Craftfolk run art and craft events throughout the year culminating in the Cardiff Christmas Market. I have worked for Howard Potter, my boss, for over 20 years and was initially invited to join Craftfolk because of my craft background and the insights I could bring to the table as an exhibitor rather than an organiser.
How it all started
Many years ago a few stints at night school spurred me into setting up a small pottery business. It shouldn't be too difficult I said to myself …. famous last words! I decided that hand building with clay, rather than throwing, was the way to go and so set about buying my first kiln with some financial assistance from my Dad, and a stock of clay. All clay was the same wasn't it, so it shouldn't be too difficult? My first attempts at firing my own work were dismal, to say the least, as all clay is definitely not the same, far from it!
Not to be deterred I was recommended to visit Bath Potters and what a revelation! My car nearly bottomed out driving home with all my purchases of grogged clay and glazes. Their advice and enthusiasm was invaluable and spurred me on. Learning from my mistakes and disasters of exploding work I became a regular customer resulting, after many trials and errors, with a successful business and as I built a workshop in my garden, commuting wasn't too bad either.
Running your own business, especially if you are the only one, is hard with long hours but it is very rewarding. However, because I had young children at the time I couldn't take part in any events that were unsuitable for my helpers to attend with me, and so I decided to accept their job offer and became an organiser of art and craft events rather than a maker.
Now wearing a different hat I wanted to bring some of my observations as a maker to event organising – the Cardiff Christmas Market was a smaller event when it was first conceived but has grown over the years. Choosing what event to attend was always a problem when I had my business as some stall rentals were a bit too much for me and were a gamble as I did not know how my work would sell. Because of my experiences our Taster Stall Scheme was born, offering shorter trading periods at the Christmas Market at a reduced cost to allow new makers the chance to test trade their work in a busy city centre environment. A specific location within the market was earmarked so that all new makers were together and whilst we offered lots of advice including setting up and lighting your stall, they felt more comfortable trading alongside someone at a similar stage in their business venture and were able to support each other by sharing their experiences and offering tips and advice.
Over the years we have seen artists and crafts people, who have benefited from this scheme, go on to run successful art and craft businesses and whilst some of them have remained with us and now take part as fully-fledged makers for the full duration of the market, some have gone on to open their own retail units leaving our wooden stalls behind them – it can be cold at times!
Talking about the cold – prior to 2010 we used our canvas stalls and although they had wooden inserts they were becoming increasingly impractical and so we designed and built our own wooden stalls that are currently in Cardiff's City Centre at this year's market. You can still see our canvas stalls but at our shorter and warmer events throughout the year. Attending some of our other events throughout the year is also a good way of advertising your presence at the Christmas event.
Since 2010 we have slowly increased the overall number of wooden stalls and they now number 80. This has enabled us to offer more and more new makers the opportunity, under the Taster Stall scheme, to test their products provided they are able to fulfil our participation criteria. It is very simple if you make then we are there to support you. We also offer shorter trading periods as not everyone has the stock or time to join us for any length of time. A five day slot is the minimum but you can apply to trade for longer if you wish and applying for a Taster Stall in subsequent years is also supported as it may take some time before the decision is taken to grow your business as in today's economic climate there are many factors to consider before taking the plunge to become a full time maker.
This year throughout the 44 days of the market over 200 exhibitors will take part, 100 are new businesses trading with us in a Taster Stall, something we are very proud of and are determined to continue our support of new makers as without them our events would become stale. Of course, it is a two way street and whilst we need the support of the more established makers we are all too conscious that our events will only thrive if we continue to offer as varied a selection of original, quality crafts as possible as this is what makes the Cardiff Christmas Market so unique.
Blog post by Jane Hall, Operations Manager at CraftFolk