Top tips for exhibiting at a quilt show

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Hi everyone,

Have you got your breath back after the ‘Festival of Quilts’ ? It was so wonderful to meet everyone and thank you to all those who stopped by and chatted, browsed and shopped on Ruby’s Stand. I thought the show was amazing this year and I thought it might be fun to write a little post about what it is like to be on the other side of a stand. This was my second year at the NEC and I learn so much every time I do one of these shows. It is about so many things…..transport and logistics, display and stock, technology and social media, marketing and selling skills and being able to stand on your feet all day for 4 full days. If like me you are a designer, then it is the culmination of all the months of hard work you do at home, designing and planning patterns and kits and it can be hard when some designs fly off the stand and others seem overlooked. But let’s begin at the beginning.

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It is quite an expensive thing to undertake to have a stand at a venue as grand as the NEC. I have also done the Knitting & Stitching shows at Ally Pally and Harrogate and these are, quite honestly expensive too, when you are a one man band. The organisers of these events do give discount if you are a ‘designer maker’ as opposed to an established retailer selling fabric, thread, equipment etc. and it seems fair enough. Most of the larger stands are taken by way bigger set ups than me and my home sewing room and I suppose it does make you feel that they are trying to support designers who are, in turn, essential for the fabric retailers. I was very apprehensive in the beginning and concerned about whether it was worth the cost or not. You have to factor in a few key things :

  • do you need to pay for accommodation as well: this can add a lot to the cost of the event and means staying away from home and makes restocking impossible,so you have to be able to bring everything you need at once.

  • choosing a stand is quite hard if you don’t know the venue. When I was at Ally Pally I had no idea how the show was laid out and I found myself near the front entrance. This was quite hard because in general, customers want to wander around the whole thing before they start shopping and often they get lost somewhere in the middle and by the time they get back to the door they have spent up. Get a corner stand if you can too - this is, of course, more expensive but in my opinion totally worth it - you get visibility from different directions and the stand can feel more open and lighter.

  • It is compulsory to have public liability insurance for your stand and this adds to the cost: you can take a tailored package put together by the organisers or as I do arrange an annual policy which covers all events. The organisers insist that you have up to £2million of cover!

  • Transporting all your stuff: You usually have to pay for a second car if you have someone helping you, so bear this in mind

  • Furniture for your stand ie. tables, boxes, baskets, props and hangers, shelving and display units: you can rent these from companies at the venue and they will all be keen to contact you and offer their services. It’s expensive and in general, I think most people bring their own things, but this can be bulky if you only have one car so plan carefully and think about things that can be dismantled.

  • If you want a plug socket on your stand for extra lighting, a sewing machine for demo’s or charging equipment - this is an extra cost. I never do this and take a portable charging unit for back up with the card reader and phone.

  • Food and drink: there is a limited choice at the venue and there can be long queues which make it difficult if you are on your own on the stand - take stuff with you.

  • Displaying things is key to attracting people to your stand and this is not an easy thing and everyone has different ideas. This year was my second year and I had more designs this time and I was concerned it would look overcrowded and a mish-mash. Labelling things clearly is good too - I bought a laminating machine and made signs that were clear and easy to read from a distance.

  • I used a PayPal card reader and my phone for payments and this worked well enough once I realised that the wifi was not sufficient (they want you to pay more for this) and switched to using my data. I am only a small little vendor so this was fine.

  • I think it is a good idea to have a logo and a uniform look to all your packaging and paper goods. You need fliers with key info on too. People, especially if they have never heard of you, like to take a piece of paper that they can refer to later and I do always see increased traffic on my website, blog and instagram after the shows.

  • You need a proper website to back it all up and make your operation look professional. Fortunately I really enjoy this bit and have a website with ‘Squarespace’ which is modern and easy to use. Social media too…. Instagram is perfect for such visual things as quilts and embroideries.

  • You can never quite tell what will be the best seller and what won’t. Don’t get too hung up about this. I have a series of 4 little chair embroidery kits and as a group they are eye catching. Customers come over to have a look and chat to you about them, but nearly always they buy the same one. I have realised over several shows that if I only had that one design, it might not be enough to draw potential customers in and so I don’t worry anymore - I just make sure that I have plenty of that one kit in stock. No company that is producing its own products knows if any given product will sell or not until they put it out there and being a small enterprise like means that you can just make a few to test the water. Managing stock is quite hard - probably every stand holder there brought way too much stuff, but you want to be prepared and for the stand to look full.

  • Don’t have too high expectations. I don’t believe anyone is going to be a millionaire doing this kind of thing…. it’s not really about that. It is about doing something you are passionate about and if you can cover all your costs and make a little bit besides then all is well. The trick is not to spend to much of the profits there!

  • Most of all you need a smile…..oh and comfortable shoes and if you have room on your stand - A CHAIR.

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The best things about being part of something like this are just being in a wonderful creative community. I have made some great friends since I started exhibiting and everyone is in the same boat. Everyone has tips and advice and generally have all the same problems and issues. It is good to feel that you are not alone and the insights of more the more experienced are valuable. One thing about being their for the whole 4 days, is that if you get a real feel for the whole of the show and you see the technological side of the textile industry in full swing. There are areas where you can watch demonstrations and paid workshops seemed very popular too. You can see the trends and new developments of the quilting and embroidery industry and use this to plan ahead. I love taking a bit of time to see the displays and this year at the NEC, some of the competition quilts and the exhibitions were simply amazing. You need some help on your stand really to be able to do this, but you can also wander around before and after the show opens and closes and enjoy the displays when it is quieter.

Meeting up with people who you interact with on social media is brilliant fun too. It is wonderful to chat properly with instagram friends and put faces to names. I am not always the best with social media but I am learning all the time that it can a tremendous asset to a small business.

Wandering around and seeing all the other stands gives you ideas and makes you think about the future direction of your work. This year, I felt that I formed a clear vision of where I want to take my designing. It is all about trying to find your niche and for me I have been dabbling in different elements of the quilting and embroidery sector. Now I have an idea of where I want to go with it and I hope you will follow along and see how this works out.

Overall, it has been the realisation of a dream for me to be able to do this show and I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t have done it though without the help of my daughter who was a real trooper throughout the whole thing. I’m pretty whacked out this week and happy to be home, but… I really hope to see you there again next year with the Ruby Roadshow.

Toodle …ooo, Ruby x

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