Thursday, December 23, 2010

ON DOING THINGS THE HARD WAY

My mum always said that if there was a hard way to do anything, even as a little girl, I would find it. I once read somewhere that this is a classic Sagittarian characteristic.
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So, when I decided it was time to sell some of my home-made jewellery at a craft fair for the first time, I decided to do it in a foreign country, with only a modest grasp of the language and in the middle of winter.




An outdoor food stall at the market.



It happened like this: my friend Nicole in Le Grand-Pressigny mentioned that there was a really nice Marché de Noël at Ferrière Larçon in the Loire every year about two weeks before Christmas. This seemed like the ideal opportunity. Christmas markets in France are wonderfully colourful, jolly and festive affairs. And with it being near enough to Christmas but not so near that everyone had done their Christmas shopping, surely this was perfect timing. So I asked her to find out if she could get me into it.

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(Just to explain, I thought trying to get a table at a French market for myself would be extremely difficult from my home in the UK.)
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The atmosphere inside the church was festive and jolly despite the bitter cold.


This proved to be frustratingly difficult. Nicole left many a message for the organisers of the event and had no response. Time was ticking by and by October I still had no idea if I would have a stall or not. I had quite a few pieces that I could sell but would need to produce more to make a reasonable display of items for sale. On the other hand, I didn't want to make too many Christmassy items because if I was not selling at the craft fair, what would I do with all of them?


The variety of really nice home-made items on sale was enormous. This stall was all nice and cosy in the marquee.
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In November the contact finally replied to Nicole's messages saying that all the invitations to stallholders had already gone out, implying that only people who had previously had had a stall were invited to attend. In which case, how would newcomers get a foot in the door?
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Then, right at the last minute, I received an email with an attachment that was the application form for a table. For the princely sum of 10 euros I could have a two metre table with one chair, an electric socket and the option of some kind of grill that I could use as a backdrop.


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I sent off the form with my cheque straight away and followed it up with an email to the lady who was the contact for the organisers, explaining that the cheque was on its way but would probably arrive two or three days after the closing date.

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Then I waited. Nothing happened.



My stall was at the end of this long wind tunnel - there was an icy blast every few minutes as somebody passed through the long curtains that led to the interior of the church.

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However, I got on with the job of creating jewellery for the event. I repeated a few designs that had been admired or sold in the past and made lots of new, Christmassy styles, focussing on red and black with lots of silver and a bit of twinkle. I had no idea what the other stalls would be selling or what might or might not go down well. Being snowed in at home at the beginning of December helped to boost the stock slightly !!


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The snow fell in huge quantities in Derbyshire and by the time the day arrived to set off for France, we debated over and over whether or not to risk the journey. The Christmas market was on the Sunday and we were intending to get to France several days before, making a bit of a holiday of it. In the end, we left home more or less as planned. The journey was largely uneventful apart from a couple of hours driving through a blizzard in Northern France. But we made it without mishap, although with nerves very slightly frazzled.


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What was more worrying was that by the time I left home I still had had no response to my email and the cheque for 10 euros had not been cashed. In other words, having put all this effort into the event I was prepared for the possibility of turning up to find no table for me at all. I considered phoning the lady organiser but speaking French on the phone is something I still find extremely difficult. I manage in a face to face situation because facial expression and hand gestures go a long way towards helping either party get a point across. On the phone I easily get completely out of my depth. So we decided to just turn up on the day and see what happened.



My little stall.
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The system worked !! As we pulled up outside the church where the market was held, with a boot full of beads, busts and boxes, a man with a clipboard and a list approached us and my name was on the list. What a relief.
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My friend Jackie was there to help and we had practised setting up the table and arranging things on my dining table at home the day before. Most stalls were ready to go when we arrived but within a few minutes we were all set and waiting for our first customers when the doors opened at 10.00 am.
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I quickly worked out that I had a table in the least favourable position in the market. I was expecting this - why should they give a good pitch to a newcomer? When the man with the clipboard told me we were indoors in the entrance to the church I was initially pleased but in fact an outside stall would have been better and one in the marquee attached to the side of the church better still. My pitch was in a perishingly cold area and the light was poor. In fact it was in something like a freezing wind tunnel. Those outdoors fared better when the sun came out and those in the marquee were positively toasty for a large part of the day.

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There were three other stalls selling jewellery. This lady's work had a more modern look than mine.

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Business was slow. In fact we observed that nobody was selling very much at all. I chatted with my fellow stallholders and we came to the conclusion that the event was mainly a good place to catch up with friends and enjoy a glass of mulled wine in jolly surroundings rather than a place to do some Christmas shopping.
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By lunchtime I was frozen through and the number of visitors dwindled as people drifted towards the food stalls. Jackie and I decided we would pack up discreetly about three o'clock and slip out before the market officially closed at five. I really didn't think I could face another four hours of advancing frostbite.
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But then, at about two-thirty, crowds of people arrived. Suddenly, as if by the flick of a switch, the place was buzzing. There was loads of activity around my stall and I made a few more sales and answered lots of queries. My business cards were disappearing fast. Sadly, if anyone was thinking they would look for my stuff in a shop in Le Grand-Pressigny, they would be disappointed - at the moment anyway.



Another stall selling some jewellery.

All in all it was a good and interesting experience. A few glasses of mulled wine helped to keep the chilblains at bay and put a rosey perspective on everything. I was pleased with the appearance of my stall and very pleased with the reaction from the French ladies to my jewellery. It was obvious from the sales I made that I was appealing to a certain age-group and that was fine by me. I would rather make things I like and would wear myself than try to make stuff I don't feel comfortable with. For now, anyway.
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I was very pleased too that I was able to communicate adequately with the French ladies, using my limited vocabulary, and glad I had swotted up on a few relevant words beforehand. Nobody seemed at all perturbed or suprised that I was English either, which was something I had worried about. Looking at the other jewellery for sale, my prices were about right, too.
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Would I do it again? Definitely, but at a warmer time of year and a different kind of event. One of my customers suggested that my stuff would sell well at a couple of other local markets so I will see how easy it is to find out about that. Apart from being the coldest for the longest that I have ever been in my life, it was a good day and a very worthwhile experience.


One of the items that did sell.