Road Trip, Bead & Button 2008
Our job is selling beads. Of course, its more than a job, it’s a way of life. Beads are in every room in our house, in our cars, in our son's house, everywhere. When we go out, we carry business cards in case the subject of beads come up, and in our case it always comes up, and we hand over a card for future contact. On a daily basis we’re selling beads, whether it’s over the phone, over the internet through our website, by appointment in our warehouse, at a trade show or a trunk show at a local bead store, or even off our bodies while being out and about, like the time Jamie walked into a Seven Eleven convenience store and the clerk fell in love with a hairsnake she was wearing in her hair and just had to have it. “That will be $20 thank you”. Gotta love being a capitalist.
One of the funniest ways we sell beads is by going on a road trip. Once the decision is made, we jump into action. We plan our trip with a calendar, determine how many days we want to be gone, which part of the country we want to visit if its just a random trip, or we anchor it around a trade show like Bead and Button in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Every day is important, either with a stop in a town with a bead store, or a day off because we arrive in an area we want to explore as tourists. Jamie always accuses me of planning the trips with too many bead store stops and not enough tourist breaks, and although I defend myself with the fact that business is important and every day counts, usually by about half way through a road trip if I become really tired from unloading the beads, loading then back in, carrying them in and out of bead shops, then I end up conceding that Jamie is right, and I overloaded ourselves with too much work and not enough leisure. Now I try hard to balance our trips with lots of breaks over the course of the trip to keep us refreshed and excited about our journey. Because lets face it, we’re all getting older.
Bead and Button -- 2008.
One month out, and the planning begins. I pull out the calendar, and a pad of paper. Knowing the dates of the show, and knowing how long it takes me to drive there, and knowing how many bead stores we want to stop at on the way, I count back several days to the day we will drive out of our driveway in California and begin laying out my road trip.
I pencil in every day as if we were driving 8 or 10 hours, taking into account lunch breaks, antique stores, wild animal sightings, potty breaks for Candy, our little dog, and bead store appointments. Then I pick up the phone and begin nailing down firm commitments with those bead stores to see me. Their agreement to see me determines the length and duration of the road trip, and sometimes the route. I have been known to go several hundreds of miles out of our way to see a bead store because there is a tourist attraction near by to justify the time and fuel costs.
At the same time as I’m documenting and mapping the route of the road trip, Jamie and I are preparing the inventory that will be going with us for sale at the trade show and to the bead stores on the way. They might be two different things entirely. For example, the trade show merchandise will be items tagged for retail sale, and involve individual beads and strands, whereas the wholesale merchandise will be bulk quantities of Czech glass sold exclusively to bead stores both on the road and at the trade show. It can get complicated. This preparation stage can take weeks, and as we get the beads ready I’m loading them into the motor home in anticipation of leaving. I allocate certain areas of the motor home for the retail merchandise, and the wholesale merchandise, so I don’t have to unload unnecessarily to get to the right beads when we stop at a bead store. I also have to pack lights, grid walls, tables, chairs, baskets, glass cabinets and other bulky things which I do sometimes have to unload every time just to get to the beads for the sale at the bead store. It can be hard work, and depending on the weather, can involve unloading in 100-degree heat, pouring rain, even snow.
So the day arrives when we are supposed to leave, I even have an hour penciled in for 3pm. I have been shuttling clothes and toiletries and food into the motor home since 7am. Candy has staked out the front seat since 9am, and refuses to leave the vehicle incase we drive off and leave her. Jamie is still doing the bills and answering emails. She has been up all night doing this, and is cranky. I try to avoid her.
5pm and we’re ready to leave…. The cat is missing. The engine is running as Jamie is frantically searching for Squeaky the cat to lock in the house while we’re gone. Jamie is crying. I say to hell with the cat, even coyotes have to eat, we have to leave now, our schedule is all screwed up and getting worse. We find the cat in the house, we lock the door and we’re on our way! Good thing I was only bluffing about leaving Squeaky outside.
I drive for 5 hours to a rest stop out side of Winnemucca, Nevada, where we spend the night. The desert is beautiful and dark. The stars are bright and the air crystal clear. We feel ourselves unwinding. Yeah! We’re on an adventure.
To catch up for lost time, I start driving at 6am the next morning, before the sun comes up. It’s the best time of day. Jamie is curled up on the couch with Candy. I drive until 10am, and then stop at a rest stop for breakfast. Eggs and bacon, toast, coffee for me, tea for Jamie, and a potty break for Candy. Life is good.
Then onwards through Nevada and into Utah and the salt flats til we reach Salt Lake City and our first stop on the trip. There we hook up with Charlene and Megan from the Bead Fairy in Sandy, Utah. Charlene is a very good friend and Megan is her daughter. Megan has two beautiful daughters, Samantha and Paige, whom I love dearly, and look forward to seeing every time I’m in SLC. We hang out there for a day or two, visit, do some business, part of which involves stocking up on Charlene’s bone and horn beads she imports from India and which we sell for her when we are on road trips. Charlene was associated with Surjeet, who until his untimely death two years ago was the largest importer of Indian glass, silver, bone and horn beads in the U.S. His son P.J. has taken over from Surjeet, and everything comes through Charlene. She doesn’t want to do trade shows or road trips, so this arrangement works well for both of us.
Moving on, we drive east through Utah and into Wyoming, on Interstate 80. We try to coincide our lunch stop at Cruel Jack’s, a truck stop in Rock Springs, which is locally known as the best food in the area. We agree. Our goal is to get through Wyoming and into Nebraska before stopping for the night. Our next bead store is located in Omaha, which is still a full days drive ahead of us, and once again, I’m up at 6am and driving like a mad man to keep up to my schedule. With this kind of pace I’m setting, we’re not seeing much of the countryside, but its mostly farmland anyway, and quite boring. However, we did come across the path of a tornado that had touched down 4 days before, and caused quite a lot of damage. Twisted irrigation systems, trees uprooted, houses and barns just blown apart. Freeway signs blown over. It was quite unsettling. We get into Omaha and settle down for the night at an RV park, where we can hook up to electricity and water. The next morning we go to the bead store for our appointment and do a little business. I unload all our bulk Czech glass, our pearls and stone beads we import from China, and our replenished bone and horn beads from Charlene. It is very humid, and I’m totally soaked by the time I’ve loaded it back into the motor home. We stop at a button and sewing shop a little while later, and luckily for me only have to unload 3 tubs of glass Czech buttons and 2 tubs of pearls. To totally unload my inventory is approximately 3,000 lbs. into the store. Then 3,000 lbs out of the store and back into the motor home. Its how I keep my girlish figure. Or how I’m going to kill myself.
Leaving Nebraska, we enter Iowa at Council Bluffs and drive through to Des Moines. On both sides of the road is standing water, as in floodwater. Iowa has been raining and storming for weeks, although the weather for us is beautiful. The bead store we were scheduled to see in Des Moines cancelled on us, instead agreed to see us first thing at the show in Milwaukee. That was OK by me, saved me from unloading the motor home. Instead, we now had time to stop off in Grinnell at a fabric store who had just registered online through our website www.wildthingsbeads.com and introduce ourselves. That visit turned into a 4 hour shopping marathon, for the store as well as us, as we ended up finding and buying all her bead print material she had in stock. I also learnt what a fat quarter was. We also agreed to do a trunk show at her store next year on the way to Bead and Button. We made a friend and conducted successful business, for this road trip and the next. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Grinnell, by the way, is known as the jewel of the prairie, and is a cute little town. It has some beautiful buildings, which we noticed were for sale at ridiculously low prices, (at least compared to California).
We were now on the home stretch to Milwaukee, via Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin. One week after we drove through Cedar Rapids, which is a beautiful city on a pretty river, heavy rainfall and tornadoes flooded the area and destroyed large parts of the city. We didn’t know it, but we were driving into some really bad weather. We spent the night at a rest stop overlooking the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side.
Milwaukee. We made it, and early! Our friends and trade show help for the Bead and Button show, Carole and Leroy Rodgers, were already settled in at their spot at the RV park and after greetings and relaxing for an hour we all piled into the motor home and drove to the Midwest Convention Center in downtown Milwaukee to set up for the show.
Setting up for a show is always crazy and fun. We saw old friends also setting up. We traded experiences getting here, heard gossip and rumors about other vendors, passed on news from people not coming to the show, took quick peeks at new products being unloaded, and other people did the same at our booth. By the end of the day we were all exhausted. With hours of setting up still to do, we covered our booth and planned to come back in the morning to finish setting up then. The show opened to the wholesale public at 3pm and ran until 9pm. It was going to be a long day.
Knowing we would all be zombies by the close of business that night, Jamie and Carole prepared a crock-pot before we left for the show in the morning, and it was ready for us when we got home. The smell was fabulous, and it tasted pretty good too. The ice-cold beer I drank first thing didn’t hurt either. Neither did the second one.
Bead and Button was a four-day show, and it was busy and fun and good business. We made lots of new contacts, renewed old business relationships, made commitments to do trunk shows at bead stores next year on this road trip, and in general had a successful show. Almost all the vendors we spoke to said the show was good for them. The weather turned bad almost immediately upon our arrival in Milwaukee, with huge storms blowing in from the west, and tornadoes touching down around us. One night after the show we drove to a restaurant on flooded streets while it poured outside. Roads were closed, and we had to divert down side streets to avoid floods and stranded cars. On another day we were all told to remain in the main hall away from the windows because a tornado was touching down outside. Customers were instructed to keep shopping. Several California vendor friends we knew ran to a window to look at the tornado – oh well, what can you do?
Sunday, the last days of the show came and break down. You’re glad its over, but you have to break down. We accomplished it fairly quickly, and as I placed the last bit of equipment into the motor home it started to rain – hard.
Monday saw us driving out of town, with Carole and Leroy going west, and fishing, and us going south through Chicago towards Indiana. We have a series of trunk shows at bead shops in Porter and Valparaiso, Indiana, to do before arriving in Indianapolis for the weekend to set up for another trunk show. We apparently brought the weather with us, because Indianapolis experienced storm and flood warnings the entire weekend.
Moving on, we left Indianapolis on Monday morning and drove west through Indiana and Illinois to Hannibal, Missouri, just in time to watch the National Guard sand bag the levee protecting the town from the Mississippi River which was in the process of overflowing its banks and flooding the town. We kept driving. The local residents insisted on it.
The weather improved as we entered Kansas City and we did a little business with a bead store in town that just 3 weeks before had suffered damage from a tornado that had roared through town and blown out their front window. We left town going west, driving through Kansas and Colorado all the way to Denver, where we saw a series of bead stores all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a straight run back to Salt Lake City. On a previous trip through SLC we had discovered a state park with RV camping on an island in the Great Salt Lake, and this island hosts a large buffalo population which roams free all over the island. We camped there and woke to thousands of buffalo surrounding our campsite. It was magnificent.
Driving west, we were just 11 hours from home after 4 weeks on the road, and ready to get there. Arriving in Sparks, Nevada, the air was smoky and visibility was around 300 feet. As we crossed over the state line past Reno into California it just kept getting worse. By Nevada City and Grass Valley, it was eerie. The sun was blocked out by smoke and it felt like late evening, but was early afternoon. Welcome home to the California wild fire season. This was the worst fire season we had ever experienced, with over 42 wild fires raging in California. Smoke was covering large portions of California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho, and lasted for over a month.
Unloading the motor home in the smoke wasn’t fun, but had to be done. At least we were home. Yaah!
Another successful road trip.
Following this example, we have visited 47 of the 50 states, including Hawaii, and internationally, South Africa. We plan on doing road trips through Canada and Mexico, Australia, the UK and Ireland.
As for buying trips, we have toured Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Turkey, Hong Kong and Macau, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.
And we’re not done yet. Alaska, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are still being planned, as are trips to Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, Afghanistan, Latvia/Lithuania/Estonia and other Eastern European countries as our hunt for beads continues.