“I’m not a weatherman, I’m a baker”

October 5, 2009 |  Category:   favorite posts nyc the biz









If you told me that we’d do better at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Chile Fiesta, in the pouring rain, than the Atlantic Antic which had dazzling summer-like weather and about 10-15 times the traffic, I wouldn’t have believed you (actually, our numbers came in the same but the Antic was so much more expensive as a vendor). Know your demographic – and not surprisingly, the more focused foodie demographic, rather than the massive street fair audience, is our demographic. Hard to compete with beer and funnel cakes when you’re at a street fair.

People really dig the hot chocolate (It IS REALLY good), but apparently “Earl Grey Hot Chocolate” was confusing. Some people thought it was tea mixed with hot chocolate and other people thought we were selling tea AND hot chocolate. We changed it to “Earl Grey Infused Hot Chocolate” the next day. Was it any clearer? Not sure.

It was so nice meeting folks who read the blog that came by to say hello. You guys really are a sweet bunch. Thank you. You made the weekend, especially today.

Guess I lucked out with the whole “bathroom situation” because I was able to avoid going to the bathroom the whole freaking day at the Chile Fiesta. That is 9 hours which might be some kind of record for me. And it wasn’t because there were a lack of facilities, but it was a bit of a hike to the restrooms and it rained continuously for, like, 4 hours straight, with much of it coming down in torrential downpours (surprisingly, the crowds braved the rain and stuck around). In a stupid last minute switch that morning, I changed out of boots and a jacket and slipped on ballet flats and a sweater because I was so hot while we were loading up the car. Stupid decision, as the grounds we were on resembled Woodstock and the front of our table became of the muddiest of all (maybe a good indication of customer traffic as some people suggested?). I was *trapped* with my inadequate footware and it wasn’t like I was trying to have a cute outfit or anything. There were tons of mosquitoes at the garden and my ankles were getting horribly bitten, so I put on a pair of socks. Socks + ballet flats = big fashion fail.

Some lessons from the weekend:

* Lesson 1: when preparing products for an event, listen to the weather and try to be flexible. Really. We sold out of our Earl Grey Hot Chocolate in 2 hours at the Chile Fiesta and wished we brought along another container, but because it was so hot the next day at the Atlantic Antic, we barely got through 1 of the 2 containers we brought, despite the fact that most people who passed by were intrigued enough to read it out loud in curiosity. We should have made a last minute change and served up our Passionfruit Mint Limeade from the summer, but predicting the weather is a little tricky. We would have done a lot better though had we brought the cold drink.

* Lesson 2: You gotta be more aggressive at these massive street fairs than the more gentle craft/flea markets. If your neighbor’s tent is inching towards the middle of the street, than you gotta move yours up, even if it means you’re all inching it up continuously throughout the day. But despite all your efforts, sometimes it’s really hard to compete with Dora and Sponge Bob plastic blowup dolls next door, bubble guns, frighteningly loud toy bullhorns that you make you jump, and other little gag gadgets called “Dr. Fart” and “Poo Poo Stick”.

* Lesson 3: You also have to be more visible at these street fairs than other venues. I feel like we got swallowed up between 2 bigger tents crammed full of colorful merchandise, particularly since our stuff is so minimal in design and our banner is white and gray (for god’s sakes). We just looked so *dainty* with our cake stands and white tablecloths. If we ever do this again, I’m going to have Mark bring his blowtorch and make s’mores, put up more in-you-face signage like one that saids “WE SELL COOKIES RIGHT HERE”, get blinking Christmas lights to put around our tent, and maybe some huge plastic blowup cupcakes and marshmallows, as well as silk screened t-shirts of dancing cookies. Oh, and maybe Mia. I think she’d be a good addition for venues like this. Since many people have tunnel vision while walking the streets of a fair, it’s all about being visible and catching people’s attention.

* Lesson 4: See what sells, and then make more the next day. I don’t know what it is, but our Pumpkin Ginger Sandwiches just flew off the cake stand both days. Maybe because no matter how hot it is, it’s still Fall and there’s this mentalilty that you MUST CONSUME PUMPKIN PRODUCTS during the month of October, but people couldn’t get enough. So despite it being the last thing Mark wanted to do, he went back into the kitchen Saturday night to make more for today (oh and Mark? If calling them whoopie pies help them sell, we should call them whoopie pies no matter how much you hate calling them that).

* Lesson 5: Consider having a big sign that saids, “WE DO NOT HAVE A PHYSICAL STORE” because we literally had to answer this question hundreds of times, continually throughout the day, to just about every single customer who stopped by.

* Lesson 6: One so-so day is no indication of how your business is generally faring, but I must admit, after the early morning wake up, getting ripped off by the car service company who lied to us about the cost of a minivan 20 blocks away from our house to the street fair, unpacking and then packing all the stuff up again 11 hours later with sore backs, I did think to myself more than once “there’s got to be an easier way to make money than this”. After some talks with other street vendors who said their numbers were down this year compared to last, I felt a little better. I guess better enough to come home and apply to a large holiday craft fair in December.

So will we do another big street fair like this again? We’re glad for the additional exposure and the experience, but not sure we’d do it again without really changing up the strategy (see lesson 3). We’re just glad the weekend is over and we can get back to our boring lives of packing up orders and sitting in front of the computer.

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  • Chris Moran October 5, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  • Annie From Seattle October 5, 2009 at 12:41 am

    I know you were being sarcastic but I think the blowtorch thing would be awesome. At farmer’s markets, I always buy the food that I can watch being made (grilled food, for example). I think a blowtorched smore would be hilarious!

    But…in the same vein as lesson #6…I have been wondering about these street fairs and your business. I know last year’s flea was important as you got your legs under you. Now? Are you selling enough things there to justify the hours/ cost?

    I have no idea, just wondering.

  • Lara October 5, 2009 at 12:47 am

    You’re freakin’ hilarious!!!

  • Jenna October 5, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Annie, Mark did the blow torch s’more thing last year at the Flea, so it’s not a new idea. As for the fairs being worth it. This is actually the first street fair that we’ve done – the other markets are a bit different, in size obviously, but also in feeling. Is the money worth it? In a short answer, probably not if you’re strictly looking at numbers. But if you don’t have a store, the exposure and direct customer contact is still invaluable. Plus I can’t lie, any bit of money these days, whether or not “it’s worth it” is still money coming in.

  • Alicia October 5, 2009 at 1:21 am

    I love reading your comments and observations about business and how you’re learning. Very interesting.

    By the by, I gave a few of your items to my aunt and her family when I visited, and my little 4 year old cousin gobbled down the maple marshmallows, constantly asking for more even after they were taken away from her. W&S is always a success for gifting. =)

  • Dinah October 5, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Hey Jenna, it was lovely meeting you and Mark yesterday. My brothers were tickled that I “had to go meet my internet people” but they ended up getting more cookies than I did! The cookies were enjoyed by all, I’ll have to find you guys at one of the Fleas to try the flavors that we missed.

    Last year and the year before there was a food map at the Antic. Not sure why there wasn’t one this year, but I think the map gave the specialty food vendors a bit of a boost. I agree the about the live prep and prominent signage drawing people in. Gotta wonder why they placed you near the inflatables, since there were a few sedate, kind of arty stretches along the route. Maybe they thought cookies = kids. Who knows.

  • RJ October 5, 2009 at 9:20 am

    hahahaaaa! i like the blow up cupcake and marshmallow! what about a shortbread cookie handing out samples?

  • Tumus October 5, 2009 at 10:16 am

    We’re there REALLY “poo poo sticks”?? LOL, how horribly fascinating lol.

    Glad you made it thru both events ^_~

  • ruhama October 5, 2009 at 10:16 am

    these are excellent tips! i’m going to delurk to let you know that at a recent farmer’s market, i ended up buying flowers from the stand that had the cute little girl asking folks if they wanted to buy some flowers…

  • Sue October 5, 2009 at 10:18 am

    PLEASE, don’t experiment with a Dr. Fart marshmallow or a Poo Poo cupcakes. Just say no to street fair marketing, and stick with YOUR business strategy. Classiness sells.

  • Jenna October 5, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Dinah, I loved meeting you and your brothers. You guys were so cute and awesome! Thanks for stopping by!
    Sue, unfortunately our presentation does not sell well at these kinds of street fairs (as we found out). Booth fees are too expensive to not be willing to shake up your normal presentation and be flexible about what needs to be done to attract more attention. This may not be our best kind of venue, but it was a chance to get more mass exposure beyond the normal foodie/design circle, so I think it was actually well worth it at the end of the day.

  • mrs boo radley October 5, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I love your minimalism. The tea infused hot chocolate sounds marvelous.

  • pam October 5, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Loved reading this. You have great style, awesome advice and you’re very funny too!!

  • victoria October 5, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    thank you so much for writing this!
    i was directed here by meet me at mike’s blog & i’m trying to work out the whole market-thing myself & it was comforting to feel that my questions are similar, good luck! your products look great:), i’ve just been to your website too & now i’m hungry & going to go for a spot of lunch (but boo that there’s nothing like maple marshmallows round here)

  • anna October 5, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Hi Jenna, your blog posts are so funny! Making money is not easy, I can totally relate!

  • Kitty October 6, 2009 at 12:39 am

    The big street fair sounds a bit crude + rough. I do see your product as more refined, slick + yes dainty!

    But if you do it again I agree wholeheartedly that the blowtorch would be great.

  • Susan October 6, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Reading your post on these street fairs made me feel so much better . I go through the same thing as you describe, trying to sell cookies with a pretty display right smack next to the popcorn guy hawking his product and attacking everone who passes by…not to mention the popper so loud you can’t even talk to your customer. So…things aren’t that different in Brooklyn?!!

  • Jenna October 6, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Susan, hahaha, we were 2 booths down from a kettle popcorn family (on the other side of the blowup balloons), with an older guy in a chair hawking free popcorn!

  • Shea October 6, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Hi –
    I just love the presentation of your baked goods. Everything looks so lovely. By the way, I love your stickers. Did you print them yourself? Or did you send them out to be printed? Only asking because I need to get some print for my homemade holiday gifts. =)

  • MikeyV October 6, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Hey! I have to mention this yet again… I was dreaming of the pumpkin “sandwiches”… and I can’t wait until I get a chance to have another (I will definitely try and venture to the Brooklyn Flea to see if i can get my hands on another…) And as teeny as your stand may have been at the Antic… it was comforting to see it… as opposed to the CHAOS that were most of them…

  • nichole October 7, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this! So helpful for other people who may someday be a vendor, and interesting to read what it was like.

    So funny regarding the whoopie pie comment. I am from whoopie pie country, and people would protest calling it a sandwich. 😉

  • debelah October 8, 2009 at 12:34 am

    hahaha! you are bloody HILARIOUS.
    i stumbled upon your blog via ‘blushing ambition’.
    love it and your pictures, hopefully i can make it from dreary old sydney down under to your sweets in brooklyn.

  • Tea Party Crasher October 8, 2009 at 9:54 am

    The Earl Grey-infused hot chocolate sounds heavenly — I don’t suppose you sell little packets of it, do you? I am dying to try some!

  • Erin October 12, 2009 at 8:32 am

    I came to your blog from Rachel’s blog Elephantine and I can tell I will be a frequent vistor . I loved reading this post. I plan on participating in local fairs soon for my little business and your “lessons” were very helpful… good things to keep in your mind when preparing. I also checked out your site, Whimsy & Spice. What a lovely site! Good clean design! And, the photos of your goodies are wonderful!

    Ps: Eary gray infused hot chocolate sounds amazing!

  • Keavy November 15, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I literally laughed out loud when I read the part about hanging a sign letting people know there is no physical store. I honestly have to answer that question 1,000 times over every weekend. it’s. so. tiring.