Angie Parker, award winning British rug weaver of Angie Parker Textiles shares her knowledge on things to consider when you exhibit at a contemporary craft fair:
Whether you are new in business or an established craft maker, a contemporary craft fair and trade events are one of the most effective ways of getting your work in front of the right audience.
Here are a few pointers that I have drawn from my own experience in exhibiting at national and international craft fairs over the recent years:
1. Visit the fairs first
Before you invest your time, energy and money, make sure that it’s the right show for you. The best way of finding out is visiting as many of the more established shows as you can and getting a feel for them.
Knowing the layout and seeing where you can park, drop off and move your stock around will help you to feel more prepared and less stressed. You can also use these visits to network, see how other makers display their craft, and promote the industry by sharing visits on social media etc.
2. Have realistic expectations from the start
In a competitive industry, with a decade of austerity measures behind us, the market-place for crafts isn’t necessarily as buoyant as it once was. (Not that plenty of makers aren’t still doing very nicely!). Be prepared that you might not sell out or even cover costs, especially if you are new.
I have always put show costs in my marketing budget as ‘on the day’ sales for my niche product (handwoven rugs and art panels) aren’t common. Realistic expectations such as having a sign up target for your mailing list, or securing future exhibitions can make the difference between leaving a show disheartened by poor sales, or positive about new connections.
3. Weigh up the risks
Good shows aren’t cheap. Only you can decide if the financial risk is worth it. There really isn’t a better way to be seen as a brand to be taken seriously than to invest in these shows. You have the opportunity to exhibit alongside successful makers and the people that visit are mainly there because they love contemporary craft and design.
If you’re smart you will support your presence with a press and social media campaign so that even those that don’t attend can see you’re moving in the right circles and can see you have work to buy. Taking risks is how businesses grow and sometimes we have to take a deep breath and jump. However, if the thought of risking the family Christmas/holiday budget is giving your sleepless nights then think carefully about your options. That said…
4. There are ways to reduce costs
Exhibiting as part of a group is a great way to reduce costs. You may not get as much display space, but a carefully curated group stand can have just as much of an impact as a standard solo space.
Being selected by an organisation such as Design Nation is the simplest was to access these opportunities and they have a strong presence at most of the UK and other European shows.
The Devon Guild of Craftsmen offer a special rate to their associate members on their stand at Craft Festival at Bovey Tracy, and the Crafts Council UK Hothouse programme also brings with it a range of such deals.
5. Keep your display stand simple
As a rule, keeping things simple is one of the most important things I’ve learnt. Initially I wanted to show everybody all my ideas and designs, and as a result my first few stands were pretty confusing for visitors and potential customers.
I now display as little as possible (with a stash of other designs in sample books or on an i-pad). I know who my target customer is and design my stand with them in mind. Obviously, if you have a product at a take away price point then having lots of stock to hand is essential, but do try to keep to just one or two collections and designs.
If people like your work and you’re pleasant and helpful you will make a stronger impression by not overwhelming visitors. (The exceptions to this are the wonderful makers who tell intricate and elaborate stories through their Craft, and decorate their stands accordingly). When you visit shows you will see yourself the sort of stand you’re attracted to and part of the beauty is that there really is something for everyone.
Being original is what makes you stand out.
6. Don’t leave your application to the last minute
You really don’t need the stress of your IT letting you down, and if everyone submits at 11.58pm on deadline day, the risk of the organisers website crashing increases too.
Convince yourself the deadline is 2 days before if you have to. (Organisers, you can thank me later for this one!)
7. Be proactive in marketing the event
Use your social media, mailing lists and personal invites to attract visitors and don’t expect the organisers to so all the marketing. We’re all on the same team and the organisers want the show to be as successful as you do.
If each maker brings an extra 15 visitors through the door for an average sized show (of 200 makers) thats 3,000 extra people. Use the run up to the show to promote the dates and real-time tweets plus instagram shots and stories during the event.
Be inventive with your marketing too. I once phoned into BBC6Music for The Chain two days before Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. Whilst it didn’t result in a sale on that occasion, it did bring three people to my stand who wouldn’t have otherwise visited. (And it was amusing to discover just how many fellow makers were tuned into the radio that day!)
8. And finally, smile! (or rather, don’t frown!)
Patronising and obvious, I know, but if you’re having a disastrous show wait until you’re on the way home to cry about it. It is part of your job to keep yourself and those around you bright and motivated. (Add 5pm wine if you need to!)
You don’t need to go over the top, appear false or too eager (that is overwhelming and off-putting too), but be yourself, relax and enjoy chatting to people about what you do. That’s what visitors/customers are buying into. They’re not buying an item, they’re buying the item you made.
Find out more from Angie and her beautiful rugs here