I did end up going to the Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival this year. I had a few goals in mind: to see I'd want to sell at OFFF (or a similar event) in the future, to do some market research, to check out local fiber processors and the quality of their products, and, oh yeah, to geek out on yarn and fiber.
It was pretty interesting, and I think I got all the info I was looking for. I walked around for a while just to get the lay of the land. The vendors were very roving-oriented, I thought, which matched the customer base--lots of people brought their wheels to spin in classes or on the lawn. I was expecting/hoping to find a lot of local farms who were offering their own finished yarns, stuff that I can't find online or in a normal retail store. And there was some of that, but the majority of vendors were offering commercially produced base yarns and rovings, many of which I already have access to. So not as fruitful as I'd hoped, in that respect.
But it was still very much worth going to. After my first walkthrough, I noted which booths I found most appealing, and then went back for a closer look to figure out why they worked. All of them had easy circulation for casual browsers. I found that narrow entrances that forced me to walk around the person minding the booth were really off-putting. One booth went so far as to put a table to use as the cash wrap about four feet in front of the booth, so as to allow maximum circulation. On such a gorgeous weekend (sunny and 75-80 degrees), that was a great idea.
Some of my favorite booths had beautiful samples front and center, which drew me in to look at their other items. I thought booths with wire cubes for stacking yarns and rovings worked really well, as you could see through them and catch glimpses of other colorways. Opaque dividers have a cleaner background, of course, but I think giving your customers the chance to use their peripheral vision outweighs the less cluttered feel.
It was really cool to walk around and get a feel for what is coming down the pike in the fiber world. For instance, Gotland seems to be an up-and-coming fiber, at least from the producer end. I'm getting a sample of a spun yarn from one of the vendors in a couple of weeks when it's ready; I'm curious to see what it's like.
Probably the most important thing for me as a dyer was seeing the range of normal in hand-dyed yarns. I've been doing a lot more handpainting lately, and I am constantly fretting about depth and consistency of color as compared to other methods. I saw a lot of yarn this weekend, some by big names in the fiber world, and guess what? Their yarn doesn't look like it was turned out by a factory. I know that's obvious, but it really hit home for me this weekend, and it's honestly quite a relief to see that people who have been doing this for years, on a much larger scale than I do, are producing similar results, at least in the aspects that I've been neurotic about. And to a great extent, that's just the nature of the beast. It was so liberating to realize that.
I'm not sure I'll ever be a vendor at OFFF. With the cost of lodging, food, and mileage, I'd need to sell quite a lot to make it worthwhile. At this point in my business, I'm better off selling online and doing a bit of wholesale. But never say never--in a couple of years, as I keep streamlining production, it may end up being a good option for me. Certainly I could see doing this after retiring from my day job; it would be fun to travel around, selling yarn at fiber festivals and competing in dog agility trials.