For the past few years me and my mum have had a little tradition of visiting the Country Living Christmas Fair in Harrogate. It's a lovely way to spend time together, get in the festive mood and hopefully pick up some presents for the family. This year it'll be slightly different as, although we'll both be going to the fair, I'll actually be exhibiting at it. EEK!
The Country Living Christmas Fairs are big events, the Harrogate one is over four days from the 3rd to the 6th of December and attracts a lot of visitors, I know this as I've been! It's going to take a lot of work to prepare for it and is going to be very different to the two previous, much smaller events I've exhibited at but I'm pretty sure what I learnt from those will definitely be applicable for this fair too...
I'd advise prepping for a fair as soon as you sign up to one! It's always better to be ready with time to spare than feel under pressure and rushed towards the deadline. The first fair I exhibited at was the Stonyhurst Food Festival in May, I'd just finished prototyping my Contoured Coasters and wanted them ready to sell at the fair but as I'd only prototyped I didn't realise how long it would take to make lots of them. The result was me and the fella spending the entire four day Easter weekend in the garage frantically making coasters! With that in mind I'm going to start making my products for this one soon! As well as making the stock there's also the actual look of my stand to prep for...
Make it look good
How your stand looks is important. Although you can obviously still sell a good product from a plain looking stand, potential customers may miss your stand entirely if drawn to a more interesting display nearby. At big fairs visitors can be overwhelmed by everything on offer, so try to grab their attention with a striking stand! I'd also recommend having prices clearly on display as more reserved customers may not like to strike up a conversation to find out a price, or could even just assume it's not in their budget and you could lose a sale. If you're stuck for display ideas hit up Pinterest as there's so much inspiration (for everything!) on there.
With the Stonyhurst Fair my display budget was small and we weren't able to do too much with the shell. Still, rather than go with the obvious white tablecloth I picked a vintage camping fabric topped with fake grass as it fit well with my brand and made my table look different to surrounding ones. I also made a large laser cut sign so visitors could clearly see the name of my business.
At The Country Living fairs you're allowed to paint the shell and drill into it so I'm going to have a lot of fun deciding how it's going to look!
It's not all about the sales
Obviously sales are awesome. But to avoid potential disappointment I like to see fairs as a marketing opportunity with sales being a bonus! You can never predict how much you'll sell but what you can definitely do is let visitors know you exist! And I don't mean just by turning up, but more so by engaging interested visitors by telling them about your business, making sure you take plenty of business cards and by having a mailing list to sign up to. I had a competition running at my first fair that people could enter by signing up to the mailing list, I got over 100 emails by the end of the event, that's 100 people that will be reminded of my products whenever I send a newsletter. That's another important fact to remember about fairs too, some people may not buy from you on the day but it doesn't mean they won't buy from you in the future... that's why business cards and mailing lists are so important!
Another thing I really love about fairs is getting to hear firsthand the reaction to your products. When selling online you don't really know what people think when they come across your products, and furthermore it's hard for online shoppers to really know your product without being able to pick it up and see it 'in real life'. I received some awesome feedback on my coasters and it really made me believe that I am on to a good product and with the right marketing and effort I could really make this venture work!
The first morning of my very first fair I was greeted by a grumpy fellow seller at my stall who didn't even say hello and instead moaned about how there weren't many stalls and she wasn't going to come back and exhibit at that fair again. And that was before the doors had even opened! With that attitude you'd be extremely lucky to do well!
I totally believe that your business isn't just about your products, it's about you as the creator too and it's why I try and be bloody lovely to everybody that not only buys something from me, but simply anybody that takes an interest in what I'm doing. I'll admit I was really nervous about talking to customers as I've struggled with confidence in previous sales roles but I actually found myself talking to lots of people, even my fella said he was surprised at how well I was doing! I came to the realisation that I've struggled in the past as I was selling other people's products (some, admittedly, that I wouldn't buy myself). Chatting about my own work was easy as there was no sales pitch to learn, I've designed the products and made them so I already know them inside out. I personally hate sales pitches too so there was none of that, I just smiled a lot, was friendly to everybody and if someone was interested I explained more about the process.
So that's what I've learnt so far but I know I'll learn so much more at the next fair! I have no idea what to expect and it's especially hard knowing how much stock to take. Anybody that's exhibited at a fair of a similar size feel free to leave me any advice you have please!