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Welcome to Grandma’s Corner

Hi I’m Shirley and I am going to be making occasional contributions to this blog.
I am Gemma’s mother-in-law, and grandma to her two gorgeous boys (aged 3 and 1) and their two adorable cousins (aged 4 and 2).
My contribution to Gem’s Concrete Gems is largely in terms of childcare, with occasional tech support and some product critiquing. Over the next few posts from me I shall tell you a bit more about me and concrete!

 

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Craft fair debrief

Last weekend I had a stall at my first ever craft fair and it was certainly a fantastic learning experience! I didn’t sell as much as I’d wanted to and only really sold to friends and family, which is definitely not the way to have a profitable business, but hey ho it is still early days.

Gem's Concrete Gems craft fair stall display

The above picture is my stall table. I think it looks quite good but it definitely couldn’t have had anything else on it. I actually requested a smaller table, not realising quite how much stock I had and how big some of the pieces are. Luckily they were able to squeeze in a bigger table for me, but I did feel a bit silly and guilty for messing them around. So I’d really recommend doing a full mock up of your table before you go if you can. I only mocked up a few items at home beforehand but that obviously wasn’t enough.

It took a lot longer than I thought it would to set up my display. I had a lot of stock as I didn’t want to risk running out, so it took quite a few trips from the car to bring everything in and then I had to unpack it all and figure out how to display it best. I moved things about quite a lot and rearranged it as the afternoon went on. This is definitely one of those things that gets quicker with practice and experience.

My biggest light bulb moment though was that it is so important to present your items to the right demographic. The fair I attended was in a church, where the majority of footfall were the elderly population, who were buying things like cross stitched Christmas cards, mini paper Christmas trees and stained glass decorations, all of which were at the lower end of the price scale and were quite traditional in design. It seemed like a lot of people weren’t even there to buy anything, except many some tea and cake! My products are definitely more on the modern and on trend size of things, which is in opposition to the majority of customers.

Now I did have items on my stall which fitted a range of price points, but I think that my ideal customer just wasn’t there. So many people complimented my products, which suggests that they are aesthetically pleasing, but obviously they didn’t like them enough to actually pay money for them! My ideal customer is in the 25 to 45 age bracket, mostly female, with disposable income and a liking for unique, modern trends, and that is not who came to visit my stall!

Another factor in this was that there just were not that many people attending and there were not that many craft stalls either, which wouldn’t have helped bring in customers. So I now know that I certainly need to consider who might be attending a fair before I decide whether to have a stall there or not! If I want to make a profitable business, then I need to be a bit savvy in this respect, otherwise it is just a waste of time.

However, in spite of this, I think this was a really beneficial experience as a first attempt. It made me consider how to set up as stall, what stock and equipment I’d need and how to behave whilst there, so now I feel much more prepared to tackle a bigger fair in the future!

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Christmas Products

Concrete star tealight holders with gold or red glitter decoration

I’ve been busy preparing for my first craft fair which is on Saturday, so I haven’t had much time for the blog, however, with only 2 months to go till the big day, I really wanted to share with you my Christmas products which are available over on my Etsy shop.

All of my Christmas items this year are made of concrete (of course), and decorated with either glitter or glitter paste. Click the links below to get a similar effect.

Craft Planet Glitter Shaker, Pack of 6, Multi-Colour

Imagination Crafts Glitter Sparkle Medium Clear Gel 50ml – Bright Red

The first two items are hanging concrete stars. There are two sizes available in my shop. I love the mini ones, they’re really cute and not at all like concrete really. The decorations are not very heavy despite what you might think.

They look great hanging on the Christmas tree, but would also work really well hanging from a mantelpiece or any other Christmas decor you have. I think they work in both a modern and a more traditional setting.

To buy the hanging stars, click here and for the mini ones, click here.

Also available are hanging Christmas trees, again decorated in glitter or glitter paste.

I think these look really lovely hanging in the real Christmas tree pictured here.

To buy the larger trees click here and for the mini ones, click here.

The last decorations that I want to share with you today are definitely my favourite. These are tealight candles in the shape of a star or a tree with glitter decoration. They come with a tealight candle as well. These look fantastic as part of a Christmas table decoration or mantelpiece display. Look out for a post soon on my table decoration styling, where I will be showing how you can display my decorations over Christmas.

To buy the star tealights, click here.

To buy the tree tealights, click here.

I hope you like my decorations, and if you do, please head over to my Etsy shop and take a look at my other products.

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5 things to consider when preparing for your first craft fair

Prep for craft fair showing mock up display

Having a stall at a craft fair would initially seem to be fairly straight forward when you are already selling online, but think again! There are so many additional things that need to be considered, which I am just starting to find out. I jumped at the chance to have a stall at a local craft fair, thinking it would be an easy way to get some local exposure and see how my products fared (excuse the pun), before deciding whether to tackle a larger fair.

However, now that I’ve started thinking about it more seriously, I’ve realised how much there is to organise. So here is my list, from one beginner to another, of what you need to prepare in advance of having a stall at your first craft fair (bear in mind that this is my first time too, so there may be some glaring errors here):

Stock

My first thoughts were that I’d just take along the things that I already had – one, or maybe two, of each item – and that would be plenty. But what if you sell that item and someone else might be wanting the same thing? Or what if all your cheaper items sell really quickly, you’d be regretting not having more stock. What I’m saying is, take more products than will fit on your display, so that you can stock up if items sell out (which is what you want of course). And take a variety of different items, different colours, sizes, styles, in the hope that your customer will find at least one thing they like!

Prep for craft fair showing mock up display
Craft fair mock up

Pricing

Firstly, think about the pricing of your items. You might sell them online already, but this is not necessarily the price that you want to sell them for at a craft fair. The price you charge online may include listing fees, transaction fees, postage and packaging, which will not be applicable at a craft fair. However, you will want to factor in the cost of the stall and any other equipment you had to buy for the fair into your new price. So whilst it is more work, start your costing anew for fair items to ensure they are at a price that is competitive and reasonable.

Secondly, people tend to not want to spend hundreds of pounds at a craft fair, so having more lower priced items is probably a good idea. Take the high end pieces as well, but maybe be prepared to get a commission or that the person may want to order it at a later date, once they have thought it through or got the funds together. To this end, make sure you take plenty of business cards with you, so customers know how to get in touch easily!

Also, one thing that I think is really important is to put price labels on your products. This is especially so in the UK, where people do not like to ask questions about prices, and would often be put off buying a product if there is no price displayed. These can be bought very cheaply, such as 100 Quality White Strung Tags


.

Display

This is the one I am panicking about most. How do I present my products in an artistic, attractive way to entice customers to come closer and buy my products. Actually though, I don’t think it needs to be such a big deal. When you strip it back, the products are the most important thing, so just make sure these can be seen from a couple of metres away and let them do the talking! That said, you still need to think about things like a tablecloth, stands to put things on, boxes or containers to put smaller things in, colour schemes, etc. Think especially about items that normally hang on the wall or items of clothing and how best to display these so customers can see what they are looking at clearly from a little way away.

The fair I am going to is providing those metal tables with the fold out legs, which are not the most attractive, so I’m planning on covering mine with a cloth. I also want to have rows of items with the ones at the back elevated so that they can be seen. Some ideas for this are pedestals, blocks of wood, book stands, mini steps, or plastic stands which are available from Amazon per the picture link below. Or you could improvise with objects found around your house or garden. Be creative, but don’t draw the attention away from the products you are trying to sell.

Idea for displaying my hanging Christmas decorations by using an old mug tree
Idea for displaying my hanging Christmas decorations

You

You need to be approachable, friendly and helpful, but not overbearing or annoying. So many craft stallholders I have come across have started up a conversation and kept me hostage as it were, when I was just browsing, and it really put me off wanting to buy anything. On the other hand, you want to be ready to jump in if a customer shows interest in a particular piece or looks like they have a question, so that they feel at ease with you, and not like they are disturbing you. You might have brought some work to do behind the stall, but try not to be too absorbed in it either, so that the customer sees that you are approachable. Answer questions directly without skirting round the issue or waffling on. And most importantly, the customer is always right, so smile and nod, even if you don’t believe a word they say!!

To allow you to be the best ‘you’ you can be, there are certain provisions that I will recommend. Make sure there will be somewhere to sit or take a chair. Tired, aching feet can make me very grumpy! Take water and snacks to keep you going and also I would recommend taking a friend (at least for a bit of the time), unless you have a very strong bladder!

Point of Sale

So, you’ve done all the hard work and you have a customer who wants to buy something! Hooray!! Just don’t blow it at the last moment! I think it is really important that the purchase stage runs smoothly, so make sure you are organised for this. Have all your packaging ready to go and neatly stacked so you can quickly grab the correct sized box or bag. Although you want to be quick, don’t rush and compromise on quality. You still want your product to look beautiful once it is packaged up. For all my online orders, I wrap them in tissue paper before safely boxing them up for postage, but I’m not sure if gift wrapping would be too much at a craft fair. People don’t want to be waiting around for ages. That said, you could offer it as an option.

For the payment, this depends on the type of fair. For me, I am only going to accept cash this time, but at a bigger fair, it would be prudent to investigate card or phone payment options. As I’m going to be cash only, however, I need to make sure I have plenty of change. There’s nothing worse than not being able to complete a sale because you don’t have the right change, or you have to run over to your neighbour stallholder to beg for change.

That’s all for now. I’ll post again after the fair and let you all know how I got on!!

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5 tips to starting a handmade business, going back to work, and enjoying family life, without having a breakdown!

Not possible, I hear you say! You’ll burn yourself out! It won’t work! You’re burning the candle at both ends!

Fire-related clichés aside, I received much concern when I suddenly announced I was going back to work. It was a shock to me too. I had committed to making Gem’s Concrete Gems work and was excited (still am) by this new chapter of my life, away from the 9 to 5, being able to be at home for my boys and crafting in between times.

All that changed when my old job begged me to come back with an offer I couldn’t really refuse. Everyone knows that setting up a craft business takes time and money, neither of which I had stacks of, and so here I am. I am still convinced this is only until I get the concrete business up and running.

And while I’m fully aware that this is going to be a test of my organisational skills, I really believe I can make it work and still have time to spend with the boys. So here are my top tips to help you if you are in the same situation as me, or are wanting to start a craft business on top of a regular job and family commitments.

Tip number 1

Your calendar is your friend.

Plan everything: The meals for the week, when you’ll do the shopping, what you’ll need to get, who needs to be where when, when you will work on your business and when you will have family time.

We get our groceries delivered in the main. I do the shop on a Sunday night and it comes just after lunch on a Wednesday. We also visit the market for fresh fruit and veg on a Saturday morning. It’s probably a bonus that we live minutes from the shops but if you’re organised, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Scheduling in craft time can be important if you’re the kind of person who procrastinates and doesn’t get around to it. For me at the moment it’s scheduling in time with the ever suffering husband which I need to prioritise, as I’m full of enthusiasm for the business and end up doing bits and bobs for it even when I should be chilling out in front of the TV.

agenda-appointment-business-1020323.jpg

Tip number 2

Do not rush!

Although I really want to succeed in my craft business as soon as possible, it is important not to rush and compromise on quality. Remember, people will choose to buy from you because your craft products are better than any other they have seen. So making sure quality is high on your list is important. Granted, it’s very easy to think in those few spare seconds, ok, I’ll just rush through that bit of decoration, or paint this or that, but this is invariably where mistakes come in.

It doesn’t actually matter and no one will notice whether you are posting to Instagram every day or not, or whether you are pinning the recommended 10 pins a day or not. All that it means is that your followers will grow more slowly and your business will grow more slowly.

BUT this is not necessarily a bad thing!

This will give you the chance to learn from mistakes, to perfect your products, to practice your photography and amend your SEO. So that at a certain point in the not-too-distant future, you will suddenly look up and find that you are a success. This is what I hope will happen for me anyway!!

Tip number 3

Do a course!

I know you can find everything you could possibly need or want to know, and lots that you don’t want, online, but finding the right information will take time. Lots of time! And time is something that is in short supply. So I really recommend taking a course. Not a super expensive one or anything! There are lots to choose from. This is what I’m doing at the moment and I really hope it will help me kick start my business so that I start making some serious money in time for Christmas, and avoid many of the pitfalls that other craft businesses fall into.

Tip number 4

Accept help!

I am really lucky that my husband doesn’t work long hours and is around to help out with the housework and looking after our boys. We’re also lucky to have both sets of parents close by who help out with childcare when I’m at work. This means that we do not have to spend a fortune on nursery which is great. It also means I occasionally get time to do my business stuff when I’ve finished work but before everyone else gets home, which is a massive bonus. Without them, none of this would be possible, but that’s not to say it’s not possible if you do not have this option.

So if you have people who are offering to help out, accept it gratefully, although I would say, be wary not to overuse people, otherwise you are likely to end up in a worse place than before.

Tip number 5

Enjoy it!

You only live once, and if this is what you really want to do, enjoy it! Enjoy the journey and not just the destination! Enjoy the making and enjoy the  mayhem! I know this is much easier said than done and juggling life can be super hard work, however it’s important to have this in the back of your mind because otherwise things can seem very overwhelming.

Just remember that it doesn’t matter if your schedule slips or you take some extra time out with the family. Your craft business will wait for you! I’m going through a stage of very little sleep at the moment due to a smaller member of the family, and so this makes everything else seem much harder. I sit at work feeling like I could fall asleep on my desk. But as soon as I get home and have half an hour spare, I get the rush of excitement again as ideas and inspiration for my craft business comes pouring in! This is what proves to me that Gem’s Concrete Gems is what I want to do with my life long term, and that it is so worth pursuing and persevering with! Don’t give up!

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Make your own Concrete Bowl

This is a super easy tutorial to get us started with the tutorials that I’m hoping to share with you. I discovered this when I had some left over concrete from another project I was working on.

You will need:

Concrete mix*
Plastic bowl, such as these
Water
Acrylic paint, such as Artiste 2 oz Acrylic Paint, Metallic Copper

*You can use a ready made concrete mix such as this Hanson Multi Purpose Concrete or you can mix your own with cement and sand following the guidelines on the cement packet.

Method:

You will want to work on a protected surface and wear protective clothing whenever you work with concrete. Gloves and a dust mask are essential but I would also recommend safety glasses and protective clothing as well.

Take your concrete mix and put around 200g or a yoghurt pot full in a pot to mix. I use a large yoghurt pot or salsa pot to mix in.

Concrete Mix in plastic pot with wooden stirrer

Add water a small amount at a time until you reach a homogeneous but thick consistency. It is important that you do not add too much water, otherwise the concrete will slide down the sides of the plastic bowl.

Stirring concrete to a thick batter consistency

This is where it gets messy and you will definitely want to wear gloves for this step. Lightly grease your plastic bowl with cooking oil. Gather up the concrete in your hand in a ball and place it in the bottom of your plastic bowl.

Lump of concrete in plastic bowl ready to be smoothed out

Start pressing the concrete down into the bottom of the bowl. Gradually work the concrete up the sides of the bowl until it is a uniform thickness of around 1cm.

Smooth out the concrete as much as you can until you get a look you like. You can leave the top edge wavy or smooth it out as you like. Gently tap the bowl up and down to remove air bubbles but be careful not to knock the sides down. Leave to cure as per your concrete mix instructions. To remove from the mould, gently flex the plastic bowl and it should easily slide out.

Cured concrete bowl moulded freehand in a plastic bowl

Sand down any rough edges until you get a look that you like. You can then leave it as it is or decorate it how you like.

I used copper acrylic paint to decorate the inside of my bowl which I think has come out really well.

There are so many different options with this bowl idea, from simply changing the size or the decoration, to trying different shaped moulds or even adding texture to the outside of the bowl.

I’m thinking mine will be used for keys or small change!

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Cement vs concrete

There is generally quite a bit of confusion surrounding the terms related to concrete. Consequently many people misuse these terms, which makes learning about the subject quite difficult, especially in relation to concrete crafting, where there is also limited specific information for a U.K. based crafter. So to briefly clarify:

Cement is an ingredient of concrete, which binds the other ingredients together. It is never normally used alone (although could be for small craft projects). Cement is made of clay, limestone and sand which are combined with other materials and heated to high temperature before grinding down to a powder.

Concrete is made of cement, sand and aggregate/gravel/stones. Other ingredients such as plasticisers and fibres are also added to give additional properties. Colour can also be added.

I should also mention mortar which is made of cement and builders sand and used primarily in brick-laying.

In the U.K. concrete is not widely used as a crafting material, unlike in the United States and across other parts of Europe. We only have a relatively small selection of concrete products to choose from here which makes using it for craft much more difficult. There are only very few (and therefore expensive) specific craft concretes available. These generally come in small amounts and are usually sourced from abroad, but they are really great in terms of the quality of the finished product and ease of use, such as this one: Viva Decor Concrete for Creatives, Grey, 1.5 kg. The remaining concrete market is geared towards building work and therefore it usually contains large aggregate (stones) which is not so good for crafting with.

There are a few ways to get round this if you don’t fancy forking out for the craft concrete from abroad. The first, and probably best option is to make your own concrete as you can then design it for your project. Alternatively you can buy ready mixed concrete and sift out the larger lumps (but this will be dusty). Another thought I had but haven’t tried is using a ready mixed mortar as this will not have stones in it but it might not be as strong because of this.

I make my own concrete mix which I am constantly tweaking as I learn more about the stuff. I’d love to hear any insider tips if you have discovered something interesting in your experiments. 😀

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Packaging

I’ve thought a lot about packaging over the past couple of months, as it is something that really resonates with me and there are lots of different angles to consider.

Firstly, there’s the environmental issues to think about. I try to only use either recycled or recyclable materials in my packaging. In an ideal world, I would use products that are both recycled and recyclable but that then can cost more than I can afford in some cases. I’ve been reading and thinking about our plastic impact on the earth and am consciously trying to slowly reduce my plastic waste and replace items with more sustainable options. As well as being something I want to try to mitigate myself personally as much as possible, it is also definitely something that many people consider now when making purchases.

Secondly there’s the cost angle. When starting out as a small business, there are so many start up costs and spending a fortune on packaging is not really an option, so I have been looking for something relatively cheap but also environmentally friendly.

Thirdly, aesthetics have to play a big part. As an Etsy seller, I’m well aware that receiving a beautifully packaged handmade gift is one of things that can really make a buyer remember you and come back to you again and again, and obviously this is super important.

Gem's Concrete Gems product packaged in orange tissue paper in cardboard postage box
Gem’s Concrete Gems packaging

I wrap all my products in tissue paper, secured with string, before packaging them safely in brown cardboard boxes for postage. I think it looks pretty and I love the orange colour against the brown card.

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My Workshop

When we moved into our house a year ago, I was super excited that the house came with a little workshop in the back of the garage, and it has proved so useful now that the business is getting going. This is where I do all my concreting and anything messy, which I couldn’t do in the house.

I have all my tools, moulds and materials sorted in various cupboards, with enough space to leave the concrete curing overnight on the worktop and floor space to mix and store my various bags of sand and concrete!

I also have a room in the loft for finishing off my products and packaging. Only a couple of months in and I’m already taking over the house!