As our 2017 market season comes a close, we are left thinking about the year in retrospect and as is typical for any business, discussing the endless should haves, could haves, and might haves. The only similarity between selling on-line and selling at a venue is the importance of having products with demand, however once you step into that arena with the gladiators battling it out for attention from the Roman Emperor all things learned along the way go out the window. Our conservative approach of laying items out on the table and letting shoppers browse much like they would a website was quite a foreign concept in this arena where swift talking street smart vendors had honed their sales pitches to an art that actually transcended the quality of the products in many cases. By the close of the season, many of the artists had long since packed up and thrown in the towel, after being unable to compete against vendors selling charms, trinkets, or products sourced from overseas factories. Of course, some major talent from the most season veterans remained steadfast and busy throughout the entire season.
The highlighted venues were concentrated between January and April during the peak season when Phoenix is suddenly flooded with winter refugees who flee back north once the 90s return in early April. Our early venues were quite a success for us in terms of reaching customers and learning the ropes. Most people would associate Christmas with peak season, however the 4 quarter venues ended up being a tremendous effort for far too little return on investment. Much like real estate, the key to a successful venue is “location, location, location.” Often we found ourselves just down the street from the most happening venues in town with occasional customers shuffling through and window shopping. In 2018, we will be researching the organizers, speaking to attendees, and carefully choosing the shows with the largest audience rather than considering the entry price. Just like anywhere else in business, you “definitely pay for what you get.”
From the veterans, we learned the importance of displays, putting on a show, and how to invite customers into our tent. Unfortunately we found ourselves spread to thin between our on-line business and attending the live venues which resulted in a disappointing 1st quarter. Next year, Nici will be staying back at the ranch to manage the on-line business while I venture out to the wild frontier on my own. Our mix of low budget displays and poor organization will be replaced with rustic wooden displays handcrafted from old fences and horse corals. What sells at live venues and what sells on-line are also a bit different. We usually brought a basic engraving kit to sell personalized items, but customers were really looking for unique items that represented the local culture such as horse jewelry, turquoise, photos from rodeos, leather, and southwestern themed motifs. Some of our larger cuff bracelets did fit right in and left the show with happy customers. Trying to maintain an inventory also proved to be problematic. By early November, there were rather slim pickings at the NiciArt booth. With our new hire and Nici back in the shop instead of on the road, our early season in 2018 should be the strongest to date with plentiful inventory. Our overall plan will be to venture away from the Etsy type products and really focus on the higher end artisan products.
Up to 2015, we actually had 2 shops in Etsy: one for the higher end named Metalopia and then our regular NiciLaskin shop. As Etsy restructured, NiciLaskin became the catch all shop where a customer could pick up a $5.00 guitar pick or a $5000.00 gold bracelet. The strategy worked incredibly well, however this year, the dichotomy between shoppers looking for artistic higher end and those with tight budgets has become more pronounced, thereby demanding a strategy shifting as well as calculating what items will sell best at which markets.
As you can see, our tent was void of branding, representation, and more of an eclectic roadside attraction than a focused business with a definitive theme. Even so, the roadside attraction approach often gave us more business than many seasoned veterans with their fancy displays as customers wanted to visited the odd ball shop. Never once did we loose money on a show and most often doubled or tripled the rent. My favourite events are the weekly farmers markets where a fast paced afternoon could bring in some solid sales in a much shorter period of time than those long drawn out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday festival styled shows. Sitting in the tent and helping customers seems easy on paper until you are actually out there from 7am to 5pm without food and badly in need of a restroom.
NiciArt on the Road 2018
At this point, we still have thousands of Christmas orders to ship followed by Valentine’s Day, so by the time reality hits, February will be half over. One consideration in 2018 would be buying an RV with a trailer and actually going on the road after Father’s Day. Usually Father’s Day is one of our busiest holidays, then things quiet down in July, August, and September which could be the perfect time to travel the shows in Colorado. We are also considering returning to our home town of Las Cruces, NM to attend the Country Music festival in October. The RV idea has been in the works for 5 years, but something tells me, 2018 will be the year where we dive headlong into an adventure.