I promised you a detailed post on preparing for and exhibiting at the Festival of Quilts and here it is. I'll apologise in advance if it's not the most riveting read and contains an impossible number of bullet points, but there will be pictures. Essentially, it's the post I wanted to read - and couldn't find - when I was preparing my stand.
Now I'm not saying there isn't information out there: Folksy has some great blog posts on craft fairs, which cover what to expect and what to bring. But I couldn't find anything much on one essential: how to actually display my quilts. And what would the stands be made of?
A lovely chap called Jazz at Upper Street Events was the unlucky recipient of all my questions and, to his credit, quickly and patiently responded to every single one. So, if you're wondering, the stands are pretty sturdy and constructed from plywood-faced timber panels, which are covered in an open-weave grey fabric. Most exhibitors sew velcro to the back of their quilts so they can simply be pressed onto the panels. But as a lot of my quilts live at home - on beds, on the back of chairs and pinned to the picture rails (that last one's just between us...) - I didn't really want to sew velcro on them all. And then I spotted some curtain rails with tiny crocodile clips at Ikea, which I could use to temporarily hang my Quilts on. Once I'd got the OK from Jazz to screw them to the panels, I felt slightly more relaxed about setting up the stand. Just to be on the safe side, I had a trial run at home: an alcove in our hall was just the right size...
Having a trial run allowed me to fuss over the details without any time pressure. I really wanted to display the maximum number of quilts, so liked the idea of gathering them at the top - the way all the cool designers do - and hanging them from the ends of my curtain rails. Again, I looked endlessly online to see how this was achieved and couldn't find anything, so I resorted to holding them in place with clear silicon hair-bands and bungee cords. I suspect this isn't how most people do it.
As the show got nearer there were a number of additional expenses to consider:-
Liability insurance: compulsory for exhibitors
Electric lighting and sockets, which aren't included in the cost of the stand
Accepting card payments: I opted to buy a PayPal card reader
Wi-fi for the card reader and my mobile phone: the NEC charge extra for this
Hotel accommodation, food and drinks
Furniture hire: I decided to take furniture from home, but I didn't take into account the inconvenience of lugging it to and from the exhibition hall
Labels and signs: I made my own but I did have business cards printed...not enough, as it turned out...
I also had to think about any set up equipment I was taking and include it in a Risk Assesment form. And get a high viz tabard. All exhibitors are issued with a parking pass for set-up and take-down days, which allows access to the loading bays, but if I'd wanted to park near my hall I would have had to pay extra for that, too. As we're only an hour away from the NEC, we loaded up my husband's car - to the absolute brim - and he helped me assemble the stand before driving home.
We did have one awful moment: having found our stand, admired how compact and bijou it was and unloaded the car, we realised we'd left our step ladder at home. Luckily our lovely neighbours over the aisle were nearly finished with set up and lent us theirs. Christine and David of Kids Quilts had travelled all the way from New Zealand for the show...with a step ladder.
Exibitors are allowed into the hall an hour or so before it opens to visitors, so that gave me a wonderful opportunity to look at the display and competition galleries without the crowds.
At the start of day two my lovely neighbour, David, popped over to the stand to suggest a few alterations: moving the shelves holding the patterns at an angle to catch the eye of visitors. The effect was pretty instant: people really did slow down as they passed the stand and - hurrah - stopped to buy. David has been exhibiting at the Festival for nine years, he knows his stuff.
Compared to the leisurely 10 hours available to set up, break down happens in a frantic 3 hours. Rather than join a very lengthy queue into the loading bay, we decided to park as near as we could to the front of the hall and carry our folding furniture to the car. By trip number six it didn't seem very near at all. I will be investing in a trolley.
So what did I learn from exhibiting? And what will I do differently next time?
First off, a bigger stand. Although it's difficult to justify the expense when selling low cost items like patterns - I always knew it was going to be impossible to make a profit this time round - exhibiting at an international show like the Festival of Quilts has given my fledgling business such a boost. Enquiries started coming in as soon as the exhibitor list appeared on the website.
Take more business cards: I ran out after day two - halfway through the show - and resorted to hand-writing some on pages snipped out of the back of my sketchbook. Very stylish...
Offer kits: so many people asked.
Make it easier for customers to browse. I thought I was being a real clever-clogs using folding shelves because they took up so little room on my tiny stand, but it made patterns at the back of the shelves difficult to access. Most stands have tables because they're so practical. I still can't bring myself to hire one though...
Oh, and take a stepladder.