Well I've just landed back in the shire from the whirlwind that was the Ideal Home Show at Christmas 2015. I'm trying to get my head round it, as it probably wasn't what I expected.
In the run up, your heart is pounding at the prospect of a 'high profile' fair that cost an arm and a dozen legs, for a meagre 2m x 2m of space (or in my case slightly under that as the stand was missing some length and width which the Organisers are refusing to reimburse) and promises of the earth in terms of exposure and sales. It dominates your thoughts and plans, and before you know it you're spending out on displays, increasing stock levels, buying up accommodation, van hire and all the logistics that go with it. It's hard not to get carried away with the hypothetical possibilities with promised visitor numbers in the hundreds of thousands…
The Salesman who sold me the pitch made out that it was a very high end event, with consumers with high expendable incomes enjoying design-led products. The reality was that there was a real mixed bag of stalls, which in turn attracted a mixed-bag of customers.
Many people were just looking for a bargain, and wanted to barter down as hard as they could. Others just didn't differentiate at all between mass produced bought in products, and the type of "shop" that I was, having designed and created everything myself. Once I realised this and led every conversation that happened with the fact that "this is me!" I had a much more positive time.
However, it was an awful lot of work to just break even at an event that in hindsight was probably inappropriate for my business. Some journalists even mentioned that they were surprised to see me there, they expected me to be at several other large retail fairs that they name dropped, where the content is much more design-led, small business orientated, rather than £10 Christmas jumpers from China.
Having realised very quickly that this was totally the wrong platform for sales and trying not to let myself get too upset, I switched focus to damage control. I relished the comments from those who understood what I was about, which kept me buoyed up and able to ignore the panic I was feeling. I tried to maximise exposure and that awful word networking.
Many of the seasoned exhibitors also shared mixed experiences, and there was a definite community spirit helping to keep that brave face plastered on. In conclusion, I think I'm just about glad I did the show as I would have forever wondered of what it may have been like if I hadn't.
However with hindsight I do think that products so painstakingly designed and created need their own showcase and I will be focusing on more tailored events in future. For anyone interested in taking up a stand at the Ideal Home show or even other similar events, I would stress, VISIT FIRST! Don't be flattered just by being asked as many shows just need to fill a lot of vacant spaces and will say anything to get you to part with your money. I was blessed to have great friends who helped me man the stand free of charge and bought sweet treats and kind words. Let's just see what happens now.
Photographs courtesy of Alice Austin.