Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 11 September 2012 15:28
Over the past 15 years that she’s had a booth at the local show, Reimer has developed a following of clients who love her handmade trees that they can decorate throughout the year with thematic miniature ornaments.
The trees, made by twisting together strands of paper-covered wire, are less than a foot tall. A set of 12 ornaments to hang from the branches range from relatively simple items, such as hearts and shamrocks, to minutely precise animals and insects.
“Almost anything that I really like is small, intricate and detailed,” Reimer said of her artistic bent. “This is what my brain came up with.”
Reimer’s participation in craft shows began more than 20 years ago. When she started, she made wood-craft puzzles and bees-wax candles, but was dissatisfied with it.
“What I couldn’t do was spend a lot of money on inventory and supplies because I was a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “But I was looking to generate a little income, and also because I have this artistic flair, I was looking for something that would be a good seller.”
She also wanted a craft she could work on indoors with her young children nearby instead of working in a shop with dangerous wood-shaping tools.
Reimer said she discovered the wire trees while taking a local art class.
“We did apples on it for the class,” she said.
Not long after, while working one day a week at a craft shop in Marion, she got the idea of making changeable tree ornaments.
“I noticed one gal had a craft that had something seasonal you could change,” Reimer said. “That just hit like gangbusters for me. If you could make something you would change for the season, it would sell.
“It’s been good for me ever since I came up with the idea,” she added. “To me it’s endless because the more things you think of, the more things you think of. It just keeps going. I have way more ideas than I have time to sit down and do.”
Beyond the marketing idea, Reimer’s craft has enabled her not to have her children nearby, but get them involved by having them sort the 12 items that go with each set.
“As soon as you can count to 12, I can use you,” she told them.
Through the years, Reimer has developed sets of ornaments that symbolize each month of the year. She also offers sets stylized for birthdays, graduations, weddings, new babies, farm animals, garden vegetables and various balls and equipment from multiple sports.
Many sets are holiday oriented. Recently, Reimer developed a set of ornaments for each of the “25 Days of Christmas,” including a Baby Jesus or Santa Claus to place at the bottom of the tree on Christmas Day.
School-related themes are popular too, and she will customize a set upon request. But Reimer said she’s careful not to use trademark items to represent major university sports teams.
The key selling angle for Reimer is that customers can added to their collections each year.
“This is something that if I had seen it, and was a shopper instead of a crafter, I would have gone home, put that list on my fridge and put a sign on it: ‘Buy this for Christmas. I want this.’”
Through the years, Reimer has developed a faithful clientele at the Arts & Crafts Fair who apparently feel the same way.
“I do have people who come back each year,” she said. “We see each other once a year at the Hillsboro show, and they always look for me on the south end of Main Street facing east, because that’s where I’m usually located.
“That’s what I appreciate about the organizers of the Hillsboro show,” she added. “They pay attention to your application—where you’ve been in the past, because you do have people who come back every year and look specifically for your booth.”
Reimer has shown her work at various shows in the area, but in recent years has focused almost exclusively on the Arts & Crafts Fair.
Part of the reason is that as her kids got older and became involved in school activities, she had less time for her craft. She’s also added a job in real estate sales in recent years.
It’s all about time.
“It’s not expensive to buy the materials, you just have to be committed to the time,” she said. “One piece just takes a very long time.”
Reimer said her craft work accelerates in the month or two prior to the Arts & Crafts Fair.
“My evenings and weekends are basically dedicated to this—beyond what I do with my kids,” she said. “Obviously, I could be preparing all year long, but you tend to wear out after the Arts & Crafts Fair and after Christmas. You kind need a break.
“Last year I had a senior in college, a senior in high school and an eighth-grader,” she said. “My schedule was amazing.”
Preparing for the fair
In a normal year, Reimer said she tries to make 100 trees—half white, half brown—for the Hillsboro show.
“Most of the time they all sell,” she said. “I have to have 25 trees just to display my stuff so people can see it.”
As for the ornaments, Reimer makes some of the simpler one with small cookie cutters. For some shapes, she orders a customized cutter from a tinsmith she found on the Internet. Likewise for the wood base that supports each tree.
“Thanks to the beauty of the Internet, all of my supplies I can have shipped to my front door,” Reimer said. “I can get it at warehouse prices and in quantities you can’t get anywhere else.”
Reimer’s most delicate ornament may be the Halloween spider webs she makes with thin strands of clay. She also cuts tiny cloth “scarves” for her winter snowmen that would seem to require the steady hands of a brain surgeon.
At the end of the day, Reimer said its the feedback from her customers keeps her going.
“Customers come into my booth and say, “I cannot believe what you do.’ And, ‘You’re crazy.’ That’s my adrenaline,” she said.
“Of course, there are people who walk into your booth, ask you for the price and then turn on their heels and leave because they think it’s overpriced.
“The items are small, I know that. But you have to consider what it takes to do what I do. You have to charge something for your time.”
Reimer’s presence at the Hillsboro fair has more financial benefit than simply from the fair itself.
“The residual effect of all the orders you get between then and Christmas is a really good thing,” she said. Many of those orders come via her website at brendastrees.com.
“It’s always there and it’s worldwide,” she said of the site. “Once (customers) have a tree or one of my business cards, they can always order.”