I can't quite believe that it has been over five whole weeks since I was an exhibitor at The Family Showcase in Derby. It truly has been a complete whirlwind ever since and I can honestly say I haven't really unpacked!
As you may have read before on my blog, I haven't had the best of luck with 'craft fairs' or 'markets' and pretty much ruled them out altogether until the right opportunity came along. I have seen Ainsley's 'Mama Meet and Market' grow from strength to strength and knew it was an event that I really wanted to be a part of. It helped that Ainsley saw the struggles small businesses faced, actively supported them grow and built a market like this with them in mind, as well as ensuring that it was also what shoppers wanted too! It's no small ask that's for sure! The bottom line is, you'll never please everyone and I think as long as you keep that in mind you'll do well.
I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to exhibit at this event and my application definitely felt like a distant memory. I began to get more and more excited about the event as Ainsley shared more of the businesses that would be attending on social media. I have to say you can't fault her for promoting this market. As someone who has to 'sell' what she does, I know it is super difficult to promote my business let along other peoples and your own event so hat's off to her!
Preparation for me pretty much started as soon as I got the email to say I was an exhibitor. As someone who always has a full order book I knew that it would be almost impossible to just block out my diary and sit and make things for this market. Instead I decided that whenever I had a spare moment or a break between orders, I would create pieces specifically for this event. I was fortunate to have a few ready made pieces aside anyway so I made sure these were taken offline and kept aside. I think the biggest thing for this market was the sheer scale of it. It was so much bigger than I had been to before and the expected footfall was even larger. After speaking to my partner we set the target of reaching 10% of the last markets visitor figures which meant creating 100 pieces to sell. 100 pieces. Now I am just one person, making things in her 'spare time' around a full time job. This seemed like a mammoth task, even with months ahead. I also had to fund this entirely myself as orders alone wouldn't necessarily cover the costs of buying in the great numbers of supplies needed to create so many hoops! I think this was probably the hardest part, that and deciding what on earth to make!
After months of preparation and intense making I was surprised to learn that I had not only met my planned figure, but actually exceeded it! I had over 100 pieces! Now I had the small problem of figuring out how I was going to display them. I had never displayed so many items at one time, and with so many 'favourite' pieces it was hard to work out which ones got centre stage and which might have to take a back seat. Fortunately I am pretty creative and knew that I didn't want to spend a small fortune (that I didn't have) on an elaborate craft stall set up. I wanted to make sure that pieces I bought could be either used in my home afterwards or stored neatly away and I am rapidly running out of room in my small rented house. I managed to nab some free plate racks from Facebook Marketplace, bagged a bargain pink trolley from Hobbycraft in the sale, picked up a fab photo display from Primark and re-purposed a spool stand from Amazon to create the bulk of my display. But mostly I just reused things I had previously used for other events or that were in my home such as wooden easels, a pretty storage box and wire storage baskets.
I have to say I couldn't have done any of this without the amazing support from my number one cheerleader, my mum. She dedicated so much of her time answering my messages full of questions at all hours of the day, helping me decide what designs to make but also using her days off to come and help me out with the hoops themselves. She backed the majority of my hoops, popped stickers on them, priced them and so much more in-between that just saved me so many man hours that I could use instead to focus on making. She is an absolute dream to work with and insanely fast! Before you ask, no I won't share her. She's mine.
Now as I have mentioned, I have been 'burned' before. I have previously felt really excited and positive about events only to be left feeling truly deflated. It is so hard to put yourself out there. With this in mind I decided to keep my expectations in check. I hoped I would do well but mostly I just hoped I would enjoy it and that it would make me realise that there is a place for my wares out there. Numbers aren't everything. You may not make a return on what you spent but you have to weigh that up with the things you got from the experience that cannot be calculated or spent.
The day itself was amazing and I am so glad I attended. I met lots of other amazing small businesses, many that were new to me but also plenty that I knew, loved and fan-girled over- I'm looking at you Darwin & Gray! I was thrilled with how my 'budget' stall came to life and I received nothing but positive comments. I think what blew me away the most was the fact that so many people recognised my business and those who didn't just kept taking more and more business cards from me.- my website hasn't stopped blowing up with new visitors since! I also loved chatting to so many diverse people as well as networking with other businesses, especially my amazing neighbours Sweet Charity Cookies and Babyspoke and hearing about their experiences.
The day although brilliant was also pretty intense. We had a 4am start, an hour and a half drive, the set up and then of course the market itself which involved a lot of sitting or standing before packing away and doing the gruelling drive back home. To say we were exhausted would be an understatement!
So was it worth it? Did it change my mind about markets? In short yes! I had a brilliant time and although I may not have sold as much as I would have liked, the experience itself taught me so much and it is still the most success I have ever had at an event and certainly the direction I want to move in. It made me realise that I am capable of doing amazing things- I mean getting up at 4am is a miracle in itself!
I am resilient. I am strong. I am creative. I am loved.
I think I needed to do this market. I needed to see that the experiences I had before were just that- experiences. They made me realise what direction I needed to take my business in, that my online customer base are the best and that I am worth more than a £10 stall in the corner of a hall next to a 10p tombola. Markets can be amazing places to sell handmade pieces but they have to be created with small businesses in mind. They have to take on board a variety of peoples needs and opinions. But mostly they have to encourage people that spending that little bit more on small business is worth it.
My search for the perfect market is by no means over and there is still much to learn but I would say that the Family Showcase is a bloody good start...