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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Trade Show Savvy

In my previous posting, "Entrepreneur at Heart" I promised to talk more about the ins and outs of trade shows. I experienced my first trade show at AmericasMart in Atlanta just a week or so ago. We were there promoting our Pet Silhouette business My Pet Silhouette which has been seasonal thus far because it featured only one product, attractive pet silhouette ornaments. Our goal was to pick up some year round Christmas stores and to attract additional pet related businesses so that it would bring in year round cash. I had just expanded our line to include hand-stamped pet silhouette coasters which would also help us gain more year-round business. So, here are a few things I'd learned.

First, for this type of trade show, and remember, I said this is the best trade show in the U.S., you can expect to spend around $4,000. It was over $3,000 just for our registration fee. We stayed in an Extended Stay hotel and drove in from 20 minutes away to save money. Even so, between the printing and display costs and the hotel costs, and parking costs, you can tack on at least another $1,000. That included us eating in, buying our own groceries and bringing our lunches.

Location, location, location. You want to choose which building and floor you are on based on the type of product you are selling and who you think your target market is. AmericasMart has three tall buildings, 20 floors each, and each building focuses on different products. Our ornaments were seasonal, and though we had added coasters to our line, we decided that choosing the holiday section for our location was best. We registered for the trade show very late. In fact, there were only two spots left in Building 3 where we wanted to be. I asked the woman who supervised our area which of these two locations she felt was best. She suggested the second row slot and this proved to be a good choice because of all the traffic.

Create a professional, attractive, and well lit display. We bought a Christmas tree on sale after Christmas and loaded it with twinkle lights, then added artistic touches like a feather boa, gold "straw", gold bows and lots of our pet silhouette ornaments. Some vendors had adjustable spotlights. We used twinkle lights around the top frame of our booth.

Signage is also important. Your booth comes with a basic sign--black print on white card stock with you company name and your booth number. We had a large, laminated sign with our logo and name plus multiple laminated blow ups of a variety of pet breeds which we suspended. We also displayed our ornaments on two multi-tiered spinner racks. A subcontractor provided two long folding tables and skirts for them plus collapsing risers. We draped the risers with black fabric and leaned our coasters up against them. We also added gold table cloths on top of the white skirts. The booth had a rich and classy feel.

Hand outs. You want to have business cards and flyers with all your info on them. We also had order sheets. Ones with carbon work best so those who place orders have a copy to take home with them. (We didn't have these but learned quickly that we should have.)

Enticement to sign. Many vendors have a show special. If you sign with us at the show you get a ...... Our show special was a free spinner rack.

Resources. One huge plus of the show was all the valuable resources available to us. We were considering expanding our line to include pet silhouette cameo necklaces so we visited several booths to find the supplies we needed for making these.

Networking. The networking is invaluable. You get to know the vendors near you and share info. Those who visit your booth also often share valuable info. Make sure to write it down. It's also smart to ask those who visit for their business card. Jot down on the back what info you gave them, whether they ordered, and any other important info that will help you remember them. Follow these leads up when you get home.

Inspiration. I couldn't believe the innovative products people were selling. The second floor of the building I was in was devoted to handmade items. Many artists and crafts people displayed their wares and were taking orders. This is how many people get their lines started. Doing so moves you from a mere artist to a designer of sorts and you will land accounts and then need to find help making your products. Seeing their work also gets your creative juices going and by the end of the show we had lots more ideas for products we might want to create.

Prepare to grow. Many owners of million dollar businesses started by taking their small cottage industry ideas to a trade show. This is a great way to grow your business, but you also have to be prepared for those who want to order large quantities. It can quickly take you to the next level...Better have a game plan for dealing with mass quantities quickly if it happens. A top level exec from PetCo visited our booth, loved our ornaments and gave us permission and contact info to connect with a key buyer. If we land this account we will have serious expansion challenges but we are ready to give it a shot.

Though $4,000 is nothing to blink at, the investment can propel you to success. You just have to be willing to invest that type of money if you want to grow you company. It could be a life-changing experience.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Interview on Tiffany Colter's Writing Career Coach Site


This is the official announcement that my new book, The Treasure Seeker: Finding Love and Value in the Arms of Your Loving Heavenly Father is now available.

This week writer, speaker and writing career coach Tiffany Colter features and interview with me regarding the book on her blog writingcareercoach.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Entrepreneur at Heart

Since August of this year I have been juggling writing, art, ministry and entrepreneurship after stepping out of a full-time job for a non-profit that had more job responsibilities than a centipede has legs. I haven't missed the insanity of the job, but have missed the reliable pay check (even though it was lousy pay) and the friends I left behind. The non-profit's exponential growth coupled with unrealistic goals and expectations made for an increasingly stressful and miserable existence. I'm glad to have my life and emotional health back.

In the time following my departure, I've had no choice but to pursue entrepreneur- ship wholeheartedly in order to pay the mortgage and because finding a real job in Hickory, NC is like trying to find an iceberg in the Fiji islands. I have to admit that though we are as poor as church mice, I am happier now than I have been in a long time. I've found that I have good administrative abilities coupled with a strong creative streak and I thrive on "new and exciting." Developing new ideas is wildly appealing to me. Maintaining something for the long-term is not, because it becomes mundane and life-sucking.

So, when my friend Lena Bengston, a silhouette artist, asked me if I would consider taking over management of her Pet Silhouette business, an offspring of her people silhouette business (see www.silhouettesbylena.com ), I decided to give it a go. The business, which sells attractive pet silhouette ornaments, was seasonal,and was sadly neglected because Lena just didn't have time to manage it. We agreed I would work on straight commission but the problem was this would peak during November and December and dry up after Christmas. With 170 different pet silhouettes developed by Lena (mostly AKC dog breeds) I knew she was sitting on a potential gold mine. There were so many things she could do with these silhouettes besides just ornaments. My task, then was to make this fledgling business into something that could provide for us year round.

We needed to a) find stores that would carry these ornaments year round. (Lena knew that Christmas stores do), b) develop other products with the pet silhouettes on them, products that people would want year round and c) get our own website, which I worked on www.mypetsilhouette.net.

After mulling over these options, I started toying with the idea of coasters. Everybody needs coasters, right? And everybody loves their pet. What could be a better combination? So I researched how to do it in a manner that would cost minimum investment but produce maximum profit. Here's what I came up with --stamped coasters

The second option was to go to a trade show where retailers or Christmas stores would attend. Lena, who already has done several trade shows, knew the ins and outs and after talking with other retailers, learned that the very best trade show in the country was AmericasMart in Atlanta. In my next posting I will talk about the ins and outs of the trade show, the amazing creativity I saw there and the invaluable experience gained from it. If you've ever kicked around an idea for making a hobby a vocation, you might want to stay tuned...That's how many retailers and corporations get their start.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking in a Renter and Other Money Saving Tips

In between all the other plates I spin from, art, entreprenuership, ministry and writing I sometimes find the time to write up short articles. I've discovered the wonders of Dollar Stretcher magazine which has both a print and online version. The magazine has all kinds of money saving tips, and since my husband is in the ministry and we run a non-profit coffee shop for no salary at present, we are always on the lookout for money saving ideas.

My article "Taking in a Renter" appears in the print version of Dollar Stretcher, Volume 15, Issue 1. The January 2012 edition. We have just accepted our third renter for the downstairs portion of our house. And she seems like she's going to be a good one. But it's been a learning process as we haven't always been this fortunate. I touch on this in my article.

You might want to check out dollar stretcher at stretcher.com. You'll find tips on just about every aspect of saving money...from decorating to car maintenance and more. And of courses, there's always my article on "Taking in a Renter."

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Shell Seekers

I've read Rosamund Pilcher's books for years. Recently I completed what I think is her best work The Shell Seekers. Pilcher is a secular British author who writes women's fiction and she is a master at capturing provential British life and building a story that involves romance, although romance is not the most prominent element.

Her use of words does not strike you like a lightening bolt with incredible prose or exceptional wording. However, Pilcher excels at taking what would be mundane and making it interesting. Her characters are very believable and you quickly learn to like or dislike them.

The Shell Seekers centers around an elderly mother, Penelope Stern, who lives independently and has just returned from the hospital after having a mild heart attack. We get to know her three adult children who are all wrapped up in their own existences. Now they are faced with the realization that their mother is failing and must decide what to do about it.

Pilcher paints realistic family dynamics, warts and all as family members clash. Two of her children are shallow, materialist social climbers which builds tension between them and their free-spirited, non-materialistic mother. As the story unfolds we come to know Penelope and her past. She's the daughter of famous impressionist artist, Lawrence Stern and has led an interesting, if not difficult life that has taken her through several romantic heartaches and financial hardships during World War II. After his death, Lawrence Stern, her father has left her little materially except for a valuable painting, the Shell Seekers, depicting figures on a beach and two unfinished panels. These works come into play as the story progresses.

I don't want to ruin the story for by revealing all of the plot but if you appreciate a good women's fiction story, will definitely want to add this one to your "must read" list. If there is anything I would change it would be Pilcher's indifference to spirituality. At best she seems to only skirt spiritual matters and most of the time she treats religion as more of an institution that, on occasion, may serve a purpose. Pilcher also has no qualm about having characters in extramarital affairs although these are treated with taste, it is still something I personally hate and wish to avoid in a story. Apparently Pilcher's convictions are shared by many others. I guess I remain a woman of old-fashioned convictions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Words of Hope from a Disillusioned Leader

Everyone has times in their lives where things look bleak. If you aren't presently in a valley you may be coming up on one. If you are in a valley, you may be going through marital troubles, job loss, financial strain, difficulties with your siblings or children, depression or just disillusionment with life. I admit that currently things are tough financially for us. We started our coffee ship ministry Java Journey two years ago after much soul searching and seeking God. He seemed to be with us...providing miraculous jobs, the right location and even sending people to give us advice along the way. All seemed to be sign posts affirming that we were taking the right direction. When we finally found the right location for the coffee ship, we couldn't get the remaining amount for a loan we needed to pay salary. The American economy was in the midst of tumbling, houses were being foreclosed left and right and no one could get loans, espcially a pastor and his wife who had never run a coffee business.

We sought God and felt he told us go ahead and use volunteers behind the counter. Only God could have had such a crazy idea. And, you know what? Much to our amazement, it worked. It has been an amazing ride. But for the past six months it has been a particular difficult and trying journey. I lost my full time job at the end of June and I was our main financial support (another one of God's miracles that he provided just when we needed it). Jeff mans Java Journey with the aid of volunteers and he receives no salary. I help out when I can. He does sports officiating on the side. I've turned my hand to what I do best, art, writing and entreprenuership. The problem is none of our financial endeavors provides steady income. It's a scary roller coaster ride.

Just weeks after I lost my job,our car's transmission went out so we had to put the little money we had saved into that. My brother, who suffers from schizophrenia, had a serious bout of instability and landed in the hospital. During that same week my mother, who was his financial manager, began showing serious signs of dementia. So my sisters and I were left dealing with two crises at once. Just last week we lost a crucial volunteer who opened Java at the crack of dawn so we had to cut back to later hours. Just before that the under counter fridge died, the espresso machine sprouted a leaky casket and the backed up toilet required $400 in Roto Router service only for us to be told that we needed to replace it. We also lost a major donor whose funds were helping us pay our mortgage. I won't go into a long list of everything that has gone wrong. There's plenty. But isn't that life anyway?

Even king Solomon, a man of renown wisdom and great wealth looked back on his life and noted the futile human struggle. Despite this rather bleak outlook, he left the door open for something better. Today's morning devotion from Ecclesiastes struck me. Solomon wrote "Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better than a dead lion!"

So, here's to a new year for all the living dogs out there. Hold on and trust. Life is life--full of brokenness and struggles. But there is hope. Before long the cold winter will give way to spring and fresh life will force its way through the hardened earth. We have only to wait and hope to see what new surprises life brings and we have a greater hope that stretches far beyond this mortal existence. What better encouragement exists than that?