For vendors, state of economy means good news and bad news

September 12, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

It's an American tradition.

Shoppers flock to festivals and fairs, perusing vendor booths. Merchants peddle hand-crafted wooden crafts to adorn the fireplace, baked goods for dessert, even water-filled yo-yos for shoppers with children in tow.

In a season when many markets have seen sales nose-dive, area vendors report good news and bad news. But even the bad news isn't all that bad.

Lisa Rowe of Martinsburg, W.Va., owns and operates Make Mine Country, an independent soy candle and country decor enterprise, and has been in business for more than five years. Rowe said as the economy slowed down, she observed a different trend personally.


"Last year, people were saying it was bad. Everyone was saying, 'Oh, we're in a recession,'" Rowe said. "But my sales at craft shows actually went up. I was really shocked."

However, she saw a nearly 50 percent decline in sales last month at Williamsport Days, which she said typically is a lucrative event. The decline could have been attributed to chance or to poor weather, she said. But Rowe also operates booths at two area consignment stores, and she also has noticed fluctuations in sales there.

In response, Rowe said she carefully deliberates new product testing, and is increasingly discriminating in choosing shows. Her sales were back up Sept. 5 at Maugansville Pride Day, and Rowe said she is hopeful for the 10 events she has scheduled for the remainder of the year.

"I'll do the shows and hope that the customers come," she said.

Longaberger consultant Judy Stotler of Mercersburg, Pa., said her sales also have been "a little unpredictable." She does 25 outdoor shows each summer and has spaces at two consignment markets.

"It's been up and down," she said. "We've had good shows and shows that have been off. I think the economy is playing a role. People are being a little conservative."

Retired schoolteacher John Geist of Hancock, who operates Old Barn Wood Crafts, reports the same trend. His sales of decorative ladders, shelves, birdhouses and the like have dropped off here and there.

"If (shoppers) really want something, they will buy," he said. "But I don't think people are as apt to spend their money as freely because of the economy."

While none of these vendors reported financial devastation, those dealing in home food preparation and related products described a downright delicious fiscal outlook. People strapped for cash are dining out less and cooking at home more. For food prep and storage vendors, that is a recipe for success.

Dana Ray of Hagerstown, an independent consultant with Tastefully Simple for seven years, said business is thriving.

"It's going well with us," Ray said. "People are eating at home more and we have quality products that are easy to prepare. So business is good."

Ray has had a vendor booth at Maugansville Pride Day for the past three years.

"This year was our best sales yet," she said.

And while most markets slumped in 2008, Ray said her team of Tastefully Simple consultants saw a 40 percent increase in sales from the previous year.

Kristin Vanderwijst, a Tupperware director from Martinsburg, said her business also is seeing solid sales. As an increasing number of families eat at home, they need storage containers for leftovers. A trend toward batch cooking -- making large quantities for freezing -- also is helping.

Vanderwijst also views brand recognition as an important factor in her success as a Tupperware vendor.

"People recognize Tupperware as a good brand. That's huge for us," Vanderwijst said. "We do well in good times and bad times."

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