My first craft fair was a pathetic affair on my part as I sat silently beside my stall. I was too shy to talk to anyone, didn’t make eye contact with customers and came away with a tiny £3.50 profit. And yet I went on to do another. Why?
What was it about sitting next to a table for several hours whilst people looked at and critiqued my work that made me want to repeat the experience, not just once, but 40 more times before the end of 2011?
People: my motivation was, and continues to be the people I meet.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pretend that my basic aim is anything other than to earn some money. However, the reason I choose to do it this way rather than to focus on internet sales is that, by having a stall at a craft fair, I am able to meet and interact with a variety of people, none of whom I would have have been likely to meet otherwise.
Like many people I’m not blessed with a huge amount of self confidence and always worry about what people think of me; I don’t consider myself to be good at small talk with friends and am not confident when it comes to mummy chit chat in the school playground. However, there’s something about talking to people I don’t know that I find hugely enjoyable and often comes more naturally to me.
The people I meet at craft events fall into two categories: customers and stallholders.
I used to be incredibly nervous when I arrived at a craft fair, especially if it was a venue I’d never been to before, but fellow stallholders always helped to alleviate those nerves. Everyone remembers their first craft fair and is happy to help with moral support, encouragement and advice, as well as the more practical issues of helping to put up a gazebo, lending Blu-Tack or the all important minding your stall when you need to go to the loo. I have met so many delightful people on my side of the stall over the past 16 months, some of whom I meet at repeat events and would now class as friends.
My inspiration for writing this blog is the people I met this weekend at the Pembury Art & Craft Exhibition. I arrived at St Peter’s Church knowing only one person, the organiser Kate Lucas, but throughout the weekend I met and got to know a dozen more. Most people knew each other already but there was no sign of a clique and I was welcomed by everyone. I witnessed people manning stalls for others if they had to leave early, loaning lighting to improve displays, advice being given on stall layout and moral support if sales were low.
Perhaps the atmosphere was so harmonious because the event was held in a church? The surroundings may have helped, but fundamentally it was the people who made this weekend so enjoyable and it’s such people who are common to all the events I’ve been involved in, and they’re part of the reason I have enjoyed every one.
The other reason is customers.
I don’t actively try to sell as that doesn’t come naturally to me. Instead I simply say hello when someone approaches my stall and see where that leads: it may lead to a sale it may not, but either way the hello is always genuine. At Hildenborough Farmers’ Market I specifically choose to have a stall in the foyer as then my hello is more obviously a natural greeting as opposed to a sales approach. That initial hello invariable leads to a conversation which could be about anything: upcycling, something funny that just comes to mind, a (genuine) compliment about something they’re wearing, or that old stalwart, the Great British weather. I love these conversations as it’s a good way to meet everyone and my favourite example was recently telling a 3½ year old girl how pretty her shoes were and asking whether I could have them, then hearing her say yes as she bent down to undo the buckles. So sweet!
Chatting to people is fun and at regular events customers have become friends who have been generous in giving me fabric and buttons, feedback on my work and advice and inspiration for new products. Some have even bought something, which is the ultimate compliment for a stallholder to receive :).
Without craft fairs I would simply be working from home actively avoiding the chit chat in the school playground. True, I would still have Facebook and the invaluable friendship and support that it provides, but attending craft fairs means I am constantly meeting new people, and that always makes me smile.