Written by Christina Allen-Cole from Folksy Shop Apple Crisp
It is with some trepidation that I set off on the Saturday morning towards Chelmsford for my first ever outing as an exhibitor. In the week leading up to the event, the organisers kept sending emails which I am sure were supposed to be a positive boost but signalled to me sheer panic! They had advertised on the radio, put adverts in the local press and banners at the event site; all highly prized strategies I am sure, however I am a small, wee set-up and I could feel the panic that I would be too small building.
This wasn’t appeased on arrival at the Leisure Centre, a central location in Chelmsford housing many activities including the ice rink. The car park was full of vans and large cars with other exhibitors hauling out box after box from said vehicles and using trollies to get their gear from the car park to the venue. I, on the other hand, had my husband on loan from his Amateur Dramatic production and with two quick trips all my essential items were sitting at a 6ft table. Looking around the large hall, there was a sense of anticipation and although not the most glamorous of settings, stall holders were “prettying” up their wares. What struck me quite quickly was that the focus of this fair was more on the gift rather than the craft aspect, and by the end it was quite apparent that the handcrafted element was not the winner over this weekend.
What struck me the most as an exhibitor was the camaraderie amongst the stallholders, and in particular those of us who were upholding the handcrafted side. I would say even to a certain degree there was a level of snobbery over stallholders who were selling wholesale items. But the bond created was the main thing I will take away from the weekend, up until now my marketplace has been Folksy and my support network my virtual friends on Twitter, so actually speaking to people who were all at different stages of their crafty journey was invaluable. Inevitably talk turned to the type of fair to attend; advice was varied depending on whom you spoke to, what stuck out for me was:
· Go to small village fairs – people will visit out of curiosity, therefore lots of footfall
· Go to fairs that are not centrally placed – therefore people will have to make an effort to come and will be more prepared to buy
· If they charge entry, even better – because you have to pay to get in, you will be looking for handmade and unusual items.
To be fair I am not entirely convinced, I have been to all sorts of fairs over the years as a “customer” and I have wandered round some that are quite far out of a central location and charging quite a hefty amount and not seen anything worthwhile, and been to almost jumble sale style fairs and spent way more than just the raffle ticket to do my bit for a good cause. What I think we saw over this weekend were people who wanted a bargain and in the current climate were not as willing to hand over cash. No-one that I spoke to sold massive amounts and there were many stalls over the two days that sold nothing. I was one of the fortunate ones in that I made a small amount of sales, certainly enough to give me a boost that I am determined to continue with this alternative career path.
The highlight of the fair for me personally was meeting a customer from Folksy. Rachael had ordered a commissioned item through my Folksy shop and was happy to see the other items in the flesh. It was great to get some feedback about how much she liked the bag and the fact that she had been able to work with me to get the fabric choices she wanted. The other thing I was able to do over the weekend was work extremely hard as a Folksy Ambassador and introduce many of the stallholders to the site many of whom had no online sales facility and hadn’t heard of Folksy, they were very keen to hear about something that is more specifically British and handcrafted than other marketplace sites. Many did feel that getting their wares online was the way to go, trying to offer customers as many ways to access their items. I hope that those who took the samplers away with them are now beavering away preparing to open their online shops. And from my perusal of the stalls there will be some excellent items coming soon…this leads me nicely onto the topic of my favourite stalls at the fair. Two stalls stood out for me, both in terms of the products they were selling.
My first pick is Suzanne at The Little Paperchain Company, Suzanne simply does what it says; she sells paperchains. It might seem rather too simplistic but actually when you see it you realise how difficult it can be to find paperchains for different occasions apart from Christmas, and everyone loves a paperchain! Actually, I first came across Suzanne’s company just before Halloween at another craft fair, my 4 year old son was transfixed by the Halloween chains and with his money given to him by Nanny went straight up and bought a pack. He was even more excited at decorating the house! So you can imagine how overjoyed he was when he spied the stall again, and off he went to make some paperchains in bright colours. Others at the fair also seemed as enamoured of the chains as my son, and lots of Christmas themed chains will be spread throughout Essex this December. Suzanne showed that you didn’t have to have a huge stall with lots going on, with her stall the item sold itself, and I can see that every event in my household will now be celebrated with the obligatory paperchain!
Another stall which I fell in love with was Liz at Lizzington. Like me Liz makes bags and other accessories but what made her product stand out was the use of wool tweed. I love this fabric, and I personally want my own stock of Harris Tweed. For Liz, she can go one step better, the tweeds she uses are individually woven by her sister in Wales. Liz was equally excited to meet someone who also loves wool tweed, apparently she hasn’t seen many people make with this type of fabric. For me, having family in Scotland and spending lots of time there I often see this fabric being used. Again, the display wasn’t all singing and dancing; the bags did the talking and I could have spent ages just stroking the fabric!
All in all, a most interesting first fair of which I learnt more than sold. For example, if you generally drink decaffeinated tea and coffee don’t start drinking the regular stuff! I have done some serious networking and it has already inspired me to book another craft fair.