Saturday, September 11, 2010

Musings of a micro-business person

Being in business can be pretty scary sometimes. These last few years have been nerve-wracking. It only seems to get worse.

Now, I don’t like being a complainer, and I won’t do it here, but my thoughts have been wandering towards becoming a “real” business. Larry and I have run a Mom/Pop craft business – rather successfully, I might add – for nearly 20 years now. Pretty amazing for two people who have no formal training in business management. When I was in high school, I really had no idea what the CVAE, DECA, KEY or even CAE clubs were all about. I truly had no inspiration as a teenager, no one to tell me how to achieve.

I learned all about achieving from Larry, my second husband. Now, of course, I have ambition out the whazoo, but I still lack a lot of skills on how to make all that happen. What I can see, however, are vague images of things that I know I need to know. I just can’t quite decipher them clearly. I see other rennies doing business, and I watch how they balance and juggle the craft/artist, accountant, marketing, sales, janitor, web mastering, shipping/receiving, research/development matrix. I sometimes wonder if they are just as confused as I am, or did they figure out some secret? Do they actually have any schooling in business? My sister and her husband formed a small business of their own and they seem to be doing very well, thank you. Is it really because they ‘played’ the game and paid all the licenses and permits, filed all the incorporation papers, set up all the payroll, applied for the business line of credit? All I knew how to do is make something, go set it out and hope someone will buy it. And buy it they did! It was the 1990’s and people just bought and bought and bought!

Eventually, it came to a severe adjustment. George Bush was in the White House and the Dot Com market had made it’s crash, balancing out the mad credit lending. While it was enjoyable while it lasted, I think the credit economy is trying to adjust back to pre-1970’s where people with good credit had credit and people with bad credit didn’t have credit and had to live on a cash basis, and not this blue sky concept that everyone is entitled to everything. One must work for what one wants.

Take Crystal Mountain. We have ALWAYS lived on a cash basis. It doesn’t have anything to do with our credit history (well, ok, we’ve incurred some medical debts), I just get scared about the ability to pay on a credit card. Larry and I are always saying that one should take calculated risks, otherwise you won’t ever leave the train station of dreams, but I am wondering if not sticking my neck out to pay debt has hampered Crystal Mountains ability to expand. Now I’m thinking that was a stupid question. Fiscal conservative is suppose to the be the model, right?

So all this rambling – I didn’t score well in my high school English composition classes either – is that I am beginning to see the value of getting educated in business management. True, I’ve learned a LOT in 20 years, but I keep thinking there is more to learn. There are lots of books out there, but even those can skip topics. I’ve learned a lot on how to manage people – still working on that too. I’ve learned about keeping records and filing taxes. What I am starting to learn about now is business plans, executive summaries, and a host of financial, number crunching, type reports that I haven’t got the foggiest idea on where to start. Year-to-Date Profit and Loss, current Balance sheet – I mean, Crystal Mountain is so small! I am at a loss on how to find those numbers. Our inventory isn’t on paper – it’s the “look on the shelf and order” method.

I wonder if it is worth taking out a micro loan just to pay some accountant to get my papers in order so I can apply for a small business loan? A loan for a loan. It sounds silly, some might say it is a plan. Naw, I think I’m conservative enough to just keep on doing business the way we have for 20 years. Anyway, I have a big faire coming up in 4 weeks and I gotta go make pretty, smelly things.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why I need my Cummins

This is why I need my Cummins.

My business simply demands a lot of travel. Back in the ‘old day’ it was a lot easier – and a lot cheaper – when fuel was only about a dollar a gallon. It was easier and profitable to travel all over the country to shows, and know that I could still come out with some money in my pocket. Now that fuel is more than three times the cost, it takes about $150 to get from Toon Town to Colorado, instead of the old $40-$50.

Vehicles have changed also. Back when I first started working at Ren Faires, and just before I started traveling full time, the vehicle of choice was the Ford Econoline F150. EVERY rennie had one it seemed. James and I bought one after our first summer on the road, and I think he eventually got around 300k miles on it. Larry and I have been through at least 3 Ford vans over the years. That 351 V8 just seems to have been the best ever engine for hauling your stuff around. And rennies have stuff. Lots of stuff.

I’ve seen people take a 20 foot, 20 year old travel trailer and load every square inch of the floor, bed, tables and privy with their clothes, costumes, books, stock, tents, you name it. And then they wonder why the springs break. And the van that they try to pull it with is just as loaded, although, somewhere, there is a nook they crawl into for sleeping on the road. Good as that Econoline was, it didn’t have enough oomph to pull some of those trailers.

These days the Econoline is a retired icon. Now I see more Dodge Cummins diesel at faires than any other vehicle. Maybe it’s just the newer technology, or who knows, but rennies have discovered the power of diesel. Power strokes follow a close second. Everyone has their favorites, but I am sold on Cummins. Larry is a former truck driver, with more than 2 million logged commercial miles. That takes an average of 20 years to accumulate, and that’s only his logged miles *wink*. Trucks is what Larry knows. He is a Cummins fan. And after we got our first Dodge back in 1998, I’ve been a fan every since. We sold our second Dodge last April so we could buy this...

We had bought the trailer last August. We sold the Dodge in order to buy the International, needing something that could haul that big ass trailer. And we acquired the Ford 150 above for a runabout. I MISS my Cummins! It was so weird to drive a gas engine again. There is nothing else like driving a Cummins and once you’ve driven one, you’ll never want to drive anything else again. Granted, this little Ford has proven to be a really good workhorse – it has more than 300k miles on it and it’s still going strong. But we simply need more. The picture above the bed is totally loaded, with more stuff in the rear of the cab, so hauling a 4 horse trailer with two ponies in it is stretching the limits.

The good news is that the International that we bought will be fairly inexpensive to switch engines in it. It came with a DT360 in it, which doesn’t have much more power in it than our 5.9 liter Dodge Cummins did. But on big trucks all parts are interchangeable. You can take a Peterbilt or a Kenworth, drop in any tranny you want in either, or a Detroit or Cummins – they all fit. So Larry is going to find an older Cummins with a half a million miles on it and put it in. We’ll never be able to overload now!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More CRF

It is difficult for me to not keep saying "wow" when I'm in Colorado. The rainbows here are particularly great. We got this double rainbow the other day when we were leaving the showers on site.

I got this shot of Erika working in the booth on the second weekend. Doing her usual good work.

Sadly, Erika had to go back home after the second weekend and Friday morning July 9 her mother passed away. Erika was able to spend her last moments with her. Our condolences go out to Erika and wish her the best.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Don't like the weather? Just wait a second.....

Colorado is a wonderful place. It can also be a harsh place. Larry and I don't do the extreme sports like a week of wilderness camping in the winter, or rock climbing. In fact, we don't even hike much anymore, but we have done some awesome exploring over the years. But if you spend any time in Colorado at all, you will experience its intenseness.

Opening weekend at Colorado Renaissance Festival was one of those trying weekends. It was SO un-Colorado like for the weater to be has cold, rainy and harsh for so long as it was. It wasn't the best impression Erika had of the state that I've so long praised. But we got through it without incedent and had a couple of good weekends weather-wise and crowd-wise.

This weekend - weekend number four - was typical of Colorado. Warm and dry, actually almost balmy in the mornings. And right on schedule - about 3 o'clock in the afternoon - along came the 20% chance of rain. The rain on this day, as is common, turned into hail. First, the normal pea sized hail. After about 15 minutes it stopped.

The  hail begins.

The hails begins

But the clouds didn't go away as they usually do. Withing 20 minutes it started again. Marble size hail. The hail abated. Then more. Eventually, after about 60 minutes of on again off again hail, the hail got bigger each time, until it was golf ball size!

Making a dash for shelter!

Watching the hail from the safty of the booth

With the onslaught of the first hail, people ran for the booths. Oh yes, we like that! "Come on in!"

They crowded in and browsed. One young lady was sniffing the oils and the hail was bouncing off the trees and off of the ground and hitting her in the legs! That's cold!

The sun returns and the crowds resume their merriment!

Of course, as is always in Colorado on the front range, the clouds move out onto the plains and the sun returns. People swarm out of the booths the same way they swarmed in. Merriment abounds!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Erika's Colorado Adventure

After settling in behind the booth at the Colorado Renaissance, I found my accommations extremely modern. Especially with some of the other faires, its either a tent or a hotel room. Havin an efficient apartment right behind where I work is the ULTIMATE. My drive from Alabama to Larkspur, Colorado was long but very beautiful! My co-pilot Tasha was enjoying the ride herself. She is such a great travelin companion. Makings of a good rennie

Life is definitely interesting on the road. Im used to that everyday hustle of the corporate world. The job that is always in the same boring! My first week in Colorado was one for the books in my travels. Colorado Renaissance started off on a harsh note. It was so cold and wet and instead of bringing a heater on the road I brought a fan instead. Must remember to prepare for anything on the road. Thank god I wasnt in a tent!

Last week, Larry and Kerry took me on a quided tour of absolutely beautiful scenery and a drive up to their property up in Whitehorn. It was a WOW kind of day. With the cold weather we had that weekend, the mountain tops were covered in snow. As soon as I figure out my digital camera I will post some pictures.

Its an absolutely beautiful day here today, so Im taking Kerry's advice and Im taking the day off to go on a walkabout with Tasha. Need to remember to buy batteries for the camera.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Short - REALLY short - updates

I keep telling Erika to enjoy her time in Colorado but yesterday I realized that we are working her a bit too hard. Thanks for being such a trooper Erika, but this week we will insist on you getting out and relaxing some.

Second Saturday at CRF was perfect weather. Sunny, yet with enough afternoon clouds to keep it cool. The new sales help Domonique seems like she will fit in just fine. But after hanging out at the fair longer than I intended to, I'm tired and I am off to bed!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Where did I just say just say blogging is like time/money? If you have money, you usually don't have time, and if you have time, you usually don't have any money. So with blogging, if I have something to write about, I don't have time to write, and if I have time to write, I don't have anything to blog about.

Our trip up here was fairly uneventful. We had one stop south of Fort Worth to replace some coolant hoses, then on our way. It was hot - for Larry mostly, as me and Shadow had A/C in the Ford. We arrived at the ranch where we are staying about 5 pm. After unloading the ponies and parking the trailer, we drove over to the faire site and unloaded the pickup.

Sunday saw about 2 more 'unloadings'. I think when I die I will have my tombstone read

"Finally Unloaded"

The booth is in amazingly good shape. There is very little to do to get ready except rearrange a few shelves to accomidate a slightly different setup in the back room. The sign out front needs a small touch up.

Everyone is there of course. If they aren't there, they are pulling in everytime I turn around. Irish is already there. Cricket is there. And Zak on the other side. Yes, this is a good booth location.

Erika drove long on Monday. She left Fort Smith Arkansas Monday morning and got into Colorado Springs about 11:15 pm. We met her at a local 7-11 and guided her to the booth. I hop in her car as we follow Larry. Tasha her pomeranian isn't very sharing with the front seat. Erika is packed to the gills and her car smells like ours! Waifs of aromas meander by with every turn!

It's only 8 miles to site. "Here ya go, Erika. See you in the morning". We don't stay long.

The next morning we all slept in. How can you not sleep well up here in the cool, dry mountain air?

Tuesday. Erika has gotten all her stuff unloaded and set up in her bedroom and even showered. She is thrilled! And it IS a very comfy bedroom for a booth. I've been in and stayed in a lot of different renn booths over the past 30 years. There are some nice apartments and then there are some no better than a cardboard box and you have to argue with the rats for sleeping space.

At one point I take Erika on a tour of the site. I just keep trudging away, up hill, down hill. At first Erika stops a few times. I'm trying to tell her that she REALLY will consider quiting smoking after this trip to Colorado. I hope so.

Lots to do. Today I will get Erika's internet connection set up so she can start talking about Tennessee and her thoughts on Colorado. That will be good, because I have a lot of catching up to to on my other blog. But now we are done traveling for a bit, I will have more time on the 'puter, assuming I don't fall asleep early like I did last night.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rennie road trips

Gotta say, I think rennies must have the best road trip stories. Even if we haven't gotten on the road yet! Larry and I have been working for several weeks without break in mid-ninety-something degree weather and we are about whupped. This vagabond traveling makes for great campfire stories, but sure is tough when it's happening.

Last summer, if you remember, we bought us a big trailer. This spring we bought us a big truck to pull our big trailer. The Tennessee Renaissance Festival was suppose to finance the putting together and fixing up stuff, but because of the massive flooding and the rain in Tennessee, the faire made the budget a bit tighter. But that really isn't the problem. It's time.

Time is what Larry doesn't have. At his age, it is just difficult to be crawling around under a truck fixing things, picking up and pushing things. It takes longer - so it seems - to do things. When you are 30 or 35 years old, hell, even 45 or 50 years old, a person still has a good measure of strength and endurance. Larry celebrated - if you call it that - his 71st birthday a week ago today.

But I think it isn't even that. This truck IS a good truck, but every day it seems Larry finds another thing that needs fixing before we can put it on the road hauling a 42 foot trailer.

First we had to take off all the lettering, which was my job, and clean it and then paint on "Non-Commercial For Recreational Use Only" to help get past the DOT. Both Texas and Colorado DOT told us that is what we need to have in order to not be pulled over. And the truck is a class 4-6 and under the 26,000 lb weight limit for CDL, so I think we will be cool there, but there is always the occasional trooper that has to check things out. I hope there will never be a blog about that.

Then I put in some carpet and carpet padding (not in that order!). All the while Larry is finishing up a few basics in the trailer - mostly the pony stall. Then he has to drill through 3/4" steel and mount the ball for the gooseneck, and put on a sheet of plywood for a makeshift 'bed' behind the cab. Then he had to fix the brake lights on the truck. Before all that he had to put the seats back in the truck and fix the air lines. I had the fun of getting under the truck to put on the washers and nuts. Got to know my drive line real good there.

Somewhere in there I put on some limo tint on the back window of both the big rig and the pickup. Helps keep the heat down in the cabs as we head west. The big truck doesn't have any A/C, so Larry will have to drive with the windows down, but once we get to Amarillo it will be better. Less humidity but the weather is forcasting 100 degree days up in the Texas panhandle for the next couple of days. As we are also hauling some livestock (our two ponys, which you can read about on my other blog Hoofbeats), we are seriously considering doing some driving at night.

At one point Larry fires up the truck to move it, and the brakes are stuck...that took nearly a day to unfreeze. Today he finally hooks the truck to the trailer for the first time and spent nearly an hour fixing the wiring on the pigtail because the turn signal wires were switched. Oh yea, he had already had to correct them when he fixed the brake lights earlier, because he had the wires backwards. When you turned on the left blinker the front left and the right rear would go off and visa versa. Once he got the truck blinkers all in sync, the trailer lights were switched! Larry was smart enough to put in a terminal fuse block on the trailer wires, so it was easier to work with. For anyone who has tried to wire a trailer pigtail and get all the right wires matched up with the correct wires on your truck, you know what a headache THAT can be. In fact, when we picked up the trailer last August in Hobbs, NM, it took Larry and two others all day long to try and get turn signals and brake lights working correctly......and never did.

So Larry pulls the trailer out and is going to run it down to Dave's Country Store for a test run, see how it feels. Larry doesn't stop at Dave's because Larry doesn't have brakes. Uh oh......

Another job. It is obvious we aren't leaving in the morning. I am beginning to think I have done something bad to someone and it's my karma to keep staying here on the Texas Gulf Coast in June. Hot. Humid. Sticky. Mosquitos. This is one t-shirt a day weather.

Trip number 582 to the NAPA parts store. More calls to the local International Truck place with questions. It is a air brake canister. Good news, it is on sale this month for only $48. Beats the $87 International wanted.

And all this before we even pull out of the driveway. Larry won't get his CB put in either. One of these days I will find that 5 page story that the late Bear wrote about how it took him 2 weeks to get from the Colorado Renaissance Festival to the Michigan Renaissance Festival. Ever rennie has a road story.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bi-annual moving

Packing up the shop is always a challenge. After doing this at least twice a year for the past, oh, 18 years, you would think I have a system down. Not so! This is because we don't always have the same truck or trailer to work with. And this spring is challenging because I gave a lot of my tupperwares to Kevin. Larry's oldest son Kevin, came to live with us for a while after Larry had triple by-pass heart surgery on March 17, 2009, and Kevin left back in January. He packed a bunch of stuff and didn't have enough weatherproof tupperwares to put it all in, so I said "Here, use these, I'll get some more later" Did I? What do you think?

This year, as well, we are packing different things. I have decided to persue my childhood dream of drawing horses, so I am trying to pack up an artist studio as well as all the things that go with Crystal Mountain. Crystal Mountain usually just consists of lot of large jugs of oils, a box or two of punks, and 30 shoebox size plastic boxes of made incense, jewelry making stuff (small boxes), and various shipping and packing things.

This year, we have a BIG trailer to put it all in!

We also got ourselves a BIG truck to pull it with!

These are old pictures. The picture of the trailer was taken somewhere near Carls Corner in New Mexico last July on our way back to Colordo from buying it. It now has a bunch of windows and Larry has stripped out the inside and is rebuilding it. I will probably get pictures of that in the ensuing weeks. The picture of the truck is also right after we bought it, before we had the bent frame fixed. We shortened the frame and we've taken off the lettering. Eventually we will pimp it out! But we love projects. Just wish we had more energy and more hours in a day to work (without the 90+ degress thank you very much).

And that is where Erika comes in. To help with the shows and with Crystal Mountain in general, so Larry can retire and do what he wants to do, and so I can have more time to paint horses. We thought Misty would be the one to step in, but that was not ment to be. Erika has been waiting and working in the wings for 10+ years, and she is ready. But Erika has lost her internet connection this past week or so, so it looks like she will be catching up on her stories on this blog after she gets to Colorado. She is leaving in the morning for the final weekend of Tennessee, with a 40-50% chance of thunderstorms all weekend. If she can make it through this, she can make it through anything.

Best of luck, Erika.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Mad Rush of Spring

I've been waiting for Erika to post her Tennessee adventures, but she is having problems with her internet access, so I guess it's up to me. Erika has been pretty busy at home during the week, but she says the weekends are her escapes from the responsibilites at home. I understand that. That is why renaissance festivals are so popular, even when times are tough. A chance to escape the everyday, to get away from CNN, or FOX, to forget the partisan name calling, the oil spills.

Erika hasn't had a chance to talk about her first weekend excitement. Of course the show was shut down all weekend, and she had worked her butt off getting ready for.......................................................................................nothing.

She spent the whole weekend in her motel room. Saturday evening she went to the closest Walmart for some mud boots, not knowing that the show wasn't even going to open the next day, got stuck dead in the traffic on I-24 for a while watching the water rise ever more. Sunday she said she was fine, she had her bottle of vodka and the tv and she was sittin' pretty!

She will get back online soon, and once in Colorado she will have plenty of time to talk about Tennessee as well as Colorado. Erika has never been to Colorado so Larry and I are looking forward to showing her all the high points (no pun intended). She is calling herself 'Gypsy-in-training'!

Meanwhile I have been busy trying to get everything ready to go. I've bbeen cleaning a extra set of display bottles so Larry and I can bring Crystal Mountain back to some of the little mountain shows we were attending before we got into the Colorado Renaissance Festival. But I've gone through an entire case of incense punks (10,000) in just 3 weeks - that's a lot of incense orders! And a lot of other errands, chores, distractions - you name it. So what am I doing sitting here typing a blog? So much to do, so little time....

We are looking to leave for Colorado next Tuesday, we won't know if we will be ready or not, but I guess we will load up and go in some stage of preparedness or not. Seems like ages ago since we've been there and I am SO looking forward to it! Not sure if I'll get another blog in before then, but I will get one in before the show starts.

Geez, I hope I don't forget anything.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tennessee Renaissance Festival

The Tennessee Renaissance Festival started on May 1, 2010. Unfortuately mother nature was hitting us with a massive flood that Tennessee hasnt seen in over 100 years. The faire opened for 2 hours on Saturday, May 1 but the rains keep coming but not the customers, so the faire closed down and never reopened the first weekend. I was fortuate to have a hotel room where i spent the whole weekend high and dry til the roads opened up. After billions of dollars of damage the previous weekend, we had great weather for the second weekend a huge happy crowd gathered and there seem to be no signs that there was a massive flood the weekend before.
My first year on the road for Crystal Mountain started with alot of excitement and Im so looking forward to more adventures on the road.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Year In A Day

May 9, 2009.  363 days ago. It has been a long and busy year.  I know you guys aren't out there reading this, but I'm writing anyway.  A lot of goals have been achieved in various forms.  Crystal Mountain is doing well at the shows and while I know the fans are out there, we only just signed up for Facebook yesterday and the fans that are 'friending' have just amazed us.  87 in 36 hours!  So that is what prompted me to write an entry.Erika, brave Erika, is heading back to Tennessee this weekend.  She will tell us all about it after she gets back.  Officially the show started last weekend, but we won't count that, with all the flooding and all.  The show was open for a whole 2 hours of what was suppose to be a 3 day weekend.  Well THAT was a bummer!  And with no disrepect for those whose have lost so much in the flooding, because to put it mildly, they had a bummer weekend too.Melissa is learning to turn our wooden aromanecklaces and she is really getting into the lathe work.  Her creations will be presented at the Colorado Renaissance Festival this summer.Misty has moved on.  She is engaged to Charlie and her heart really lies in tattoo art, which she is persueing.  Erika is making more smoking bottles and leatherwraps, Debbie is cranking out the wirewraps and stonewraps, and Larry is still building big things.  Me, I'm just working on keeping it all centered and going forward.Can't wait to hear about Erika's weekend.