and being a merchant. She had a love of scrapbooking and wanted to spread the word. Things like freight policies, volume discounts, margins, and sales per square foot would just take care of themselves as long as her heart was in the right place.

Well, I hope she had fun while it lasted.


A Little Christmas Humor

December 20, 2009

I try to end each issue of Creative Leisure News with a humor piece. I enjoy it and think it’s smart to have your readers/customers leave your product with a smile on their faces.

Below are some of the items that have run in CLN‘s Christmas issues. (Note: Many of the humor items are sent to me by Wolfie Rauner, a retired manufacturer’s rep and my unofficial humor editor.)

Memo From Santa

The recent announcement that Donner and Blitzen have taken the early retirement package has triggered concern about other restructuring decisions at the North Pole.

Streamlining was appropriate considering the North Pole no longer dominates the season’s gift distribution business. Wal-Mart and home shopping channels have diminished Santa’s market share, and he could not sit idly by and permit further erosion of the profit picture.

The reindeer downsizing was made possible through the purchase of an imported sled for the CEO’s annual trip, plus anticipated productivity from Dasher and Dancer should take up the slack with no discernible loss of service. Reduction in reindeer will also lessen airborne environmental emissions for which the North Pole has received unfavorable press.

Rudolph’s role will not be disturbed. Tradition still counts for something at the North Pole. Management denies, in the strongest possible language, the earlier leak that Rudolph’s nose became that way not from the cold but from substance abuse. Calling Rudolph “a lush” was an unfortunate comment made by one of Santa’s helpers and taken out of context at a time of year when he is known to be under executive stress.

Today’s global challenges require the North Pole to continue to be more competitive. Effective immediately, the following economy measures will be implemented in the Twelve Days of Christmas subsidiary:

The partridge will be retained, but the pear tree never turned out to be the cash crop forecasted. It will be replaced by a plastic hanging plant, providing considerable savings in maintenance. The two turtle doves represent a redundancy that is simply not cost efficient.

Eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming is a simple case of the band getting too large. Replacing them with an outsourced string quartet will produce savings which will drop to the bottom line.

Furthermore, retailers are insisting we drop-ship; after all, stretching deliveries over twelve days was inefficient.

Regarding the lawsuit filed by the attorneys’ association seeking expansion to include the legal profession (“thirteen lawyers a-suing”), action is pending.

Finally, deeper cuts may be necessary to stay competitive. Should that happen, management will scrutinize the Snow White division to see if seven dwarfs is the right number.

Corporate Merger Announced

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years.

While details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having 12 days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides. By combining forces, we’re told, the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukkah, as the new holiday is being called.

Massive layoffs are expected, with lords a-leaping and maids a-milking being the hardest hit. As part of the conditions of the agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience.

Also, instead of translating to “A great miracle happened there,” the message on the dreydl will be the more generic “Miraculous stuff happens.” In exchange, it is believed that Jews will be allowed to use Santa Claus and his vast merchandising resources for buying and delivering their gifts.

One of the sticking points holding up the agreement for at least three hundred years was the question of whether Jewish children could leave milk and cookies for Santa even after having eaten meat for dinner. A breakthrough came last year, when Oreos were finally declared to be Kosher. All sides appeared happy about this.

A spokesman for Christmas, Inc. declined to say whether a takeover of Kwanzaa might not be in the works as well. He merely pointed out that, were it not for the independent existence of Kwanzaa, the merger between Christmas and Chanukah might indeed be seen as an unfair cornering of the holiday market. Fortunately for all concerned, he said, Kwanzaa will help to maintain the competitive balance.

He then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful.

And finally, here’s a new one:

We Should Have Known….

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.

 Therefore, according to EVERY historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, EVERY single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a girl.

 We should’ve known.

ONLY women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.


Changing the Name of Our Trade Association

December 6, 2009

The Craft & Hobby Association is sponsoring a consumer show in Anaheim in January, but this is not the first time the industry promoted a consumer event in Anaheim. The first one, more than a quarter of a century ago, was one of the most significant events in the history of the industry, but not the way you might think. Here’s why:

The Hobby Industry Association, CHA’s predecessor, was launched almost 70 years ago by hobby manufacturers and retailers. They made and sold plastic model airplane kits, radio-controlled cars, model railroads, etc.

Eventually a few craft manufacturers such as Dave Ladd of Walnut Hollow, who didn’t have a trade association or show of their own, joined HIA. As the craft industry grew, so, too, did the craft membership in HIA.

But crafts were a completely different animal from hobbies. HIA was a male-dominated group selling to men and boys through its own set of distributors. There was little connection, if any, with craft manufacturers and retailers.

By the time I went to my first trade show in 1980, the craft folks were angry at HIA. The board of directors was composed entirely of hobby people, and the craft members felt they were being short-changed: All of the members’ dues money was going towards helping the hobby companies. Crafts were left out, or at least the members felt that way.

HIA’s executive director was a former hobby retailer; when he retired he was replaced with the son of a hobby retailer. There was a plea to change HIA’s name to the Craft & Hobby Association, but it fell on deaf ears.

The answer, of course was to get craft people on the board of directors. The way to do that was to attend the annual business meeting where the nominating committee that would choose new board members was elected. (Under the bylaws at the time, it was almost impossible to elect a board member who had not been chosen by the nominating committee.)

The craft people whined and complained, but never bothered to attend the business meeting. So each year more hobby people would be elected to the committee and, guess what? The committee chose hobby people for the board.

Then one year in the early 80’s the board decided to turn Sunday, the last day of the trade show, into a consumer show.

This outraged the craft people for three reasons: Sunday was always the busiest day of a trade show because the retailers’ stores – almost all independents – were closed on Sunday and the storeowners would drive to the show. Plus, almost all sales went through distributors, so vendors didn’t know which area stores carried their products, so they couldn’t refer consumers to them. Finally, the craft vendors had no experience with a consumer show.

How angry were they? At the time I was editor of the trade magazine, Profitable Craft Merchandising. I published six pages of irate letters to the editor complaining about the consumer show. Have you ever, anywhere, seen a publication with six pages of angry letters complaining about the same thing?

Many of the letters were repetitive, but I thought it was important to convey the volume and depth of the anger.

So, finally, after years of whining but no action, craft members attended the annual business meeting. By that time they were the majority and easily elected their colleagues to the nominating committee. Later they submitted craft names to the nominating committee and a year later they were on the board of directors.

The number of craft board members continued to grow until finally the board decided it was time to reevaluate the definition and purpose of the association. Various committees were appointed, met, and reported to the board. Eventually a consensus was reached: the Hobby Industry Association was a craft association.

When that happened, the hobby people left HIA and formed their own groups. Now HIA was all crafts.

HIA has been a “craft” association ever since, although the term has become an umbrella to encompass crafts, scrapbooking, stamping, needlework, art materials, and more.

And years later, when the HIA-ACCI merger task force met to combine forces and form a new association, the question was asked, “What should we name the new association?”

Jim Scatena (FloraCraft), Mike McCooey (Plaid), Ron LaRossa (Delta), independent retailers Emma Gebo and Jim Bremer, and I reached a unanimous decision in about 15 seconds: the Craft & Hobby Association.

It only took about 25 years, but that first consumer show was the galvanizing start of the process.


What Playboy Can Teach Us

November 22, 2009


A major, enduring question for publishers who sell their magazines on newsstands is what elements on the cover affect sales. People unfamiliar with consumer magazines would be amazed at the amount of time art directors, editors, and publishers spend trying to make the cover more appealing and sell-able. Kit manufacturers ask a similar question: what elements on the box help or hurt sales? Playboy has some answers.

Years ago I attended a seminar conducted by Playboy‘s circulation manager, who had just concluded the publishing industry’s most extensive analysis of magazine covers. The company took every element on its magazine’s covers and conducted a correlational analysis of decades of newsstand sales results.

Was the cover girl a blond, brunette, etc.? White, African American, etc.? Lots of cleavage or not so much? Was the model facing the camera or profile? Was there a prop, such as a bicycle, or not? Each background color ever used in the magazine’s history. Lots of cover language (“blurbs”) or not so much?

So what elements do you think correlated with higher sales?

None of the above.

The factor that consistently correlated with strong newsstand sales was the size of the issue. And that makes sense, if you think about it.

Imagine you’re looking at magazine at a newsstand. You pick one up that has a cover price of $3.95. Does it feel like it’s worth $3.95? If it does, you’re more likely to buy it.

I suspect the same may be even more true for kits. You probably can’t open the box to see what’s inside. The cover is attractive and interesting, but does it feel like it’s worth $9.95?

So therein lies the conundrum for publishers and kit manufacturers. To reduce costs, you decrease the size of the issue or lighten the weight or shrink the size of the kit without lowering the price. But then the item or issue isn’t as likely to feel like it’s worth it.


Trade Show Nightmares

November 1, 2009

If you exhibit at enough trade shows, something bad is eventually going to happen. So as a public service, here is a list of things to bring with you, apart from the booth, samples, etc., based on true stories in our industry.

Bring an umbrella
It was ungodly hot in the Rosemont Convention Center during the ACCI show one summer. The air conditioners in the ceiling were really working hard, and one malfunctioned. Suddenly gallons of water poured out of the ceiling onto a ribbon exhibitor’s booth.

When it rains on you inside the convention center, it’s time to go home.

Bring a hard hat
Eventually the INRG cross stitch show moved into the new convention center in Charlotte. A janitor told me when the center first opened there were two conventions, one on each floor. The show on the second floor was for one of those direct-sale companies, such as May Kay Cosmetics. Apparently at one point it became a huge pep rally with hundreds (thousands?) of women jumping up and down.

When that happened, the ceiling tiles on the first floor began raining down on the attendees.

Bring boots

Just in case this happens again: I heard about a sewer backing up in an aisle at a trade show, spillage raw sewage onto the show floor.

Bring your putter
The final few old Ben Franklin shows were slow. Really slow. So slow that bored exhibitors created a miniature golf course in the aisles. I never heard who won the tournament.
Bring pajamas
One night in Atlanta two sales reps went out and celebrated a particularly successful trade show. They really celebrated. One, whom shall remain nameless, finally staggered back to his room, took off all his clothes, and collapsed on the bed.

A couple of hours later he awoke to answer the call of nature. Still “feeling no pain,” as my mother used to say, he went into the bathroom. But as the door slammed shut behind him, he realized he was not in the bathroom but in the hallway, stark naked.

Bring a censor
The old Craft World tried a huge Expo in Kansas City, but apparently forgot to tell retailers. The show was so empty and the exhibitors so bored that by the last day they were conducting sexually explicit make-it/take-its.

You started with a wooden bracelet, and then you painted a portion of a man’s anatomy on it, and then you glued two little pom poms – oh, never mind.

Bring your old booth
When I was editor at Profitable Craft Merchandising, we had a really nasty, falling-apart booth. Finally we ordered a new booth, but had to use the old booth one more time at the MATCH show in Philadelphia. We planned to junk the booth when the show ended.

Wouldn’t you know, we won the Best Booth award.

Bring armed guards
A few years ago a young couple packed in their van their booth, all of the samples, literature, etc. – everything they needed to exhibit at the Memorytrends show. They drove to Las Vegas, parked in the hotel parking lot, and checked in to their room.

The next morning they arose and went to their van only to find…. nothing. Their van had been stolen.

Bring… I dunno what
There was a horrendous windstorm one year during the floral show in Las Vegas. For some reason, when the main dock doors were opened, it created a wind tunnel that blew down a particular booth. Five times.
Bring your blinders
A friend told me about attending a crochet convention in an Atlanta hotel, which apparently was also hosting some sort of porn-stars convention. He said at one point he entered the elevator with a little old grandmother type who was there for the crochet event. Then, who gets on the elevator but a well-but-artificially-endowed, scantily clad star of some porn movie such as Debbie Does Dallas. He said it made for an interesting juxtaposition.
The trade show from hell
One year the HIA board decided to bring the [now] winter show back to Chicago, where it had been for many years. In January.

It was held at the McCormick Convention Center on the shores of Lake Michigan. Of course it was cold, very cold. I grew up in Chicago and was used to the miserable cold, but buyers and exhibitors from the Sun Belt suffered horribly. On set-up day, the dock doors were open all the time to bring in the booths. Ever try to set up a booth in sub-freezing temperatures?

Once these poor frozen folks received their booths at their booth space, they were descended upon by union workers, who wouldn’t allow them to erect their booths or even plug in their lights. Take your light cord and plug it into the wall? That’ll be $35.

The show was on one floor of the convention center, and a huge gift show was on the second floor. Both shows ended at the same time each night. There was only one hotel within walking distance, so when the shows ended, thousands of people had to wait for the shuttle busses. But the structure of the building at the time was such that only one bus at a time could pick up people. Buyers and exhibitors waited outside in the cold January winter for as much as 40 minutes for their shuttle bus.

Then the Bears won the Super Bowl. Show attendees were trapped in their hotel because the streets had been blocked off by rowdy, drunken Bears fans.

Then, on the last day of the show, the space shuttle blew up. A few exhibitors had televisions in their booth (left over from watching the Super Bowl two days earlier). Everyone at the show spent the day huddled around tv sets watching the tragedy. Virtually no business was done.

When the show mercifully ended, the union workers descended again and charged exhibitors for taking down the booths and unplugging the lights. Pull out the light cord? That’ll be $35.


Adventures in the Jewelry Trade

October 18, 2009

A few years ago my wife Barbara, a notorious non-crafter, took a couple of jewelry-making classes and got hooked. It wasn’t long before she realized she couldn’t possible wear all of the jewelry she’d made, so now we lug tables and a tent to central Illinois art fairs and sell her creations.

For the most part I enjoy the experience – I like the fresh air and most of the people who attend art shows. And selling to consumers is a constant, intriguing mystery. Some memories:

Our Favorite Customer

While we were setting up for the art fair in Macomb, IL, a young man ran up to us and almost shouted, “WHERE ARE YOUR EARRINGS?!?”

Startled, we pointed to a side table. He grabbed the first pair he saw and said, “HOW MUCH?!?”

I looked at the price tag and said, “$15.” He fumbled in his wallet, tossed $15 on the table, grabbed the earrings, and ran off. Total time of the sale from beginning to end, about 15 seconds.

We figure he was in big trouble with his girlfriend.

Our Least Favorite Customer

At the Pekin, IL Marigold Festival, a woman came in the booth and spent about 20 minutes looking carefully at all of the jewelry. While she looked, she went on and on about how much she loved Jesus.

Finally she choose a couple of items, wrote check for $60, took her purchases, and left.

The check bounced. We called her twice and each time when she realized why we were calling, she abruptly hung up.

Apparently if you love Jesus, you don’t have to balance your checkbook.

Our Favorite Compliments

1. We sent a bracelet to a friend for Christmas. When she opened the package, her teen-age daughter said in shocked surprise, “Mom! That’s not ugly!”

2. Another friend was walking down a Manhattan street wearing one of Barbara’s necklaces when a homeless man said, “Hey lady! Nice necklace!”

Our Worst Show

Early spring, Decatur, IL, in a field. The temperature was about 40 degrees, and the wind was about 40 mph. When we’d try to put the jewelry on the tables, the wind would blow the precious baubles into the mud. But the last straw: the show had one of those huge inflatable houses/rooms that little kids could jump around in. The wind ripped it off its moorings and when we saw this huge room bounding down the Illinois prairie, we packed up and came home.

What We Bring to An Outdoor Show

Learned the hard way: Bug spray, suntan lotion, rain jackets, and hats, because you never know. Clamps to hold down the tablecloths, in case of wind. Water bottles that were filled the night before and put in the freezer. Two thermoses of coffee. A water bowl for all of the thirsty doggies whose owners are looking at the jewelry.

(The most unusual dog we’ve seen: At first glance the dog was a Golden Retriever. But a second glance revealed very short legs. I asked the owner who told me the dog was half Golden and half… are you ready for this? … Dachshund. Staggers the imagination, doesn’t it?)

What Continually Mystifies Us

1. Every show there’s a certain piece of jewelry that, by far, attracts the most attention. Sometimes it’s sold, but often it isn’t. And every show the big attention-getter is different, even though the shows may be only 30 miles from each other and attract the same kind of people.

2. Every show we change the display in some way because we haven’t found the perfect solution. We have settled on a few things, such as women buy by color, so all the red items are grouped together, all the black together, etc.

3. Timing. At one show we’ll sell a couple of hundred dollars worth in the first hour and think it’s going to be a great show, then hardly sell anything else the rest of the day. The next show might be dead until the last hour when we have numerous sales. Go figure.

Charming the Customer

Here’s a comment I often make: “My wife made all this; I’m just hear to lug the tables and put up the tent. You know, husband-type stuff.”

Women love that line – I suspect married women like it better than single women. My favorite response from a customer: “Oh, so THAT’s what husbands are for.”

Shows We Don’t Like

Some shows have turned into glorified flea markets. We’re given up on shows that are not “juried,” in which you have to send photos of your work before you’re allowed to exhibit.

What’s Different This Year

Overall sales this past summer have been about the same as last summer, before the economy tanked. The big difference is credit cards: Pre-recession, lots of customers paid with a credit card. Today, they pay cash or they don’t buy anything.