As you may know, last weekend was the third year of Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Fair, and my first year of exhibiting there. The complexities of such a large show, from the logistics of travel, setting up a bespoke exhibition stand, working within budgets, to building up enough stock, months of self-promotion, and long hours, were far removed from my usual craft-fair experience. As a new artist in my sixth month of trading, I really could have used some friendly but realistic advice before signing a contract for what essentially is a corporate gig.

I’ve therefore decided to share with you my honest experience, the good and the bad, with the hope that this may be useful for someone considering their first large show, whether it it be the Handmade Fair or another.

 

 

Why to be cautious:

 

Let’s start from the beginning: Being invited to exhibit.

Personally, I was jumping for joy when I received an email from the Handmade Fair’s promotional team who had found my work online and had hand-selected me to exhibit. At the time, I had gone self-employed just one month prior, and I was thrilled that someone would find my work at all, let alone invite me to partake in a huge event. Yes it is lovely to be approached and offered opportunities, but don’t let it cloud your judgement as to whether it is the right time to commit to a large event and steep financial costs…

Handmade-Fair

Expensive stall holder fees:

For the smallest exhibition space, 1.5m by 1.5m, I paid £522.00 + VAT (£650). For anything over 2m I would be charged over a grand. I thought it would be good for me and my business to take the opportunity to partake in a celebrity-endorsed handmade show, but I also thought I was being sensible by opting for the smallest space at the smallest cost. I was very upset to find that the event would actually cost me a lot more….

Hidden Fees:

After I had paid my last monthly installment of £250.00, I received an email with a link to the “exhibitors manual”.  I naively thought this was going to be full of information about vehicle access, loading times, and exhibitor passes. Instead, it was a huge list of documents for “additional extras”. This included a laughable cost of over £100 for ONE PLUG SOCKET, and £55 for the wi-fi code. £55 for the wi-fi code?!?!

I had to have electricity, I personalise my wooden gifts which is how I get most of my customers. I needed wi-fi to run my card machine. 16,000 people plus exhibitors trying to access 4G did not seem reliable, and for £650 for less than 2m I expected internet access at the very least. At no point in the months of communications leading up to the event were these fees even mentioned. I asked if I could have electricity, and they said yes. Not “yes but it will be charged”, just “yes”. Suddenly, the costs of the show started creeping up to almost £1000, costs that either resulted in me withdrawing and losing £650 OR I had to keep plowing in money to try and make it worth it. The only way I could minimize my expenses was to commute the 1.5 hours to and from the event, adding 3 hours onto already long demanding days. So that’s what we did, and it almost killed me.

 

Long days:

It is always tough to put yourself out there, but three consecutive days of selling was really tiring. On the saturday evening I came down with a migraine that knocked me for six, and getting up at 6am to do it all again the next day was really hard. I just wanted half an hour to sit with my partner for lunch, but we always had to have one of us at the stand. It was difficult being surrounded by thousands of people, I missed my quiet studio with my dog on the farm.

 

Advertising:

One of the deal breakers for me, when I initially agreed to exhibit, was the promotion of the event and the guarantee of thousands of visitors. What I didn’t realise is that the entire event was advertised to people who wanted to “try out new crafts” or “have a go”. The first day was really bizarre because so many people were asking me how I create my artwork, how much my tools cost, and why I was charging for something they could do at home. Err…excuse me? It was only when we were issued a copy of the event magazine that I realised why. There was a two double-page spread about pyrography, with the tag line “doodling on wood”, cute right? Immediately the pyrography art form was trivialised and my skills were disregarded. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of insult when my work was compared to that of the work in the magazine-it was really really really bad pyrography.

On the flip side though, those people who had tried their hand at pyrography really appreciated the time, skill, and dedication that has gone into all my work. Plus, those who took a genuine interest in the artform, were delightful to speak with. I am all for sharing tips and advice, but only if you’re nice to me-not if you insult my work.

My advice, make sure you really research the promotion of a large event before taking part. At the end of the day, big shows are corporate events that are designed to make the organisers money, not you. I understand this, but I do think that the lack of transparency in hidden fees, and disregard to how show material would impact exhibitors trade, was immoral.

 

Poor Ethics:

Despite my advice above, no amount of research into the Handmade fair would have prepared me for the biggest thing of note at this event: the high number of imported goods. This was meant to be a craft fair celebrating British Craft, or at the very least HANDMADE. We found heaps of imported jewelry selling for a fraction of the price of the handmade exhibitors, we found ornaments “handmade in china”…really?! And the icing on the cake for me, was the “handmade here in Britain….in our factory”. What?! Not exactly what we signed up for.

 
imported goods

The positives:

Networking:

A huge positive for me was the opportunity to meet many other exhibitors, and veterans of large shows. The advice and the friendships I made were invaluable, and it was incredibly humbling to be a part of the handmade community. I was given advice on how best to entice people into my stand, how to present myself and sell my work without coming across like a sales person, and I was given loads of advice on different fairs that my work would be well suited to. I left with a long list of the improvements I can make and other opportunities available to me.

Ingenuity with little space:

At first I thought this was a negative, because even though you pay £650-it’s just for the space. No table, no chair, nothing. But I am really pleased, because for the first time it made me think outside of the box as to how I can exhibit my work in an attractive yet space saving way. We created a beautiful stand display that I can now use again and again. It was so nice to see all my work on display as it should be, rather than crammed into boxes or laid flat on a table. Use this opportunity to be creative, and show you don’t need vast amounts of space to look professional and impressive.

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Browsers, art on shelves, and art on walls

Handmade rolling pin stand

Hanging utensil sests

Advertisement:

My social media and website traffic increased throughout the event. I handed out over 500 business cards, many of which were to people who I genuinely believe to be strong leads for commissions or Christmas orders. And many people were very interested in my original artworks and so bought prints instead whilst they went away to think about my originals, business card in hand. I also had people sign onto my mailing list, and many took photos to show their spouses before they made a decision to invest in art. That was hugely important for me to hear. It was refreshing to hear visitors recognize that art is an investment, that it is something that holds and increases in value. It is not necessarily something you would buy on a whim, particularly when the piece costs up to £1000 and would take two people to carry home. Yet it was a great opportunity to show my work, to meet potential clients, and put myself on people’s art-radar. This could potentially prove to have been invaluable.

business cards in handmade holder

Meeting customers and social media followers:

The biggest positive for me personally, was meeting exhibitors and visitors who have been following my work on social media or my website. Half the time I didn’t know what to say because I was totally overwhelmed by people who knew of my work. It’s easy to forget that all those “likes” and comments on instagram and facebook are made by real people with a genuine interest in what you do. That to me was what kept me going when it got to 4pm and I was tired and hungry and worried about sales figures and worried about all the work I needed to be catching up on…to know you positively impact someone in even a small way, that someone admires what you do, is really the most lovely rewarding feeling. As artists, it is why we do what we do.

 

So…Would I do the Handmade Fair again?

No, probably not. Primarily that is because it is not the right fair for me and what I do. I am not looking to impart my knowledge to people to “give it a go”, I am looking to make a living. I also wouldn’t do this fair again because of the sheer quantity of imported goods. It became very clear very quickly that we were simply a cog in a money making machine, which gave no respect for the time and skill of local artists and small businesses.

 

Would I do other large craft/art shows again?

Most definitely yes. Now I know what to expect, I can assess the type of show more carefully. For example, I am really looking forward to showcasing my work in an environment better suited to my art. My aim is to stop creating small pieces (home decor, kitchenware, and gifts), and instead only make artwork that I am truly passionate about. That’s the dream. The biggest lesson I leaned at the Handmade Fair was that people were more interested in my art than my smaller affordable items- but people hadn’t set out to invest in art at that event so they went away to think about it. I’m positive that a large event like the Handmade Fair, but focussed on art, would be ideal for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

44 thoughts on “The Handmade Fair: the pro’s and con’s of large craft fairs.

  1. Really really interesting blog and thanks for the honest sharing. I’m gob smacked at some of the info you write about ….. hidden extras but particularly the paying for wifi – really!??!! In this day and age that is just silly and greedy to charge on top of your stall fee.
    I do lots of markets and craft events but I am really picky about where I book – had my fingers burnt in the past! I had thought about trying to get involved with this one and in my naivety assumed that with the Kirsty Allsopp endorsement it would be about hand made/hand crafted by artists/makers here!
    Thanks again.

    1. I was so shocked by the wi-fi. I was also disapointed that the £55 covered two devices but you couldn’t change them once logged in. Both me and my partner logged in with our phones but I couldnt log out of my phone to use a tablet, I was stuck with the phone. And to top it off, they switched it off ten minutes before closing so I lost sales of last minute buyers 🙁

      1. Hi Jes,

        This blog post popped up on my fb newsfeed and I’m so glad I read it. This fair’s organisers keep contacting me, and I keep debating it. This was my main worry – that it would be full of people wanting to make their own crafts, and not spend money on others’ crafts! Sounds like I was right. Bullet dodged.

        Finding the right fairs is so so difficult. The only way I’ve started to choose the right ones is by studying my past customers, doing a bit of detective work and making educated guesses as to the type of events they visit. Let me tell you – it has taken a while, and it has been expensive!

        I narrowed my products down to make myself quite niche, which makes it easier to find the type of people who like my stuff. (Well-off ‘ladies of a certain age’ with dogs – if you were wondering.) Although I also have the dream of being able to be free and creative and make whatever I want, for the meantime I’ve found that finding the niche and narrowing it down has been the key to getting it all started. You might find the same (you might not!) But it’s essential to keep track of what sells and what doesn’t. The things people admire and comment on is not always the same as what people actually buy, which is frustrating.

        I exhibited at Country Living Xmas Fair last year and paid £800 for the same amount of space you had. Managed to keep those extra costs down by speaking to other exhibitors who’d been there before, and learning which bits I could wing (like the lighting. Turns out I had a decent light above my stand anyway, so paying them for lighting would have been throwing away money… they’re so sneaky.)

        Thanks so much for warding me off this fair – it would have not been right for me either. Really appreciate that!

        Your work is beautiful. Happy to connect and chat more if there’s anything I can help with in return (your blog post could have been written about me last year – I understand!)

        This is me > https://www.facebook.com/thepeahensnest/
        https://www.facebook.com/claire.heapy1

        Good luck with it all! 🙂

  2. What a great and very honest article! As a fellow artist considering my own venture into large fairs such as this the honesty you’ve shown is invaluable! Thanks for all the great tips about hidden fees and the true cost of showing your work at these large events. Lots of food for thought.xx

    1. I’m glad you found it useful! I hope it doesn’t put you off going for the larger fairs, and good luck with the ones you choose 🙂 xx

  3. Great article and I completely agree. Larger 2 and 3 day events which I have found to be successful are the large country fairs: Chatsworth Country Fair, Lincolnshire Show and Bakewell Show (I was next to the fresh baked cookie stand so win, win) ranging from; £150 to £300. The Big Craft Event at Lincoln showground, just before Christmas, is also very successful for around £75 for the day. The beauty of this being you have a captive audience wanting to purchase handmade Christmas gifts (no imports allowed).
    Very disappointed to hear of imported goods at this high profile show.

    1. £75-£300 is much more reasonable! I am definitely looking for Christmas markets and I will have to check out the ones you recommend. Thank you for your thoughts, it’s so nice to know I’m not alone in being disappointed by imports. xx

  4. Hello. I was at the fair and I am sympathetic to most of what you write. I myself was in the west tent and had a look at your stall and I loved it. This was also my first fair and I learned a lot and this will prepare me for the next events I do. I think the power and Wi-Fi was very high.
    Nice honest blog post. However I am attending next year because I feel this was good for my business.

    1. That’s really good to hear! Whats your business? I probably saw you there 🙂 The only way I think I would do it again would be to go in with a collective of artists to make it easier to share the load (I definitely could have used a break!) and to keep the cost down. I’m glad you did well and best of luck for the future xx

  5. I’m thinking that such costs are probably typical for events at a venue such as Hampton Court Palace, especially for 3 days? However I am disappointed to think that Kirsty Allsopp endorses this event when there is a high proportion of items NOT handmade. Goes against all that she seems to say on her TV shows.
    Your stand looks wonderful and very professional and your work is stunning, so we’ll done you! Thanks for sharing your experience and writing such a balanced account of the event.

  6. I came as a visitor, the fair was too big to hold my interest and selling Kirsty Allsop seemed the primary aim. The presentation was fresh and clean, although the stalls were cramped. My impression, on Sunday afternoon, was that a lot of stall holders were trying to put a brave face on not covering their costs.

  7. Thanks for this, as a needlefelter, I did wonder about trying this one, but think I would have had a similar experience – even at standard shows that are not appealing directly to the hobbyist I find people start telling me about their friend or family member who “does what you do”, or ask me where I get my supplies. The electricity/wifi issue is a common one – I had that problem with the Country Living show at Harrogate, but the sales I generated were phenomenal, so I’lm doing that one again – and the organisers were lovely, not really bossy like some. Thanks to the lady who mentioned the Lincoln Craft show – at those prices might be good to look at next year

    1. I’m doing the country living show at Harroagte this December – it will be my first big show and I’mLooking forward to it but not really sure what to expect. Glad it was good for you last year.

  8. Wow interesting read thanks for writing it! £55 for internet connection especially is ridiculous, was it even a reliable connection with that many using it? After one fair with patchy shared wifi resulting in my card payments not going through I always take my own portable wifi box with me now, just more reliable that way. I’ve been wary so far of the bigger high cost events, will defo do my research after reading this, hope those sales do come through for you!

  9. This appeared in my Fb feed..very informative. I had thought this would be hideously expensive but wow! I had considered looking into this but as soon as I read the bit about ‘imported goods’ that put the nail in the coffin for me. I do trade at small market events where there are ready made items but they don’t market themselves as handmade fairs. They don’t have the ‘handmade queen’ as a figurehead. I was invited to have a stand at the Ideal Home, Glasgow but the cost was just too much for me and with what I make, it just wouldn’t have been financially viable ..this it seems, would be the same. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  10. Please do follow up on contacts you have collected and send out reminders in the run up to Christmas as this is how you can capitalise on your expenditure. Shows like this should be about marketing and advertising and building customer contact as much as about sales. Lovely work and wishing you lots of success. From a veteran…

    1. Thanks Rachel, yes I am really interested to see what the next few months bring and as far as advertising and marketing go I really can’t complain. All the best and thanks for your advice x

  11. Really interesting read. I did notice a difference in the exhibitors compared to last year, and I’m saddened to hear about the imports. Was there any vetting/application process that might have flagged things like that up? I’m sorry you made a loss and I think you’re right that it’s not the best fit. It was a lovely looking stand though and I hope those leads come good.

  12. Thank you for this honest post, I really enjoyed reading it. I came as a visitor with a view to see whether it was worthwhile exhibiting. I had my reservations before – £15 to get in. I found this a lot for just getting in. Extra if you wanted to hear Kirstie in conversation on a stage. VIP tickets with lots of extras. Really? When I was there I saw other things I didn’t like. The event was advertised as ‘in association with hobbycraft’. I saw the ‘hobbycraft’ tent and went to have a look. It was a tent exclusively (unless I overlooked a few items) to sell Kirstie Allsopp branded goods and kits. Some kits were as cheap as £5 or £7 which is not right as her company has the money to produce them cheaply, yet the craft makers in the tents trying to sell handmade products would never be able to produce things at that price.
    I was curious to hear about a sellers opinion, thank you! Would I exhibit? If I was chosen I would have to think long and hard whether I swallow my moral issues on this to make a living and feed my family…. Interesting question!

  13. Thank you for a great article and honestly written. As an event organiser considering setting up a craft event next year, the feedback is invaluable – and we will make a point of ensuring the booking form excludes high volume imported goods!

    I attended the event for the 3rd time and love the generally high quality of the exhibitors and demonstrators. I didn’t get the sense that there was a lot of imported goods, but didn’t feel we saw much that was new or innovative. Though I did see your stand and thought your beautiful artwork stood out as highly original!

  14. I read your article with great interest and admire your honest approach. Some of the disappointments you write about are disappointing-agreed. I think the biggest thing to have learned is what and how you want your business to develop. Those thoughts, based on the experience you have had from this event, are priceless. Your work is beautiful, I wish you every success.

  15. Hi thank you for sharing this with us on Facebook, it makes interesting reading. I handmake bespoke Jewellery and was thinking it might help me get myself out there also, but not at those prices and hidden costs.

    I do local craft fairs on a smaller scale and have also been frustrated with the “Handmade” adverts only to find that a lot of items are massed produced too and cheaper than what I can make mine for. Its not fair in my eyes, but thats only my opinion.

    Well done for giving it a go and your items are stunning and it takes skill to do what you do, keep up the good work.

  16. Wonderful blog! As a newbie to fairs this is a wonderful insight into pros and cons and even things that I would not have even thought about. Thank you.

  17. I concur, very interesting read.

    I love Kirstie, so I was thrilled to win two tickets to the show at the weekend – with two days notice. I was surprised that parking cost £8.80. Maybe in our haste, we hadn’t clocked that the talks were extra (£6 pp). I realised the classes were (£12), but not the talks. We decided once we had done a circuit to pay for the £30 upgrade for VIP tickets. However, I was very disappointed that we couldn’t upgrade on the day… All the classes were pretty much full anyway. Oh & the guide was £5. This was not essential.

    We loved having a potter round the markets. There was quite an impressive range to behold. But lots of stalls selling bulk fabric which was surprising. We felt so packed in & rather flustered. Corner stalls seemed to be interactive stalls & held up the traffic so it felt quiet illogical in the layout. I felt so sorry for mums with prams or people in wheelchairs as the access around the markets & over the grass was rubbish. I have seen a lot of complaints on the Facebook page. I have to say, a security gaurd was unbelievably helpful when I needed to drop off my mum, who has some mobility issues. He rang me as I was driving away to tell me he’d found a space near the gate. Very kind & helpful.

    We found Annie Sloan &Kirsties talk to be enjoyable. But, and they admitted at the start, they hadn’t prepared very much! It was hilarious when Annie told Kirstie to add a second colour to a dolls house Welsh dresser and it turned out to be same as the current colour..

    We did have fun but with the added costs, made us feel that it was a money sucking experience. I can totally empathise with you as an exhibitor that you felt like that as we did too.

    1. Hi Charlotte,

      Thanks for your message. It’s really interesting to hear the views of visitors. I thought the running of the event, and the security in particular, was very well run and the staff were so nice and helpful. I did think the layout was not well thought-out though and it was clear they had crammed in as many exhibitors as possible just to make money for themselves. x

  18. This is a fantastic blog. Really honest and informative…Id have thought this type of fayre would have been worth me considering but for me personally it wouldn’t be beneficial either. It’s also made me think about what I should ask when considering other large fayres to ensure I don’t get stung by things like hidden costs. Your work is stunning by the way xxx

    1. Thanks for your message 🙂 I am glad this has helped you, best of luck with your fairs x

  19. Thanks for this; I also noticed some imported items placed very near other stands selling at a normal/higher UK based price. Put me off as I had gone with the intention of scouting it out to possibly apply for next year. I’ll hold my horses I think… By the way before I even scrolled down and saw the pic of your stand I thought ‘I bet that is the guy with the beautiful turtle board!’ Your work is stunning 🙂

    1. Hi Bex,

      Thanks for the comment. I am glad you’ve found my blog helpful, but I also hope it hasn’t completely put you off. I think its very much product-dependent, and for me the audience just wasnt right. But yeh…imports? Not the one for a “handmade fair” 😛 Best of luck in all you do, and thanks for your kind words xxx

  20. I would like to say I was also a exhibitor at the Handmade Fair my stand was double this size and cost but I was very much aware of the costs, like electrics. I have paid for electrics for all the shows I attend. Although I agree there is no place for imported goods. There is a place for inspiring people. I have done many shows to Trade and some to the public like Country Living. I was very busy and I could not have done this show alone so bring a friend or a family member to help. I too had loads of questions on how I produce my work, how I got started and why I do it. This is a natural thing for people to enquire about. And a very good friend told me you don’t have to give your secrets away He also attended the show and commented on the China imports. I do understand the passion to learn new skills that our work inspire people and I love to help people find there passion and enjoy the art of making and creating. And this is why I will attend this show again next year for the people who are inspired by the work that they see at these shows. I did this show to see the people who buy my work as my work normally sells in Galleries, Museums, shops and even places like Hampton Court Palaces. But most important I loved the feed back and the inspiration I received from the visitors. Please do give this show a go as I feel it achieved what it intended to do mostly.

    1. Hi Amanda,

      Thank you very much for your comment. I can’t help but feel like my blog post has offended you in some way, which was in no means was my intention. Can I ask, were you given all the costs/extra fees up front before you signed the contract and bagan/finished paying your installments? I have too have always paid for electricity but no where near £100 let alone more than that, and I have never come across a wi-fi fee. Like I said, I do think this fair was not for me because of the clientele, and the imported goods sealed the deal for me not returning. My blog was intended to give my view in an honest way, and to encourage people to do more research before being involved in a corporate event. I am very pleased that you achieved what you intended, and it sounds like the event was to your liking. I am glad you made the right choice for your business. Best of luck with next year too 🙂

      Jes xx

  21. Good luck with your up and coming events as well. Yes I was made aware of the costs, but I did ask if there was a cost. I used hot spotting so I did not need to us the Wi-Fi they offered. Hot spotting is free. I have paid greater amounts for electrics at some events. But all the events I have attended charged for electrics. Your work is lovely, and your thoughts are valued. This is just how I found the show and hope that it is also helpful to who may want to try the show. All the best will pop in and see your work if at an event in the future and say a friendly hello.

  22. Thank you this was really interesting, helpful and honest and your stand looked lovely. I’ve often wondered about similar events but your experience suggests they might not really be appropriate for me, for various reasons not least cost, since sales would need to be so high to cover. I’d agree that it’s also about longer term effects but these are always so difficult to assess. Thanks again.

  23. Thanks for sharing Jes. Very interesting as I visited as a consumer and loved it! (Wrote about it here: http://hapinesswherever.com/2017/02/the-best-craft-fair-of-2016-handmade-fair-by-kirstie-allsopp/) Was actually thinking of exhibiting this year so good to know about all the hidden charges (not on!) Interesting point out about the imported goods- I didn’t notice any (as compared to fairs like Country Living) but I didn’t make it to all the tents- hope u have better luck elsewhere 🙂

    1. Hi Zen,

      Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found my post helpful. I think it is always a risk to sell at fairs that are so expensive, so it would depend on what you plan on selling (I think the only guarenteed money maker at the Handmade Fair is craft supplies) but I guess it’s about weighing up the costs and what else you may get in return (such as promotion, mailing list subscribers, potential commissions etc). I’ve personally found that it was a complete waste of time and money and because I felt deceived by the marketing team I primarily wanted to highlight the hidden fees to anyone who is considering this fair…because thats how these events make their money: from the stall holders! Best of luck with whatever you decide, I’m sure there are a wealth of opportunities open to artists like us 🙂 xxx

  24. Hi Jes,

    Thank you for your feedback on the Handmade Fair, I am exhibiting for the first time this year and was quite shocked at the amount of extras you need to pay for especially given the price of the stand, I was at least expecting table’s and chair’s,. I am also disappointed to read that there are handmade items which have been imported from abroad, this is not what I was expecting from the handmade fair. I have not opted for the Wifi as it seemed a lot of money to pay to access it, and being a small business I have struggled to pay for all the extras, so I am hoping my own Wi-Fi will work. Thankfully I have a friend who is helping me at the weekend, but I will be on my own on Friday, I just hope I sell all the stock I have been making for the last two weeks to recoup the costs.

    Thanks again for sharing.

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