Billed as the UK’s No. 1 home and gift show for the retail industry it is spread across 20 Halls and showcases everything there is to offer to the Gift trade, and this year Go La La! was exhibiting for the first time; a somewhat daunting prospect for us as relative newbies, and with only one other show under our belts, but unphased by the prospect, we spent several months planning; refining our ranges, designing our stand, and promoting ourselves, before cramming our cards, our shelves, paint, tools, clothes, an ottoman, food, laptops, 2 stools, a stepladder and finally ourselves into the Mini. It is surprising what will fit into a car of that size, yet the faithful old girl managed to take the lot….and us 120 miles to Birmingham, without complaint, and we arrived at lunchtime on Friday.
The first person we saw on arrival was Warren Lomax of Progressive Greetings. PG had their stall dead opposite, and Warren was a great help and very supportive throughout the show, as were his colleagues Sue and Tracey, and of course the endless supply of sweets, as well as the free drinks at the end of the day were a welcome relief.
I’d never been to the NEC before, although Laura went along last year to check it out, and it really is massive; besides the exhibition halls there are sprawling car parks, hotels, restaurants, shops and concert venues: Donny Osmond had a show on Thursday, and local band Black Sabbath was playing its final concert on Saturday, and the contrast in fans was amusing; although there was a predominantly older crowd for each everyone was in pink and glitter one night, and black leather and denim the other…I’ll leave you to decide which was which.
Away from this, we were in Hall 3 in the New Debut Card section, part of a special scheme to help GCA member publishers try out Spring Fair for the first time, and it was an ideal place to be situated.
All the Debut stands were a 3m x 1m traditional shell scheme with white wooden walls. We spent Friday afternoon painting ours with Farrow and Ball paint (only the best will do) and on Saturday attached our shelves of the same colour, before dressing the stand and putting up our cards etc. It looked very sophisticated and stylish and the shelves were pretty straight. They didn’t fall down either, which was an added bonus!
Our next-door neighbour was the lovely Katie Phythian and her partner Mike, of Katie Phythian Design, with their delightful hand finished cards; and we couldn’t have hoped for better neighbours; funny, friendly, supportive and easy to get on with.
It wasn’t long before we’d hooked up with old friends from PG Live 2016 and the Ladder Club (namely the girls from Jelly Armchair and Chocogreetings) and during the show made friends with many other members of the GCA on the stands around us (Meany Bo Beany; Lucy Truman, Papa Grazi, Elaara, and Obody Designs deserve special mention). It really is a friendly industry.
The Show started on Sunday morning; as were staying in Digbeth (near the Bullring), we caught the train in…although didn’t realise that the first one to the NEC on a Sunday was at 8.30, and the show started at 9.00; nevertheless it was an efficient 10 minute service followed by a short walk from the station to Hall 3, and we made it to our stand with minutes to spare.
The Show was very good to us. We had set ourselves what we considered to be realistic goals, but of course being our first show we didn’t meet all of them, yet we far surpassed others, in particular we have some very positive, exciting and encouraging leads to follow up in the next few days/weeks. We also made sales to some lovely small shops across the country, including our first shops in Wales and Scotland, which was one of our aims.
I don’t think the Show was as busy as I expected overall, and this was the general view of those that we spoke to afterwards; some Halls seemed exceedingly quiet on the Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday some of the bigger buyers were around, but the final day was painfully slow, although we did make sales and it wasn’t without its merits.
By the end of the week our feet ached and our backs ached but there was a great feeling of achievement and we were invigorated by the extremely positive comments from many of the big Card Buyers – even those like John Lewis and Wilko who we knew we wouldn’t be right for popped by and said hello. So many loved our product and their feedback was valuable. Our humour cards did cause a bit of a stir, but there is nothing better than seeing people belly laugh at them, or watch their shoulders shake with amusement, and that is fantastic to observe.
We were dreading dismantling and taking down the stand, then loading the car; but this was much easier and less time consuming than we expected; Laura fetched the car and got it to the back door promptly, while I cleared up. Loading was straight forward and we were off site in just over an hour.
We’d love to return next year…we’ll be evaluating the return on all our leads over the next 6 weeks or so, but overall it was a very worthwhile and enjoyable event!