If you’re a designer or maker looking to sell to shops, exhibiting at a trade show can be one of the best ways to get in front of buyers. But with multitudes of shows, options and prices, picking the right one can be daunting… and expensive. Earlier this month buyers and sellers came together for Top Drawer, Craft and Home – three shows all co-located at Earl’s Court. We asked three Folksy sellers who took part to share their experiences. Here, Katie from Studio Spragg talks us through Craft…
Trade show: Craft
Reviewed by: Katie Spragg from Studio Spragg
Sectors covered: Handmade craft
Dates: 12-14 January
Venue: Earls Court, London (moving to Olympia next year)
Cost of stand: £780 (including VAT)
Size of stand: 2m x 1m space (space is priced by m2)
Who were the buyers: A big mix of buyers, from small independent shops and galleries to larger shops such as Heal’s. Also interior designers and consultancies.
Organisers: Clarion Events with Handmade in Britain
Footfall: Less busy than I expected, but steady.
Orders: I only took one order and one commission on the stand, but made lots of good contacts and feel it was really good exposure.
Would you do it again? I think so, but I’m waiting to see how many sales and opportunities come through post-show…
My Studio Spragg stand at Craft
I applied for Craft in the second round of applications in September – I think they’d been allocated more space. I found out about it through Handmade in Britain‘s website. I’ve been focusing on getting my work into shops for the past year and had always been unsure of the value of trade shows. But I thought Craft would be a good opportunity to try the trade environment as it’s a new trade show aimed specifically at craftspeople getting into retail. I hoped this would mean I’d get the right audience for my work, and buyers who would appreciate the difference in price between a handmade product compared to a manufactured one.
Because it was my first trade show I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve done plenty of markets and shows, but this seemed more serious and therefore I felt more pressure to get everything right. One of the main things I actually got out of the show was how much I put into preparing for it – it gave me a reason to get all the marketing done that I’d been meaning to do for the past year. I loosely followed this plan on the Design Trust website (if you don’t know about The Design Trust, check them out, they’re an amazing resource). I taught myself how to use InDesign to make my price list, catalogue, flyer and order form. Without an important deadline I wouldn’t have got all of this done!
I made new ply shelves to display my plates and thought carefully about the display stands for each collection of work. I wanted my stand to reflect my work and look professional (I think I achieved that!). I mocked up my stand space as best I could in my studio the week before, which was really helpful and made setting up quicker and easier when I got there.
One of the simplest but best pieces of advice that Patricia at The Design Trust gives in her blog post is to think about who’s going to help you. It’s so easy to try to do every aspect of your business yourself but having an extra pair of hands to help put up shelves etc makes all the difference. I booked in my sister to help on the first day of set-up. Her hammering skills were much appreciated.
We had two full days to set up (8am-10pm on Saturday) so I knew I’d have plenty of time. Registering my car and then pulling up to unload was a fairly stress-free process. Taking everything down, as hundreds of exhibitors try to do it at the same time, was a different story! There was a trolley hire service but it was really expensive and I just saw it as another way of them trying to get your money. One of the few negative experiences I had doing the show was the amount of people calling you in the lead up, trying to sell you show related things: accommodation, advertising in the show guide, data collection. It really annoyed me because they were obviously just working their way through the list of exhibitors and hadn’t researched anything about your business.
Once the show opened, it wasn’t as busy footfall-wise as I expected. Craft is co-located with Top Drawer, one of the biggest homeware trade shows in the UK, and Home, another fairly new one, so I thought there would be crowds of people. There was a constant, steady flow of visitors, just not as many as I expected. The opening day, Sunday, was mostly independent shops, who I found showed a lot of interest in my work and I had some good conversations. Because my work is based on strange but true stories, it’s a good way to engage people and start chatting. Monday was a quiet day for me, and by 6pm I was ready to sit on the sofa all evening and not move. On Tuesday it picked up again and I met lots of buyers from museum shops – exactly the sort of places I’d like to sell my work.
I was surprised by the breadth of different buyers – there were people from organisations you wouldn’t think of as having shops, like Kent County Council. There were also lots of other people who weren’t specifically buyers who I chatted to and who gave me good advice or were interested in my work: photographers, consultancies, agents and interior designers.
It was interesting to see that my ‘Gift Shop’ porcelain bottles got a lot of attention, normally they aren’t so popular. I think they looked good under the spot lights on my stand, and maybe also because they are so different to anything else at the show. I launched a new range at Craft called The Water Collection: a series of terracotta carafes and cups inspired by 1970s water towers. These got a lot of compliments which was really great. Overall my Urban Animal plates and mugs, and the Gift Shop porcelain bottles were the most popular.
As my first trade show I found it was a great place to showcase my work and show it off to people who wouldn’t normally see it. The venue and show as a whole felt very professional – it’s amazing how they transform it from an empty shell into a shiny exhibition hall! I felt I had more confidence approaching people as I knew that they were there especially to buy and I wasn’t just ‘cold-calling’ them. I also found it was a really good place to meet potential clients who I already had some connection with (I had sent out an email invitation a week before and arranged for a few buyers to come see me at my stand).
Doing Craft, as opposed to a more commercial trade show made me confident that the quality of other exhibitors would be high and that the time involved in the making process would be appreciated by visitors. Some buyers had obviously been inspired to come specifically to Craft (galleries in particular), whereas others were just wondering through from Top Drawer or Home. Chatting to Christina Sabaiduc, a womenswear designer on the stand next to me who was launching her scarves as a separate line, she said she found that visitors to Craft were willing to listen to the story behind a product, unlike at some other shows.
I feel that Craft was a positive experience for me. Although I didn’t get many orders on the stand I feel that I have raised my profile and showcased my work to a large new audience by exhibiting there. I think my work would have fitted well in Home as well, as I don’t ‘hand-make’ all my products myself (I get my bone china tableware from Stoke). There was a lot of ceramics in Home, and the Homegrown area had a lot of small independent designers at similar points in their career to me, so it would be interesting to hear how they found exhibiting there.
[Thanks to show organisers Clarion Events for providing some of the photos]