beginners guides

I've been asked a couple of times for some helpful tips on various pottery issues that seem illusive to beginners.  It can be very daunting facing a whole new skill set and it isn't always  about how to make pottery itself.
One thing that came up a few times was 'how do you set up your first craft stand?'
So here goes....
(if you want to know something for the next tips subject, just dm me:-)

How to set up your first

setting up and running a craft stand

the simplest design is often the best to go with

the golden rules:

1 be prepared for all eventualities! Have everything you could possibly conceive you will ever need then add an additional table cloth, some pins and a bog roll to that list!

2 ARRIVE REDICULOUSLY EARLY – no matter how may times you have practised putting up your stand (you have practised haven't you?) some silly blighter might park across you believing they have more right to unload than you do, or some kindly soul will want to lend you a helping hand! You will always need extra time, so arrive early.

3 You are not tethered to your stand, you are permitted to move about, talk to other stall holders, get a coffee – got to the loo!

4 NEVER EVER EVER STAND IN FRONT OF ANOTHER STALL HOLDER''S STAND WHILE CHATTING TO THEM, BLOCKING THEIR CUSTOMERS - they really don't like that!

5 dont skimp on your PLI

6 Dont waste money on your stand and set up, profits are hard to come by, every single penny counts.

7Dont spend all your profits on other seller's stand!

8 always take your own lunch and hot coffee, that's more profit you save.

9 charge your mobile, your reader, any lighting and anything else that needs charging for a comfortable happy day.
 

Things you will need before you start.

Public Liability Insurance – nobody worth their salt will ever book you without insurance, it doesn't cover your pottery, stand or vehicle, but does give you £5 or 10 million of public liability cover which says a lot of why we have to have it. It's easy enough to arrange and a lot of artists/potters organisations offer it as part of a yearly subscription to their organisations. I used A N for a long time, but changed to Axis which I'm not that happy with, so next year I may well return to A N. It's worth shopping around but don't be tempted to skimp on it, go to someone reputable.

Product – Do you honestly have enough stock to fill a stand – lay it out on your workbench and be realistic. If your stand costs £35 for a 6foot long table, do you have enough wares to cover the cost? If the answer is yes, then you're on your way :-)

A stand – I'll go into this more later, but here, have you got a good stout table that folds well and safely enough to get it into a selling space without taking out other sellers as you set up. Is it strong enough, long enough, light enough? The rest of your stand comes with the designing, but please bear in mind that you'll need a vehicle big enough to get it in plus all your stock, your sandwiches and a chair! (Some inside events offer a free table and chair – check as you book.)

A card reader – most of us use a Sum up or Zettle, the smallest units cost about £25 and link in with a mobile app and work perfectly, even in open field situations where you're using your data. (**But be wary of street trading situation, some of the free wifi connections are through shops being generous, but they DO NOT permit you to use your own card reader via their wifi in case they become liable to the buyer.***) 

To begin with a small unit will be all you need and if your sales go viral, then you'll have plenty of profit to upgrade later :-D And don't think you can get away without one, customers currently expect you to take cards, some are okay with mobile ap payments, but a lot wont be and cash isn't so popular now. This could all change but as I'm writing this in October 2022, cash is dead and mobiles payment only trusted by the young – so get yourself a card reader :-D I do still take a float of actual cash, about £30 mainly in £5 notes, £1 and 50p coins. (the trick here is to always price your wares with whole £ or 50p so you're not hunting through your float for change for £12.35, keep your pricing really simple).

The other reason for a card reader is the old 'oh, I'll go and get some cash and come back!' line from a potential customer, which all traders know actually means, 'nah thanks I can't be bothered, you wont see me again!' and a chance of another sale is lost. Honestly – just get the card reader!

Wrapping, thermos and a good strong will not to buy from anyone else until you're in profit yourself! This list of bits you will need to take is endless, I've got it down now to a carrier of essentials, but seriously, that has taken 40 years to hone it down to that. For the big shows there are many many containers of 'just in case' items.

But Before you get in too deeply - When you're making pottery, at some point you have to ask yourself 'is an income important to me, does it drive my need for a craft stand or am I there just for the fun of it and to enjoy myself?'. For me it's always been about an income, mine has helped support our joint income for 40 years, but at other times it has been a drain. So ask yourself if you can afford for it to just be an expensive hobby. If not, then you should be trying to sell it effectively and to make a profit.

How to find events

almost every organisation in your area will have a summer fair. These are great to cut your teeth on. The rugby club, the village carnival, the school fete are all good starting places, the only drawback is that they will be outside and you will need to beg, steal or borrow a gazebo, know how to put it up and how to keep it still in a howling gale sufficiently to placate your PLI – see below. The reason I suggest these is that the visitors to these events are community folk, investing in their own area's event and therefore happier to invest in you. 

All you need to do is google the organisation and see who's running the stalls. I usually email them something like:

“dear whoever,

I understand that you are organising the stalls (check what word they use, it might be traders, gazebos, stallholders, stands or something you really didn't expect, mimic their phrase) at wherever on whatever date. I am a local potter making whatever you specialise in and would like to know the cost and if it is possibly to book a stall?

Regards

You and a phone number' 

Attach two good photos of your work and a link to your website or selling site.

They usually reply quite quickly 

But don't be put off by bigger events, the lass I was next to at our big county fair in July, had begun her business in the February. She contacted the organisers late on and asked if there were any late places available, jumped through all their many faceted hoops and set up, just like that. 

I don't currently advocate craft fairs in church halls and community centres much. I think they have been great in the past but they may have had their day. If you really want to try one, go and visit one of the organisers other events, check out how much they have advertised it, hows the response on facebook, are there signs before you get to the venue, plenty of parking and really important, where is it? On the high street or tucked away down a quiet road? Once inside the hall, does everyone turn to smile at you because you're the closest they've had to a customer walk in all morning? It might look busy and chatty and full of atmosphere but is it actually all the stall holders trying to raise the spirit of the place. Sorry, but this has been my experience lately, I really think they've had their day.

It is much wiser to go to events that have something going on, cheese festivals, dog or horse shows (especially if you make dog bowls!), school fairs, food festivals (for the mug and casserole makers), and the like. Just remember that the bigger the event the more competition there will be :-D 

How to prep for events

get your wrapping sorted – everyone will tell you that presentation is everything, that you will need fancy pre-stamped white or brown carrier bags each tied with a hessian tag or bow, matching tissue paper and a million business cards. Rubbish!!! Customers know full well that it's just smoke and mirrors AND that they are ultimately paying for it. It's much better not to start off in so much debt for unnecessary stationery that you will need to make a fortune to ever break even. For pottery, what I use is good strong tissue paper, bought cheaply but in bulk from a house removal company, the sort that they pack all the house contents for you when you move. They usually have paper of two qualities, sturdy white tissue paper, not particularly dainty but very serviceable for ceramics, and an off white strong wrapping paper, a bit like fish and chip shops used to use. You can buy it in half reams and will cost about the same for 250 sheets as it will for 20 sheets from your local stationery store. I spend about £32 at the beginning of each year buying a half a ream of each and it does for all the shows AND all the online sales sent through the post, securely packed and padded in recyclable paper. You can be generous and wrap each piece sold in two or three big sheets of the tissue then fold the whole lot into one of the wrapping and seal it with a bit of sticky tape, or even spend a few pennies and buy a roll of preprinted 'thank you' stickers from Amazon. Seriously, for potters, everything else is just a waste of your hard earned profits whilst at the same time helping you to look as though you are professional about packing your wares to travel home with their buyers.

On that note: I always have a sign up saying 'Buy with confidence! Maggie guarantees that should your purchase not arrive at your home whole and unbroken, Maggie will replace or refund it.' And yes I mean it too, it makes me really focus on wrapping :-D (my little leaflet contains the details and a leaflet goes into the wrapping so that I know that every customer actually gets one!)

As for business cards, keep it very simple and cheap, you will loose hundreds to kids who just collect them for fun and more to adults who have no intention of ever becoming a customer. I have to be honest, I haven't had business cards printed for years, going more for a desktop published A5 leaflet with current images and loads of contact details (as mentioned above). If, like me, this is something you love doing then consider this as a profit saver too.

How to build your stand

you really need to sit and take time to design your stand. The number of times this year that I have met new stall holders who have brought an inadequate table cloth and laid their wares out flat. 

FIRST AND FOREMOST IN YOUR DESIGN IS TO BUILD IN HEIGHT!

There's loads of research about this, but in most cases the upshot of them is that people tend to look in a range 'level with their eyes downwards to a table top', never higher and never lower sadly, so anything higher or lower isn't in their immediate scanning radar. You will probably have less that 3 seconds to grab their attention, especially if there are stands either side of the walkway, so you have to put your best stuff right there as close to eye level/table top as possible to entice them to slow up and look at your stand more closely! (also see herding, funnelling and blocking below).

So height on your stand is vital. 

If you are selling pottery then it has to be sensible and secure height, you really have to consider your Public Liability Insurance providers here. If you hang a row of mugs from something make-shift/unsafe and it collapses causes someone injury, will your PLI provider cover you? Probably not, we all know that insurance companies will do their best not to pay if they can claim you were negligent. So make sure you know what you're doing or get some help.

Myself, I use a sturdy adapted cloths rail which fits to the legs of my tables securely. Under that, I add onto my table light weight wooden planking stretched across upturned wooden boxes for strong shelving in three tiers. I can then extend this from 4 foot long to 18 foot without difficulty depending on the event. 

My best advice is not to skimp on your stand but also not to pay out much either. You can get a really good effect using old reclaimed items just as much as you can going to alltraders.com and spending a fortune on all the latest purpose built staging.

Use your common sense, put it up in your garden or front room and test it out rigorously, bump into it, knock it, kick it, let a two year old try and climb it (yes seriously! It's really necessary.) Then if you're satisfied that it can't fall apart, drop off, catch alight, swing round, break down, trap fingers, collapse on or splinter into your passing customers – or anyone else – then you can be happy with it.

And a note on lighting: most of us want our wares to stand out so think lighting is essential, particularly at inside events. If you go down the route of electrical lighting, then you may have to provide 'portable appliance testing' (PAT) certificates to comply with the organisers insurance and you will be asked to pay for the electrical supply (the bigger events charge well over £100 for the connection). So think laterally to begin with, it's an expense that can wipe out any profit margin you were hoping for. I use a mix of rechargeable work-lamps and cheap batteried fairy lights to great effect. The work-lamps were from Amazon or Argos and are the type that are used by builders to work where there is no supply, they are really powerful and last about 4+ hours so I have three to last a whole day and give me flexibility of use.

But fairy lights are seriously cheaper and can look very effective.

NOTE ON CANDLES – DONT! No one is going to let you light a candle in a public event, the risks are just too high. If you're selling candle holders, take little battery ones to show what they do then offer your customer one of them or a live candle if they want one.

I'm not keen on promoting live candles, there was that Canadian lady who was sued for selling a nightlight candle holder that caught the buyer's house alight and then another person, can't remember where, who was sued for not putting a warning on her nightlights that it would be hot after it had been lit for a while and so could scold your fingers when you picked it up to blow it out! Me, I only sell mine with batteried candles. :-(

Once you have designed your stand - practice, practice, practice, set it up, does your cloth fit, from floor to top and the ends (the back doesn't matter so much and makes it easier to get to stock stored there). Do you need clips to stop you cloth flicking up and wiping something off your table or hitting someone in the eye? Lay out your wares, what goes nicely with what, what goes out, what sits under your stand as back up stock. I tend to group items that compliment each other in threes and fives, much as you might on a display sideboard. Other people stack it in loose or neat piles, it's totally up to you. Is something too heavy or wobbly, are your shelves strong enough? Try different ideas until you're happy. Then practice some more – and take photos!
 

the back of your stand should have space for your bits and pieces to hide away

What to do when you arrive

Arrive early, and park as close as your ability to move your stuff allows. I always think that if I'm fit enough to carry it then I'll leave the closer parking to those who can't – plus I have a trailer/trolley thing now! Next, go in to find the organiser first. You may have been sent a map/plan of where your stand will be but even so, someone should be able to tell you were to go. Take a look at your spot, where's the sun coming from, if you have a gazebo, think about the wind direction. If it's a really crappy spot, call the organiser back and explain you reservations. If you're really nice about it and have a genuine reason, AND YOU ARRIVED EARLY ENOUGH SO THAT THEY STILL HAVE OPTIONS, then they might move you. If they can't, try to negotiate a reduction of the stand fee if you fail to make a set amount for the day (usually no less that 3 times the stand fee).

Then start making up your stand. Fairly obvious trick here – pack your vehicle so that the things you will need first, your stand and cover, are the first you get to unpack. Sounds obvious, but honestly, I've seen people who have loaded their table at the bottom so that they have a flat surface to load everything else into their car!

Introduce yourself to your neighbours, assess them as your competitors but also make friends with them, you are going to be there all day, three days maybe, you might as well be comfortable with them. 

what to do once you're open

Relax a little, you've done some hard work setting up, take five minutes to yourself, have a cuppa from your trusty flask. Wander round the front of your stand, how does it look, tinker if you have time. Take photos and get them on your social media with headlines that your open and you hope your followers will pop along for a chat :-D

Make sure you have a mobile signal, or if your organisers are offering wifi that you have the pass word and it's working for you. Test out your card reader with a test payment of £1 using your own card and see how good the signal really is! 

Wander a little further from your stand and meet some of the other stall holders. 'Hi, have you done this event before?' is usually a great opener. You can glean all sorts of interesting info in little informal chats like this, where else is a good place to take a stall and where to never go!

It's okay to ask your neighbour to watch your stand while you go to the loo or buy a coffee (urgh your profits!!!) you can do the same for them. I usually say as I go, 'can you sell it all for me by the time I come back.' but after 4o years that jokes wearing a bit thin for me!

I make it a rule that I never count my takings at the stand, I feel it's unlucky somehow but there is always the chance that someone is watching you.

what not to do when you're open – 

spend anything! Just don't, no matter how adorable, tempting or alluring – you are there to make profit for yourself – get a grip!

And a real turn off to buyers is the stall holder sat head down reading a book, a news paper or God forbid – a blooming mobile! It's really up to you how you handle the slow times behind the stall, I try to be looking very interestedly at things going on, I smile a mild greeting to anyone who stops, looks and makes eye contact. 

Don't leer a beaming smile at them, it can frighten them off. Think of the number of times you've run a mile from a craft seller that was just too keen.

You don't have to be a salesman either. I have a real issue with 'natural born sellers', I prefer to browse quietly for myself not be forced, through politeness, to listen to someone so passionate about their wares that it's hard to break away. If I'm interested in something, I will ask. So bear that in mind, not every buyer wants a salesman thrust at them. Some need it, how you learn which is which is impossible to know.

Don't stay sitting, if someone does ask you something, stand instantly, it give a very bad impression of your interest in them if you can't be bothered to meet them face to face.

make sure it all fits neatly into your vehicle, with the stuff you need out first readily to hand when you arrive.

Herding, funnelling and blocking

Trust me, there will be days that you need to know these devious but essential ancient traders crafts.

Herding – Occasionally you may be opposite or just along from a massive draw of a stand, the sort that has a huge crowd about them all day and nobody seems to be looking at your stand. Remember the golden rules – no 3 you are not tethered to your stand, come out and innocently walk through the crowd interested in something beyond. This has the effect of breaking up the groups. Timing is essential here, once a group has broken off, walk back just as innocently, as though you've noticed something very important in the direction of your stand and like sheep, they will magically move with you. It takes time to perfect this one, but it's well worth learning and it's best not to start whistling to your two sheepdogs and yelling 'cum bye Shep!” at the top of your voice, your neighbour may notice and come and punch you on the nose. But done exceptionally subtly it can effectively bring customers your way. And if nothing else it gives you a little smile :-D

Funnelling – likewise, if you find that the walkway is wide enough that people are walking too far away from your stand, rather than close enough to be enticed in by your goodies – then quietly walk out into the space on the opposite side from you and stand there idly looking about you, enjoying the day. Customers then have to walk a bit closer to your stand to get by you due to the funnelling effect. The trick with this one is judging just where you stand, play with it a while and see just how close you can get to your stand before they start walking behind you. At that point step back a bit, knowing you are at the optimum spot for funnelling.

And blocking – you may need to enlist a couple of your fellow stall holders, similarly being ignored as the herds of customers walk by too quickly. This time, as the customers approach, you quietly stand forming a small group as you talk about something that has caught your eye, done well, the unsuspecting customers wait patiently while you clear the walkway very politely – having first given them time to peruse your stands fully first of course.

(Having read this you will never walk round a fair in the same way again, you'll notice when a stall holder uses one of these ruses and you'll smile to yourself, then whisper to them as you pass 'how's the shepherding going then?' and they'll smile back knowingly.


 

How to deal with customers

Personally, I let my wares do the talking, as I mentioned above, I'm not a hard salesman. I appreciate browsers, particularly if they make eye contact, I always smile if they do and maybe say a light 'Hi'. If they ask me something, I stand immediately, they might not want a conversation so I try to judge that. It's a difficult one but you sort of know. I like people who walk round with dogs, you can always start a conversation about their dogs, they love that, and it's non-selling.

Other non-selling conversations can include how busy it is, how stormy the weather has been or if they do pottery themselves. 

If they're interested in a particular piece I tend to explain the process a little. 'It's porcelain so fired twice in the kiln, the second time to 1250oc. If you hold it up to the light here, you can see light through it.' 

It's a bit naughty but if you possibly can, pick up the piece they are looking at and hand it to them, reassuring them that it's more robust than it looks. Once it is in their hands there is a greater percentage chance that they will buy it, but you cant force it into their hands :-D

I make little jokes about my proficiency, 'After fifty years in pottery, you would think I knew what a horse looked like by now.' Silly things like that.

Generally though, it's truly better to just breath deeply, stay as relaxed as possible and be yourself. Your passion will shine through and your work will speak for itself!


 

when and how to pack down – FROM THIS POINT ON BE VERY AWARE OF WHERE YOUR TILL, MONEY BAG OR FLOAT IS, it's all too easy for it to slid into a box and be mislaid for days!

It's polite to wait to pack down until the organiser gives you the nod.

But in practice, those that haven't had a good day will start to pack up a good hour before closing and be gone two seconds after it.

Your best bet on your first few events, is to start tidying behind your stall an hour before. Clear away all the lunch debris, all the wasted wrapping and to sort your boxes for easy access once the word to pack up reaches you.

No-one ever packs away as well as they packed to come to the event, but take care not to rush, some of my worst breakages have happened while I've been packing up.

When you bring your car in BEWARE!!! if you thought your fellow stall holders acted selfishly when you arrived, then you're in for a shock when they go to leave, because they are far far worse. 

AND ANOTHER REMINDER ABOUT THE MONEY – this is the point at which some stall holders have taken their eye off their cash and found that it's been stolen – put it somewhere safe as you load. If you're a girl, wedged securely down the front of your bra is a really safe place.

Once you're packed, it's polite to check that you've left no rubbish behind, thank the organisers and say goodbye to folk you've sat near or chatted to.

Get in your car, check your money is safe and go.....

I tend to leave my car loaded until the next morning so if you plan to do the same, pack stuff you have to take out handy.


 

what to do after an event (And this is were I get very realistic about it all, sorry)

First rule here is to be accepting of all despondency. 

We all go off with grand ideas of selling 70% of our stock and coming home with a bulging money bag and an overworked card reader. We have wonderful confidence in what we make and we KNOW it's beautiful and so worth the money we're asking. But the truth is that right now (Oct 2022) we are heading towards a recession and two things happen in recessions:

loads and loads of desperate folk try to make up the short fall in their incomes by selling something they make. And

No one has spare money for things they don't really need.

So if your sales are appalling, you will feel desperate yourself, accept it wasn't your day and try to move on. This is why I urge you not to spend out unnecessarily, keep your costs as low as you possibly can do safely and choose your events wisely. 

Then after a tiring day, get home and make a good strong cuppa, taking time to stop and enjoy it. Once you've done that remember your old Auntie Maggie's wise words “Every single event you do is part of your learning curve. It's a damned steep one and you are going to struggle and get hurt. There will be tears, times you want to give up, right there and then, but you have to ask yourself 'is this what I want to do? Or not?' and then make the decision to pick yourself up and have another go, and another and another.... it's seriously hard times this year and success or failure isn't in your power to control right now, you just have to continue to have faith in your beautiful product. If you don't make it by your third or forth attempt you might want to consider that perhaps it's not your time... yet.

But this recession wont last for ever, I've gone through 3 really bad ones and I'm still potting and living the life. I'm still as poor as a church mouse but hey! I'm having a great time.

DM me, email me or call me for a chat but don't give up :-D


 


 

and always leave your site clean and tidy :-)