As the owner and operator of Eagle Take Flight Promotions, Beverly Isaac plans and coordinates three large craft shows each year in Kalamazoo — Spring into Wings, Art in the Park at Milham Park and Christmas at Wings. Combined, the three shows attract almost 45,000 shoppers a year and host hundreds of arts-and-crafts, food and nonprofit vendors while offering free admission and parking.
It’s hard to believe such intense undertakings could have a humble start, but when Isaac began organizing the events more than 20 years ago with the help of her sister, Cindy Higley, she began with a list of contacts and little more.
“We had a typewriter, and I drew up little characters on an application to hand out to vendors,” Isaac says. “We went around collecting names at shows and just started scurrying, driving around Michigan picking up business cards.”
Before Isaac took over organizing the shows, the Kalamazoo Art Association put together annual art-and-craft shows, which Isaac helped coordinate and at which she sold her oil paintings. When the association disbanded in 1989, the arts and crafts community urged Isaac to take over the operation herself.
“That was 1989, and the first show I put together was Art in the Park at Milham Park in spring of 1990,” Isaac says. “I had so much encouragement. People in the association just kept saying, ‘You can do this. You already know how so just do it.’”
One of those who encouraged Isaac to manage her own arts and crafts show was Kalamazoo resident Judy DeBoer. DeBoer sells personalized pencils, custom-made butterfly nets and children’s building blocks that she and her husband make together as part of their company, Fun Stuff. DeBoer has known Isaac for about 27 years and has been selling at the Christmas show for more than 20. She says Isaac is perfect for the job.
“She’s very nice and very accommodating,” says DeBoer. “She’s available for you if you need something and she does her utmost to solve problems.”
Turns out, the hunch DeBoer had when she and others encouraged Isaac to start her own craft shows was a good one. Isaac experienced success almost right away.
The money Isaac made from coordinating the 1989 Art in the Park show went to pay for the space and advertising for the following Christmas show. It took about a year or so to clear a profit, Isaac says, but since then Eagle Take Flight has become a successful business, seamlessly shifting from one show to the next throughout the year.
Good workers, like the teenagers who work at the shows or Isaac’s friends and staff who help with administrative and organizational duties, help draw vendors to the shows, Isaac and DeBoer say. But there are other simple reasons Isaac believes her craft shows are full.
The first is advertising. Isaac says that when she started the business, she put a lot of the money she made right back into advertising. Establishing visibility and word-of-mouth is important when drawing visitors, she says. And drawing visitors is something Isaac does very well.
“More people came before the recession hit, of course, but people still line up down the road to come in, which is why we hire parking attendants to find spots for visitors,” she says. “There are charter buses that come in from Florida and other states, bringing people to the shows too.”
The size of Isaac’s shows is one reason DeBoer would recommend vendors sell there; another is that although the shows are large-scale, DeBoer says Isaac makes sure the shows run smoothly.
“It’s a very, very well-organized show,” says DeBoer of the Christmas show. “From the parking to unloading, she’s very organized and efficient. It’s a great show, too, with high-quality products. I would tell anyone who is a crafter that this is a good show to get into.”
Isaac has made a concerted effort to keep the craft shows free of charge for visitors and to provide free parking. She is also conscientious about not having too many of one type of vendor so there’s plenty of variety. She offers vendors free services like unloading and loading help and “sit and serve,” where a teen worker sits at a booth so a vendor can take a short break without shutting down the entire table.
Although Isaac’s business savvy, attention to detail and ability to anticipate what her vendors and shoppers need have resulted in building a successful business, Isaac’s motivation has never been to make a lot of money, she says, but, instead, to offer Kalamazoo a community arts and crafts outlet, to encourage local artisans and to bring people together.
“That’s really my favorite part — I enjoy working with the people. We’re just like a little family. That’s what everyone says: ‘When’s the family reunion, in June?’”