Behind the Scenes with Vegan Fairs
Daisy Botha started Vegan Fairs after being asked to organise a vegan event at a venue she was working at in 2017. 6 years later, Vegan Fairs now run over 40 events a year. We talk to Daisy about giving vegan companies a local shop window and surviving the pandemic as an events business.
Visit Vegan Fairs’ website here: www.veganfairs.co.uk
Photos Alex Tyler & Alison Woodham
How did Vegan Fairs start out and at what point did you think you might be able to make it into a business?
I was already working in the events industry and had recently gone vegan when a gig promoter approached the venue I was working at asking about creating a vegan fair. They said they had done one in Frome and the response had been incredible, so thought that Stroud would be a great location for one too. This was 2017 when veganism was really taking off, but vegan events only really happened in cities like London and Bristol. Doing them on a local level wasn’t very common because people didn’t think there would be enough of a demand. Being vegan myself, I obviously jumped into the project but soon realised I couldn’t really justify doing it during work hours with the amount of extra work I was putting into the event. So every night when I got home from work I would get stuck into event preparations, booking-in traders, designing posters and signage and promoting the event online.
The day of the event is still a bit of a blur. The venue counted over 2,000 people through the door, no one could believe how busy it was and we got so much positive feedback. At the end of the event all the traders were asking me when the next one would be, and I didn’t have an answer for them but that’s when I realised there was definitely a demand for local vegan fairs. Organising my own events had always been my long-term goal but wasn’t something I imagined doing for another 5-10 years. Three months after that first Stroud event I handed in my notice and registered as self-employed, aged 23.
The events industry took a huge hit because of the covid pandemic but now you have almost 40 fairs planned for 2023. How have you bounced back?
In 2018 I did five events, in 2019 I did nine and in 2020 I had around 20 events planned but only four went ahead because of covid. It was definitely a tough, long time. But it did give me time to reflect on what I was doing and work out if it was something I really wanted to do, and if it was viable as a business.
During the lockdowns I was incredibly aware of how it would be affecting my traders. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I created an online vegan fair with the sole aim of driving people to buy online from vegan traders. The event was a success, we had more than 4,000 unique visitors to our website from 35 different countries, but that didn’t necessarily turn into sales for the traders. It was clear that an online version was no replacement for physical events.
I desperately wanted to start events up again (obviously with appropriate restrictions in place) but the majority of the venues I worked with remained shut. Some events ended up being postponed four or five times, so I started looking at more outdoor events. This was actually a blessing in disguise because it made the events way more accessible, and suddenly we started to see a lot more non-vegan customers visiting. Having an event closed-off in a venue is an instant barrier to people who aren’t engaged with veganism, and having an entry fee is an even bigger one.
"The majority of the people who attend our vegan fairs aren't vegan themselves - they know that the food and products will be incredible, the fact it's all vegan is secondary."
Do you get many non-vegans attending the fairs, and what reasons do they give for coming along if they are not vegan themselves?
I would say the majority of people who attend our events aren’t vegan themselves. We get a lot of locals who just want to support events in their town or city, as well as people who just want to support independent businesses. I like to think we have a reputation for having good-quality stalls at our events so people come along because they know the food and products will be incredible – the fact it’s all vegan is secondary.
Most vegans who come along to our events usually bring a few non-vegan friends or family members with them. We also see a lot of families with children who have allergies attending to be in an environment where they can eat most of the treats on offer.
Most of our events take place in a town centre, so we often get the natural footfall from the town wandering through too. I often encounter members of the public who don’t even realise everything is vegan until I tell them.
This is what it’s all about for me, smashing down people’s preconceived ideas about what being vegan is and normalising veganism. No one walks away from one of our events thinking that vegans are ‘missing out’ on anything!
What are the biggest challenges of running the fairs? Would you recommend that people put on their own local vegan events?
It can be incredibly stressful if you let it be. I get most nervous the morning of the event when all the traders start arriving to set up. I always have a flash of fear that no one will come and then all the traders (who rely on this income to support themselves) will walk away with nothing. Or even worse, end up with loads of stock that will go to waste. Luckily, I’ve been doing it for so long and have such a good relationship with my trader that if there is ever a slow event then everyone is very understanding and knows it’s a one off!
Since covid, there’s been a noticeable reduction in vegan traders wanting to trade at events. A lot of the original vegan traders, who really were revolutionary when they started out, have sadly now stopped trading. I think it’s a mix of covid, the cost-of-living crisis, but also how quickly the vegan sector has moved on. Although this year I seem to have been inundated with vegan bakers, maybe as a result of all the lockdown baking!
But the reward is that I am able to do something I love and something I’m good at, whilst furthering the vegan movement. I’m so thankful I have been able to incorporate veganism into my day job. This is my form of activism. I also love being my own boss, meeting and working with lots of like-minded businesspeople and doing my bit for the animals.
"Try and make what you’re offering different. There can be a lot of competition from similar businesses to even get a stall at an event"
You have a young child, so I have to ask how you juggle the demands of organising live events with being a mum?!
I think event management has actually been pretty good preparation for becoming a mother. Looking after a family is a little bit like event management in a lot of ways! When she was a few months old, she slept most of the time and I was lulled into a false sense of how easy being a working mum would be. I did most of my work when she was asleep or on Wednesdays when her grandma would come over to help. Then as she got older, she slept less, moved more and needed more stimulation so those five or six months were pretty tricky. Now she’s nearly two she goes to nursery two days a week, so I try to make those my ‘working days’, but anyone who runs their own business knows you don’t ever really shut off. You can’t help checking your emails or social media in any down time you might have!
What tips would you give to people with a business thinking about taking a stall at a vegan fair or market for the first time?
Try and make what you’re offering different. There can be a lot of competition from similar businesses to even get a stall at an event so if you are a baker for example, think about what items you can make which are really hard to get vegan versions of. People can get vegan cakes in supermarkets now, so make your bakes unique and unusual so customers can’t resist buying from you.
It doesn’t have to cost lots of money but it’s worth spending a bit of time making your stall look nice. You want to present your products in the best way possible and make sure your branding is really clear. Branded tablecloths and pull-up banners are all really good, and make sure you get some flyers or business cards printed so customers can find you after the event. Think about the customer’s experience when visiting you and try to incorporate all the senses. Would it work to play music? Could you use a diffuser with essential oils? Do you offer small tasters and samples to entice customers in?
It’s really important not to become transfixed with how much money you take from an event. Sometimes you need to attend an event a few times before you start to build up a loyal customer base. But also, if you don’t have a physical store or restaurant for your business then events become your “shop window”. Someone could take your card and buy from your online shop at a later date, or follow you on social media and then come to another event you attend at another location. You need to have that face-to-face interaction with your customer base where you can test new products, try new things and get invaluable feedback.
Visit Vegan Fairs’ website here: www.veganfairs.co.uk
Sign up to our mailing list...
Weeky guides, updates and interviews
Get our latest free guides and articles, as well as access to The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast.
Get special offers and invites to events
Be the first to hear about our special offers and receive invites to our events and seminars.
Be part of the Vegan Business Community
Sign-up as a full member to get full access to our community and support for your business.
Sign me up to your weekly email!
You have found your tribe...
If you have a vegan business (or just an idea for one!) then you have found your tribe. Get direct support, hundreds of hours of content and access to a community of hundreds of vegan business owners from around the world
Have a question about joining?