So how do you start to plan for your first large craft show? It can seem like quite a daunting task. We just got back from our very first large craft fair – Kirstie’s Handmade Fair in Manchester. Here’s how we planned for it and what we learned from it.
In order to do this, you need to know how much money you have available to you to use for this big adventure. Bear in mind that your stand price might not include things which you consider given or even things you haven’t considered at all – things like VAT, electric, parking, use of a trolley while building / breaking down, on-site storage and wifi. You also need to think about what other creature comforts you’ll need – transport, hotel, breakfast, lunch, dinner, (wine). Only when you have your budget in front of you can you make meaningful decisions on the rest of the things you need to plan for!
Something we learnt is that, before you commit to an event, ask yourself and research the answers to the following questions:
- What percentage of the audience of this event are likely to be interested in my product?
- How many people are the organisers expecting?
- What are advance ticket sales like?
- Is there anything happening nearby which may detract from the audience for this event or even nationally (e.g. big sporting events)
- Is the event on or around payday weekend?
- Are there any similar offerings at the event?
- How has the event been advertised nationally, and more important, locally?
We knew we didn’t want a cloth covered table with our products on it. These shows are expensive to exhibit at and we wanted to be different – to look like we meant business, to showcase our products. Our first planning session involved coming up with as many ideas as possible, drawn in a square which represented the minuscule amount of space we could afford. We didn’t stop as soon as we’d hit one we liked, we carried on, until we were exhausted. We had about 20 to choose from. We picked one and then put it to the back of our minds for a while so when we came to discuss it in detail we’d had the chance to form some ideas. And when you’ve decided on your design, set it up at home as a test run – it will give you a chance to see if you’re happy with it and you’ll be quicker on the day because you will have ironed out the wrinkles. If you have walls around your stall, be sure to check how high they are and make use of this space.
Next up, planning your stock levels. When we thought about this, we had no idea how much we should take or of which type of our kits. We stared at a blank piece of paper many times, we approached the puzzle several different ways and yet still both pairs of shoulders were shrugged. In the end, we planned to take as much stock as we could afford to – some of each design and some spares which could be made up in our hotel room if we became an overnight sensation. You may already have online sales or feedback from research that will help guide you but if not, try and plan a few different scenarios based on what you think you’ll need and adjust if necessary according to your budget.
Possibly the most useful planning tool we used, was a ‘desktop walkthrough’ from beginning to end. Imagine getting to the venue – what do you need? Setting up – what do you need? Making a sale – what do you need? And so on. Role play each situation, if that’s your style. This helped us to prepare a thorough packing list, which we used to check off as each item went into the van.
The following are good questions to help with some of your planning:
How will I take and store cash / card payments?
How will I be able to keep my stock secure and prevent theft?
Can I carry everything and build this stand by myself?
How much product do I need to take?
How will I keep track of what I’ve sold?
What extras do I need (think bags for sales, business cards, uniforms etc)?
What can I assemble or consolidate before I leave, so I have less to carry and less waste/packaging to dispose of at the venue?
What can I take with me that reduces my costs when I’m there (e.g. bottles of water, lunch)?
As well as terms and conditions, which are dull but important, make sure you read anything you can get your hands on about the event. The event’s public website is a good starting point. Their social media channels too – interaction on here can be considered free advertising to the audience which is interested in the event.
As the event gets nearer, you’ll probably be asked to provide various pieces of information. Don’t ignore this, it can be helpful with your detailed planning – there may be things which you haven’t thought of. For example, when we found out that trolley hire would cost £40, we bought wheels to put on our display shelves and turned them into trolleys. You’ll probably be asked to provide a risk assessment for your stand, evidence of your insurance and other information regarding whether you’ll be using any food or drink sampling on your stand.
You’ll get instructions about when and where to unload and how much time you will have to do this. It probably won’t be very long! It will help you think about how you pack things, to make it as easy as impossible when you get to the venue.
It’s not all health and safety and other boring stuff though. Read all the emails the event organisers send you. We got the opportunity to send out 100 press packs to people on the organiser’s PR list. We don’t know who they were, but they now know who we are! There’s also likely to be a programme which you can add your details into and there may well be other opportunities that are of interest to you.
Make other people’s jobs as easy as possible
This is a no brainer. Make it as easy as possible to work with you. Then people will want to do it again. If you’re asked to provide information – provide it. If you’re sharing a stand – get in touch and say hi to the people you’re sharing with beforehand. If you’ve read what’s required of you, do as asked. If you say you’ll do something – do it. You’d be surprised at how many dividends this can pay. When you get to the venue, be awesome to the other people doing their jobs and trying to help everyone – you never know when you’ll need a friendly face during the event.
Use other people’s PR as much as possible
If you’re like us and a start-up business, you’ll probably have little or no marketing and PR budget. Large event organisers, on the other hand, have a much bigger budget and many more dedicated resources.
Tapping into their social media stream is a great free way to start. Find out if there’s an opportunity to provide press packs / VIP goody bag inserts. See if their PR company would be interested in a story and then write one, focussing on the things that make your product, business or story unique – this is a great exercise for future PR anyway.
Don’t assume that sales are your only success
As part of your planning process, imagine what it would be like if you made zero sales at the event. Yes, you’d be pretty devastated, but it could happen, so it’s important to have a Plan B to sustain you, just in case.
What else could you take away with you? A more developed sales patter, sign ups to your newsletter, new social media follows, feedback on your products and ideas as to why they aren’t selling, information about what does sell?
All of these things can be considered of value to your business, but only if you’re prepared in advance to recognise them when they are in front of you. And bear in mind that if you have targets other than sales, these may affect what you have to take with you, such as a way to capture email addresses, so consider this in your planning walkthrough.
Think about why you’d buy your product and develop your sales patter
This was perhaps our most under-researched and under-practised area! However, as the day goes on, it gets easier. We told a bit of the story of our business, we showed the product in action (demonstrating your product is a great way to get people to see how it could work for them or someone they know), we unboxed a couple of our kits, so that potential customers could see what’s inside, we spoke about what we liked about the product, about why it would make a good gift (our event was Christmas themed). We listened to questions and developed what we told people accordingly. We wish we’d thought about it before we stepped in front of our stand on the first day though!
Prepare to be tired
There’s a lot of work involved in the run up to an event, preparing your stock, the building of a stall and then the event itself. Don’t underestimate how tired you’ll be. Take comfy shoes to start with and slippers for afterwards. Bring a hot water bottle – venues can be really cold, and they’ll also help with an aching back, if you’ve been stood up for a long time. Maybe wear thermals if you can’t bear being cold. Try not to arrange to meet people after the event – you’ll need your downtime. We took a coolbox with wine to our hotel room, so we knew we’d have a little treat to help us unwind at the end of the day! It helps to have two of you, so that you can just grab a sit down a few times during the day, so if you’re on your own, try and rope in a friend who knows you and your business and, even better, can sell you and your products.
Collect feedback as it happens
We took postcards and wrote ideas down on them as they occurred to us and recorded useful feedback when we received it. Going through those has provided some of the content for this article and we’ve also got product feedback – so it really can be anything that you write down.
Give feedback when requested
After the event, you’ll get asked for feedback by the organisers. Give the feedback. Be honest, but not in just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ kind of way. Try to give as much helpful information as you can and pass on ideas about how things could be different / better. After all, if someone told you ‘No’, in response to your question ‘Do you like my product?’, wouldn’t you like to know why, so that you might have a chance of getting that sale another time?
We hope this has been helpful to you – we’d love to hear any more hints and tips in the comments area – we’re still beginners!