First Time At A Festival, 10
days and counting...
Written by: Steven M. Roehlk
My wife and I have been doing dye sublimation for a couple of years
but decided that we need to make more money so this can be more than an
expensive hobby. I think we are like a lot of people doing dye
sublimation, not sure where we are going with the business and are
trying a few different options. I don't have a lot of money to spend
and have already spent a lot of money. Not a real smart way to do
business but that's what has happened and I would like to see if there
is a way to get some of the money I have spent back. So off to our first
festival we did go...
|Today was the first day of a 10 day
"Covered Bridge Festival".
We are selling pre-made items but think in this
particular situation it will work. We are at the Parke
County Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville, Indiana.
It is about 1.5 hour drive from us in Indianapolis.
There are 30 some covered bridges in the area and the
festival attracts over 2 million people in 10 days
time. Since there is a particular reason for the
festival we feel safe producing pre-made product with
pictures of the covered bridges. I took the photos
myself, over the last year (or so) so we are sure there
are no copyright issues with the images we are using.
We paid a premium for a 8' space under a tent located
in the Court House area. To be included in the festival
at this location we had to submit an application, with
photos and descriptions of every item we wanted to
sell. They did not approve any apparel. We did get
ok's for 4" tiles, 6" tiles and tile murals. Coffee
mugs were also approved as long as they did not say
"Covered Bridge Festival".
Some of the
$70 per foot for the booth
$25 for electricity
$10 application fee
$50 transient merchants license (this one was a
surprise. We got a letter about 10 days before the
Plus we have to dress in period clothing. 1850's
to 1920 or so. Easy enough, I guess. Men have to
wear suspenders and jeans or overalls. Women have
to wear a long dress. This was another surprise.
Not one mention of this until we received our
It was a fun day overall, other vendors that have
been doing this festival for 20+ years giving us their
opinions of how to best work this show. They have been
very nice, which kind of surprised us since we are all
competing for the same dollar. We sold a couple of
hundred dollars worth of product today and framed tiles
was our best seller. We are hoping this was a slow day.
9 more days to go.
|Today we had very nice weather, warm
actually. Not really good for a fall festival. Mugs
were selling today.
A lot of people!! Lots of comments on our product
but sales were flat. A lot of ups and downs
already. We are already second guessing a lot of our
decisions to make certain items, and whether we chose
the right area. This festival has 2 main areas that are
about 20 miles apart. The other area is more flea
market type stuff and the area we are in, is more craft
items. But still most of the stuff is the same you
would see at any outdoor craft fair/festival. The other
area gets more foot traffic.
There are 33 or so covered bridges, we have over half
on our items but of course it seems like everyone wants
the ones we don't have. I think we should have all of
them now but almost impossible to guess what would be
popular. Our original plan was to have some on hand and
if one was a good seller we would make more of that item
in the evenings.
We did get
several inquiries about doing custom murals for people.
We gave them business cards. Not going to get too
excited about that, I would imagine you have to have 50
inquiries to get one good sale. Will see how that goes.
We had a publisher ask us if we would be interested
in putting together a covered bridge book using our
photos. My wife, Jamie talked to him, not sure how that
would work but might be worth looking into later.
We have 4, 6 and 12 tile murals but haven't sold any
of them yet.
We were trying to get a good mix of product with a
range of price points. A lot of the other vendors have
items that cost a dollar but I personally don't like
selling too cheap of an item.
Here are some of our items and prices:
11 oz. mugs $8.00 (pre-made or they would be
15 oz mugs $10.00
4.25 photo tile, spacerless in stained frame
4.25 tile, in oak frame $20.00
4.25 photo tile on easel $10 (6" easel)
6" tile, in stained frame $20.00
6" tile, in oak frame $25.00
6" tile on easel $15.00 (6" easel)
4" tile in keyholder frame $25.00
6" tile in keyholder frame $35.00
Cutting board 9x12 $25.00
Did not make as much money as yesterday but sold more
|Chilly morning. We arrive at 8:00am
and open for business.
Made a sign out of gold sublimation metal to put up
behind us. A lot of people don't see what we are
offering if people are standing in front of our table.
It has black lettering and a picture of a covered
bridge. The gold sign looks a lot better than I thought
it would, the white area looks white even though it is
gold. I notice a lot of people looking up at it.
Coffee mugs seem to be the item right now.
We check with a seller in a different town than we
are and they say sales are way off from the last couple
of years. The booths around us say they did about the
same as the day before, but slower than past years. I
see people carrying a lot of bags full of something. I
need to discover what it is that attracts people to an
item and then buy it. We hear what the people are
saying while looking at our stuff and they think it is
beautiful, great, and they still don't buy. We have had
several people that will pick up something but won't be
able to decide which picture they want then don't buy
anything. I am considering telling them they can
exchange it later if they change their mind... We have
had several people agonize over whether they should or
shouldn't buy an $8 mug, some of their hesitation comes
from what covered bridge they want.
We have become
overnight "experts" on the bridges in the area. People
ask us all kinds of questions about them. We now have
maps and cheat sheets so we can answer the questions.
We spend a lot of time as tour directors. :) It can be
fun but most of these people don't buy anything.
I had an owner of a bed and breakfast in the area buy
several mugs with a covered bridge that is closest to
her, to resell to her customers. I am going to follow
up with other bed and breakfast owners and her to see if
their might be more interest in mugs or other items.
Thinking they could put a picture of their bed and
breakfast and sell or give to their customers. Maybe a
good way for the B&B to promote return trips and good
fit for the dye sublimation process..
I think the 2" tile magnets would have been a good
idea. Wish I would have thought of it, and thought of
it 3 months ago, but I really did not want to mess with
a lower cost product, only sell higher end items. I did
not think of it attracting people in to look closer at
other products. A question in my mind is, do the
cheaper items take away from a more expensive items? If
they are going to buy something and the least expensive
item I have is $8 will they buy it or walk away? If I
have a $2 there then will that person buy the $2 item
instead of the $8 item? Now I think it would have been
a good item to have.
People seem to buy the cheaper frames even though the
oak frames are only $5 more. If I was buying and saw
oak, I would buy it instead of a cheap stained wood
Sales are slow and we end up doing about the same as
Its late and I am rambling, have to start early again
tomorrow. This is like boot camp!
|Another beautiful day, a little
chilly early but very nice.
Mugs continue to sell.
Starting to run out of some images on the mugs. We sold
a large cutting board today and a couple key hangers.
We had several people requesting certain images. We
also had requests for some other projects. People
coming up to us and asking if we can do certain things.
Don't know if any will pan out but it does make us think
about different projects and new things we hadn't
thought of yet. This may be another benefit of getting
out in the public.
|The days seem to go fast
but we have an 1.5 hour drive to get home. Three hours
a day is just about too much. We are also taking our 1
yr old son with us every day. Part of the plan with
sublimation is to be able to do it as a family. Some
days are better than others with our son, today was
excellent. Yesterday wasn't.
Jamie lowered the price
on our postcard thermometers to $10, from $15. Nobody
even picked up one at $15. We have sold one now.
Even though we lowered the one item we are resisting
the urge to lower our prices on everything else. If we
can't sell things at these prices then it won't be worth
all the trouble.
Our best day yet, but only by about $50. We have a
lot of local people looking for bridges that they grew
Still having mixed thoughts about this way of selling
but one good day could wipe out those feelings I think.
|Day ? I can't remember they all seem
Rainy and cold, strong winds. Several of
the stand alone tent/displays blew over. They closed
We are starting to run out of some images on our
mugs. We are making a limited number to replace them.
Although I had to order another case of 11oz. mugs.
Laser Reproductions gets them to me in one day with
normal shipping charges. I guess we are close enough to
Chicago for that to happen.
We also ran out of 6" tiles that we were displaying
by themselves sitting on an easel. No frame, but comes
with an easel. We are making about 6 more tonight.
The Indiana Department of Revenue came through and
checked to make sure we had the proper papers. Tax
collections and tax id's. We did. I guess it is not a
good idea to try and get by without the tax id numbers,
we would have been shut down without it.
Sold another cutting board. Seems like the people
that like them like the higher quality stuff. They
would not even look at some stuff across the aisle.
That kind of stuff was not for them, so they said. Our
cutting boards are $25 for the small one. Getting a lot
of looks, but not many buyers on them. I wonder if
there is a magic price to shoot for, or under. Like,
festival buyers will spend $15 all day but at $17 they
won't buy. Just curious. Would like to know if we
need to keep most items under a certain price, although
have higher and lower priced items.
Changed placement on some items. That seemed to
help, we will start rotating items around at different
times during the day.
We had a slow day, slowest yet. Sent the wife and
kid home early. I could not walk around with our
son, too cold and wet. That is how I have been keeping
him entertained during the slow times.
That's all for today
|It is Wednesday. The weather is
nice fall temperatures. It was in the middle 60's and
But... it was Wednesday. Worst day
yet. We were warned that Wednesday would be slow but
thought yesterday would be the worst day with all the
rain and wind. We did not even sell $100 worth of
We still had people requesting certain images on
mugs, but wrote them down and asked that they check back
on Friday. Most people we have requests from are either
local or here for the week.
Mugs are the only thing we sold today.
To make things worse we found damage to almost 20 oak
key hangers. I put the hangers on the back before
putting the tile in. We had to put them in a box to get
to the show. Somehow the stuff we put in between them
fell down and allowed the hangers to scratch the frame
and tile of the one in front of it. At $11.00 per frame
and $1 something for the tile not to mention the time,
paper and ink. I bought some sandpaper and polyurethane
from a variety store on the square. I will be able to
fix the frames but most of the tiles will have to be
remade. I have been using Novus scratch removal
products to remove the really light scratches. Novus
has a spray and and liquid almost like a really light
rubbing compound. After I use the Novus stuff, I use a
heat gun (Milwaukee industrial model) to get the rest
out. The combination of the 3 things gets almost all
scratches out except if the image is damaged. The
printing industry uses the Novus stuff on offset plates
to remove scratches. Luckily I used only a small amount
of liquid nails in 4 spots so I can punch out the tile.
It comes out hard but doable. LESSON LEARNED!!!!
|We can see the end now.
Sold a 12 -
4" tile mural of a one room school house with a covered
bridge in the background. The person that bought it
attended the school. She just loved the mural. (It was
a relative of my wife, but she really did like it)
Had a person request a mouse pad with a certain
covered bridge yesterday, said she would pick it up
today. We did not make her pay for it. She was our
first customer today. We might have broke the rules,
but since she "ordered" it, I think we are ok.
We realize the display could be better, even a lot
better. As I said before this was somewhat of a last
minute decision. I know that is not a good way to do
things but I think if we have a good product at a decent
price we will sell. We are still selling stuff despite
ourselves. I think it is important sometimes to just
get out and try. You will learn something. I really
don't want to spend hundreds of dollars in displays,
lights etc. until I know if I want to do this type of
thing occasionally. I am still not sure if I like the
idea of festival selling. I don't know if I want to
invest a lot of money in displays or if I am only going
to do this once.
We have made back what we put into the show. The
next 3 days will determine any profit. A long hard way
to make a few bucks if that is how it turns out.
Coffee mugs continue to be our best seller. We have
sold some framed tile, and only a few key hangers.
Best day yet. Don't know why, but it was, and we
will take it.
|Day 8, nice weather
Slow day! Oh,
did I mention it was a sloooow day.
Mugs sold today. Found out someone else in another
town close by must be selling mugs with "The Covered
Bridge Festival". We were not allowed to use those
words on our mugs. We have been approached by many
people looking for a souvenir mug with some type of
wording. They come up and say, "Oh, is this the place
with the "covered bridge festival mugs"?" and they are
disappointed when I don't have them. They (the festival
committee) reserve mugs with that saying and all apparel
for themselves. They have an official embroidery place
doing shirts etc. I am going to find out if I could
have been their official mug supplier.
Another vendor came over to talk. He is selling a
"throw" with all the bridges pictured. He said he is
never coming back. Another vendor with a poster that
has all the bridges on it isn't doing very well. I am
not sure what market he was going after. It is a high
end poster, $20. But it is still a poster. I think he
might have had a few 8x10 photo's of the bridges for
sale too. I wonder if I should have printed some
archival pictures of the bridges suitable for framing
for a decent price. I am already setup for it. Maybe
postcard size, 4x5 and 8x10's. Something to
consider next time around.
I took a trip to one of the other towns that host a
covered bridge festival, Bridgeton Indiana. Boy, what a
crowd. Tents, pole barns and booths everywhere. Only
thing is that I noticed anyplace with nice stuff like
artists' painting etc where completely empty. The flea
market type stuff was packed with people. Looked for
the mugs, spying on the competition! :) But did not find
There is one more town called Mansfield that is also
a large flea market type of setup. I probably won't be
able to make it there with only 2 days left.
I might lower my prices on 2 items, not sure yet.
|Some of our mug images
|It's almost over.
Good day today. Sold a 6 tile mural of a bridge.
Mugs are still selling good.
As this comes to an end we will be evaluating whether
this was worth it. 10 days is a long time. Our little
guy is starting to dread the drive.
I talked to several more vendors today. One makes
pottery, real nice stuff. Some priced over $1000.00. A
real artist type. He has been on HGTV 32 times. Just
ask him. No one seems happy with the way things
are going at this show.
|The show is over. Looks like we made
a profit, sort of.... as long as we don't
count labor hours. I know, we can't make a living like
that, but thank goodness, we don't have to, I still have
my day job. It was good to get out in public and see
how things would go. I think with some work we could
double our sales at this event.
Today was excellent as far as sales go, we had close
to $500 in sales. We do not have a total for the 10
We had several orders, and did not make them pay
upfront. If they would have been larger orders we would
want money upfront. But the way it turned out they all
came back and picked up the orders. We got orders for
mouse pads, several custom mugs, and some tile with cork
We did do some dealing, there were several mugs that
just were not selling. The graphic did not go over like
we hoped. We dropped the price on those mugs by $2.
From $9.99 to $7.99, sold most of them. They were 15oz.
We ended up selling about 3 cases with about 1 case
of mugs left over. We will use the left over mugs at a
weekend Christmas show later this year if we decide to
be there, or for Christmas gifts for family members! :)
Otherwise we can use them next year if we decide to do
this again. We even think they could be sold in ones
and twos at other types of shows. There is a country
festival in one of the towns next spring and I think
this stuff might draw some interest.
The biggest thing we did wrong was our display. We
need lights and a place to hang the hanging things. It
would help if the people had to "walk in" to the
display. Part of the display is ease of setting up and
tearing down. It took us about 15 minutes.
I think the best thing we did was to get out and
try. We did not know what to expect. Now we do.
The guy across the aisle from me sold 1000 $1 wooden
ornaments. The country sign type. I don't know if he
makes money on them but it brought in a lot of traffic.
BTW: They, the people across the aisle, were cited today
for "promoting a flea market atmosphere" after lowering
their prices and creating a sale. But their walls were
almost bare! So the next time I will have a less
expensive item like the 2" ceramic magnets. Maybe
different shapes of small magnets. I saw several
vendors get sales from a less expensive item placed out
front that brought people in to the display. They sold
a lot of $2 items without anything else but it did bring
in the traffic. When people stop, more people stop.
I think Christmas ornaments would be another good
seller. That was the number one requested item other
than something with "The covered bridge festival, 2003"
I think on site production is an idea worth thinking
We would look into another location. The tent was
really nice during bad weather but we had a lot of
restrictions. We had requests for "The covered bridge
festival, 2003" on the mugs. We were not allowed to use
that phrase because the people who rent the space
reserve that phrase. If we were down the street we
could have used that phrase.
We did not know what the depth of the booth would be,
never could get that answered. We started this late in
the game, about 2 months before the festival we decided
to try and get a both. Don't make the same mistake I
did and wait until it is almost show time to make the
phone call. And when you get someone on the phone
before you send the money ask all the questions.
I think the people running this show just assume
everyone has done this before.
Questions to ask:
What are the dimensions of the booth? Cost per
foot per day, one price covers all etc.?
Is electricity available, what does it cost?
Any special permits required?
What are the vendor rules?
When can we start setting up, can we drive to the
booth or do we have to walk from a parking lot?
(This way you know if you need a 2 wheel cart or
What bathroom facilities are close?
Anyone else selling the same thing I am?
Are any of the vendors from the past shows coming
One thing that I suspected, and think I was right,
was that people did not come for the covered bridges.
I would say maybe 25% were really interested in the
bridges, the rest for the shopping, food, etc. But I am
still thinking about putting together some sort of book
covering the covered bridges. I have begun research and
found several "books" or guides that already exist, but
are not main stream during the festival. Is that
because people don't buy, since they are not there for
the bridges anyway. So that is a question. I think
that will limit the resources I put in producing a
We have mixed feelings about doing this show again.
10 days is a long long show. We are worn out. And so
is our little guy, Skyler. All in all it
was a great learning experience.
Steve, Jamie and Skyler