For many moons local crafters, artists and creatives have been bemoaning the lack of a “creatives scene” in Southampton, especially for designer makers. We have a small outlet via the Art House Cafe, but as their space is limited its not always possible to have your creations displayed there.
Various solutions have been suggested, including pop up shops, fairs and markets but due to a variety of circumstances, little progress has been made. However there is a demand for handmade in the city so a solution needed to be found. I work quite closely with the Millenium Third Age Centre and they have a fantastic, if under utilised space, in a beautiful Georgian townhouse. For a while we’d been muting ideas about a one off fair, to be held over 3 of the buildings 4 floors but had not made any concrete plans. I suggested speaking to another local designer maker, Jenni Clemmens who runs Craftizan and also has a passion for vintage to see if we could work together and develop something. A few coffees later we came up with a proposal / business plan for a regular fair to held every 6 weeks.
After some tweaking the plans were approved and we’re now in the process of “making it happen”. Its surprising the amount of work and attention to detail that’s required to make an event work well. The first step was to get all the admin processes set up and develop terms and conditions and booking forms. We’ve now achieved that and sent out the first batch to local crafters who are interested in coming along. We’ve also needed to sort out legalities such as risk assessments, insurances and refunds policies. A combination of much online research and expertise from Stephen at Millenium Third Age Centre has lead to a comprehensive document that is succint but covers all eventualities. It was a real learning curve producing the document as there were many aspects of running an event I’d not considered. One thing I’ve learned is that its important to have a team involved in developing all the background policies etc as we all have different areas of experience and expertise to offer and it means that you are less likely to miss something important.
The venue is set in Bevios Valley and is part of a vibrant multi-cultural inner city community. We want to encourage as many local people to be involved as possible too! So we’re also working with key representatives of the diverse ethnic groups who call the area home, to ensure the stalls have a multi-cultural theme. This has already attracted a sari maker, gents tailor and women’s co-operative who are planning to make and sell asian snacks. When planning events its important to have the community onboard and actively involved if you want to make it successful. Having been to fairs in the past where I’ve paid £30 for a table and only had 2 people through the door all day, once thing we know we have to get right is marketing – and if people know someone who’ll be there, then that helps with word of mouth – which is often the key to getting people along and developing a relationship with them.
Its now feeling like we’re on the count down to D-Day or Launch Day – when I’m feeling a bit wobbly about can I do this – its definitely more D -Day but when things are coming together and I can see my way forward, its definitely launch!! I think we all experience this when we’re trying a new skill or introducing a new make to our customers too! We’ve sent out invites to designer-makers. Posted the event on Facebook. Asked local arts and community news letters to also put out a call for makers. Jenni has designed a fantastic poster, which will be going out to the local community and the wider city in the next couple of weeks! We’re also gradually recruiting volunteers to help on the day – this wasn’t something I’d expected to happen, but its a real positive as some of those offering to help out this time are doing so to gain an understand of how fairs work, so that they can sell in future.
To sum up what I’ve learned so far:
1. Assemble a team around you who you can trust and who can bring the right skills with them
2. Write a business plan and develop a budget – cost in your time!
3. Talk to people about your ideas and get their feedback – this starts to drum up excitement too
4. Do your homework – make sure all your terms and conditions and policies are well researched
5. Reflect on fairs you’ve been to – what was good and what could have been better. Incorporate the ideas into your plans.
6.Consider having a selection policy – after all you don’t want a fair full of wooly jumpers etc! Be specific too – are you only wanting handmade or are you willing to consider network marketing for example.
7. Involve the local community, make sure the fair is something they want to attend
8. Consider asking the venue if their public liability insurance covers stall holders – its a great way to encourage first timers!
9. Accept help from willing volunteers – once you’re established this could be a development opportunity for a back to work programme, which might attract some funding!
10. Have an ongoing plan – let stall holders know its not a “flash in the pan” event – offer an introductory price
11. Develop a marketing plan – get your advertising out far and wide!
12. Have a single point of contact for all the admin – that way everyone knows what’s happening
13. Get everyone involved in the day – organising team and volunteers – together a week before. Try out layouts, allocated tasks and roles for the day – that way things should run smoothly.
14. Charge a small admission fee – this adds value to the event and encourages customers who are likely to buy.