As most of you will know, The Little Pet Biscuit Company is only a teeny weeny little itsy-bitsy family-run business, so imagine our surprise when The Kennel Club accepted our application for a trade stand at Crufts 2017! Surprise soon turned to panic when we realised we would be alongside all the big players and well known brands in the dog treat world - how on earth would anyone notice us and take us seriously?
Well, I'm pleased to say we survived! We had lots of visitors to our stand. Sometimes there was even quite a crowd! But with around 170,000 dog-orientated visitors to Crufts over the course of the 4 days, this really was inevitable! We shouldn't have worried.
To coin a cliche, it was an amazing experience for us. Hundreds and thousands of the most gorgeous dogs - 22,000 to be exact! In all different shapes and sizes. Show dogs, agility dogs, performance dogs, obedience dogs, assistance dogs, pedigrees, crosses and scruffies. A bewildering array of dogs with an equally diverse selection of humans attached to them!
The shopping was eclectic! Everything you would expect to find at the biggest dog show in the World - from gorgeous handmade collars, leads and accessories from our lovely friends at Mabel & Mu, to the most stunning bespoke hand-crafted kennels from Quarters of Sussex - plus much more! Scarfs, clothes, bags, mops, massage pads, conservatories, cars, kitchen knives and pots & pans! It's a complete shopping experience where you will find things to buy that you would never expect to at a dog show, but then Crufts isn't just any old dog show!
Our experience over the course of 4 wonderful days has encouraged us to write a few hints and tips for visiting Crufts and making the most of your time there, especially if you're a 'first timer'.
Get organised and spend time on the Crufts website to see which companies will be trading there. Visit their individual websites and make a list of the items you would really like to buy or the stands you'd like to visit and note their Hall and stand number. Then as you work your way through the Halls, you won't forget something you wish you had bought.
Traders will always be given the option to keep their space for the following year, which does help visitors remember where you are, but sometimes they like to try a different spot to see if it works better for them. So again, if you have a favourite trade stand that you like to visit each year, check their location on the Crufts website and make a note of it, just to be certain you won't miss them.
Crufts occupies Halls 1 to 5 which are all interlinked, so you basically walk straight through one Hall into another. This can become quite disorientating and make you feel like you're 'trapped', but if you work your way through the Halls methodically then it won't be as daunting. Start in either Hall 1 or Hall 5 and make you way through each Hall in turn. There are signs suspended from the ceiling or walls telling you which Hall you are in, so keep an eye out for these and you will know where you are.
It's a long day and there is very little seating available for visitors, so wear practical shoes and layers as you'll feel hot, then cold in different spots.
Actually, even if you're not necessary planning to do much shopping, you probably will! You will soon become laden with bags which become more cumbersome as you negotiate the crowds, so bring a trolley or a bag on wheels for your purchases.
If you're organised and know what you want to buy in advance, then plan to get your shopping over and done with at the beginning of the day. You can then drop your purchases off back at your car or in the cloakroom and leave yourself free to enjoy all the other entertainment and showing. Tradestands start getting very crowded from lunchtime, so if you don't want to do battle to see things or pay, then buck the trend and shop early.
It may sound counter intuitive, but arriving at the NEC too early doesn't mean you will beat the queues for the car parks! We regularly found ourselves in a queue of traffic even at 7.30am and this is because the show dogs are all arriving then. The car park shuttle buses will be full of dogs in their crates on wheels and associated paraphernalia and there will be little space. I would plan to arrive at around 10am. Even if you end up having to park in one of the outermost car parks, the shuttle buses are very frequent so you aren't at a disadvantage.
Oh boy! I waited over 10 minutes for a coffee at one food concession one morning. You can expect to have to queue - big time - if you want any food or drink. The best way round this would be to bring your own. It will probably save you a few pennies as well if you do!
If you're a first time visitor to Crufts we hope this helps you make the most of your day or days there. It's a wonderful and unique event, full of the expected and quite a lot of the unexpected too.
If you have any of your own hints and tips for visiting Crufts, then please share them with us to help more people benefit from your experience...and we hope to see you all next year!
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