14 October 2014

Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair from an exhibitors point of view

Blogger unkindly disappeared the blog post that I had written about this, but actually it has made me re-think the post and re-write it from a slightly different point of view. This time with some of the details that expectant makers were wanting to know. (Apologies in advance for a long post!)

This September saw the first ever Kirtie Allsopp's Handmade Fair. It was set in the parkland surrounding Hampton Court Palace. A very unique and beautiful setting. Hardly any events are allowed to take place here, but such a special idea, required a very special setting.

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

I had stumbled across this event, right when the press launch was being done, before the stands were even available for booking. I am proudly passionate to call Hampton Court Palace 'my turf' as I live just a mile away. I run past it often, float past it on the river on our narrow boat, and we always had passes for it when the children were little as it makes a wonderful and local day out.

A quick tweet to Kirstie about involving 'local makers' producing beautiful hand made things, and she tweeted me back and told me to get in touch with the office. Before I knew it I was taking a big leap (financially) and was on board as one of the exhibitors.

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

As this post is for makers, at this point I must talk money. Costs are not secret, anyone could ring up and enquire about the cost of a stand. The fact is they were very, very, expensive. More than £1000 more, and nearly ten times as much as I have ever paid to exhibit somewhere. Without getting into how much money I earn by making jewellery (not a lot) the stand cost represented a huge investment and big risk for me. The stand price would certainly have put it out of reach for a lot of makers, which is a big shame, but ultimately, even if you champion craft, an event like this is a commercial enterprise therefore ultimately it exists in part, to make money. I am aware of the strong feeling the stand price ignited in some makers. I am aware that some makers considered it may not contain enough high end craft. Those points are valid. But it's up to the individual to decide if it's right for them. You decide if you want to wait until next year and let the others test the water first - or you take the plunge!

I for one was really keen to be involved in the first ever Handmade Fair. Perhaps I was emotionally drawn in because of my attachment to the setting? I was also interested because I certainly believe Kirstie has wide influence and a magic touch. She appeals to such a diverse audience and whatever kind of maker you consider yourself to be we must all applaud someone who has succeeded in getting 'craft' on mainstream telly at peak viewing times. Good on ya gal!

The record breaking 'World Pomination' pom-pom chain.
PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

As the fair approached we were bombarded with some last minute logistics and disappointing costs. One plug socket cost me £150 (so necessary to have spotlights to make silver jewellery sparkle). Wifi was to be charged at £75 for the weekend (panic - if everyone was using the phone lines, how would I take card payments?) Public Liability had to be bumped up to £5 million per exhibitor. After your plug socket had been installed, you would then be charged for it to be tested before you could use it. I am sure somewhere in my paperwork these costs were probably detailed, but I certainly hadn't spotted them. Sometimes it's hard for the creative mind and the business mind to work together? We are all used to paying for light and sockets at decent shows, but I have never been charged anywhere near this sort of money, and I do expect everywhere to have wifi available in this day and age. The thing is at this stage - what choice was there?

Set up day approached. (Thursday before Friday opening.) There are unique logistics to using a Royal Park for an event. I drove into the park a mile from my home for my allotted 9am unloading slot. The system was somehow already running late. I then sat in the park in a holding area for an hour and a half until they finally moved me to near the tents to unload. There were some angry makers, some rule breakers, some poor folks who had hired their vans by the hour, but you can be glass half empty or glass half full, so I enjoyed an hour and a half enforced rest in the beautiful sun in a beautiful setting, and made the most of it. It was after all the first time I had stopped in days. When I unloaded, I was very glad for the 'sack barrow' my dad had suggested I put in. Be warned, no porters and no trolleys here! 

Squashing it all in. 

Off I went into the Handmade Fair for the first time. Do you know what? It was magic. The brilliant blue sky and the bright sunshine probably helped, but here I was in a mini Glastonbury of craft! Lots of beautiful tents and marquees, bunting everywhere. Little vintage vans for Prosecco, a caravan for cake. Tables and chairs outside, a beautifully decorated vintage tea room. It had a lovely atmosphere right from the start. The two 'shopping village' tents were huge, carpeted, partitioned, well lit with labels for each exhibitor. I set up and met my neighbours for the weekend. There was a definite happy buzz - at least from those who had managed to set up without too much delay.

Bunting everywhere!

Opening day dawned bright. Customers were queuing, and Kirstie cut a ribbon to open the Fair. People flooded through the gates and the tents were a hive of activity from the word go. The public were enthusiastic, happy, excited, bubbly and super friendly. They had made efforts to dress up, and were really looking forward to 'a day out'. The mood was infectious.

By Friday afternoon, I was feeling less jolly. The atmosphere had been terrific, but the sales were shockingly low, and not just for me, most of those around me had had a similar day. I was facing a gamble that hadn't paid off. My show neighbour and I decided drastic action was called for, so we slipped of for an alcoholic ice tea, and I decided to visit the Etsy business school for a talk on 'Etsy Shop Optimisation' (may as well use the time resourcefully!) 

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

Saturday and Sunday were a different kettle of fish. Constantly busy but with good sales. It was interesting to see what sold well, the lower priced, less of a big financial decision to be made, items were flying. The mid price not shifting so much, and some of the more expensive necklaces which were a bit more special went as presents spotted for birthdays or Christmas. Lots of postcards and business cards were taken, and I genuinely believe many of these will lead to Christmas orders. There was certainly a flurry in the days immediately afterwards. (We wondered if possibly the Sat / Sun visitors had been busy working hard in the week and perhaps had a higher disposable income for the weekend?)

Around us people were buying craft supplies, yarn, kits to make things, items that they had seen used in demonstrations. Some makers were frustrated by having bought in supplies on sale next to them as it made them look very expensive. I must say, when I booked my stall, I was very much under the impression that we would all be 'artisan makers', but the public loved the items they could buy to produce craft themselves. Some makers thought next time there should be two tents, one containing stalls of hand made items, and one containing stalls of craft supplies, but I didn't agree about this. I think that someone may have popped in to buy some felt and walked away with an impulse buy necklace. I was happy. The feedback I have seen from the public seems to show they were happy with everything they could buy, and I have seen several comments about the high quality of hand made items on offer.

My stand

For customer's this was an expensive day out. Full ticket price was nearly £30, in fact some people happily paid £95 for a VIP day out. (It included tea with Kirstie I think!) I thought this was a huge amount of money, but actually I think the public generally perceived this was really good value. They didn't pop to a craft show for a couple of hours, they had a complete day out experience. In fact one of the bits of feedback that came through strongly was that people wanted two day tickets for next year. Public had come from far and wide, Scotland, Ireland, Australia even. I can imagine next year, now more people have heard of it, they will be flocking from all over. The £29 ticket included a up to three events I think - talks / workshops, (this is where I struggle on details as an exhibitor not visitor.) Once there people could book in to even more workshops, and this is what they did, so in many ways, spending money was almost last on the list. How's this before you start? Ticket £30, travel or carpark £10, morning coffee & pastry £5, lunch £10, afternoon cup of tea or glass of prosecco £5, show guide £5, B&B or hotel £? - ouch! And with that last £10 or £20 people were often looking to do another workshop while they had the chance. 

So despite wishing I could have had more sales, the upshot of it all was that I have decided to do it all again next year, and I can't wait. I am sharing a stand to halve my costs (I didn't need 3m x 2m), I will be making more of the things that sold brilliantly, I will have some big visuals to draw people in, and I will be just as excited, but a lot less nervous, now we know what's in store. Not every exhibitor was happy, and not everyone will return, but fact that about 60% of stands were re-booked during the show says a lot.

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

For those of you that were wondering, Kirstie was full-on there in body, as well as name. She wandered, selfied with stand holders, drank tea, chatted with guests on stage, and must have been as exhausted at the end of the weekend as we all were. On Saturday night Kirstie and her team held drinks and nibbles for all the exhibitors which wasn't something they had to do, so I appreciated it for that very reason. A nice touch. I think her and her team must have felt pretty pleased to deliver  such a unique event, with mass crafting, that was such a hit with visitors. Here's to Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2015!

A big thank you to www.photocraft.org for letting me
use some of their photos from the weekend.