For fifteen years Liz Clark and I attended MBS fairs. There is no doubt we enjoyed great success, in fact during the one and a half decades; there was only one show where we did not make a profit.
We have a thriving Crystal and Incense business in Nottingham’s Victoria Market. For most of the years of trading, the business has been profitable. Although, during the early stages it suffered a tough year and we made intellectual, not emotional choices for it to survive. Apart from this one episode, the Lizian Shop has provided an excellent living for nearly a decade and a half. As well as the Lizian Shop and attending MBS events: we have enjoyed a busy and varied business life. For example, our published books and recorded meditational Cd’s are worthwhile additions to our enterprises.
Do not consider the word ‘enterprise’ as a meaning a large and profit orientated business. The word in this instance implies ‘making changes – we consider ourselves enterprising people’ For further insight into my meaning of the word consider this explanation:- Enterprise is;- ’Showing initiative, seeing opportunities and taking advantage of them, and adaptability.’ ‘Having drive, determination, persistence and passion.’ and ‘Ready to embark on new ventures.’.
I write the first three paragraphs as the qualification to write this essay. Of course, there is further information needed. Liz Clark worked within the airline industry as senior freight manager. And before this, she was successive P.A to three leading pillars of the business community. So she has a rare insight into the methodology of Chairmen of PLC’s. For my part, I ran a successful photo finishing business and at the same time built an export trading company which was eventually sold to a major Chinese Company. This was in the 1990’s – a long time ago, although the lessons learned have stayed with us throughout of our business life.
The reader does not have to take any of the following information as a plan to success. I write this essay with the same spirit as all of my articles. The intention is to provoke thought and stimulate growth within the minds of some who read the ideas. Although it should be pointed out, the information you are about to read has worked for us over many decades.
Over the years I have watched people begin their small business’s with enthusiasm and passion and fail with disappointment and damaged confidence. I must confess to not being surprised when doors are closed and the excuses made. The saddest part of failure is always the excuses. The fact is the problem begins before the business starts to trade. From the outset, there is a need for realism and a plan.
When we opened the market stall, Faye Quigley the chairperson of the Nottingham Market Traders was blunt:- ’You’ll never make any money selling pieces of rock on the market’ Today, she use’s Lizian Shop as an example of what can be achieved. How did we do it? The first building block is observation; we visited other retailers who sold similar products. They are not competition; no one has competition, we all have access to the same suppliers and customers. Our intention was to observe the attitude of the retailers and how the products were demonstrated and displayed.
From this marker, we ordered our initial stock, signed the contract with our landlords and painted the stall. Bright and welcoming colours and well-lit shelves. Trade was slow and the business subsidised from our savings. Slowly turnover increased, and we were in profit, and then we realised turnover was decreasing and previous profits were being consumed by weak trade figures. We had made a mistake, we were not watching what was being purchased, and we were speculating with stock. Stock speculation means buying what you think people need, not buying what they want to buy. We accepted we had to realise our assets and we had two sales. The sales did not cover the purchase price of the goods sold. However, we had approximately two thousand pounds to buy stock which customers wanted to buy. The business survived we never looked back.
The weekend MBS show were a different matter. As I have already mentioned, only one of all the hundreds we attended was traded at a loss. From the pictures taken over the years, our stock became less valuable and more affordable. There were a few ‘choice’ pieces and these also sold; this proves people are prepared to purchase expensive goods. Show turnover increased along with profit. This combined with our Lizian Shop which had turned the corner, meant were on a stable business footing.
What do I attribute to our success? I will list what I consider to be the first eight considerations.
- Carefully review how ALL other retailers sell their products.
- Look at ALL successful small businesses. Look long and hard, not just a cursory glance.
- The presentation is not important it is IMPERATIVE to success.
- Learn to adapt – Sell what does not sell at cost and RE-STOCK.
- Smiles, conversation, ask about the visitor~ not dictate to the visitor, more smiles and eye contact.
I would suggest we think about the eight considerations carefully. Let us examine each one in turn.
- Copying another business will not work. It seems an easy way to go. However, there is an absolute rule in modern marketing. The internet and the millions of images and data it stores allows people to reference everything you do. People have good memories, and you should understand this fact ‘The first will always be the first.’ Whether it be ideas, products or services. The lesson here is NOT to copy other people methodology. Watch and learn, before long you will formulate a unique way to present your product. For example:- Paul Smith sells clothes amongst hundreds of other retailers, his work is subtly unique.
- Talk to and read about people who are successful. There are lessons learned from millionaire to corner coffee house. Next time you are in a small and successful family owned business, watch how it works. If you wish to be successful ‘open your eyes.’ I can say without a doubt, after a time you will become more aware of the small ideas which make for success.
- If an exhibitor has tatty or unclean clothes, smells has dirty fingernails or bad breath. The chances of success are about 10% of the realistic potential. Potential customers notice appearance. Make no mistake there are (rightfully) customers who will walk by the vendor who looks unkempt or dirty. A scruffy seller is saying ‘I don’t care about myself – So what do I care about you.’ Liz and I have clothes we keep for the events, and we would NEVER leave the house without having showered. Clean hands, fingernails, hair and clothes are essential requirements of presentation. Be Smart – Be Smart.
- Why would anyone want to purchase stock, buy expensive equipment, spend 200+ pounds on a table, £100+ on accommodation, £50+ on food and three days of their time; to sit behind their stand and tap away on their phone? It is an absolute mystery to me. Eye contact and a smile sell products. Communication is KING in the world of success. Communication is also important on the stall because it communicates your ethos and image. So, use written communication, MARK every item with its price. Write up explanations about products being sold, allow people to look at and pick up the items they wish to appraise. Tesco’s let you pick up anything from a piece of meat to a kids tee-shirt – Why do you think they do this? Get a mirror and allow people to see what they look like with the potential purchase. If you are selling an esoteric product, learn about it, be able to explain its properties. Know your product, service, therapy, skill, art, inside out and communicate this to visitors.
- Interaction? I cannot number the time’s other exhibitors have stood in front of our stall and commented:- ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘How much have you taken?’- The same people will always have at hand every reason why the ‘Show’ is failing. No road signs, no advertising, no post outs, no e-mail campaign. They miss the point, when they wander the floor and cause mischief, they ARE very much part of the failure of the shows. A visitor walks by; the stall is empty, the visitor see’s group of stall holders gossiping and wishes to buy a product. What message is this giving? The worse comment I listened to from a visitor was ‘XXXX told me the shows were finished, and the organiser is in trouble.’ If I listened to this from a LizianEvents visitor, I will seek out the exhibitor and ask them to leave. Interaction must be consistent, truthful, positive and have integrity, anything less ruins chances of success. If you are on the floor at an event and not at your stand, you’ll soon be on the floor.
- The greatest lesson I learned about selling from a market stall was from my great friend Ranjit. ‘Plenty of choices and good prices’ He sold cardigan’s – his wife still does. She drives a Mercedes and lives’ in a beautiful house. I will give you our secret, learned during the challenging year at the Lizian Shop. Stock the items which sell. And sell at cost, the goods which ‘stick’ and re-invest the money in the items which sell. In nature, there is something called natural selection, where the strongest and best survive. You are guided to think about this and how it affects selling your products. Some years ago there was an artist who sold £750+ pictures at the shows, and she did sell them. Her presentation and product were immaculate; I noticed she used a rotation, never bringing the same canvasses to sequential shows. There is a lesson to be learned from a rotating stock. As there is a lesson to be learned from NOT having two or more of the same item on the table at one time.
- Consider and review promotion. In the world you work in, be it trader, service provider, healer, therapist or reader. A website and a prayer are simply not enough to bring customers or clients to your door. We have to be connected to achieve success to our endeavors. Some exhibitors may think the stand fee covers the promotion, and ten years ago they had a point, today the game is different. If you wish to win, the community is key to success, ignore this at your peril. I spend six hours a day writing on, working with and tidying our website and social media platforms. I love every minute. This WordPress site is only in its infancy, and it is already receiving 1000+ reads per week. How many leads does your website achieve? LizianEvents are the first organisers to connect this way. E-mail – Blog – Website – FaceBook -Twitter. Yes, there are a few who play with one or two, LizianEvents know how to advantage all five. It is essential to interact and share when you share you demonstrate you care.
- Smiles, conversation, ask about ~ not dictate, more smiles and eye contact. All of us have seen the glum, sour faced exhibitor and they complain about their show being poor. It is not the show, it is the demonstration of negative attitude which is the problem. Remember, the visitor is NO fool, s/he will sense the negativity or display of fear, and who would want to buy from an acidic faced retailer? How many restaurant stories do you hear about bad service and staff attitude? The staff in this instance ruin the reputation of the establishment. Again I would ask you to consider this idea very carefully indeed. Whoever contributes to negative attitude will damage the chances of those who really work at making their show a success.
There are fifteen years of experience in the two thousands words of this post. And I will ask you to open the link below and read another 800. It is a post I wrote on September 12th, 2012 – It is worth a read, at the time it caused much controversy and three heavy duty emails from one of the organisers of that era – God Bless foresight….
Hover over the Sit And Think image above it is the LINK to the 2012 essay
I recall one stall holder trying to sell me spiritual enlightenment in the form of a book….if he had asked about me I could have told him I had just returned from travelling the world and had written a book about it lol know your audience and never underestimate anyone 😊
An interesting read. I can recognise many of the points – particularly about miserable and complaining stallholders – from events we attended years ago. I’m just beginning to take stands at shows with one business, and just launching a second business (which probably won’t make it to shows in a trading sense due to logistics), and this was a useful reminder of potential pitfalls.