When I applied for a space at Spotted, Top Drawer's new talent section, I really hadn't thought it through. I recklessly decided to take part in the UK's biggest home and gift trade show on the spur of the moment, and was quite surprised when I was offered a place.
Thankfully, it's amazing what you can achieve in a couple of weeks! This summer has been a bit of a tough one, and while I kept trying to pull myself together and get stuff done, mostly I didn't do anything useful at all. Fortunately, after a restorative break in beautiful Paris, I suddenly launched into action at the end of August and managed to get most of the planning and preparation done in about a fortnight. I've always loved a deadline.
So, this is how my not-so-grand not-a-plan came together:
1. Quick! Design more cards. In an ideal world, I would have launched a brand new range of super stylish homeware and stationery to make buyers weep tears of joy. Instead I decided that all my wares would be new to Top Drawer, so I concentrated on filling a few gaps instead. I had a few new patterns ready that slotted into my existing wrapping paper collections and designed a some more cards, beginning with this gorilla (happily marrying my love of both great apes and Carole King's Tapestry album). Things were off to a good start.
2. Pick a colour. Any colour. I ignored millions of emails from the exhibition build company asking me what colour I'd like my stand painted (and would I like special flooring/shelves/plug sockets for the price of the energy bill of a small country/beautiful women to come and help me sell), then suddenly decided at the last minute that I probably should paint it, because most of my patterns have a white background and I wanted them to stand out. After seeking the advice of a friend, I plumped for panels of mustard yellow (panels because I would now have to paint it myself and didn't think I'd have time to do the whole thing).
3. Whip up a catalogue. Thankfully, I'd already had lots of help from my friend Tina who designed my first wholesale catalogue earlier this year, so I used that as a template. It still took a lot longer than I thought to update, but, after staying up all night, I managed to get it to the printer with less than a week to go! I also had postcards printed and even concocted a press release which made everything sound a lot better planned than it was! (Although in retrospect I really didn't need the press releases, a few postcards in the press room would have been fine.)
4. Mock up my stand. I commandeered a section of the hall at home and all sorts of pieces of furniture until I had an idea of what I could fit in the space. After thoroughly combing Pinterest for ideas I stuck everything to the wall with masking tape and enlisted my family to help me with all the drilling and painting, doing as much in advance as possible to make it easy to install on the day. Mocking everything up at home was so worthwhile - I did stick to my plan, and it looked OK! The most difficult part was accepting that it wasn't possible to display every single product I have. Less is more, apparently.
Overall, I was quite pleased with how it turned out (although the mustard is difficult to photograph!). Set up day went surprisingly smoothly. My two pieces of advice would be to take someone to help you (I had my brilliant mum and sister) and a trolley to ferry everything up from the car (Olympia is ENORMOUS).
I wouldn't exactly recommend such a slap-dash approach, but I'm really glad I managed to get everything together somehow. There's so much I couldn't have learned any other way than by just being at Top Drawer. I even had one LOVELY customer on the first day who gave me lots of advice while I took her order. Here are a few tips that spring to mind:
1. Always invoice pro forma. Not just for the first order like I'd written in my catalogue T&Cs, because unless it's someone massive like John Lewis, you should always make sure you've been paid before you deliver.
2. Use a simple carbon copy order book to take orders, don't faff around with an iPad (which is what I was doing).
3. Sell everything in packs; 6 cards, 12 sheets of wrap etc. I knew this was what bigger companies would do, but as a first time exhibitor, I thought it would encourage buyers to take a chance on me if I was more flexible. I'm still not sure on this one, I've definitely had a couple of shops place orders for just 3 of one design, but I suppose there's also something to be said for acting like you're already a well established brand and perhaps inspiring more confidence that way?
The best thing about the whole experience was making friends with my Spotted neighbours. It was so good to meet other designers at a similar stage in their career and it wouldn't have been half as much fun without them. In fact, probably no fun at all.
Before I went to Top Drawer, I read this Design Trust article which is full of useful advice! Patricia (everyone's favourite design business guru) says, "note that especially trade buyers will want to see you a couple of seasons or years before they actually will order from you, so don’t be too optimistic in that area", so I had very low expectations about receiving any orders at all! Happily, I have had a few as a result of exhibiting, all from lovely, independent shops. I did spot buyers from John Lewis and Harrods, but they didn't spend much time in the Spotted section! The show was actually a bit quieter than I expected; it was quite comforting when one of the big companies downstairs in the main gift area told me it had been the same for them. The downside of being in Spotted was that a lot of people didn't seem to make it upstairs to where we were; Olympia is so vast, it would be very easy to miss the whole section. On the other hand I hadn't done any networking beforehand; if I'd worked harder in advance to make contacts and build relationships with buyers, it probably have helped.
So, after three very long days and a renewed passion for caffeinated drinks, I packed up and trundled back to Staffordshire in the car. Special mention must go to wonderful Katie Keith, designer and Spotted-neighbour extraordinaire, who helped me wheel the entire contents of my stand a mile through Hammersmith on my little rusty trolley, all so I didn't have pack up, walk to fetch my car, queue to get back in etc... There's no way I could have managed it without her - thank you, Katie!