As I mentioned in my previous blog post ‘Now I Ain’t Sayin’ She A Goal Digger’ last year I was successful in attending not one but two craft fairs. This for me was a huge achievement not only in terms of my small business exposure but for my own confidence too. I had intended on researching craft events in my area in a view to attending but I was understandably anxious and didn’t really know what I was looking for nor the costs involved.
When the opportunity presented itself that I could have my own stall at an old school friend’s very first event I immediately said yes! The fair itself was aimed at mothers with babies and young children to find pre-loved items as well as handmade goods. I felt as though this was a good starting point for me as it would be based in a small village hall with a limited number of vendors and because I knew the organiser, I felt confident that I could bombard her with questions and know that some of my anxieties could be put at ease. After weeks of preparation I made my way to the event with my groupie (aka my Mum) in tow, feeling excited and nervous about what would be in store for us.
The day itself was a mixture of success and disappointment. Sadly I was surrounded by stalls with pre-loved items selling for as little as 50p which when compared to the cost of my products, although reasonably priced, seemed too much to spend. I didn’t make a sale but the comments regarding my stall were extremely positive and my work was well received. It just wasn’t the one.
Fast forward a few months later and I found myself at my next craft fair. Again this was a fairly low key event that took place at the Primary School I used to work at for five years as a teaching assistant. It was their annual Christmas Bazaar that promised fun for the whole family! I had heard how popular their fairs were during my time at the school and how quickly the stalls sold out so I made sure I was as proactive as possible in securing a stall. Fortunately for me the stall fee was just £20 and my anxieties were reduced because I knew the location and roughly what to expect. Once again I took my Mum on the road with me and we set up the stall together. I was greeted with great enthusiasm and excitement when I walked in and was told that my work was highly viewed on the schools social media page. Again my stall was applauded for its exceptional presentation and, before the doors were even open, there were promises of sales from the volunteers. This event was far busier than I was expecting and our stall, which was situated right at the very front and centre of the arrangement, was surrounded by people. However this in itself presented problems, with people pushing past, children playing with products and food being consumed very close to pieces of work.
Now the event wasn’t entirely as advertised, with the majority of stalls being used by the schools volunteers themselves for things such as tombola’s and raffles. This again meant that people were questioning whether or not they wanted to spend £6 on a piece of art or try their luck on the 50p tombola to win a bottle of expensive liquor. Fortunately this time I did make a couple of sales but I couldn’t help but feel deflated. I had closed my shop extra earlier at the busiest time of the year to prepare stock for this event, worked tireless to ensure I had a wide variety of products available to suit every budget and had invested a lot of money into buying the supplies. I can honestly say that after this event I questioned the success of my business and wondered if it was at all worth it, which sounds very melodramatic but it’s true.
With the support of my amazing partner, family and friends I managed to get my brain out from that dark place and remind myself that craft fairs aren’t the be all and end all of owning a small business. I am so fortunate to have an amazing online following that have made my business what it is that in fact I could just sell online and not worry about attending events. I sold the majority of my stock from that was created for the fair that very evening through my Etsy shop which definitely lifted my spirits. Not only that but I had to remind myself that at that point in time I was fully booked until February 2018 so I must be doing something right!
I guess when I think of handmade products I relate a lot of it to cute little market stalls and the buzzing atmosphere of craft fairs like the ones I have been to outside of my business. The reality is that it isn’t as easy as just setting up a table at any old event and waiting for the money to roll in and the products to fly off the table. It involves hours of research, weeks of planning, months of making and a lot of investment. I think the biggest lesson for me in all of this is that I have to ‘aim higher and dream bigger’. I need to stop expecting so much of these small events and look for something specifically aimed at people who want to spend a bit more money on something that has been handmade. People who want to find small businesses to support. People who aren’t necessarily going to get into an argument over a bottle of prosecco that someone else won for £1.50. So that is my goal, maybe not this year but at some point I am hoping to attend an event that is just for crafts and handmade goods and not a place where you can get your car washed for £2 while you wait in line for a 20p raffle ticket.
Thankfully other small businesses have been fantastic in supporting me and sharing their own terrible experiences at craft fairs. It has definitely helped me realise that it isn’t as straight forward as it appears and that all sellers experience a bad event once in a while. The support and advice I have received has made me more realistic in my own expectations and helped me focus on where I need to go to next. My hope is that somewhere out there, there is an event that is right for me and my small business but right now I am focussing on my online presence and further establishing myself as a five star rated business.
When I find the right event for me I am sure I will know that it is the one.