Blue Genie Art Bazaar: From Application to Load-Out
As the New Year begins,
I’d like to take a moment to reflect on my first season at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar. In this blog post we will go through every step: From applying, to preparation and setup, what the bazaar itself was like, to the aftermath and what I’d change moving forward. Ready? Let’s begin.
What is Blue Genie Art Bazaar?
For local Austinites, Blue Genie Art Bazaar is an annual (and more recently bi-annual) holiday makers market. But this is not just any market. The Blue Genie Art Bazaar is a storefront that is open from late November until Christmas Eve annually, where Artisans leave their products to “live”. There is staff who manages the store, which means you don’t have to be there everyday to sell your products. Imagine a Local Artisans Department store. For consumers, it’s an excellent way to shop small and buy creative, unique, handmade Christmas gifts. For Makers, it’s a fantastic way to get your brand in front of the public, as the foot traffic is guaranteed and it is always busy!
Such a festive entrance!
Blue Genie vets a variety of vendors on an application-basis. Just because you were accepted this year, does not guarantee your spot next year. The variety of vendors spans from locally made chocolate and beef jerky, to beautiful ceramics, fantastic fine art and posters, to handmade crochet plushies, jewelry of all sorts and styles, stationary goods, and yup, dog bandanas too! It really is a wonderland for shopping local and unique products.
For Artisans, there is a small application fee, but no cost to participate. Blue Genie functions on a commission basis. Depending on how much you earn, Blue Genie takes anywhere from a 35%-40% cut. The more you earn, the less they take. It sounds like a lot, but considering that many small brick and mortar businesses who wholesale with local artisans take around the same amount, plus the amount of foot traffic and “facetime” your products will get with the public, I consider it well worth it. Many Artisans will also add a “buffer” on their products prices in order to make up for that commission. I personally did not do that, but your products, your prices!
Ok, now you know what Blue Genie Art Bazaar is, but how do you participate?
When to apply
If you visit Blue Genie’s Website, you can see in the upper right-hand corner their “Call for Submissions” banner. This will give you the information you need to know on when to apply and when applications close, as the dates vary.
Generally speaking, early admission applications are accepted between May and early August, with the application fee only being $45. After that, you have until September 1st (please double check the website as the dates may have changed!) to get your application submitted.
The application itself is thorough, which helps with Blue Genie’s vetting process. With the amount of local artisans and vendors applying every year, this allows them to not overlap on having too “much of the same”. Judging by the variety of vendors I saw at the Bazaar this year, I’d say the application and vetting processes are working.
When applying, you submit your application through the platform called ‘Zapplication’. Some vendors may already be familiar with this platform but I was not. Setting up your account on Zapplication can itself take time as the platform is meant to help you apply to a variety of venues/markets in less time. I’d recommend taking the time to set up your profile ahead of time, to save yourself the time and stress when Blue Genie applications open.
The Blue Genie website gives you a lot of information for what to expect on your application. If you plan on applying, it is in your benefit to prepare these items ahead of time, so that you can have everything ready to go once you are ready to submit your application.
Some of the times you will need are (this information can also be found directly on their website):
-Description of Materials/Technique: Brief statement of 1,000 characters or less that describes the materials and techniques used to create your artwork and your artistic background.
-Description of Work: One sentence description of your work. This will be used by BGAB to represent your work to the public.
-Prices: Determine prices for primary product types. You will enter prices when you submit your images. (If you plan on adding that buffer to your pricing, you’ll need to know that ahead of time!)
-Quantity: Estimate the quantity of merchandise you will have ready to sell.
-Booth type & electricity needs: Review the available display space types (see below) and indicate your preference.
-Photos: Please prepare six (6) product photos which represent what you plan to sell.
When I found out
Just as the website states, I received my notification acceptance email from Blue Genie the first week of September. Initially, their emails went into my spam folder, so always make sure you double-check your spam before deleting anything!
When Do I Start Preparing for the Market?
For my first year as a participating artist, I began my Blue Genie preparations in September. I already had some stock on hand that I knew that I could use for the market, and as soon as I got my acceptance email, I ordered my new holiday fabric and got to work!
In the future, if I am accepted for the 2023 season of Blue Genie, I will begin my preparations as early as July. For my product in particular, buying fabric ahead of time is very important. I will spend my time in 2023 keeping an eye out for holiday fabrics on sale and will buy them when I see them, since those are the patterns I sold the most of this year (but more on that later!).
You are the best judge of how much time you will need to get enough product made for BGAB. For the first year, it can be very intimidating and there are so many unknowns as well. If you are not prepared or able to begin preparing products between July and September, be prepared to spend most of your time in November and December catching up.
What Kind of Product Preparation Do I Need to Do?
For my first year of preparations, I was fortunate enough to have a fellow vendor and friend who had participated in BGAB the year prior. Her experience helped me set expectations and gave me a lot of tips on preparing. Additionally, I went into the application process with the intention of being accepted, so by the time I had received my BGAB acceptance email, I had already decided on my fabrics and just needed to click “buy”.
For my work cycle, I set up weekly timelines of things I expected to finish and when I expected to finish them. Because of the products I make, and the machines that I use, it can be fairly simple to streamline this process and do things in bulk. Here’s a rough outline of what my "work schedule" looked like:
-Sew headbands and tag products
-Fold and package bandanas and price products
-Take all Shopify and Social images
You will know the best way to prepare your products. For me, having an intensive step-by-step to-do list really helps me get things done. I was specific according to fabric pattern and product type. This really helped me stay focused and feel accomplished when I get something “done” even if it was just a small item on my list.
Because I did not have all of my fabrics arrive at the same time, I essentially did this process four or five times over in preparations. Things got a bit hairy as I had also booked myself for plenty of markets during the months of October and November. Fortunately, I was able to use this to my advantage and brought some of my new holiday prints to see which sizes and patterns were popular at in-person markets. This allowed me to pre order more stock ahead of BGAB.
But What About My Display Preparation?
After (or more accurately during) my product preparation I also began to think about my Display setup. Blue Genie offers a variety of set up options and I was awarded a 4x8 wall space. The instructions regarding set up are very specific so that everyone is able to use the appropriate amount of space allotted to them. It can still be a bit confusing but in the end there’s a solution to every problem and Blue Genie was always really helpful in helping me find those solutions (thanks, Dana).
Visual Merchandising was likely the biggest lesson that I learned throughout this entire process. Even though I had attended many in-person markets throughout 2022, I did not feel that my visual merchandising display for markets translated very well to a 3-dimensional 4x8 wall space. In the end, I worked with shelving primarily for my display, but also used an ikea peg board for display bandanas and headband backstock.
Initially, I did a test run on my display by tapping off an 4x8 space on the floor. Because I am a visual person, this was helpful, but not good enough. I then did a dry run by setting up my display on a wall in my office.
(As you can see above, I did not have all of my display shelving or hooks available when I set the test-run up, and used some fabric as placeholders).
Second-run tentative wall display on my office wall.
The final design looked something like this: My wall backdrop was a heavy-duty photo paper backdrop, which I found on Amazon. At the top of my display was my sign, which for this year, was just a large poster print from Fedex (Next year I’d like to get more creative with that!). I used wall hooks for my leashes and collars to hang up, five wire wall racks: three to hold my bandanas by size, one for headbands and one for graphic art. I used a small Hearth and Home wall mirror for individuals to be able to use while trying on their headbands. Lastly, I used an ikea pegboard to display bandanas, which I rotated out throughout the market, and to hang extra headbands on display.
To provide for more displays lower to the ground I used a small ikea side table to hold scrunchies, pricing displays, and business cards. Beneath the table I put two wire baskets, one with extra bandanas and one with extra headbands.
One of the trickiest things for my display was to think about how to display the bandanas with the appropriate BGAB pricing on it. I chose to fold my bandanas and put a Belly band tag around them. Then the price tag went on the back of that. For headbands I recycled old HWH hanging tags with the price sticker on the back, attached using a tagging gun. I also used the hanging tags and tagging gun for my leashes, collars, and scrunchies.
Additionally, I had to think about how to store a large quantity of product that customers could easily access, which was why I went with the wire hanging shelves. Each shelf was labeled with the appropriate bandana size and each bandana’s belly band also had the size labeled as well. While the wire racks worked for displaying products eye level and above, the ikea side table was better used for items at waist-level and below. It allowed for my backstock to be stored and added some dimension to the display as well. You can see a photo of my final display, below:
There were countless beautiful and creative displays at Blue Genie. I highly recommend looking back at their instagram to see how creative some of the other vendors got. I’ve already got ideas running through my head for how to create a new and creative display for 2023. Below are a couple of images of some of the most creative signage and displays I saw!
How Does Load-In Work?
Vendors are given a day and time frame for which they can load-in their display. Here is what I brought with me to make sure my day went smoothly:
-a helpful husband
-extra price tags
Everything ready the night before load-in!
As a first-timer at BGAB I was very wound-up and stressed during setup. Fortunately for me, I have a husband who is calm and relaxed and was able to help make my vision come to life despite my insecurities. Additionally, Dana, one of the owners of BGAB was around during the set up and was incredibly helpful and answered all of our questions.
Overall my setup took about an hour, possibly an hour and a half. I kept the display design fairly simple and minimalistic, and because of my dry run I was able to get everything set up smoothly.
The Market is Here, What Now?
One of the most interesting pieces of customer data I found was that the majority of the bandanas I sold were in a size Large. This is a 25 inch by 25 inch square bandana. Pretty big! I make them for dogs weighing 40 lbs to about 100 lbs. Think, anywhere from a Standard Aussie, to as large as a Mastiff. What was the reason for that? Could it be that most people in Austin prefer to buy bandanas for larger dogs? Or perhaps the sizing graphic I had framed at my display describing sizing measurements alongside breed descriptions was not enough. If you are buying a bandana for a dog as a gift and you are unsure of their weight, you might likely size up rather than accidentally buy something too small. Moving forward, I will research better solutions to displaying each individual size for customers to hold and see.
Was this the best way to display bandana patterns? Perhaps not.
Was this the best way to package my products? I often found many had been taken out of packaging and unfolded. Next time I will have display bandanas of every pattern on a hook for customers to hold, touch, feel, etc. in every size available.
-What I learned
Less is more, and customers will touch your products a lot. Next time I will have all bandana patterns available unfolded for customers to touch and hold in various sizes. Perhaps this will prevent customers from taking bandanas out of their packaging before they buy them. This was an excellent lesson for me to see play out in real time!
My booth at the end of a busy weekend!
Personally, I did my best to go and visit my booth every 1-2 days. The weekends were especially busy, so it was important that I visited early in the morning or in the evening before closing time to tidy up on Saturdays and the first thing Monday morning. If I could make it there every day during the weekend, I did. During the last week of the market I visited my booth daily. My intention in visiting my booth was to make sure that it appeared tidy and organized. I often switched out the display bandanas on my ikea pegboard, and even reorganized which bandanas appeared upfront on the shelves.
What Does Load-Out Look Like?
Blue Genie clean up was even quicker and easier than setting up. I went to the venue during the load-out timeframe and overall it took me about 30 minutes. I got most of it done while my helpful husband went next door to Spokesman Coffee and grabbed us a couple of delicious cappuccinos. The process was painless and simple.
How Do I Get Paid?
Let's talk sales: How do you know how much are selling, and how much you are making? During the midpoint of the Bazaar, you will receive an update email, with the amount of sales you have made from the start of the Bazaar. Pretty simple and straightforward. At the end of the Bazaar, after load-out, you can expect a final sales email about two weeks after New Year's, but timings may vary. You'll receive instructions in this email on how to receive your payment. It's straight forward and as usual, Blue Genie is quick to help with any follow-up questions you may have via email.
What I’d Change Moving Forward
Moving forward I would change several things.
First of all, I would have the majority of my product made ahead of time. I would start the preparation process in July and do my best to wrap everything up by Thanksgiving or load-in week. Obviously, this is an ideal scenario, and things can always change, but the clearer your goals are ahead of time, the more likely your success will be.
Secondly, I would adjust my display setup. Because of the BGAB walls, you can use screws to put your displays up. Moving forward, I would create a faux-wall ahead of time using plywood. This would allow for more creativity with my backdrop, whether it be paint, wallpaper, whatever! These faux walls would just be installed directly onto the BGAB walls. Everything would be “pre-set-up” before installation. Plus, this would allow for more trial runs as well since the faux walls will already be measured correctly ahead of time.
Finally, and I think most importantly, I would reimagine my merchandising and sample displays. The more time I can spend streamlining a clear and precise merchandising wall, the easier it will be for customers to shop. Even more so, the clearer I can make my display products, particularly displaying each individual bandana size, the more likely I am to sell products in more sizes, and not just a Large.
In the end, I would consider my first season at Blue Genie a success! I went into the event knowing that my overall earnings may not be as high as I would initially want because of the commission cut BGAB takes. My mindset was not to use this experience as a way to make major holiday sales, but as a learning experience. And learn a lot, I did! I learned a lot more about my customers’ buying habits, product popularity, and even more about visual merchandising, which I found particularly fun and interesting. It was a delight to learn so much from this experience.
So, now you have all of the information you need to know about Blue Genie. Will you be applying next year? I know I will be. Here’s to many more (hopefully) seasons at Blue Genie!
-BGAB is a local annual christmas market for TX vendors, they take a 35-40% commission depending on your earnings
-Applications are early and thorough! (beginning in May).
-You won’t find out whether or not you made it until September, but go into the application process thinking that you *did* make it and start your preparations as early as July.
-Prepare three times as much product as you think you will need
-Visual Merchandising is important. Shoppers will touch your products and need your display to be easy to shop. The more streamline and creative your display is, the better
-Visit your booth often to tidy up and rotate out your display items (if you have any)
-Pay attention to what you’re selling (sizes, patterns, colors, etc). Customer Data is key to your success moving forward!
-Load out is easy and simple
-Keep an eye on your email the second or third week of January for info on your final payout
-Have a Blast!