A Cautionary Tale

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!
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33 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale

  1. Hi Honey,
    I didn’t realise you’d had such a bad experience – I’m so sorry.
    It occurred to me while reading this that you would be an ideal person to be the driving force behind such an event. Your heart is in it and you clearly know the mind of indie crafters… plus you’d be a great vetter for who comes along.
    OK, now you can tell me to shut up!
    XX

    • Ha! That’s a whole other story. I used to run craft markets up here in G-town. They were very successful! I would be reticent to get back into it though, the time, politics etc drained me to the point of mega-stress. I’d be happy to consult on it though! 😉

  2. Oh my, it sounds awful! Didn’t they pay any attention when MITS were there? I really thought that was going to be a good one, it’ll be interesting to see if they sort themselves out or if they just turn into another Slones. What a waste.

    • Hi,

      I’m an illustrator who is meant to be doing a craft fair at Sloanes next month. I haven’t been before, and live in Edinburgh (so it’s a bit of a distance) but I’d really appreciate some honest opinions of what it is like. I don’t really fancy wasting a whole day there, especially if my work isn’t quite suited to the fair in the first place.

      Thanks so much

      • I’ve visited it a few times to satisfy my curiosity. The actual Sloans Market I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole – in my own opinion and experience, it’s like the Barras x PTA craft fair plus it’s outdoors. I haven’t been to the market that is now held indoors, but it is at least run by someone who has good sense and experience, so may be worth a try! I don’t know which it is you’re doing but I’d say go along and see it as a visitor first for yourself and see if you want to be involved. Good luck!

    • Well, I guess they could turn it around. But there are 2 different companies organising the remaining dates so I can’t see the organisation is going to improve any. I would not recommend it based on my own experience!

  3. So very sad. This used to be a great venue to sell at – well organised, well promoted and professionally run. Such a shame to see quality crafting events go down the pan. Your so right about the undervaluing of handcrafted and design led items. I thought Glasgow was really getting a name for itself as a craft hub, but it seems to have burned brightly and then burned out. Big shame! And GCC should be ashamed of themselves – someone needs a major kick up the backside!!

    • I think it’s important to highlight that the Made In The Shade events, although held at the Lighthouse, were not run by them. The MITS events were well-managed and therefore very well attended. I had some of my best market sales ever at those.

      Glasgow has jumped the shark, craft wise. It’s gone full circle from where it was 7 years ago when I started running markets. RIP Glasgow craft scene!

  4. Total nightmare- it does sounds like it was very badly organised and promoted. There’s been a lack of well-run fairs/shopping events in Glasgow/Scotland for a while now…and it’s depressing. It takes a lot of work to run a successful event and I think sometime people think that it’s easier to do than it actually is. I’m thinking the the “Field of Dreams” attitude: “If you build it, they will come”..! Not so.

    Maybe we should get some good people together and organise something decent. Designers/Crafters of Scotland, unite!

    • Really, really disappointing! As I say above, Glasgow’s craft scene has died a death now it’s overrun with the same old stuff. It’s sad to see it go back down the plughole, but the movers and shakers have moved and shaked on.

  5. As someone who attended the same fair. I was utterly disappointed. Sometimes you may think it’s just you, you’re being to picky, you’re work isn’t good enough, you didn’t promote it enough. But I think we can safely say it was not us.

    I have attended a few fairs both with my own jewellery and as my new venture and I have never seen anything as badly run as this one.

    I’m not going to repeat what you have said but I agree with you on every level! It hurt more as I travelled from Dundee to this event hoping that it was going to be a “Design Market, championing Scottish Design.” I left at 7.30am to get there on time and the organiser of the event couldn’t even do us the courtesy to do the same. It was then that I got the fear and I text a few of my friends telling them that it was going to be an awful day.

    I especially agree with the market being far too saturated with ‘craft fair’ upon ‘craft fair.’ They have ruined a good thing and now it’s just a minefield out there. What I would love to see is Scotland taking hold of it’s wonderfully talented designers that it has nestled in it’s bonnie land and promote them, nurture them and give them the audience they deserve.

    • Thanks, Kate, it was good to know that it wasn’t just me thinking this! It really was a shambles and the more I think of it, the angrier I get. You’re right, the organisers had no respect for any of the stallholders or visitors and they’ve ruined from the get-go what could have been a really great event.

  6. This is a real shame! I really thought this looked like a promising event. It was certainly marketed to the makers as something that looked well designed and interesting. But alas it looks like another poorly organised craft fair. I recently visited a craft fair in St Andrews and it was a similar sad tale. There was a couple of really great makers amongst significantly lower quality work, no lighting and it was upstairs in a random building with hardly any signage. A real disappointment.
    I am all for people making things and selling them and hobbyists covering the cost of their materials but that can’t be the face of craft in this country. I think we really need an event in Scotland to showcase and sell high end quality work by the many talented crafters and designers that there are here. It needs to be far more representative to show and support the professional end of the market.
    There are a few things such as Dazzle (Jewellers) and Potfest (ceramics) to name a few that are more specialised, but these are touring events from England. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that was for Scottish makers that was multi disciplinary. The people who organise it need to know about craft and not be afraid to be selective, that is very important! and they need to know a lot about marketing and other organisational aspects.
    Even if it wasn’t a regular event, maybe even just in the run up to Christmas in either Edinburgh or Glasgow city centre. A sort of mini ‘Origin’?
    It’s easy to feel deflated by a badly run/ low quality craft fair when you see just a trickle of people aimlessly strolling along, like they really have nothing better to do. Like Kate mentions above you start worrying that your work is too pricey or not good enough but often that is not the case, your prices are right you know this from the good sales from your stockists so something else must be up. It is really great as a maker to be able to sell direct to your customers, invite them along to a selling event and meet them face to face. Not to mention the financial benefit of selling your work direct, it’s a great opportunity to meet other like minded makers and create a real buzz about Craft.
    Well done Moosh for writing such an honest article, very refreshing and also saved me money! Not just a booking fee but a whole day of my time and time is money!

    • Whilst I am not at all glad it was a wash-out, I am glad it’s helped to highlight the poor quality of the event for people like yourself so that it saves them time and money! There are definitely arguments for and against another high-end craft show – maybe a cooler 3D-2D type of thing. But the design aspect of this one was the draw for me – not focusing on the word craft and the connotations that come with it. That’s one of the most annoying aspects for me, that the opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff was totally squandered (and I mean event wise, as the work on offer at the design market was, in my opinion, almost exclusively top notch).

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  8. God sounds pretty bad. I’d heard but this event and had concerns bout it. friends went to the venues wedding event earlier in the year and it was apparently similarly ‘troubled’. Decided to give it a miss and see how it went. Glad i did now.

    Seem to get emailed on a weekly basis bout new fairs starting up and majority seem to

  9. God sounds pretty bad. I’d heard bout this event and had concerns. Friends went to the same venue’s wedding event earlier in the year and it was apparently similarly ‘troubled’. I decided to give this one a miss as a result and see how it went. Glad i did now.

    Seem to get emailed on a weekly basis bout new fairs starting up and majority seem to be pretty crap and it makes finding the good ones tricky.

    Last time i did a new fair it was equally rubbish. half the tables went home early and at the end the organiser happily stated that most people had almost made their table hire back!!

  10. So sorry to hear this, but not surprised at all. I’d already warned a couple of people that this might happen at this venue…. I think the main problem is that anyone thinks they can run a market, but don’t have any idea as to how much work goes into doing it professionally. I have no idea why the lighthouse didn’t use Claire from MITS who is still in Glasgow to run the market there – the MITS ladies spent 5 years building up their mailing list, which is one reason so many people go to their events (not to mention the fact they understand pricing, quality, marketing, organisation, atmosphere etc etc etc). Why did the lighthouse go for people with no experience and no mailing list and think that would work? in what other line of business would you employ someone who has absolutely no experience in doing the job? it’s really insulting / depressing that the person in charge at the lighthouse doesn’t understand / appreciate that running a successful market is a skill in itself, rather than just something anyone can do.
    Great article, saying a lot of things that had to be said. I am also depressed by all the second rate markets in glasgow, and have actually just withdrawn from going to any as a result…

    • I am pretty sure neither MITS ladies would have wanted to be associated with the shambles it was (tho it clearly wouldn’t have been so, had they organised it!). 50% of them came along to witness it for themselves at any rate. I feel I took one for the team in trying this out – I don’t think it was outwith the realms of possibility to expect this to have been at least worth trying out. But, like you, I wasn’t really all that surprised it was a failure, just frustrated and deeply disappointed. And a little angry. At them and myself. It’s sad if people like you, who I know to be a big supporter of creativity in Glasgow, are put off entirely from going to markets but again, not surprising. There’s only so much people will take before they just give up and that applies to all parties involved.

  11. Never a truer word spoken… I’d been doing markets with vintage (ACTUAL VINTAGE) silver jewellery and designer pieces very reasonable prices but got so tired of;

    “Why are your cameos £30 when her over there is selling them for £12”

    “Well that’s because my cameos are edwardian silver and are antiques. Hers are plastic tat.”

    I have not done any markets in Glasgow this season as, although I made money from them last year, it felt like a waste of time and footfall was depressingly low.

    There were some amazing, great customers who had a genuine interest in craft and design that I loved meeting. Just not enough to warrant me spending my weekend catering to them.

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  13. Have you given the organisers feedback about how rubbish the event was? I wish I had read this before I booked and paid for the one in July. I’m coming from Dundee and am not sure I want to waste my time now!

    • @Genna of you saw my comments I also attended the fair and it was terrible! I wouldn’t waste your time or money. That’s what my article in Professional Jeweller was all about 🙂

      Hope it works out better for you, you never know they might have taken on board our extreme crtisism.

      • Hi Genna,
        Yes, I said above that I spoke directly to the organiser on the day, both during and after to feed back how bad it had been. I also emailed them rather a lengthy email of feedback, too and I am pretty sure I’m not the only one who did so. I’m also fairly confident that they’ve read this post, too.

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  16. Hi there,

    I just came across this post on Facebook (albeit a bit late!) and wanted to post a comment – Claire addressed it in a reply to one of the posts but I thought I’d pop on a leave a comment.

    I run the monthly Little Birds Market craft, vintage & design markets which takes place once a month inside Sloans Glasgow. I just want to clarify that the Little Birds Market is entirely separate from the weekly outdoor market at Sloans – both in terms of what is on offer and also that the outdoor market is run by someone else with whom I have no involvement with.

    Due to the locations being the same – Sloans – there is sometimes some confusion which can be frustrating at times as I work very hard to publicise the Little Bird Market (my background is in PR and events and I’ve been a trader at events since 2007) and to ensure that there are quality exhibitors there each month for our customers.

    As both an organiser and a trader who has seen it all from both sides, I could wax lyrical on events and the current scene but to me, markets, shopping events etc which are well run, honestly publicised (i.e they are what they say they are) and which offer quality products are all about providing a platform for people to sell their work as well as additional and also interesting shopping experiences to customers who wouldn’t find these products on the high street – regardless of whether they fall under the realm of craft, vintage, design or whatever.

    Laura
    Little Birds Market

    • I’d also like to add that the event that Claire is referring to in the general post is not the Little Birds event – just in case anyone reading my above post thought that was why I was posting! I was just clarifying on the post from Sophia re Sloans market. And meant to also say thanks to Claire for pointing out the difference to Sophia who had mentioned Sloans.
      OK, sorted….off to watch the Olympics ceremony!
      Cheers
      Laura

  17. I did make a point to highlight that it wasn’t your event, Laura – I’ve never made it along to one of the Little Birds markets yet, unfortunately, so am not qualified to comment on those.

    I think you’re right though that markets should advertise honestly as to what they are and so often, that’s not the case and the message to visitors (and exhibitors) is confused. I don’t necessarily agree that just providing a platform to sell work is the basis of a unique event but offering a real alternative to mass-produced High Street goods is definitely where it’s at.

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