Last September, Sue asked me if I wanted to do a trade fair. We could get a stand for £128 as a "Starter's special" so we thought "what the hell." We booked a stand with the Wales Craft Council's trade fair in Llandudno.
The problem with trade fairs is not what they are but what you expect them to be. I thought we would get a nice large stand that was 6' wide and 4' deep. A table and power points would be provided. It would have a nice sign that had our name on it and finally that we would be surrounded by stands selling a similar quality of work that we were providing. The truth was far from that. To the Wales Craft Council anything that is made in Wales is craft. Therefore, our stand was surrounded by Welsh Pantry food products, fleece ware, slate etched coasters and Welsh chess sets. The name on our sign was spelt wrong the "a" having lost its "hat" - "tan" in English does not convey the meaning which we intend through "tân" (fire) in Welsh. Our 6' table, which we had to rent, did not fit our 6' stand so we suddenly had to rethink our display in order to use a 4' table. And finally, we thought there would be lots of buyers. Again, we were wrong.
I did learn a lot from this fair:
1. The most important thing is visit the fair before you decide to book a stand. Even though they say "trade only", that's not true. If you call before hand and register, you can visit any "trade" fair.
2. Have business cards or leaflets and order forms available. It's what people are going to remember you by. Also, you probably won't need as many as you think. The buyers for these things are well seasoned: they know what they are looking for and they won't waste their time or yours by talking to you if they aren't going to buy anything.
3. Don't look at a trade fair as a one off thing. Buyers are probably not going to risk their money on you during your first year. If you're still in business for the second, they may try you and on the third year you probably will find yourself doing a decent business. If you don't do the same craft fair consecutively, people just think you've gone out of business. So really that £128 "special starter's deal" actually turns out to be over £600 worth of investment if you really want to make things work.
4. Sue and I almost avoided joining the New Product category because we didn't call our pots "products". Wrong again. We were advised by the Fair organiser to submit a pot for judgement and we won a £100 for having the best new product. We also had our picture taken for newspapers and everything. Good publicity, if nothing else and we recouped the price of our stall.
5. Also when we registered for the fair we were asked to send in photographs of our work. Be sure to send a good picture. Each buyer and stall holder is given a catalogue with your name and address along with a picture of your product -- a good way for people to remember you by and those who didn't bother with photos just had the Welsh Crafts Council daffodil emblem stuck on their entry.
6. Even though they say no eating and sitting at the stalls, people do. It certainly doesn't look professional but... a 9:30 - 6:00 day, four days in a row, is very tiring. (Also, remember that if you're manning a stall by yourself, you will have to reconcile yourself to leaving it unattended sometimes.)
7. Remember that the trade fair is only the beginning. You'll get loads of names but no or few commitments so you'll need to make contact in order to get that final order. And with those orders you do get, you don't know if the trader is who he says he is. That order for £500 worth of pots may not actually be paid for in the end so ask other stall holders if they know if the person is trustworthy and reliable. Otherwise you might find yourself working very hard o produce stock you can't sell.
8. Remember that when you sell at trade fairs the buyer will put a 100% mark-up plus VAT on your product. Therefore you'll probably find yourself selling your wares at a much cheaper price than you normally would: the payoff being that you know you will get money coming in with each order, whereas with sale or return you never know when you'll get paid.
9. Also with buyers, you don't know what sort of shop your pots are going into and how they are going to be displayed. Ask them. Try to figure out if it would benefit your business to be seen in a shop like theirs... Or just take the money and run.
I have to admit that even though we will probably never do this particular trade fair again the knowledge we gained was significant. We could make mistakes and it didn't matter. For example, getting business cards from people was like pulling teeth. We often let them get away. But if they took your card and information consider them obliged to do the same in return. Don't let them get away. Get their name, telephone number and shop name and for those who do slip from your grasp, go down the registration desk and try to track down their phone numbers from there.
The stall holders were very helpful giving us names of transport companies that deal in fragile goods, insurance companies, what to do about pricing and filling orders. Any question you have, someone will have an answer. Also you can practise your sales pitch on them so that you don't feel so nervous when a real buyer comes round.
To be honest next time I probably will not do another trade fair because I don't think it suits what I'm aiming to do. I don't want to reproduce what I've made. I want to experiment. I definitely do not want to inform people of my new product lines or of what I'm producing for the millennium. For those of you who do want to try, good luck and try Showcase Dublin!
For further information about the Wales Spring Fair please contact the Wales Crafts Council, 7 High Street, Welshpool, Powys. Tel: 01938 555313