Hi, welcome to my blog. As a small hand crafted business it is important that I 'get out there' so people can see what I do and as a business give people an opportunity to buy from me. I have attended quite a few craft fairs and markets over the years selling a variety of things. I once had a bricks and mortar shop and I would sell stock I had bought in for the shop at craft fairs but I have sold many different styles of handmade objects too. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how craft fairs work from both the point of view of the stall holder and that of a visitor and why they are important to both.
As a visitor of craft fairs what is it I want to see? I like to see a variety of stalls selling quality items that I may not necessarily be able to buy in high street shops. I like pretty, nice to have objects for myself or to give as a gift to a friend. I also like to see practical items I can use like bags and candles. I like to buy food and drink which I can take home and have later as a treat. I like to see well laid out stalls which make it easy for me to look round and decipher what is for sale (sometimes I find it is hard to work out what is display and what is for sale). I’m looking for unique objects which I can’t find elsewhere that I can tell my friends about. ‘I went to this craft fair and found this wonderful stall that sold handmade candles which were so beautiful I had to buy one’.
My outlook and attitude to craft fairs has changed a lot since I first started. As a artisan maker myself I personally am not looking for bought in objects sold cheaply. This is a huge change from my early days where I could have been accused of that with items from my own shop. I don't mind if there is an element of up-cycling or adornment to change the object but to me to buy something online to sell it at a craft fair is not a craft. I will make a little exception for boutique shop owners though. Their goods are not often cheap because they have shop overheads to consider, and if they are using the event to attract customers to their shop, (as long as they are not selling items which could be hand crafted by a fellow stall holder) I am happy to look at what they have. It could also be an opportunity for them to connect to crafters and to look for handmade items to sell in their boutique. Its an advantage to be able to look at lots of products first hand in one place.
I feel very sorry for the crafter who has bought their wool, spent a couple of hours hand knitting a scarf to find that the stall two bays down is selling bought in woolly scarves from China for a fraction of the price it cost them for the wool to make theirs!
There is a place for bought in goods but craft fairs are not always it. Crafters work on very tight margins and many do not pay themselves a decent hourly wage, although this is their main occupation. They often think, as do I sometimes, no one will buy that if I charge for my time at minimum wage but I want someone to buy it so I'll work it out at £4 an hour. Who works for £4 an hour or less - no one should. By having cheap bought in goods at craft events brings down the value of the work of genuine artisans and makers which is unfair. It also gives the impression to the general public if things are cheap anyone could do it, it can't take long to do and there is very little skill involved which is not true. It is a very hard balance and when someone has found the secret formula will they please let me know.
When I attend a craft event as a visitor I am looking for a nice happy experience of discovery and joy, unique items which I cannot find on the high street or local town market and a visual delight that I can talk to my friends about. What do you look for?
As a small artisan business it is hard to get noticed in the big wide world. I have a website, I’m on social media but unless people know I am there how do they find me? My products are quite unique and Googling may not find me, I mean would you search for ‘hanging china mosaic flower’ when looking for a gift? In fact would you search ‘mosaic’ anything when looking for a gift? That’s the problem I have, the objects I create are so beautiful and people love them when they see them but wouldn’t necessarily search that specifically on the net.
By going to craft fairs I have the chance to talk to people one to one. Lots of times people stop and look at my stall because my items are so pretty. When they stop I explain a bit about them and how they are created using recycled old china cups and saucers. They then see my products in a different light and look a lot more closely, pick them up and touch them to feel the texture. This engagement is perfect and I love the look of surprise and wonderment as they take a second closer look. I believe this interaction adds value to my creations as people begin to realise that each ‘tile’ has been cut, shaped, stuck, grouted and polished by hand. They can see that even the smallest object on the stall must have taken hours of work and skill. Whilst talking I often take the opportunity to hand them a flyer and ask people to follow me on social media, take a look at my website and even sign up to my newsletter. Only a few people actually do but I know the ones who do love my creations and would like to see more. I also know that although they may not buy from me on this occasion they are aware of what I do so may well purchase a gift from my website in the future. Even if someone doesn’t follow me straight away after seeing China Petals at a craft fair they are aware that china mosaic is beautiful and may well Google it in future when looking for a special gift for someone.
In summery I have discovered that craft fairs are an important and integral part of my business. It gives me a platform to talk to people which I need and without I would remain a tiny, tiny fish in a huge ocean. I have booked a few more craft fairs this year because of this and see them as not only an opportunity to sell but to advertise and promote what I do. For the cost of a Facebook Ad I know that I am reaching the right demographic and people who are interested in me and my creations.
Next time you are at a craft fair don't be afraid to talk to the stall holders. For them the fair is not just about having an opportunity to sell; they are so much more. You can learn more about what they do, what it takes to create what you see and generally they are all too happy to chat. Of course if you do decide to buy it would make them very happy and inside they will be doing a special crafters happy dance. They know that someone else loves what they do as much as them and all the hard work is worth it.