- At the Art & Craft Centre where I have the bears, I only have to be there one day a week. On other days, the pay desk is manned by other unit holders, doing their one day a week. I've always considered this to be a big advantage - a) because it means I can stay at home and work on new bears, b) because I'm not good at selling bears - they always seem to sell better when I'm not there(!) This craft fair has shown the disadvantages of this set up though. Sitting there, trying to sell bears face-to-face ('trying' being the ever-present, operative word here), I found out a lot more about what people like, what they thought of the prices, etc - I got a lot more consumer feedback than I do at the Art & Craft Centre. The mammoths, for example, were really popular, as were the little, blonde, Cheeky-style bears. As for the tiny, string-jointed bears, hanging from a ribbon, almost everybody who came to look at my stall picked them up. I did sell some: the problem seemed to be that they weren't sufficiently bear-like. One lady thought they were bats! In contrast, at the Art & Craft Centre, my only measure of the popularity of the designs, is when they sell - and since the expensive mohair bears sell so seldom, that isn't much help at all.
- I find it very difficult trying to launch into a teddy-bear-related conversation with complete strangers, who may - very likely - have no interest in teddy bears whatsoever. I was also worried about the awkwardness of 'signing-off' conversations with people who weren't interested. I can see myself describing the way the bears are made, and the customer saying, "Right - well, bye then!" In fact, I didn't pluck that out of thin air: I think I have seen that happen before (although not in relation to bears - I've never been quite brave enough to create that kind of sales situation). I was determined to have at go at Clare Priory though, and actually, people did seem to warm to my conversational attempts. In some cases, it was almost as though they liked the bears, but didn't quite have the impetus to buy one. My stumbling explanations of inspiration and method were the prod they needed (maybe I just bored them into it). There were a few awkward moments, but no one seemed to mind. And I guess I didn't, after a while: having somebody want to buy something you've made yourself is a really lovely feeling!
- Teddy bear names tend to be a bit of an afterthought for me, and in fact, with my mammoths and the limited edition bears, I've never bothered to name them. I thought I would try naming everything for Clare Priory though, and actually it made a big difference. In a few cases, it was almost like people bought bears on the basis of the names. Certainly everyone checked the names before they bought the bear. At one point, in the afternoon, a lady returned to the stall to see if Celia was still there. I was standing there thinking, "Oh God, who the heck is Celia!" Clearly though, names are important.
- Another way in which people chose the bear they wanted to buy, was by expression. I've seen this before actually, at teddy bear fairs, but my interest - in making teddy bears - has tended to be in their shape; the physical design. The face, to me, is almost like window dressing. I had customers pick up each bear, one at a time, though, and consider their expressions. And interestingly, the bears made in my panda design - which do look quite sad and droopy - were probably the design I sold the fewest of. So more attention to expression please!
- The final point regards pricing. I dropped all the prices for the craft show, and clearly it made a difference. What was very, very noticeable though, was that none of the people I spoke to seemed to place any importance on the fact that the bears were made out of mohair. I love mohair! I am a mohair addict. Thinking about it though, the advantages of mohair are mostly to do with the making process - it is just simply the best fabric to work with. From the buyer's point of view though, there are plenty of much more lustrous, tactile, faux furs. Mohair is meant to last much longer, but this doesn't seem to be something that strikes people very hard when they are actually buying the bear. Maybe it is different with teddy bear collectors, but for non-collectors (which is mostly the people I deal with), they don't seem to see any benefit to the fact that the bear is made out of mohair. So, why use it? It is very difficult to find other fabrics which do the same job. You do get faux furs with a woven, rather than a knit, backing (the latter is too stretchy to achieve any defined shape with), but these are almost as expensive as mohair. Clearly though, I ought to be putting more effort into sourcing alternative fabrics. If I could find some, it would cut down the cost price of the bears considerably. The other point, with regard to price, is that perhaps I should be cutting the 'time' element out of the pricing equation. If a bear takes me a couple of days to make, I am loathe to sell if for less than, e.g. £30. But I am not the fastest of bear-makers. It has never been an issue for me to make as fast as possible: to me, it takes a little thought, a little consideration, which can't be rushed. For those designs which I make repeatedly though - like the mammoths - I should be able to work faster. Certainly, with practice I should get faster. But in the meantime, I can't charge people for my slow work.
Fingers crossed - lets see what happens!