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A Tale of Two Trade Shows

So, I haven’t written lots of blog posts like I wanted to.  I haven’t read or started the 2 books I purchased to try and improve my business, they look good on the book pile though.  I have a lot of lists of things to do to reach more people and increase sales, the post it notes are under a pile of detritus on my desk while I fire fight day to day. 

Things are slowly changing but when I get asked for advice, I tell people I’m just winging it, because I genuinely am.  I do give some tips but I don’t feel qualified to do so….but, one of the main things I say (aside from be original and don’t copy ANYONE, EVER, EVER OR KARMA WILL GET YOU WITH A BIG POINTY STICK), is to know your market. 

So over 10 years into my business and I went through my very own journey of ‘knowing my market’ and yeah, it was a tough one, but it helped me understand a bit more about where I am and focus on the amazing opportunities I already have and build on them. 

In September 2018 I was granted a bursary to attend Top Drawer in London Town.  It wouldn’t pay for everything, but it meant I could attend at about half the price it would normally cost.  I was OVER.THE.MOON.  I’ve never received any grants for my business due to stipulations I couldn’t meet, so I was thrilled.  I was going to one of the best trade shows in the UK.

Top Drawer in my head was the ultimate, you’ve made it opportunity.  I had so much encouragement from friends and social media.  People telling me how well I would do, I lapped it up and skipped on up to London Town to make my fortune….instead it was quite the opposite! 

Olympia is a beautiful building (with crap lifts, not great if your stand is on the first floor).  I was among some amazing talent and I was a tad nervous about actually being in London.  I can worry a bit…about everything and I never know if my anxiety will appear with some good ol panic attacks, just to make the day more exciting.

I was lucky to be surrounded by some great makers and my friends Jo and Victoria were also exhibiting.  We were staying at the same hotel, had meals together but somehow Jo and I managed to take nearly 2 hours to get back to the hotel which was 10 minutes away…. we were sure it was that way! 

The first thing I did wrong in hindsight was my stand display.  It looked great but it also looked like I just did pictures and canvases, I only had a couple of my other products to show anyone that stopped and spoke to me.  So, the people that quickly walked past the end of our aisle in their turned-up trousers and man bags weren’t being grabbed by my stand. 

A condition of the bursary meant that I was in the Craft section, upstairs, at the back.  Something else that didn’t really work in my favour.  I’m not a craft.  Footfall was low.  If I stood any chance it would have been better for me in the Spring rather than Autumn. 

I did meet a lot of international buyers but trying to convince the lovely lady from Japan that her customers would love some coasters with tin mines on didn’t quite work. 

Then the biggest lesson.  My designs just aren’t ‘London’.  If I had turned up with rose gold llamas and pineapples with leather aprons, I might have had a chance.  Very Cornish orientated designs of the seaside were just not on the menu.  My dog designs garnered some interest but not enough to make people want to buy them. 

By the end of the show I had one order.  A gallery I had wanted to stock for ages too.  I had handed out a few catalogues and taken some business cards which I followed up on my return home, but no one replied.  Nada.  Zilch.  Sweet F A…etc

Although this was all a tad crushing, I was able to gain some real positivity from attending.  I loved the time in London and at the event, hey I nearly got on the tube when we had gotten lost…but Oyster cards made it all a tad complicated and we carried on with our expedition…I’d also like to note that I’ve seen more blinkin’ taxis in Redruth than Kensington and Uber wouldn’t work on my phone. 

I met some lovely new makers and artists.  I got the nickname Mary Poppins cause if you needed it, it was in my desk.  Talk about over prepared… 

One conversation over dinner with a lovely lady from Falmouth stood out as I was reminded of the amazing opportunities, I already had but wasn’t focusing on. 

I sighed my way back home.  Actually, it was a nightmare of a journey as I drove back on pack down day, saw the aftermath of a nasty accident, got sent on a long detour as the A30 was shut and because some *insert expletive* stopped at an empty roundabout, lost, I slammed on the brakes and a pole in the back flew forward and smashed my windscreen. 

Then Christmas chaos descended, and I decided to focus on the next big trade fair that I had reluctantly booked, Giving & Living in Exeter, in January 2019. 

First thing I did was change my display and although I felt it was messy and very amateurish it displayed my work and ranges so much better.  I also had lots of great advice from people who had been doing the shows for years. 

Then I didn’t get caught up in the hype.  I was much more realistic with my expectations.  I didn’t make as much of a fuss about it as I was truly worried it would be another Top Drawer.  

Without getting ‘too deep’ I was in a slightly fragile state. 

But then from the first day I had a lot more people stopping and talking to me, taking catalogues and best of all, placing orders!!  I was so happy I could have hugged every single one of them. 

The biggest issue I faced was pricing.  The event had a lot of big import companies, I cannot compete with them and I don’t intend to.  It’s about my work and until world domination there isn’t much, I can do to reduce costs. 

Again, my designs were an issue, I still need a broader range, but I have worked on new designs to accommodate my new stockists and am currently working on some generic occasion cards. 

Then, even better, the majority of people I contacted after the event replied!!  Ordered!  

I have booked Giving & Living again and in the meanwhile I am working with the lovely companies I have met at these events.  Who knows where it will go, but for now I am incredibly thankful. 

I won’t be booking Top Drawer again and I have taken it off a pedestal.  I have some very talented friends who do very well there, but it’s not for me.  I got to achieve something I never thought I would even though it wasn’t the outcome I dreamed of. 

I’ve tried very hard not to use the word fail in this post, but I did feel like a failure and part of me still does but I went for it, I tried.  I think the point of blog posts is to show all aspects of my business. 

If you don’t try you will never know and because I didn’t want to quit, I then went on to have a truly positive experience.  So, don’t quit and don’t be worried about a bit of failure. 

Blimey, I do like to ramble on, no wonder my blog posts are so few and far between….


  • I love your ramblings Kate so please carry on.😉xx

    Rhoda Marlow
  • Your work is amazing, everyone needs a bit of sunny Cornwall in their home. Our placemats and coaster get so many lovely comments from guests and I need to order some for our friends in Australia who have coaster envy! I gave a Portreath mug to a colleague for Christmas (she comes from the area but no longer lives there) she has just restyled her kitchen based on your mug! Keep doing what you are doing. You are awesome 👏😊

    Tracey Ellis
  • Great post, not sure the average punter, let alone ‘the big business lot’ quite get what it costs mentally, physically and financially to put your wares on display for the big wide world to approve and hopefully buy. You are so right about the right product for the right market, London sometimes seems a long long way from Cornwall on all fronts! You lived to tell the tale and fabulous that the Living and Giving was such a success for you. I might saving for that one !!

  • Well for what it’s worth..I popped into your shop at the end of January and I’ve been drooling over coasters with mine stacks ever since! I bought a load as presents and couldn’t possible part with them…gorgeous vibrant designs..simply beautiful!


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