Last night Helen and I returned home from the BBC Countryfile Live, a 4 day event held at Blenheim Palace. The weekend before we were at The Game Fair, a 3 day event held at Ragley Hall. The breakdown at Blenheim took a long time, mostly due to Helen needing more than an hour to get the van close to the tent for loading (not her fault, but the organisers’), and then it was 90 minutes back home. We arrived just after 22:00, and we were both knackered, physically as well as emotionally.
Both events were well attended by the public. On both occasions we got loads of oohs and aahs and “this beautiful” and so on and on. But also, on both events people had their hands firmly embedded in their pockets.
For those of you who have never had a trade stall, let me describe the whole thing to you. On the build day you get up normal in the morning, attend to your normal business of collecting all the last bits and pieces, getting some shopping done, etc. Then you load up your van and it’s off to the site. Depending on where that is, this could be a trip of anything between 30 minutes to several hours. Usually on build day, the queues to get into site are not all that bad.
When you arrive on site, you get shown top your pitch, and then you spend the next few hours erecting your stall, making last minute repairs, finding a power outlet, populating the shelves and making sure all your pricing is correct. In weather like we had over the last 23 weeks this is a sweaty affair (loading and building), so by around 17:00 to 19:00 hours, when your stall is complete, you are soaked in sweat and you smell like a pig.
Then it’s off to the camping site, reconfigure the van for the night ahead and locate the showers and other facilities. The evenings are usually spent talking with other traders, having a barbecue and sharing some drinks.
Depending on the event, start time in the morning can be anything between 08:00 and 10:00. If it’s 08:00, you would be expected to be on site by 07:30, and if you’re camped a distance away that means getting up at 06:00 (or even earlier).
During the day you spend most of your time standing (don’t prowl around or sit on a chair, either indicates to your customers that you are not happy). You need to be alert all the time, friendly, happy, welcoming, but not overpowering. This then carries on until closing time, which can be anytime between 17:00 and 20:00. After that it’s off to the campsite, evening routine, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat.
On the last day, everybody tries to get their van onto site (which is usually prevented by the event organisers). Trading as normal, but usually the closing time is a little earlier. Then 2 hours of frantic activity: pack away all your goods, break down the stand, get the van in, load it and off you go. By the time the van is loaded, you are again bathed in sweat and you smell like a pig. And then you still have to offload the van when you arrive home (or you get up real early the next day).
Now imagine you do all of this, and you have spent quite a bit of money (say £750 for the pitch, £100 for camping, another £120 for the van and £30 for fuel, so around £1000 in total), and you have done your best. And you get loads of tire kicking. Loads of nibbles on the bait. Alas, no bites. No sales, nothing. By the end of day 1 you’re not a happy camper. By the end of day 2 you are angry. And by the end of the show you are trying to figure out how you are going to recover from this.
That is precisely what we had over the last two weekends. I haven’t totalled the figures, it’s just too disparaging, but a rough guess would be that we spent about £2k, and we took a total of £400 or maybe £500. In reality I would have been better off making a nice little pile in my back garden and setting the lot on fire.
Having said that: there are upsides. We were not the only ones. Most other traders also suffered losses, and in some cases way more than us. We know of some folks who paid close to £10,000 (yes, that’s tenthousand pounds) for their pitch, and had very little to show for it. That really hurts.
We had plenty of feedback from fellow traders telling us that our stall is fantastic and the products top notch, and they cannot understand why nobody is buying. We got advice on which shows are good and which organisers are bad.
So, yes, we are battered and we are bruised, and we are smarting. But we are not beaten.