Last week I had the great privilege of travelling to Melbourne to see Life Instyle, a retail trade show that is curated with an emphasis on Australian Made, Ethically Made and Handmade. Three fellow artists - Anna Turnbull from Moreton Bay, Karen M. Anderson from Maryborough and Fi Flohr from Mackay joined me to explore future wholesaling opportunities for our creative practices.
We spent time walking through Life Instyle and enjoying great conversations with stall holders on the first day. On the Saturday we had a behind the scenes tour with Nina and Danielle from the RX Global Events that run both the Life Instyle and Reed Gift Fair events.
Image L-R: Nina Vidale (RX Global), Mackay artist Fi Flohr, me, Danielle Bennett (RX Global) and Moreton Bay artist Anna Turnbull
We saw how new stallholders could enter the market with a small stand and test the waters and how each year stallholders could progress to different parts of the trade fair, increasing in size and strategic placement within the floor plan.
There were such a variety of products that fitted within the artisan "handmade" category of Life Instyle. Stationery was huge - particularly cards. Ceramics, fashion, jewellery, fashion accessories, manchester, candles and all things children (clothes, games, toys ...).
What are the key things I took away from this experience for artists and makers to consider if thinking of delving into wholesale and trade fairs?
KEEP IT SIMPLE
The best stands were the ones that had a small range of products with very clear intention and branding. Don't try to create something for every market. Hone in on what you are good at and your key target market and develop a product that is uniquely you and speaks to your values. When you are starting out, the more you have in your product range, the more you need to stockpile.
It is also easy for for buyers to get overwhelmed visually at these trade fairs. A small, tight range of products is a better way to start and to get noticed.
The stands that really stood out visually had the following going for them:
great branded signage
set up to look like a retail environment or creating a distinct atmosphere
printed pattern, fabric or unique designed backdrop
One stand that particularly stood out to me was The Foundry. They had a range of ceramic and glass homewares including lamps and various vessels beautifully displayed in a darkened stand and with a masculine scent coming from a diffuser. Very targeted in their stand design.
In complete contrast was Sandra Gale Studio with her vibrant prints, t-shirts and stationery, set amongst a bold backdrop vinyl print on the wall. Sandra is pictured here with our very own Karen M. Anderson who is a follower of Sandra's work.
Image: Maryborough artist Karen M Andersen pictured with Sandra Gale in amongst her gorgeous stand
at Life Instyle
Have your order forms, online ordering system and payment systems ready to go. Have some stock ready as well back at your studio!
Also have your marketing and merchandising sorted. People want to take your card or a flyer to remember you if they aren't quite ready to order. You can also scan people's QR codes on their lanyards at Life Instyle and collect their contact details.
Show your products like your customers would show them in their retail space. Have the merchandise tags on them. Can you also sell merchandise displays (e.g. earrings stand) to support the retailing of your product in their store!
Promote the hell out of the fact that you are Australian made, Australian owned and Artist Designed and/or Made. Those that did this and shared their story as a maker really stood out to me.
Nina and Danielle also emphasised the importance of pre-show promotion. Don't just rely on the trade show's marketing. Capitalise on it and build a social media and email marketing program to engage with existing and potential clients to draw them to your stand at the show.
BE READY TO FILL ORDERS
There will be customers ready to place orders with you. Know your production limits when taking orders. Give realistic timelines on delivery of those orders. Be honest and upfront. Particularly if you are handmade, make sure that your customers know that there are minimum and maximum quantities for orders to obtain the wholesale price. You are guided by your target market but need to be in charge of these decisions.
One interesting finding from the visit to Life Instyle and then to the larger Reed Gift Fair that has a much broader focus and a lot of imports, was that some artists producing handmade products felt they stood out better at the Reed Gift Fair in amongst the imports. So if you are looking at this in the future, I think visiting for yourself to see where your brand fits is a great idea. Or talk to the team and ask them these questions.
Better still, you can apply for the Life Instyle Scholarship. One lucky person is selected each year that is a new participant. They are stepped through mentoring processes to develop their stand among many other benefits. I recommend subscribing to their socials and newsletter to stay on top of this and other opportunities if this is something in your short or long term plan!
I will be posting more about our experience in Melbourne outside of the trade shows as well. Bringing 4 regional Queensland creatives together for an intensive 3 days of exploring in Melbourne - it was gold for all of us!