Jillian Shuey’s sensory products sell themselves at festivals and farmers markets when customers get the chance to smell and feel her oils on their skin.
“You can’t smell Facebook, and people don’t buy sensory product brands online that they don’t already know,” Shuey said.
Her business, Whimzical Way, specializes in essential oils, making blended organic oils and homeopathic skin care products.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and cities began to shut down large gatherings in March, it effectively shut down the festival circuit. Shuey and her other vendor friends lost revenue in what is usually their highest income time of the year.
“The winter months are always slow for events and fairs,” Shuey said, but after the winter she was booked every weekend from the beginning of March through the end of July. When the pandemic hit, all of her weekend events were cancelled or rescheduled.
In early March she did travel the Midland-Odessa area for a fair that promised 1,600 customers. “We saw maybe 200 people,” she said.
At a recent event in Tyler, Shuey was able to sell her products, but she felt that social distancing made it harder to sell her products because she usually rubs potential customers hands with the oils and balms. She couldn’t do that, and the experience is not the same while wearing protective gloves.
After losing her main source of income, Shuey is now surviving on her husband’s income as an essential worker laborer. She says that it’s frustrating because she does not qualify for unemployment or small business loans.
Shuey worries that American have forgotten about vendors because they don’t have brick and mortar stores, and often are one-person businesses.
She remains hopeful that her business will bounce back next year as one successful show provides money for more products and to attend more shows.
Her next scheduled event is in September. Until then her products are available for sale through her facebook page, www.facebook.com/MagicalHappySpace .
For Rachel Gucker at Preacher’s End Farm, the pandemic had an unexpected effect on her sales.
“I had a record-breaking month in May. I had two or three really good weeks and then things kind of settled down,” said Gucker. “I benefited from my sales model. I had to start very small, so that’s kept me out of farmers markets for several years.”
After moving to Texas and getting married, Gucker’s interest in food to keep her family healthy increased. Four years ago, Gucker began farming in her and her neighbor’s backyard, so her operation was very small.
Gucker said that farmers markets require several hours of preparation for the event. Additionally, farmers markets required a greater level of product than she could provide, as well as time dedicated to set up and tear down. While dividing her time between farming and being a mother, Gucker felt she could not make that commitment early on in her business model.
“That’s a huge amount of work if you only have a small amount of product to sell,” she said.
Gucker instead decided to start selling her produce to people she was already interacting with daily – her friends and church community. Eventually, her business gained enough traction to start a delivery route in Jacksonville.
“I was already doing delivery to people’s doors in Jacksonville, which is what everyone else across the industry was switching to at the beginning of coronavirus.”
Gucker said one of the things that helped her business withstand the economic flux is that she doesn’t market herself as an experience, but as simply a grocery destination.
“This is a really different model than what a lot of farmers markets have moved toward,” said Gucker. “They’ve gone to the experience model of marketing themselves – where they’re trying to bring people out for the experience of going to the market. They have activities for kids, and they have music.”
Gucker said that while the experience of a farmers market is fun, this view of food distribution could be unhealthy.
“I think the coronavirus has shed some light on the problems with that,” said Gucker. “For example, does your local government view the local farmers market as an event, or do they view it as an extension of the grocery system?”
Gucker said that she thinks that the pandemic has made people reconsider the commercial food chain, and has encouraged people to look at alternatives to the local grocery store.
“I think it remains to be seen whether or not that effect sticks,” said Gucker. “I definitely had a surge of interest (from the public). I’m not sure to what extent that surge of interest had to do with people wanting to find something that wasn’t immediately available on the grocery shelf, and to what extent it had to do with wanting to participate in a different system. I think there was probably some of each.”
Those interested in Gucker’s products can learn more by visiting www.preachersendfarm.com .