I’ve been trying to formulate a post about my experience last Saturday for over a week now and I’m still no further forward, really. Maybe stream of consciousness fact reportage is the way to go. Let’s try it.
I’ve done more craft fairs and markets than many of you have had hot dinners. From church halls to massive exhibition centres, free stalls to mega-spendy stands, I’ve seen them all. I’ve been a bit out of the loop for the past year or so, as I feel that Glasgow’s craft market scene is hideously over-saturated with sub-par events (ooh, hark at me) and the good ones have been wound up. So, it takes a lot to get me packing up my craft suitcase (it’s the size of a small planet) these days. So when I saw a Glasgow city centre venue that I’ve done events at before was launching its own design-led market, I thought it was a pretty good reason to get back into the groove.
I applied for a stall and was accepted. I paid my £40 and made my preparations for the day, like any other event. In the days leading up to the event, I started to get a bad feeling. I hadn’t seen much online chatter about it and my radar was pinging. I began to think I’d maybe backed a wrong horse several days before I even set foot in the venue. One of the things that made me feel this way was the organisers of the event, who run the council-run venue, emailing me to harrass me about distributing paper flyers and why hadn’t I picked any up from the venue? Having paid £40 for the stall, none of which I knew was going towards actual venue hire, this grated on me. I replied stating that as I live 20 miles out of town, I wouldn’t be collecting any flyers but I’d be happy to hand a few out to my colleagues if they posted me some (they arrived on Friday this week, almost a full week after the event). This set my alarm bells chiming quietly. I’d already blogged about the event and Tweeted, too, with a note on my to-do list to email my extensive mailing list and set up a Facebook event a couple of days beforehand, which I did.
Usually with events of this nature, an email will land in my inbox with last minute reminders of important times, places and instructions of what to do on arrival. No such email appeared with me, so I took a last look at the basic information, packed up my case and set off on the journey to the big city with my mum in tow, as she happened to be visiting. We arrived at the venue a little early to find it all shuttered up. My bells started ringing a little louder. With an entrance time of 9.30am to be set up for 10.15am, I was concerned. Where were the organisers? Well, maybe they’d completed set up the day before. It’s not unfeasible. I’m sure it will be fine. At 9.30, we were let in to the building by a member of staff. A few stallholders had gathered by then, so we had company. We all traipsed into the foyer and waited for direction. Eventually, someone came up and told us we could go up to the first floor, where the room for the event was.
Having been to the venue before, and exhibited in Room 1 previously, I knew where to go and headed straight for the lift. We alighted and opened the big heavy double doors to the room to be greeted by a dimly-lit, half-decorated room with a bunch of tables all randomly placed together in the centre of the room, like someone had just dropped them there. We milled around for a few moments until someone appeared and started to mutter about who needed wall space? I took this as my cue to spring into action – no one had identified themselves as the organiser of the event and we were clearly being left to our own devices. I ditched my stuff, grabbed a table and carried it to the far side of the room, opposite the door and in front of a large window to ensure I got some sort of lighting. My bells? Clanging.
We got to work setting up the stall. I had been worried about not having enough stock beforehand but I knew I’d be fine. I already knew this was going to be a quiet day. I’m not exactly psychic, but I could tell from this level of disorganisation that things were not likely to have been much better on the promotional side of things, despite my best efforts (and no doubt those of the other exhibitors) to the contrary. We set up within the now-even-narrower time frame and surveyed the scene. As everyone had been left to their own devices, the room was not laid out appropriately – all the knitwear people were at one end of the room, meaning customers skimmed everyone in that area. I was situated between two stalls, who both had lovely knitted items, high-end and professional outfits, but who were hurt by their location. That’s nothing though compared to the people who were tucked away round the back of the dimly-lit room behind other stalls because no one took charge and provided a lay out for the stalls. One stall had beautifully designed, unusual jewellery but no one could see it as there was no light in that corner.
Another concern was the atmosphere – before the doors even opened, everyone was in a bad mood. This was only exacerbated by the echoing silence in the room. The person in charge made themselves known after we’d set up, so I asked if music was going to be playing, as it was quiet to the point of putting people off. Someone was dispatched to sort it out and eventually we had some music. I think this must have been an after thought, as I distinctly recall hearing Walking In The Air at one point!
Customer wise, footfall was dismal. The venue later stated they’d had 1500 visitors but as they were only counting people coming into the building, not the market, that was a gross overestimation. I, myself, walked in the front door at least 3 times and my mum about 5 or 6, so the figures quoted were clearly not to be relied upon for accuracy. For the first couple of hours, the only people who ventured in were OAPs coming in out the cold or foreign tourists who were clearly in the building anyway. Neither, from past experience, are big spenders. A handful of actual customers came in, did that rabbit in the headlights thing when they noticed us all expectantly staring at them, and did a sharp u-turn back out of there. It did pick up in the afternoon a bit but this was more through luck than carefully targeted promotion.
We saw for ourselves the promotion that was going on outside – or rather, we didn’t. The organisers insisted they had someone out on the street flyering all day, but we didn’t see them any of the times we were out. Someone did say they saw a guy handing out flyers by the street corner but that he wasn’t targeting anyone except the people already heading to the building. There was no signage to direct people in to the building except a tiny sign next to the entrance. There was a whole host of awesome design-led goods on offer inside but no one knew we were there. Several of my indie business associates popped in for a look as they were considering taking a stall for the next event but after seeing the lay out, promotion and hearing the tales from the front line, they decided against it. Word spreads fast among our community – no one was happy that what could have been such a great flagship event for Glasgow designers was being squandered by poor organisation and management.
It’s clear to see that it was not a good day. I didn’t even make my stall fee back, never mind transport costs, etc. At the end of the day, once I’d begun packing up everything to take home again, the organiser came round and asked everyone for feedback. I was honest and said it had been a really disappointing day, that it hadn’t been promoted enough and that I’d like to formulate my opinions and email them instead. The husband of one of my stall neighbours was not so calm. In fact, he went completely off his nut and shouted rather loudly, at length, about just how mis-managed the event was and how poorly promoted and generally disorganised the day had been.
It didn’t register with me for a while that he was really giving the organiser the full hairdryer-in-the-face treatment but after a while, he stopped, the organiser, credit to them, thanked him for his feedback, and moved on. At one point, I did fear that he was going to get physical, but the riot was averted and calm was restored (ish). The surrounding stall holders gathered for a conflab about his comments – and it turns out we were all on the same page. We were all angry to have wasted a day, not to mention all the prep time, when the organisers clearly didn’t value us or our efforts. It was good to hear it wasn’t just me being irrational, but sad that we’d all had such a wasted time of it.
To be fair to the organisers, they did email round a few days later to say it hadn’t gone as well as they’d hoped. I fed back on all the above but really, it felt like pissing in the wind. I’d already decided, thanks to the cacophony of alarm bells ringing for me, I wouldn’t be going back to waste another £40 on it. Some of my comments clearly fell on deaf ears but I hope that they do sort themselves out as there is a dire need for a quality event in Glasgow. The market is over-saturated with amateurish craft fairs which are over subscribed with hobbyists selling off their work for a pittance. Ooh, doesn’t that make me sound like a craft snob? But it’s true – the public see this and think it’s acceptable to undervalue handmade and design-led items because the constant message they’re given is that it’s all knitted wine glass cosies and kit-assembled jewellery (I’m looking at you, Sloans) and isn’t it all a fanciful lark that these funny people are MAKING things they could just buy in Primark.?
LE SIGH. So, yeah, that was that. I hope this helps people make a decision about taking part in the event – I know I haven’t named and shamed, but I also know that local people will be able to tell what I am talking about. And if you can’t, well, maybe you’re just daft enough to give it a try for yourself!