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.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The young ones - vintage can be fun for children, too!

As many of you are probably parents with young or teenage children, this chapter is about how to get your children interested and involved with your vintage business. Also, if you particularly like children, you may want a business that sells vintage things specially for babies and children.

My daughter, Emilia, was only 3 when I started going to boot sales and markets regularly and being a single mum at the time, she had to come along with me.  She became quite well known at the various places and enjoyed the attention and fuss she received.  Now as a twentysomething, she shares a love of the old and quirky, so something rubbed off along the way.  We used to have fun together and keeping her interested allowed me to enjoy my passion, too!  It wore off a bit when she was a teenager - the early starts did not appeal.  But by then, she could be left for a couple of hours without worrying.

sweet old music score for a lullaby

Making things fun and enjoyable is the best way of keeping your children engaged and lets you have time to browse when you are out buying.  And if they come to events where you are selling, they can become great little helpers and develop confidence at the same time.

The boot sale conundrum.  When our children are little, most of us have enough plastic toys to build a replica of the Great Wall of China.  So, avoiding acquiring more plastic is a big issue at boot sales - inevitably your child will fixate on some ghastly lump of plastic that you loathe.  Of course, there are always loads of sellers getting rid of their own plastic toy mountains!  But, even little ones can enjoy the fun of having a small sum of money to invest in a collectable. If you find something your children love - it might be My Little Pony (collectable plastic!), china animal ornaments like Wade Whimsies, old school or picture books, metal or wooden toys - the boot sale becomes a treasure hunt and enormous fun.  I always like to encourage children when I am a seller - I let them handle things under supervision and enjoy their interest and questions.  And most people appreciate someone showing an interest in their child's enthusiasm.

When the children get a bit older, around 6 or 7, you might even introduce them to the idea of buying things to sell.  I used to give my daughter a couple of £s to buy items and then sell them on her behalf, giving her the profits.  She loved finding her bargains and making a bit of pocket money.  And it does teach children about money, negotiation and other valuable life skills.  At our local fair, Village Vintage, a really fantastic young man called Henry aged about 13, has a regular stall.  He brings along all his finds and makes some decent returns - his dad helps him, but he is a real entrepreneur in the making. 

old ted in his vintage bed with little bedclothes fasioned from an old sheet and blanket...ssshhh!

Children develop their eye for good objects if they visit antique shops, vintage markets, old houses and places of interest.  If you enjoy lovely things and can show them how to appreciate things, it will be a lifelong habit and pleasure.  Of course, they may reject "old stuff" totally for a while and only like modern, new things, but come back to it later.  From what I see at every fair, there are plenty of  girls and guys in their 20s running vintage businesses - and loads more out there buying all sorts of funky, fun and inexpensive stuff.  I love it!

How about getting your child involved in your stall if they have to come with you? Helping you carry in a few items is the obvious starting point, although you might think twice if your stock is heavy or breakable.  But they can carry the cloths, your stationery kit, picnic and props - all very useful. Maybe they have a few things to sell and you can give them a little space on your table.  If not, how about getting them involved in selling for you on a commission basis.  I used to leave my daughter in charge of my stall and she would do a grand sales job for me.  I used to pay her a percent on sales, to incentivize her.  Asking your child to wrap up sold items and take the money and give change to customers, will help to build their confidence and makes them feel they are important.  Most children seem to respond well to responsibility and enjoy being treated as an adult.  Learning how to have conversations with adults who are not friends or family is another bonus.  And if they sell their own treasures, being able to research and give the history of the item is another great learning point.  Most buyers are friendly and encouraging of young ones who are helping on a stall.

Scripture Cubes - a very old fashioned toy!

inside the box! for Sunday Best only.

Another fun job that can be given to a child with neat writing is to produce your price labels - an artistic child might be encouraged to design something for you.  Or you could use rubber stamps to make attractive labels.  This can be done at home whilst you are cleaning, refurbishing and packing your stock.

If your child really takes to selling, when they get a bit older they might even want to start up their own stall.  Lots of girls in the vintage world sell clothes, jewellery, hair ornaments, children's books and toys - and there is no reason why your son or daughter can't do the same.  Boys might be interested in vintage memorabilia, games, sporting items or classic collectables like toy cars and planes.  Having their own stall and making their own decisions about stock and pricing is a great way to create an independent and confident teenager.  Many schools now encourage this spirit through the Young Enterprise scheme.  And earning money is always an attractive option for teenagers.
lovely old Triang caterer's truck....

As a trader, I also try to make my stall attractive to children.  Many mums come along with toddlers and school children and it can be very boring for them.  Being small, in a hot busy hall, with people's bags and packages bashing into you isn't a lot of fun!  I always have sweets or chocolates to offer - mini Easter eggs or wrapped sweets (hygiene being a concern).  I always check with the parent or carer before offering the sweets, in case the child is not allowed them.  At Christmas, I have a 50p lucky dip which is always popular and again provides a child-focussed activity to make the day enjoyable for smaller visitors.  Having attractive vintage toys, games and children's books will of course be a draw.  Just make sure that the items at child height are robust enough to stand a bit of handling - something wooden that cannot be broken is ideal.  If your stock is too precious or valuable to be handled by children then do keep an eye and gently remind the child or parent that the item is very precious.  Most parents will get the hint!

A lot of mums and teenage girls seem to enjoy a day together at a vintage fair - what a lovely way to spend time and build closeness.  Fairs where there are vintage stylists and make up artistes are particularly popular with the girls - if you are offering this kind of service at your stall, then maybe a "mum and daughter" offer would work well.  Prettily displayed clothes and accessories will be a magnet to today's fashion loving teens.  If you sell fashion, make sure you have a good mirror available or are close to a changing area for trying on.  Some fairs even have prizes for best dressed buyers and if you sell fashion items, perhaps you could sponsor the prize and have pictures of the winner taken at your stall?

I also try to have things of interest to small (and grown up) boys!  Pictures and books on cars, planes, trains are always a hit; old metal farm animals and cars, wooden tractors and train sets are bound to appeal.  One word of warning though; many old toys were painted with lead paint, now not in use as it is toxic.  If you are buying or selling toys that would appeal or be played with by small children, please make sure that the parents or guardians are aware of this.  I would always stress that old toys are collectables and not necessarily for everyday play.  This would also apply to the eyes and clothes on old teddies and dolls - not necessarily safe by today's standards.  Some grannies have old toys that the children can only play with under supervision which sounds like a good compromise.  I still have my Great Aunt Amy's doggie nightdress case, Rover, which I played with everytime I visited her - probably not up to safety standards of today, but it gave me hours of fun.
Christmas fairy and golden coins

If you want to appeal to young parents and have a stall that attracts their custom, I can guarantee that small chairs are extremely sought after.  No-one, especially grand-parents, can resist a cute tiny school chair, deckchair, rocker or armchair.  Small tables, old fashioned school desks, old third pint milk bottles, blackboards on stands, vintage metal and wire school lockers, pre-1960s school and youth group uniforms and kit, garden benches, tiny deckchairs, children's gardening items like tools, wheelbarrows and watering cans all sell very well.  In fact, you could dedicate a whole stall just to vintage things for kids!  I know of one trader, Dinky Vintage, who sells lovely vintage children's clothing.  Photographs of babies and children taken pre 1960 are also adorable - small serious boys clutching teddies; round faced girls with bobbed hair in their Sunday dresses - lovely examples of what is out there.  And don't forget vintage tricycles, scooters, rocking horses and pedal cars - lovely for a child but also great display objects for grown-uips, too.

I hope these ideas and reflections on involving your children are helpful.  A shared passion with a child, whether for vintage, sports, music or any other activity is a wonderful bond.
Happy face!