ll archives: Indie Craft Experience's Christy Petterson
Mention "ICE" almost anywhere in Atlanta, and pretty much, everyone knows that you're talking about the Indie Craft Experience. A market for crafty folk to sell their handmade and vintage goods, ICE was founded in 2005 by native Georgian makers, Christy Petterson and Shannon Mulkey. Today ICE hosts artists and crafters from the Southeast and beyond and is held several times throughout the year. Summer ICE (June), ICE Holiday Shopping Spectacular (November), Salvage (April and September), ICE Weekly (various times throughout the year), Craft Escape (coming in early 2015) and the ICE Pop-Up Shop (November and December) all aim to provide crafters with an opportunity to sell their products and make either a partial or whole living from their creativity. We sat down with one-half of the duo to discuss the trials and triumphs the ladypreneurs have experienced in ICE's almost-10-year run.
Name: Christy Petterson
Current location: Atlanta, GA, East Atlanta Village
Where are you from? Decatur, GA
Education: I graduated from Agnes Scott College in '99 with a BA in English Lit/Creative Writing.
Business & Formal Title: Indie Craft Experience, co-owner.
Tell us about Indie Craft Experience. How did it come to be and what is your mission? The Indie Craft Experience (ICE) is a craft market in Atlanta that we founded in 2005. Shannon and I are both crafters, and basically we wanted a place to sell our creations in Atlanta. The local arts festivals were looking for a different aesthetic and were too expensive anyways so we created our own event. Of course over the years, we've gotten so busy with organizing that neither of us has time to craft anymore!
Our mission is to provide opportunity for crafters to sell their products. We hope that because of us they can make either a partial or whole living from their creativity. I actually quit my full-time job of 10 years in early 2014 to focus on ICE. It ended up being our busiest year ever, so exciting!
What are some of the things you experienced launching ICE, both good and bad? How did you overcome the bad? A good thing we learned is that if the public shows an interest, jump on it! When we planned our first event we didn't have a long term plan. We were just planning this one event. I remember saying that morning "wouldn't it be cool if 100 people showed up?" And then 800 people arrived! So we felt like we were definitely on to something and were fulfilling a need in our community. The first event was so successful, we figured we'd better start planning for a holiday version of it! We just kept going from there.
In terms of bad, I think we've had to learn to have a thick skin and to stick up for ourselves. There are always going to be things that people don't like. I've had to learn to listen and either stick to my guns on why we decided to do things a certain way or if the person makes a good point to be gracious in receiving their criticism. It's hard sometimes because everything we do is so public. There have been times where I had to tell people, look we are just two people. There’s a limit to what we can do in a given day.
Tell us what it felt like to host your first event. How does the feeling differ now that you’re pros? There were tears. That first event was so hard. We really didn't know what we were doing in a lot of ways. I had organized a couple of very small craft markets and had the experience of having participated in them, but there was a huge learning curve. We didn't work far enough ahead on a lot of stuff so the day of was a total scramble. It was a night time event so I think we felt like we had all the time in the world to get ready. Because we underestimated the number of people who would show up, we ran into crazy situations. Like there wasn't enough parking. This lady got blocked in so her brother found me and said I needed to find some people to help pick up and move the car that was blocking her or else he was calling the cops. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed at that point, I remember just thinking, you want me to pick up a car???
We also made some insanely naive mistakes like we didn't measure off the booth spaces thinking crafters are nice so they'll work it out. Oh man. We were so stupid. It was a crazy night, but felt really triumphant in the end. Despite glitches it was a huge success!
Now it still feels super triumphant at the end of the show, but it is preceded by a really nice, fun, un-stressful day! It's a well oiled machine now (though we are human and do make an occasional mistake or bad judgement call!).
Did you ever see yourself in this line of work? Why or why not? Yes, sort of. I didn't think I'd be running a craft market specifically because I don't think I even knew that was a job. I totally remember when I was a kid writing down that I would someday own a store where I would sell stuff that I made: t-shirts, jewelry, stationery, etc. Also, in 7th grade my BFF and I made a bunch of friendship bracelets and other various products and sold them in her front yard a la garage sale style. The name of our business was Palmduds. I guess that was my first foray into organizing an event like ICE!
ICE is almost 10! Tell us how operating ICE in 2005 differs from today. What are some things ladypreneurs should take heed of in terms of growth? I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by! Not only have we gotten much better at what we do, but technology has changed so much in the past 10 years. Ladypreneurs should always be aware of how new technology can help them get the job done either easier or better or both.
In the beginning, people printed off an application from our website, filled it out by hand and then mailed it to us with a check. Now we have an online form that accepts PayPal payments. So much easier! Everything is so streamlined. Our form system let’s me download a spreadsheet of everything on all of the applications, which makes updating the website, creating the vendor map and checking off who rented tables/chairs so much easier.
It’s crazy to think how much technology has improved how I do my job during this time period. I can do about 85% of my job on my phone. I have a 1-year old baby boy, and it is much easier for me to work on my phone on-the-go than to sit and work on my computer. Having a miniature computer in my pocket is a modern miracle! I'm always on the lookout for apps that can help me be more productive, like Google Sheets. I haven't used it yet, but I'm very excited about MailChimp Snap. I use the Notes feature on my phone obsessively. I keep tons of lists so I can keep up with everything.
Would you describe ICE as your “dream job”? What constitutes a dream job for you? My whole life I envisioned myself as a writer, I guess a novelist or freelance writer for a magazine. I majored in Creative Writing in college, wrote for a paper for a couple of years right out of school and later had a few blogging gigs .... But it's like the crafting. I'm so busy organizing ICE that I don't have time to sit down and write. I have some ideas brewing though and there will be more writing in my future. There are definitely some similarities between that dream job and the dream job of organizing ICE though. Being my own boss, making my own schedule, working from home or a coffee shop or wherever I feel like it. Organizing ICE is actually a better fit for me than being a writer because I’m very social. I love that I get to work with so many creative individuals. I think I might get a little lonely writing by myself all the time!
Tell us what a day-in-the-life of the ICE founders is like. What do your daily routines consist of? Routine is something I'm striving for in 2015. For 9 years of ICE’s existence, I worked a full-time office job. I had a baby about a year ago and quit my job in the spring of 2014, plus my husband is a self-employed musician. Both of us being self-employed is new so we are still working out the work and child care schedule together. In the fall, we figured out a schedule that seems to work well for us. We spend the morning together, which I love so much after a decade of getting up around 6 a.m. and rushing out the door. We are often sleep deprived so a slow morning is a great reward. Then I go to the ICE studio and work for a few hours. Tasks are determined by what's going on that week, if we have an event or are taking applications, etc.
In the afternoon, while my husband works, Baby Emmett and I walk the Atlanta BeltLine or walk to the park in our neighborhood or we hang out at home. He has reached an age where he will play on his own a tiny bit so I can sneak in a little extra work in the afternoon if needed. We spend the evening with my husband (dinner, playing and bedtime routine) unless he has a gig. If I have more work to do, I get back to it after the baby goes to bed. If not, it's Netflix time! This past year has been all about working and taking care of the baby. I miss going out. But I also love what I'm doing and am so thankful that the flexibility of our jobs means my husband and I can take care of our baby ourselves. That’s really important to me.
Entrepreneurs breathe their businesses. How do you all balance work and life? Do you think that’s even possible? This is something I’m working on, but I think it is possible if you are being consciously self-preserving. Right now while I have a baby, it’s really important to me that my schedule isn’t too tied down. I need a lot of flexibility so that I can spend time with him during the day. Now this sometimes means that I’m up working on stuff at midnight (right now!) or 2 a.m., but that’s totally ok with me! I’m very self-motivated and I’m going to get my work done whether it’s sitting at my desk at 9 a.m. or it’s propped up in my bed with my laptop at 1 or 2 in the morning. I think the balance comes from remaining flexible as well as prioritizing how you spend your time.
What is your least favorite task to do hosting ICE events? Probably marking off the booth spaces for our events. It’s like doing squats! You get down on the floor, tape the corners of the booth, stand up, move to the next space and do it again. There’s room for error which can be catastrophic if you don’t realize soon enough that an error has been made so that makes the whole thing a bit stressful.
How do you unwind from “business-lady-breakdowns”? You know, the days whenever you’re questioning ever becoming an entrepreneur. Well, to be honest, I haven’t had days where I was questioning becoming an entrepreneur. I’m just really happy to not be working a conventional 40 hour/week job PLUS taking care of ICE during non-9-to-5-hours.
As far as unwinding goes though, I’m a bit of a Netflix junky. Before becoming a mother in 2013, I’d say going out for drinks at Manuel’s Tavern, one of the oldest bars in Atlanta, was my favorite ways to unwind. Now I kick back at home with Netflix and a beer. I just completed all of Gilmore Girls!
What advice would you give to budding ladypreneurs looking to host their own craft markets? For a budding ladypreneur starting their own business, I would tell them to make sure they have chosen a business that they truly love because they are about to invest all of their time and energy (and probably money!) into this thing that may or may not work out. These feelings can’t be fleeting. There has to be passion.
In 5 years you’ll be: I hope I will still be working on ICE. I think at that point my role will be more big picture. I’ll be happy that I’m still working for myself. I also hope that by then I have figured out how to find time for actually crafting and writing! I'd like to get back to my creative roots.
Tell us your unfiltered thoughts about being a woman entrepreneur: I've had four full-time jobs since graduating from college. I worked for a husband and wife small business owner team, two different female small business owners and for 10 years I worked in a male-dominated corporate-esque setting. I think working for yourself is amazing. You can put your whole heart and vision into it. You really are investing in yourself instead of someone else’s dream. You aren't just a worker bee moving someone else's plan forward. I’m a really hard worker so I’m excited that I can channel that into working on my dream now. I learned a lot from all of these jobs and am thankful that I had the opportunity to work for several small business owners as well as for a large organization. It was a great education!
Unfiltered, I’m especially happy to be able to live up to my full potential now. Working for a small business, there isn’t always room for advancement. Working for a large organization, you have to compete a lot just to get noticed. I definitely felt like a tiny cog in a big wheel, and it was frustrating to me that I had to please so many people before I could move forward on projects. In other regards, it was a great fit. I liked working on a team, and I loved the hugeness of what we accomplished because we were a large organization.
I’m happiest now though. Shannon and I work so well together. We have more ideas than we can keep up with, which means infinite possibilities. We are only limited by the most basic of resources: time and money. I can’t wait to accomplish so so so much more!
Anything else to add? Spill it: Be gracious. So much of moving your business forward involves working with other people. For us it's the vendors and the general public who attend the event. We have worked really hard to have good relationships with everyone. I'm not sure this is emphasized enough in business environments where everyone is trying to get ahead. Graciousness is very important.