If you want your business to succeed, you’ve got to get the word out. Let’s bypass the conversations about electronic marketing, Facebook, Twitter and all the other intangible yet, we’re told, essential outreach tools. Let’s instead talk about the personal touch.
On a recent Thursday evening, two businesswomen were working on spreading the word about their businesses.
The first woman had brought her business out to the public. Andrea Tranchita of Blackberry Hill Farm in Hudson was spinning wool in front of a display table at the Woodstock Community Center. She was one of several exhibitors featuring traditional skills that our great-grandmothers probably all did routinely — and that few of us could begin to attempt now.
Nearby was a young woman offering demonstrations in tatting and lacemaking. Another woman was spinning the fur from an Angora rabbit which (I kid you not) sat serenely on her lap as she worked. Others featured felt making, sewing and other skills with which any self respecting pioneer family was comfortable.
The event, the Everything Textile Reskilling Festival, was a collaboration among the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH), The Woodstock Time Bank, and ReThink Local, three organizations dedicated to building an alternative local economy. Relearning traditional skills, they say, is one path toward self-sufficiency.
Tranchita told me she went to school for business, but “it wasn’t feeding my soul.” She and her husband were living on the land that her grandfather had farmed, and she’d always dreamed of having llamas.
Today, Blackberry Hill Farm produces fleeces, yarns and fiber products from llamas, sheep, alpacas and angora rabbits as well as eggs from their chickens, and potted herbs, flowers and perennials at their farm store.
Tranchita said she and her daughters sell at farmers’ markets throughout the Hudson Valley. Regulars at the Delmar market outside of Albany, they’re now looking for an Ulster County venue. So far, they’re finding their diverse products a disadvantage. They were accepted at Woodstock’s farmers’ market as long as they would sell only products no one else was selling.
Much of their business is done right on their own property. They offer workshops, classes and children’s programs.
“Life is too short not to love what you do,” Tranchita said, twisting the wool between her fingers. “I don’t know of any farmer who gets rich, but it’s about more than the money. It’s the quality of life.”
Just a few miles down the road on the same evening, Route 212 was jammed with cars parked on both sides of the road near Fiber Flame Studio. The second Hudson Valley Food Truck Festival drew a big crowd, with food trucks from Saugerties, Woodstock and the Capital District in the large gravel parking lot near the studio. There was live music, beer, wine, hula hoops and lots of familiar faces from other local outdoor festivals.
Many were potential customers of a nearby business who had been lured in by the food.
Shea Lord-Farmer was inside Fiber Flame, where a steady stream of curious food-truck devotees wandered in.
“We did one of these last October when we’d only been open four months,” she said. “And it was amazing. All through the winter people would come in and say they’d seen us or heard about us because of the food-truck festival.”
Fiber Flame, Lord-Farmer said, was a business loosely based on the paint-your-own-pottery model. But the former Woodstock Day School teacher said she and her business partner, Christine Brady, had taken the idea a giant step further. The walls are lined with unglazed pottery, a dizzying assortment of carefully arranged beads, blocks of clay, wood, fabric and paper. “It’s a mixed-media insanity experience,” Lord-Farmer said with a laugh.
Children sat at the tables with their mothers and grandmothers. Women sat together. Men wandered around appraising the supplies.
“We envisioned this as a meeting place for locals as well as people from far away,” Lord-Farmer explained. “We host birthday parties, even film events, and we’ve had live bands here.”
It’s also a place where serious artists can do their work, while dabblers can flex their artistic muscles with a professional’s studio at their disposal.
“I’m a mixed-media artist myself,” she said, “and I find myself wanting to work here instead of my studio at home. This is much more organized!”
What’s the food-truck connection? Lord-Farmer’s husband, Sean, has a food truck. It’s often parked in the business parking lot.
“The festival was his brainchild,” she said. “He thought it would be great to get all these local businesses together, to connect Saugerties and Woodstock here, which we call Saugerstock, and it had the added benefit of giving people a chance to stop into Fiber Flame and see what it is all about. They come for the food, but it’s really great for my business, too.”