Nobody can deny that 2020 has been a challenging year for business owners, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors – anything which requires consumer footfall and bums on seats.
For retailers, rising to this challenge has meant embracing the online space more than many thought they ever would. It has been a learning curve for our industry, but in the long-run it will pay off as the internet makes shopping accessible to the maximum number of consumers, 24/7, every day of the year.
Every challenge and opportunity faced by the retail community is felt acutely and mirrored in the exhibition landscape, which depends entirely on a thriving retail economy and strong, innovative industry suppliers.
Since lockdown changed the local, national and global economy almost beyond recognition, exhibition organisers have sought ways to make the ‘new normal’ work for them and the community they serve. This has inevitably meant ramping up online operations – already the focus for so much marketing – to an unprecedented degree.
As one of the first UK retail trade events to get cancelled due to lockdown restrictions on large gatherings, the British Craft Trade Fair (BCTF) led the plunge into the ocean of interactive online exhibitions. It was a step into the unknown that paid off handsomely, maybe somewhat to the surprise of everyone involved. Designer-makers aren’t necessarily renowned for their time spent online, as most of them would much prefer crafting in their workshops or networking with like-minded customers and fellow creatives at physical selling-events.
Organiser, Margeret Bunn, says: “Once the decision was made to run an online show it was a question of all hands on deck, there was no time to lose. There was a huge amount of technical work that needed doing, but we also had to quickly launch a promo campaign and ensure the word got out that we weren’t going to be beaten by coronavirus. Everyone had to work their socks off, it was even harder work than a physical exhibition”.
As the first show of its kind in pretty much every respect, the first BCTF Online exhibition, which ran from June 14-15, filled a difficult void in numerous ways. For exhibiting makers it not only offered the chance to get their ranges seen by a quality retail audience, it also provided a focal point and rallying cry which kept those all-important creative juices flowing in the dark early days of lockdown.
“It was vital that we carried our exhibitors along with us on this journey in body, mind and soul”, said Margeret, “especially as we were asking them to put quite a bit of work in themselves getting ready for the online event, making videos, uploading images and so on. Some of the loveliest feedback we received was when our exhibitors said that working towards the online event gave them a purpose and something constructive to focus on during what could have been an even more stressful and worrying time. Working towards the online event spurred makers on to finish new ranges, come up new designs and focus on their business instead of getting depressed and lonely at home”.
For the retail audience, BCTF Online offered a wonderful selection of handmade British products, just as they were opening up their shops and dipping their toes back into the world of sourcing and merchandising after a period of deep freeze. Over 600 independent retailers and gallery owners logged in over the two-day event and many orders were placed with exhibitors in the coming days and weeks.
More than 2737 unique leads were generated for BCTF designers, whilst 925 ‘favourites’ were added to buyers’ personal lists. A 120 page preview magazine, Kraftwork Solstice, that was created especially for BCTF and featured every single exhibitor, including direct links to their online profile page, was downloaded almost 1,000 times and proved to be an invaluable tool for buyers who couldn’t necessarily make it to the online event as they were busy opening up their shops on the Monday.
The BCTF Awards were also held in the virtual space, with Heart Gallery, Hebden Bridge, Pyramid Gallery, York and Platform Gallery in Clitheroe all offering physical exhibitions to more than a dozen designers as their awards prize. The National Association of Jewellers also made an award (as they do each year at the physical show in April), which this time around went to the highly talented Eleni Koumara of Eni Jewellery.
The online event was such a great success that the organiser has taken the decision to hold a second run on 20-22 September, 2020, to help capture the Christmas buying market and provide another opportunity for the BCTF community to promote and sell their products. Most shops have reopened and are ready to stock up again.
BCTF Online will present over 300 authentic British designer-makers for them to choose from, across a full range of product categories and craft disciplines, from Wall Art, Christmas cards, gift wrap and decorations, through to soft furnishings, home fragrance, jewellery, glass, ceramics and woodwork.
Said Margeret: “As well as offering an invaluable opportunity to source new products at a time when trade shows are all completely cancelled, being online has also opened up BCTF to retailers who can’t necessarily make the journey to Harrogate. Over 80% of those retailers who logged into the online event were new to BCTF or hadn’t attended for a while, so it really opened the event to a new audience as well as providing some continuity for our regulars.
“Buyers can interact directly with designers and start to build those all-important relationships so important to our industry”.
The September show will include more functionality, most of which is geared towards exhibitors making more direct sales via their profile pages and more instant notifications of buyer interest, plus a new and improved live chatting system.
BCTF is a trade-only event, accessible to pre-approved retail buyers who can then log in using their email addresses. Click here to register.
Designer-makers who wish to take advantage of this opportunity can register their interest here. The cost is £140 only for a profile that will be live until May 31 2021. This cost is deductible from the price of a full stand at the physical exhibition on April 11-13 2021.
Images from top to bottom: D Moon Ceramics, Small Stories, by Gabrielle Reith, Helen Chatterton Textiles, Bird, Hazel Williams Lasercut Designs, Christine Pike Fine Art, Teazle, Folded Felt.