Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Big Time in Texas

After going to the Fair Trade Federation Conference in Portland, I saw that there's a whole big country out there that we haven't explored. Needing/wanting to take the crafts to another level, I was eager to get out there.
Women's Conferences would garner likely sympathetic souls and so I started Googling. I found three and emailed all of them. A few hours later, I got a response. Peggy Ireland said that she and her husband were so excited by fair trade, had wanted to get more involved and here I was! She generously discounted our vendor fee and was so enthusiastic, I told Peter, this is going to be great!
As time went by and the economy took an even greater nose-dive, I started to doubt my instincts. Elation turned to dispare? Not being able to make my bills again in April, I wondered what I had gotten Women's Work into once again!
I scrambled to find other venues. If I'm going to go that far, we really need to make the most of our time, our money. I found a Green Festival at a nature museum. Seemed like a nice fit. We tried contacting other stores with limited luck in even talking to anyone - man, are we bad at sales! We crossed our fingers and hoped we weren't making a mistake.
Swine Flu - first death - Texas.
We didn't take the news as badly as some, but in the backs of our minds we had to think about it. While in Texas, the first event was not only hampered by news media urging people to stay home, but a violent storm that stayed back for several hours before dumping over a foot of rain on the Earth-Friendly event. We were indoors -we were OK. We even got to see a snake lay eggs. So cool, but the sales were only so, so.
Once at the Snowmass Institute in the opulent Renaissance Hotel in Fort Worth, we were a lot disappointed when we learned there would be less than 200 attendees. I thought there were supposed to be 3,000! I tried not to freak out. But at this point, what could you do? As we started setting up another vendor came up to us. "What's Women's Work?" she asked. "Fair trade crafts from women." was my short answer. "Oh." she said and picked a space directly across of us. Turned out she was a recruiter for nursing staff - bet she thought I was her competition. No, she told me later after coming over many times to shop and buy, she knew that participants were always looking for something to bring home and we were the only vendors that had cash and carry. BONUS!
A different set up than other selling venues we've encountered, participants come only during their breaks from the conference (duh!) and so there was a lot of down time, at least theoretically. Reality was that we had no breaks because when there were no conference guests, we had vendors buying! Many came many times, so much so that we joked that a few of them were cut off! I'd have to say that the vendors made up a bulk of our sales, not to mention, inspiration.
As a result, they would direct the hospital administrators, heads of nursing staff, and others to our booth - we were quite the buzz.
At the end of our first day, after many people told us to connect with her, Tanya Abreu founder of Spirit of Women finally blew in. A tall woman with a presence that filled the room, she evaluated our booth and us in one fell swoop. "You two shouldn't be schlepping this around. You should have other people selling for you. I want you at our event in Washington DC." and it took off from there.
I love when people "find" us and it's their idea to carry our products or buy things with their own slant. A manager of a prosthetic breast forms company bought paper beads in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Another woman wants the crafts to go into their women's center gift shops. And another will be in touch to buy crafts as a fundraiser for a women's shelter she is involved with.
Our very first conference and it was a huge success, but then, everything in Texas is BIG!

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