Monday, 21 July 2014

The great outdoors - vintage in the wild!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eye-catching collection of gardenalia

  • vintage bicycles and tricycles, handcarts and trolleys

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

Pull-along dogs - what fun!

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

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

  • croquet sets, old tennis racquets, clock golf sets

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

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

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

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

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

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