Craft Stalling: Jewelry Designer Ilene Baranowitz takes on Main Street Marketplace

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. But it’s alright!

Earlier this summer the city of Torrington, Connecticut held its first annual Main Street Marketplace. Every Thursday evening for nine weeks the streets were closed to traffic for an open air craft and farmers market. Ponoko maker grant recipient Ilene Baranowitz signed up to vend her jewelry line, A New Twist, and her friend’s designs, The Letter and the Spirit. There was furious wind on some days and sweltering heat on others, but the great people and invaluable lessons learned made it worth it — even if not worth repeating.

Ilene shares some highlights of what can go wrong — and what can go right — when selling your work at outdoor markets. ::

Booth display is one of the most important considerations for selling your work. Ilene continuously adapted her presentation.

“I had some really attractive displays that look like sleighs. Each sleigh holds three trays — perfect for those long, standard jewelry trays. I also had three mannequin heads as well as some decorative mini dress forms. Everything looked perfect… And then the wind rolled in! Every one of my individually bagged and carded pieces went flying all over downtown Torrington. I had every vendor up and down the street chasing the packages of acrylic and bamboo jewelry!”

For the rest of the evening, Ilene had to sell her pieces out of large plastic bins. Not ideal.

The next night of the Market, Ilene came prepared with new display furnishings, a ball of cord to tie them down if need be, and large printed banners with the name of her jewelry line.

“The banners were the best idea I had. They were designed to look like eye charts.* Like a magnet, they pulled people to the booth where I could talk to them about the jewelry — a big success from that point.

* Thanks to a comment I read from Isette who had found an eye chart made up entirely of ampersands — perfect for her typographic jewelry.”

There was a serious heat wave the third night, and Ilene’s booth was directly in the late afternoon sun. That afternoon, “most people walked on the other side of the street in the shade” said Ilene.

Beyond the lessons in logistics, Ilene gained lots of interest in her products.

“The enthusiasm and comments about my jewelry designs as well as suggestions for additions to the line was all invaluable feedback. People were constantly amazed at the detail acquired by the laser cutter. My prices — $16 for the acrylic and $18 for the bamboo — were very favorable.

My most popular designs were the dogs and cats. I walked up to a couple walking their two Scottish Terriers and had the Scotty pendant in my hand. They took one look and before his wife even said anything, the husband took out his money and THEN asked me how much. That was the easiest sale ever!”

Public markets are also a great place to make bigger business connections. While walking to her car, Ilene ran into the director of a giftshop for a local dance academy.

“I sent her pictures of my dance silhouettes, and she is so excited to talk to me about selling in the gift shop and maybe starting a fundraiser for the school.”

Weighing the pros and cons of selling at an outdoor market, Ilene has reached some conclusions.

“Weather is too unpredictable, so I think I will keep to indoor shows during the summer. I am also going to try and find a representative to sell my jewelry to boutiques. Something else I did was make a 10 page catalog of my designs. It took me two weeks to finish, but it was well worth the extra time. A catalog is a really good way to sell several designs at a show and market your work to potential retail clients.”

Do you have insider advice on selling your work at craft shows?

I’ll be putting together a top tips guide in October, just in time for the Holiday Market season. Email your tips to Kristen{dot}Turner{at}Ponoko{dot}com

And I’m not leaving out Halloween! Email me your maker/crafter/seller horror stories! I’ll publish the best terrifying tales of being an independent maker so you can tell scary stories straight from your RSS.

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