Emily posted to tell you all about the ScotlandShop trip to the Country Living Spring Fair last week and I thought I would follow this up with a round up of the highlights for us. We had a great week and met so many lovely people, customers and other stand holders, Ali went on the tube for the first time in her life and I did enough shopping to bring up the sales figures of all the other exhibitors. We learnt so much from chatting to new and old customers and it was a great experience.
I had a chat with Dan Sewell, Event Director at the Spring Fair and he seemed to be bearing up well given that he has welcomed over 20,000 visitors to the Business Design Centre in the last 5 years. The building itself fits perfectly with the Country Living theme as it was originally the Royal Agricultural Hall dating back to 1862 and home to the the Smithfield Club and Show. To think that this now trendy area of Islington used to be pasture and cattle sheds known as Dixon's Lairs. After hosting glamorous events such as the Grand Ball for the Belgian Volunteer Regiments in July 1867 the Hall became the home to Overseas Parcels and Customs during the war and until 1970. Fortunately Sam Morris came to the rescue and by 1986 has restored the Agricultural Hall to it's former glory and it has become one of the best modern day conference and exhibition centres, hosting all sorts of different events along with the Country Living Spring and Christmas Fairs.
Dan explained the difference between the 2 fairs describing the Spring Fair as "a fresh start to the year ahead, a nice day out for longstanding readers of the magazine to buy gifts for self and home" and "a great place to gain inspiration" whereas the Christmas Fair is more about buying gifts for others. When you entered the Hall the full force of spring hit you with the garden scene and the VW camper van surrounded by flowers and space to sit and relax and listen to talks about gardening and looking after chickens. Coming from the cool winds of Scotland the air felt so warm in London it gave me a real buzz every morning when I walked in.
I spoke to Catherine Gee from the Country Living Magazine about all her hard work to refresh the feeling of the Fair and their efforts to always offer something new. The lifestyle panels on interiors, bee keeping and the chance to feed the lambs, the Spring restaurant with table service and recipes tied into those featured in the magazine all go towards this. The show has been running for 20 years and the magazine was the first to have a spin-off show and I asked Catherine how it feels to be the market leader and the ones to continually set the standard. Seated on the gorgeous tweed covered sofa (don't worry I had a word about sourcing her tweed from us next time!) in her blue Country Living pinny Catherine is so passionate about how the show brings the pages of the magazine to life and the importance of close work with the exhibitors and organisers to achieve this.
This year all exhibitors received a letter reminding them to make an effort to make their stands looks extra special and we were proud to be right opposite the winner of the award for Best New Stand. Ashley is a designer and illustrator based on the edge of the Peak District and can boast a high street range she designed and produced in collaboration with Debenhams. "I make beautiful interior accessories from humorous designs and whimsical illustrations. I aim to produce designs that are fun, curious and make people smile." Ashley made us smile all week and it is people like her who make hours and hours of standing on your feet a pleasant experience.
We met some other Scots at the Fair and Jim from The Caurnie Soaperie was on the end of our aisle. As a seasoned campaigner at Fairs and Farmers Markets around the country he gave us lots of top tips ... mainly about the Show but also about where to go to unwind after hours. Watch out for Jim's amazing award-winning Caurnie bog myrtle body butter! Upstairs I had a quick pre-lunch taster of Eden Mill Scottish gin. Love their strapline "The Spirit of St Andrews". I am very partial to a gin and tonic but this was my first limited edition, artisanal gin and certainly my first Scottish gin. I tried an orange peel inspired one and a more floral one. The orange peel one came home in my bag with it's silky smooth texture but I think I almost bought it just because I loved the bottle so much.
It may sound like there was nothing but Scots at the Spring Fair but I think the only others were to our right and in my mind represented the best husband and wife craft combination. In fact I did ask Lisa if she only married Colin because he was a good welder. HawkHill HotWorks make the most amazing kiln formed glass and wrought iron furniture and on their website Lisa describes herself as "a skilled colorist inspired byunderwater biomorphic worlds, tribal fabrics, Japanese design and Steampunk". Colin was a mechanic and now sets the glass panels into furniture frames. He is of course also very handy when the van breaks down. All we know is that we spent all week gazing at their work and marvelling at their talent.
Next door to us was the lovely Jane Means and her collection of ribbons. Jane was setting up when we arrived with our mountains of boxes and seemed quite quiet working away with headphones on making her stand look beautiful and Easter themed. We found out later that Jane is far from quiet and really quite mad but in the nicest possible way and she certainly made the exhibitor drinks party go with a bang. Over the week I learned more and more about Jane's business and as someone growing a business myself I feel huge respect for what she has achieved over the years with not just a fabulous concept and product range but also her own book published on gift wrapping, courses on gift wrapping and even an SBS award presented to her by Theo Paphitis. I am a big fan of Theo's so very jealous!
After a big day driving down and setting up on Tuesday, 5 long days at the Fair and then a supersonic speedy pack up thanks to the Urban Crew and their muscles, followed by a drive back home to Scotland on the same night I think Ali deserves her week off this week. Thank you to all those customers, new and old, who came to talk to us and learn more about our lovely tartan and thank you to all those friendly exhibitors around us who made it so much fun.