Dear Design Doctor
I will be doing my first craft fair, and I don’t really know how much stock I should take. It’s not just about storage problems, but also how much should I make in advance? Any help greatly appreciated.
The Design Doctor for this real life question is Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust:
‘To be honest this is a kind of ‘How long is a piece of string?’ kind of question.
It really depends on …
- how much stock you have got already
- your expectations of sales
- how many visitors and buyers there will be
- how much space you have got
- the price level of your stock
- how you want to position yourself
- when the show takes place
- what kind of fair it is
To start with the latter: If it is a trade show then you only need to take one item of each as buyers will order from you, and you will deliver later. They normally would expect delivery of orders within 2 – 4 weeks so make sure that you have some stock already available.
If they would put in a very big order then you can negotiate longer lead times. If the trade show takes place in June and the orders are for Christmas then delivery in September would be expected.
If it is a consumer show then most people would expect to be able to purchase your products on the spot, or to pick them up on the last day of the show. For larger or more expensive items you can arrange delivery and even hang pieces if required (that’s a good way to build a relationship with your client and to provide excellent customer care! You might be surprised how many people are unable to hang a picture properly …)
If you bring too much stock then the chances of pieces being broken or lost of course increases. Also there might be questions for you how much you can insure your work for potentially.
And last but not least, having to drag all left over stock to your car, when you are tired, up 3 long stairs after a quiet show, can be pretty depressing …
If you bring too little stock or the wrong stock then you might regret and blame yourself for not making the right choice.
So indeed you need to plan ahead!
Some creatives like to create a fairly minimal stand with only a few items, that are well-lit. They often tend to sell more expensive, high end products. Their stand looks like a gallery or museum display.
They often use ‘red dots’ to show that pieces have already sold, and they have often a waiting list of clients who are happy to wait to get their specially commissioned pieces.
In a way they create a ‘scarcity’ mentality amongst their clientele.
When I was part of the organising team of Chelsea Crafts Fair some of the better known ceramicists and high-end textile artists worked like that. And a well-known silver smith used to bring only 5 or 6 pieces and when they had sold he would arrange meetings with potential clients by appointment in his studio or their house. It worked really well for him.
On the other hand of the spectrum some makers (often new exhibitors) show loads of work. Pile it high, being very generous with showing everything they have got. Sometimes it’s too much, with eclectic combinations of very different work. That makes it harder for potential clients to see what you are about, or what your style or story is.
Most established exhibitors have got just enough stock but create well designed displays of pieces that work well together.
Think about how you will use your space creatively but effectively.
To attract clients to your stand add bold colours or fix beautiful, large images on your walls. Putting relevant pieces together as a collection and lit them well is really effective. Think about what else you need in your stand, for example storage for stationery or cash, or a stool to sit on. Use different surfaces to put items on, and use the walls effectively.
Have some extra stock available on your stand or easily accessible. You can always replenish while the show is on. In fact many exhibitors like to improve on (or fiddle with?) their display when it is quieter during a show.
So it really depends on what kind of atmosphere you want to create with your stand.
What is the first impression you want to give?
Don’t be afraid to talk to the organisers or more established exhibitors what kind of sales you can expect and what last year’s best sellers where at a show or after a show.
Think about what kind of products would really sell at that particular show. For example in the run up to Christmas you can expect more sales of giftable items up to £50 for example, while people would be quiet happy to wait or commission you if they come to an Open Studio event in June.
And it is not necessarily a bad thing if you would run out of stock.
Having loads of ‘red dots’ on your stand is pretty good (having loads of ‘gaps with nothing in it’ isn’t that great so rearrange your display).
It depends on how you then follow up with your client if you will turn their interest into a sale or commission.
Ask your clients what they are looking for and suggest another piece instead.
Get it out of storage specially for them (it will make them feel really cared for!).
Or share your website and suggest some pieces there. If they would purchase on the spot you can offer them free postage & packaging as a special offer.
The reality is … you will never get this stock question entirely right.
Even established exhibitors get it ‘wrong’ sometimes.
But if you do your research in advance, you respond with alternatives, follow up where necessary and learn from your ‘mistakes‘ for future shows, then you will get closer and closer to predicting what your clients want.
All the best with your first show. Happy selling, and happy learning!’
Are you an experienced exhibitor? How do you predict how much stock you take to shows? Share your comments or suggestions below in the comment box: