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."
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.
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.
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!