For the uninitiated, the Butterdome Craft show is largely considered by many professional artists to be THE Christmas craft show—at least, if you live in Western Canada, it is.
Why is it called the Butterdome? Well, because it’s held in the Butterdome building at the University of Alberta in Edmonton—which literally looks like a bright yellow butter dish.
All of the crafters I’d spoken to at Festival of Crafts unanimously said, keep applying to the Butterdome, eventually you’ll get in, and you’ll see just how amazing it will be.
Suffice it to say, I had very high expectations for this show.
I applied twice–in 2018 and in 2019. In late May 2019, I received the email: I’d been accepted for the Christmas 2019 show.
I literally had chills.
Those chills became a panic when I realized: How am I going to get all of my stuff UP to Edmonton?
The Butterdome Craft sale happened WAY BACK in November/December 2019 – I’m only getting around to posting this now, in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic. I’ve been really busy getting The Midnight Tablet in order!
This post talks about me getting sick with a cold and trudging on with my work because I am a trooper. Obviously, don’t work or go outside if you’re sick, especially now.
For this show and for the Winnipeg show I did after this, I had a whole Cold Wellness Station that included hand sanitizer that I applied liberally after touching people and money, vitamin C chewables, tissues, water, breath mints, and fish oil. (The fish oil was also in chewable gummy format and was there to keep my hair pretty!)
In any case, I took every precaution I could to keep myself sanitized when I was at these shows.
Stay inside if you can, have a rest, practice social distancing – be safe!
Loyal readers will remember that a) I live in Calgary and b) I have a driving anxiety, and to be honest, driving around to these shows adds a whole other layer of exhaustion. Especially when you’re doing it all yourself. I also don’t own a van or a truck. (You’ll know I’ve become a real Albertan when I get one).
All I knew was, I was going to figure out a way to get all of my inventory, my display items, and myself up to Edmonton to participate.
This is the second to last show I did in 2019 and the show I was most worried about. So many moving parts came together to make this work for me.
Don’t know how to do it? LEARN
The amount of product I would need to ship ahead to this kind of show was substantial. Not to mention, the show doesn’t inherently provide vendors with tables or chairs. You can rent them at the venue (or ahead of time) or you bring them with you.
So I had to figure out how I was going to transport ~450LBs of books and tables to a place in Edmonton I had never been…and then back to Calgary.
Signatures recommended a few shipping companies they routinely work with. Loyal readers will remember my Ottawa incident where I incorrectly shipped to the wrong venue, so I was very nervous at the idea of shipping a small fortune of books, and having them arrive at the correct destination.
Nevertheless, this was the only feasible way to get my items there. Even if I were up to it, renting a big enough vehicle for several days would have been around the same price, especially when you take parking into consideration.
Before contacting a shipping company, I had to sort the inventory I thought I was going to take, stack it, measure it, and estimate the weight. My book boxes have weight printed on them, so I used that as a guide. I measured the pallet (Fortunately, I have my own pallets…because that’s how the printer ships books to me!), I measured the tables, the display items, and my tall chair, and made a preliminary stack in the basement of what I would need to send ahead of time. Which was a lot.
Then I went on YouTube and learned how to pack a pallet. Turns out, you need pallet wrap: handy, heavy-duty plastic wrap that you wrap around the entire shipment to keep everything secure! It doesn’t look like it would be very sturdy or protective but…it is. So I bought some on Amazon (I think it was around $20). I also brought it with me to the show—because remember, I’d have to do this again on the way back.
(Pinecone, get off the pallet! I don’t want to send you away!!)
I communicated with the shipping company, which was straightforward—I requested a quote and signed off on the pick-up day from my garage, which was about two weeks before the Butterdome show. The total cost about $300 each way, including a show discount and tax.
I had to carefully consider what I was sending, since I was doing this even before I went to Moncton for the Turner’s show, which was a week before the Butterdome. So even though I sent most of my supplies, product, and display up to Edmonton, I was still dragging suitcases around because there were display items I wanted to use in Moncton as well.
I wrapped the pallet and a large truck backed into our alley to take it away. Straightforward. Easy.
I was pretty pleased about all of this. If you don’t know how you’re going to do something, you figure it out. You learn. And then you do it.
Some readers might find these logistics exhausting, but they’re SUPER IMPORTANT! They are the glue that holds your operations together. I had to figure this out MONTHS in advance.
Next level problems, right?
I arrived back in Alberta from the East Coast on Monday November 25 in the evening. I had the full day on Tuesday to do laundry, re-pack, and catch up on work.
That evening, I felt cold symptoms coming on. Sometimes I get mild cold symptoms after I eat, or just in the course of a month, but it’s pretty rare I become full-on sick.
However, with all of the stress of flying across the country, my grandmother’s death, and two large shows remaining in my schedule, I didn’t want to take any chances. I packed vitamin C and tissues. I keep hand sanitizer and breath mints in my convention kit anyway.
Dave dropped me at the Red Arrow early Wednesday morning with all of my suitcases and thus, my long, long day of set-up began.
The ride to Edmonton was uneventful, but it was bitterly cold in November. I caught an Uber from the station office to the Butterdome—and hit my first snag. Once the Uber driver unloaded all of my bags in the middle of this downtown street, I had no idea how to get from the street, into the building—with no less than three full suitcases and my duct-taped banners. The sidewalks were simultaneously icy and gritty, but I managed to slide everything towards an entrance. It was a little confusing as some entrances are exit only.
Fortunately, two university students saw me struggling and offered to help me wheel my many suitcases inside the building, down the hall to the event space. Thank you, two mannies!!
Once there, I checked in and inquired nervously about my pallet. Had it arrived? Did I just come here for nothing?
I went to my space, and low and behold, there it was. Sitting right there, waiting to be unloaded!
WHAT A RELIEF!
Honestly, that could be the end of the story, it felt like such a victory. But no, the show hadn’t even started yet, and I was so very tired, and emotionally exhausted.
So, I trudged on.
On set-up days like this, I have to look at it as a game just to get through the day. One thing at a time, one problem at a time. I rely heavily on my strategic skills to puzzle out just how I’m going survive. Do I need a coffee? How am I going to get it? Where is the nearest take-out place that has gluten-free food? Should I eat now, and unpack later?
How much do I feel comfortable leaving in this somewhat spot while I seek out food?
I had been intermittent fasting for about two months at that point. Intermittent fasting is when you eat your meals within a specific time window—mine was 12pm-8pm.
There is some research and anecdotal accounts online about the benefits, but it hasn’t been thoroughly studied. Even so, I had decided to take it up, mostly because I was tired of cooking every meal (hard to have fast things when you can’t eat gluten) and I was interested in the mental benefits, which I also experienced.
All this is to say, I wasn’t eating in the morning away—and so I was basically only eating at the shows, since they went from 10am to 9pm half the time.
So I sourced some food and coffee at one of the university cafeterias (a bit of a confusing journey to figure out what was open and where) and ate some of my packed snacks, and set to work.
It took me five-six hours to complete the set-up by myself. The most difficult parts were the horizontal banner (I can never get it centered!) and moving the heavy boxes around in such a small space. It was physically exhausting. I brought nearly $10,000 worth of stock with me on that pallet. In my suitcase, I had a contingency box of books—not enough, obviously, but a little something just in case I had another Ottawa experience.
Finally…it was done ENOUGH. Sometimes you just have to call it.
After that, I had the privilege of eating a home-cooked meal, as I stayed with family in Edmonton. Huge thank you to cousins Gordon & Kathleen for letting me stay at their place!
And thus began four long days of hauling myself to and from the Butterdome. It was -20C on most days. I walked to the venue in the morning (don’t worry, I have a long wool coat with a fur hood—I was prepared!), stopping at Starbucks my coffee in the middle of my journey. In the evenings, I’d Uber back since it was after 10pm.
On Saturday night, I pretty much accepted that this was not just the sniffles – I was full-on sick. I took the recommended maximum Vitamin C each day, dosed myself with cold medication and lathered myself in hand sanitizer just to get myself through. It had been an exhausting several weeks and I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
More than a few shoppers approached my booth with questions like, “This market seems expensive, is it worth it for you to be here?” and “I don’t know, books seem like a hard sell, are you doing okay here?”
Imagine someone coming into your office at work and saying those things to you!
Just to clear the air, YES, it was a very worthwhile experience, financially, for me!
Yes, the booth is expensive—the most I’ve ever paid for a spot. And yes, at first glance, it seems strange that me, an author-publisher, would want to vend at a high-end craft market. Yet, if you’ll stay with me here, maybe I can shed some light to help you understand my point of view.
First, I perceive a difference between the questions, “Is it going well for you?” and “Is it worth it?” The former is gentler and can be interpreted more broadly: yes, the show is financially worth it, and yes, I am feeling well enough about the atmosphere of the show to enjoy myself while I carry out my purpose. This question I don’t mind, as it’s polite and well-meaning. The latter is an attempt to suss out my financial worth without actually coming out and asking, “So how much money are you making right now?”
The way I see it, there are two paths to profit. You have high ticket items that sell less frequently during an hour: large works of art, jewellery, clothing, and other expensive novelties. Then you have lower ticket items that sell frequently: like food or any impulse purchase. In other words, it’s high ticket items versus volume. (Do not read: quality versus volume. The volume items, like food, can still be high quality/tasty!)
Strange as it may seem, books are an impulse purchase. They are a lower ticket item ($15-$20), so I must rely on volume to make a profit. Because I’m the author, I know how to sell them, and they present well—all of these things add up to a successful show.
I think this misplaced concern partially stems from the idea that writers (and by extension, artists) don’t make money. Publishing is a tough business with thin margins. It helps that I sell direct to my readers and customers. I don’t really have many middle men to worry about. My biggest problem is keeping expenses under control, and creating and following through on a marketing plan. That’s why I constantly weed out shows that don’t perform. I’m always evaluating.
The second myth about books and publishing is that print books don’t sell anymore. Guess what? That’s completely false. Ebooks are still less than 20% of the market (in most cases, in genres like romance this percentage would be higher, as readers are especially voracious). I also know from years of experience that young readers WANT physical books. How many times has a parent looked at my prices, and said, “Oh, the eBook is cheaper, maybe we could get that?” and the teenager makes a face, holds my book tighter, and vehemently insists on a print copy? How many readers gravitate to my table, eyes wide with glee, whispering “Books!” under their breath, because they have found their place? This happens all the time. Books are not dead—some readers have changed their reading habits and consumption, but I can assure you that reading is alive and well.
Third, selling in person and direct to my reader is more than just a financial transaction. It’s an experience. That’s what the craft shows are all about—shoppers get to interact with the makers. Guess what? I’m a maker too. I create and publish and sell what I make. That’s what is so brilliant about participating. The shopper can ask me questions about the books that a regular bookseller or publisher wouldn’t be able to answer. I can inspire would-be writers. Readers can walk away with a signed copy.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Your display and products are part of the experience. If you don’t have a high-quality product that speaks to your market, you’re finished before you even start. If you don’t know how to talk to your audience—or often in my case, the gatekeepers of your audience—it’s an uphill battle.
Is doing markets sustainable long term? I’m not certain. It’s certainly not sustainable on my body to keep going as I do. There will come a point where I’m incredibly choosy, and perhaps I’ll only do holiday shows local to my area. But I’m not quite there yet.
POST-COVID19 NOTE: I can say with certainty that people who bought from me at the Signatures craft markets have returned and bought from me online. If you are a person who has done that, THANK YOU. Again—just another reason why these markets are worthwhile, even MONTHS after doing them.
Sitting on my stool on Thursday morning as the first shoppers strolled in, I had a sudden, sinking worry: what if this show doesn’t live up to the hype? What if this is just a “regular” show for me? What if I lose money? I was so busy at the Turners show during its peak, I could have used a second person just so I wouldn’t lose that stray sale. I thought, what if one woman isn’t enough?
Well, I’m happy to announce that the Butterdome giveth—I had a record-breaking show across all fronts. I had a record setting daily total (previously held by Turners 2018), record-setting daily average, and record weekend sales overall. It blew all my other sales totals out of the water.
It’s not just number of sales—it’s the volume each customer was purchasing that made the difference. People saw the value of buying more now rather than buying one and waiting to buy more later. Only about a third of my purchases were with cash, as most opted for credit or debit.
For single books sold, Gear and Sea was the winner. For bundle deals, The Violet Fox Series took the cake. My 2-for-30 continues to be extremely lucrative, with Stars In Her Eyes being the most popular book in that deal.
There were some really choice ones this time around.
A friendly young woman inquired about my books and we had a great chat. At the end, she casually asked, “Do you ever wonder if you’re a witch telling your ancestors’ stories?”
I was so taken aback by the question that I laughed. “What?”
“Okay, have a nice day,” she said, and left.
That one is my new favourite, hands-down.
Two older women slow-walked by my booth, checking it out. They took in my banner, and said, “Faery…like the figurines?” And just as I was about to correct them, they noticed I did not have any figurines, or dolls, laughed, and moved on.
An older man who I mistakenly believed to be interested in my books made a sexist comment to me and THEN asked, “Oh, not selling much here are you?”
UM, I RESTOCK THE TABLE ALL THE TIME. SO MY DISPLAY LOOKS NICE. AHHHH.
I also had a visit from a group of librarians who insisted I attend and vend at the Alberta Library Conference. I had looked into doing this multiple times—the main reason I haven’t lugged myself up to Jasper for it is because it’s the same weekend as Calgary Expo.
I also spent time during the late evening reading and inserting edits for a speech my sister read on behalf of the two of us at my grandmother’s funeral, held while I was in Edmonton. My mom also called me late one evening to fill me in on the funeral, so that was also appreciated. At that point, it had only been a week or less since she’d died, so everything was still raw.
Will I Go Back?
My original paragraph for this section was “OF COURSE” but now that we are in Pandemic Times, it will depend on if the Butterdome happens at all, or if it’s feasible to go, given predicted attendance.
It was about 3-4 hours of teardown and packing up my pallet for transport back to Calgary after the show ended on Sunday. Now, I could have shipped this to Winnipeg for the show the following weekend but then I would have had to also coordinate shipping BACK to Calgary. I had already shipped out books anyway, so it would have been another $600 of expenses that I did not want to deal with.
In the Uber to the Red Arrow, all I could think was, wow. Edmonton is so pretty today. I have accomplished something great.
And how the next morning, I’d be two provinces over, doing it all again…
Stay tuned for Part III of my Christmas Post-Mortems – the Winnipeg edition – as well as a 2019 show wrap-up (and a little bit about what I’m doing in the pandemic, as large shows have been cancelled).
You’re a trooper!