by Angie Boyer
Published: November 2015
How do makers decide which events to apply for, which fairs will be right for them?
“Research, research, research,” came the answer!
Visit shows by different organisers. Talk to the organiser (probably away from the show). Look at their websites and social media presence.
Who are your audience? Does the show’s profile match with that? Is it a selected event? Who else is exhibiting – would your work fit in alongside theirs?
Is it a general craft show or does it specialise in particular disciplines, ceramics, textiles, etc?
How/where is it promoted?
Talk to other exhibitors, which events do they recommend/suggest?
How can craftspeople make the most of exhibiting at a retail craft fair?
Almost without exception the organisers we spoke to came up with the same key points to consider ahead of a show:
Promotion - no matter how much work an organiser does on publicity, you can still help promote yourself. If an organiser sends you leaflets, use them, send and give them out. If you receive e-fliers about the show, forward them on. Follow up any ticket offers for the show, link in with social media posts, participate fully in the pre-show promotional campaign.
Photographs - the importance of having excellent images of your work cannot be over-emphasised. Makers must have a good selection of professional photographs, the organiser can only include your work in their pre-show publicity if you have supplied them with good quality images. You need them for your own promotion too.
Prepare - know what you want from the show. For some it’s down to sales only, others are looking for press exposure or discovery by trade buyers, whilst for others it is about networking with fellow exhibitors as well as buyers. Know what you want and set out to achieve it. If its exposure to trade buyers, print up a mini brochure and send it along with a ticket for the show announcing that you’ll be launching your new collection there. If you want sales then work on that - invite your previous customers, show them new work. Respond on time to any paperwork and emails sent to you by the organiser – they’re likely to contain important information. Plan ahead, do a schedule so you know you will have enough work ready for the fair. Sort out accommodation, business cards, promotional material, packaging, credit card terminal, change, make sure your toolbox is in order. Setting up for a show can be stressful and the times whizzes by, so plan and prepare as much as you can beforehand.
There are some helpful do’s and don’ts whilst exhibiting at the fair, mostly obvious, but still worth stating:
DON’T sit down reading a magazine, doing the crossword or messing around on your phone/tablet.
DON’T leave your stand for long periods of time, especially not to natter to another maker on their stand, you both need to focus on interacting with the visitors. Socialise outside opening hours.
DO collect details from interested visitors to contact afterwards and to add to your mailing list for future promotions.
DO make sure your name or business name is clearly visible on your stand and have business cards, trade and retail price lists ready to give to interested customers.
DO make the most of the opportunity to network and make contacts.
DO talk to visitors, engage with them, tell them about your skills, your passion for your work, let them know what drives you, your influences and ambitions. You cannot sell at a fair without talking to people!
DO ask any friends and family to leave your stand as soon as you can. See them all later.
DO try to leave your parents at home if you are a young graduate, it’s very difficult to be yourself with family eavesdropping, you need to make your own mistakes and make friends with other makers.
DO demonstrate if possible, or have work in progress or images of you working, it helps to emphasise the hand crafted element of your work and gives visitors an opportunity to talk to you.
DO display prices of your work, some customers can feel intimidated if prices are not shown
DO have your artist statement on your stand so that when you’re dealing with a customer, others can learn a bit about you. People who buy craft are not just buying an object, they are buying a piece of you, the exhibitor. Visitors want to know the story behind your work and how you make it so tell them but keep it simple.
And perhaps most importantly - smile!
A craft show can continue to work for you long after the doors have closed, and it’s still all about marketing and promotion. Follow up the contacts you have collected at the show with a “thank you for visiting me” type email. This is another memory jogger and you’re in their inbox – now they’ll be able to search for you when they want to place an order.
Firm up and turn commissions around as soon as possible, keep on top of your orders and stay in contact with existing and potential customers. Continue some digital presence as people are likely to buy after the show.
What are your Top Tips for makers new to selling at fairs?
Sally Thomas, Craft in Focus www.craftinfocus.com
Don’t display just in flat profile, ie table top, if you are an artist and your work is flat vertically, think about introducing dimension, such a vase of fresh flowers.
Smile. Be attentive to visitors, a conversation with a visitor who has no wish to purchase now may well develop into sales later on.
Try to obtain your customers’ contact details to mail to later.
Jon Tutton, Fairs Organiser, Tutton & Young Ltd
Prepare - make sure you have price lists, labels, etc. Do a dummy hang in your studio so that you’re ready. If you’re prepared you’ll also be calm and hopefully rested.
Try to see the design of your stand from the perspective of the customer - tell a story about your business, have a range of pieces that work together.
It’s a temptation to put everything you do on the stand ‘just in case someone wants it’ but that will make the stand look all over the place and difficult to read and understand what you’re selling. Ask your studio mates, friends or family what they think of your proposed layout.
Try to always be engaging (without being pushy, or desperate), smiley, friendly and optimistic. If you have a bad day then try to keep smiling as it can pick up at anytime - if you look depressed or dejected visitors pick up on that and will be less likely to engage with you or buy from you. We had one exhibitor who, when she had a poor day, would go and order a bottle of sparkling wine and four glasses and walk with the wine the long way back to her stand - everyone thought she’d actually had a great day and there was a buzz around her after that. (The wine cheered her up too).
Ann-Marie Franey, Director, Great Northern Events
Do your research
Collect emails for your mailing list
Leoni Linton, Development Manager for Brightstripe - Cultural Health CIC
Do a mock stand before attending and get some feedback on your presentation.
Take plenty of stock to keep your stand interesting, and make use of red dots as people like to feel they’re not the only ones who like our work.
Be open and approachable.
Angela Bartlett & Robin Younger, Living Crafts
Ensure you have excellent photographs
to promote your beautiful work when applying to a show organiser. There is little point in spending many hours making something that is poorly photographed. Investing in professional photography is well worthwhile. Ensure you have high resolution photographs that can be submitted to show organisers and publications that can then in turn be used on their promotional leaflets, websites etc.
Be friendly and smiling. Don’t hide behind your stand and don’t read the newspaper! If possible, demonstrate part of your making process, or have some pieces ‘in progress’ that are interesting for your visitors and which show the making process.Promote your work professionally, with passion and at the right price.
Think about how to make an eye catching display; backdrops, signage, using different heights. Have a trial run before your first show.
Paul Bishop, Specialist Glass Fairs Ltd
Do not be disheartened if you do not make many sales. It takes time build up a reputation. Look on it as a networking opportunity; sometimes surprising things come out of small beginnings.
Make your stand as attractive as possible, at a Glass Fair there may be 100 other stands all wanting to be noticed, lighting is paramount.
Realistic pricing is important and be prepared to be flexible but do not sell too cheaply!
Andy & Muriel Hopwood, Miniatura Exhibitions & Fairs
Research the practical aspects of selling from a table/stand and, if a complete novice, do a small, local event first as a trial run.
Try to visit the show before booking a stand to see the layout, get a feel for the venue and see what other work is being exhibited there. Find out where the nearest cash points are, visitors often ask.
Expect to do at least three shows before you decide whether you want to carry on.
Simon Burns, Managing Director, ICHF Events
Know your product and audience
Make use of all the marketing and PR support on offer as its integral to getting your product and business out there
Think about the layout and display of your stand. An attractive stand with plenty of stock in supply and a well presented team goes a long way.
There are other ways to sell your work as well, of course - the internet has lots of opportunities, but craft fairs offer something very special, for both the makers and the visitors. For visitors it’s all about the experience. It’s a day out with friends and family and the chance for them to have that face to face interaction and personal approach with the exhibitors. Craft shows offer the consumer the chance to touch and feel the product before purchasing, unlike the online medium where a picture and dimensions is all that’s provided. Exhibitors can launch new products to their target audience and get direct feedback and response. And of course, for makers who work in isolation, it’s a great opportunity to socialise with like-minded people and catch up on the latest news and natterings!
What about Trade Shows?
We asked Margeret Bunn, the principle show organiser for the British Craft Trade Fair, for her Top Tips.
BCTF is dedicated to promoting British crafts to buyers who are dedicated to buying British crafts. Forty years old this year, BCTF continues to showcase the best of British design and small scale manufacturing.
Why would I exhibit at a trade fair, when I can sell direct to the consumer for more money?
This is a question that I’ve been asked many times over the past 34 years. The answer is because once established, you can, and will, sell more than is possible via your website, studio, open days or retail craft fairs. Many designers prefer to make and leave the selling to someone else; selling through galleries, craft shops, gift shops etc. enables makers to concentrate on making and creating new collections. Buyers will often re-order many times throughout the year, once you have 30, 40, 100 outlets stocking your work you will be kept busy long into the wee hours!
Do I have to sell all of my collections to trade?
No you don’t, many makers develop ranges that work better for them for trade. Remember that you need to make a profit on your trade price. Some of your work may only offer you profit when sold directly to the consumer.
How do I price my work?
Never over price or under-price your work, look at other makers similar to yourself and stay within the same price range where possible.
Display your work to entice the buyer to take a closer look, too little on your stand may mean they just walk by, too much and they may not have the time to stop! Remember that when someone buys your work they also buy a little piece of you, your story, your inspirations, creativity.
Be enthusiastic, love your work and others will love it too!!’
See the craft&design online Directory for more information about trade and consumer shows and the companies that organise them:
Image:Art in Action, Waterperry House, Near Oxford www.artinaction.org.uk