Part III - 10 Lessons I Learned from the Circus Sideshow or what the trapeze artists taught me about flying without a net (see parts I & II below)

The mall got so busy that I could never leave the cart. My sister started coming in on on her lunch hour so I could run to the restroom. She just pretended she knew what she was doing while I was gone. Once, a customer said to her, "You don't really work here, do you? You have no idea what you are doing, do you?" She just smiled. Luckily, she is pretty cute.

Lesson 7 - Don't Be Afraid to Make Mistakes; try to make them once and then move on to new mistakes.

I made alot of mistakes. I had no idea how much inventory I would need and spent alot of money having supplies overnighted to me and buying frames at Michael's. I took a large check from someone who gave me a really bad feeling and, of course, it bounced. I lost my mind one night and had an actual tug-of-war with a customer over a frame.

Lesson 8 - Get the Important Things Right

I did alot of things right. My products were unique and hit the right price points for impulse (and last minute desperation) purchases. I had easy to fill out order forms on clipboards and when I was busy, customers figured out how to fill these out without me and even helped each other.

I never closed early. I never opened late. I never unpacked during mall hours (which was against the rules) even when I saw other cart people doing it.

I parked on the far edges of the parking lot everyday even though I was pushing heavy hand trucks with glass and frames and even though I saw the other cart people grabbing front row parking spaces.

(to be honest - this was partly an attempt to offset the Cinnabon 3 meal a day plan I was on, since it was the only food source within running distance of my cart)

I learned quickly that nothing draws a crowd like a crowd and had my daughter and hubby ooh and aah over my stuff and pretend to be customers.

I offered a full satisfaction guarantee so if something was spelled wrong by a customer, I would remake it. If they dropped their frame, I would replace the glass. If they changed their mind, I would give them their money back. These things rarely, rarely ever happen so making satisfaction guarantees is easy.

(this is how all that junk that is sold on TV at 2am works- they know they can offer the guarantee because so few people will take them up on it- not that I was selling junk, but I knew my customers were buying gifts and the receivers were not likely to return them ... and none did)

One day a very old man stopped by my cart and he could see that I was busy and he was a retired businessman and very intrigued by my little business and he asked me which item was my biggest seller.

"My biggest seller is my lowest priced item. My small matted print for $12.00"

"Get rid of it", he said.


"People are buying this for its uniqueness- force them to buy your next price point."

He said some other stuff and I found this old guy very interesting, but of course, I didn't want to do anything as dramatic as eliminating my top seller.

There came a day though, a couple weeks later, when I ran out of 8X10 mats and customers had to buy the 11X14 matted prints for $18.00 - and of course, it was my top money making day ever - when told I was out of stock of the 8X10's every single customer bought the 11X14!

Lesson 9 - I am not sure what this lesson is- maybe listen to the old guy/gal because there is alot to be said for experience

So, to get to the finish line here- I made alot of money in a couple months (I did not gross $100,000, but I did net in 2 months about what I had made the entire year before) and it allowed me to focus on my real crafts the rest of the year without stressing too much about sales.

I did the holiday mall carts for a few more years until one year when things had been slowing down alot a smart high school girl working for me told me her mother made $30,000 selling Beanie Babies on Ebay. Ebay? I'd never heard of it. Now I didn't jump into Beanie Babies, thank goodness, but I did truck my butt over to Ebay.

The "cart people" became my friends, even PinkPatty who actually found me a shade of lipstick I didn't hate. We had all bonded over slow times and crazy busy times. It must be like what happens to soldiers who go to war.

(well, except for the mortal danger and saving people's lives parts of it)

And, even though he didn't do very well that year, I saw the Friendly Folks guy at another mall a couple years later. He had higher prices and HUGE Any Name Here laminated signs.

I think the final lesson learned from my sideshow days is knowing when it's time to move on.

Lesson 10 - Know When to Fold 'Em

I see people at craft shows year after year with the same stuff complaining about how the show just isn't what it used to me. This could be true in some cases.

But, sometimes the seller is just too much what they used to be.

I have a friend who paints mailboxes. She paints flowers on plastic mailboxes. The same flowers she has painted for years. She sells less and less every year.

I have said to her- why don't you make something else into a mailbox or paint something else. When I saw vinyl lettering- I called her all excited- this is what you need to do with your mailboxes- you can do anything with this stuff!

She said she'd look into it. I just got a craft show invitation from her with pictures of painted mailboxes on it, plastic mailboxes, plastic mailboxes with flowers. It is sometimes hard to let go.

I never really missed the sideshow. It was nice to get my holidays back. And, I learned some priceless lessons about business and myself that I am pretty sure only the sideshow peeps could have taught me-

including how bigger isn't always better- the next year I did 2 malls, overstaffed (forgot my own Lesson 3) and netted less money - and that sometimes the best band-aid for a bad situation is an actual band-aid, like when my niece Miranda sliced her finger open when framing a print and I duct taped her up until we slowed down and she could go to the hospital

But it did teach her Lesson 5 - the no crying one - which I'm pretty sure is the reason for her success today and that she should probably be forking over a sizeable weekly percentage of her earnings to me for teaching her this so young.

I only wish I had learned the really useful sideshow stuff, like juggling some flaming hula hoops or walking on stilts or spinning plates on sticks all of which would make my family take my weekly threats to run away and join the circus alot more seriously ...

1. The Case of Shooting Charlotte necklace by Glowstoes
2. LOVE Pillow by PillowPallozza
3. Coney Island Carnivale photo by Depuis, also available on a locket
4. Couture necklace by Untamed Menagerie
5. Revival Boy vintage object sculpture by Artsy and she has locket, too
6. Life is a Balancing Act- original circus painting by Junkyard Glitter
7. Ike- the Strong Man Dog postcard by Le French Circus
8. Circus Tent pendant by RiskyBeads


Cait Throop said...

OMG, Cat! That was a wonderful read!!!!! Love the advice of that old salesman! Funny, witty, AND full of truth! xo Cait

Sherry said...

Part III is filled with so many great lessons. But, most of all it the lesson of the plastic mailboxes I'm taking with me. Well that, and being grateful cinnabon closed down at my mall.

It's been a wonderful read, Cat and I am signing today with my alter ego, but it's me.


Unknown said...

Wonderful read and I'll have to take that old man's advice as well. I have a handful of items under $10 at my table, and guess what, that's what sells.

gina said...

Wonderful lessons! This whole series has been a joy to read {and really helpful}.

Catherine Ivins said...

Thanks guys- I only wish I could follow my own advice ....


Viktoria said...

Hey its finished !....10 lessons! Too bad, I thought erroneously 10 Posts...
A great pleasure to read!..waiting for the next advice!

Orion Designs said...

Great ending to a wonderful lesson-learning experience for you. It was a fun read.

Sylvia-Louise said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing.

SillyLittleLady said...

I loved this series, I really did wake up excited every morning to read the next installment. Wonderful story, wonderful lessons, great insight. Thanks so much Cat!

Anonymous said...

Great collection of posts! I love rule #5. There is no Crying!

I have been trying to embrace the slow times and use it as opportunity to make and try new ideas, rather than allowing myself to step back and not get anything done, when times are slow.

I've also had to step back and proceed with caution on my lowest selling item. While it's been selling well for me for quite some time, it's also time for me to step it up, because I wasn't meeting my financial goals, only chasing them like a dog and his tail. This year has been about changing focus and finding balance.

Well written, and such great advice here! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This was an awesome series! As a long time retailer (and former mall rat), I had to laugh at your stories, agree with your lessons and ponder the fact that I still have plenty to learn. Great read!!

Sleepandhersisters said...

I am going to store all 10 of these lessons in the front file of my brain... thanks so much. You really make me chuckle.

Brenda said...

Excellent, excellent post and series, full of chuckles + truth!

I might have a craft a series around my week as an Easter Bunny at the mall. Including this life lesson: embrace all of your customers, even those that aren't yet bladder controlled.

(ahh, the mall ....)

ALC Unlimited said...

Great story! I never sold at the mall, but I did some farmer's markets and craft shows. It is a sideshow behind the scenes with what really goes on between vendors. So true! That was a great analogy and a fun read. Thanks for sharing! I passed it on to share on my blog, too.

Debra said...

I really enjoyed reading this funny and very true article I could see and relate to everything you said.

Thank you so much

Unknown said...

Wow, a a fun blog! Thank you for sharing your lessons learned. The advice will be quite useful to me.

Kristin said...

love your sense of humor! I was laughing inside picturing dashing to the cinnabon! love the crowd scheme too! brilliant!