Craft Perspective


Logic from the Sideline
(a Pathway to the Craft World)


It is often said that The Onlooker sees most of the Game.  While that cannot be true in every case - and probably not even in most cases, the onlooker does see the game from a very different perspective to the player. More than that, players are usually too busy performing to pause and record their thoughts for the benefit of others.  Herein lies the reason for my writing this.

For nearly twenty years as husband, porter, tea-boy sales assistant and general ‘gopher’ to a successful craftsperson, I have helped and encouraged as much as I could along the way. During this time I have also watched very carefully all that has gone on around us, perfectly placed to observe and analyse the many facets of the craft world. While these events are fresh in mind I felt that it might be of interest and assistance to those blessed with a creative talent and intending to make their craft a serious source of income if I were to organize those thoughts and commit them to paper.

Craft selection

You do not need to be around the craft scene for very long to realise that there are an incredible number of people with talent in their hands almost beyond belief.  You also learn that aside from the well-known traditional crafts, there are hundreds of other variations of those manual skills devised and created by the fertile imagination of the creative minds guiding those hands. Craftspeople are often blessed with more than one talent and this brings about the first and most fundamental decision.

If you decide to go the traditional route there will be a ready made demand for the product built up over generations. This is helpful of course but there will also be many other superb exponents of the craft to compete against, already well established in the public eye. If you are good enough this should not daunt you - there is always room for one more, especially if you are able to build a distinctive recognisable style into your work.

Alternatively you may decide to work in a lesser known field, or even a craft that you have devised yourself and as far as you know is not yet the province of anyone else. The downside of this is that you will need to create a market from a very low or non-existent base. There is a fine line between a potential customer wanting to have something that is different and purchasing it, and being too timid to do so, even though they really like it, just because it they fear it may not receive the approval of their friends.

However there are two upsides. Firstly of course you will not have so many competitors, or maybe even none at all, and secondly, very important this, a craft fair organiser needs to have as much variety as possible in their range of participating exhibitors in order to attract the public into their venue.

Whichever route is chosen, there is no substitute for talent, and if the talent exists there is no reason to expect failure.

Market appreciation

At the beginning a craftsperson will, most probably, have been making things for their own satisfaction, and receiving the plaudits of friends and family for their skill.  Occasionally orders arrive and thoughts of giving up the day job start to germinate.  Nothing wrong with that, but it is a very big jump from there to earning a living from a craft, so hang on to that day job for as long as possible.

You will need to spend time and money to evaluate the various ways of reaching your potential customers, and deciding upon the one, or ones, best suited to you.  There are many roads. None are easy and none are cheap.  It helps a lot if you choose correctly at the beginning, but it is never too late to change course.  Experience gained, even if it is the hard way, will not be wasted.

Workshop showroom

You may decide to try to persuade your customers to come to you. If so, your premises will need to be suitable to accommodate them and it must be a permissible activity at those premises for you to even consider this. Provided it is possible to overcome the practical aspects of this course, you can then move on to determining the most suitable places to advertise and the form these advertisements should take.

The most expensive time is likely to be the early years until you are established. You would hope for repeat orders and word of mouth recommendation to help in the future as you go forward.   If you are able to operate in this way it is very time efficient as you need only to break off from the creative process to become a sales person when potential customers arrive.  If other family members can help with the selling duties, even these interruptions to production may be reduced, but it would not be good for public relations to hide yourself away entirely.

Insurance will need to be in place to cover the possibility of accident to visitors whilst on your premises and if this is your own home there may be an adverse impact on the household policy too.  Take advice from a specialist before proceeding.

Mail Order

In many ways this is similar to the Workshop Showroom except that you do not see the customers.  Advertising will again be a major expense but remember that postage, packaging and insurance is costly also. You will need to consider whether the weight and construction of the product is suitable for mail order.

Retail Shops

You may find shops that are willing to accept your work. If they are you will probably be shocked at the terms you are offered. Outright purchase from you for example may well be at half the eventual VAT inclusive price to the retail customer.   Alternatively you may be offered a Sale or Return situation with a commission payable on sales.  A rate of 10% or less is unusual and more likely it will be 20% or above. Control of the items on Sale or Return is a potential worry as losses and damages do occur. It is vital to have a workable system and regular checks to make this a success and avoid friction between yourself and the retailer.  Creative people are not usually very disciplined in this respect and neither, unfortunately, are some retailers.

It is important that the shop is very suited to the type of products you make and compatible with other items stocked, otherwise it will prove a waste of time for both parties. The shop needs to be within reasonable proximity to your workshop so that the display may be topped up promptly as sales occur. Hours spent travelling to and fro are hours of no benefit.

Display Cases

You may be fortunate in finding a venue within reasonable travelling distance which has suitable display cases.  The most likely sources are the major hotels who like to have interesting craft exhibits to complement their decor and provide areas of interest for their guests.  These items would almost certainly be sold on a commission basis at rates similar to the retailers’ Sale or Return. terms

You will need to have faith in the staff handling the point of sale activity but in a well run establishment this should not be a serious problem.  Otherwise the control of the display is in your own hands although you may find that at certain times access to the display is restricted.  To service it effectively the venue needs to be within a reasonable travelling distance.

Your Own Shop

The overheads would normally be too great a burden to contemplate this step at the start of a craft career.  It may be possible to consider a small unit in a craft complex or something larger in conjunction with one or more others.  If this arrangement is to work it is vital that their standards are at a level equal to your own and that all are willing to fairly share of the operational work involved as well as the costs.

The Internet

The product of the craftsperson may be one that a potential customer wants to both see and touch before buying.  If this is so the internet is unlikely to be the correct medium for your point of sale. Even so, it still can be a very valuable tool despite this drawback and even if it is like a foreign land to you do give it due consideration.  A well designed website will put your name before the public locally, nationally and internationally all in one go.  Good quality photographs displayed with appropriate text can advertise your work along with information relating to where and when you can be found.   If you have the necessary skills you could do the work of constructing the website yourself but your time is probably better spent on your craft.  There are now many specialist website designers who will do the job quickly and well, but of course for a fee.  If your product is suitable and you are able to use the website for mail order, so much the better.

Craft Fairs

If you cannot see that any of the above are right for you then the Craft Fair is probably the way for you to go as it has been for most craft workers for many years. It is hard work and the best fairs are expensive, but if you choose well you will be among people with whom you have much in common in a generally agreeable environment  and, if you meet them half way, very soon your circle of  friends will have increased considerably.

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