A Bit of San Francisco

July 23, 2014 · 11 comments

San Francisco // Wayward Spark

I got back from San Francisco last night. I was pretty stiff, exhausted, and happy to be home after the 11-hour drive (the longest solo drive I’ve ever done), but the city really did treat me well while I was there.

Renegade SF

When I started my business over four years ago, I swore up and down that I would never do craft fairs. I’d worked the farmers’ market pretty much every weekend, three seasons out of the year for seven years, and I’d gotten my fill of the set-up, sell-stuff, take-down-the-booth events. Almost three years ago, I broke that promise and decided to do the local Corvallis Fall Festival. You can read about my experience in this archived post. Basically it was profitable and not terribly unpleasant, but it reaffirmed my decision not to do craft fairs. Fast forward to this spring when I got the hair-brained idea to not only do a craft fair but to do one 600 miles away from home, and really, I’m not sure what I was thinking.

From what I had heard, the Renegade Craft Fairs are well organized and well attended, and I found that to be absolutely true. All my interactions with Renegade staff were very pleasant. The booth fees are significant, but it’s an upfront cost, and they don’t take a cut from your sales.

I arrived at the Festival Pavillion of Fort Mason on Saturday morning with ample time to unload and set up, but when I got to the front door of that huge, long building and realized that my booth assignment was almost as far away from the entrance as possible, probably about a quarter of a mile from my car, my spirits fell a bit. I borrowed a dolly from the Renegade folks to unload, but it still took me I think seven trips down and back. After parking my car over a half mile away and returning to my booth, I had already walked 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) according to the pedometer app on my phone (Pacer, which I love, by the way).

My booth set up was pretty minimal. A couple tables and some wooden boxes topped with stacks of my boards. There were some really well designed and really elaborate booth arrangements at the show, but mine was definitely not one of them. I knew that would be the case, but I wasn’t too worried about it.

Things started off really well on Saturday and then tapered off into the evening. Sunday began much slower but picked up significantly in the early afternoon. Both days, I felt like people were in my booth looking at boards most of the time, so there weren’t too many long periods where I had nothing to do. In the down time, I had a couple of conversations with my nice vendor neighbors from Usagi Team.

When I turned in my Renegade SF application, there were a number of ways to state preferences for booth location, but I left everything blank because I didn’t have a good sense of the lay of the land in the venue. I would say that the space that I ended up with was not a particularly desirable location, and knowing what I know now, I would have preferred a spot much closer to the entrance both for ease of unloading and for more foot traffic.

In the end, I made a little over $3,100. (I know people aren’t supposed to talk about money, but I listened to a bunch of Death, Sex, & Money podcasts on the drive home, so I’m talking about it anyway.) I had close to $800 of expenses related to the show. I did cut down on travel costs by staying and eating quite a bit with my very generous aunt and uncle (Thanks, Linda and Bob!) and because of a last minute screw up on the part of Hertz, I ended up driving my own car down instead of using a rented mini van as I had planned, which turned out to be a true blessing in disguise. When I really think about it, though, I have to split that $2,300 profit between all my time (and materials) actually making cutting boards and the four full days of travel and sales (plus credit card fees and about a half day of prep time). When I sell online, I do have to spend time photographing, wrapping, and shipping each individual board, but I’m pretty sure the per-board expense and time investment has got to be less than the per-board expense/time for craft fair sales. That said, it takes me quite a while (months) to make $3,100 when I’m selling boards in onsies and twosies online, so it was nice to have the money in my figurative pocket and the boards out the figurative door.

Was it worth it? Well, I had a pretty good time, made a profit, and didn’t have any major mishaps, so yeah, it was worth it. Will I do it again? Probably not, but I guess I should never say never at this point.

San Francisco // Wayward Spark

The City

I spent my bits of free time on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday eating my aunt’s delicious food, calling home to my family, chatting with my aunt and uncle, and then collapsing into bed, but I reserved the whole day on Monday for seeing the city. I started off with an early toast and coffee date with Heidi Swanson (of 101 Cookbooks fame) at The Mill. Heidi and I recognized each other at the craft fair on Saturday, and she invited me out for breakfast. I have to say that the fellowship of that meeting was more or less the highlight of my trip/summer/life. Heidi was as generous and kind and fun and funny and honest about vulnerable subjects as you might imagine by reading her blog. I was so pleased that she wanted to spend time with me.

After my brush with celebrity, I walked over to a very crowded Tartine Bakery and bought a couple of amazing pastries, one of which I sat and ate in Dolores Park while a layer of fog-rain soaked into my hair and sweater.

I met up with Halley Roberts, a friend from Portland who recently moved to San Francisco, at Soulva, a two-week old but jam-packed greek restaurant in Hayes Valley, for a late lunch where I had the biggest, most delicious salad ever.

After that, I took a long walk through Golden Gate Park. The dahlia garden was in full bloom, and the Segway tourists were out in full force.

I ended the day having dinner at acclaimed Tony’s Pizza in North Beach with Bayle Doetch, a friend of a friend that I’d met on Sunday at Renegade. Bayle is a food photographer, but she may have missed her calling as a San Francisco food tour guide. She knew every restaurant in the city and was super helpful offering suggestion and pointing out SF highlights (like the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill). I may have also packed in a small serving of cardamom gelato from the place across the street from Tony’s.

All in all, it was a good, solid day in the city, and though I didn’t get to see and eat EVERYTHING, I certainly got a bit of many different things. (According to the pedometer app on my phone, I walked almost 15 miles that day!)

Golden Gate Park // Wayward Spark

Anyone who’s going to be in San Francisco anytime soon should definitely scroll through the comments on my SF-related Instagram photos because people offered up a million great suggestions for places to eat and things to see in the city. Thanks so much for everyone who made my business trip and mini vacation such a success! Sorry that I only have these iPhone pics to offer. There’s something about being in a city where everyone is constantly taking photos of everything that makes me want to leave my “real” camera behind and just enjoy actually seeing things instead of seeing things through a camera or phone lens.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Cate July 24, 2014 at 9:56 am

I really like your honesty. I did craft markets years ago and gosh they were hard work! We’d be lucky to make a quarter of the funds you made at a stall (I was doing stalls in Australia) as it got to a point where there were too many markets and not enough buyers.


Cheryl July 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

I agree with Cate above: your honesty here is really refreshing.

One thing to keep in mind, too, is that face-time pays off in dividends down the road with a different audience than you may get online. I have a feeling a lot of people probably took business cards home from your booth (even if they didn’t buy boards), and the next time they need to buy a unique gift for a wedding or a birthday or a hostess gift, they may be more likely to buy one from you since they met/saw you in person.

I say bravo for a job well done.


Camille July 26, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I absolutely agree. Lots of folks took cards and expressed that they were going to “come back later” or buy online. We’ll see if there’s an uptick of packages going out to SF in the coming months.


Abby July 25, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I mostly just wanted to say I freakin LOVE your honesty. You are such a great writer Camille. And I see I’m not alone in my thinking there. Glad you had a successful trip. I have done very little in the way of craft fairs/markets and have felt it’s so not for me. It really is a lot of work! The social aspect, and the treat of seeing people actually interract with your goods is the one thing that would sway me. That part is pretty fun and satisfying.


Camille July 26, 2014 at 4:37 pm

I was pretty interesting to see which boards people gravitated toward and how people liked to interact with the boards (petting, smelling, etc.). I don’t want to sound like a total money grubber, but the bottom line is that this IS a business, and I’m hoping to get the best effort/profit ratio possible.


Suzie July 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I’ve just discovered your blog…and I found this post really interesting. I’m just starting out a new business and I too am sworn off craft fairs, so you really hit the spot! It’s a little different where I live in South France, we don’t get anything quite as swish as Renegade, our craft fairs tend to be a bit old fashioned. In my other life as an artist I find exhibiting also often low on returns and high on energy consumption.


Lisa July 27, 2014 at 9:17 am

Hey lady,

I LOVE that you’re talking about money. Our farm mentors absolutely operated from a open-source philosophy (my term, not theirs, but I think it’s right) of farming. They thought secrets were bad for the future of farming, diminished the likelihood that people would be able to make it long-term in this line of work. So they talked money all the time, down to dollars and cents, knew their margin every year, how much they made per hour compared to their crew (more often than you might think it was well less than their crew made). We think it’s a really important part of small scale farming and always practiced the same approach when we had our own farm. I think it’s really really important not to be romantic about this stuff – or to see this as part of the romance.

Going to try to take heart from your phone photos here. It seems my big girl camera has finally up and died on me, and I don’t know when or how I’ll buy another one. Ack.


Camille July 29, 2014 at 2:48 pm

All the other vendors I talked to were super nice, but it was annoying when everyone was constantly asking each other, “How did you do?” but no one would state actual numbers. It was just a lot of “good”, “great”, “better/worse than xxx other show”, etc. I asked and said a lot of the same things, but I didn’t feel like it was very helpful.

I’m so sorry about your camera. That’s a big loss for you as well as all of us who like to look at your beautiful photos!


Beth August 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

I do a handful of craft shows every year, and about half of my sales are through my wholesale accounts. I will always do some shows, because I love the interactions with my customers, but I’ll only do shows I’m pretty sure will pay off. I’ve been so curious about Renegade SF (I live near Portland, OR). I appreciate your sharing of your sales. I’ve been trying to talk more in actual $ amounts with other vendors when sharing information, but it can be a delicate topic (why?!).


Amy August 3, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Thank you for talking about the money! For those of us who daydream/plan for a more hands-on life it is really helpful to be able to see what things cost, how much they benefit, and the work involved and learn from others’ experiences.


Lynn August 21, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Craft shows are so tricky for me. There have some that have been super busy and profitable–and some that have been neither of those things. Either way, they’re usually fairly exhausting for me because they’re so social, for long stretches of time, and that’s not really my thing. But I love San Francisco and take most any reason I can to go there … And I’m glad you met Heidi who is one of the loveliest and most genuine people ever.


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