Posted by Melissa Banks on November 22, 2011
I am so happy to have this special piece up on my website. I've been displaying it at my shows, but I know a lot of people that visit the website can't always make it to the Midwest to see me in person at the art fairs.
I like to design unique, one-of-a-kind pieces at least once or twice a year when I have a little bit of down time (which is hard to come across these days!) It really makes me focus on the artistry and creativity when during busy times that can be lacking.
I made this piece in the early months of this year (2011) when I had a break from retail art fairs. I look forward to being able to create like this again after the holidays!
Posted by Melissa Banks on November 14, 2011
There's just never enough time to prepare for the holiday season as well as I would like, but I'm working on getting photos retouched and uploaded to the website in the midst of making inventory. I worked really hard this year on designing pieces for the guys out there. It was a challenge to say the least! I really wanted to design pieces that were a little "outside of the box" while still being accessible and wearable for men. I really did have to look at designing in a very different way, considering sizes of patterns, lengths of necklace & bracelets, along with other things. I'm still learning, so any feedback is appreciated! I hope this collection is successful and stays around for a while. I'm curious to see how it evolves as I continue to learn.
I'm a little over half-way done getting the photos ready to launch here on the website. Look for an announcement soon!
(...and a big "thank you" to Tony Davis for modeling the collection - and Audrey Keller for shooting it!)
Posted by Melissa Banks on November 07, 2011
I saw these photos posted today by my jump ring supplier, The Ring Lord, and they are pretty incredible and exciting to see! Check out the rail car delivering 40,000 lbs of stainless steel wire that will eventually be made into jump rings. It is very cool to have a visual of the beginning stages of my jewelry materials....I'm sure some of this wire will eventually make its way to Chicago - and on to the necks, wrists, ears, and fingers of my customers - maybe you!
Posted by Melissa Banks on September 06, 2011
There are many options for businesses to accept credit card payments from their customers, especially now with the invention of the Square, GoPayment, and many other mobile credit card processors. When I started doing art fairs 13 years ago, I signed up with a processing company and used the old "knuckle-buster" method to imprint a customer's credit card. Then I'd go home, get online, and enter all the credit card charges manually. After a successful show, this could take up to 2 hours of my time - the last thing I wanted to do after being exhausted from the weekend.
Then three years ago, I finally entered the modern age and signed up with a new company to get the wireless credit card terminal that would swipe and process charges on the spot at shows. A representative from the company wooed me, sold me, and signed me up. The contracts, fine print, and hidden charges that I had to navigate through were confusing and ridiculous, to say the least. I did my best to negotiate prices and finally felt good about what I had signed up for. One account for charging customers for wireless purchases, and one account to process my website purchases.
The past year or so has been really, really hectic with the business growing and making changes, moving into a studio, etc, and I found myself getting into the bad habit of throwing my statements from my merchant processor in a pile to the side of my desk. I just had the feeling I was being ripped off with confusing charges and miscellaneous fees, but the prospect of going through all of those papers and the hours of work and phone calls I needed to make to navigate everything kept those bad habits going.
With all of my friends trying the Square and GoPayment, which have no hidden fees and a pretty standard rate, I decided it was time to hunker down to review my statements. What I found was pretty infuriating. I made the call to my company to address how angry/disappointed I was, tried to get some of the money for these ridiculous charges back, and they were only willing to budge a fraction of what I expected with absolutely no desire to keep me as a customer.
I was somewhat relieved to discover that my 3-year contract was over in July, so I was ready to move on. Today I discovered that my contract had been automatically renewed for another year because I failed to give them 60 days notice to terminate, and the fee to cancel my contract is absurd. So they have me by the balls for another year, and I sit here feeling completely jacked around.
Also ridiculous is the rate at which they charge us for accepting a customer's payment. They make this extremely confusing for businesses to navigate and understand. There are "qualified" and "unqualified" rates, rates for rewards cards, rates for the different credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Discover), etc, etc, etc. So a credit card company will sell a business on their very competitive rate for processing credit cards (usually between 2.5-3.75%), but then fail to mention that those rates go up for certain credit cards, which happen to be the ones that customers use the most.
I do not currently accept American Express at shows. I have never had a big issue with this because most customers have an alternate form of payment, which I appreciate. Here's the way it works, folks: American Express can offer big perks to their customers because they are charging businesses higher rates to process their purchases. Same with "Rewards" cards. Those rewards you get aren't coming from a benevolent bank that is just giving you that money for being their loyal customer - those "rewards" are coming out of the pockets of the businesses you purchase from.
I also know that when the person at the register asks me if I want to use my card as debit or credit, I am making a decision whether I want to take more money from that business for my own "reward" (credit), or if I want to pass up my "reward" and help the business out by letting them keep more of their earnings (debit). This difference is maybe only one percent, or a fraction of, but over time it can really add up.
Every month when I go into my neighborhood pet store to get food for the kitten, I always say "debit" when they ask me how to use my card (if I can't pay with cash). I know they are a small business, the owner is really nice, and I can see every time I go in how much of an appreciated presence they are in the neighborhood. It's just another small way of supporting them.
Without boring you even more with the vast amount of information there is about how credit cards work, I hope I was able to point out a few things so that consumers can be a little more conscious of how their spending affects the world of business, namely small businesses....and selfishly, how it can affect a hard-working artist out there on the road. Maybe the next time you buy a beautiful piece of work from your local, friendly artist, you can hand them cash instead of that Rewards or Miles card, or write them a check if they accept it. That little act can go a long way.
Posted by Melissa Banks on August 23, 2011
Did you know that this will be my ELEVENTH year in a row exhibiting at the Bucktown Arts Fest? Looking back on that first year in 2001, I was sharing a booth with my fellow jeweler, Melissa Kolbusz of Wired, and boy, did it rain! It poured so hard that the roof of our tent pooled with water and collapsed on top of us as we tried to push it off. Whoops - that didn't work so well. Jewelry fell to the ground and into the muddy water in our booth. What a way to begin our history with this show!
Regardless of the storms, we had a great time and met some really cool artists and dedicated patrons of the show. Since then, it has been one of my favorite shows of the year with lots of my fellow artist friends and what I personally believe is the best of the best in Chicago. It's also a special show because it always falls on or near my birthday. This year, it lands right on it - Saturday the 27th. The first 20 people who wish me a happy birthday and mention this blog post will receive a free pair of earrings from a selection of oldies but goodies :)
The last thing I'll mention - PLEASE note that my booth is 13 spots due WEST of where I have been in past years (on Lyndale), so do not miss me!
See you this weekend!
Posted by Melissa Banks on August 10, 2011
I've decided to start a running theme with some of Rapt in Maille's blog posts - called "Did you know...?" This may help answer some frequently asked questions, and share some insight to why I do what I do, and why artists might do what they do. One of our many jobs as artists includes educating the public on what drives us, and what our thought processes and experiences are, along with many other things. I hope this may help in accomplishing that.
#1 - Did you know that the "Metal" part of the METAL Collection refers to the term "Heavy metal?"
Years ago, I decided to only use one word to name each collection, so I have in a way closed myself off to having more options. So it is often a challenge coming up with collection names. With the METAL Collection, I wanted to describe it's edgy rocker-vibe, but so many words that came to mind seemed too cheezy. I was worried, with "metal," that customers might think I was referring to its material, (which it is a metal - stainless), but a lot of people use the word as a generic term to describe jewelry made from cheaper materials (like mass-produced costume jewelry). But it was a risk that I took. And now I'm here to tell you - it's METAL, MAN!
Posted by Melissa Banks on July 26, 2011
There is an alley behind my booth space in Ann Arbor where you can find one of the city's famous attractions. Brian Woolridge has been dancing and lip-synching to Micheal Jackson songs in this downtown alley since 1995, amusing passersby and accepting the occasional dollar, bottle of water, or whatever the citizens might bring him to keep him tipping his hat, kicking his heels up, and striking a pose. What I like best about this guy is that he does this in his spare time just because....he loves it. And he's a completely normal guy. You might see a friend or acquaintance pass by while he's dancing, and he'll stop and say hello with a smile, chat for a few seconds, then continue dancing, all with an air of nonchalance.
The past couple years during the art fair, he seemed to be present the entire time behind our booth, and oddly enough, Mike and I never tired of hearing Micheal Jackson songs over and over for 4 days. I can only attribute this to the fact that the guy has a great energy, and he just makes people happy. Can't really get annoyed with that. Every so often we'd see people passing by, grabbing their friends, pointing and exclaiming, "There he is! The Michael Jackson Guy!" and running over to watch for a few minutes. This year, he wasn't in his alley as much, and we found ourselves missing him, and being a little resentful of the other "acts" that would intermittently take his place. Regardless, Mike was able to shoot a full video of Brian performing "The Way You Make Me Feel." When he walks out into the crowd on the sidewalk, you can catch a glimpse of my booth with the teal green curtains to see my proximity to his daily performances (around time 2:12 on video).
You can also read more about Brian in this 2007 article by The Michigan Daily.
Posted by Melissa Banks on July 25, 2011
As I sit exhausted from the events of the past week, I thought it might be a good time to record my experience this year at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. This fair consists of 4 individually run shows that sprawl out on the University of Michigan campus and downtown Ann Arbor. It's one of the largest in the country. When I was just starting out, the show was something to aspire to, and very daunting...and it truly is! Not typical, this show is 4 days with long hours, smack in the middle of July.
This year, we had to prepare for record heat as well as finding the stamina to be on our feet for over 12 hours a day for 4 days in a row. Here is my schedule this past week:
Tuesday : Packed the car and belongings, got the house in order, got the keys to the cat sitter, drove 4 hours to Ann Arbor. Arrived around 6pm (lost an hour with the time change), drove straight to the show site, unloaded the car amongst the chaos, and set up the tent and displays in the already extreme heat. Around 8pm headed over to the artist party (our section of the show, State Street, has an amazing party for us!) Loaded up our plates at the buffet, got a glass of wine, and collapsed at a table to rest and eat. Headed to hotel to check in sometime between 9-10pm. Took a dip in the hotel pool to cool off and went to bed around midnight.
Wednesday: Got up at 7am, got dressed, headed to show to set up around 9am. Show opens at 10am. Feeling hopeful, but wondering how we'll survive the next 4 days with the forecasted dangerous temps. Crowds are thinner than usual. Mike and I take turns going into the Michigan Theater for air conditioning breaks. We have a few small fans set up in the booth (lucky to have electricity), and also lucky we have a breeze going through our tent, even if it's just blowing hot air. First day closes with slower than normal sales at 9pm. Pack up the jewelry and head back to hotel with dinner around 10pm. Scarf down food, crash by 11:30pm.
Thursday: Got up at 7am, same schedule. Temps are highest this day, so I'm thinking it will be the worst for sales. The morning news tells everyone to stay inside all day. I just want to get through this day and hope for the crowds to pick up Friday and Saturday. Sometimes you just have to be pragmatic. Lasted the day drinking a ton of water and being one with the heat. Got the same dinner and back to the hotel around 10pm to eat and sleep.
Friday: Same schedule, up at 7am, outside by 9am. The third day is the hardest in the morning because the exhaustion catches up to you. Crowds were up a bit, so I was again hopeful. Sales were still not great, still slower than normal. Still very, very hot, but a 15-minute downpour will bring some relief. Show done, eat, sleep.
Saturday: A little easier getting up (maybe?) knowing it's the last day. Crossing fingers that by some miracle everyone waited until Saturday to come out to shop since the temps are the lowest this day (89 degrees!) After 3 days, my sales are what I did after 2 days last year. Sales on Saturday end up OK considering it's a shorter day. To add insult to injury, it decides to rain on us an hour before we're supposed to break the tent down and pack up. This means packing up a wet tent, which means potential mold if it's not addressed asap, and having to smell wet tent in the car until we get home the next day. Threat of rain continues during breakdown, so we're trying to keep everything under the tent and organized while packing (not an ideal situation). Oh, and Mike's back goes out for the first time. So I, with a bad back and chronic issues, had to carefully pack up the car myself. Thank goodness it didn't rain again. After packing up the car, we head to the theater for the artist after-party. Sat down with pizza and beer to reflect on the week and how we survived. Headed back to hotel between 8-9pm. Mike relaxes for a bit in the spa. Crashed out by 11pm.
Sunday: We never attempt to drive 4 hours home on Saturday after being extremely worn out, so we slept in on Sunday (9am) and packed up. We headed over to Zingerman's Delicatessen, our Sunday morning ritual in Ann Arbor. They have the most amazing, quality food and cutest establishment. Mike and I split a "Helen's Have Another," a lox and cream cheese sandwich on pumpernickel bread. They also have other food for sale; olive oils, coffees, chocolates, etc. We picked up a few extras. Ran into a couple more artists who have the same ritual before leaving town. Then we headed over to the outdoor artisan market and mall and had fun doing a little shopping. Finally, it was time to leave Ann Arbor. We started for the highway around 3pm (Chicago time) and were home by 7pm. I had to unpack the car (role reversal for Mike and I!), then we ordered thai food and watched our DVR'ed shows! Home at last!
The show ended up 30-35% less for me than last year. This had nothing to do with the great town of Ann Arbor, but Miss Mother Nature herself. This is an artist's life. A simple thing like weather can affect our livelihood, it's the risk we take. This year was unusually cold for spring and early summer, and now, record heat. Mother Nature's really handing it to me in 2011. But we venture on and do the best we can to stay positive, even when it can get really hard to do so....packing up for Minneapolis in a week and a half, and hoping the weather will treat us well this time around. Is it too early to get a forecast?
Posted by Melissa Banks on July 07, 2011
I'm getting packed for my first July show! It's one I always look forward to, The Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff in St. Joseph, Michigan. From the artist perspective, there are many things about doing art fairs that can change from show to show, and these things can affect our experience dramatically. How well the show is run, how helpful the staff is, if we can set up our booth the day before, or have to scramble in the morning, how large of a space we are given...if it's exactly 10'x10' we have to hope to squeeze our tent in, or if the show layout allows for extra footage, if we have access to a decent bathroom, if we are offered any extras like free water, food - if they are having a party for the artists to blow off some steam, and of course the amount of people they bring to the show....I could go on and on.
The Krasl Art Fair does a great job supporting us artists, and it makes for one of the most pleasant shows of the summer. Here's why:
1.) Artists are allowed to set up Friday day/evening without stress, with an artist party afterwards. We also walk down to the beach and wade in the water. This year I may actually swim ;)
2.) Artists are greeted upon arrival by a friendly volunteer who makes sure they have everything they need with other volunteers coming around with cold water and treats - cookies! Yes, we get cookies :) You may also see a volunteer with a wagon full of shims for the booths that are on uneven ground - this helped me out tremendously one year, and I was amazed at their foresight and generosity.
3.) Artist booth areas are generally 12'x15' - almost unheard of! It makes such a difference not to be smashed up against another tent.
4.) Sunday morning artist breakfast with "artist roundtable" where artists can voice concerns, share thoughts, etc, and awards are given out. Although the breakfast and awards are pretty common, the chance to speak about any concerns is not, and I found this to be pretty great.
5.) The people who run the show are SO NICE and helpful, they really care about the artists.
6.) The SETTING! The setting is gorgeous. The booths are set up along the bluff of Lake Michigan, looking down over a park and the beach. The downtown area is all walkable from the art fair location - complete with brick roads and quaint shops and eateries. An ice cream shop where you can catch them making fudge in the window? Hello!
7.) The hotel. I spring for a nice hotel twice a year for shows, and this is one of them. We can literally walk out to our booth in the morning, and it has an excellent breakfast buffet :)
8.) The customers! I have many loyal fans who come see me at this show every year, and I enjoy seeing them all!
I like to use blogging as a chance to reveal to customers and art fair goers a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes and what the life of an artist is like. Hope this was another small step in accomplishing that. I'm off to pack! Looking forward to an excellent weekend...
Posted by Melissa Banks on April 26, 2011
Welcome to our brand new website! With advances in technology and website functionality, we felt it was high time to bid the old flash site farewell and built a brand new site with many improvements for both us and our customer.
Here is a list of some improvements and features you will see with the new site:
- New "I'm looking for..." field in top right corner of every page to search products by keywords.
- "View by category" option on product pages will make shopping easier.
- Format for product photos, description, info, and price will be more user friendly.
- Larger product image size, with more options for alternate views.
- An overall clean, simple, and no-nonsense design.
- Utilization of new company branding including logo and modified color scheme.
- Blog feed built into the site, with more consistent postings.
- Addition of Paypal for purchasing options.
- Visibility/functionality on mobile phones (iPhone, Android, etc).
The new site was a long, but exciting process with many hours of hard work by a team of awesome people. My sincerest thanks to Sean Fermoyle at Simpletype Studio for the new logo and website design, as well as Shaun and Tom at 3.ZERO for building the site from the ground up. It was a wonderful, organized, and smooth process from start to finish, which is absolutely priceless.
We hope you enjoy our new online presence as much as we do. Enjoy taking a look around, and let us know what you think!