A selection of photos from the Handmade Fair 2016 at Hampton Court
Events & Fairs

The Handmade Fair 2016: thoughts and reflections

Well, it’s a week now since we were stood on our stand at the Handmade Fair at Hampton Court. I’m sure, like us, there will be many small craft businesses considering whether exhibiting at the Fair next year is a good thing for their business.  We’ve seen a few write ups from other stallholders (including this great one from Jes Hooper), and thought we’d share our experiences to help those that are thinking about exhibiting work out whether it’s the right thing for them.

Firstly, let’s talk about the cost.

Skelter was only just over a year old when we made the decision to exhibit. Like all small businesses, cashflow is king and the amount of money we’ve invested in the Fair is not insignificant. We opted to pay for a mid-size stand (2m x 2.5m) in what we hoped would be a prime spot in the corner of the Shopping Village East Marquee.  We were visible from both directions and, with hindsight, it did seem to mean we had a lot of visitors on the stand during the busiest periods each day.  The stand cost us over a thousand pounds, and then, as Jes has said in her article, there were some hidden extras to pay for including, in our case, wifi and the painting of two walls of our stand.  The total cost for these extras was nearly £200.  We opted not to pay for power, relying instead on battery packs to recharge phones and the equipment we needed to take card payments.

Having exhibited at large shows of varying types with other businesses over the years, whilst the cost was quite steep for us as a small business, we also appreciate that the organisers will have had to pay several contractors to provide the wifi, power and all of the components of the marquee.  To this extent, we felt the stand was quite reasonably priced – even with the extras – (some exhibitions would have charged several times more per square metre), even though for a small business in only its second year, finding the money was a challenge.

Skelter's Handmade Fair 2016 stand in Shopping Village East

Skelter’s Handmade Fair 2016 stand in Shopping Village East

Having only previously exhibited at relatively informal local craft fairs, we also needed to buy some things to make our stand.  Once you take into account the timber, shelves, paint, signage and other bits and pieces we bought or made ourselves, we probably spent somewhere in the region of £250 out to kit our stand out.

As well as the stand price, given we travelled up from Devon, we also needed to find accommodation, pay for the fuel to get there and then feed ourselves each evening.  We found a cheap hotel which Sir Lenny Henry promised us a good night’s sleep in and then found decent places to eat each evening.  However, even with the two of us sharing a room and eating sensibly, we spent nearly £350 on accommodation and food and a further £70 on fuel.

So, all in all, the cost of just getting to the fair, setting up the stand and then staying for three days comes to around £2,000.

On top of the financial outlay, the other (and probably most important) consideration for a small business was the time it took to get all the stock ready for the fair. Many of our products, like our Family Trees and Name Frames, are personalised, so we could only make samples of these, but the unpersonalised items which Katie makes all needed creating in more significant quantities than we’d ever made before.  In this respect, a key piece of advice we would give anyone thinking of exhibiting next year is to commit early and don’t try and cram all the creation of stock items into the last month before the show.  Poor Katie was working all day and all night, and our children barely saw her all through the summer holidays as a result. She’s still exhausted now, a week after the show.

However, thanks to all her efforts, we arrived at the Fair fully prepared and (other than having to hastily make a little bit more stock of one item in the hotel room the night before the Fair), we were all set up and ready to open at 9am on the first day.

So, how did we do?  Was all that effort and money spent worth it?

Well, yes and no, would be our answer at this stage.  We knew that it was unlikely we would make a direct profit from the Fair.  To do so would have required us to sell a lot of stock, so we set out with four ‘success measurements’ for the Fair.  They were as follows:

1. To sell as much stock as possible and take orders for personalised items at the show

How did we do on this one?  Well, so-so.  We took enough money at the show to just about cover the cost of the stand itself.  Once you factor in the cost of creating the stock, however, it’s not great.  Are we up or down on the total investment at this stage?  Definitely down.  We had assumed the Fair would be attended by more people looking to buy finished products than it was.  There were a good number of people who were interested in buying, but we had a lot of people looking to make their own crafts who were browsing our stand uttering the fateful words “oh, I’ve made those” or “that’s nice and simple, we should do that”.   We knew that we’d have to endure a bit of that sort of feedback, but it was quite demoralising to hear people were blatantly stealing our designs.

2. To make sure as many people as possible had Skelter products in their minds running into the peak pre-Christmas period

The verdict: This one was a big success.  Over the course of the Fair, we handed out nearly a thousand leaflets featuring Katie’s products and had a lot of conversations with people considering buying personalised items before Christmas.  We’ve already had a few follow up orders on our website, so we’re hopeful that the second most obvious way of recouping our investment (follow up orders) will turn our ‘loss’ into a profit over the course of the next few months.

3. To build our mailing list and social media following

The verdict: a raging success.  We ran a competition on our stand (How Many Buttons Are In Our Jar?) and took over 350 entries.  Of these entries, over two thirds have opted to receive further emails from us, so whilst we won’t abuse the list, it does allow us to start build relationships with potential customers who otherwise wouldn’t have heard from us.  All of our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) have also seen increases in the number of followers too.  This is the ‘long-term’ value of the show, which we hope will benefit the business over the months and years ahead.

4. To open up other business opportunities

The verdict: the most successful of all the measurements.  Nothing sparks ideas like speaking to other people and getting their thoughts on your designs.  As well as loads of great contacts we made with other crafters and the positive comments on our products (which is great for the soul and incredibly motivating!), we’ve come away from the fair with two really key suggestions that could launch the next phase of Skelter’s business.  The ideas could take us into areas we’re unfamiliar with, but thanks to some of the other stallholders at the fair being so generous in sharing with us their experiences, advice and guidance, we’re already starting to work out how we set ourselves up to take advantage of these opportunities.  We won’t say more at this stage, but needless to say, watch this space!

So, in summary, if you’re considering exhibiting at the Fair next year, we would say:

  • Make sure you can afford it. It isn’t cheap and you won’t necessarily make your money back over the three days at the Fair.  In fact, it’s highly likely you won’t.
  • Consider how else the Fair could benefit your business.  Having your business seen by over 15,000 people isn’t to be sniffed at, but you need to be prepared before you go to capture their details and and have a plan in place to convert them from interested passer-by to customer. This sounds horribly commercial, but a craft business is just like any other small business and being able to promote yourself is crucial.
  • Be receptive to ideas. The audience at the Fair wasn’t quite what we expected, but even so, our eyes were opened to a world of possibilities we hadn’t previously even thought of.  An open-minded approach to adapting what you’re doing is crucial.
  • Be prepared to put in the hours. We know that the fair wouldn’t have been as successful for us as it was without all the hard work which Katie put in over the month before the Fair. It will be tough, it will emotional and you will want to give up at times, but keep going – it will be worth it.
  • And, finally, don’t expect Kirstie Allsopp to visit your stand.  We did (and so did every other stallholder we spoke to), but with over 300 stallholders in the two Shopping Villages alone, there was no way she was going to have the time to come and see everyone.  A lot of stallholders felt a little deflated by this, but with hindsight, it was naive of us to think she would be able to speak to every single one of us individually.

So, that’s our take on the Handmade Fair.  We’re going to spend a bit of quality time with the kids now – they need their parents back!  Fingers crossed, we’ll see some more orders roll in over the next few weeks with people following up after the Fair.  We’ve already provisionally booked for next year… whether we make the final commitment to that booking, will depend very much on how the order books are looking by then.

Oh, and P.S: Don’t sign up to exhibit at the Fair whilst you’re also renovating a house in Devon. It adds just a little bit too much additional stress to life! 🙂