Made By Mrs M

Trade Fairs - Planning and Preparation

Business, Craftmadebymrsm

GUEST POST BY CLAIRE BROWN OF THE BELLWETHER and MAKING * LIVING * DOING - CHECK OUT CLAIRE'S BLOG HERE. This is the first in a four part series on trade fairs - come back next Monday for part 2!


Hello! I'm Claire from The Bellwether and I'm going to talk to you about trade fairs. Having attended craft fairs and sold online since 2005, a few years ago, I found myself wanting to take my business to the next level. I already sell to trade but that has largely come about through me approaching shops directly or them approaching me. I decided that the next logical step to expanding my stockists would be to do one of the many trade fairs in the UK.

What is a trade fair?

A trade fair is an event, usually over several days, where businesses set up shop to "trade only". This means the events are not open to the public, with the main attendees being people who own, run or work for retailers. There are several of these in the UK including Top Drawer, Pulse, etc.

The event I chose was Scotland's Trade Fair, held in January over 3 days at the SECC in Glasgow. My main reason for trying this event first over the other more established events was that the venue was literally 2 miles from my house and at the time, my studio was less than half a mile away. I wanted to iron out any mistakes and find a set-up that worked for me on home territory first as well as, of course, meet local retail traders who would be interested in my products.


Apart from the usual "am I good enough/will people like my product?" nerves, the most prohibitive factor to exhibiting at a trade fair for the first time is undoubtedly the costs involved. It is no small undertaking to make the leap from craft fair to trade fair (and it's a giant leap of Moon-landings proportions). Firstly, there are the stand costs. These are usually worked out per square metre and there is usually a minimum stand size. There is also a choice of stand options, in this case:

  • Shell Scheme stand - the most common form of stand fitting offering an inclusive ready-to-go system. The cost includes white walls, fascia, name panel and standard lighting.
  • Space Only stand – exhibition floor space for companies who have their own stand and lighting systems. (Usually a much larger footprint than a shell scheme stand).

I chose the shell scheme option as most people probably do. The price for me was around the £500 mark for 1.5 x 2 square metres including VAT (although I actually ended up getting 1.5 x 3 square metres at no extra cost when the organisers moved me across the passageway to allow a big space-only stand to set up opposite). Most shows have a launch pad gallery for new designers with slightly reduced rates, too.

As well as the stand, there were shelves, special lighting, credit card machines, power points, tables, chairs and all sorts of other things on offer to hire at an extra cost from an approved company working with the organisers.

This is a large sum of money, I think we'll all agree for a small one-man band to pay out and this is one of the cheaper events to attend. So you really need to ensure that you are well prepared, make the absolute most of it and, well, that you are prepared to spend at least double the stand fee to make it worthwhile.

Trade Show Prep - A Lot Of Lists Prep 2
Trade Show Prep - A Lot Of Lists Prep 2


So once you've made your booking and wept a little over your bank balance, that's when the hard work starts. Firstly, of course, there's your all-important product. You need to think long and hard about this before you go near a booking form, of course.

Some questions to ponder:

  • Does your product scale up? Can you, effectively, mass produce it?
  • Do you have time to fulfil a lot of extra orders? Would you need help to do that?
  • Will you need to buy more stock or supplies? Do you have room for it all in your spare room?
  • Will you offer a collection rather than your entire inventory?
  • How about shipping costs?
  • Have you worked out proper wholesale prices?

A lot of thinking there! My product scales up, but only to a certain extent. I'd already taken on staff and have a database of willing workers for when I expand that pool of help. So I knew that scalability of making the product was not a big issue. However, I finish everything myself, frame it, package it, etc, so I had to work out if I had time to physically manage that alongside the online orders and craft fairs and my personal commitments and day job.

Trade Show Prep 3
Trade Show Prep 3

The conclusion was that no, I didn't, so something had to go in the run up to the event. That something was craft fairs which were giving me the least return for the most effort. So instead of spending a week preparing for a craft fair and then a whole weekend actually at it, I used the time to whittle down my collection I'd offer at the trade fair, make up samples, work out a stand layout and design my marketing materials.

I had a very clear idea in my head of how I wanted my stand to look and there are two reasons for that. Firstly, I know my products and I know the sort of press they've had from the likes of the Sunday Times Style magazine and the Guardian, and so I thought about the sorts of things they'd been associated with and imagined the sort of customers that the retailers visiting the show might have. I knew that something that would stand out from the rest of the stands was needed and that it should reflect the quirkily quaint nature of my products.

Secondly, I spent time researching what other stands looked like. I actually attended the fair twice as a visitor before I signed up for a stand so I could see what other people were doing, talk to exhibitors I knew and learn from their experiences and also see how to physically put my vision into being. On my second visit, I took along my husband and a friend so we could look at stands and discuss how we could make my plan work practically with the least amount of encroachment into the aesthetic side. We spent several hours each time going round, taking notes, talking to people and then visited the organiser's office to discuss how we could set up and learn more about how to approach it. The organisers were very helpful and actively encouraged me to get in touch and see how they could help. Most organisers will be happy to discuss what you might need in advance, and encourage you to sign up as a visitor (free of charge) to attend before you take the plunge. Some even run seminars for first-timers.

After I'd decided on my products and had an idea of how I wanted the stand to look, my thoughts turned to promotional materials. The first thing was to design a brochure. I originally started off with an 8 page extravaganza but after discussions with my designer, decided to pare this down to a 4 page booklet. The main reason for this was to make my brochure work for more than one occasion. I often introduce new designs and retire older ones to the "made to order" section, so I wanted to keep just my classic pieces in the brochure and decided to represent each group of products with one or two best-selling items.

More Trade Show Prep 4
More Trade Show Prep 4

I also made up a price list and an order form for each brochure so I could make up an info pack. These I had printed professionally by a local printer (they folded them for me too which was an unexpected bonus). I then spent an entire evening folding everything into packs and packing them up for the event about a week beforehand.

I also had postcards printed with an image on one side of one of my products and my contact details on the back with a little blurb about the company. These I again kept fairly general so I could use them at a later date. The cost all in for printing (not including design), including an A3 colour print of my logo for the stand ends was around £200.

This is the first in a four part series on trade fairs - come back next Monday for part 2! 

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