Sunday, 20 November 2011

To Open Evening or not to Open Evening..

...that was my question!

When I first started out with Ditsy Bird Designs, a good friend suggested that I hold a DBD party at her house, and she invite her friends. Brilliant idea! I didn't do it.

A couple of years ago, I read about a Twitter pal holding an open evening for her products at her home. Cracking idea! I did nothing.

Over the past year I have investigated further, asking questions and I've had much encouragement from other Twitter peeps who have also held open eves - all declaring them to be fantastic fun and very successful. I organised one! Then cancelled it.

All my fault - horrendous timing on my part as it was the start of the Summer hols...I'd thought "yay, mum's looking after kids all day - they'd love a night out!". But I stupidly ignored the whole Summer + Holiday thing and was suitably enlightened when the replies came back thick and fast, with a resounding "sorry I'm away but would love to come on another day!"

As the numbers gradually dwindled, I felt that postponement was the only option...I couldn't have 5 people turning up...the emptiness! The awkwardness! The pressure on those poor five to like & purchase*! The overwhelming desire for me to crawl under the table! Not to mention the amount of time I envisaged would go into the setting up for such low disrespect to the 5 but it is a business and so, all endeavours need to be worthwhile from a financial/PR/marketing point of view.
[*or at least that's how I'd feel if I were one of the 5] was cancelled with promises of another day and then the hols got under way & it was 'goodbye August' and 'hello new school year!'. Closely followed by 'argh I have need of funds' and 'now then, how does one come about funds?'.

So, it was back to the open evening idea.

But then the doubts started to creep back in....remember the didn't do it, did nothing from years back? Yup. A huh. Doubts!

What if people had RSVP'd a no the first time round because, really, actually, they didn't WANT to come but used hols as an excuse????? Now you see, I find this to be The biggest (most enormous) hurdle as a designer/maker...belief in my style, my abilities, my products.

The thought of people saying "actually, no, I don't think so" makes me feel physically, trembling-ly, skin prickling-ly, nauseous. 

I sent out a 'which date suits you best' question on my Facebook page and got a few replies. Then other personal matters cropped up & I didn't pay it nearly enough regard...until (!!) people started asking me for a definite date. O oh. Good news but it meant I'd have to go through with it.

Up went the event page on FB & out went the invites. And I sat and worried.

Then I worried less, and thought 'hey ho, tis done, get on with it'. Then the declines came in...and then the maybe's and then the yays :)

Back to personal matters occupying spare brain space & time so there was no time left to worry...this was a good thing. 

It's now Monday of the week of the open evening. I calmly sat and made up new stock to show and started to consider the logistics of where and how to show my products. Monday afternoon involved getting out my stock of greeting cards...making sure they were packaged properly, had an envelope, and then setting them out on the stands I have. This took a ridiculous amount of time! By the end of Tuesday it was clear that there was no time left for making, and I had to seriously get on with setting up.

Tuesday, Tues eve, Weds & Thurs eves (after work), and all day Friday were spent...
  • making packaging
  • punching holes
  • writing product descriptions
  • fastening products to cards
  • putting tags on products
  • pricing up
  • and pulling out stock from every hidey hole I have in the house...they are numerous!

A quick tot up on Fri morn of expected numbers & off I popped to Tesco for nibbles & refreshments.

6pm was panic o'clock...cue call to Mum. Mum arrives early, makes a cuppa & tries valiantly to 'there there'. I dash upstairs to get changed.

7.30pm casually (oh yeah) chatting with Mum whilst finishing some pricing & guest numero uno arrives & before I know's 10.30pm, most of my guests have left (with DBD goodies), and I'm having my first drink of the evening sat with the remaining four ladies.

It was a MASSIVE suucess...I sold lots, took orders, made new contacts, had the chance to show existing contacts the full extent of my range, and spent most of the evening holed up in the study dealing with sales, orders & queries.
I didn't however...
finish pricing
get chance to explain about the free personalisation service for paintings
tell people about my sample sales
get my notebooks down to sell
or even top some peoples glasses back up!

Thankfully, I have wonderful friends who happily helped themselves & each other. open eve or not to open eve?
My answer is a resounding YES!!!! but.....prepare!!
Put aside plenty of preparation time & rope in help for sorting drinks, taking coats etc.

My top tips (in no particular order):

  • UPDATE 21.11.11 - Public Liability Insurance
    make sure you are fully covered, as holding an open evening at home automatically turns your home into your place of work...and you'd hate for any mishap to occur and a guest be injured and for you not to be covered!
    there are many out there but this is the one I have used
  • work out your layout well in advance
  • get your cleaning & any furniture moving done as early in the week as possible
  • set up as early as is practical , or at least get stock into position in boxes ready to go - getting help here would be fab if you're having to leave the setting up til the last minute
  • if any products require additional info or explanation e.g. this can be personalised...make up little plaques or posters to that effect
  • make prices clear & obvious
  • spread out your wares so that your guests don't congregate in one area...or you'll end up with bottle necks and people not being able to see what's for sale
  • if items are available to order, it's back to the plaque/poster idea
  • offer a sale or sample bin...who doesn't love a bargain?!
  • enlist the help of a couple of friends to serve drinks, top drinks up, take coats etc so that you, the designer/maker, are free to talk to your guests about your products
    >I failed completely here as I was stuck at one end of the kitchen filling glasses, as my guests were arriving at the other and didn't even welcome some...poor show Sarah, but the lesson has been learned
  • have bags ready! I worried that this would look presumptuous but it was actually a night-saver as the bags served as shopping baskets. Ace!
  • if you also make a lot of one off items...announce this at the start of the evening so that your guests don't miss out on an item they have been musing over all night.
    I did a "if you like it, grab it" announcement after three ladies had asked me what to do if they liked something - & this is where the pre-prepared bags came into their own.
  • put a business card in the bottom of each back prior to the start - this way you don't need to remember to do so when dealing with any actual purchases
  • need marketing research? write down every item that gets sold!
    This does take up a lot of time but is invaluable for the designer and guests didn't seem to mind at all - it gave us time to have a chat whilst going through the 'checkout' process.
    I created a simple Excel spreadsheet form that I printed out and then filled in the customer name, items, quantities, price and total...dead easy and very useful. If I can suss it out, I'll share the form for you to use /adapt as needed
    **update: clear here for the form - there are spare rows at the top for you to add contact details and a logo in case guests want to take the form home to complete or so that it is customised for your evening
  • create & print a discount voucher for guests to use on their next purchase with a code relevant to the open forgot to do this & really wish I would have been a good way to show my sincere gratitude for their support.
  • get any food...nibbles, crisps, canapes, dips etc out before the allotted start time. My evening started promptly and in full flow & there was little let up until everyone had left. I failed to get the dips out, and the crisps ran out as I'd not had chance to top up the bowls - this goes back to the not-hired help point ;)
  • Ladies are happy with a glass of something chilled, a few nibbles, lovely products to peruse & purchase and the opportunity for a night out socialising with friends, old & new -  in short...keep your refreshments simple. There's no need for gastronomic delights - allow the focus to rest on your work, not your food.
  • Eat! make sure you eat and have a drink before it starts - I skipped evening meal and by 10pm I was very thirsty and ravenous. Cue mahoosive headache the next morning.
  • enjoy it!
    relax, go with the flow, laugh off the 'whoops!' moments and have fun.
  • if possible, rope someone in to help put all remaining stock away the following day, and return furniture back to it's original position.
  • finally - start planning your next one!
I had a blast! and the feedback I received was invaluable both as a maker and as a designer - it's good to know that people want what you make! As a result, I shall not be shutting up my Ditsy Bird shop, oh no. It's onwards and upwards for this here bird!

I hope you found this (super long) post useful - if you have any other useful tips...please add them in the comments!


  1. Glad it was such a success...I'll be using some of your success tips as a checklist for my Open Day in a couple of weeks! Well done you. xx

  2. thank you - you were my biggest inspiration!! ooh a couple of weeks hey? will there be a seasonal theme to this one? x