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.

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