Monday, 21 November 2011

Why I'm not doing any more fairs

This might sound like a melodramatic announcement, but part of why I'm making a concious decision on this, and writing about it on my blog, is because I might forget that I made this decision, and book another fair, and then get annoyed.

I started doing craft fairs about 2 and a half years ago. I did a small craft fair at a church selling paintings. I did this fair to get me out of the house and see what people not in my group of friends and family thought to my paintings. I sold 3, got my photo in the paper, and got myself a stockist. The more I did, the more I realised this was not a normal occurrence, and I also needed smaller stuff to sell on stalls.

Getting more stockists, I realised % of sales given to different stockists differs wildly, from 10% to 70% just in the Yorkshire area. This means if you start stocking in other people's shops, you have to have a wholesale price which allows you to still  make a profit at whichever % the shop charges.

As I got less and less naive about business, it seemed the difference between  hobbyists selling their stuff at craft fairs, and wanting to sell your crafts as a business, is also a massively wide gap. I've done too many fairs which turn out to be glorified car boot sales, and people don't want to spend more than a quid on something.

What I'm trying to say is that most people selling at craft fairs who don't do it as a business sell their items basically at wholesale price to customers. I know I was before I started being stocked elsewhere. Something I could sell at a craft fair for £5 and make a profit needed to be sold at £10 in a shop.

So then you open your own shop, and you stock your own stuff as well as other people's. It took me a couple of months to realise that you have to sell your item not at the wholesale price, but as if you were being stocked elsewhere. Having a shop has overheads you wouldn't believe (unless you've opened one yourself of course).

I haven't done a fair for a while, because of time constraints, in some cases because I'm a dope and have forgotten it's on or forgotten to buy petrol, or in a couple of cases had a migraine. The last event I did I shared a table at a Vintage Fair with two other people; the table cost £45 for the day, and people were being charged £3 to get in. Consequently it was ill attended, I lost money (and I got a speeding ticket on the way home). Despite this, I knew I had to get back into events for Christmas because it's good promotion for the shop.

Yesterday I went to Glasshoughton to do the 'Xmas Craft Fair'. It was superbly organised to the last detail, and I have no complaints about the organisation (particularly as it was the lady's first fair), or about the centre, which was clean, friendly and had ample parking. It was well publicised, free for the public, and busy constantly.

So, why am I grumbling?

Recently, due to the economy no doubt, people have been setting up their own businesses from home left, right and centre. This is awesome, and I applaud them for it. Top culprits are Avon, Usbourne Books, Phoenix Cards, Partylite Candles and women who somehow manage to get themselves a Country Baskets card. I have nothing against any of these obviously - my issue is that they are NOT crafts.

I've been to a few fairs where one or two of these have shown up. Sometimes it's been billed as a craft fair, and I'm annoyed with the organiser, but it seems more normal now to advertise things as 'markets' or just 'fairs' without any prefix. For example, last summer I did 4 out of 5 of the Pannier Markets at which an occasional Phoenix or CB woman turned up, but due to the large area of space, and the naming of the event as a 'market', it wasn't a big deal.

Yesterday's event was a bit of a last straw moment. There were three rooms of stalls. One room was small, dark, and had 4 or 5 stalls, all of which were handmade crafts - I know because I talked to them. The cafe also had some stalls in it - I didn't get to see all of them, but they looked pretty much crafty. My room, which had about 15 stalls, had the following in it
- Avon
- Partylite
- someone selling some sort of slimming meal (I don't know what it involved, because she offended me by suggesting when I walked past holding a mince pie that I could be eating something more healthy, no doubt meaning her sawdust gloop)
- someone selling children's books and toys they'd bought in
- someone selling sweets they'd bought in
- someone selling aftershave they'd bought in

I'd been very careful to select items which I'd made by hand due to the name of the fair. I also wanted to sell everything at the same price as I sell in the shop, because I've learnt about pricing my items properly, perceived value, and the fact that customers aren't stupid.

After a few minutes, it was easy to see I wasn't going to sell anything. The centre is a kind of local community meeting place, and everyone was looking for small, cheap items they could allow their children to buy after they'd been to the Santa's Grotto. I shuffled things around, and found a few things I could afford to make £1 (baskets full of stuff for £1 seem to work well when children are involved).

There were a couple of good things about the fair. As I said, the organisation was good, there was a very sweet bunch of old ladies who meet at the centre for a knitting group who were selling their hand knitted toys and stuff, and two amazing chefs with a big load of pickles.

But all in all, it was a bad event for me. Everyone wanted to buy sweets, and as the children were the main customer the lady next door with books and toys did a roaring trade. Good for her, and for the pickle chefs who ran out of their jars of lovely jams. At the end of the day, it wasn't a craft fair. No one else seemed to have made their own stuff, and anyone that had was selling them at a very low price (as I was 2 and a half years ago) because it was their hobby.

This makes me sound really arrogant - but I'm really not trying to be. It was disheartening not being able to sell a necklace for £3 to someone who was trying to barter me down to a quid, when I've had no problem selling the same necklace for £5 in the shop. If it wasn't for the stand of earrings at £1 a pair (only priced as such because I've had them for a while) I wouldn't have sold anything.

So I have an evening event in December at a burlesque night, which I'm going to attend because it's going to be a good show, and then a three day fair at an art gallery in Leeds - after that, I'm not doing any more. I'll keep my shop as my base, continue to meet the public in there, whilst using it as a kind of studio base as well. Fingers crossed I won't regret this.


  1. Brave decision, Chloe, and I applaud you for it. As someone who regularly trades at events, the number that are advertised as 'craft' and have non-craft non-handmade stalls, makes my blood boil and ensures that I won't be booking with that organiser again. Like yourself, I have no objection to those who set themself up in these kind of businesses but to allow them to trade at a craft fair? It devalues the title in the eyes of the visitors and gives them a very poor impression of what the whole handmade/handcrafted market is about. I'm seriously cutting down on the number of events I book next year and targetting quite carefully those who endeavour to have content that matches the title. Makes sense to me!

  2. I find this post so interesting! I'm getting up the guts to sell. I don't want it to be my hobby anymore I want it to be what I do. Period. I just really, really don't know what to price things at. Is there some sort of system? At the moment I've sold two canvasses - I couldn't price them so hold them up to OH (who is money grasping, cold, cynical self-employed so and so - much as I love 'im!) He asks what materials cost and then gives me a figure to charge. I don't know why I feel guilty putting a price on things but I do.

    Never realised those other companies did fairs (never done one myself) I thought they were just house parties.

    Really interesting read Chloe.

  3. I couldn't agree more. I just had this same conversation with someone on Friday, about how hard it is to sell at craft markets if you're trying to make a living from it and charge a price that gives you even a tiny bit of profit. I always have people asking for discounts, and one lady even bought a lollipop from me last time, only gave me half the price (it wasn't even for sale, it was a prop and I let her son buy it so he didn't get upset). She said she'd come back with the rest of the money later. Obviously I never saw her again.

    Having said that. I've been very lucky with most of the fairs I've done so far, and the quality of the other stall holders has generally been quite amazing and inspiring. I'm determined not to be demoralised, and treat each fair as a chance to show people what I'm making. But if it's billed as a vintage or craft market, that's what it should be.

    You are such an amazing person, and the way you treat the makers who sell their things through you is a real inspiration. I wish there were more people out there like you.

  4. I only attend craft fairs as a customer and entirely agree with you. And on pricing, people forget you've put your time into your products as well as materials and that has a value too. Good Luck to you.

  5. stayontheground31 March 2012 at 05:07

    Hi, I completely agree with you, I'm a ceramic sculptor and have been visting craft fairs as a customer and a one time seller (I'm not sure how it works now, do they still ask you to send photos of your work so they can decide whether or not you warrant a stall? Cna't imagine how that works with non handmade stuff) on and off for 20 years. I feel really annoyed when I travel to a craft fair only to discover that a lot of the stuff is NOT hand made. It's not arrogant to assume that craft means hand made at all. I've noticed that lately they've described themselves as craft, collectors and gift fairs. I can't even be bothered to get in my car as I know it will just be car boot crap or baskets of perfume of pasta. It's not cheap to rent a stall in a big fair so they get the bulk of their money from the 'bought in' sellers. Not right!