We recently got a decent check from Blue Genie Art Bazaar but I still consider it a failure. Here’s why.
A while back I wrote a blog article titled “We Got In! Oh Crap!” after we got our acceptance to the Blue Genie Art Bazaar in Austin, Texas. This show is a month-long show that runs from Black Friday weekend to Christmas Eve. You are expected to set up a display, manage your inventory, and let them sell it.
Don’t get me wrong. Blue Genie is an amazing venue. The level of talent of the curated vendors there is among the best I’ve ever seen. The staff is professional and efficient. The layout was awesome and the facility was clean and inviting. The Blue Genie staff did everything they could to promote an awesome show and make it a success for everyone involved.
The reason I say that I consider it a failure is not because of anything that the Blue Genie staff did. I say that we failed because I think that we failed Blue Genie.
Failure 1: Display
The products that we had out at Blue Genie were already pre-packaged and ready to pick up and take. While we had a “for display only” set of what was in each package, I think that people didn’t quite understand that the package contained what they were looking at. Other vendor’s booths had their products unboxed and ready to put into a shopping cart. Shoppers could easily see what they were purchasing.
The display was also darker than expected. Everything just blended together and it was easy to overlook. On at least two occasions, while selling at other shows in Austin, I told people that we were at Blue Genie. They said that they were there but didn’t see us there.
Failure 2: Contract Help
During the month that Blue Genie was in operation, we had a lady who would stop by and straighten our display periodically. I also expected that she would put out overstock when things sold. We communicated with her a few times during that month.
When we went to Blue Genie to restock just before the last weekend before Christmas, we found all of our overstock still on the shelves below. In order to get to the overstock, the bottom part of the display needed to be partially disassembled. I thought it was easy to get to, but it may not have been.
We could have done a much better job with communicating our expectations. We assumed things that we shouldn’t have. One of the reasons that we just didn’t communicate was because there wasn’t anything we could have done about it anyways. Read Failure 4 for details.
Failure 3: Inventory
Monica and I had an absolutely incredible end of the year in 2018. The shows that we did were awesome. The shows were so good that we were running out of inventory and time to make new stuff was quickly running out. We actually had to take inventory out of some of the shops that we were in so we had things to sell at some of these large markets. Blue Genie was one of those places were we removed inventory to sell it elsewhere.
This is not an issue that was specific to Blue Genie, but it had consequences to our presence in Blue Genie. Inventory management at the end of the year was a huge challenge. We drastically underestimated our sales rate at the end of the year for all of our shows and chose to take things from stores we were in so we could sell them in person. I don’t believe that this had much of an impact on our presence in Blue Genie, but it definitely wasn’t a positive.
Failure 4: Commitment
This is the biggest one of all. We failed to commit to Blue Genie. Again, we drastically underestimated how busy we would be at the end of the year. I did not go visit Blue Genie until almost the end of the month-long show. We were relying on what other people said about our booth instead of looking at it first hand.
In order to visit Blue Genie, it would have taken most of a day to drive there, inspect our display and inventory, and then drive back. During the busiest time of the year, I was dreaming when I thought I could do that at least once a week.
Even if I would have visited Blue Genie, there would have been nothing that I could have done because our inventory levels were depleted and the time would have been better spent making new stuff.
What I Would Do Different
With this experience in the rear view mirror, there are a lot of things that I would do different if we happen to have the opportunity again. This applies not only to Blue Genie, but also any other venue of this type.
First, our display, while it was “cool”, was too dark. The product was heavily shadowed making it difficult to see and read labels. Second, I would display our products without packaging. This would allow shoppers to see exactly what it was they were buying and also promote that they were all hand-made.
Third, the display was impersonal. There were no pictures of us or anything that told our story. While shoppers may like our products, they ultimately buy from us. We want them to know who they are buying from. Next time, I will add at least a short description of who we are any why we do what we do.
As we grow our business, both Monica and I are going to have to start relying on other people. We (I) need to communicate better with anyone we want to help us and make sure that all the expectations are set. We (I) need to pick up the phone and actually make a call instead of relying on text messaging. We did not necessarily need to be at Blue Genie, but needed better information on what we could improve.
Of course, none of this works without proper planning and preparation. Proper planning and preparation will allow us to commit to venues such as this in the future. My big goal for this year is to have the holiday season completely planned out by July with the bulk of the inventory already made and ready to go by October 1. The one thing that I am 100% certain of is that the end of the year plans will fail completely. I want to be ready this time for all of the things that will come up during the holiday season.
Overall, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar was an amazing experience. We learned a lot about what we are capable of and what our limits are. Yes, we have limits of what we can do in a given amount of time. I do hope that the Blue Genie staff reads this (as well as other similar venues) and they can use it for their prospective vendors to learn from.
I hope you learn something from this as well. While many lessons can’t be learned until you make the mistake yourself, I hope there are at least a couple of things in here that you can learn without the mistake.
See you at market!