Now that Jarrod has taken over social media, I (Rachel) have more time to pursue something we’ve discussed for a few years now: a blog. I’ll be writing about projects, events, travels, and general happenings. I haven’t written substantially since high school, so we’ll see how this goes, and how the whole thing develops over time. Please feel free to email me if I start slacking off.
May 2017 marks the 8th year of professional arts and crafts for me. Jarrod has only been in my life for 6.5 years, but he’s gone from supportive boyfriend to full-on partner-in-crime. We didn’t start doing events in Colorado until 2013 (9 months after we moved here). I had done a few in New Orleans, but my studies and jobs took up 90% of my time so it was just one small event a month that I helped put together in lieu of a table fee.
After I graduated in 2012, we moved to Colorado where I found out it’s insanely difficult to find a job outside of petroleum with a degree in chemical engineering. It didn’t matter that I specialized in biomolecular engineering; industry wanted biomedical engineers. I did what I could to earn an income, but mostly Jarrod was supporting us. That felt terrible to me as I had worked two jobs since I could remember. Luckily, I had a regular wholesale order, so that helped. After some time, I began to think that I would never find a job.
Most of my work is based on what I know, which is carpentry. There was an Ace Hardware literally a block away from our house, so I was in there several times a week. You get to know people when you frequent a place, and one day a cashier said to me, “Hey! We’re hiring. I know you have experience. Would you like an application?” I had zero other prospects, so I submitted one.
The owner called me pretty much right away for an interview. I am always honest about my situation in interviews, which has bitten me on the butt more than once. I knew I was drastically overqualified and that my schedule restrictions (no weekends) made it very difficult for a retail establishment to even consider me.
She was a very hands-on owner, and she often worked the floor and ran the register herself. She accepted what I had to say and told me that my experience (20 years of retail and management experience) made me very valuable. She hesitated to offer me slightly more than minimum wage and 17 hours a week. I was stoked to have a job offer and the potential of regular income.
I loved working there. The owner was nice to a fault, but very level-headed. My co-workers were pleasant, and the customers took the time to treat me like a human being.
While I worked my 17 hours a week, I continued to build my business. I was surprised at our reception in Denver. We were actually making money. I liked what I was doing, so after another 6 months of failed interviews, I stopped looking for a job and started devoting most of my energy to trying to make it work.
A vast majority of businesses fail. I already had one failed business under my belt, so I didn’t really expect anything to come to fruition. But you have to try if you really want it.
2014 was the year things started taking off. I was paying more in table fees than I ever thought was possible before. The bigger the event, the higher the fee. Our business became our primary source of income instead of secondary or tertiary. Everything was going great, and I was really optimistic about the future.
In December, we got the news that Jarrod’s mother was terminally ill. There was really only one thing to do in my mind, and that was to go to Jarrod’s hometown in MA so that Jarrod could spend what time was left with his mother. That was the hardest year of my life. I didn’t have the support network I had built in Denver, and my business was put on hold. I became the primary caregiver, and that experience gave me a new and deeply profound respect for hospice workers and caregivers.
She passed away less than a year later.
We knew that if we didn’t leave for Colorado immediately, it would be some time before we had another opportunity. We packed up a Uhaul and left for Colorado less than a week after her memorial.
We returned to Denver less than a year after we left, and we vowed to not drive across country for at least another year and to never do it during a blizzard, which we encountered both going to MA and coming back.
So now it’s 2016, and it felt like 2015 had never happened. We were completely broke from moving, and neither of us had a job. I found a job at True Value, and about a month later, Jarrod was hired by a community bike shop. Two months after that I was laid off. We ate a lot of rice and put as much money as we could into getting back to where we were in 2014 before we left. We booked one or two events every weekend from the end of April until mid-December.
By the time December arrived, I was burned out on working events. Setting up for an event involves carrying a 10’x10′ tent, sandbags, tables, displays, inventory, etc., hundreds of yards. It usually involves multiple trips lugging heavy loads and at least an hour of putting everything together for a mobile boutique. Take-down is just as brutal, and in between set-up and take-down can be up to 14 hours of miserable weather and repetitive speeches.
Sometime in November we ran into an event organizer we knew from Bike Denver. She told us that she was organizing a couple of cyclocross races, and we were welcome to set-up near registration for no fee if we wanted. We were available on those dates, so why not? We had nothing to lose but time.
The first race was the weekend after Thanksgiving. The weather was great, so the turn-out was good. The number one thing we heard that day was: “Hold on. I’ll be right back. My wallet’s in the car.” It was incredible. If you took into consideration fees, we made the same in sales at this race as our largest holiday event in 2014 with 1/10th the audience. What just happened?
At this moment, we said, “Why are we doing craft events?” We liked cycling events more since those are “our people.” The events themselves are more laidback and had an easier set-up and take-down; we were able to park the Jeep right behind our tent.
I spent a few months researching cycling events. There was serious sticker shock regarding the fees for these events; cycling events were on average 3x as much as craft events the same size. But this was our demographic 100%. I had to try, right?
2017 became the make-it-or-break-it year. We had been so broke for so long, and I was tired of it. I knew that the key to survival in retail is diversification. By chance, I met a lady that made skirts designed for active women. We were placed next to each other at a slow farmers’ market in 2016, so we spent a lot of time talking about what we did and where we saw ourselves going in the future. By the end of the day, she was trying to sell me on taking her skirts with me to events to sell. It was not a hard sell.
We got to know each other better, and she introduced me to a lady who made SPF protective clothing for active women. She already had a couple of cycling jerseys in her line. We talked about what our plans were for 2017, and the three of us came up with an arrangement. I would go to cycling events and maybe some triathlons, one would go to farmers’ markets in the mountains, and one would fill in the gaps with other events. There would be some overlap, but we would coordinate our schedules and share info.
I added a couple of other vendors who made cycling-related products, and we set off on our grand experiment.
I began contacting event promoters to work out deals where I could with in-kind trade. Most of them have been super awesome and helped me out with the fees. I only planned our events through mid-June, because as I said, it was make-it-or-break-it year, and I had a contact that could help me with a professional research assistant position at the Anschutz medical campus. If the plan failed, I wanted to move quickly into a job with a regular paycheck.
Our first event was the Fruita Fat Tire Fest…