First time exhibiting at the big 'London' Fair March 26 2015, 0 Comments

First time exhibiting at a big 'London' fair

So you've been in business a while and decided to up the anti and get your name out to thousands or you're starting out and aiming high. Whatever the impetus you've applied and been accepted for one of the big, 'high profile' fairs that cost an arm and a dozen legs, for a meagre 4' of space and promise the earth in terms of exposure and sales.

The elation of being one of the 'chosen ones' is indescribable, your emotions soar, adrenaline fuels your veins, you immediately fly on a high, go to sleep dreaming of recognition, huge sales and leaping into the limelight of fame and fortune.

Before you know it you're frantically researching, googling and spending money on high end displays, exclusive branding and packaging, agonising over how many thousands of pounds of stock you need. Working your online profile and social networking, maybe doing some press releases. If you re a designer maker you will be working to improve and increase your stock wondering how much to take, where to store it, designing your order forms, thinking about how you would cope if a gallery or boutique approached you for trade.

You live , dream and sleep hope and possibility. It's exciting, daunting, stressful and exhilarating. The beginning of the journey to fame and fortune. The biggest investment in time, money, emotion and energy that you've made to date. You mentally multiply the sales you've made at smaller shows by the amount you've paid and then a bit more, because its 'London'! and tens of thousands of people are coming. You reach a final overwhelming expectation and although you tell yourself not to get too excited and not to get too hopeful it's actually hard to think anything but extremely positively.

So the actually day dawns, everything is planned meticulously, down to the clothes you wear, the time you leave home, packing the car/van, accommodation etc, after months of anticipation what can go wrong???

For a lucky few the dream absolutely may become reality right from the start but from my own experience and that of many around me and many I spoke to it's just the beginning of a journey that will take you on a ride to the very top and bottom of human emotion.

This is just my own roller-coaster ride on my first venture into a huge London exhibition that I felt compelled to try based on sales, experiences, feedback and confidence gained over my first couple of years in business.

To say I learnt a huge amount was an understatement but it wasn't in sales it was in very unexpected ways.

Firstly my product is 100% designed and handmade by myself, some pieces taking several days to create. The show I chose was in hindsight a mistake as it was largely focused on big businesses and imported goods. I.e wonderful products that in some cases were designed in Britain but often produced in large quantities abroad, or were big established companies with huge customer databases.

Very little was designed and actually totally handmade in Britain although there were a few amazing exceptions.

Some of the companies were unashamedly selling fashion imports at such a low price points that no British designer/maker could ever compete. Many had huge sales, promotions and offers.

There were three floors with around 360 businesses for people to browse before anyone even found the forth floor gallery where the 20 tiny newcomers were hidden. the few brave people whose legs and stamina held out long enough to find us were shopped out and exhausted.

Having realised very quickly  that this was totally the wrong platform for sales and trying not to let myself get too upset, I switched focus to marketing. I relished the wonderful comments from those that made the effort to come to chat and enthuse over how wonderful and unique my product was. focusing on how much they enjoyed seeing something different, they happily discussed my techniques and the patience involved in making my creations, took cards and promised they would be in touch.

The comments were worth millions in terms of keeping me buoyed up in what was essentially a fast track to despair.

It was only by talking to the other exhibitors, some who had been in business for decades that I realised this was not unusual and at some stage most people had been through similar experiences but instead of folding and giving in they had reevaluated and learnt front the experience.

No price can be put on exposure and marketing because the possible benefits can come in over many months or even years. Equally the experience gained in terms of presentation, endurance, connections, support, networking, and learning is huge and hard to put a price on.

I had the pleasure of being with some amazingly supportive people in a newcomers gallery with mixed fortunes but such a positive attitude that it was almost impossible to get too down, interestingly we were several floors up with a sheer 60' drop behind us which was maybe not the optimum position to put vulnerable newcomers!!!!

Many of the seasoned exhibitors also shared mixed experiences, some with over 30 years behind them and still finding events unpredictable which added to the fact that nothing is ever guaranteed in life but the important thing is to learn from every opportunity and grow.

Do I have regrets??? The short answer is no! Life is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, learning and growing, sharing experiences good and bad. Meeting people and networking. Listening to advice and developing. Things money can't buy, only experience can give.

The next twelve months will be interesting in terms of whether any of the cards taken result in sales. I'm glad I did the show as I would have forever wondered and dreamt of what it may have been like if I hadn't. However with hindsight I do think that products painstakingly handmade need their own showcase and will be focusing on 'handmade only' events in future. I also will not do any more events that require huge hotel bills on top of the show fees as the overall cost is an overwhelming gamble if you don't sell well.

My only advice would be to visit and research the show to ensure its a good platform for your own product, look at the position and space you will have and the type of shoppers. Talk to other similar stall holders. How many people are selling products similar to yours and what are their prices like. Don't be flattered just by being accepted as many shows just need to fill a lot of vacant spaces and will say anything to get you to part with your money.

Try not to let your expectations run too high, treat it as a marketing and networking event and see great sales as an added bonus.

Never give up or doubt yourself, learn, grow and focus. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day nor were great businesses.