How to survive (and thrive) at your first craft fair by MrPrintGarage

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I’ve seen a few blogs recently detailing the trials and tribulations of new makers entering the world of selling at craft fairs. Craft Fairs can be wonderful experiences, great for sales, building an audience and making contacts and dare I say it friends with other makers. They can also be daunting, gruelling nightmare. I’ve been around a bit and done a few craft fairs in my time and I thought I’d share a few nuggets of information that might make your life a tiny bit easier.

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Research
So you’re thinking of doing a craft fair – but which one? There’s so many, and how do I know if it’s going to be any good or not.

Do you know anyone who’s done that particular fair – if not it might be worth approaching a more established maker for a bit of advice, some makers actually offer mentoring service – booking in an hour or two with such a person might be money well invested. Do I know anyone? hmmm one or two…

Is there a website? Can you see example of previous exhibitors? Ask yourself honestly – “is my work a good fit?”

One good idea is to actually visit the fair and apply the next year if you like the look of it. Play the long game.

Personal invites – it’s always exciting when I get emails from people telling me how much they like my work – and then they usually go on to say – “would you like to exhibit at such and such a show? We had over 10 squillion visitors last year, this year it’s going to be even more A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!” Yes, yes, I know the email is personally addressed to you, but, here comes the hard bit so I hope you’re sitting comfortably – they haven’t stared longingly at all the beautiful things on your website. They’ve probably got your details from the catalogue from New Designers or your college’s degree show catalogue or wherever. They’ve then roped in a family member/paid someone to fill in the details of a mass email to lots more makers. Don’t be flattered, it’s a standard process – lovebombing as many artists and makers to apply so they have a high quality to choose from.

Costs
So you’ve applied, paid the admin fee (Yes, there’s usually an admin fee to apply to shows, someone has to sit and upload all those lovely images and jotform costs money as well) and you’ve been accepted. Brilliant – now you’ve got to pay the deposit (do it now – don’t be one of those people who the organisers have to chase, it annoys them some what.)

When you applied, you will have stated stand size and normally somewhere in that process you have to tick boxes and order any of the extra things you might need. Like a table or a plug socket, or even the wifi code. The basic rule of thumb when looking at the cost of doing a show is:

ASSUME NOTHING IS INCLUDED!

The stand cost usually (but not always) buys you 3 white walls, 2 spot lights, a fascia sign on with your business name on and a listing in the catalogue. Everything else you either bring with you or pay for. I’ve seen some complaints recently about “hidden costs” – most reputable shows are upfront about this at the stage of applying. So why not just add that onto the main fee upfront – well not everyone wants or needs a plug socket – so why should everyone shoulder the costs? Paying for Wifi is a new one on me (in my day people paid for products with cheques or simple bartering systems) but broadband doesn’t come for free so assume that shows will pass on the cost of this to you. If there’s 4G or even 3G your card machine/izettle thing should work fine.

Of course there’s the possibility of profiteering going on – but back at the research stage it might be worth looking at who is behind the show – are they doing this because they know about and love craft or are they building their own brand?

The bigger fairs can be very expensive and so there’s usually plenty of more affordable options available. Another rule of thumb that generally holds up – “You get what you pay for” That £10 for a table in a pub garden sounds like a bargain in comparison to many shows, but who is going to come and of those people who do, how many are prepared to shell out on expensive craft?

If nothing else though – these can be good practice, working on your customer relations skills or just people watching, seeing how they look at things on your space etc.

I love it when a plan comes together.
You will no doubt be getting lots of email reminders about various things – marketing, advertising or booking on to the aftershow social thing (do – these are usually good fun and a great way of making friends in the craft world, and some of them you get to see the organisers doing things like celidh dancing or just sat in a corner, rocking back and forth and muttering to themselves).

More importantly one of those emails will contain an Exhibitor Manual, which brings us on to two of the most important rules of doing a craft fair:

  1. READ YOUR EXHIBITOR MANUAL!

  2. READ YOUR EXHIBITOR MANUAL!

See, what happens is the organisers (the good ones) put ALL of the useful information in one handy document for you to read – set up times, break down times, show times, lanyards, etc etc. They’ve done this because they are busy and they are keen to avoid the pain of answering the same questions over and over and over again. So before you email them to ask something, just check because it’s most likely in there and it stops your name from going on the s**tlist.

One detail in particular to pay attention to (and this is from personal experience) is the stand plan. Are you on a corner stand? If so then the likely event is that you will only have 2 walls – they like to leave an open eyeline where possible – it will probably say if you want the 3rd wall to ask them before a specific date – this is so the stand builders know where to build walls. I forgot to do this once and had to reorganise where everything thing was going. The upside though is actually people are more likely to come into the space because it feels less claustrophobic and less like a craft dungeon.

Other things to do/check:

  • Hotel – book sooner rather than later, because there’s those other pesky artists filling up the rooms.
  • Parking, where are you going to stash your vehicle for the next three days?

 

Set up day!

Yay it’s the big day and you’ve had a good night’s sleep, a good break fast and now you’re on the road – having routeplanned your journey (adding extra time for pee and pasty breaks on the way) to arrive on time for your drop off slot. Once you’ve unloaded it’s expected that you will have to move your wagon so that others can get in and drop off their equally lovely craft items. Moving your vehicle is another way to stay off the naughty list.

  • Pack the tools you need, having to borrow hammers and drills off other makers generally doesn’t endear you to them. Old hands like me tend to know where you can buy emergency bluetack/gin from…

  • Do you really need to put wallpaper/tie dye sheet up on the wall? There’s nothing wrong with white walls – people need to be able see your work.

  • Don’t leave all your stuff in the gangway, stash it in your space – there are other makers in and out with big boxes and there’s usually electricians and the like running around with ladders fixing things.

  • Photograph your stand – a handy aide memoire for the next time you do the show. (If you’re like me though you might have planned out the design before hand.)

  • How many props do you actually need? Vintage suitcases and old print block trays are very done and when you get annoyed the third time of being asked “Is the suitcase for sale? My mother used to have one of them” imagine how annoying it’s going to be the 300th time you’re asked that question.

  • If something isn’t right, like a plug socket that isn’t there – find someone who’s part of the team, either organiser or technician and ask politely can they sort it. It’s either on the list of things to do or an oversight. They should correct it – no need for tantrums. (I’ve seen this happen, it’s embarrassing when my four year old stamps his feet, it’s quadruply embarrassing watching a 40 something throw a wobbly.)

  • Float. Bring lots of change. Round numbers generally aid cash sales, if you’re selling something for £4.95 then you need to bring a barrow full of 5ps…

  • And have change on you for parking – this is your responsibility not the organisers, you are an adult (unbelievably, I’ve seen people grump at organisers about this).

Curtains up!
This is when the fun really begins (or not). Fairs have changed a bit over the years, well the economic circumstances have changed – prior to the banking collapse in 2008 (caused by the banks and not immigrants and the EU as the Daily Mail would have you believe) I’d been doing fairs with my better half and we couldn’t wrap and bag purchases quickly enough. Doing ‘Origin’ at Somerset House in London, my wife had to organise with her London friends who could come which day to give her a break for 10 minutes so she could have a wee, and in that 10 minute break people still complained that she wasn’t there! These days, people make much more considered purchases. They tend to go and think about it for a bit, or they take a card and maybe buy it online later. I tend to think of fairs now as a 3 day live advert.

All this preamble is to warn you that doing craft fairs might not be as immediately lucrative as you’re expecting. If you’re breaking even (covering all your costs) at your first show, then bloody well done (genuinely no sarcasm here) you deserve a G&T or three. It took me several years of trial and error before I got to that point (partly because what I was making wasn’t very good). Often it can take being at the fairs a couple of times before people will really start to buy – they like to see that you’re worth investing in – people like novelty and new innovations but they also like familiar and reliable things.

After sales can be just as important. So, bring plenty of business cards – don’t be tempted by the multi design thing, people just want to collect all of them (bloody students!).

And even if it’s going badly and the stand across from you is non stop selling it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Sometimes people are coming for something quite specific – try selling a screenprint to someone who’s only interested in jewellery – it ain’t gonna happen. And more to the point, there’s nothing wrong with being niche… Don’t give up, don’t pout and DON’T start lowering your prices – because that just smells of desperation.

  • Don’t pounce with the clipboard, a friendly hello does the job

  • Prices should be easy to see and understand – if they have to ask, they probably won’t…

  • Keep smiling

  • Bring comfy shoes – it’s a long day couple of days.

  • Bring a bottle of water – shows tend to get quite warm.

  • Be considerate to other makers – don’t park your stool in front of my stand (sounds obvious but it does happen).

  • If you’ve brought moral support in the shape of a parent or a partner, send them off to have a look around the show or the city and do a swap with them from time to time. Bored husbands or parents having a picnic in your stand can be a bit off putting. (One task as the moral support that I used to really enjoying was scoping out a pub/restaurant for the evening’s meal).

  • If your having a bad day don’t whine on social media – the craft world is very small, keep it for the pub…

  • At the end of it, whether the show has gone well or not so well – thank the organisers and fill in the feedback forms. They are only human (just about) and need to be loved just like anybody else…

Sometimes the days can go a bit slowly but it’s the perfect opportunity to play Craft Fair Bingo for just £5 available here

The Print Garage will be opening it’s doors to the general public and I’ll be wielding an inky with ninja like dexterity at:

Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair  in Manchester
7-9th October (preview evening on the 6th)

and

Made By Hand Wales in Cardiff
28-3oth October

You can also connect with Mr Print Garage over on all the social medias so please do go and follow and click like on things:

https://www.facebook.com/mrprintgarage/

https://twitter.com/mrprintgarage

https://www.instagram.com/iainperry/

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