The Giftware Association caught up with Margaret Bunn from the British Craft Trade Fair to talk about the history of the show, the challenges of the current economic environment affecting trade shows and the changing attitudes of exhibitors.
CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT THE HISTORY OF BCTF – HOW DID IT ALL START AND WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND THE SHOW?
BCTF has been running for approximately 45 years, with official records dating it back to 1974, the first known date of the show. Philip and I at PSM LTD took over running the event 27 years ago. The show, which has always championed British crafts, had links with The Crafts Council but was looking a bit tired and needed a new lease of life. We decided to buy the show and bring it up to a standard that represented the industry. The idea behind the show was not to be elitist but to be an all-inclusive trade fair showcasing the best of British.
Our sole criterion for exhibitors is that their products must be made in the UK to a high standard of workmanship and design. We are the only trade show offering exclusively British made goods to the buying community. It took 4-5 years to get the show up to a standard that we were happy with, where we were featuring a strong selection of high-quality products exquisitely made by artisans from around the country. BCTF is now the longest running trade fair in the UK – probably the world – devoted to promoting British products.
HAVE YOU GOT ANY SUCCESS STORIES FROM THE SHOW AND ANY STANDOUT YEARS?
We have a lot of great success stories and with an ever-growing, evolving creative community, every show is outstanding in its own right. Some of our exhibitors have gone on to create public pieces, win prestigious awards and open their own galleries where they support other artists alongside their own work. Many of our exhibitors have showcased their work at BCTF for over ten years and use the event to launch new collections to both loyal stockists and potential new customers. Some of them have even been with BCTF for longer than we have and cite it as instrumental to the success of their brand.
WHAT TYPES OF BUYERS VISIT THE SHOW?
There are many types of buyers with a huge amount of scope between them visiting the show and they come from across the UK to find unique products. We have had buyers from Liberty’s, Fortnum and Masons, The Royal Palaces, Kew Gardens, The National Trust and other high profile outlets, on the flip side we also attract many small independents, from galleries, craft shops, tea rooms, post offices and florists with gift offerings to interiors designers, hoteliers and the museums. The buyers love the show as they find products that are not readily available online or at other stockists. British made is becoming increasingly important to many gift shop buyers looking for sustainable, affordable and innovative collections to offer their clientele.
HOW HAS THE SHOW CHANGED OVER THE YEARS AND HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED TOO?
Craft has changed a lot over the years. Trends, fashion and popularity all play their part and now we have increased public awareness on environmental issues like single use plastics, resulting in surging demand for upcycled and recycled products. Locally sourced materials play a huge part in the designs of today, with more and more designer-makers choosing to use materials close to home. Beautiful local environments are often the inspiration behind their work in the first place.
Technological developments such as digital printing, laser cutting, and computer aided designs also have an impact and can often allow new makers to enter the designer maker world directly from university and can start utilising their skills and creativity to set up a business straight away. This new generation of innovative talent is finding new ways to work with existing materials such as clay, glass and wood, it is a very exciting time for the craft industry.
A downside of this increase in new technology is that some of the more traditional skills are being lost. Fewer artists are taking on apprentices and it’s more difficult to find colleges that teach these traditional skills, meaning that some age-old techniques are being practiced less and may disappear altogether. This would be a great pity because I firmly believe – having seen at BCTF time and time again – that those traditional skills partnered with contemporary design are a winning formula creating not only well crafted but beautiful and unique products.
HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA AFFECTED THE SHOW AND THE INDUSTRY?
The advent of social media has affected the industry greatly and has helped makers reach a country and worldwide audience. The use of social media to promote the show and its exhibitor’s products is invaluable. Charlotte Cowell, from Halcyon PR and editor of Gifts and Greeting Review has been looking after our social media and PR for some years and the BCTF brand has grown since her involvement.
HOW DO THE AWARDS AT YOUR SHOW WORK AND WHEN DID THEY START?
The show has run awards throughout its history celebrating the best products and ranges from the exhibitors, and we have added a few more categories in the years since we took ownership of the event. The Award for Excellence has always been a part of the show and the best Newcomer Award, which celebrates the exciting products created by emerging talent, is over 20 years old now. The Post Newcomers Award is the most recent category to have been put in place.
It is important that our awards come with tangible benefits for the winners. Three of the awards this year were sponsored by excellent galleries – Pyramid Gallery in York, Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge and the Platform Gallery in the Ribble Valley – which all offered prizes of an exhibition featuring and promoting the winners’ work. Greeting Today Magazine sponsors an award and offers promotional exposure through the magazine and online for its winners. The GA, The NAJ and ACID all offer their winners membership and online promotion along with other member benefits.
WHAT IS NEW FOR BCTF FOR NEXT YEAR?
The one major change for BCTF is that it will be introducing a retail day and for one day only the general public will be invited to the show and will be able to purchase directly from the exhibitors. This development reflects changing market conditions and we are fortunate that BCTF has the flexibility to respond and adapt. We have found that makers are doing more consumer facing shows to supplement their incomes in a rapidly shifting socio-economic climate. They need to branch out and diversify and this one-day addition will enable them to do both. The public day will help raise awareness of the BCTF brand within the local area, encouraging more local stockists to attend.
Everyone in the home and gift industry has seen how shows are changing and while change is inevitable, BCTF will always primarily be a trade event and its buyers will – as they always have been in the past – be put first. We have put in place guidelines and suggestions for our exhibitors to help them manage the different aspects of the show so everyone is happy and can make the most of it. Many of them will display different products on the retail day as they have different collections they produce for trade. Those with local stockists in the Yorkshire region will be advised to direct sales to that stockist and save their new collections for the trade only days.
BCTF will continue to showcase the largest selection of handmade British products to its loyal and supportive buyers, all of whom are so passionate about promoting home grown talent.