My weekend at Hestercombe Gardens

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I am very disappointed that what has brought me back to my blog is a rant! I’m not a moaning Minnie by nature, but last weekend’s craft fair at a large well-known venue in Somerset has made my blood boil!

I was thrilled to receive an email invite to apply for a weekend slot at one of December’s “huge” events and duly sent off my form and (not to be cashed) deposit cheque and even more thrilled to be accepted for the first weekend in December.

 I spent the two weeks beforehand making sure I had plenty of stock and that everything was ready to go. I also made sure I let all my Facebook friends and Twitter followers know where I was going to be, as well as friends and work colleagues.

 It was going to be a very long weekend, but oh so worth it – the event had been “well publicised” and they were expecting “large numbers” to attend, especially with the arrival of the winter ice-rink too.  I thought this would be the event which would put me on the map!

 The venue is absolutely gorgeous and we were sited in what I imagine was originally the stable block. It was beautifully garlanded for the season and laid out well, although a trifle draughty with the door having to be kept open. “Never mind” I thought, I’ll be so busy selling I won’t notice.

 There were perhaps 15 stall holders in the hall all selling beautiful hand-made items ranging from jams through to beautiful glass hangings, pottery, soaps and my own soft furnishings and gifts. Opening time of 10.00 duly arrived, and then 11.00, 12.00 … the day really started to drag. I think we saw maybe a dozen people during the morning, although we could hear the ice-rink was quite busy.

 The lady on the stall next to me ventured off in search of a hot cuppa, only to be charged £1.90 for a throwaway cup! When she politely complained that the price was quite high the response she got was “Well, you’re getting your stall for nothing”.  Admittedly we were getting the stall for nothing, but nothing is almost all we got back … we tried to speak to the organiser, but she turned her head and scuttled off and that was the last we saw of her until 3pm when she went home for the day.

 We were all concerned that most of the people who had come to skate didn’t come through to browse the stalls – we did notice that there was no signage up in the skating marquee to let skaters know there as more to see. We mentioned it to some of the catering staff out there and they didn’t know we were there either! But promised to let people know from now on!

 We had a few customers throughout the afternoon and I did make four sales … but by now all of us were feeling really disappointed and the thought of being there till 8.30pm was hanging heavy with us. Thankfully the decision was made that we needn’t stay until 8.30pm on Saturday and wouldn’t lose half of our deposit if we went home at 6.30pm.

 Sunday morning dawned wet and grey, but generally we all arrived trying to feel positive that today was going to be better. I arrived at 9.30am for the 10.00am opening, to find no staff around, the hall in darkness and most of the doors still locked.

 There was a considerable amount of light-hearted grumbling, most of us had come armed with flasks of hot tea or soup, wearing many warm layers and one enterprising stall-holder had even brought some direction signs she’d printed out on her computer to put up around the site to let people know we were there. We did notice there were more signs up than there had been the day before, so hopefully people would flock in!

 Sunday did bring more shoppers than the day before, but sadly all of us left feeling bitterly disappointed, not with the fact that there had been so few visitors, but from the attitude of most of the staff at the venue. We even heard from a previous member of staff that there was no point in us filling out feedback forms, as when she’d worked there they’d been told to bin any unfavourable slips!

 All in all I came away from beautiful Hestercombe Gardens feeling that I had wasted a whole weekend – the potential was so there, but we all felt completely unsupported by the staff and the layout meant that visitors could easily avoid the hall if they didn’t make a special trip. A week or so before, during the Christmas market which had been held,  refreshments and snacks had been served at the end of the hall and there were tables laid out for this, but for some reason this had been moved to the skating marquee, so we were quite left out of the loop.

I sadly will have to think very carefully before committing to a weekend event again and will certainly get some realistic feedback from stall-holders who have used the venue previously before wasting so much time again.

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  1. Julie East Design

    I feel for you - going back a few years, at the launch of my business, I was encouraged to have a stand at a local school where they were having a 'ladies evening'. It was sold as an opportunity to advertise my business and was well subscribed to by local people in business. All of us paid a decent sum for our space (£40 I think). Well the big event was a fashion show in the main hall, which was 'very' well attended. My stall might as well have been in the Outer Hebrides the distance it was from all the action and the few people who did venture far enough and found us were amazed to find us! One lady disappeared to hand out her leaflets swiftly returning to pack up her gorgeous candles and scents before leaving. At the end, when we were all packing up to go home, there was a general feeling of huge disappointment and that of being let down. I can't work out where you are based but here in Harpenden, St Albans there are events throughout the year that are well attended. Childwickbury Estate puts on a arts/craft fair June time, it usually lasts for a few days and is well attended. We also have Crafts on the Common, a much smaller event. The Womens Circle Christmas Craft Fair and Hatfield House hosts fairs in their grounds. I've only attended these fairs I've never been a seller. I'm new to blogging, you might like to take a look at my blog, please follow it if you like what you see. Best wishes for 2012. Julie

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  2. LizzieMade

    What a disappointing experience. Clearly someone didn't really know what they were doing, when they were trying to organise it. Glad you made some sales, but after all your preparation and hard work - not to mention petrol used and time spent - it's very disappointing to do so badly. By the way, what about your deposit? If you had to pay that, then surely you didn't get a "free" table at all? I would suggest writing to the Board directly (go to the top), but I wonder if you'd end up on some kind of black list... you may want to go there again some time in the future, if things improve. Perhaps better to put it down to (rather bitter) experience, shrug your shoulders and list some nice stuff for sale online (I am still Christmas Shopping!). Sorry for your disappointment though... I also did a stall somewhere that had far fewer people than I was led to expect... blah!

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  3. Harriet McAlonan

    Sorry to hear you had such a rubbish time at Hestercombe, I suspect that most shoppers went to the Christmas fair a couple of weeks ago and certainly there was no advertising at that event to say that there would be further shopping opportunities before Christmas. I had the same email as you offering a free table, when I tweeted about it I got a very snotty tweet back from Hestercombe. I won't be supporting any future events they hold.

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