It’s early. Very early. Too early even for the birds. From some far off distant slumberland I can feel tiny fingers gently lifting my firmly shut eyelid.
“Mummy? Who would win in a fight? A killer whale or a great white shark..?”
My brain doesn’t compute. It can barely understand the question, never mind answer it.
“Cos… I think it would be the shark because, did you know, that a shark’s teeth point backwards so that there is absolutely, definitely, no way at all, that…..”
I reach for the alarm clock and hold it to my forced-open eye. 05.23. I groan and try and pretend that my 7 year old is actually still fast asleep. Who am I kidding? I know he wants his question answering so I sneak a peek from under the warmth of the duvet to see a wide eyed, blonde haired boy kneeling beside me, grinning and ready to argue with my response.
“Well…” I say… and so my day begins.
Like most parents, my days are filled with very important questions that absolutely need answering, such as the shark and whale fight club debate.
But there are other questions I get asked with answers that come more readily to me. Recently I’ve been asked a lot about how to make a success of the Maker’s Market and Craft Fair circuit and, providing I don’t get asked before 7am, I can usually present an answer which should prove helpful.
It’s true to say that I have had my fair share of disastrous events where I’ve not sold a sausage, but then I have also experienced the nirvana which all us makers dream of. It’s not an urban myth, providing all the variables are spot on, you can sell lots and lots! So for those of you who are thinking about revealing your soul on a 6ft x 4ft table, here are a few of my answers for you to peruse.
Q: How do I know that my work is good enough?
A: Don’t ask your friends
You have to make your work your absolute best – none of this “it’ll do” attitude. The customer will notice and so will you when it’s laid out on your stall. Your work has to make you feel proud and confident so don’t ask your friends for their opinion – they will always be kind and won’t necessarily tell you the truth. I’m not suggesting that you approach complete strangers in the street to conduct Apprentice style market research, but think about asking people who you know would give you truthful answers and ask the type of person your product is aimed at.
Q: How do I know what to charge?
A: Don’t listen to old people
Let me tell you a true story. After hours spent snipping tiny pieces of vintage fabric and arranging teeny toadstools all in a row my toadstool glasses cases were the bee’s knees and looked oh so cute on my stall. People admired them, had a squeeze but gently placed them back. That’s OK I thought, at least they smiled… Along came a sweet looking elderly lady who picked one up and squinted to see the price. Then she threw it back on stall as if she’d discovered a dead mouse in it and firmly informed me she could make one for £2.00 and that I should be ashamed of myself for charging £8.50. I was offended to say the least and was ready to run home crying into my skirt. But as I’m a thirtysomething professional, and didn’t want to smear mascara down my face, I grew a thick skin instead.
Pricing is a tricky one but it’s important to get it right for everybody’s sake. If something seems too cheap it undervalues your work but, on the other hand, you don’t want to bring it home. Work out how much it cost you to make in time and materials then work out how much it is worth. Do some research into the cost of similar products, think about who you will sell to and where. You may have spent hours lovingly hand stitching each piece but some customers don’t really care about that, they will buy it if they love it not because of the time you spent making it. Be honest with yourself but remember – you’re not a charity.
Q: Where can I go to sell my work?
A: Where you would go to buy it?
I’ve spent many hours staring into my tea as coach loads of customers walk straight past
my stall and then spend £2 on a factory produced candle. Location is high on the list of ‘get it rights’ so it’s important you know your market. This will save you money (stall price/travel expenses/time) and face. It can be soul destroying when you sell diddley-squat, sick of smiling at customers, you’ll just want to go home.
Visit as many local events as you can to see what else is being sold there. Talk to the stall holders, find out stall price, if there’s commission, what the average footfall is and what the marketing strategy is. You need to be confident the event organiser is working for their money. Designer/Maker events usually have an eclectic range of exhibiters and having your work vetted before they accept you is a good sign as it means quality is important reflecting on the standard and the variation of work they are looking for.
Q: How can I catch the customer’s eye?
A: It’s more than showing a bit of leg!
You’re accepted, the date is set and you’re working like a demon to get your pieces finished but you need to think about your stall. Don’t think of a flat 6 x4 ft trestle table but think of your own little shop. Consider what your products say about you as an artist, what is the common thread running through your work and could this be a theme for your stall? You need to catch the customer’s eye and draw them in, then you need to keep them there. All this without looking desperate! While visiting other events jot down a few notes on your favourite stalls then practice at home, think about colours that enhance your work. Often a simple and clean approach is best and whilst props are good too be prepared for punters to ask how much they are! It can take me the best part of 2 hours to stop faffing with my stall and even then I am constantly tweaking it throughout the day. It’s exhausting but fun!
I’ve learnt by trial and error and you may well too before you find your groove but remember even if you have followed all of the above, sometimes customer’s purses stay firmly shut! But don’t be disheartened. Chin up and at least you can spend your time contemplating the bigger questions of life like what does the moon taste of or how do wind turbines make electricity mummy?