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Blog

Recipes, thoughts and rants from Mallow & Hop.

Summer Updates!

Karen Marshall

Renegade Craft Fair(s)

Well, you win some, you lose some.

The "lose some" comes in the form of spending 2 days in 80 degree heat (which I always thought was fairly temperate until I sat in a mostly breezeless tent for 7 hours trying to sell chocolate) in Downtown LA for Renegade Craft Fair. Direct sunlight, it turns out, is not chocolate's best friend. Those lemon marshmallows in the Lemon Meringue Pie did not live to tell the tale.

In retrospect I should have known that an outdoor event in the middle of July in LA was a dangerous prospect, and a risk not worth taking for a food vendor. My boothmate Art by Manda returned from a trip around the event to tell a horror story of the hot sauce vendor with a booth across from the Porta-Potties trying to hand out samples, so it could have been worse. I think the only people who made out super well were the popsicle vendors. Oh to be a popsicle vendor in summer in SoCal!

But luckily the product was safe and ready to take a road trip up to Renegade San Francisco - my "you win some" of the summer so far. By about noon on Sunday I'd completely sold out of all but 2 marshmallow flavors! Which was awesome, if not a little frustrating - how the heck do you know how well an event will go? It seems so ephemeral!

Side note: I have done 5 events so far. At every single one I have heard vendors discuss with other vendors that it's an unusually slow day. What gives? At some point, isn't it just usual?

Wishlist from other Renegade Crafters!

These beet earrings from Woll Jewelry:

The LadyBoss ring from Snash Jewelry. (Couldn't find a pic or way to order it on the site - noooooo - but here's another great one!)

This bunny hat for babies by Ellie Funday even though I do not have a baby nor am anywhere near being pregnant but I guess I am about to turn 30 so:

Any of the planters by Unurth, a genre of craft I normally find pretty unalluring:

Any of the weird and wonderful art from Stupid Animals:

Pricing

At an event recently a very nice slightly older lady who worked at the venue suggested I might lower my prices. She said that people look interested, pick it up, and then balk when they see the price tag. She only meant well, but she made me very very angry and very very sad.

Because I price my products such that even if I sell every one of them (and I don't get close - at this point about 1/2 -2/3 are used as samples and promotion) I'm not hitting the federal minimum wage for paying myself for labor. I price my products so that if I sell a certain amount, I don't lose money right now doing what I love.

Retail stores generally mark up products  - especially on untested products - 100%. Which means that if my suggested retail price is $6, I can charge $3 for that item wholesale. $3 is the minimum I can sell them for and get away with it.

And selling them personally and directly to you for $6 isn't something I can easily access. I can't ship, so online orders are only to Los Angeles and must be delivered by hand. Large events incur booth / table fees of $300-$700, plus a required Los Angeles County Permit that is $101. So I have to make $400 minimum - sell 67 items - to even begin making up the cost of the packaging and ingredients. And there's the 20 or so hours of load-in, set-up, customer service & load out. So getting paid at all for the time it takes to hand cut every marshmallow and hand coat every bar in chocolate? That's not in the cards.

Please don't tell me to lower my prices.

Amen, Liddabit. Their bars are, for the record, $9. Of course, they have to pay for a commercial kitchen and a full staff which they cannot get away with not paying. Cottage Food Act you are a blessing as well as a curse sometimes!

A FINAL THOUGHT

Guys? It's rough out there. The internet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy where people feel able to harass strangers for no reason at all with no tangible consequences. It's the last point that haunts me: my boyfriend got into a car accident last December in which his wrist was broken. The other driver - 100% at fault - didn't hear his screams when the nerve pinch wore off too early after surgery, didn't watch him go through 4 months of expensive and frustrating physical therapy, doesn't see him ache every day now that he's returned to a workplace (different than his previous job, which he can no longer do) where his wrist is constantly pushed to his limits. They didn't live with the pain they caused. So they have no reason not to try an illegal and unsafe u-turn in the future.

The internet is that. That, but every day, in every tiny interaction.

Be nice to each other.

You Never Stop Learning (or, How I Stopped Worrying and Loved Unique LA #2)

Karen Marshall

FOOD IS AMAZING

My favorite part of Unique LA by far was the other vendors' response - people, as always, were so kind, generous & enthusiastic. Balloon & Paper at the table to my right skooched over multiple times, getting endless samples in exchange for some really beautiful balloons. Really, is there anything better than a helium balloon? It's one of those items that retains its magic for me from childhood, primarily because I'm too cheap to figure out how to get access to one of those helium tanks. If you're in LA and a party planner, definitely check them out (and get Mallow & Hop to cater please!). The "vendor discount" button on my Square app was in heavy rotation this weekend. I only regret I didn't have much chance to visit the other booths, specifically Letterpress Chocolate and Indie Jams.

Although I had samples of all candy bars, I only sampled the Passion Fruit of the marshmallow line, dedicating an entire batch to samples. Bigger samples than ever before. And people loved them. I got a lot of this face:

Which I couldn't be happier about. Passion Fruit has always been my favorite, but I think it may be a little inaccessible to those who haven't tried it. Sample convo between myself and a retailer-

Them: "What are your best flavors?"

Me: "Passion Fruit and, well, Mint Chocolate Chip sells well."

Them: "Ok we'll take Caramel Apple Pie and Apricot IPA."

Me: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Thank you, Unique LA shoppers, for vindicating what I knew all along. Those Passion Fruit marshmallows are bomb. (Not to toot my own horn or anything.)

Oh and side note - if you missed Unique LA but want to try a candy bar, as of this past weekend they're in stock at The Bee's Knees in Pasadena! Continuing my trend of being sold at cheese stores. Yesssss cheese! 

 

FOOD IS FRUSTRATING

What a true dream it would be to be able to pack all of my product away in a box with the knowledge that I can open that box in 3 months and sell those goods at the next event. Jewelry, clothing and art vendors have that luxury. Food vendors - in many cases - do not. And you know, that's just a part of the agreement I made when I decided to make marshmallows, and not chocolate or jam or hot sauce. I looked over at Sugar Pie, Honey Buns selling pies a few tables away and felt a real solidarity. And how do you know how well a show will go, so that you know what to prepare? One of the guys working for an event sponsor said he'd brought 10,000 units of his product, and even giving them away for free couldn't get rid of it all. What do you do when you're running a small business and want to make sure you have enough but also aren't left with too much after the show?

Well, one thing you do is rush home on Saturday night and make another few batches of Passion Fruit after it unexpectedly sells out by 3pm on Saturday afternoon. 

Other food frustrations

  • There's a built-in price barrier - even if you're selling amazingly delicious $18 chocolate bars (shoutout!) you still have to close sales with 3x the customers to break even with the vendors selling $60 necklaces. For $6 marshmallow bars, it's 10x.
  • Customers might get a little bored of smelling candles at 10 booths, but it doesn't compare to the dread they feel when they approach a candy booth after just having a hand pie and trying out the chocolate, toffee, pralines, jams, and other assorted goodies. "I'm full," they say, when offered a sample. And I can't blame them. I've definitely been there.
  • Sampling is necessary, and sampling creates sales where there would have been none, and when people love and buy what you sample when they never would have before, it makes you feel a pride for the actual content of your product that is unparalleled. However, it's also undeniable that sampling draws in a type of consumer that likes to sample for the sake of sampling. Sampling can be pretty bad for your confidence after twenty minutes of those.

None of that, of course, is absolving me of things I can do better, nor complaining about it all. It's a learning process, and seems like I'd forgotten so much from my previous mallow endeavor. I've done better at every event than I had at the previous, but there's still so much to learn and do.

 

BARRIERS

I applied last week to be a part of the Renegade Craft Fair in Los Angeles & San Francisco. Now, at the risk of being too transparent (my dad says people like to buy products from businesses with an "air of mystery") I applied for the cheapest option for each of those events, a shared booth for $300, to be paid in advance via PayPal. If they don't accept you, the money is refunded less a $35 application fee. Unique LA spaces range from $375 + $25 application fee for a table to over $600 + $25 for a booth. Artisanal LA ranged from $425 + $30 if you applied early for the smallest space to $1,550 + $30 for a luxury 10' x 40' booth. Each of those cashed the checks for the space after you were accepted, but the check had to be sent along with the application. Which meant that I had to remember on March 11th to make sure I had $375 in my checking account, which is far from a given on any random day...

Let's remember too that because of the City of Los Angeles' somewhat ridiculous and exploitative permitting system (I'm really really bitter about it), each of those events comes with a $101 location specific permit fee to be able to sell pre-packaged food with sampling.

All told, before this weekend I had paid a total of $1406 in event fees and applications before I was able to see even one cent in return.

I have a decent day job, a boyfriend who shares the rent on my humble 1br apartment, and supportive parents who would provide aid if I really needed it. I could get by without that $1406 for a month or two. I'm one of the lucky ones.

I think we as a community are suffering for it. The art we see and the food we consume and the crafts we buy at these events are all made by creators who - on top the the time it takes to make their products, the cost of the materials and the opportunity cost of working a booth for a weekend - can afford the $300-$500 event fees. And although the creators I've met over this time have been so impressively smart, dedicated and inventive, it leads to a certain level of homogeny. It leads to a lot of t-shirts with kale puns on them. Do I want those t-shirts? I mean, 100% I do, absolutely. 

On top of that, the products we're making attract a certain type of person - like me - who want to buy kale t-shirts and gluten free brownies and can pay a $10 entry fee for the privilege. The events are attracting my friends, because my friends are the people I encourage to come to these events, and the friends and fans of other vendors. These barriers are limiting our customer base.

It all makes it harder for the Next Big Thing to be a true rags to riches story. At best, it'll be a ratty t-shirt to riches.

Now, this isn't the sort of thing that is the fault of event coordinators, far from it in fact. Not having the $300-$500 for a booth fee probably also means you don't have the $400-$2000 it costs for a silkscreening machine. Or a credit score that would merit a loan. But I'd love to see if we can do what we can to even the playing field.

When I was in New York I did an Improv 101 class at UCB, 8 weeks for $400. We all went out for drinks one night and the funniest dude there spilled that he was only in the class because his friends had taken up a collection to pay his tuition. He was the only black person in our group of students. Without him our scenes would have been worse, because we would have lost that perspective - 75% of us were white females with the $400 to spend on an Improv class.

Is that something we can do? If each vendor at Unique contributed an optional $25 with their application, we could create a fund for 14 table spaces for worthy businesses without the spare cash. Or we could provide 50% scholarships for 28.

BUST CRAFTACULAR

This Saturday is the Bust Craftacular at the Supercheif Gallery in LA! I'll be at the very first booth as you enter with a ton of amazing other vendors (god I hope Robin Eisenberg has this Peach Pin in stock because I've never loved anything more) and freaking KITTENS! There will be KITTENS!

Learn more about the event and other vendors here. Hope to see you there!

The State of the Business 2016

Karen Marshall

It's mid January 2016, which means I just filed my taxes for 2015, because I'm an overachiever. The first entry in my Mint.com account tagged as "Mallow & Hop" was May 19th, 2015, to Squarespace for this very website. What's happened since then?

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In Defense of the Day Job

Karen Marshall

I see so many of my peers fall into this pattern - the job is hard to quit, because the drinks with friends and ability to pay the rent that we once viewed as such a luxury is now a requirement. The job becomes your buoy and your enemy, and is treated as such, with apathy, disdain and resentment. The dreams make it ok, because the dreams are who you are. The job is just the job. But you don't quit. And you get older. The dreams stay the dreams. And then what

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