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.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Ruth - I enjoy writing about my fave subject and it is great to get feedback.