We’ve been really enjoying reading all the excellent comments and emails that have been coming in since we began our Craft Fair Secrets blog series. We have been featuring craft fair tips on many areas of selling craft at fairs and getting advice from some really experienced sellers along the way.
We felt that some of the best qualified people to share some craft fair secrets with us would be the organisers themselves. We got in touch with Lauren Denney of Reveal and Carrie Maclennan of Made in the Shade to ask them a few questions!
Both Lauren and Carrie were absolutely overflowing with excellent advice – we’ve tried to include as much as possible from their great responses and felt a Q and A style interview would enable you all to gain from their combined wealth of knowledge and experience. There’s a lot to read but it’s so packed with useful info we thought we’d be doing you all an injustice by editing it down!
What made you decide to organise your own fairs?
Carrie: The Made in the Shade event came into being as a reaction primarily to the growing appetite for craft culture in Glasgow. We’d been involved with creative life and the craft scene – as makers, as market vendors and as organisers for several years before the birth of Made in the Shade. We wanted to provide a forum for off-beat designer makers who might ordinarily find it difficult to find an appropriate retail/showcase platform for their work. We set out to offer an indie shopping experience that went beyond the traditional local market format of trestle tables in a drafty hall with the radio buzzing away in a corner. As a reaction to the plethora of events popping up all over town, we thought we’d try to mesh together shopping, music, public crafting and fun event features to make our craft show stand out and offer another dimension. Customers and vendors seemed to be getting a little bit bored of the usual, sometimes stuffy and outdated, format of markets – so we put our first Made in the Shade event together to revive their interest and introduce another facet to the growing craft scene in Glasgow.
Lauren: I chose to organise my own fairs as I felt the quality of work at shows was going down hill. It felt like the organisers were getting more and more laid back with quality and were only interested in filling the space with no care about the quality of work on show. It seemed like the next logical step was to organise my own show so I had control over the quality of work and was able to sell my work along side work of similar quality. I had never organised anything quite like it before but had built a good network of contacts from fairs over the past 5 years which really helped.
How did you go about choosing a venue for your fair?
Carrie: In terms of choosing a venue – this was easy – in that we were invited to host the event at The Lighthouse in Glasgow by the then manager of the Creative Entrepreneurs Club at The Lighthouse. At the time of our launch, the building was known as the centre for architecture and design and was a great fit – and a great space for our idea to take shape in. Based right in the heart of the city centre, we couldn’t have picked a better spot! The venue is located conveniently for transport links and it’s great for attracting passing trade.
Lauren: I’d had my eye on a great old fire station that had been converted in to an exhibition space, it was light and airy and perfect. It was also really reasonable to hire. The first Reveal took place in the summer of 2008 and lasted a week. It seemed to be a good date that didn’t clash with other events in the local area. The first Reveal went really well so I quickly decided that I wanted to organise a Christmas show the same year. Many of the same exhibitors took part and it was a great success with sales much higher than the summer show. In 2009 I decided that it was more beneficial to focus on the Christmas fairs so I scheduled two three day shows in December and will continue with the same format in 2010. Stall prices range from £70 to £127 for one show. There are usually between 25 and 35 exhibitors at one show with a hand selected range of handmade work for sale. Last year’s exhibitors can be seen here, http://revealshowcase.com/dec09.html, there are 12 Folksy sellers who took part last year.
Now that your fair is well established, what is your selection process?
Carrie: From the outset, even when we were just starting out, we’ve taken a great amount of care over the selection of vendors for Made in the Shade events. It’s important for us to show our customers wonderful handmade pieces that they’re not likely to have come across often. We’re working hard to promote craft and indie design work as something worth investing in. We want our customers to appreciate the time, skill and passion that lies behind the handmade products at Made in the Shade and so we try to make sure that the vendors who come on board with us are producing high quality, original and truly interesting, off-beat and covetable collections. We also like to make sure that we have a fair and representative balance between creative disciplines.
Lauren: Potential exhibitors can contact me for an application form via www.revealshowcase.com. The application form requires basic info about what the exhibitor makes and what their space requirements would be. I also ask for six product shots and an image of their stand from a previous show if applicable. I don’t ask for CVs, artists statements or qualifications, I’m just looking for makers who have good quality products. Reveal has a good return rate of sellers and I’m often being contacted by potential exhibitors who have had Reveal recommended to them.
How would a seller go about impressing the organiser of a successful fair that gets booked up really quickly?
Carrie: First of all – we respond well to applicants who have taken time out to get to know what Made in the Shade is all about! When applying to events, take the time to explore the organisers’ website or even better – attend an event and introduce yourself in person. What is the underlying ethos of the event? What sort of work is shown there? Is this a traditional fair? Or is it a bit more rock’n’roll or renegade in nature? Give full and objective consideration to whether your crafty work will fit well in terms of style, quality and price-point.
We need to make our decision about the quality, finish and overall aesthetic of someone’s work from photographs on a computer screen. This is never easy. It’s impossible to fully understand a product until it’s been touched, until it’s been looked at in person. However, applicants who organise good quality, attractive and professional looking, well lit shots of their products will always get our attention. Do your work justice and represent it with as much care as you’ve taken to make it.
Lauren: I’d recommend that you supply as much information as possible when applying for a fair. Make sure you supply everything that the organiser asks for and send your application form to arrive before their deadline. Don’t forget this is your chance to sell yourself. Make sure your images are clear and show your product well. Remember your application could be one of hundreds so you want them to remember you for the right reasons. If your photos aren’t up to scratch it’s worth having some professional shots taken for fair applications. If you supply great images you are more likely to see your images used on the promotional material for the event too.
What should a seller reasonably expect a fair organiser to do for them?
Carrie: In our experience – as sellers and as organisers – there appears to be a lack of understanding of/care for organisers’ obligations to their vendors. It’s always a good idea for organisers to lay out plainly and simply what they will do for vendors and how/what they expect the vendors themselves to contribute to the smooth running of the event. This helps avoid a lot of confusion or bad feeling later.
It’s absolutely reasonable to expect a fair organiser to deal with your queries in a timely and efficient fashion. It’s absolutely reasonable to expect an organiser to pay attention to special set-up requests and to do their best to accomodate where possible. It’s also reasonable to expect that the event you’ve paid to attend is being promoted and marketed to some degree in line with your stall fee. On the day, it’s reasonable to expect the organiser to engage with you and say hello! It’s usual to assume that your stall space will be set up and ready for you to come organise your display without any fuss. It’s also expected that on the day of the event there will be some on-street effort to promote the fair. I think these are the basics. Depending on the type of event, the scale of event and the fee you’ve paid to attend, expectations and obligations will vary of course, but I think regardless, efficient admin, a well thought-out promotion & marketing strategy and a helpful approach on the day is always due. We work really hard to prepare everyone ahead of event day. So far, the support we’ve had from our designer makers has been astounding and this relationship between organiser and vendor is proving crucial to the continued success of the event.
Lauren: An organiser should clearly state what they are going to do for exhibitors at the application process. Don’t expect anything unless you have it in writing. People have very different expectations so it’s best to ask for further information. As a potential exhibitor ask how and where they promote the show, what the average daily visitors are, how many other exhibitors selling similar work to yours there might be. If they don’t want to supply you with further information then think hard about applying. I supply a page of FAQ’s with the Reveal application but I’m happy to answer other questions too.
Carrie: If we are confident that we have devoted all the time, energy, resources and investment to producing the event that we’ve promised in our terms and conditions then, unfortunately – the rest really is up to scary ol’ fate. Footfall at events can vary for all sorts of reasons and a poorly attended event is not always symptomatic of a poorly organised one. Organisers and promoters can put their heart and soul into a craft fair and still have a half-hearted response. Similarly, organisers can’t really be held responsible for the takings/sales of vendors at market events either. The best they can do is market the event correctly – keeping in mind the customer they’re trying to attract and the price-points of the products on offer. Some days people will be feeling flush – sometime they’ll be seeking out a bargain.
It’s important to have very clear goals about why you want to attend a craft show and what you expect to gain from taking part. The value of having your work showcased in public is sometimes just as high as selling hundreds of pounds worth of stock! It can also be said that being seen on the scene, to be seen to be engaging with the craft community and with craft-lovin’ customers face to face is worth its weight in gold. Craft events are great forums to meet likeminds and potential collaborators. The environment is rich with opportunities even if you don’t always leave feeling rich in your moneybox!
Is it ok to request a refund from a fair organiser?
Lauren: It depends on what reasons you are unhappy with the outcome of a fair. There maybe no harm in asking for a refund if you are unhappy with the outcome but it’s probably something better approached on a case by case basis. It’s not always the case but if you’re taking part in a fair where a table costs only £20 there may not be much budgeted for advertising and promoting the event. Over 65% of the budget for Reveal goes on promoting and advertising the shows which is essential. I recommend choosing your fairs carefully, research them before applying. It can take a few years to find the right fairs for your products. It can be painful finding them but it’s all great experience and a chance to meet other exhibitors along the way.
I hope you have found this week’s Craft fair secrets post an interesting read, we certainly did! We had to leave you with one last tip from our organisers – The amount of work that goes into hosting a successful event is enormous but, quite often, you’ll find that the event organisers get very little monetary reward for their efforts. An exhausted event organiser appreciates a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ and maybe a little joke here and there more than you will ever know! – Thank you to Carrie (Made in the Shade) and Lauren (on folksy at Lauren Ceramics) for taking so much time and effort out of their obviously very busy schedules to answer these questions.
We’d love to hear your responses to this Organisers Q and A – Please leave a comment for us below!