SHARON BLAGROVE OF BENTLEYS FAIRS
Beginner’s luck or gritted determination or a combination of both? Relative newcomer to the fairs scene, Sharon Blagrove of Bentleys Fairs, has shown that you do not need to have an insider knowledge to take the trade by a storm but you do have to be prepared to fail and get up again and take each situation as it comes with a smile and a positive attitude – not always an easy thing to do but Sharon takes the medal for it and makes it all seem so simple!
Bentleys Fairs now has a portfolio of 3 successful fairs in 3 very high profile locations – Knebworth House, Beale Park and Windsor Racecourse, with the banner headline of Seriously Good Salvage – a term which tapped into social media and gained her over 12k followers on Twitter in just 3 years!
A bumpy start has taken her to the salvage stratosphere and now in addition to the fairs she has launched a website to mop up the business that takes place in the gaps between her fairs, Salvage for Sale.
We talk to Sharon about just how she did in 3 years!
ANF: Tell us about your journey to Bentleys Fairs:
SB: Probably a bit of an career cocktail! 25 years as a driving instructor, 10 years as a music promoter, 5 years as a chauffeuse to some of the Arab Royal Families, wedding planner, hairdresser, plus about 30 other jobs which I won’t bore you with, let’s just say none of them were as interesting as what I do these days, I have finally found something I love doing which involves a community spirit and meeting a lot of people.
ANF: Where is the link to running fairs in all this?
SB: In 2012 I had a shop in St Leonards on Sea which sold good quality used furniture. On the weekends I ran a small boot fair in a field at Bexhill on Sea – so that gave me a bit of an insight. I was approached by an antique dealer who asked if he could share the shop with me and I agreed to let half of it to him in 2013.
One day I went to the shop and half of his stock was missing I thought he had sold it all… but the next day he brought some of it back! I was puzzled and asked what had happened. He said he had been to a fair.. “What’s that?” I asked. He explained he had been to Ardingly Antiques Fair and I was intrigued. I asked so many questions that the next day he brought in a copy of the Antiques Calendar to the shop. Wow, hundreds of fairs, and I hadn’t even heard of them before. I decided to get one of my own going – that was my eureka moment.
ANF: How long did it take you to the point of lift off?
SB: It took me a whole day to find a venue.. The Hop Farm in Beltring Kent. I used my family name and Bentleys Fairs had arrived. I booked 6 dates at the venue.
ANF: What sort of business plan did you have in place and what research did you do?
SB: Well, I bought myself a nice caravan and was allowed to keep it on site so I could stay over when the fairs were on as there were no hotels nearby. I designed the flyers myself and rang IACF who said I was welcome to bring my flyers as did B2B events.
ANF: So how did it pan out that first time?
SB: Having only thought about doing the fairs in the August, one thing I hadn’t taken into consideration was some of it would be held outside and that September was pretty late on in the year and prone to a bit of bad weather… but I was so excited as the fairs approached – surely the weather would be kind to us on our first fair, wouldn’t it?? Of course some of the worst flooding happened in Kent that year and even though the 60 inside traders did well, the outsiders had a really bad time with the awful storms.
3 of the events had to be cancelled, my caravan was written off by the floods, and I had nearly decided after putting heart and soul into this new project that I would just do the last one, and leave quietly. Maybe fairs were not for me after all!
ANF: So what happened to spur you on?
SB: At our 5th fair, with only a handful of dealers who were prepared to brave that spiteful weather, I noticed one dealer from France had a lot of slightly rusty looking stock. I asked him what it was all about he said it was Architectural Salvage. I had never heard of it! He said to me “You should get some into your fairs”. Hmm, famous last words I thought – really? I was thinking I probably won’t be doing any more, but thanks for the idea anyway.
ANF: So it was those 2 words that changed it all for you?
SB: Well, not being someone who gives up at the first hurdle I decided to include those two words into my website… and that’s when the magic happened. The very next day someone from Knebworth House sent me an email asking me to bring my Architectural Fair to their park. It all seems like so very long ago now but in short I decided to take it on, and then searched high and low for the right dealers to stand.
Knebworth House, home to Bentleys Fairs Decro Event
ANF: What gave you the confidence to propel yourself on after the choppy start in Kent – especially at such a prestigious venue at Knebworth House?
SB: Well I didn’t have much fair organising experience behind me but I am a good communicator and as I rang the traders they all said they could hear how enthusiastic and optimistic I was about it. One by one they started to book in. We had 58 traders and 1600 buyers. This time the sun shone gloriously for the 3 days the fair was on.
I hadn’t planned to do Knebworth again and saw it was a one off but they rang to ask what date I wanted for my second event. I ran the second one in July 2015 and this time we had 69 traders and 4000 buyers. It was said to be one of the best fairs of the year by the traders and to date we have 90% of them re-booked into our fairs in 2016.
ANF: Tell us about Beale Park Decorative Fair
Beale Park home to Bentleys Beale Park Decorative Fair
SB: One of the traders at Knebworth – which I had named the Decro Fair, mentioned Beale Park in Pangbourne, Berkshire, and encouraged me to go and look at it with a view to having a fair there. It sits on the banks of the river Thames, in the prettiest setting and has a great catchment area and after a site visit I added this venue to my portfolio.
I booked it for October as it was the only date available and fingers were crossed for good weather and of course it rained!
We had 21 sellers and 400 buyers but the stock was lovely. Traders and buyers all saying they would be back and looked forward to building the fair there.
We next ran the now named Beale Park Decorative Fair in October 2015. This time some of the new sellers who had heard about the fair made the long journeys from the North of England with their lovely decorative and vintage stock.
ANF: So your calendar for 2016 is looking full?
SB: We go back to Knebworth in June, Beale Park for August Bank Holiday and October and we have now added Windsor Racecourse Brocante Fair to our calendar on the last Wednesdays of July-August-September & October where we hope to establish a good midweek fair to follow Kempton. We are open for traders to set up on the day before the fair from noon and it could be a good trade afternoon in the future. If this venue is successful more are planned throughout 2017 at Windsor Racecourse.
Our catchphrase is Seriously Good Salvage and we constantly strive to run fairs with good quality stock, in fabulous venues and we are pleased to be able to say that our traders rate amongst some of the best in Europe. My vision for Bentleys Fairs is to keep the fairs small and the traders happy after all if not for them there would be no fairs.
ANF: With Bentleys Fairs running like clockwork you decided to take on a new challenge? Tell us about Salvage for Sale
Salvage for Sale
SB: Having now had 100,000 hits to our website bentleysfairs.co.uk since 2013, we realised that we have a very healthy audience in the Architectural Salvage marketplace and so I have just opened seriouslygoodsalvage.co.uk where all dealers in the Salvage/Decorative/Antique/Industrial and Vintage sectors can list their stock – in fact it is free to list up to 50 items and so far we are seeing great feedback and plenty of activity on the site which is designed for traders to both buy and sell.
We have a strong media campaign for the official launch 30 June 2016 and we are thrilled that Antiques News & Fairs and The Antiques Trade Gazette generously agreed to be our main sponsors!
For full details and dates of all future events see Bentleys Fairs
To buy or sell Salvage/Decorative/Antique/Industrial and Vintage and for full listing information see Seriously Good Salvage
The article above appeared on www.antiquenewsandfairs.co.uk as part of their Fair Ladies feature.
(Article posted in Antiques News and Fairs)
BENTLEYS FAIRS UNDER STARTER’S ORDERS AT WINDSOR
Royal Windsor Racecourse, set in acres of stunning countryside on the banks of the Thames and in the shadow of Windsor Castle is a long way from a flooded hop farm in Kent which is where Sharon Blagrove cut her teeth just 3 years ago when she launched Bentleys Fairs and now Royal Windsor Racecourse will be the venue for the first Windsor Brocante & Salvage Fair which takes place on Wednesday 27 July 2016 and will take place on the last Wednesday of every month until October.
The journey has involved a few hiccups and a lot of determination – see our piece Fair Ladies – Sharon Blagrove, and now Bentleys Fairs Windsor Brocante & Salvage Fair forms part of a portfolio of no less than 3 fairs in 3 very high profile locations – Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, Beale Park. Berkshire and Windsor Racecourse.
A tireless and very targeted marketing campaign has help propel Bentleys Fairs to fame in the architectural salvage sector and the strapline of Seriously Good Salvage which caught the attention of the Twitter audience, gained the company over 13k followers on Twitter in just 3 years.
Around 60 exhibitors are on the books so far and the phone is still ringing with new bookings and trade from across the UK will be there including Black Dog Antiques, Cornwall, Sawmill Architectural, Cheshire, Chiltern Antiques, Berkshire, Home Garden and Beyond, Suffolk, Alan Taylor, Essex and Smiths Architectural, Surrey.
Stock will be a good selection of antiques, industrial and decorative salvage, vintage, Gardenalia and Militaria, furniture and quirky collectibles.
Traders are invited to set up anytime between Noon & 5pm on the day before the fair. Overnight security is provided, and on site toilets. Caterers on site Wednesday only.