Synchronized unemployment within a month of one another was not the plan. Our daughter was not due for another four months when my very successful fiancé put in his two weeks notice as regional VP of a large multi-billion dollar company to return to a small company that he had reigned as COO in the past that was on the verge of bankruptcy. The idea was he would work for free until the company was turned around and I would use my meager District Manager salary to pay the bills in the meantime. The job he was working was so stressful that we both agreed it was for the best, and we moved from Dallas to Houston to live closer to family.
My loving husband wanted to encourage my dreams and discourage me from returning to a job that would be counter productive to motherhood. He put money into savings to afford a booth at two different Houston-area craft fairs that were notorious for large crowds. $350 was the price of each booth, and they offered you pictures of the buzzing arena floor, and the clean black fabric walls provided by the collaborators of this amazing Christmas event. They let me know that there was no one there with similar products, that I would have a one of a kind assortment. The thought of that high of a cost per booth made me a little weary until they assured me great success.
Costs Began Exceeding our Income
A month after my fiancé had left his well paid job, his divorce battle was reignited once again by his bitter ex, the divorce and custody battle had been going on for over a year at this point. By rules of the divorce he was responsible for both lawyer bills throughout the entire process, and that added a very unexpected and surmountable cost to our very tight budget. I paid the child support (more than was required because we wanted my step son taken care of), I paid the rent, I paid the bills, and because I was not insured before the pregnancy (preexisting condition and all) I was paying all my own doctor’s visits and other medical expenses.
A week or two later I received a phone call from my boss explaining that I would either have to step down and manage a store that was an hour and a half drive from my home, or take an unpaid extended leave effective in two weeks due to my new medically declared prohibition of travel. “It’s not fair to the other DM’s who still have to travel,” she said as her only rationalization. I didn’t argue, what was the point? I was already tapped out on lawyer fees, and I took the unpaid leave. I was promised that my job would be waiting for me in mid-February (It was only October at this point).
To Take on the Craft Show or Not
My fiancé and I sat down and talked out the situation. What were we going to do? We had already signed up for the booths and placed a non-refundable down payment, though we did still have a balance left. In the end, it was possibly our only hope for income in such a short time frame so we decided to go for it. “I can make it work,” he promised.
We spent as little of our savings as possible and purchased online in bulk a ton of ingredients for my product, and mason jars from the local grocer for containers. We headed to Michaels and dollar tree for jars for soy candles and plastic bags for bath bombs. My old assistant from my local store I once managed came over every night and the three of us would stay up all hours crafting as much product as we could come up with. We tried to be diverse and creative, experimenting and testing our new product ideas.
The mood was hopeful, upbeat, and most of all excited.
The Craft Booth
We showed up the day before the first show ready to set up our meager table and line it with mason jars of bath salts, sugar scrubs, soy candles and baskets of bath bombs. We walked into the large complex and were greeted at the door by three very kind faces who were there to offer us our placement. We took our booth number and headed into the arena, walking past every booth. I had grown up attending craft fairs and to see all that went into creating it behind the scenes was an incredible and exciting experience for me. After heading up and down each and every aisle we could not find our booth number so we asked a director of the event. “Oh your booth is upstairs.”
Upstairs was a blank hall, no black curtains, no real space, only a line of masking tape and a blank white (and cold) concrete wall. We were in the back center, meaning we were one of the last booths any customer would see if they made it as far as our booth. I passed a billion and a half tables with bath products and candles on the way, far more enticingly packaged than ours. Our hearts really began to sink.
We set up our table and asked a neighboring booth if a line of masking tape was 350 how much was it to be downstairs in the actual showcase arena? The person laughed, “we all paid the same.” Ridiculous I thought, we should get some sort of discount or refund for this.
We spread our Walmart table cloth across our meager pop up table and lined up the product and made the hour and half drive home for the night.
The Fair Begins
To break even for the product we needed to make at least $200, to cover the remaining balance on the booth we needed an additional $300.
Night one we had almost zero interest in our booth and barely any traffic. I was eagerly on the floor promoting our products, offering free demos with my limited product attempting to just gain some sort of attention our way. The first night we went home with $16 dollars in our pockets.
Day Two, the big day, the traffic did seem a bit more hopping and we made about $60.
The final day, most the booths upstairs decided to call it quits and packed up before the day even started, this did not encourage shoppers to venture further to find us. The last day we made absolutely no sales.
The Second Fair
This fair was held over the weekend of black friday in Galveston, TX (a town with no malls or large stores that would draw any black friday shoppers). Most Houstonians stayed local on these days where the sales were.
Our booth was much improved as it was on the floor with the rest and due to the huge fail of the last one, most the vendors didn’t even show up. Of course we were in the very back of the fair mixed in with the obnoxious bling slingers and scam artists who offered a free vacation with the spin of the wheel, but I still felt more confident.
Our display was far more alluring, my assistant had painted a beautiful sign to brand us, and we had our mason jars displayed in various gift basket collections to make our product look more appealing as a gift idea.
After the three days we made $200 and we felt great, and for the incredible lack in traffic I felt that was a suitable earning. The directors of the events approached our booth at the end for the payment, (I did not realize at the time but my fiancé had pawned his Army ring and old wedding ring to pay for all these expenses, they are still in the pawn shop, still with a substantial amount owed, but we continue to pay it monthly). They wore obnoxiously proud smiles as they asked, “how well did y’all do? How much did you earn?” I answered honestly as they swiped our card and their smiles quickly faded.
Since my daughter has been born life has been a nonstop hectic roller coaster it seems and there has never been a good time to revisit my efforts, until recently that is.