We recently connected with Rachel Irvin and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Rachel thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Let’s talk about innovation. What’s the most innovative thing you’ve done in your career?
In March 2020, the entire world faced new and unexpected challenges. My business is heavily reliant on events with lots of people in attendance- and as my calendar of events canceled, one after another for the entire year, I had to get creative. I had already leveraged social media and my customer contacts to the best of my abilities for online orders. After 3 months on the bench from events, that just wasn’t going to be enough.
I live in a tourist destination and when rentals and the beaches opened back up after the strictest part of lockdown, all I could think about was getting my booth in front of those tourists! I started making phone calls and I launched Crafts in the Village in July 2020 on St. Simons Island. We had 15 art and craft booths out in the park, spaced way out from each other, and everyone was wearing masks, hand sanitizer in every booth. We have been out at least once a month ever since and have become a local fixture. Crafts in the Village helped save and sustain over 100 small art businesses during the pandemic. Next weekend, Crafts in the Village will host 70 businesses for Father’s Day weekend. We have hosted over 250 art and craft businesses over 30 events (and counting) and we are looking forward to bringing art and crafts to St. Simons for many years to come.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I’m Rachel, owner and founder of both RachelMade Products, LLC, and Crafts in the Village events. I started RachelMade, my skincare and candle company, out of necessity in 2014. My skin is sensitive and eczema prone. I just couldn’t use the products available in stores- too many “fragrances” and artificial ingredients that made my skin break out and itch. I just wanted a simple balm, just a few organic ingredients, beeswax, and essential oils. I have always said- if you want something done right, do it yourself! I did a ton of research, gathered ingredients, and made my very first batches of moisturizing balm. It worked wonders on my skin! I gave some out as holiday gifts in 2013, received rave reviews, and launched RachelMade in July 2014. Over the years my line has grown and changed. I still offer my original moisturizing balms, lip balms, and salt soaks. I added aromatherapy candles, wax melts, and roll ons in 2018 and my line continues to grow and change every day. I used to travel to festivals and events all over the country but these days I stick close to home and do shows exclusively on St. Simons Island 25 weekends a year. I still make each and every product by hand (and I still love doing it!). We celebrate 8 years in business next month.
Crafts in the Village was also born of necessity. When the pandemic shut down events in March 2020, my small business was in danger of going under as my business relies heavily on events. When tourism opened back up on the island, I got to work organizing a socially distanced craft event in a local park to get myself and my fellow small business owners back to work! We launched in July 2020 with just 15 booths at our first event and have been out monthly ever since. Crafts in the Village has hosted over 250 small businesses at 30 (and counting) festivals. Truly, it is my life’s honor and privilege to run these businesses!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! I’m in the process of forming a nonprofit to help fund local art programs and speak to students about business ownership and turning their art or craft hobby into a viable business. I’ll be sponsoring an “emerging artist” booth at our events as we mentor the next generation of up and coming artisans and crafters. I’m also working towards adding an additional monthly craft event to River Street in Savannah, GA (watch out for Crafts on the River in the coming months)! My work is just getting started, friends!
Any fun sales or marketing stories?
During the early days of the pandemic, when we all so naively thought this would be a short term 3-12 week sort of deal, I was racking my brain for ways to turn revenue. I had thousands of dollars (over $10k) paid out in booth fees for events that were canceling left and right (and I wasn’t yet sure if my money was coming back to me- thankfully it did many months later). I was STACKED with spring inventory and supplies for all those now canceled shows and nowhere to sell it-except online. I of course went to my facebook/instagram followers to plea for support, promoted sale posts and emailed my mailing list. Orders came in (and I am forever grateful to everyone who supported me through the pandemic!) but it wasn’t going to be enough. As lockdown wore on, as week after week passed of news of continued event cancelations, for the remainder of the year- the inability of “nonessential” businesses to reopen, the early hope that I could hold through this faded. Businesses both larger and smaller than mine were folding. People everywhere were furloughed or laid off entirely. I really needed a boost in revenue- online sales just didn’t compare to event sales and weren’t keeping up with expenses. Every day I wondered if I’d have to give up my production space and put my business in storage and wait until better days ahead. But I had one last trick up my sleeve before giving up. There was another social media site I had used that was mostly funny memes and some world news. Imgur isn’t usually somewhere I’d post content like I would on instagram or facebook- in fact I had rarely shared anything at all on there- but if you could make “front page” your post would be seen by over 100,000 people. I had absolutely nothing to lose. At worst they’d downvote my post and that would be that. To my relief and surprise, they didn’t downvote me. My post went viral. My follow up post went viral. My follow up post after THAT went viral. I had a FLOOD of hundreds of orders come in with each viral post. Those posts saved my business and gave me the resources to launch the Crafts in the Village event which helped save an additional 100+ small businesses during the pandemic! If you have reservations about a marketing campaign- you’ve got to push forward and put it out there! It could be just the thing that makes ALL the difference.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
My business relies on craft shows for the majority of its revenue. For these events, we take our entire shop and set up to different, mostly outdoor, venues all around the country. Being outside leaves us to contend with Mother Nature- and she can be as pleasant as she can be ferocious. In 2019, I had applied to and gotten into Ann Arbor Art Fair- one of the largest craft shows in the country that runs 4 days in July. So many artists I knew talked about doing a large percentage of their year’s revenue at this event, so off I went. It’s a 950 mile drive each way from my coastal Georgia home to the venue. I pack the van, cruise up the highway, get set up at the event. I had been warned by other vendors that the weather can be “bad” at Art Fair. I brushed off the comment- I’d been doing outdoor shows for 5 years. I’d been through thunderstorms and heavy rain- that’s just what happens when you bring your shop outside. Our booths were set up on the pavement, in between tall buildings. I immediately noticed our area was a bit of a wind tunnel and we were experiencing wind gusts even when it wasn’t that windy. It was also 100 degrees with a feels like temp of 110. It was miserable hot, but I’m here to work so on I go with the show. Thursday, the first day of the event, ran 9am-8pm. I work all of my events solo and it was going to be four very long, hot days. Thursday afternoon the first storm rolled through and my booth flooded so badly I had to purchase new shoes. Not fun, but the people were out and the show must go on. I also managed to catch a cold. Friday morning I woke up feeling unwell. Off to the show I went after some vitamins and Tylenol. By 5pm, we had weathered another bear of a storm for an hour midday and I was burning with a fever. More storms were forecast for that night. I spoke with an organizer and closed my booth early (the show went until 8pm and closing early is generally NOT permitted). I left to sleep so I could finish the remaining 2 days of the show. I got frantic phone calls/text/emails from fellow vendors beginning at 7:30PM that my booth had “flown away”. Feverish, sleep-dazed, I struggled to understand what they meant. I took stock of the heavy rain and thunder outside, my haze clearing, understanding dawning, a knot of dread forming inside my stomach. Then a vendor sent me a video of wind whipping through the event, vendors hanging onto mangled tents, vendors taking cover. A derecho had bulldozed the event with 80+mph straight-line winds for five full minutes. My tent frame had snapped and had indeed blown across the road. I waited for the worst of the storm to pass and headed to the venue to collect the literal wreckage of my booth. Broken glass from shelves of candles knocked over, my mangled tent frame, everything was a mess and a total loss. Other vendors who knew I was sick and had stacked my product bins under awnings nearby (I am still so thankful for their help). I managed to shove the last of the wreckage into my van just as the news van pulled up for their story. I slept the night then I drove the 15 hours home the next day. I sorted through the wreckage, re-made my inventory, and got ready for my next event. When bad things happen, you pick up, dust off, and keep on keeping on.