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Planning and preparing for a show.

Updated: Apr 15, 2019




A few weeks ago, as you may well know I exhibited at Spirit of Christmas Fair in Olympia, London. I thought whilst it was all still fresh in my mind I'd write a blog post about how I plan, prepare and tackle a big show like Spirit.


From small table top markets and school fairs to trade shows and exhibition spaces, I've done them all. People always ask me which shows do I recommend and I always find this question impossible to answer. Unfortunately there's no straight forward answer as it's all just trial and error. Some shows I do and one person will find it amazing and the next person might not have sold a thing! So I can't answer what shows I think you should do but I thought I could pass on everything I've learnt to selecting the best shows for you and your small business and how to make it go as smoothly as possible.


Choosing a show.

First is choosing the right show for you. Again I can't stress enough how much this is completely personal to you and your products but this was my experience of it.


What I like to do is find a show that I like the look of and look at the other brands that are selling there too, ask yourself do their products sit well with what you are selling? I like to think of a show as one big shop, when you walk around a really well curated shop they have products that sit beautifully together. This creates a really lovely shopping experience and is exactly the same for shows, if you have an array of well made, beautiful products it creates a really nice shopping experience for the customer and will create a much more successful show for you. You don't really want to be attending a show with products that don't sit well with your brand, style and ethos. For me I don't mind if there are stands with less expensive things as long as the items are beautiful and of good quality. Craft Fairs can work well here too as people expect everything to be made by hand and are willing to pay for it.


So once you've decided on your show, what I like to do is visit it first. It will be so much easier when you plan your stand and are working out how the show will look. You can also see if it's somewhere you can imagine your customer coming to, ask yourself what is the foot fall like? If there's a lot of people there that's a good sign of a busy show. Have a look at the stands, what's popular? What are customers buying? Do you think your work would sit well there? In truth you will never know until you just try it. They can be an expensive lesson so choose wisely.


So now you've found a show that you want to exhibit at, the first thing to think about is what do you want to sell. With the big shows, the higher priced pieces need to be well presented but with the markets you might want to leave some of your bigger ticket pieces at home and opt for the smaller, less expensive pieces to sell. This will then dictate your layout. I like to plan it well so that on the set up day I can just place things and tweak, I will generally do a 'test run' before a show. First off I measure out my stand size in my living room, I tend to use masking tape on the floor to show the size of the space. I then add my stand furniture in along with my stock to see how it all sits together. It gives you a really good idea of how to merchandise your stand and you can play around with ideas before the actual show.


You want to make your stand look at its best so don't be afraid to accessories with bits that aren't for sale that will compliment your designs. Look at shop windows and how they look so inviting, this is the feeling you want to give your stand. It's a bit like when you take a photo of your product to sell online, you want it to look it's best so that people feel they want to buy it. Make sure your stand looks inviting and has a cohesive feel that represents your brand.


Once I've sorted my stand design I like to do a drawing on paper to note down exactly how I want things done. I'm usually setting up my stand early in the morning so will have been up since 4/5am and so having everything set out on paper is important. It's also a good way to show your helpers (ie. my poor family!) where everything is going to go.


Check lists.

I'm a big fan of lists, so I like to have a check list of every item I need to take with me to the show. I keep a checklist on my computer that I print out for every show and then tweak it every year to adjust it to include everything I need. Prep this in advance so that you can start packing a few days before the show to give you time to make sure you have everything you need. There is nothing worse than arriving at a show and realising you've forgotten something! Use my checklist below. It's a shorter version of my more detailed list of every piece of furniture/ sign that I take with me so I know I've got everything. List everything, planning and preparing is key to a successful show.


My show checklist


Card machine/ change

Pen and pad to write down notes/ sales/ contacts

Invoice pad for orders taken at the show

Business cards/ postcards

Price tags

product labels

lip salve and mints

Wet wipes (just in case!)

Cleaning cloth

Stock

Bags/ tissue paper

Stand furniture

Table cloth

Mirror

Paper work

Portable phone charger


Stock.

I think it's an absolute art form to know exactly what is going to sell and how much you'll need. Again this is not something someone can tell you, and is something that you'll learn along the way as each person will be totally different. I still now end up selling out of certain items and having a load of stock left over of another item, you can just never tell! My only advice is to take as much as you can and try to follow your instincts of knowing your market, customer and the foot fall of the show.


It's show time!

Once you've set up that's it! Stop worrying about if you'll have enough stock, the right stock, if no one will view your stand. You're there now and you're committed so just relax and try to enjoy yourself. It's your chance to show off your goods in person and to allow your customers to touch and feel your work. Try to be as friendly as possible. Offer as much insight into your business as you can, remember most people will have no idea how your items are made, where they are from, the unique story behind your brand. So go in depth, it's your big advantage over high street stores that you know your product inside out and where it's come from. People love knowing this and are much more likely to stop and have a conversation with you, possibly even buy!


Take loads of postcards and business cards with you. I like postcards as I think they make the most impact and it's a great reminder when they get home to see your beautiful images. Also if they're anything like my mum they'll put your postcard up on their kitchen wall!! Even if you're not selling enough, if you're giving out cards and talking to people then you are still achieving brand awareness. This is also a great chance to get people to sign up to your newsletter, don't forget to ask. You may find you see a rise in website clicks after being at a show.


So there you have it, if you're thinking of giving a big show a go then hopefully you've picked up something from my waffling! The biggest thing is to plan, prepare, relax and enjoy it! If you have anymore questions just let me know! And good luck!