Questions at 5am.

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…..”

Do I really want to be thinking about this at 5am?

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

You can't please all the customers all the time

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

Generally this is not a good sign

 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?

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16 Responses to Questions at 5am.

  1. Abi says:

    Once again a beautifully written piece of fun! I’ve loved reading that. Very funny, straight down the line advice but lighthearted enough for 9.30pm after I’ve been working all day! Wind turbines ARE incredibly important Mummy! I love this style of writing – more please! xx

  2. Emma says:

    Wow what a wonderful read xx

  3. rachael says:

    Hi, and thanks for this post. I’m doing my first craft fair in less than 10 days and I’m so nervous (albeit excited) about what to expect.

    I think it’ll be like giving birth – you can read up on it as much as you like but you won’t really know what its like til you just take the plunge and do it!

  4. Houdini says:

    Thanks for that Cathy. You know I’m interested in doing a stall for what seems like forever now – but it’s a scary process – baring your heart & soul for other people to judge your creations. Very interesting read though, with sound advice and find of food for thought. Your old lady story made me chuckle! Hope to see you as a fellow seller one of these days…although I’d still be over to admire and purchase from your stunning stall anyhow! Hope you and yours are well – Al x

    • Hi Mr!, Thanks for your read. When I see you actually exhibiting at an event I am going to buy you the biggest piece of cake I can find and then buy from your stall! Stay focused and tuned in! Love and dead mice, Cathy x

  5. Elle says:

    Thank You, some really great advise!
    As for the dreaded patter of little feet padding around the bed at and unmentionable time in the mornning followed by those deep and meaningful questions, you have my complete understanding, although we always start with the same question in our house … ‘Mummy why are you sleeping?’ …. apparantly ‘because its 5am’ isn’t an answer my three yr old understands.

    • Hi Elle
      Thanks for reading. I know you see where I am coming from…..5am is devil time and should actually be illegal. Fingers crossed that you get a lie in until 5.30am. Stay tuned. Love Cathy x

  6. tialys says:

    Hi there, I’ve just come here via Al (Houdini) as I loved the look of your work on his blog. I’ve favourited 3 of your items on Etsy and particularly like your camper van purses as my daughter has a dream of driving around the States in one and I thought it would make a great Christmas pressie (I know, a bit early but, still).

  7. tialys says:

    Had to start a new reply as it wouldn’t let me type anymore – too verbose I suppose. Anyway, I meant driving around the States in an actual camper van and not one of your purses of course! Thanks for the guide to markets. I have only done one or two but I get very ungenerous feelings about people who come up, have a feel of your stuff and then make that noise that means ‘far too expensive’ or actually say, ‘I could make that myself’. ‘Well, why don’t you then?’, I want to say but one has to be customer friendly. It’s as if you are not sitting there and can hear them and might feel hurt.

    • Hi there
      Thanks for your reply. Yes, there are some very rude people about and rather than saying nothing, feel the need to tell you something which is neither helpful nor interesting. Best just to smile.
      Driving around in one of my camper purses? Sounds like it should be a sponsored event!
      Thanks so much for ‘favouriting’ my work, I will go and see what you like now and do lots of smiling.
      Let me know if I can be of any help for pressi’s and maybe one day our paths will cross.

      Best Wishes


  8. gigisjewels says:

    Cathy, you are as stunning a writer as you are a creator. And what a lucky child he is for you to be his mother! LOVE your work, every snippet and stitch of it, and also your blog. Don’t let those cheap grannie get ya down. What you may not realize is that they trudge off filled with regret that they didn’t spring for one of your treasures, and they never get around to creating themselves because they can’t get those seams quite right while scowling. ;D


  9. houdini says:

    MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours 😉

    Al xxx

  10. Houdini says:

    Cathy…do you realise that it’s been almost a year since your last blog post (!!)…not that I’m counting or anything!!!

    No pressure…but, you did promise us a new post…teehee xxx

  11. Tina W. says:

    Mildly related comment (maybe as far as marketing goes?) – I saw your postcard on the Liberate Your Art swap on Facebook and had to come check out your site. Gorgeous work!

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