Written By Bethanie Ruston
I am a bit of a newbie to the craft scene. I have been ‘designing and making’ for years but I have only recently begun to take it seriously; for this, I have to thank the internet and the influence of social networking for helping modern people turn their hobbies into careers. And of course our romantic desire to go back to the days of pre-industrialisation, which has enhanced the 21st century love for vintage and handmade.
I have built my website, opened my Folksy shop and created social network pages. I have also sold at a few craft fairs – this is supposed to be one of the best bits after all. But I’m sad to say I’ve been left rather disillusioned with some of the fairs I’ve sold at. The last craft fair I went to left me in a down right bad mood. The atmosphere was dull to say the least. You could almost see the cobwebs on the regular stall holders’ stock. The foot fall was poor and stall holders didn’t seem bothered by this. I was practically jumping on the few who did come through the door, eager to meet people, show off all my hard work and hopefully make some sales!
The lady next to me selling handmade jewellery gave up very early and spent the rest of the day drinking tea in the corner of the hall with several other stall holders. Surely it could be better that this? Stall holders could and should be so proud of their stock and their brand that they dare not leave their stall all day. Why did they not want to be at the stall, to be the face of their brand? Communicating with other crafters and artists is great, to build relationships and to learn from one and other; but ultimately, doesn’t the customer come first? Maybe it’s the sales assistant coming out in me. I would like to think, though, that no matter how good your work is, if you are not there to talk the customer through the product, the idea behind it, the process, or even just to say hello, then the customer will carrying on walking. There is, after all, no-one there for them to hand the cash to!
One of the greatest things about British modern craft is the ability to tell a story. Telling the story of your work, where it’s made, how it’s made and what your inspiration was helps your product to stand tall above anything you can buy that’s mass produced. High-street stores are constantly producing ranges of goods that are made to look handmade, because they know that it’s a very popular look at the moment. That feeling though, that handmade love story, is something that you can’t buy from the high-street.
Blogs, social network sites and Folksy make it easier to tell the story of your pieces. Makers can share inspirations and ideas behind their products. This helps to build a good relationship and customers are always keen to see the hard work and craftsmanship that has gone into what they are about to buy. When selling at a craft fair you don’t have this aid, it’s just you and your products. But what better way to sell? To be able to talk face to face to your customers.
My experience taught me to research into potential craft fairs beforehand. To make sure that the fair is well advertised, in an area which will generate lots of interest, and to research into the other stalls on show. But most of it all it taught me to never become complacent about my work. To always stand proud at my stall and greet each potential customer with a smile.