Sunday, 24 February 2013

Diversification....more vintage business opportunities

You've probably noticed on your vintage journey, that there are many other businesses built on a love of vintage style.  Many of these have a good synergy with vintage trading and some can even work well if you find it hard to part with your treasured items.  Diversification can bring in extra income and a new direction for your vintage business.  Serial start-ups are common to many entrepreneurs who like having the stimulus of new ideas and different challenges.  If you are content with what you have achieved and want to stay focused on that, then there are always ways of improving on an existing business model.

But, if you are now thinking about what you could do to expand, then this chapter will introduce some possible avenues to explore.

Vintage events
If you go to many markets and fairs, you may have considered setting up your own vintage-themed event.   Setting up a vintage fair requires a relatively small investment, but a lot of time and good planning;  no specialist equipment is necessary and therefore putting on a fair is open to anyone who wants to have a go.  However, as you will have noticed on your research and buying trips, there is a wealth of difference between a really well-organised and actively supported event and a chaotic, poorly attended one.  Of course, an element of luck is involved but successful fair organisers put a lot of work into bringing together the best traders and plenty of buyers.  Running a fair can be fun and does not require masses of experience or training, but it does involve a lot of legwork and meticulous planning.  If the idea of staging your own fair is a serious consideration,  I will be going into greater detail about the process of setting up a fair in a separate chapter. Here are a few questions to think about when you are making your first plans.

Will your fair fill a gap in the market - if you are in an area where there are already many fairs, will your's stand out or just got lost in the crowd?  If the local market is saturated, you may need to look further afield to find an area where there will be demand for a new event.  There are various websites and magazines listing vintage events to check out what's on. 

Think about how your fair/event be made different or special and thus make it stand out from the competition?  Can you introduce some USPs (unique selling points) to make it more interesting?  Do some market research amongst your friends and customers - what attracts them to an vintage event?  Many fairs offer "pop up tearooms" and "vintage makeovers" so your challenge will be to think of something new or introduce another fun element. 

What are the estimated costs and how will you cover these and make a profit?  Fixed and upfront costs will include venue hire, advertising and publicity, printing of marketing materials, transport/fuel costs if you are driving around to leaflet or put up posters.  Will the projected stall holder fees cover all the upfront costs? Will you charge an entry fee to the public and how many people need to come through the door to cover any costs or get into profit? 

Catering and good quality refreshments can bring in substantial profits, but there is a great deal of work involved in preparing and serving food.   Will you need to find a partner to run this part of the event?  If you plan to do the catering yourself, don't forget to cost in all the ingredients and production.  Also, are you certificated to cook and serve food - many halls demand that caterers have the basic Food handling and hygiene qualification.

Do you have enough contacts with other stallholders to fill up your venue and have some back-up stallholders when people drop out?  If your venue can comfortably accommodate 20 stalls, you may need to approach 40-50 to fill a hall or marquee.

Are you physically able to move trestle tables and chairs to set up your venue or can you get help?  Will you have people on the day to run admissions, help with set up and catering and help clear up at the end?

Remember, with events most of your costs are upfront and un-refundable so you have no way of clawing back your initial investment.  Most people start off low-key in a village hall or other local amenity, so costs do not have to be over the top for your first venture.  Advertising can be surprisingly expensive and if the event is cancelled, you will not get a refund on ads that have already run.  Try to be creative about how you advertise making the most of low cost options such as local free papers, online newsboards and diary listings and by putting posters in as many locations as possible.

If running an event is not your cup of tea, another popular vintage themed business is wedding styling.   You may have styled your own wedding or a friend's using vintage china and props and then found others wanting to hire your items.  If you are willing to invest in and keep a lot of stock for styling, this might be a great way of making it earn its keep.  You will need a great deal of vintage china tea and dinner ware and cutlery in order to supply groups of all sizes.  Most stylists mix and match patterns and this creates an eclectic look, popular with brides. As well as china, you wil need many other props for styling - bunting, old luggage, vintage cycles, old toys, dressing up clothes, pretty garden furniture, old tennis rackets all seem to be popular but there is no limit to your imagination and creativity.  You will be making a substantial investment and stock will get damaged, broken or even stolen.  Ideally, you will have a good storage facility where items can be shown off to potential customers.  If you enjoy buying but hate selling items, this is a way of building up a lot of lovely pieces for your collection.

Hiring out china, glass and props and styling weddings and other events can be very satisfying - but there is a lot of work involved.  Firstly, you will have to spend some time with the client (bride to be, mother of the bride etc) to establish their requirements.  And some brides are notoriously difficult to please, so a lot of tact and diplomacy will be required.   You will need to have a tariff of charges for hire, either by item or as a package eg enough china and props for a wedding involving 100 guests.  Bear in mind the wear and tear on items and ensure that you are upfront about what you charge for breakages or damage to items.    Weddings can get quite high-spirited and your precious vintage props may get handled roughly.  Don't forget, as well as the fun part of styling the wedding venue and dressing the tables, all the china and glass will have to be cleared, washed up and repacked.  This can be hard work at the end of a busy day, and sometimes with fairly basic facilities available.  You will need a reliable vehicle to transport the boxes and props and probably someone to help you at the other end with unloading and laying out the items.  It is a labour-intensive business and one where you cannot afford to make mistakes.

A further option might be to offer catering alongside styling - this takes the business into a whole new level.  I know of one very successful business that offers a complete service and has expanded their offering to corporate clients for product launches, fashion shows and private views.  There is a lot of scope for a vintage themed catering business but a lot of hard work, too.

These are just a couple of ideas for diversification and I hope may be inspiring.  There are so many spin-offs and business opportunities and some more unusual business opportunities will be described in future chapters.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Setting up shop.

I have always had a desire to have my own beautiful shop.  This started when I was at primary school and a friend and I used to make little things and bring them to school to "sell" (actually, give away).  My "shop" was a cardboard toy suitcase and I used to make tiny gonks out of sponge with drawn-on felt pen faces  (I was a child of the 60s) and other funny homemade things.  My friend's shop was better stocked, as her dad owned a toy store and got proper toys to stock her shop-in-a-suitcase.  And for a while, I have considered having my own shop, but not yet been brave enough to take the leap.

I am sure that many of you trading successfully at fairs have a dream of opening a shop as the next step in your business.  The happy medium is to find an antiques/vintage centre or arcade where you can rent a space or unit.  A shop within a shop.  This is a much less risky way of trying your hand at shop-keeping and can be a great way of selling to a wide customer base.  Sadly,  the number of antique and vintage centres is falling - the recession has taken its toll. Towns like Dorking and Petworth once noted for their plethora of antiques shops, have seen many of these close down in the past few years.  As business rents have increased, traders have been priced out of the market; footfall in many places has declined and online selling has changed the face of retailing.  However, many people who buy vintage and antique goods still like to examine and handle items before buying. 

With the explosion of interest in the vintage lifestyle and interiors, some new centres have opened for business moving away from the traditional antiques centre model to offer a brighter and more attractive alternative.  If you are a collector or love decorating your home with old bits and pieces, you probably already know the best local centres and even thought about taking space.  BBC Home and Antiques magazine and other interiors/design/collectors magazines, publish features on "vintiquing" in particular towns or regions, including information on the best centres and shops to visit.  If you already frequent centres you will have a good idea about where your merchandise might fit in best.  I love places where I may unearth a bargain - a bit chaotic, lots of stalls and a regular turnover of stock and these rummage-y places seem to be popular with buyers, too.

gorgeous display at Country Artisan market

I used to sell at a monthly market and many of my regulars were traders in a particular antiques centre.  It soon occurred to me that I could cut out the middleman, get a unit in the same centre and sell my stock direct to their customers at a better price.  Like many popular centres, this particular place had a waiting list so I called in or phoned each week until I secured a space.  A very small space, but it got me started and established.  Since then, I have tried several different centres, even having two on the go at once for a few weeks.  It sounds strange, but not every centre will work for you.  You may have to try a couple before finding the one that's best for you. I have no explanation for why this might be - just personal experience.  I prefer to be in a dedicated antiques/vintage centre and not one where there is a mixture of craft and antiques.  A cafe on site can be a bonus, although some people will only visit the cafe and spend little or no time exploring the stalls. 

Selling from a centre might involve having to staff the shop for a day or half-day on a regular basis.  Many centres are operated by traders taking turns to run front of house. Whilst this can be enjoyable it can be an unwelcome constraint if you have to juggle family life or other work to accommodate it.   I used to work full-time and had to do my day on a Sunday, often with my small daughter in tow.  Some centres are owner-operated or have a full-time manager to take care of things.  In this case, you can just price and display your stock and they do the work of selling, keeping records and accounts and paying out.  This can be a real bonus as it frees up your time to go out buying and to work on displaying your space to a high standard.  Every centre will vary so if you are planning to take up space, find out what is expected of you in terms of time commitment within the shop.

Rent is the biggest overhead and you need to evaluate what you can realistically afford.  If the rent is too high, all your profits will just be sucked back into rent and you will have no money to reinvest in the business.   Some centres allow you to rent a few shelves or a cabinet and this can be a gentle way in if you are cautious. A few centres will sell on a commission basis and take a % of the sale price;  some may also take a percentage if the customer makes a credit or debit card payment.  If get the chance, talk to other traders in the centre to find out if it is well organised and has a steady flow of customers.  A centre that is visited by the trade and the public is ideal - the trade will buy regularly from you if they like what they see.  Easy access for unloading and delivering stock is desirable, particularly if you are selling large or heavy  items.   Also check out how the centre advertises and markets itself either in print, through social media and via a website.  Ideally, a good centre will advertise widely and regularly to draw in new customers.

Having a unit in a centre is like having a full-time stall at a fair. And it saves you the effort of a lot of lifting and transporting stock to and fro; plus your stock is on show all the time, not just one or two days a month.  Statistically, this gives it a better chance of being sold. Once in a centre, it is really important to keep your unit or space looking fresh, tidy and well stocked.  Even if you just move things around and re-display a few bits it gives the impression that new stock has arrived.  I often find that "old friends" sell when I re-arrange my stall - things come to light and are snapped up.  If you leave your stall untended for several weeks, its appearance will suffer and so will your sales. Left alone, stock gets damaged and dirty and often moved from your space to another.   If you can't visit the centre regularly, at least leave stock priced up and ready to go out so that the staff or manager can replenish any gaps.

Styling your unit with attractive fixtures and fittings, good lighting, seasonal displays, clear and informative price labels on a  range of interesting stock all helps to generate interest and sales.  The same tricks for styling your stall at a fair apply to a unit - vary the height and layout of items; group colours together or go for a packed, busy and interesting display that hints at undiscovered treasure.   Be original about your displays - take a theme or colour and build your display around that.  In the past, I have themed my unit in
keeping with events such as the Jubilee; Trafalgar Day; Easter and of course, Christmas.  If you are creative, this is an excuse to go over the top and make your space stand out from the crowd.  You can create quite a following by having an interesting stall and attract regular buyers who appreciate your unique and eye-catching stock display.

Jubilee styled shop window for an opticians in Kent

You should gradually start to see a pattern in your weekly turnover figures and get a feel for how much you might sell in a week or month. Sales may not be consistent at first, as it takes time to find out what sells well and what is less popular.  Some weeks will be slow and then it will suddenly pick up.  Like most retailers, your sales will be affected by all kinds of external factors such as the weather, the time of year, the school holidays, the economy....I could go on!    Customers often have other pressures on their purses and vintage items are in the "nice to have" not "need to have" category.   You may be lucky enough to be trading in an affluent area or one where tourists visit and the recession has less of an impact.

Your centre will provide you with a sales record and you can marry this up with your stock book and track your profitability.  Some centres pay out "on demand" so you can go in any time and collect your takings.  Others pay out on a set day of the week or month.  It is up to you how detailed your accounts are and if you track profitablity on every sale. I will cover keeping accounts in a later chapter.

Having a unit is a relatively low-risk entry point into running a shop.  Most centres require either a weekly or monthly payment of rent and a month's notice, so you are rarely committed for a long period.  Allow two or three months to "bed-in" and to assess your sales and profits.  The manager or other traders may be able to advise you on how to improve sales if you are not doing so well.  Be open to advice from those with more experience.  You may have to experiment a little with stock and try out different items and displays to get sales.  There is often a first flurry of sales when you first open your unit as your stock will attract interest from the regular customers. Your best pieces will probably go very quickly - you may want to review pricing in line with other traders if your prices tend to be lower or higher than others.  If after 4-6 weeks things are very slow, you may need to re-think your strategy.  If you are still doing fairs as well, perhaps you are holding back your best stock for fairs?  In which case, the sales in your unit may be slow because you are not updating stock with your prime pieces.  In the past I have been tempted to change direction on my stock, thinking it would improve sales in a particular centre.  However,  it didn't work for me and meant I ended up with stock I found hard to shift elsewhere.  Mostly, trial and error will determine what works best for you - there is no magic formula.

Networking and making friends with other traders and customers is an added bonus.  Having a good network can be useful if you need information about a specific fair, auction or a second opinion on an item or price.  There is a camaraderie in the trade and you will meet many fascinating and friendly people.

If you do a rip-roaring trade in your unit and have masses of stock stashed away, you may be tempted to open a shop of your own.  This can be a highly costly and risky exercise and there are many pitfalls.  But retailers such as Cath Kidston and Cabbages and Roses started with one outlet and a lot of passion and commitment. 

Renting a shop is not a cheap option.  A well located shop in a busy high street might command an annual rent between £10,000-£25,000 plus.  Most commercial tenancy agreements tie the tenant in for at least a year, often longer, although you may find a landlord willing to offer a short lease or a sub-let.  The high streets are full of empty shops, which tells its own story about how difficult retail is at the moment.  Large retailers undertake incredibly careful analysis and market research before renting or building retail space.  If you are going to have a shop, do your homework very carefully.  Is the shop in a busy area with good pedestrian footfall; being close to cash machines, supermarkets or other well-established independent stores is also a bonus.  If your budget precludes being in the main shopping streets, are you in an area that is easy to find, close to cafes and car parks or amongst similar retailers.  It can be an advantage to be near other similar shops, as this creates a destination for customers who enjoy exploring several places in one trip.  Talk to other small shopkeepers about how they find local trade, when they find it quiet or busy etc.  If other independent shops, even vintage and antique shops have opened and then closed, try to find out the reasons.  If they found trade tough, you might too.  The local Chamber of Commerce is a good source of business information and will be able to give you insights into local conditions. 

Bear in mind the outgoings on a shop not only include the rental, often payable in quarterly instalments in advance.  On top of that you will have to pay business rates, unless you are in an enterprise zone where the council waives rates as an incentive to new retailers.  Don't forget the utilities, light, heat and water are also a cost.  And you will need public liability insurance, and also if you employ help, employer's insurance.  All these essential but boring expenses have to be covered each month before you sell one item and in a slow month, this can be a big cost and worry.  Shop overheads (ie all the costs just described) are constant, unlike fairs and markets which can be turned on and off to suit.  A shop can be the death of your dream if you are not prepared for this financial and time commitment.

You may think about sharing the shop with a friend or acquaintance.  My advice is to think very carefully about going into business with a friend -often friendships don't survive.  Even if you think it will work, do have a simple a contract between all parties agreeing setting out roles and responsibilities including financial liabilities.  For example, if you have a lease only in your name you will be liable for the rent, so if you are sharing a shop, make sure both of you are named and sign the rental agreement.  On a long lease, even if your business folds you will still have to pay rent unless the shop can be re-let.

Consider carefully what you and a partner want from setting up a shop - if one of you is more business like and profit focussed than the other, that could lead to conflicts.  Do you have compatible or complementary stock and similar ideas about display and layout.  If you have complementary skills this could be useful - one of you is great on accounts, the other on marketing for example.  Like any partnership, there will be areas of compromise.  If you know you don't work well with other people or have a very strong style that might not fit with someone else, then sharing may not be an option.

You could offer space to invited stall holders - if your potential shop is large enough to split into sections, this could enable you to have a steady cash flow from rent.  Of course, you will need to be sure that your stallholders will pay on time and will run their stalls in accordance with the standards you wish to set.  Ideally, draw up terms and conditions that form a contract stating rent, notice period, requirements for manning, stock management and so on.  Do not be tempted to be casual about arrangements as this leads to confusion and ill-feeling.  Taking on a shop and setting it up as a centre with several traders is quite an ambitious step.  Your work behind the scenes will involve accounts, advertising and marketing and sorting out manning.

If you have a shop, consider how you will staff it day by day.  Ideally, you will want to open 6-7 days a week, but doing this on your own will wipe out family life and the chance of getting out to buy.  If you are sharing manning, then you can work out a rota.  If you chose only to open on specific days, that can work well - I know one trader who runs her shop from home and opens on two weekdays and Saturday.  Her signage is clear about her hours of business and the rest of the time customers can visit her online.  But if you are paying high street rents, you need to maximise your opening hours.

If you take someone on, you need to think carefully about the implications of having an employee. Paying a wage or salary, plus sorting out tax and National Insurance contributions is where it starts.  You are also obliged to meet the requirements of employment legislation covering things like health and safety; maternity or parental leave; sick pay; working hours; holiday pay.  Many councils run services for small and medium sized enterprises to brief them on law, accounting and general business practice.  Most people starting up a business shy away from taking staff on, because it is not a straightforward process.  If you can hire someone who is willing to work on a freelance basis and invoice for their services, this may be a way to go.

Running a shop requires a lot of careful planning, good budgeting and accounting, accurate record keeping for tax purposes as well as the more creative side of buying and displaying stock.

In my next chapter, I will talk about other routes for diversification in your business.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Bigger and steps

Once you start selling at fairs and markets in your local area, it is quite natural to think about where you can go next with your business.  There is no pressure to expand, if what you are doing suits your lifestyle.  That's the benefit of working for yourself - no targets to meet and no managers breathing down your neck.  Over the years, I have found I have peaks and troughs in my activity levels - sometimes, it suits me to do very little; other times, I am fired up and out and about at lots of events. 

So, what are the next steps you can take, the pros and cons and the costs involved.

Firstly, and very simply, you could just increase the number of local fairs that you do.  Your early research will have given you some ideas about the best local fairs and markets.  Perhaps you are doing one monthly event and could manage another, without it being a massive workload.  Ideally, try out a fair with a different audience to your regular spot.  Otherwise, you are not widening your potential customer base and will be showing the same stock, at twice the costs, to the same people.  This might involve going out of your home county, to another big town or signing up for an annual event that attracts a big following.  This shouldn't involve a huge amount of extra work although you will need to buy in more stock.  The benefits of trading at two fairs is that you can rotate the stock between them; what doesn't sell at one might be the item that sells quickest at the other.   And you will expand your customer base and contacts by going to a new fair.  The costs of a stall might be more expensive for a one-off fair and the travel costs higher, but by now you should be making some profit.  Some of this can be invested in buying into a new fair and increasing your stock levels.  Many traders make a good living by trading at local fairs within a small area - this can be a stable and satisfying way of doing business.  Or you can be more ambitious and think about travelling further afield.

If you love the vintage scene, the specialist vintage festival might appeal to you. In recent years, a variety of Vintage Festivals have sprung up, bringing together music, dance, food and stalls selling all kinds of vintage homeware, clothes even bicycles!  These are great events to go to, usually over a weekend in a pleasant setting such as a racecourse or a country house estate.  People often attend impeccably dressed in their vintage gear, looking for all kinds of items to add to their homes and wardrobes.  Some people style their homes entirely in keeping with a period such as the 40s or 50s  even TVs, fridges and cookers.  These festivals can be great places to sell, if you are willing to put in the work required.

One successful organiser is Discover Vintage  - they hold big festivals at York and Sandown racecourses.  The benefits of selling at festivals is that everyone there is committed to the vintage way of life and the footfall can be in the thousands, putting you in front of a massive potential customer base.  Festival goers will be having a good time and in the mood to buy wonderful vintage goods.  There are a few things that could work against selling at these events, though.  Firstly, they are a big investment both in terms of cost, but also of time and preparation. The commitment to be there for a weekend, and sometimes the day before to set up, is much greater than a local one-day fair.  Plus, you will need plenty of stock to ensure you have sufficient available for the whole event.  You may also need to stay on site or close by the event, if it is too far to travel to and from each day. And trading for two days can be pretty gruelling - so try to enlist help, if you can.  As you can see, the costs are beginning to stack up but the returns can be high.  Other organisers of big vintage festivals and fairs include - they run fashion, furniture and kilo sales - the last is ideal for buyers of fashion items if you trade in this.

The other big factor is weather - summer 2012 showed us that we cannot rely on sunshine and dry conditions at outdoor events.  Even if you are in a marquee or have your own gazebo, if the weather is poor, people don't always turn up or stay around and sales will be affected.  However, there is the peculiar British thing of being out in all weathers, which can work in your favour.  Last year I did a particularly wet fair in July - our gazebo was crammed all day with people sheltering from the rain and spending their money.  The mud was on knee high but somehow we all had a great day!  Very much a case of keeping calm and carrying on.

If you are at a large event, the design and layout of the site will have an impact on footfall.  Make sure that your stall or site will be located near to other attractions or where plenty of people will pass by.  Not much good to be tucked away at the bottom end of a field, if nothing else is there to draw people over.    With other events and attractions laid on, the stalls are in competition to grab attention.  Also, you will be in competition with many other stalls, so you will need to think about how to make your's stand out.  Having a stall at a festival can be a lot of fun and financially rewarding, but be prepared to work hard for your dollars!

If festivals aren't your bag, you might be tempted to sell at one of the large antiques fairs such as Ardingly, Newark and Swinderby organised by IACF .  If you have visited these to buy, you will know how busy and exciting they are and how varied the stalls can be.  Again, this involves a higher stall cost than you might usually pay for a local fair.  You can keep costs lower by trading outside, rather than in the more expensive indoor spots or tented areas.  Actually, it's great fun outside, but do bring a gazebo, waterproofs and suncream!  You will probably plan well in advance to take a stall, to give yourself time to acquire plenty of fresh and exciting stock.  This will be on top of the stock you take to your regular markets.  Price and pack as you go, so you don't have a massive task just before the fair.  These fairs can be quite frantic at first - driving around to find your spot, unloading and setting up usually as quickly as you can go.  If you can, take a friend to help, it's advisable to do so - you will need breaks and loo trips and time to look around.  Be well prepared with food, drinks and anything else you need.  These fairs are advertised internationally and attract masses of buyers - the trade days are usually the best for sales.  Only committed buyers will pay the high admission charges and are definitely there to find the bargains.  Many traders I know who do these big fairs do so well on the first day, that they don't always go back on the second day.   But, this does mean missing out on potential sales, unless you have sold out of stock!

If these big scale fairs sound a bit daunting, then there are many really good one-day fairs to try out.  These might be purely antique or vintage fairs, or part of another event such as an agricultural or country show, a homes and gardens show or even a wedding fair.  Depending on what you sell, you might want to explore these avenues for something different.

A great one-day trade fair to sell at is Sunbury Antiques at Kempton racecourse.  Held twice monthly, this fair attracts buyers from all over the world, and is fantastically cosmpolitan and exciting.  You can buy a ticket to sell outside in advance from the organisers - this means you are financially committed whatever the weather.  Tickets sell out quickly so book well ahead for the fair date you want.  Or you can take the more spontaneous approach of being a "casual" - just turning up on the night and queueing to get a spot.  If you do this, find out from the organisers what time to get there to queue.  Many people arrive in the very early hours and sleep in their cars and vans, as the fair opens at 6.30 am.  There are also indoor spaces, but many are occupied by regulars and you may have to wait a while for a space to come up.  Outside is fun - you unload straight from your car onto your table and start selling straight away.  The trade buyers are quick and focussed, so it can feel quite rushed.  The public arrive later, when things are less frantic.  If you have unusual stock or a lot of things to sell, this fair is the place to be.  Give it a go if you can.

In some areas of the country, some more exclusive fairs have sprung up in recent years.  Often stallholders are invited to exhibit by the organiser, rather than just applying and being accepted.  These are often held in private country houses and attract a very affluent group of customers.  As these fairs are curated, rather than open to all-comers,  the quality of stalls and stock tends to be very high.  If this type of event interests you, it is worth visiting a few to see the high standards and gorgeous pieces avaiable.  One such fair is the wonderful Decorative Living fair on the Eridge estate in Kent.  This is held in May and brings together superb purveyors of textiles, painted furniture, gardening antiques, beautiful clothing, French antiques and much more.  It is a feast for the eyes, as every stallholder competes to win the Best Dressed Stall crown.   The organisers may invite you to exhibit, but you can also put yourself forward with photographs of your stock.  Many of these fairs change their stall holders each year to provide variety, so don't be too deflated if you don't get invited.  The work involved in producing a stall for these exclusive fairs is considerable and investment in good stock quite substantial.  You can follow Decorative Living Fair on Facebook; other events of this type include the Avington Brocante, also in May and a wonderful Christmas fair organised by Betty and Violet at Woburn

Having to apply with photos of stock to exhibit at fairs is not uncommon, as organisers want to ensure quality and provide a good range of items to attract customers.  There are some outstanding fairs such as the Country Living Fair and The Wealden Times Midsummer and Midwinter Fairs, that have a strict application and acceptance policy.  Even many one-day fairs are taking this approach, with the vast number of people wanting to sell their wares.

If you have ever been to one of these fairs, it is tempting to think about applying for a stall. To be selected, you have to provide photographs of your stock and convince the organisers that you have something different and special. If you do apply,  it may take a few attempts before you are accepted.  The organisers can afford to be very choosy. The costs of a stall can run into hundreds, so it is a big financial commitment.  Plus the fairs run over three or four days, and a set up day and some even open in the evening.  Your stamina will be tested by the long hours, the pace and pressure of such a large event.  Again, you may have to stay near the fair venue if you cannot travel to and fro each day; plus you may have to hire help to cover some of the sessions.  These types of fair are the ultimate shopping experience - with the right stock and a fantastically styled stand, you could do very well.

If this sounds a bit overwhelming, you may want to investigate the Charity Gift Fair circuit.  These tend to run through spring/summer and then another season in the autumn for Xmas gift shopping.  You will have to apply and may be vetted for most of these fairs.  Many work on the basis of charging a stall fee plus a commission on sales and often a donation of an item to the charity raffle.  These fairs are held in country houses, beautiful barns, hotels and private homes and can attract large numbers.  However, they are usually open to sellers of all kinds of items, so you may be next to a stall selling cheese, wellingtons or children's toys.  Small items, such as jewellery, silver, cutlery, pretty glassware, serving dishes can be popular buys.  They can be a little hit and miss though, as many visitors will not be interested in vintage or antique items.  If this is something you wish to pursue, there is a Charity Fairs Association to help sellers and organisers

In the summer outdoor events often invite traders to take pitches - some are themed such as Garden and Produce shows, Steam Fairs, Agricultural Shows and Car Rallies.  If you have items that will interest people who go to such events, you could find them a very good outlet.  A trader friend of mine exhibits at a Rare Breeds show and over the year collects up all kinds of agriculturally-themed items - these go down a storm at this specialist event.  If you have a particular interest such as gardening or cooking, taking along your vintage gardenalia or kitchenalia to a gardening show or a Food Festival could work really well.  If you trade in a niche area such as dog or horse-related items, then taking a stand at Crufts or Olympia horse show could work well.  But this requires very diligent and exhaustive buying to build up a mountain of stock to take to these busy, national events.

There is a fair or market out there for everyone - you may prefer to be inside at a high-end fair or outside in a gazebo at a big summer show.  Until you try, you won't know what works best for you, but there is an abundant choice.  In my next chapter I will talk about the pros and cons of being in or running a shop.