Some tales of how a little “in the kitchen business” got started are just too much fun! I imagine everyone who has ever owned a business has that moment when they know, just KNOW, that it’s going to be successful. For Calliope Designs, it was the year – 1976. The place – The Blue Whale Design Center in Los Angeles. The occasion – The Beckman Gift Show of Handcrafted Items. Our products – personalized Christmas ornaments for the Wholesale gift shop trade.
Started at the Bottom, Now We’re Everywhere!
Perhaps many of our readers don’t really know how gift shops and department stores find all of the wonderful items they have to offer for sale. How they are continuously finding new and different products, and constantly getting the best and most popular gift to sell in their stores. The two main ways buyers find merchandise is 1) Gift Shows held in 13 different cities around the United States each winter and summer, and 2) Sales Representative organizations who bring samples and pictures of products to the buyer to obtain an order. When a company like Calliope Designs is just starting out they will often sign up for and attend a Gift Show. These are usually held in large convention centers in the major market locations, such as Los Angeles. And that is exactly what we had done to test out our designs to the gift shop and department store buyers. The Beckman Gift Show of Handcrafted Items was filled with crafts from pottery to jewelry, blown glass to hand made Christmas ornaments! And everything in between that could possibly be handmade in America and for sale in stores everywhere.
The Gift Show requires attendance for five full days. Each vendor has a display space either 10′ X 10′, or 20′ X 10′ depending on the size of your product line. A sample of every single product the company makes is on display – so a nice booth has to be built, and a display set up for the buyers to make their selections. Printed color catalogs and price lists need to be prepared to be passed out to buyers. Business cards and samples to pass out also come in handy. It’s often a new company’s first opportunity to introduce themselves to the Gift Industry in a professional way, so everything about the Show has to be planned to make a great first impression of professional mixed with reliability.
Set up for a trade show usually takes 2 days. This is the time all of the samples and display materials are delivered to space in the convention center that will be the company’s booth. All the boxes have to be unpacked and all materials and boxes saved for “tear down” at the end of the show. It’s a big messy job! Then the display gets set up first, and the samples added to the walls and the various tables, chairs, and selling materials set out. This sounds easy, but it’s stressful. Everyone in the whole places is hammering and rushing, there is usually no air conditioning or heat, and it’s a total mess. The big challenge is to get everything done in time, to make a fabulous display to make the best possible impression on potential buyers and to get all cleaned up and ready to go on time.
The gift show itself opens on a Saturday morning and goes on all day from 9-6 for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The buyers stream in the door at the beginning and continue to arrive all during the day, walking the show, looking at everything that is displayed. Some buyers like to look at everything before placing their orders for future delivery. Some know exactly what they want and put their orders in first, to make sure they get the products they want asap. We, the business owners or sales managers, stand in the booth looking our best, holding a clipboard, waiting to “write”. Writing orders mean just that – taking a blank order form and filling it out as the buyer chooses one item after another, always specifying how many of each style is needed. At the end of the process, the order is totaled up and copies given to the buyer and kept with the company. It’s an exciting process, especially when your product is in demand.
And our product was in SUPER demand in 1976! This was the era of the handcrafted gift, the small business, and the appreciation of all things handmade. We had been selling our products at crafts fairs and local boutiques, so we knew how much customers loved them. And the gift shop and department store buyers did too!
The gift show was almost over. It was Tuesday at 6 p.m. and the show was officially closed for the day. We were happily counting up our orders, and relaxing in the booth. Sitting down. Doing paperwork. And in walked a lovely looking couple. They were both tall and slender. She was wearing a peach colored fuzzy wool sweater dress with pearls and matching high heels. He was wearing an off-white linen suit with a peach colored shirt and matching tie. They were very striking. But it was the end of the day and we just let them look, not jumping up to wait on them as we thought they were interior designers from the Blue Whale Design showrooms. And then the beautiful woman said to us….
“These are absolutely adorable!” Speaking with a Texas drawl she continued “We’re from Neimans…. and we’d love to have these darling ornaments in all 32 of our stores!” And that was our moment! When we knew Calliope Designs personalized ornaments would be a success.