Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not quite the golden egg you would think.

Last week I got a letter from Upper Street Events who run the Country Living Fairs to say that they would not be having a Fair in Scotland next Spring.

It has turned out not to be an viable event for them.

It is a strange thing - talk to the stall holders and they feel that they are paying too much for their space, talk to the customers and they feel that the ticket price is too high, talk to the organisers and they say that they cannot make a profit on the event.

Perhaps there are not enough people in Scotland/North of England to justify the event - certainly, speaking to people who do both the London and the Glasgow Fair there are far fewer people at the Scottish event, spending far less per person.

That is perhaps the rub.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who had just bought a beautiful quilt from a catalogue specialising in Fair Trade goods. It was a lovely piece of work - the pieces had been carefully toned and my friend had bought it because of that, but also because it had been made by someone being paid properly for the work. She felt that she paid about a £70 premium for the good feeling that she has buying Fair Trade.

How many people would (or perhaps also could afford to) do that?

The Country Living Fair tries to reflect the magazine - to have a high proportion of stalls selling hand made, locally sourced, high production cost items - whether that is bags made from vintage materials or hand made jewellery.

The problem is that the price of those goods reflect the fact that they take time to make. With the Scottish Fair what seemed to happen was that each year there were fewer and fewer of these specialist stalls as too few people bought from them and they did not cover costs. Gradually stalls importing mass produced jewellery, enamelware, trinkets and so on began to dominate. Even the stalls which sold handmade items began to supplement with bought in goods, which were cheaper and therefore easier to sell. This applies to me as much as anyone else - whereas everything bar some hyacinth vases was made by me in the "home section" of my stall, there were pots and hand tools in the "garden" bit which were bought in - and available at another stall in the hall.

There were approximately 12,000 visitors to the Scottish Fair - that means to cover costs on a small stall you have every single person who comes in that door spend 30p with you. That is very high indeed. No wonder so many stallholders - with lovely stalls - hardly make a profit.

I really don't know what the answer is - if I could change one thing about our consumer society I would have people buy less but spend more time and money on their individual purchases. This Primark, disposable society depresses me. People look at a hand made object like a basket and think that it is expensive, if they began to think of the time taken to make it and what hourly rate they think would be fair, I expect that it would suddenly seem a great bargain. -

A Christmas Fair has been suggested for October 2008 and I hope that that comes off and that people use it as an excuse to get all their Christmas presents in one handcrafted, unique, happy shopping day.

I would be interested in hearing what people think from a customers' point of view.


DevonLife said...

I used to exhibit at the London Fair and stopped a few years ago as every year you could see the climate changing. Less people wanting to spend anything more than 99p!

And obviously with hand-made items there is always the 'I could do that' crowd.

It was a lot of hard work and a great way of upping the cash intake before Christmas, and getting rid of old stock, but we found the costs rising and the rewards dropping and could see the day when the two would meet so pulled out.

Yes, some people will pay more, but some people are only there for the cheese!

blueberry hill said...

Hi Jane,

I read on another blog that the Scottish fair had been cancelled which was very disappointing. This year was my first visit to it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I guess a Christmas one might be more worthwhile all round as I think people really need an excuse to buy. Some will indulge a little for the sake of it but clearly not enough people for the stallholders to really make a good profit. Many people are downshifting or trying to live on one salary or make a go of a business and there is just not as much expendable income around - along with the interest rate rises. With all the consumer debt I think people are economising. Websites that suggest ways to do that are increasingly popular. I don't know what the answer is for the handcrafted market - many people want it and prefer it but can't afford to devote 100% spending power to it. Like any small business growth is incremental which in the long run should be more sustainable than a boom/bust business and the best thing we can do to make progress is to be consistent & just keep on "keeping on"
I'll stop now!
Annie x

Jane said...

Devonlife - What is your business? I find your comment very interesting as talking to stallholders who had just come up to Glasgow straight from the London Fair you would think that it was all sell, sell, sell there! Perhaps it just shows HOW bad the sales are in Glasgow.

Blueberry Hill - I think that your comment about interest rates is spot on. You hear all types of statistics about how much people used to spend on food as a percentage of their income and wonder how it can have shrunk so much - then you remember how everyone seems to be mortgaged way beyond their means.

I do believe however that there is a case for moving away from the disposable buy it at Ikea and update your kitchen every year to something more considered and lasting.


Ragged Roses said...

I totally agree with everything you've said. I think people have got used to buying more for less and often fail to appreciate the work that goes into hand crafted items - a source of constant frustration!
Kim x
PS Thanks for tip about cutting poppies a few weeks ago, mine have been blooming on the kitchen table for a week now!

Blossomcottage said...

I love your website and I will be back for more when I have washed the garden grime of myself, I have been in the garden all day.
No sure about craft fairs, I have been going the County Shows for over 25 years showing poines and the change in the things that are sold in the craft tent is amazing as far as I can see most of it these days is tat from China, I used to love the craft tent at the Royal Show spent hours there buying presents, not now thought.

Marie said...

Hi Jane,

It is a sad reality that few people appreciate handmade quality and are prepared to pay for it.

I have found from personal experience in recent weeks selling at the market, that many people will comment on the cost of my products without stopping to consider that I am using top quality ingredients and making them by hand. These same people are quite prepared (in many instances) to go out and buy products that are inferior and cost more because they are a brand that they are familiar with.

I hope that the Country Living Fair returns - it seems that those in the north of England (where I used to live) and in Scotland miss out on many events that are only held in London.

I like your new photo - much better without the hat!

Marie x

Suffolkmum said...

What a shame. I agree with all your comments, and on the dispoable consumerism that's so rampant in society today, but I also agree with Blueberry Hill that there just isn't much spare cash around at the moment - for those of us who aren't Russian ogilarchs! I LOVE handcrafted stuff, and am in theory prepared to pay more for fair-trade, handcrafted goods, just as I buy organic/fairtrade food produce. But sometimes it's a struggle to buy anything at all! So many people, myself included, have had to seriously reconsider what they spend, and sadly a lot of craft items may be considered 'luxuries', I guess. (Except for ragdolls, of course, which are the stuff of life!!)

alice c said...

I think that there are now so many craft fairs of various types that the novelty has worn off. I think that you also have to take into account the passion for on-line shopping which is changing the way that we spend money - it can be targeted rather than the pot-luck of visiting a fair. This is good for small businesses because they can identify their customers and minimise energy wasted displaying in front of people who are on a day out and unlikely to spend much money.

Gigibird said...

I wish I knew what the answer was - I do think CL are very greedy in what they charge - I would go so far and call them exploitative.
Historically artisans were supported by patrons; I think unless you sell your soul (like Cath Kidston) at best craft people will only ever scratch at a living, and will need to be supported by partners who work.

Raindrops said...

I also use to do the big fair but have not for the last few years.

There is a lot of the I can make that or even can you tell me how I can make that crowd. Then you have the ones who love a 'craft fair' but fail to see if they don't come to spend then the fairs will disappear. And you also get a lot of the girls having a day out and a nice lunch day but don't want to carry stuff home crowd.

And now we have interest rates rising which does not help with disposable income available.

oh and I forgot I have also got the if I buy 2 do I get one free crowd which I have also had. Or I can buy 4 bars of soap for a £1 in tesco crowd. And then you have those that don't appreciate how long it take to make a nice quality hand crafted item

Could go on more but don't want to bore you plus I sound like a right moaner.

Jane said...

I find all your comments really interesting - thank you for taking the time to respond.

I do think that there is a lot more buying on the internet - but then sometimes it is lovely to see the goods before you buy.

There is a strong held belief - particularly amongst stallholders - that CL charges far too much and are indeed, as Gigibird suggests, exploitative.

However speaking to friends in the events game it has been obvious for a couple of years that CL is making a very minimal profit (less than £5,000 was quoted) out of the Scottish show, and certainly it seems to be very labour intensive to put the show up and take it down. The fact that they are dropping the show seems to back this up.

Today I am away shopping - a very unusual activity for me - looking for an outfit for my Mum to wear to my brother's wedding.


Faith said...

You've had some very relevant replies and I can't put it better. It seems to me that no-one wants quality or is prepared to put up with well worn stuff any more.

carolyn said...

Sorry to hear that the Scottish CL Fair no more, hope for the sake of all those who exhibit that the Christmas Fair comes off. The comments have been interesting reading I agree there is less available cash to be spent these days. Having credit card facilities seems to help, friends of mine who run a v.small garden centre/nursery saw their sales increase by an average of £1,000 a week when they started to accept credit cards. No wonder there is so much consumer debt.
Personally I think the whole handmade v mass produced thing is a bit tricky I mean with the best will in the world do you really want to pay twice as much for something that you can buy from the high street just because it is handmade? I really think that if someone really wants something the price isn't a consideration (if you can't afford it you save for it if you really want it)and I think that is where the problem lies with craft fair type scenarios their are just too many people trying to sell stuff that can easily be purchased elsewhere at a fraction of the price.

the flour loft said...

Gosh Jane, seems like you've opened a can of worms! Gin & I are dying to comment but are really manic - getting ready for a fair ooer! Will e-mail you with our thought when we catch our breath.
Al & Gin

Jane said...

Carolyn - I actually think that you have a good point about whether handmade is necessarily best.

I have been to some craft fairs where what was being sold was more school fete kind of stuff than what I would term craft.

That said - I used to buy mass produced baskets then 2 things happened. Firstly we visited my favourite B&B, Chipperkyle in Dumfries and Galloway. There the owner Catriona Dickson had recently run over a log basket in her car. She simply took it back to the man who had originally made it and he made it good as new.

Secondly I went on a basketmaking course and discovered how much skill there is in making a basket. Now I pay a bit more and buy ones that have been made individually and get a lot of pleasure from them,

With good hand made items I think that there is a difference.

I also agree that it isn't a budget thing - the stalls that actualkly do well at CL are those with £900 jumpers and high end rocking horses.

Caroline Zoob advised me to start making clothes as they sell easier!

carolyn said...

Hello Jane I just came back because I remembered the CL Pavillions at Badmington & Burleigh Horse Trials. Now I know for a fact that people do go to these events to shop as well as watch the equestrian activities and if my husband's "gentleman's outfitter" is to be believed they shop with a capital S. I'm wondering how well the few exhibitors in the CL Pavillions do? Would love to find out.
Actually I agree that something beautiful and well made by a craftsman is always going to be better than mass produced and that is when I think that people are prepared to pay a premium. It's the stuff that some crafters knock out that quite frankly you could buy in Woolies for almost pennies that I was refering to and quite frankly there is too much of it. I do actually think that one of the problems with crafy fairs etc is that folk do go just to have a look around, if something attracts them they might buy it problem is that for many crafter's it is one of the few places they have to sell their wares and maybe the expectation of sales is a bit too great.

weirdbunny said...

I suppose personally I do look at stalls at craft fairs etc.. check out the lastest ideas then go home and make it for myself !

However in a near by village there is a building that holds various artist studios, where you can go on courses and buy the arrtists work. I love to buy from girl who does ceramics. Fabalous pecies for about £30.00, which I feel are such a bargin !

Victoria May Plum said...

Good post Jane. I agree that it is always wise to pay a little more for a quality handmade item, such as a piece of furniture, or as you said, a lovely handmade basket. But I do also agree with Carolyn that sometimes handmade does not always equal quality, but that is the buyers decision to make isn't it?
I think that most people just pop into a craft fair when they are visiting somewhere, as an attraction rather than a place to buy, I tend to buy things that I can't make myself at home, or that I think are original or different.

It is a shame that CL aren't going to do a spring fair anymore, but country living do a great service advertising small businesses and encouraging people to buy local produce and handmade products.

Caroline Zoob always inspires me, I love her original and beautiful objects!

Victoria x