Event Report: Geek Craft Expo

Last weekend I headed over to Madison, WI for the Geek Craft Expo‘s Midwest market.  I had heard of the show from crafters I met at the Made in Nerdwaukee event, and it hit all of my buttons, vending wise.  Geek Craft Expo is a series of craft fairs around North America which focus on handmade geekery.  It’s the sort of craft fair where you find crocheted Yoda ears, dice boxes, fandom inspired bath bombs, and jewelry made out of circuit boards.

This was one of the best planned and run events I’ve ever attended.  There was a score of volunteers who helped vendors unload.  The background music that ran the whole gamut of fandom musical tastes: from “Real Folk Blues” to the Quantum Leap theme music.  The room was decorated with standard Halloween fare, there was a scavenger hunt for the kids who came by, as well as trick-or-treating, a make and take, and costume parade.  More importantly, for me, was the well-stocked vendor lounge with snacks and bottled water.

The last bit was important because I managed to lose my voice for the entire weekend.  I had been sick for the week leading up to Geek Craft, yet still managed to drag myself out to vend.  I spent most of the weekend behind my table, communicating with customers through notes and pantomime.

As well-run as the event was, traffic and sales were disappointing.  I don’t blame the event runners at all; their March expo was a huge success.  This time around, however, they ran afoul of football season.  I estimate that the total crowd over the weekend was a little under 1,000. By contrast, the crowd at their March event was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000.  On the one hand that meant I didn’t have to interact with as many people while sick and speechless, but that also meant lower sales than I had expected.  As my booth neighbor, Moira, pointed out: “The conversion from browser to buyer is right where I expected it, but there just aren’t enough bodies coming through.”

And to their credit, the people in charge acknowledged the low attendance.  When the show closed and people started packing up they made the announcement that future shows would be scheduled well outside of football season.  I appreciated their candor.

I barely made booth, which means I lost money once I took gas and expenses into account.  I am honestly not as upset as I otherwise would be about the low sales.  Everything else was so nice about the event, that it sort of washes out in the end.  If I end up being in the area when the next expo is planned, I will definitely be signing up to vend.

 

Event Report: Made in Nerdwaukee Tent Sale

Back in March I vended at TINY HANDS craft show to benefit Planned Parenthood.  It was a great experience, not only for the money I made, but because I had forgotten how empowering it can be to spend time with artists and crafters who are passionate about their work.  Most conventions I vend at I’m often stuck in the booth, so I don’t get much time to chat with other vendors, and often the other vendors are reselling mass produced items.  So there’s not a lot of opportunities for me to soak in the creative vibes that come from being surrounded by makers.

I made a note in my journal that I wanted to find more geek-friendly craft fairs to vend at.  This led me to the Made in Nerdwaukee Tent Sale hosted by 42 Ale House.  This is the third Made in Nerwaukee event 42 Ale House has hosted.  Last year they had the tent sale and then a Christmas event, all featuring crafters from the area.  From what I had heard from the grapevine, it was a good, low-key craft fair with the added benefit of being hosted by a bar so one had accesses to alcoholic refreshment.

While I love travelling to Milwaukee because I get to hang out with fellow crafter and friend, Moira, this trip was special.  For the first time I allowed myself to get excited about vending.  Where before I was always riddled with guilt about either dragging my family along with me, or leaving them behind, I had finally decided to embrace the fact that this is my job.  Not only that, but this is a job I enjoy and having fun with what I do is not something to be ashamed about.

I spent the three days before heading out on prep work instead of my usual frantic hustle to get one last skirt or bag done.  I made signage and worked on displays and crafted little sewing gnomes and skull carrying unicorns.  Most importantly, I actively worked on keeping my anxiety levels low, and my anticipation of having a good time high.

Cross Stitch Signs
An example of the signage I worked up for Nerdwaukee. I really like the simplicity of the sign, and it does go along with my evolving booth aesthetic.

Come Saturday I was up, showered and dressed, and had the Jeep packed by 7:45 am, a minor miracle around these parts.  A quick stop for caffeine and breakfast saw me on the road by 8:00.  I headed up to Milwaukee blasting Electric Six, and letting my phone’s GPS guide my way.

I love road trips.  I grew up in Wyoming where they are necessary for everything from visiting relatives to getting groceries.  Driving I-94 from Chicago to Milwaukee isn’t the same as a stretch of US-20 between Worland and Cody.  It’s not without it’s charms, though.

Made in Nerdwaukee was thoroughly charming.  Moira’s booth was to the right of me.  To the left was Copper Chicken run by Nichole, who makes wonderfully geeky pillows.  I also finally met Michelle of Crafted in the flesh after a year or more of knowing about her through Moira.  Sitting in shady tent, sipping on a cider and chatting with customers was the perfect way to spend a Saturday.  I was even introduced to a Wisconsin staple—cheese curds—making this event peak Milwaukee for me.

Made in Nerdwaukee Display
A pared down set up at Nerdwaukee. I still managed to fit pouches, wallets, usb holders, keychains, dice bags, skirts and scarves into a 5″ x 5″ space.

One of the highlights of the day was chatting with a lesbian couple about making some pieces for their wedding.  They are planning costumed nuptials with one dressing as Morticia Addams.  The more I say I am not a wedding sewist, the more the Universe keeps challenging me on that, it seems.

Mildred at Nerdwaukee
MIldred donned a scarf, bag and skirt for the day. I’m considering making a belt to hang bags off here at future events.

In between sales patter and actual sales, I worked on an embroider project.  This piece isn’t for anything, it was just something to keep me occupied when traffic was slow.  I find working on a project is better than screwing around on my phone; it saves on the battery, too.

Embroidered Project
Had some fabric, needle and floss, and a hoop in my booth bin (as you do) so I worked on this creature between chatting with customers.

As I have for the last few events, I made slightly more than my goal.  Since I changed the way I calculate what my target is I have met and/or exceeded it every time*.  So I take that to mean I am doing something right.

This was my first event since April and I’ve realized I have to have one every four to six weeks.  Longer gaps between shows means I end up with very lean weeks.  The nice thing about Nerdwaukee was that I didn’t spend any money on creating inventory.  I took only what I had on hand.  That plus the low cost of the booth meant it was a good filler event between major ones.  If I can find more of these kinds of craft fairs, it would mean greater financial stability.

At the end of the day Moira introduced me to a Polish buffet.  We ate potato pancakes and perogies and plotted our next adventures.  I headed home full and happy and singing till I was hoarse to “Improper Dancing.”  The night ended with a glass of blackberry whiskey before bed.

This is it: the contentment that I have been fighting for for years.  A day of happiness with what I do.  I still have issues: financial, mental and emotional. There is so much more work I have to do, this is just a pit stop on the road.


*My old calculation for events was Number of Expected Attendees × Number of Cents Per Attendee.  Both numbers were volatile, dependent upon my ability to accurately estimate how many people would be at an event and then adjusting the cents/attendee to the kind of event I was vending at.

My new calculation is Event Expenses (booth fee, travel expenses, etc.) + (# of hours of the event × $20).

Convention Report: Midwest Gaming Classic

There are many things I like: the color purple, unicorns, turtles, wine, fuzzy socks, working in my pjs.  Over the past few months I’ve added two new items to that list: the way women’s faces light up when I tell them the skirts I make have pockets, and when a woman pulls on a skirt, hands me cash, and dances out of the booth, headed for adventure.  I got to experience those Christmas morning grins and twirling happiness many times over this past weekend at the Midwest Gaming Classic.

Held outside of Milwaukee, MGC encompasses a spectrum of gaming: from arcade to console to tabletop.  My booth was in the outdoor tent they erect in the parking lot of the hotel.  That plus the corner stage that saw a rotation of various bands, and the whole event had a flea market, county fair feel where cosplay, jazz renditions of the Mario Brothers theme, and air hockey all came together.  It attracts around 10,000 attendees, and hosts various rooms with arcade games free to play.

The stage part was equal parts fun and annoying.  The booth was right across from the stage and every hour for an hour there was an act.  Most of the time it was loud to the point of headache inducing.  It also made it hard to talk with customers.

And there were lots of customers.  The foot traffic was steady for all of Saturday and most of Sunday.  Men with backpacks, ball caps and shuffled the aisles, their mouths pulled into frowns of concentration as they scanned the boxes of game cartridges, computer parts and vintage ephemera.  Kids and teens skipped from one booth to another, touching everything, all thrown limbs and tripping feet.  The women strolled, weaving their way through the crowd, here dipping into a booth and then lighting out, carrying a plushy, a signed print, or some other prize of geekery.

I shared the booth with Moira of Memento Moria.  By our crafty powers combined we are Awesome Geek Girl Wearables!  Splitting a booth with someone not only helps with keeping costs down, but it means you both will have back up for bathroom breaks and food runs.  I was reminded why this is so important by our booth neighbor: a sweet guy selling anime fan staples like Pocky, along with candy, drinks and bookmarks.  He did steady business, and was on his own for the entire weekend.  We helped out when we could, keeping an eye on things so he could run to the restroom.  By the second day my anxiety was triggered by worry that someone would walk off with something.  Thankfully I had medication with me and I have gotten much better at taking it when I need it, rather than trying to tough the anxiety out.

The only low part came in the morning of Sunday while I was watching our neighbor’s booth.  A man looking at the bookmarks caught my eye, pointed at me, and then beckoned me with his finger.  The gesture was so dismissive, so patronizing, I had the instant urge to bite the digit off.  Instead I just told him curtly that it wasn’t my booth and the owner would be back soon.  Finger Man slithered his way down the aisle, never to be seen again.

Over all, it was a really good convention.  I made a little more than my goal*, handed out lots of business cards, and even had someone follow me on Instagram as we talked in the booth.

And now I am back.  I took Monday off to recuperate, because working conventions is hard work, no matter what my Jerk Brain would have me believe.  And now I am ready to head back into the workshop to work on the commissions I took at the show and to get ready for the next event which will likely be in June.

As for Midwest Gaming Classic, I’ve already made plans to return next year.


*I reworked how I calculated my sales goals this year.  Before I would take the number of expected attendees and multiply that by the amount per person I usually make at similar events.  The problem, though, is that different kinds of events have wildly different amount per person: Anime conventions, for example, tend to bring in a little under a dollar per person, whereas general science fiction conventions is more in the .25-.50 cent range.  This difference made for lots of variation and guesswork, and if an anime convention had a bad year, it cast doubt on the numbers.

Instead, I decided to figure out the number of hours I would be at an event and multiply that by how much per hour I charge for labor.  The resulting number is lower than the previous calculation, however I have hit that goal and exceeded it each time.  At this point I will take a more realistic, if lower, sales goal.

Convention Report: Wizard World Fan Fest

I want to be able to report that we headed into Wizard World Fan Fest like gangbusters and came out swaddled in a warm Snuggie made out of cash.  Alas, that is not the case.

The weekend started off great.  Stephan and I headed into the city Friday morning to set up.  We were hyped up on caffeine and sugar (and no sleep on my part).  Set up was super easy.  We got there before most of the other artists and got to drive right into the show floor.  Between the two of us we got everything ready in a couple of hours and we headed back home in good spirits.  It was pretty much all down hill from there.

Viking Dad hard at work
The Viking Dad hard at work at Fan Fest. He had a few on site commissions Saturday.

When deciding on shows to vend at, you look at a lot of factors: attendance, timing, who is running the show, cost.  With Fan Fest, I knew I was going into a brand new show—it was originally supposed to be the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest, but Bruce Campbell had to pull out—but I figured that Wizard World wouldn’t have gone ahead with the show if they didn’t think people were going to come.  And with it being in Rosemont, it meant we wouldn’t have to travel, pay for a hotel, etc.  With all that in mind (and after looking up the average attendance for other Wizard World shows) I went into the weekend with what I figured was a respectable expected sales figure in mind.

We didn’t even make a tenth of that.  In fact we lost money on this show.  It’s been years since I’ve lost money on an event.  I’ve broken even, or made less than I was expecting in gross sales.  But to lose money?  On a local show?  The attendance just wasn’t there.  I was assured by both our booth neighbors that the Wizard World Comic Con in August sees ten times as many attendees, and has four times as many vendors.  But I also heard that Wizard world has expanded their events so much over the last couple of years that vendors are feeling the effects and sales are down.

Rich Kunz
One of our booth neighbors, Rich Kunz, from www.diligentvisual.com, was upbeat and helpful all weekend long.
Brian E. Baity
Brian E. Baity, of The Creation Crib, our other booth neighbor had very positive energy.

None of that is really helpful knowledge now.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.  I spent so much of my energy trying to remain positive leading up to Fan Fest that I don’t have much energy to combat the disappointment.  I am back to questioning the feasibility of my plan.  Jerk Brain keeps telling me that if I were smarter I would have anticipated this; if I weren’t lazy I would have researched more.

In struggling to find some sort of silver lining, I look to the time Stephan and I spent in the booth.  We had a good time with each other.  And when things started to get really bleak on Sunday, he made me a necklace in hopes of cheering me up.  Our booth neighbors were awesome and had lots of encouragement for us.  I saw some very cool and clever cosplay.  And I did have really cute convention hair on Saturday.

Also on the plus side, we won’t have to make up as much inventory for the next show in a couple of months.  Well, I won’t.  So far nearly every piece of chainmail jewelry Stephan has made has been bought.  So he might have to slave over some cold aluminum links for the next few weeks.

Cute Convention Hair
The best part of the convention was spending time with Stephan. Second best was my hair on Saturday.