Art and Craft Fairs are happening again! It might be your first time having a stall at a fair, or you might just be a bit rusty after the year we’ve had. So time to polish up those stallkeeping skills. You’ve put so much work into designing your products, and maybe your logo, and your packaging. Now it’s time to set out your stall.
Looking professional doesn’t mean looking like a concession stand in John Lewis, though if that’s your style, then go for it! What it does mean is that you are well organised, your stall is clean and tidy, and any mess, extra stock, and your packed lunch, are stashed away out of sight. It means that your display should fit in with your brand. I can’t tell you what that might be – it’s up to you – but if a glitzy glittery shelving unit with fairy lights reflects your glamourous products then use it. If it doesn’t then find something that does.
“Professional doesn’t have to mean flash.”
Professional doesn’t have to mean flash, but it does mean consistent, and looking like it is well thought out, not just an afterthought. Are your prices well displayed, and consistent? Have you got a plenty of change for cash purchases. If you are using a card reader, is it all set up and ready to go? Are you ready to serve customers, or too busy reading your book or chatting with your neighbour?
And then there’s you. It’s entirely up to you how you present yourself, but think about what it says about your product and how approachable you’ll be by your potential customers. So, basically, be clean, not overpoweringly perfumed, and appropriately dressed. ‘Appropriate’ might mean something different if you’re doing a steampunk fair than it might if you’re doing the Harrogate Flower Show. Or it might not. Like I say, it’s up to you, but think of yourself as an extension of your marketing. Oh, and being caught out with a massive mouthful of donner kebab just as a customer wants to ask you a question about your pretty earrings – not always a good look!
Make sure you have plenty of packaging. Some people like to go with stylish or pretty paper carriers, and tissue paper-wrapped products. At the other end of the scale, others prefer to use recycled carrier bags. Decide what’s right for your product: which enhances it’s value. It’s a well known fact amongst jewellers for instance that a nice box can double the price you can get for a pair of earrings. What value can you add by packaging? And what is over the top, unnecessary and adds nothing to your bottom line? Come on, don’t go all Rowan Atkinson on me!
Designing a stall layout comes naturally to some, but to many of us, it’s a very different skillset to how we go about our art or craft. You have to think about how your wares look en mass, not just as individual items. You have to think about how to grab the attention of customers who may be distracted by other stalls, by friends, by children. You have to work out how you get to be that stall at the other side of the room that people make a beeline for.
Think height. Everything just laid out on a flat surface doesn’t make it stand out. You don’t need fancy shelving, an upturned box nicely covered in a cloth will do. Or a plank of wood on bricks, if that suits your product.
A pretty printed tablecloth probably looks fab in your kitchen, but it will steal the show at a fair and distract from your products. Go for something plain. The go-to for many stallholders is white, but a colour that suits your product can work too. If you want to emphasise ‘rustic’ you could go for something like hessian (the stuff old fashioned sacks are made from). Make sure your table cloth is clean and ironed and is big enough to reach to the floor so that your stall looks neater – it also means you can stash your extra stock, packaging, lunch, rubbish, etc under the table out of sight.
“If you sell clothing or jewellery make sure you have a decent sized mirror.”
Signs should be nice and clear. Banners stuck to the front of your table may look good from the other side of the room, but by the time a customer is standing in front of you, they won’t see it. And if the fair gets crowded no one will see it. So what other signage do you have? A framed logo on your table might do the trick. If you have a wall behind you, maybe a banner behind you.
By all means have a price list sign, but don’t expect everyone to notice it, so you might want everything priced up individually too. If you use a card-reader for payments, you could have a sign to say so, but again, don’t expect everyone to notice it – some people will still ask. Humans are like that.
“Stuff handbags and totes with recycled bubblewrap or packing paper, so people can see what they look like with something in them, rather than just flat.”
Make sure your products are displayed to their best effect. If you sell clothing, consider a dummy, or a clothes rack with hangers, so people can get a good idea of what they look like.
Sometimes less is more. An over-stuffed stall can just be confusing to customers. To much choice isn’t always a good thing either. Find a balance between looking bare and looking overwhelming.
“I used to travel to and from fairs on public transport. Everything had to fit in a huge kitbag on wheels. Everything had to fold down and not be too heavy. If you are young and fit, it’s definitely do-able.”
However you design your stall, make sure it’s easy to assemble and take down again, and easy to transport in whatever way you travel to the fair.
Be ready to serve customers. If you hit a quiet spell, by all means read your emails, or do your knitting, but as soon as customers come in then be ready and waiting. On the other hand, not everyone likes a stallholder that’s too pushy. You know when you go into a shop and an assistant jumps on you as soon as you step over the threshold, asking if they can help? Too much, yes? Or the ones where the assistants are preoccupied and barely even notice you enter. Too little. Something in between is what you’re aiming for. Often a quick hi, and then pretend to be occupied with restocking or something will be good enough: customers know you know they are there, they know they can ask a question, but they don’t feel intimidated by having to enter into a conversation with you.
Customers come in all shapes and sizes. Make sure your stall is accessible to someone using a wheelchair. Be prepared to describe products to someone who is sight-impaired. Don’t make too many assumptions about who might or might not be interested in your products. And don’t be offended if your products aren’t for them. The aim is to help them think they might be interested enough to take a look by having an attractive stall, not to force them into buying something they don’t like!
Remember that some customers come with children who have curious minds and sticky fingers. Make sure that your display is safe – both for the child and your display – at child eye height. And keep a watchful eye out for children bearing sticky buns and icecreams!
Customers all have a right to courteousness, but they aren’t always right. Don’t be bamboozled by someone trying to barter with you – your prices are what you decide. Don’t be put off by the “my child could do that” customer, or the “HOW much?” customer. Have faith in your work and your prices. On the flip side of that, engaging with your customers, answering questions about how you create your work, what your inspirations are, is all part of the marketing. Even if they don’t purchase today, they are more likely to remember you if they’ve had a nice chat with you about your processes.
Should you take your entire stock to only sell maybe 3 items, or take just handful of stuff and sell out an hour into the fair? It’s a total pain. You can rarely get it completely right, especially if you’ve not done that particular fair before. But think, even if you only sell 3 things, if those 3 things are the only things on your stall, it’s going to look a bit bare by the the end of the day. I always end up taking my entire stock “just in case”. Sometimes I regret it. But what if…… Just make sure that you aren’t going to end up with an empty table by lunchtime.
The Set Up
Have a list of things you need and prepare in good time – the day before is always going to feel better than at 6am on the morning of the fair! Here’s our list:
- Table cloth
- Any display shelving, frames, stands, hangers, that you’re going to be using
- Sign/banner with company name
- Business cards
- Cash Float
- Card reader
- Packaging (paper bags, tissue paper etc)
- Receipt book
- Pen, and notebook
- The ‘Just Incase Kit’: Marker pen, paper, scissors, string, bulldog clips, safety pins, sellotape, gaffer tape, needle and thread, multi-tool.
- Phone and charger (I also take a battery pack incase my card reader needs charging)
- Lights and spare batteries
- And obviously your stock! Don’t forget that!
Arrive in good time. Make sure you know how long it will take you get to the venue, how long it will take to park, unload, and set up. It always takes longer than you think to set up your stall. Be set up properly by the time the fair opens to the public.
A friendly fair is a happy fair. Get to know your neighbouring stalls. Some of us have made life long friends that way, but even if you don’t, you can help each other out on the day, and it will make the day go much more pleasantly.
The Take Down
Most fair organisers will want you to clear up as quickly as possible. At our venue, the HEART Centre in Headingley, we are always aware that they are likely to have an evening booking for the space and need to set up for that, so we ask people to be out of there as soon as they can. But that doesn’t mean you can start dissembling your stall before the end. Lots of fair organisers will have that as part of their Terms. It’s not fair on other stallholders if people are packing up before the end because it makes the fair look like it’s closing up. And hey, sometimes your best sales come 2 minute before end of play!
Sometimes it’s really hard not to get downhearted when you’ve sold nothing, or it’s been wet and cold and miserable. And especially when you first start out, there’s bound to be some fairs that just don’t work for you. But on the plus side:
- You have met some interesting people – perhaps your future best friends even – in the other stallholders
- You have shared information about other fairs, ideas about stockists, advice about marketing with other stallholders
- You’ve honed your stall design
- You’ve discovered what doesn’t work and what not to do next time
- You’ve chatted to some people who might come back to you another time
Don’t underestimate how important getting yourself out there is. Meeting and chatting with other artists and crafters can be just the tonic after months of working away in your studio. And don’t forget, not every fair will be for everyone. You can only really learn which ones work for you and your products when you’ve been out there and had a few flops. (To find out more about how to pick the right fair for you, read this.)
“The worst fair I ever did was also the best. Only three customers walked through the door all day, and I sold one item – to the fair organiser! But, I had a really lovely chat with my neighbour, was introduced to the regional network of designer-makers, which was the thing that kept me going in those early days, and was invited to sell in a pop-up shop, which was highly successful. And that stallholder I chatted to, became and 10 years on still is, one of my best friends. It’s not always about the money in your pocket at the end of the day.”
Well, first things first, remember having a stall is really exhausting, so give yourself a break. To be honest, I skip the celebratory beer and head straight for bed, but hopefully you have more stamina than me!
Once you’ve had time to rest and unpack, you can start evaluating how the fair went. With any luck you will have kept stock of what you’ve sold, which will not only give you an idea of what needs restocking, but also what products and price points work for that particular fair: very valuable information. You should also be able to work out from your takings, minus costs of production and stall, whether you earned enough to make you want to do that fair again. Though it’s not always clearcut : some people sell much better in the winter than they do in the summer and vice versa, for instance. You might see your summer stall as marketing for your winter stall for instance, and the profit isn’t that important.
As soon as possible, make sure you follow up on any customers you promised to send information to, any fellow stallholders you promised to keep in touch with. You should also take stock of all the learning you’ve done. If you’re new to craft fairs it might be a good idea to jot down ideas you’ve had or advice you’ve been given about future stall design or products, or available training, or services.
Remember to have fun!
Lots of people just sell on line these days: through Instagram or Etsy for example. It’s often seen as more hassle than it’s worth to do fairs. But don’t underestimate the value of real life events. Customers like connecting with artists and makers, they like seeing the products ‘in the flesh’. And you just can’t put a value on the support and advice and skills sharing and companionship you get from other stallholders. And they can be a lot of fun too.