Red Rock Photography | I followed my Heart and didn't starve.

I followed my Heart and didn't starve.

January 02, 2015  •  4 Comments

For my first Blog entry for 2015, I want to go back and tell the story of how I began selling my photography and to personally thank those who have contributed in some way to my success. I know this is a bit long, but I owe these people so much gratitude. My next post will focus back on my adventures as I begin to tell the stories behind the images of 2014. ~~

In the spring of 2013, a close friend of mine had a great idea. She believed in me and my photography, and encouraged me to become involved in our local circuit of Farmer's Markets. At the time, I was selling online and was trying to focus on starting a boudoir photography business. She even donated to the cause by helping me get enough prints and mattes to have some inventory. I am so thankful for her encouragement because it certainly changed my life.  Thank You Erin for believing in me, without you none of this would have ever happened. 

I began contacting the market managers of several markets and finally was given an opportunity in the East Asheville Tailgate Market on Friday afternoons. It took quite a persistent badgering on my part, but I was able to convince the market manager to let me try. The first week I only sold a couple of prints, but that was okay because I was in. Thank you Evan for giving me a chance.

It was late summer before I was able to break into any others, but by the time Autumn had rolled around, I was in 5 markets each week. I was now in West Asheville Tailgate Market on Tuesday, Montford Farmer's Market on Wednesday, Oakley Farmer's Market on Thursday, East Asheville on Friday, and Black Mountain Tailgate Market on Saturday. Thank you Kate, Leslie, Carly, and Joan for accepting me.

Once the market season began to wind down, I had to discover other ways to sell my work. November and December became my Craft Fair season. I did at least one show each weekend and some weekends had 2 shows, but I made it to the end of the year and knew that I could go forward and start 2014 living off of my photography. 

To start the year, I found two galleries / gift shops that wanted to sell my photography. The first was Willow's Dream on Broadway, in Downtown Asheville. I did an Art Show there in December and absolutely fell in love with the amazing family that owns Willow's Dream. Marcy asked me if I would be interested in selling my work there year round and I was honored to do so. Thank you Marcy, Hunter, Willow, Wolfe, Kayla, and Ryan for simply being amazing.

My second gallery was Faison O'Neil Gallery on Cherry Street in Black Mountain. This small gallery is located right in the middle of the strong tourist and snow bird drawing Black Mountain, North Carolina. Thank you Barry, and Betsy for a wonderful opportunity.

For my weekly winter market, I tried the Woodfin YMCA Winter Farmer's Market in Woodfin, NC. Thankfully, this market was indoors because we had some very cold and snowy days from January through the end of March, but this market was not a great success for me. I sold enough to get by but knew that I needed to take some steps to get to know my business as I moved forward. Thank you Dianne for accommodating my needs. 

Before my life in photography I was a retail manager for a couple of different large sporting good stores. One thing that I took away from my time in retail is the phrase "know your business." Metrics are a huge part understanding retail sales and I knew that I could apply that to my photography sales. I needed to evaluate who my customers are, which photos sell best, which sizes sell best, what are my costs at each size, what my profits are at each size, which markets perform best etc. So I made a detailed excel spreadsheet outlining all of these metrics plus a sales tracker so I could keep track of what sold, what size etc. I did not do this in 2013 because I was just going with the flow, I am glad I made the change. I know things like, framed prints do not sell as well and unframed matted prints, I know my top 5 images, I know top sellers in each size and so on. I decided that I could save money by cutting my own mattes, I was buying pre-cut and packaged matte, backing and bag combos online but the larger stuff I was having done locally and having to pay for the matte and the labor of having it cut. I found a brand new matte cutter on Craigslist and started doing it myself. This effectively cut my cost on larger matted prints down by 30%.  I now know all of my numbers well, and can honestly say that I "know my business." Thank you Brandon, and Judd for teaching me. 

I started the 2014 market season with some changes. In evaluating markets, I determined that I need a strong tourist presence to have strong sales. I dropped my two weakest performing venues and picked up a new market just to test the water. I loved the people and community aspect of both the West Asheville and Oakley markets but they are strictly food markets. My photos are beautiful but I promise you they do not taste good. So I needed to move on. The new market that I joined did not pan out after about two months so I was down to three days a week. However they were three strong markets with good sales and I was happy. I had at least four days a week to go out shooting and three days to sell. It was a good balance. 

In May, my favorite restaurant in Asheville contacted me and asked if I would like to do an exhibit in their dining room. I have been a customer at East Village Grille since 1992, and to display my work there was a great honor. I placed ten photos there and, over the course of the year, sold two. Not many artists sell work when they display at restaurants so it was great to sell a few. I had a few other offers during the year to display my work locally, but it is not a cheap thing do. Extra funds to set up an exhibit are not always available. Thank you Dawn, Nick, Ro, Jules and the rest of the EVG staff.

Just when all was going well, turmoil had to strike the heart of a great market. The Montford Farmer's Market was held at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. This was my best market in 2013 and was performing well in 2014 as well. However, the Chamber has leased many rooms to Lenoir Rhyne University (LRU). This caused a bit of a problem on both ends of the equation. Our Market was on Wednesday from 2-6 PM, and we took up an entire level of the parking lot. LRU had classes primarily in the evening starting at about 4 or 5 PM. We both needed parking, LRU for the students and we needed it for our customers. Overall market attendance was down because of the parking issue. We still had the tourists that were on the trolley tours but lost a lot of the locals that support the farmers. It became apparent that something had to change, and since LRU was in a lease with the chamber inside the building, the chamber decided to ask us to find a new location.  We moved the first week of July to a nice spot in the River Arts District, this worked out great for the farmers and food vendors, but not so much for me. My primary demographic was no longer in abundance at this market. I gave it time to develop but the tourists never came. It became a great community market but that is not who buys my photos. I had to find another market. Thank you Christa, even though I left, I greatly appreciated your hard work. 

One of the great things about being involved in the markets are the friendships that I have made with other vendors. One vendor stepped up and saved me, her name is Heidi. I had been trying for some time to get into the Asheville City Market and City Market South, but had not heard back from the manager. Heidi spoke to the manager and told him about me and my photography and convinced him to give me a chance. The next week I did City Market South, located at the upscale Biltmore Park Town Centre. My first day there, I sold more in one day than I usually did in one week at all of my other markets. The next week was even better, I had found my market! Biltmore Park had plenty of tourists and they are there to spend money. That is a great combination for my business. Thank you Heidi for your friendship, and Mike for being a great market manager.

One Saturday afternoon in July after the Black Mountain Tailgate Market, I took my daughter to a nice little restaurant on Highway 9 in Black Mountain on the way home. The Straightaway Cafe is an absolute gem hidden in the middle of nowhere. We met a sweet spirited server named Kellie who told us that she was organizing an Art and Farmer's Market at the Cafe on Sunday afternoons. Even though there is nothing else near the cafe, it draws traffic off of the scenic Highway 9. Many tourists drive from I-26 in Hendersonville, down to Bat Cave / Chimney Rock / Lake Lure, and then follow Hwy 9 over to Black Mountain. This was a welcome addition to my market schedule, a Sunday market with tourist traffic and strong sales. Things were looking up. Thank you Kellie, and Ray, what a wonderful surprise you offered to my business.

Once August rolled in, I was very happy and things were going well. One day I took my daughter into the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville, and found the beautiful gallery called Mountain Made. Everything that is sold at Mountain Made is made by someone in the mountains of Western NC. Naturally, I decided to inquire about selling my work there. I was given the owner's email address and emailed her later that day. She set up an appointment with me, and I was grateful when she accepted my work and became my third local gallery. The Grove Arcade is a huge tourist draw in Downtown Asheville and boasts several upscale shops and restaurants. It certainly is a great fit for my work and has been performing well each month. Thank you Melinda for being a wonderful gallery owner and for showcasing my work.

My market season winds down at the end of October, and once again I moved on to craft fairs. This aspect of my business is one that I need to strongly evaluate. This year I had mixed results in craft fairs, some performed very well while others were huge disappointments. I was very thankful to end the season with a very strong show at Christmas in the Valley at Owen Middle School. One wonderful young couple came to the show specifically because of my Facebook posts to buy enough prints to fill their home with my photography. Thanks LeeAnne and Austin for such an honor.

That brings me to the end of the year and as I look back, I have learned a great deal in 2014. I now know who buys my photography and how to get in front of them. As I go forward into 2015, I will look to improve upon a great year by looking for bigger shows and try to move from the craft fairs into the art show venues and maybe even some festivals. My first step is to get in front of my primary demographic this winter. Unfortunately, they are not here in WNC at this time of year. So my plan is to go to Florida for Art shows. The challenge is that these shows are expensive to get into to, and I need either some epic internet sales in the next week or some help. I have started a GoFundMe Campaign to raise some capital in hopes of raising enough to get into the first show. If I can do the first one, I should make enough to pay for the next few, while still covering my living expenses. Here is the link for that as well if you would like to help.

There are others that I want to thank that have touched, or blessed me in some way this year: If there is a link after their name go and show them some love for their business. We are all in this together; support local!

*Tammy, thank you for being such an amazing friend and helping me so much.

*Ali, thank you for always being positive and an inspiration for my business.

*Tony and Patrick, thank you for providing me with a great lab, and teaching me things that have improved my photos.

Karen, thank you for meeting the demands of a small business, and always doing so with a smile.

Michele and Cheryl, thank you for your friendships and for introducing me to the Christmas Tree Farm. and

Truth-I and Aradhana, thank you for being such positive and uplifting people, and for the gift of your music that accompanies me when I am out exploring. and

Sakshi, for always sharing in a laugh and being a good friend.

Kelly, thank you for trying to sell my work at your shop. I wish it had worked out.

Carol, thank you for trying to expand the markets in the area. I truly wish it had been a success. 

Dana, thank you for buying so much of my work this year. It is definitely appreciated

Kathryn, for being a faithful repeat customer. I know that funds are tight when you are a server and the fact that you spend on my work is humbling.

Mom and Dad, thank you for believing in me, I know that you want what is best for me. Not everyone gets a chance to try to live their dream. 

TJ and Lisa, thank you for always "liking" my posts and sharing them with your friends. 

Ralph, The Bird House Man~ I know that he will not even see this because he does not have a computer, but he was so much fun selling next to at Black Mountain, don't worry I will tell his story later on in another post. 

Bill, Glen and Zee, thank you for providing me an opportunity to photograph a scene that not many photographers have a chance to see. 

All of my customers, whether it be online or at a market or show, I thank you for making my dream a reality. 

I am sure that I am forgetting someone, but just know that I am thankful for everyone that has touched my business and my life this year. 



Local Flavor AVL(non-registered)
It's so important to follow your heart and your dreams. We are super proud of you for recognizing your true talent, passion and taking a risk. The translation of what you see into images that we can see is inspiring, Stacy. We look forward to more!
Mom and Dad(non-registered)
You are great at your photography and will certainly continue to do well. May God Bless you and provide you with guidance and s strength. Keep reaching for the stars. You can do this.
Red Rock Photography
Thank you Ms Gunn for your kind words. I hope that 2015 is amazing for you and your business.
Liz Gunn(non-registered)
What a great retrospective of your journey deeper into meaningful work. There's nothing better than staying true to the path that means the most to you - and nothing harder. I too have been doing the same over the last few years and it's truly so liberating and fulfilling to manifest work/life on your own terms - with much collective generosity along the way. Thanks for sharing this story....btw, I'm Evan's mom (which is how I came across this). :)
Many Blessings to you.
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