Monday, 21 July 2014

The great outdoors - vintage in the wild!

The summer time is a great time to be doing outdoor vintage and antiques events.  Many fairs take place in amazing settings - often privately owned properties and not generally open to the public.  My own visits to outdoor fair venues this year have included the glorious grounds of a wonderful country castle; the well-tended gardens of a delightful Cotswold stone country cottage in the middle of nowhere; a beautiful green park in London - complete with pond; a golf course overlooking the South Downs in Sussex.  The atmosphere is always joyful as the fairs' organisers bring together unusual and speciality catering ranging from afternoon tea to fashionable street food purveyors;  entertainment and attractions such as vintage car and bike displays, jive or Lindy Hop dancers, swing singers or brass bands,  even old-fashioned fete games and attractions. And these events bring a much wider audience than most specialist vintage or antique fairs.

For the vintage trader, these outdoor events are a great way to get out and meet a wider audience.  Whilst the real vintage addicts will visit every fair and shop they can, many more people will just enjoy a day out at a lovely place, with the vintage as an extra bonus.   And a new audience equals potential new customers.  Whether your stock is beautiful antiques, decorative vintage, funky retro, upcycled furniture or handmade items, your stall may inspire someone to try a new look or buy something unique.  So many people only shop on the high street or online so a fantastic vintage event can be a real revelation and inspiration to them.  Footfall at many of these events is high - one big London annual fair held on Wimbledon Common attracts 10,000 visitors!  And the first Classic Car Boot Sale, held on London's iconic South Bank, drew in over 7,000 visitors who enjoyed the amazing atmosphere with live music, street food, stalls and vintage vehicles to view.

Rather like camping, trading outdoors is a challenge - rain, wind, mud or heatwaves all present their own problems. It is essential to have some kind of decent rain/shade cover in place - on a hot day you will welcome the shade and on a wet day, it will protect you and your stock.  If you are on a tight budget, all the supermarkets and homestores sell cheap gazebos which do the job of covering your stand area.  These are usually very lightweight, relatively easy to assemble and cost around £50-75.  However, they tend not to wear well with heavy use.  Be aware that most are 3 m x 3 m so when booking your space, make sure you have enough room for a gazebo.  If you are only given space for a table, then an garden umbrella may be your only option.  Make sure you fix it into a sturdy parasol base, tie it down or hammer it into the ground - a strong gust of wind and you may find your umbrella flying off or knocking over your stall!  An umbrella won't stop the rain blowing in underneath on a very wet day.

Hardware stores sell plastic sheeting by the metre, so you might also invest in some large pieces of this to throw over your stock if not covered entirely by your gazebo or umbrella.  These are useful if leaving stock out overnight at an event, as the sheeting protects delicate items from condensation, birds and nosy parkers!  Get clear plastic if you can, so your stock can still be seen on a wet day even if you have to cover it over.  Large clamps or pegs are useful to clip the sheets to the tables - otherwise weight them down with stones.

If you want a more professional gazebo, it is worth spending a while researching a good one and getting recommendations from other traders.  The best I have used are the pop up variety which concertina out on jointed frames.  They usually need two people to put them up, but someone will always give you a hand at an event.  The better quality ones have steel frames, which are less likely to bend or snap than cheaper options.  Buy the sides as well - these are essential in wet weather or if leaving your stall overnight.  Some companies even make bespoke gazebos in different colours with your own logo or name imprinted.  A good gazebo can cost from £150 upwards, but should last you a few seasons.  If the gazebo gets wet, you should dry out the cover when you get it home to prevent rotting.  Don't forget to take leg weights to secure the gazebo - some fairs now insist on this, as a Healthy and Safety requirement.  If using guy ropes, put coloured ribbon or tape on them to ensure visitors can see them and do not trip.  It is your responsibility to make sure your equipment is safe and cannot cause an accident.

There are also gazebo hire companies - they provide units in various sizes including small marquees which are of professional quality.  Hiring is a good option if you only do an occasional event or have nowhere to store gazebos and umbrellas. Some companies will even deliver, erect and collect their equipment, depending on the type hired.  This can be a time saver if you don't have anyone helping you or space in your car for equipment.

At many outdoor events, you can drive your vehicle onto or close to your pitch for loading/unloading.  The organiser should tell you about the arrangements for delivery, loading and parking before the day. But if the event is on a private garden, you will probably have to carry your stock from a parking point.  It is worth investing  in a decent portable trolley.  There are several types of trolley available - a sturdy shopping trolley or basket might work if your stock isn't bulky or heavy such as jewellery or handmade textile goods.  Heavier items can be moved either on a sack trolley - the upright sort used by railway porters, or on a flatbed trolley - where items can be laid on the trolley base and pulled along.  Many trolleys fold down flat so are easy enough to transport and store in a car or van.  Using a trolley will save you a lot of time and a sore back if you have a lot to move.  It is also useful to have a trolley available to lend to customers who want to take heavy items back to their cars.

Many outside events organisers do not supply traders with a table/s, so you will need to source your own suitable tables.  Old-fashioned wooden trestle tables look wonderful at country events and are also very hard-wearing.  The trestle legs fold flat, but the tops don't fold so you will need a long estate car or van, or a sturdy roof rack to transport them.  The wooden tables are heavy as well, so may not be ideal if you find lifting and carrying difficult.  Lightweight modern trestle tables, with plastic tops are a good alternative.  Both types of table can be purchased online through specialist companies.  Old style wooden tables come up on Ebay, and on specialist sites - but they can be expensive.  Or you may be lucky and find one in your local free ad paper or through a village or church hall that is getting rid of them.  A simpler option is the decorator's pasting table, much loved by boot salers.  These fold up, are light to transport and easily available.  Avoid the very cheap plyboard options, as these bow under weight and are very flimsy..  Go for the ones with solid tops and strong legs - a bit more expensive but will last longer.  All types of these tables can be found at Homebase, B&Q and other hardware/DIY stores.

Keeping warm at outside events can be a challenge, especially you do them in the winter months.  An old piece of carpet or even a piece of strong cardboard to stand on helps to keep your feet warm and dry.  Concrete or wet grass can make your feet very cold and uncomfortable if you are standing all day.  Fingerless gloves or wrist warmers are useful for keeping your hands warm but allow you to handle money easily.  Pocket handwarmers available from camping shops are also handy, if you suffer with cold fingers.

Personally, I always take a picnic with me to outdoor events.  A little folding table and chairs to sit at is very useful, and gives you a place to put your notebook, pens, wrapping materials as well as somewhere to eat.  Coolbags for your water, drinks and food are a sensible and hygienic way to keep food chilled and bug-free.  Food at outside events can be costly and if you have to queue for a while, you could be losing out on sales at your stand.  Having your own supplies keeps things simple and cost-effective.  If permitted by the fair organiser, a camping stove or portable barbeque can be useful to warm up soup, cook a few sausages or just boil a kettle.  And it all adds to the fun of the day for you and your helper/s.

You will probably have more space to set out your stock than at an indoor event.  Make the most of this by bringing larger items of stock and seasonal items.  Garden items, sporting paraphenalia, luggage and beach furniture are very popular in the summer months.   A row of stripey deckchairs or an arrangement of garden statutary can be really eye-catching.  Some of the items that sell well at outdoor events include:

  • garden furniture - sets of tables and chairs, benches or tree seats in wood or metal

  • garden statues, urns, water features and small ornaments - animals are particularly popular
Gorgeous vintage whippet statue 

  • deckchairs, sun loungers, windbreaks and directors' chairs - colourful and vibrant

  • galvanised items such as baths, buckets and containers look great displayed with flowers

Eye-catching collection of gardenalia

  • vintage bicycles and tricycles, handcarts and trolleys

  • vintage toys such as rocking horses, pull-along toys, ride-on toys are visually appealing

Pull-along dogs - what fun!

  • enamel containers such as florists buckets, large bowls and baths for planters

  • weathervanes and decorative ironwork such as rose arches,plant troughs, plant holders

  • croquet sets, old tennis racquets, clock golf sets

  • quirky items such as old bird cages, finials and gargoyles, lobster pots are great talking pieces

  • terracotta flower pots, rhubarb forcers, planters are useful and ornamental

  • wicker picnic baskets, with or without their cutlery and crockery - popular with vintage car enthusiasts!

This can form all or part of your stock - outdoor items look great mixed with homeware.  Adding plants and flowers to the display really enhances the appearance - ferns, lavenders, geraniums, hydrangeas, lupins and foxgloves are perfect.

Once well equipped, outside events can be enormous fun - with a picnic and the sunshine you could almost be on holiday!  Winter outside events are more of a challenge.  Sunbury Antiques Market, held at Kempton Race Course, runs all year, rain or shine.  But it is always packed with traders and buyers.  Wearing lots layers, taking hot drinks and soup with you and moving around all help to keep warm.

If you have not done an outside event before, look out for new events in magazines with listings such as Homes and Antiques   Many events only run in the summer or are held as part of another bigger event such as a country show.   Being outside in the English countryside on a clear day beats being in an office anyday so make the most of the opportunity!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Vintage events....the inside story!

Why run a vintage event?
The explosion in interest in all things vintage is fed by a vast range of fairs, vintage festivals and themed days all over the country.  All these events are organised and managed by someone with the knowledge and skills to bring many elements together to create a harmonious event.  Many people have been tempted into trying to run their own event and at face value it looks like an easy proposition.  "Just" hire a hall, get some stalls, place some ads and take the money!  But as any fair organiser will tell you, running a fair is very stressful and time-consuming - recently, a fair organiser told me she would rather organise 5 weddings instead of one vintage fair.  It is fun putting on an event, and a great buzz when it goes well.

Running a vintage or antiques event can be a way of expanding your vintage business.  Be prepared for a lot of work and stress - you may not even make much money on your first venture.

Local vintage jumble sale

Where to start?
Like any start-up, identifying a gap or niche in the market is a key start point.  If you live in an area where there already many fairs, you may have missed the boat to launch another.  There is probably a finite number of customers and sellers to get involved in any area, unless you have a massive following or deep pockets for advertising far and wide.  On the other hand, the number of successful events might suggest that there is enough interest and enthusiasm for a new event, particularly if you can come up with something original. 

Test the market
 If you have friends who trade or buy at vintage markets, ask their views.  Would they support a new fair, do they have any suggestions about timing or location, what do they like/dislike about other events?  Market research could yield some useful answers and help you develop a unique proposition.  

Unique Selling Point
A fantastic venue, such as a private estate, unusual  historic building or even a under-used town or village hall could be a perfect location and make your event feel different.  Try to identify a Unique Selling Point (USP) that will make your fair stand out. Many vintage fairs offer a mix of vintage and handmade items; vintage-style tea rooms and cafes; nostalgic music and entertainment.  Your USP could be the venue -  a chance to see inside a wonderful building or garden could  be a huge draw.  Or perhaps a local celebrity or well-known author signing books might draw the crowds. Selina Lake, a well-known author and stylist recently launched her book on Pastel Style at a lovely vintage fair in a wonderful historic market hall.  Her name and incentive of goody bags, drew a lot of people to the event.

A stall at an outside fair in the Hampshire countryside

The choice of venue is very important factor, both to draw crowds, provide the right facilities and ambiance and because venue hire will be one of your biggest costs.  Civic amenities such as town and village halls, are usually hired out by the hour, with extra charges for early or late opening.  Many come with restrictions on use, which can be a headache for the organiser.  Some will require you to take out an events insurance policy to cover your public liability.

Do bear in mind access to free and convenient parking - traders hate having to unload and then move their cars to distant car parks.  Parking on site is ideal and free parking nirvana!  A town centre venue rarely offers such a luxury.  If you are running a town centre event, make sure that you tell traders where the cheapest long-stay car parks are located or even arrange a deal with a local car park.  

Village halls can be cheap to hire, with facilities varying from basic to beautiful.  Many are well located on main roads, with ample parking and often by recreation fields which is great for families visiting your event.  Check out before you hire if there is a playing field - if your event is on at the same time as a local sporting fixture, the car park may not cope with all the cars.  

If you want to find something a bit different, renovated barns are often stunning venues but are likely to be costly as they are used primarily as wedding or party venues.  For the same reason, hotels and conference centres are likely to be rather expensive.  Or you could approach the managers of a local attraction such as show garden or petting farm, that might be willing to host an event to increase their own footfall.  Playing fields, public parks, stately homes, country estates and even school playing fields out of term, can offer the ideal space for an outdoor event. Your local council will have a list of venues that can be hired in your area.  Hiring a marquee can add a huge cost, so if a new venture, why not suggest traders bring their own gazebos.  Or offer a gazebo hire as an additional, chargeable service.  Gazebos can usually be borrowed, hired or even bought cheaply out of season.
trading from a gazebo at the Avington Brocante

Make sure the space allows for an adequate number of stalls, bearing in mind that stall fees should cover this cost.  Space per stand/stall is around 9 foot (to allow for a table of 6ft length and space to get in and out)  and about 5-6 feet out from the wall, to allow for chairs behind a table.  You may want to divide your space into bigger sections if people are bringing furniture.  Make sure you measure your space and use the floor plan to draw a layout to scale.  You can always use the middle space in a room or marquee for stands arranged in a single row, or in a "boxing ring" formation with tables on the outside of a square, traders inside.  If there is a stage area, this can be used for stalls and side rooms as well.  Outside space such as a courtyard or forecourt might be suitable for sellers of garden items or plants and flowers.

Other facilities to check are the kitchen/catering areas - some halls are well equipped and others only have rudimentary facilities.  In the latter instance, you will need to work out what equipment you may need to bring including crockery and cutlery, which adds to your workload.  Also check the toilets - are these adequate for your estimated number of participants and of course, disabled access.  Public buildings must conform to standards, but if you are using a private building they may not have suitable facilities.  Some listed or Heritage properties are not easy for disabled visitors to access or use.
Cakes and produce

Timing of your event
You must alow sufficient time to bring your new event a new to market including recruiting stallholders as well as your customer base.  Well established fairs that run on a regular basis can roll out new dates at relatively short notice, but a new event needs a longer incubation.  It is advisable to start planning about 6-9 months before your proposed event date.

Check out competitor fair dates, both locally and also the big national fairs that attract a lot of dealers (Ardingly, Newark, Kempton).  Bank Holiday weekends are often packed with events and activities aimed at families, so may be sensible to avoid.  Peak holiday times such as late July and August are also tricky - many people are away and those at home are probably spending money on days out with their families.  This may not be relevant if your fair is running alongside another activity such as a summer festival or country show.  The day of the week could affect your numbers.  If you are in an area where many people are free during the week then a day in the week may be fine.  In a town or busy city, weekends are likely to be better when people are at leisure. What works in one area may not work in another, but Saturdays generally seem to work very well for most events.  Don't forget that special days such as Mother's Day, Valentines and Easter might conflict with a vintage event. 

Attracting stallholders
Once you have settled on a date and theme/name for your event, you can start to recruit stallholders.  Many organisers use promotional postcards or fliers to promote their event to both potential stallholders and to customers. Spending a bit of time and money on having an attractive and well-worded postcard designed can is a worthwhile investment - this will be the showcase for your brand. Think carefully about the event name and overall "look and feel" - is it classic, retro, vintage - your material should reflect your desired image. These days, organisers are coming up with exciting and enticing names for their fairs - some good examples include:

The Sussex Country Brocante
The Vintage Jumble Sale
Country and Artisan Market
The Decorative Living Fair
Cuckfield Emporium

And in the USA, they have some cracking names such as Junkstock.

A distinctive name will be easy to remember and be part of your USPs.

Stallholder - getting the right balance
Getting a good mix of stallholders is absolutely essential for a good event.  If you have a good contact list,  use it to invite a handpicked group of traders.  This is a great way of ensuring you have a good range of stock and of the right quality on offer.  If you are starting from scratch you will have to actively recruit your stallholders.  This can be done through advertising, fliers place in local antique/vintage centres and at other events.  If at a competitor vintage fair, check with the organiser if they mind you approaching their stallholders and visitors.  Some even have a table for advertising other events, and one or two will not allow you to distribute.  Offer a swap - suggest that you promote your event in return for promoting their fair at your event.

Facebook is another great way of launching your fair and promoting it to potential stallholders and customers.  Set up a business page for your fair or as an event on your personal page and begin building a following.  Invite friends and followers to like your event and share to other pages which are seen by potential customers.  This might be community pages for your area, interest pages, other vintage business pages.  

Make sure you update your Facebook page regularly with photos and news about your event. Use the event flier as your profile picture to really make it stand out!  It's a good idea to put photos up of stallholders' stock when announcing which sellers are joining you.  Don't forget to tag the seller when you put the picture up.  Ask your sellers to promote the event via their page as well - cross-posting can reach 1,000s of contacts.  Twitter is a fantastic way of reaching out to customers - don't forget to hashtag your event so that those searching the Twittersphere can find it - the hashtag #vintage works well.  Try to get friends to re-Tweet your tweets or get a conversation going with your vintage community.

Once your event is established, word-of-mouth recommendation by stallholders is always valuable.  And if you do really well, you are in a position to invite your best stallholders to show at your events.

Administration and operations
It is essential to be systematic in dealing with enquiries, bookings and follow-ups.  Nothing is more irritating and off-putting to a potential seller if an email or phone call is unanswered.  And it doesn't give a good impression of your efficiency as an event manager!  Creating a booking form is a good idea - collect the usual name, address, contact information, Facebook and website pages and mobile number.  Additionally, ask for a short description of what will be sold and if possible, stock photographs.  You may want to vet unknown buyers and having photos gives you a chance to see what they bring.  Check out their Facebook pages for pictures and see if they have an active following.  It is sensible to get payment upfront, as you will have many costs to cover.  This is always the headache for any organiser - you may have to chase payment to ensure it arrives before the day.  To simplify this, consider setting up a special Paypal account which is a very easy way of receiving payments.

Once you have the booking form and payment, around 7 days before the event confirm the operational arrangements to your sellers by e-mail.  This should cover the following:

  • Set up/unloading time slot - you may wish to allocate a time slot if parking is limited
  • Where to park - details of allocated parking/local car parks/costs
  • Trading hours including any early opening times
  • Admission charges to the public
  • Catering - what is available
  • Breakdown times - time slots/parking arrangements if necessary
  • Health and safety reminders re electric cables; secure shelving units, clear gangways etc

Stallholders really appreciate efficiency, as they often have long journeys and other arrangements to put in place to attend your day and do not want problems when they arrive!  If you need to issue car park passes, wristbands, tickets etc make sure these are sent out in good time. And do have a contingency plan for those who turn up without them! ie a record of who is coming and who has paid for what. 

Lay-out of your event
It will help you and your traders if you have a floor plan prepared and stands allocated.  Most venues can provide a black and white floor plan or you can sketch your own (even use graph paper if it helps).  You can then work out how many stalls you can fit into the space.  Make sure you leave fire exits clear and that there is sufficient space between each stall for people to move in and out.  Gangways must be kept clear for pushchairs and wheelchairs.  Number the stalls and allocate on your master floor plan - do this in pencil, as you may need to change it before the day.  

Some people will have specific requests such as having  wall space, being near the cafe or being next to a friend.  It is up to you to decide how to allocate and on what basis.  If all else fails, allocate on a first come first served basis, rewarding those that make an early commitment with a good spot.  If you are offering outside space, make sure there is a wet weather option or just advise those sellers to be prepared!  Gazebos are relatively cheap to buy or hire but that should be the sellers' responsibility.  Most venues supply tables and chairs, but do be clear if sellers need to bring these along with them.  Experienced traders often have their own tables and props.

On the day, make sure you have several copies of the floor plan and even pin one to show the allocated spaces so it is easy for sellers to find their space.  Also, any helpers can see where people should go without having to ask every time.

Getting in the customers
An event of this type is only a success if you can get quality customers through the door.  Not just people having a look, but people buying from your stallholders.  This is the area where many new fairs fail - it is so disappointing for the organiser and the stallholders are so frustrated and upset.  So, you must give customer promotion your full attention from the get-go.  As you recruit your sellers, so you can also promote to potential buyers.  Your promotional postcards and fliers can be distributed around local shops, cafes, pubs, tourist offices, antique and vintage centres and fairs.  Give your sellers a supply and ask them to give out to their contacts.  You may need to print several thousand postcards or posters but this can really pay off.

Use local media to promote the event - your local newspaper, free paper or even parish magazine are all channels to potential customers.  You will probably need to place display ads in relevant papers and magazines in the weeks leading up to your event.  Advertising can be costly, so think carefully about where you advertise.  Look at the circulation and reach of each potential channel.  Can you advertise online and in print - good to do both, as not everyone looks at the Internet.  If your fair is more ambitious, you may want to advertise in monthly magazines such as BBC Homes and Antiques, but this is a big outlay for a new event. 

If you plan ahead,  many popular magazines will publish details of your event in a free listings/what's on section. National magazines need this information several months ahead; local papers work on a shorter timelie.  A press release should include the date, time and venue of your fair, your details and contact information and some interesting points about the event eg number of sellers, type of goods to be found, refreshments, entertainment etc. 

Some local radio stations do a mention of events so don't forget to send them information - not too far in advance though.  Call up to find out how they work and what they need to publicise your event. 

Outdoor promotion
Good signage will also help to bring customers to your fair.  Easy to read signs advertising the date, venue and times are ideal. You must be careful to check out what is permissible - many councils are actively against signposting of events unless done by the AA and RAC.  Take a lead from other local events and use sites and spots that are established.  Avoid tying your sign to any important road signs especially warning signs, as it may distract a driver and cause an accident.  If you can find private land where the owner is happy to display a sign, then that is ideal.  Be sensitive to the environment - use recyclable materials where you can and do take the signs away after the event.  Handmade signs, using pallets or wooden boards can work well or have them professionally made by a sign printing specialist.

Designing your signs
As most people see signs from a car, it is really important they can be read without causing the driver to go off the road!  Large clear dark type on a light or bright background is ideal.  Don't try to put too much information on one sign - people will only have a few seconds to read it.  Vinyl banners can be made large and displayed from fences or walls - these can be costly but a good investment if you plan to run a regular event.  A-boards can be good in town centres, but there are usually conditions on using these set by local councils.  Wall mounted posters are fine, but make sure you laminate them or put them in a weather-proof clear plastic folder, otherwise the rain will damage them.  Sizewise, A3 and even bigger signs work well, but smaller A4 posters can work inside shops, on car windows or at bus stops or community noticeboards.  Local shops usually make a small charge to display a poster, but this is a cheap way of reaching out to a wide audience.

Some fair organisers arrange for leaflet or flier drops to the area close to their fairs.  This involves posting a leaflet through every letter box.  It might be easier to pay a local student to do this on your behalf or even the local paper boy with agreement from a newsagent.  Targeting key areas near your venue can work well, but it is labour-intensive.

Refreshments and entertainment
Catering is a very important feature of any event - everyone likes tea and cake.  Having wonderful lunches or teas available will be a real draw and brings in considerable money.   Many venues now require caterers using their kitchens to have a basic Food Handling and Hygiene Certificate.  This can be done online at relatively low cost, if you plan to cater your own event.  However, catering is a lot of work so it might be better to consider other options.  If you have friends/family who love baking, why not ask them to run the tearoom or bake some cakes for you.  Basic sandwiches, tea, coffee, cake and soup in the winter is a good place to start. Or you could be more adventurous and offer baked potatoes with fillings; savoury quiches; sausage rolls; cream teas- this will largely depend on who is available to cater and serve before and on the day.

The alternative is finding an event caterer who can run this aspect of the event for you. A possible arrangement might be to charge them a basic fee for catering and they keep all the profit or some kind of profit share arrangement.   Or you could buy in the food from a caterer at a wholesale price and then serve and sell it yourself at a marked-up price. Ask around for recommendations - a small independent caterer may welcome the chance to showcase their food in return for some promotion and publicity.  Where possible, using local produce, preferably free range eggs and meat is always a great extra selling point.  Using Fairtrade tea and coffee is also worth considering.

Stallholders really appreciate a free cup of tea or coffee as they set up and if you can offer free tea/coffee all day you will be very popular!  Give traders some kind of token or ticket if they get free refreshments to avoid confusion with the serving team.  If set up is very early, it is a great idea to offer early morning bacon butties, pastries or toast to stallholders.  Many will have driven a long way and made an early start.

If you feel entertainment would add something extra to your fair, then investigate the costs against the benefits.  It does add to the atmosphere but is not always vital. Vintage style hair and make up artists are popular at some fairs where fashion is the focus; cabaret singers or musicians are fun to include although if too loud can be offputting.  Not everyone wants to hear live music all day, so break it up with some quieter periods as well.  One idea that is popular is a Gentlemen's Creche, where bored husbands and boyfriends can read the papers, drink a coffee or even watch some TV.  This works very well particularly if there is any sporting occasion co-inciding with your event.  If your event is on a licensed premises or you are willing to obtain a license to serve alcohol, a bar can be a good thing to consider.  You might limit drinks to wine and beer, or perhaps Pimms and Prosecco in the summer. This can be quite a tricky area, with the laws concerning under-age alcohol sales, so it might be easier to hire in a mobile bar if you want to keep things simple.

The big day - your event!
All your stallholders should have received a final communication from you about the day; your floor plan is prepared; your caterers are ready; your support team are briefed and it is the day!  Arrive early so you have time to prepare before the stallholders arrive.  If you can set up the venue the day or night before, then this takes off a lot of pressure and hard work first thing.  Tables and chairs should be laid out, with a sign allocating each spot to a stallholder.  If you are not ready when people come early, ask them to wait until you are - otherwise things become chaotic and stressful. 

Once you let the stallholders in, be prepared for lots of questions.  If you have a team of helpers on hand, it is fantastic if they can help stallholders carry in their stock.  This is particularly useful if parking and unloading slots are restricted and cars have to be moved off.  This part of the day is hectic and so any help you can give traders will be well received.  Local teenagers might be keen to earn some money by acting as "porters".

Be on hand to ensure that traders keep their stock within their space and that they meet your health and safety requirements.  As the organiser, you have a duty and a responsibility to the public to ensure that the fair is a safe environment.  So no leaning towers of Pisa of stock propped precariously or cluttered gangways full of boxes and bits. 

Let the traders know when you are about to open the doors - a 10 minute warning is helpful, so that boxes and spare stock can be cleared away.  Once the doors open, you want the aisles clear of any clutter and stall holders ready to meet and greet their customers.

During the day
You may decide to trade yourself or help out on the door or in the kitchen.  Whatever you do, remain available and visible so that any problems can be sorted out quickly.  Ideally, your team of helpers will be on top of running the catering and you can be free to jump in where needed.  It is a good idea to walk around towards the end and just get some feedback on the day.  If you want customer feedback, you can ask people to sign up for emails about future events as they leave and ask where they heard about the event, would they attend again etc.  This is very useful information for future planning.   

If you are planning another event, this is a good time to secure interest from your stallholders - they may be keen to book straight away so strike whilst the iron is hot.

At the end
This can be the most chaotic part of the day as everyone is just keen to get away and home.  If parking is limited think about having someone in charge of this so it doesn't become a free-for-all.  You might ask stallholders to pack up first and then bring their cars in once they are fully ready to load and go.  This stops parking places being blocked by people who are taking ages to pack.  If parking is not a problem then everyone can be left to get on.  As the organiser, you have a duty to leave the venue clean and tidy.  This includes putting away any furniture, leaving the kitchen immaculate, removing rubbish, sweeping up floors and picking litter up.  You may lose your hire deposit if the venue is not in a good state when you leave.  If there were any problems when you arrive, make a note and take photos so that you are not held responsible - eg dirty kitchen, litter etc. 

Make sure that any cash taken on the day is locked away securely whilst the breakdown goes on - it is a time when a lot of people are moving about and carrying stuff out to cars.  So don't take the risk of leaving any cash boxes out or in your bag.

Thank yous
It is always a nice gesture to thank your stallholders, customers and helpers.  You could put something up on your Facebook page or send out personal emails.  A small thing, but always welcomed by those involved in your event.

Budget and accounts
To keep tabs on what you are spending before the event, it is sensible to set up a spreadsheet listing all our outgoings as the Event Budget.  This would include venue hire, advertising, printing of leaflets, catering costs ie supplies/food items, insurance, parking costs, fuel (when you drive around to put up signs/posters), hire of staff and equipment.  You need to estimate and total all your fixed costs (ie the costs that are not recoverable/spent in advance of the event).  Put in your estimated costs and then when you know, update with the actual costs. Your fnal estimated costs should be less than your forecast income, otherwise you will lose money.  Break even ie where costs match income, may be acceptable on a first event, but ideally you should aim to make a profit.  You have probably spent many hours of your time unpaid, so your net profit is payment for your work and effort.  There are no hard and fast rules about how much profit you should make unless you plan to do this on a commercial basis going forward.  You may be happy to make £100 or expect to make £500. 

The income from your event can also be set out on the same sheet - fees for stalls, takings from door admission and catering sales are your three main areas of income.  You could try and forecast what you think you will make to give you an idea of your final profits.  For example:

20 stalls at £40 gives you an income of £800
300 visitors at £1 per head creates £300
Catering takings (work on an average spend per head - say £3.00) 300 x £3 creates £900.

So your forecast income is £2,000.  When you count up your takings after the event, see how close each part gets to your forecast.  Your overall income is not your final profit.   You must then take away all your expenditure, to give you a net profit figure ie the money left over once all your costs have been met.  With the right planning and good luck, you should make a profit or at least breakeven.   If you have lost money, then you may need to assess where you spent too much.

A lot of fun can be had by running your own vintage event and it could even turn into a profitable venture, with some work.  There are pitfalls as a lot of money is commited before the event runs, but careful planning and budgeting should help to manage the risk.  I have been running antique, vintage and other events for 30 years and a good event still gives me a real buzz.  Good luck with your events, if you decide to start up.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

New ways to sell your vintage and antique stock.

Running a stall at a fair or market is great fun but sometimes it is hard to sell specailist items, or you need to reach a wider audience than your local customers.  There are other options for selling available, both through the Internet and also at specialist events.  Many traders who have a stall or a shop use other methods to sell their wares -often an item might not "fit" with other stock, but an online auction allows a sale at a good price.

Social media has opened up a world of possibilities.  Before Facebook, selling online involved having a website or using ebay or other auction sites.  I have noticed recently that more and more people are listing and displaying photos of items on their business Facebook page and doing a great trade.  This could be for vintage china and glass, craft and hand made items, second hand goods for the home or furniture and larger objects.  To be successful, you will need to build a following for your business Facebook account - however, there is plenty of information out there on how to do this.  The most important part of this process is to have a good, clear photo or photos of the item and to give a decent description.  If there are faults you should mention them - an unhappy customer will not be slow in making their feelings known on your page!  Some people build up some excitement by announcing a Sale or Auction of their items.  If you have a big following this can be a good way of getting people to focus on your page.  Others just list items as they come in, using a fairly simple template photo and short description to do the deed.  Don't forget to mention post and packing costs if you sell this way.  Even a small item can be costly to post and your profits will vanish if you have to cover this cost without charging for it.  If the item is very large, investigate using a courier service - these can work out cheaper.  If you do sell on Facebook, it seems to work best on a first-come first-served basis, but you will need to manage your page.  Be quick to acknowledge who makes the first offer by putting up a SOLD message with the name of the individual tagged, so there is no doubt who purchased it.  It is then up to you and the buyer to arrange for payment and ensure the item is sent promptly.  Paypal is a good method of receiving payment, but you might be also be willing to accept cash, cheque or postal order.

This rather informal method of selling has less protection for the buyer and seller than Ebay.  For example, if there is a dispute there is no mediating party to sort it out!  And if someone doesn't pay, you can't do much about it.  So, be a little cautious about selling via Facebook.

Ebay ( is the giant online auction service which allows you to sell pretty much anything you can imagine.  You will need to set up a personal account and agree to their terms and conditions.  As well as paying for each listing, you pay a % on every sale. Look out for free listing offers for specific categories or over weekends.  Listing is relatively simple as you are taken through the process stage by stage.  There are countless books and articles about how to sell well on ebay, so I won't go into massive detail here. It pays to be very clear in your description about the piece and to provide plenty of photos.  You should be meticulous about describing damage and flaws, otherwise your disappointed buyer is sure to give you poor feedback.  Feedback gives you credibility as a seller and buyer and if it is tarnished by a few complaints, might deter other people who were potential buyers.  You may want to start out with some small, low-value items and get familiar with the process. You have the option to set a starting price or reserve, to sell only to a domestic audience and to offer items for collection only.  Bear in mind the more conditions you add, the less bidders you will have.  A zero or low starting price auction tempts the treasure hunters and being willing to post or courier to home or abroad brings your pieces to a wider audience.  Again, do check costs and state these clearly from the start for any postage or delivery charges. 

It is worth spending time writing about your item - some ebay sellers are positively flowery, others terse to the point of almost non-existent information, which for a buyer can be frustrating. Find a happy medium and write upbeat, descriptive and factual selling copyy.  If you are selling something with any age, use the words "vintage antique old"  in the title - this picks up searches on each word.  Check your spelling! Poor spelling means your item may not be found by keen buyers who search only on correctly spelt wording. Remarkably, there are now specialist sites that search ebay for misspelt items on behalf of bidders.  These item can often be bought at bargain prices, due to lack of competition in the bidding process.  Look at how other, experienced sellers word their descriptions and use photos to best effect.  Many ebayers have shops and have nicely designed templates within which to sit their information, terms and conditions.  Do spend time on the terms and conditions of sale and returns.

Other sites that are popular for selling vintage/antique items abound.  Etsy is a great source of the quirky and unusual, with many vintage items listed.  Sellers can set up an Etsy shop with a picture of each item, price, description and postage.  Many Etsy sellers also post links to their Etsy sales page from Facebook -  a kind of social media double whammy. Writing good descriptions, photos and clear sales information including post and packing costs is important.

Another great service for selling antique and vintage items is The Hoarde (  Items on this site tend to be the more decorative antiques and vintage and there are plenty of different sellers on board to study.  There is a selection process, which is clearly explained and if you like using a computer, take good pictures and want to expand your audience, this could be a good option to follow up.

Another way of selling is to set up parties in people's homes, a bit like a Tupperware party!  You take your stock along, the host or hostess invites their friends and provides refreshments.  You have the chance to demonstrate and sell your stock in a mini-presentation.  This can be fun and sociable, but sales are never guaranteed.  Often the chit chat and gossip dominates the evening and the purpose of the party is somewhat lost.  Or people are not that interested in your items and have just turned up to support their friend. A more fruitful opportunity for generating business are the invitation-only private house parties, often held for charity, where a few selected traders are selected to sell.  These can be very profitable if the visitors are the yummy mummies and  well heeled ladies that lunch who like a bit of private shopping with an exclusive edge.  An extension of this are the charity gift fairs that abound in the autumn - many have stringent selection processes and are difficult to get into.  It is arguable whether antique and vintage items are popular at these fairs - not everyone wants to buy used items for gifts.  However, many charities attract a strong and loyal following of affluent supporters, who will spend generously at such events.

If you fancy being really ambitious, and specialise in an area such as dog or horse collectables or gardenalia, you could take a stand at the shopping villages of major dog, horse, country or garden shows.  The investment in these can be substantial and you will need masses of stock, as they are often several days long.  I have seen dog antique stands at Crufts, packed with china, glass, brass, silver dogs and dog-related ephemera.  Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows often have stands with a range of vintage garden tools, furniture and statuary - often with big price tickets!  If you have a theme or passion for a niche area you will find other enthusiasts at such events.  If you like automobilia, then a stand at Goodwood Revival could be the perfect outlet for your vintage oil cans, road maps and picnic sets.  The same theory could apply for sporting events with vintage equipment and ephemera available at golf tournaments, tennis matches, cricket games etc.  There are also many auction houses who hold specialist sales once or twice a year and if you do find something unusual, consignment to a specialist sale could bring you a great price.

Developing your business takes a bit of thinking and effort, but it can yield great results.  You may find less competition for business and a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience by investigating specialised and niche events and selling opportunities.  Be bold and try something different!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Repair, upcycle and restore those vintage finds

The beauty of vintage and antique pieces is that they have been used and loved by other people - and the patina of age and wear enhances many items.  This is a very different way of thinking to those who collect specific pieces where condition has to be perfect such as ceramics,  figurines, glass and high value antique furniture.  But, for those who embrace the shabby chic, distressed vibe, a chip here and a crack there is not a deterrent to loving a piece.  However, there are times when a bit of care and attention will improve a piece or even turn an ugly duckling into a swan.  There are a lot of people upcycling and refreshing furniture that would otherwise end up in landfill - a great way to reuse an unloved and unlovely piece.  You don't have to be daunted if furniture painting sounds a bit hardcore - there are lots of simple and quick ways to improve your finds.  Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you to refresh and restore your finds and add a few £s to the selling price.  You may even find it so enjoyable that you want to try out more crafting and restoration and learn skills such as upholstery, furniture restoration or ceramic repairs and painting.

Cleaning a grubby item is often the first step to making your vintage finds look less shabby and more chic! But beware, dirt and grime on some items adds to rather than detracts from their value.  Please do not pressure wash old garden ornaments with a lovely speckling of moss and lichen!  However, most china and glass benefits from a good wash by hand; but never put old or fragile pieces into a dishwasher as it can damage the decoration and glaze. And some glass goes cloudy if it goes through the dish washer. Just a gentle wash or soak in warm soapy water removes the dust and grime.  A soft wash cloth is ideal for tackling the nooks and crannies, unless the item is grease covered.  Caked on kitchen grease, or even nicotine, is often found on items that have been displayed in a kitchen or near an open fire and may require a soak in something stronger.  Clothes washing tablets dissolved in water soak off all kinds of muck and grime and are best used dissolved into a bowl of warm water.  Put the item to soak for an hour or so, but be aware that if the glaze is crackled water can seep into the pottery or china.  Old cheese and butter dishes often have a greasy base where over the years the natural grease has seeped into the glaze.  If a cup, bowl or jug is stained inside with old tea or coffee stains, a dilution of Steradent or Milton's Fluid left in overnight lifts off those stains.  Unfortunately, chips and cracks often come to light after a good wash - not much you can do about that.  If glass is cloudy or stained inside, try filling with water and rice and give a good shake.  This helps to remove residue. Vinegar is a good cleaning agent - a drop of vinegar in water  often lifts dirt and grease efficiently.  Old housekeeping manuals, such as Enquire Within Upon Everything , are full of old tips and hints on cleaning household goods with natural cleaners such as bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice, vinegar and salt.

Textiles need to be handled carefully and if they are old and fragile, I would leave their cleaning to an expert.  Stain removal from fine pieces can sometimes cause discolouration if chemically based products are used.  Gentle handwashing using a non-bio product or if a woollen item, old fashioned soapflakes, can remove a lot of spots and stains.  Again, a soak overnight in soapy water can work wonders but beware of hot water which can shrink fragile items and fix stains.  Anything of great monetary or sentimental value I would take to a specialist restorer.  Modern dry cleaning can work on some textiles, but many old fabrics are not suited to the chemical processes involved.

Old woollen blankets can be put on a wool wash on most modern machines and come out fresh and fluffy.  Try to dry on the washing line or on an airer as tumble drying is not great for woollen items - if you do tumble, try to use a cool setting unless you want felted wool.  Even old feather eiderdowns can go on a gentle wash - I tumble dry with a tennis ball to help to fluff up the stuffing after washing.  Old rag rugs and cotton mats can be soaked in the bath to remove the grime and dust build up.  Vintage clothing such as suits, skirts and dresses are sometimes lined and the lining can shrink when washed so hand washing is better.  But if the textile has a treated surface, such as glazed chintz, then washing can remove the finish.  There are a lot of specialist vintage clothes traders who might be willing to share their secrets on how to remove an annoying stain or patch.

If you buy dull looking old plastic or tortoiseshell items, a gentle buff with a soft cloth dipped in olive oil can bring up the lustre and clean off any film of dust or dirt.  Tortoiseshell benefits from the light oiling as it is a natural material that can dry out and crack.  I sometimes use olive oil on old bread boards or chopping boards, once I have given them a good scrub. Salt makes a good natural scrub to clean wood, rubbed on with half a lemon - this is a natural way of lightening wood as well.  If the stains on a bread board are very bad, try a very gentle sanding with a fine grade paper then a good oiling afterwards.  Natural materials often need replenishment with oil or beeswax.

Cleaning leather items such as bags, boxes and suitcases is easy.  Leather is best cleaned using a damp cloth to wipe away any grime.  Saddle soap can then be used to bring up the sheen on natural leather. Rub the saddle soap with a damp cloth and then rub into the leather.  The smell is gorgeous and the soap feeds the leather.  Once dry, the leather then can be buffed with a soft, dry cloth to bring up the shine.  It is a very relaxing and rewarding process.  If you can't find saddle soap, colourless shoe cream is good as it nourishes the leather.  Shoe polish is not a good idea in general apart from on shoes.  Shoe cream is a softer and more gentle way of cleaning up leather.  Very dry or cracked leather can be fed with linseed oil, but this could damage any linings of bags or cases so be very cautious as it will stain and mark fabric.  Use by rubbing on and letting it soak into the leather.  Old saddlery and harness often needs a serious dose of linseed oil before being cleaned up with saddle soap.  I used to soak it in a bucket of oil for a day or so to give it a good chance to absorb.  If the leather of a bag or case is coloured, look online for coloured shoe creams to polish out the scratches and marks - a huge range of colours are available. Rub in well, otherwise the colour will come off on clothing if carried against an arm or the body.  Test on a small area that is not obvious before applying to the more noticeable parts. Sturdy leather shoes and boots benefit from good old fashioned spit and polish.  The dirt is removed with a damp cloth; then a layer of shoe polish is rubbed in.  Then, the old method is to spit on the shoe and rub this in, repeating the process several times, hence "spit and polish".  This creates a glossy, perfect finish as would be sought after by servicemen cleaning their boots!  I was taught this method as a child for cleaning my riding boots and they used to gleam - it creates a hard, protective surface.  This might be too much for delicate ladies' shoes - shoe cream is the safer option.  Silk or satin shoes obviously cannot be cleaned in this way - a gentle sponging might remove marks, but it is easy to damage such fine materials.

Jewellery needs delicate handling and I would never attempt to clean anything precious.  I do drop my engagement ring into gin now and then to bring a sparkle back to the gems.  Costume jewellery made of paste and plastics should not be subjected to a gin bath!  A gentle brushing with a dry fine artist's paint brush will remove dirt and dust from crevices.  Silver, copper and brass can be cleaned with propietary products such as Silvo or Brasso -  a rewarding task if you don't mind blackened hands. A great job for a rainy evening in front of the TV.  Silver cutlery can be dipped or left to stand in a liquid silver cleaner - then gently buffed and polished for a high shine.  Beware of over polishing silver plated items - this can remove the plate and damage the piece.   Views are divided on pewter - I love it looking old and tarnished whilst others prefer a shine.  If the piece is very old, the "dirty" appearance is part of the patina and value of the piece so get advice before you set to with the polish. Similarly, with copper, the green verdigris adds a lot to a piece and removal can affect value.

Wood items can be cleaned and restored in various ways.  Small items can easily be polished up.  Scratches and dents can be filled with either a wax pencil filler product or a liquid that is rubbed into the scratched areas of wood.  These can be found in a range of wood tones to match pine, oak, mahogany and other woods.  All come with instructions and are simple to use.  Once the wood has had its marks and scratches filled in or covered, a polish with a clear beeswax brings it to a shine.  If an item is French polished, you may need to find a professional to restore the piece as this is a more specialist process applied to items such as dining tables, chairs and bureaus.

If you are restoring a larger item, you may want to strip the wood back before polishing.  When stripped pine was in fashion, wood was either dipped into a caustic tank or hand-stripped with products such as Nitromorse.  If you use these paint stripper, you must be very careful not to inhale, to let it go onto your skin or near your eyes or mouth.  It should be used outside in fresh air and away from children or pets.  The stripping process dries the wood and affects the wood glue, so once dried out you must replenish the oils in the wood and reglue loose joints.  Beeswax is the best polish - Briwax is a well known make; do not use the spray-on wax polishes used for housework.  For information about how to use polishes visit Spray can polishes create a silicon layer and do not feed the wood as well as natural beeswax.  On stripped wood, polish can be rubbed into the grain with fine grade wire wool, left to harden and then buffed.  You may need to apply several coats to give the wood a good colour.  Again, polishes can be found in many shades as well as clear wax.  At the moment, painted furniture is popular, so stripping is less in favour. However, if an item is covered in gloss paint, stripping may be necessary to prepare the piece for painting.

If your piece of furniture is already painted and the paint is old and original, perhaps distressed or chipped, then it may well be best to leave it as it is.  People pay good money for this shabby chic look - and there is a great charm in these old, chipped and faded pieces.   If the painting is not attractive - for example a bright gloss paint in a horrible colour - then sripping or sanding down and painting over is a good way of improving something.  There are a number of options.  If you like a traditional finish, Farrow & Ball  Dulux and Crown have heritage paint ranges.  For a successful finish, it is important to have a clean, well prepared surface.  So, cleaning with sugar soap to remove grease and dirt, light sanding and making any repairs are important steps prior to painting.  Removing old nails or tacks, gluing back together loose joints, sanding down rough splintered panels will help to create a good finish.  If repairs are beyond your skills, then try to find a local handyman or joiner who can do them for you but remember this will add cost to your item.  If using traditional emulusion or eggshell paint, you will need to prime, undercoat and then topcoat your item.  For a good finish, you may need two coats of your paint.  Remove handles so that you can paint underneath rather than painting over the handle and then having to clean it off.  This is a time-consuming process but worth the effort.  You may decide to give your finished item a coat of clear wax to protect the paint - a good way of protecting the paint from chips and scratches.  An old, tired piece can be totally transformed by a stylish paint job.

If all this sounds too labour intensive, the new chalk paints popularised by Annie Sloan are your answer.  Very little preparation is needed, just a clean surface is fine.  Chalk paint goes on easily and dries quickly, with a slightly streaky finish.  Depending on your desired effect, you may add another coat or even a different top coat.  You can then either wax for a good finish, or do a bit of clever distressing with sand paper to get the aged look.  There are several books on paint techniques, many workshops and classes and numerous tutorials online to follow.   This is the easy way of upgrading furniture if you like a quick result. Other chalk based paint ranges include Autentico with a superb range of colours.

A word of caution about painting furniture.  If you have a really good piece of antique furniture, or something with inlay, marquetry or decoration do get expert advice before painting.  You could be destroying the value of the item - personally, I would only paint items that were mass produced or modern pieces from high street or chain stores.

I have discovered a fantastic new product which can be used for updating items with very little effort.  The product is called Plasti-kote and comes in many colours, finishes and suitable for indoor or outside furniture and garden ornaments etc.  I have sprayed a wicker chair, a small shelf, a cupboard with great results - a much faster way of covering a fiddly item.  The products come in a lot of bright colours and can be bought on Amazon or via a DIY store.  Fun to use and a funky result.

Books and paper items are often marked - pencil marks, crayons or the dreaded felt pen often mar the illustrations or pages in old books.  Felt pen is pretty much irreversible, but pencil marks can be removed gently.  Using an artist's soft rubber or even a piece of white doughy bread kneaded into a ball, you can gently rub the marks away.  Be very careful - if you rub too hard you will take off the paper's surface or even rub through.  Go gently.  There are products available for removing biro and ink marks from paper; I have not used these and would not suggest using them on old books or papers.  Old inscriptions and personalised dedications can often add value.  Consult a specialist book seller or conservationist if you are unsure about how to treat damage. A hardback book with a broken spine can be rebound, but this can be costly but worth considering if the book is very valuable.  If the book is too far gone, but has pretty prints or plates, it is known as a "breaker".  Whilst I would not advocate breaking a book up for its plates if in good condition, if the book is in poor shape and beyond repair, using the plates is a good idea.  These can be removed carefully, mounted and even framed for attractive prints.  Nowadays, the unused pages are used by crafters for decoupage projects or for making paper roses or ornaments.  Bookish have turned books into all kinds of items from bunting to brooches.

With the vogue for craft and upcycling, even broken items can be re-purposed.  Broken china pieces can be used for mosaics on small items of furniture or walls.  Textile scraps can be used for decoupage, patchwork, lavender bags, make up purses, laptop covers and many more items.  Bunting is often made from old textiles and looks very effective.  Old maps, prints, magazines and printed ephemera can used for decoupage and lining old suitcases, crates or shelves.  Individual cups and saucers can be re-purposed as holders for candles - candle making equipment is available on line. The list of projects is endless and craft courses abound to teach basic and advanced crafting skills.

If you fancy something more ambitious, upholstery classes can teach you how to renovate chairs and sofas with your own choice of fabric and trimmings.  Start off with a small project, as it can take a long time to upholster an armchair.  China restoration courses teach the art of repairing chips, cracks or even gluing together broken items - a very handy skill to have if you love buying up lots of china at auctions or boot sales.

It can be very satisfying bringing back to life an old and neglected treasure.  However, if in doubt about the value of the piece, please check it out before you start any work.  I have often seen lovely things ruined by amateur restoration.  

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Finishing touches - what the well dressed stall is wearing this year

I have been going to a lot of fairs in the last 12 months - there seems to have been an explosion of vintage fairs in the south east of England and beyond.  What I find most impressive, and to be truthful just a little daunting, is the level of detail and attention many traders expend on making their stalls fantastic showcases.  It's not just about selling a few bits and pieces, it's about luring people into the vintage lifestyle and creating aspirations to re-create a certain "look". That feeling of wanting to recreate something beautiful or unusual within your own home with that "must have" item.  I must admit to frequent stall envy when I am at fairs - I am never happy with my own stall layout when I compare it to some incredibly well-styled stalls.  Of course, everyone's stock varies and some things are easier to show off than others, but  it is the finishing touches on each stall that make them special and unique. 

It is often the smallest details that make the difference.  For example price labels can be madea lot less humdrum and a bit of care and attention makes quite a difference.  Currently, I am using colourful old luggage tags stamped with a wonderful greyhound stamp bought on Etsy.  You can buy readymade stamps very easily and cheaply, or have a stamp customised with your name and logo. Wooden stamps with a special little picture can be a simple way of customising standard tie-tags or labels and craft printing ink pads give you the option to print in a pretty colour.  Black and white is always crisp and smart, but ring the changes with a bold colour choice to make your tags eye-catching.  Some people even use craft stamping kits to print all the information including price on their tags- rather labour intensive, but very stylish.   Brown tie on tags, easily obtained from stationers or online, are great for labelling rustic pieces or country-style displays.  Pretty coloured tags in pastel shades look effective on dainty china and sparkling glass or on vintage textiles.  I use a calligraphy pen to write labels - even the most unspectacular writing looks better written with such a pen.  You can make your labels as plain or pretty as you like with a bit of thought and effort.  Labels can be tied on with string, colourful ribbon or even raffia - each conveys a different image from rustic to romantic.  Stick on labels are not exciting, but for some items they work better than a tie-on.  Be careful not to use a sticky label on anything where the residue will damage the item such as a book, paper item or fragile textile.  Books can be priced in pencil on the inside or use a plain bookmark inside with the relevant details inscribed.

Your table can set the tone for your display.  Most fair organisers provide a standard trestle table, these days usually plastic or formica topped.  I know some traders who take their own tables and these can create part of the overall look.  Lovely old rustic wooden trestles, some with flaky old paint and some au naturel, look beautiful stacked with vintage treasures.  If taking your own table is not possible, due to space restrictions, then using pretty table coverings is a must.  I use plain linen cloths which make a neutral backdrop for my collections.  But, a lovely velvet curtain or bed spread can be used for a sumptuous look, or a colourful cotton bed sheet for a crisp and colourful background.  Floral, striped, plain cloths - all can look great but should not overwhelm your display.

Display shelves, crates, boxes and plinths help to add height and visual impact, and create a more professional look to a stall.  One trader who I see at many events uses a range of wooden crates, painted in white, to stack as shelves.  The crates are versatile and make a great backdrop for their colourful stock.  And it maximises space on a trestle table as well.  Old apple crates are relatively easy to come by and can often be bought at larger outdoor antique markets or even via ebay. Cath Kidston used them to great effect in summer 2011 in her store windows.  Each crate had a painted interior in primary shades and they were packed with pretty goods.  Proof that a great display does not have to be expensive.  It's easy enough to paint or decorate a crate - even just Blu-Tacking some pretty wrapping or wallpaper inside can add a decorative note if painting is too long-winded.

Cath Kidston's window in Cambridge

A simple display case can be made out of an old drawer - this could be lined with paper or fabric and then covered with a sheet of clear plastic or glass.  An old fashioned printer's tray is ideal for showing off lots of small items.  The tray could be painted in a neutral shade or left in its original state.  Perfect if you sell little items such as buttons, beads, jewellery etc that fit neatly into the compartments.

If you can find vintage display items to use on your stand, this can be very effective.  Old fashioned tailors' dummies or vintage dress makers' models are ideal for displaying all kinds of things.  Clothing can look better displayed in this way, or jewellery draped or pinned onto the model even old badges and brooches.   Vintage shop display cases and shelves are very attractive and often feature glass doors, sides and tops, to make it easy to view displayed items.  These display cases are collectable in their own right, so don't come very cheap but you might be lucky enough to find one on ebay.

If money is tight, IKEA have some great display items such as mini-easels which can be painted and used to display prints, pictures and cards.  Old wine boxes often given away at specialist wine shops can also be used as shelves, painted or unpainted.  Mug trees painted a pretty shade are good for hanging up jewellery.  Look around your home and utilise your existing storage and display accessories.  A small bookshelf painted in a natural shade can be used to show small items; an old fashioned clothes airer is ideal for textiles and a plate rack great for stacking delicate bone china plates.

Colour themeing can be a great way to style your stall - having uniform colours for display shelves and stands can help pull a stall together.  A subtle grey is very fashionable at the moment and is a good  counterpoint to bright colours or subtle shades alike.  Taking one step further, some stalls even stick to a certain palette of colours preferring to buy their stock in a limited colour range.  Hard work but with a fantastic result.

Little touches of humour are a great finishing touch on a stall.  A cheese dish with a toy mouse under the dome or a child's chair dressed with an old doll or teddy adds a light-hearted note.  The quirky and unusual will catch the eyes of your potential customers as they walk by. Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through your stall - it is easy to copy the crowd but developing your own style "signature" is more original.

Using flowers and plants can really dress up a stall, especially in the spring when there are so many lovely and inexpensive potted bulbs available. Hyacinth, narcissi, daffodils and primroses look charming in old pots deftly placed on top of cupboards or in a teacup or bowl to bring natural beauty to the picture.  Cut flowers displayed in old glass jugs, single stems in pretty vintage bottles or natural twigs and leaves all have their merits.  I have even seen bowls of conkers used to dress a stall selling simple French rustic items.   In the summer, flowers and herbs are plentiful and a wildflower bouquet easily assembled to dress a stand.  Geraniums in weathered terracotta pots look fantastic, especially at open air events.  Lavender plants are cheap to buy and when in flower smell delicious.  Winter displays look festive with pine cones, greenery such as ivy and holly.

pretty spring flowers in a garden display

If you want to splash out, providing your customers with a good quality carrier bag for their purchase does lend a touch of class.  Handsome white or brown heavy duty paper carriers with string handles look smart and they can also be printed with your logo or you can add a sticker with your name and logo, to make them your own.  These types of bags are not a low cost investment, so you might prefer to recycle carrier bags.  Many carrier bag manufacturers can be found online.  For smaller items, traditional candy-striped paper bags are fun and come in a range of hues.  Normally, you have to buy a few hundred at a time.

Wrapping customers' purchases in tissue paper will create a professional feel at events.  Plus it protects the item/s and avoids the messy ink of newspaper rubbing off on delicate pieces.  Blocks of tissue can be bought from florist suppliers or online and comes in all shades and patterns. You can pick a colour to fit in with your brand colour/s - pastel shades are particularly pretty or floral patterened tissue.  Each purchase feels like a gift when beautifully wrapped up and adds to the feelgood factor.  So much nicer for your customer unwrapping some pretty colourful tissue, than some old, scrumpled newspaper.

If you are selling at a Christmas fair, you could take this to another level.  For example, putting some loose lavender heads inside the tissue package or some scented pot pourri.  Using decorative string or gift labels could be a further twist or you could offer a gift wrapping service, if you have the necessary skill and patience.

Your business card is a very important touch - people love to pick these up and keep them.  Make sure your card is on your stall and put one into each carrier bag with a sold item.  Many cards are now postcard sized, making use of great photos or illustrations for maximum impact.  You may have to invest in a graphic designer to produce something but some of the budget online printers do have templates available.  Bulk digital printing is now relatively inexpensive and companies such as Vistaprint provide a quick, accessible service.  Your card is your showcase so make sure it looks the part.  Don't forget to put on your Facebook and Twitter tags, website details and contact information.

the back of a fun business card

Other little touches that are worth considering include having wrapped sweets in pretty foil to offer - in a glass jar or little bowl, this can look quite charming.  One stallholder I know often has a plate of beautiful shortbread hearts on her stand - very popular with the visitors.  Offering a giveaway is a nice gesture and does help to bring people to your stall. Someone else I know has had some very smart pencils emblazoned with her logo and has these in a china pot on her stall. 

These small details may need a little time and effort, but if they bring more people to your stall or unit more sales should follow.  Plus, you will get the reputation of having the best dressed stall at the fair or market and this may secure you an invite to exhibit at one of the top-end fairs or shows.  Having the right look is very important to these fair organisers.

Enjoy styling your stall and finding those little extra flourishes that can make such a difference.