"There is no science ..." by Pens Unique

"... to exhibiting and selling your work". UK Handmade Portfolio Member David Shepherdson of Pens Unique gives his thoughts on how to select the right fairs.

Pens Unique

Selling your own work can be a very daunting process, especially the first time. However, when you run out of friends and family members to give your work to it's time to look for a wider audience in order to fund your passion.

There are many considerations and my advice would be to start small and grow slowly. Know your limits and have a target in mind. (See my tips and advice table.)

When I look back to my first selling experience I cringe, but I did sell and I did cover my costs. More importantly I really enjoyed the interaction with people that were genuinely interested in what I had made. I like to think I have learnt a lot since then and improved how I do it.

Pens Unique - my very first stall

My stall at my first event

Selecting the Type of Event

Where to sell is one of the first considerations; experience has taught me that I have most success at events that are dedicated solely to hand crafted goods and artwork. That does not mean that I do not consider other events and I would recommend you try different types of event. You will over time get to know which type of event works for you and what to steer clear of. Indoors or outside is another consideration, how far are you prepared to travel, will you man the stall on your own or with a helper?  This all need to be given some thought.

We would all like to sell up each time we go to a fair, but do you then want the pressure of having to go into your workshop to produce rather than producing because you want to.  I know that my artistic juices flow better when I have time to think rather than just having to restock. It’s all about having your own targets.

Know the Event Organiser

If at all possible get to know the events organiser, what sort of events do they organise? How do they select their exhibitors? What sort of marketing of the event do they do and do they understand your needs? Are they also an Artist/Maker and if so will they be selling at the event?  Knowing the answer to these questions will help you decide which events to try and which to avoid.

A major consideration, especially if you are working alone, is access for loading/unloading. Are there any stairs to tackle, lifts available and how far do you have to carry you gear etc?  Whether there's any onsite parking available and any associated costs for its use are also a consideration.  A good organizer will have this information ready for you together with a Health & Safety brief, including where the nearest toilets are located. They may also provide refreshments through out the day, be it only tea and coffee. Do you need your own table or is one provided, will electricity be available?  How far are you prepared to travel in order to sell your wares? The further away from your base the earlier your day will start. Setting up and breaking down times should also be a consideration, it can be a long day if sales have been slow.

Pens Unique - display at my first event

Display from my first event

Your Exhibition Space (Shop Window)

Right, you have chosen your event and arrived safely full of enthusiasm and keen to get set up. You will have worked out and booked the appropriate space to accommodate your display. Most organisers will have a table plan and the venue set up ready for your arrival. The good organisers will control the set up. Exhibitors will have been given guidelines on what they can and cannot bring to sell. They will also have been told the confines of their display. Be prepared though for the odd inconsiderate individual with a total lack of thought for anyone but themselves. Be firm but fair and let the organizer sort out any problems.

Make your display look interesting and uncluttered - you want to make an impact and attract attention. Ensure that your prospective customers know that what you are selling has been hand made by you. Have your details (business cards) available on your display.

Do ensure that your display is well lit. Small items like jewellery and my pens need to be seen and good lighting is essential.

There will be lots of other exhibitors so, once you have set up, take time to wander around and see what other fabulous items are on sale. This is your chance to get some ideas, look how people set up and make a mental note of what you feel is good and what to avoid. How do other exhibitors label their work what sort of price are they asking. Use the time to carry out some market research, it all helps you build up your knowledge and will give you more confidence for next time. Do not be afraid to ask questions, in my experience Artist and Makers are a friendly bunch and are very willing to pass on their knowledge. I try and take a few pictures of my stall at each fair I attend. I use them when I get home to see if any thing needs changing. Sometimes you can see it in a picture, but not when it’s in front of you.

Pens Unique - recent display

Display from a recent event

Hopefully you have good sales and a lot of interaction with the public.  It’s always nice to have what you do appreciated and it’s even nicer when they back up their words with a purchase. Try not to pounce on prospective customers, make eye contact and say hello, you will soon know who wants to chat. At the end of the day I try and always pack up with my next show in mind. Putting things away in a controlled way makes your life a lot easier when you set up the next time.

Once the dust has settled and you have recovered from what will be a tiring but hopefully enjoyable experience its time to sit down and work out the costs?

One of the considerations you should have taken into account when deciding to do the event is your expectation of covering your costs. I do events sometimes just to get my name and what I do out there. If I cover my costs on these occasions it’s a bonus. For most events however you will expect to make a profit. Make sure when you are doing your sums to include all your expenditure.

Finally there are many organisations that can help you to find events to attend. UK Hand Made is an excellent source of information for Artists and Makers along with organisations like Open Studios. Do not be shy, approach them, they are only too willing to help point you in the right direction.

Good luck!


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