Monthly Archives: August 2007

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD#9: What’s Your Sign?

Booth signage fills an important role in your sales process. When people are shopping, they want you to be aware they are there, and to acknowledge them. But then they want to be left alone to shop.

When they are ready to be sold to, they let you know by asking a question. That’s their signal that you can start selling.

Bruce Baker describes this little dance of engagement perfectly. His take on how to be a good dance partner is itself is worth the entire cost of the CD or seminar. You must leave people alone to shop until they are ready. Otherwise, you will simply come across as a pushy salesperson rather than an artist who has something lovely to sell.

Often this “signal to talk” starts with a question about the work itself. If you are busy with another customer, a sign can keep them engaged until you can speak to them yourself. Or the question can be about something in the sign itself.

A customer looking at your work and reading your signs is deeply engaged in your work. It’s like a double whammy.

WHAT SHOULD A SIGN SAY?

Price is the first and most obvious choice, especially if you have something small or delicate or a jillion of something and can’t individually price them. Also, pricing can give you a chance to talk about the piece. “$350″ is one sign choice. “An original award-winning design by Lori–Handknit cardigan made with handspun merino and silk yarn $350″ is another.

The most attention-getting is “New!” Part of our hard-wired genetic heritage is a love of novelty. We love “new”! Your regular customers love to check out your new work. Your new customers like to see that you’re keeping your designs fresh.

My favorite sign is my artist statement. It gives people people a chance to look past the work to the first story behind it–the story about what it is and why I make it.

Tell the story behind a certain pattern or piece–how you came to make it, or who or what inspired you to design it, why it’s special. Tell about a new technique you’re using.

One last reason to use a sign: When you simply can’t stand to explain something one more time. If you’ve explained something a billion times, and just can’t bear to say it again, put it on a sign for people to read. Or print up a little card to give to people.

I never thought I would tire of telling people how I make polymer clay look like ivory. But one day in my booth, four people in a row asked me that exact same question. They were each simply engaged in looking at my work, and none of them heard the others asking.

Having to repeat it four times in four minutes was crazy-making. I almost said to the fourth person, “Weren’t you listening?!!” as if she were my teenager.

I call it the Salad Dressing Principle. When I was a waitress in my dad’s restaurant, I would get a group of people ordering. And every single person would ask what kind of salad dressing we had. No one listened to the choices until it was their turn to order. Thank God we only had three choices. (We were a very informal restaurant and this was 40 years ago.) French, thousand island, vinegar and oil. But if there were six people at the table, I would have to recite those damn salad dressings at least six times. More, if someone interrupted to say, “I’ve changed my mind. Can I have the vinegar and oil, too?”

I know it’s human nature–I do it, too! But it IS annoying. And annoyed is not how you want to feel when you are talking to potential collectors about your work.

I suddenly remembered that my gift enclosure cards had a little explanation about my faux ivory. The next person that asked, I whipped out the card and said, “Here’s a little card I wrote that explains that for you. And you can keep that!” Whew!

SIGN DO’S AND DON’TS

Spellchekc, please.

Please, please, please check the spelling on any signs you put in your booth. Unless your “persona” is the quaint little backwoods craftsperson with no “larnin'”. Even that wears thin.

Signs are supposed to communicate with your customer when they aren’t ready, or can’t, talk to YOU. Poor spelling and bad grammar get in the way of that.

There’s an old story about a business owner who deliberately misspells a word on a sign outside his store. People passing by stop in to tell him–and he ends up selling stuff to them. I don’t buy that. (ha! Pun intended.)

I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything to a person who talks to me only to tell me I’ve made a mistake. I think that’s because it’s in the same category as the people who compliment your work, then leave. They may like your work, but not enough to buy it. Paying you a compliment is literally that–they “pay” you with a compliment and then they feel comfortable about moving on to the next booth.

In the same way, people who point out a mistake in your set-up or signage (“You forgot to price this!”) feel they have “paid” you by “helping”, too. And then they are free to leave.

So unless you actually are able to turn such exchanges into real sales, skip the sly spelling errors.

BIG FONT. BIG, BIG FONT

As we age, our eyes don’t focus as easily. Small type and sans serif type get harder to read. Even if you think you are only marketing to young indie girls, their grandmothers may be shopping for a teen granddaughter. Use big fonts for your signage.

POINTS OFF FOR BAD PENMANSHIP

If you have lovely handwriting, by all means, handwrite your signs. If not, don’t. If you really don’t have a computer and printer handy, buy a set of alphabet rubber stamps. It can be charming. Really!

TOO…MANY…WORDS

With signs, as with many things in life, you can have too much of a good thing.

The worst sign I ever saw was at a prestigious fine craft show. It was a sheet of paper with narrow margins, covered with a full page of unbroken type. No paragraphs, no breaks. The font was small–less than 12 pts. The writing was convoluted and rambling.

It was a big show, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work, and though I was younger, I still had trouble reading that sign. I tried to read it four times and kept losing my place. I finally gave up.

Then I was embarrassed that I couldn’t READ it, so I left the booth.

You can also have too many signs.

I tend to oversign–I make up signs for EVERYTHING. Then take them out while setting up my booth.

In this photo of my booth at the 2006 League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, you can see the one big sign I used. This had the entire article featuring my work that appeared in the April 2006 issue of AmericanStyle magazine. I have smaller signs that aren’t as visible in the photo. Normally I’d also have at least my artist statement up, too. But with such a big sign, with so much information, I didn’t want to add a lot more verbiage in the booth.

(see link above for bigger picture)

You should have just enough signage to enhance your WORK. Otherwise, you have the effect of some sort of crafter’s Galactic Encyclopedia in your booth. Educational, perhaps. But not lucrative.

WHAT’S MY SIGN STYLE?

Just like your display and booth style, keep your sign style aligned with your design style. My! Alliteration at work. If your work is whimsical, get playful. If your work is formal, avoid the cutesy.

And just like your other booth features, avoid going overboard. We can often get caught up in creating a total booth environment. Everything becomes part of the “show”. A fellow artist’s husband calls this phenomenon “The Lorna Show”. IF THIS WORKS FOR YOU–if your total environment actually produces sales–then keep it.

But watch out for the edutainment factor at shows. People are increasingly seeing craft shows as educational and entertaining–but not necessarily places for serious shopping. We want to make it enjoyable for our customers, but we want them to B*U*Y, too. Otherwise, we can’t afford to keep coming.

If you see that people come in for “The (your name here) Show” and then, fully entertained, feel free to leave without buying something, trim it down.

Because, as I’ve said in every other essay on booth design, it’s gotta be about the WORK. It’s gotta be about selling the work. Your booth either supports sales of your work, or distracts from selling your work.

Find the balance point, and work it.


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Filed under art, booth behavior, booth design, booth signs, business, display, Good booths gone bad, marketing

BELIEVE HALF OF WHAT YOU HEAR….

Recently on a professional forum, I fell into a thread concerning a difficult store owner. I had my own sad story to share, and did so.

Soon, however, I realized I’d only contributed to a vague panic. Some people were saying they would not take orders from the store, based on the negative feedback some others were sharing. (Some people had had good experiences with the store.)

Here’s what I had to say about that:

I want to urge people not to necessarily blow off an order because of my not-so-hot experience.

First, you should never accept another person’s version of events at face value–even mine!! I had a bad experience, and some other people did. But that can be a function of many different things.

I know someone who used to badmouth a particular company, one that I had dealings with, too. She said horrible things about them on public forums. Still does!

I, on the other hand never had any problems.

I finally heard the back story on that other person.

Not only were many of the things she said untrue, which is bad enough. But the artist caused a lot of the problems herself.

It turns out the artist was so difficult to deal with, the company quit ordering from her–even though they were very successful selling her work.

My cautionary tale was to encourage you all to think about worst-case scenarios–then develop sound business practices that will protect you. Business practices that still allow you to grow and run your business the way you want to.

This particular buyer may be having a difficult time right now–money may be tight, or there may be family or health problems. Or maybe she just doesn’t do well with artists who are “too obliging”–she may need firm boundaries. Whatever! She may NOT be a problem buyer for someone else.

I also realize if I’d followed my own rules, and stood my ground, I may not have had so much trouble. I could at least have nipped it in the bud sooner. I think I enabled her, in a way.

She liked the work, but she was conflicted. Usually, if there is one or two issues with a potential customer, it’s good salesmanship to reassure the buyer and overcome objections–up to a point. Beyond that, you are dealing with something else, something unsaid. Something more than a simple objection or to. Try to force the issue, and you are going down a path you may regret later.

In this case, she was extremely conflicted. I would reassure her on one point. She would immediately raise another. I would back off, and she would come back with enthusiasm. But when I started to actively sell again, she would retreat and find fault again.

That was my warning sign. I should have listened to my gut.

In hindsight, I should have immediately gone back and stood by my rules. No custom orders on the first order. No exchanges on custom orders. No messing with the show special–it has to be ordered at the show, and that’s what makes it “special”. No defending my prices–I know what my work is worth.

Bending rules should be for highly enthusiastic customers who need a little push to fully commit. Bending rules for extremely ambivalent customers always comes back to bite me.

I hope I’m saying this the right way. I was happy to hear that my issues with her weren’t just “me”. But I also don’t want to paint her with a permanent brush of bad will.

Listen to what others have to say about a difficult store. Put your rules and terms in place, and stick to them. Proceed with caution.

Then make up your own mind about the situation.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, courage, qualifying buyers, selling

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #8: What’s For Sale??

Let’s talk a little about display today. What is the best way to display your work to its best advantage?

I always secretly envy 2-D people. They basically need a few walls to hang up paintings or prints. Their main worry is, “Is that frame straight?”

On the other hand, it’s hard for a 2-D artist to stand out in a sea of similar set-ups.

On the other other hand, it ends up being about the art. Period.

And when all is said and done, that’s the way it should be.

I’m not advocating bare booths–far from it! But if I had to pick the biggest mistake I see with highly-creative display, it’s when artists get confused about exactly what it is they’re selling.

If someone picks up a piece of your display and asks how much it is, that’s your cue:  You are letting your display interfere with selling your art.

This is a delicate balance, because display fixtures are, indeed, a way to create a look and a mood in your booth. Bruce Baker talks a lot about making your display style fit your style of art.

CHEAP VS. EXPENSIVE DISCONNECT

If you make spare, elegant gold and diamond jewelry, these will not look good displayed in cheap, rickety cases or on pine display fixtures. I don’t think elegant silk clothes and shawls look good on that white grid paneling I often see at shows–the elegance just doesn’t go with that Toys-R-Us display mode.

But beyond the “disconnect” of displaying expensive work on cheap-looking fixtures, the other rules go out the door.

MATCH THEME WITH STYLE

If your work is whimsical, it can be good to have your whole booth and display fixtures reflect that. If your work is traditional, ditto.

OR MIX IT UP

There is also surprise and pleasure in contrast. Ironically, sometimes whimsical work does good in a plain and simple display. My richly textured and colorful jewelry looks really good displayed on sleek, contemporary-style black steel display stands. The black disappears, the colors pop–all you see is the work.

I’m not sure the opposite is true–when we have elaborate and “frilly” display with strong, contemporary work. Probably because the “frilly” is what gets attention, and the artwork loses.

Which brings us to the title point:

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

We can get carried away with carrying that theme of congruency too far.

I have a habit of creating beautiful vignettes in my studio and booth. I set up little rocks and stones and shells around my sea-themed jewelry. I look for colored papers and bean bags for my brighter jewelry. I look for creative odds and ends to hold earrings, necklaces, bracelets.

But you know you’re in trouble when your customer can’t tell exactly what it is you’re selling.

They pick up a pretty rock and say, “How much is this?” Or they carefully take the earrings off that cool note card holder and try to buy the holder. They see a coaster under a pin and say, “I’ve been looking for a set of those! I’ll take them all!”

Catalog companies have this happen all the time. Look at catalogs sometime, and examine the props. You’ll find that almost all of them are either for sale as product–or are obviously not for sale. That’s because the last thing that company needs is a jillion phone calls from customers who want to buy that widget on the mantelpiece that isn’t for sale.

I’m always looking for display props and fixtures wherever I go. I get all excited–“I could use this wood artist model hand to hold bracelets!” But if I get too many questions like, “Did you make this?“, out it goes.

It’s like the essay on the “beautiful booth” phenomenon. You want your booth interesting enough to grab people’s interest (if you have trouble doing it with your work because it’s small or detailed or subtle or whatever.) But once they’re in your booth, it has to be about the work.

Same with your display. It should complement–and compliment–your work enough. But the minute it begins to overshadow your work, cut it out.

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Filed under art, body of work, booth design, booth display, business, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, marketing, selling, shows

REMIND ME

I’ve been cleaning my studio HARD the last few days. That means I’m not wandering around trying to put away a few things or trying to clear a pile. I’m actually hauling boxes of stuff upstairs to sort out later. A film crew is coming in a few days, and they need to actually get INTO the studio to film.  More essays on booth design are bouncing in my head, but I have to say firmly, “Not now–WAIT!!”

I always gripe about cleaning the studio. But actually, I thrive on this. “Company’s coming!” is the best fuel for cleaning. Years ago, my husband actually said, “We should invite people over to dinner regularly so we clean the house!” He had discovered my secret.

This panic inspired me to buy a new bookcase for storage, which encouraged me to clear a space for it, which made me realize it was time to take down the display tables from last year’s open studio event. (Yes, it looked so good I left them up for ten months.)

I’m now able to throw away piles of paper that “needed my attention”, but actually just needed to sit for six months until I realized I don’t really need them at all. Someday I’ll be able to determine that in a few minutes or days, and then I will have a clean studio all the time.

I’ve actually gotten my booth back upstairs to the barn attic.  For the first time in months, there is actually floor space in my studio.  Granted, not much–but more than paths.  I’ll take it.

But even the thrill of seeing the floor for the first time in ages, and finding that lost check, and making a home for the new box of vintage buttons I bought, wears thin. This is comfort mode for me, not creative mode.

Which is why the link to this delightful video, sent to me by a friend this morning, was so welcome.
Animals at Play

Why is this link such a gift to me today?

Because this moment of sheer magic–a polar bear playing with a sled dog–lifted my spirit out of the mundane. And back into that place of power where I know I am an artist.

What I often forget, in the hustle and bustle of getting my art out into the world, is that a moment like this is what art is all about.

It is that palpable flight of the heart to another, higher place. It is pure joy.  It’s as powerful as any other ecstatic moment.  For a moment, we truly feel the world is a bigger, more wonderful place than we could ever imagine.  We feel our true place in it, even as our heart rises above it for just that moment.

And to feel that flight, if only for a moment, is a gift.

At my very best, that is how I feel when I am making my little bears and horses and birds. And at my very best, that is where I am when I talk about my art.

And when my work is at its very best, it makes that connection, and provides that moment of flight for someone else.

At the fair this year, I was telling a woman how I came to be an artist–the exact thoughts that went through my head that changed my life forever.  She listened carefully, then said slowly, “When you said that, just now, a thrill went through my entire body and down my feet.”

My art starts with me, but once it’s in the world, it goes somewhere else.   What she felt was that connection I hope for when it does.

It brings to mind a movie that I never cared for very much, but the title always broke my heart: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. That’s what it feels like.

I wish you such a moment of flight, of unbearable lightness, to set you on your course today.

Remember what you’re here for.

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Filed under art, business, creativity, inspiration, life, mental attitude, organization

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2: Professional Jealousy

Years ago, I was going through a rough patch with my art career. Other artists were behaving badly. I was dazed and unsure of what was going on. I confided in a friend, who mentioned the matter to her husband, a lawyer. “Be nice to Luann at dinner tonight, dear”, she told him. “She’s had some bites taken out of her lately.” She told him the back story.

Her husband, a person usually brusque and heavy-handed when it came to the tender feelings of artistic types, responded quickly and with passion.

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.”

I’ve always kept those words in my heart when things get rough with my fellow craftspeople.

Today I was killing a little time and came across Christine Kane’s wonderful blog again. Christine is an artist in the music world. She writes great essays that transfer across all creative endeavors. You can see her writings here:
Christine Kane’s “Be Creative” blog

I read her essay on Jealousy and Envy. In it, a certain paragraph leaped out at me, the one entitled “Mastery”.

Christine wrote, “Whatever career path you’re on, you have the choice to become a master. Not necessarily of the career or the craft or the art. But of you. That’s what keeps me going. If you want to reach, inspire, help, encourage, heal in any way, most likely it’s going to require that you face your own demons in that process. If jealousy comes up, then it’s a teacher for you. That’s all. Let it be. That’s where your biggest treasures will be.”

I’ve never denied being jealous myself of people more talented and creative than I am. I affectionately call that first rush of pure green bile “the lizard brain”. I chalk it up to my inner nature, that ancient instinctive heritage I will always have with me.

But as Christine says, we have choices, too. And this is one aspect of my life with which I think I’ve made good choices.

I used to be consumed with jealousy. Years ago, though, I realized what being jealous did for me.

I realized it let me off the hook.

If someone else was “better than me”, or “doing better than me”, then I didn’t have to try to be the best anymore. I could give up, quit doing what I was doing, and just say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t very good at it anyway…” Or, “Oh, they’ve got it all wrapped up, there’s no room for ME.” I could pick up my toys and go home.

There’s always the temptation, too, of letting jealousy shift your focus. You now have an “enemy” to hate. How delicious! You can now seethe and plot on how to take them down.

What a tremendous waste of our precious creative energy.

Once I realized that, I quite letting jealousy rule my life. I couldn’t banish it completely, of course. But I could make different choices on how I acted on it.

And that’s when I really started making progress in my career as an artist.

I began to focus on doing what I liked just because I liked it, regardless of how “good” I was. It helped me keep starting over, and helped me persevere when things got tough.

And because I kept going and kept starting over, I began to get kinda good at some of those things.

Now that I think about it, that attitude has helped me in all kinds of situations. Another case where learning how to be a better artist has also helped me be a better person.

And now when the green monster raises its ugly head, I savor it. I know it’s going to spur me on to greater heights.

I know somewhere in that mess, that demon still has something to teach me.

Try it yourself! The next time the lizard brain kicks in. Go on, be jealous. Enjoy it.

But only for a minute.

Then get down to work. And figure out how to make that jealousy work for you. Instead of fuming about your object of envy, put that lizard brain to work.

Think how to make it make YOU a better artist.

If only more of us focused on making jealousy work FOR us, instead of focusing on how to take that other person down…..

We might get along better. Or at least have a lot more wonderful art in the world.

p.s. I’m thinking that, after I wrap up the “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD” series, this might be a good essay in a new “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” series. In fact, I’ve gone ahead and numbered this one accordingly. There isn’t a MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #1 yet, don’t panic.

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Filed under action steps, art, envy, jealousy, life, mindfulness, Nibble theory, professional jealousy

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #7 What Lies Beneath

Flooring for your booth is another big bugaboo artists struggle with. Should you even cover the floor? If so, with what? And of course, like everything else, it should be washable/portable/sturdy/attractive/affordable. A tall order indeed!

The first question is easy. Yes. A floor for your booth is a wonderful finishing touch. It takes away the “I’m camping out here” tone and elevates your booth to a professional selling zone. I’ve never been in a booth without a floor, where I didn’t notice there wasn’t a floor. That’s a double and triple negative in one sentence, but short story is–people notice.

They will notice it looks nicer. More importantly, if you have a comfortable floor, they will notice it feels nicer. A floor helps bound off “your space”, creating a real environment for your customers to enter. It can also help deaden the ambient noise that comes with a busy craft show, creating a peaceful environment–so your customers can shop without distraction.

I’ve actually had success with several floors. Others were cool but had their drawbacks.

PLAIN AND SIMPLE

The simplest, cheapest floor I’ve ever had that also looked great was simply a 10’x10′ piece of indoor/outdoor carpeting from a local carpet biz. Places like Home Depot and Lowe’s will have these, too. The carpet place had a much better color selection, and the prices were actually comparable.

This carpeting is wonderful because a) it’s CHEAP–usually less than $100, often much, much less; b) it comes in great basic colors–grey, tan, black, forest green, navy, burgundy; c) it folds up easily for transport (though I recommend unfolding for storage, so it doesn’t get permanent creases); and d) it washs off with a garden hose, and hangs up to drip-dry. Oh, and it wears well. Just throw down a plastic tarp or plastic/paper paintcloth underneath to protect it from ground moisture, rotting grass and dead worms and it should last for years. (These things don’t damage it, just make it stinky.)

If you are doing an outdoor show, the carpet conforms to the shape of the ground, so though you won’t get a level surface, you also don’t have to fuss with leveling, shimming, buckling, etc. If the front edge buckles up, you can just hammer it down with long nails–I think the kind they call “ten penny”, cute name!, and you can even add wide, flat washers to give the nails more surface area of carpet to hold down. These pull up pretty easily after a show. If you are doing a show on sidewalks or asphalt, obviously you cannot hammer nails into that. I’m guessing some heavy duty double-sticky carpet tape might work.

BEAUTY IS AS BEAUTY DOES

My next floor was a set of beautiful mats from Home Depot patterned to look like inlaid stone. I got this tip from a high-end artisan out west, who used them to create the look of a Roman temple in his booth. They were gorgeous! They were just single mats, so I could lay them out in different patterns. They also fit into one box (albeit a rather bulky box).

I was sure this floor would give my booth a certain classy elegance, and really stand out at the show. And it did.

Unfortunately, there were three major drawbacks.

One, they were extremely heavy. I shipped them to a show, and the weight of them tore the box apart. And it cost a ton to ship them, too. I ditched them after that one show. I remember wandering the show floor for an hour, looking for a discarded box to replace the tattered one they’d arrived in. I finally had to settle for wrapping an entire roll of duct tape around the broken box. It looked like a techno-mummy when I was done, but the box made it home with only a few more rips and tears.

The other drawback is the floor was too attractive. Everyone commented on how nice it looked. Everyone wanted to know where I’d gotten the mats. The floor got almost as many comments as my artwork, which is NOT a good thing.

The third drawback is something I’m going to come back to again and again.

The floor didn’t really fit my “brand”.

Stone floor and art inspired by cave art may seem like a good fit. But it wasn’t. The look did not “go with” my artwork. Just like the Japanese-looking paper screens, it was nice…..but caused a “disconnect” in the overall atmosphere.

I gave the mats away as Christmas presents over the next few years. Every so often, I clean the barn attic and find a couple more stashed away.

THE PERFECT FLOOR

I really like my current floor, which you can see here in my booth photo from last year’s LNHC fair. (This is the bigger photo, below is the little one.)

It’s a set of so-called “puzzle mats” from a company called Alessco which come in a variety of colors. I see they now even have faux wood patterns. Scroll through the pages numbered at the top of their web page and you will find design options, pricing, even well-priced shipping boxes that fit the floor mats perfectly. (I actually have several extra boxes for shipping the rest of my booth in, too.)

Many people find similar products at places like Sam’s Club, etc. When you figure out the actual square footage cost (as opposed to “per panel” cost), I’ve never found anyone to beat the cost of Alesso. But I know that can change in a heartbeat on the internet. I will say that these mats have a built-in outer edge, so there are fewer pieces to fiddle with. (Some brands have mats with all interlocking edges, and you buy side strips to get a straight edge.) They have a good density, as opposed to some others I’ve seen. But if you find something cheaper or closer to home that works for you, go for it.

These floors have become very popular at shows, and for good reason(s). They break down into 2’x2′ sections. They are unbelievably lightweight. They come in a variety of patterns. You can buy them as carpet sections, and now, faux wood. They wash up easily. (I throw mine in the bathtub and scrub them with some shampoo and a brush, because I’m too lazy to walk back downstairs to get the bottle of dish detergent.) And then drip dry.

Like the carpeting, they mold to the shape of the ground. So no shimming, leveling, etc. And like the carpet, it’s less messy if you throw a protective ground cloth down first.

Because of their density, they are excellent at deadening that “background buzz” at busy shows.

As if that weren’t enough, their last two qualities will nail it.

They are so comfortable to stand on, you won’t believe it. Your customers will comment on it, especially at big shows, or shows set up on hard surfaces (convention halls, sidewalks, etc.) Even at our outdoor show under tents, people remarked how nice it was to stand in my booth. And the longer people stay in your booth, they more they tend to buy.

The final clincher? Except for the comfort factor, people don’t notice my floor.

Like the walls, the floor “disappears”–and you see the work.

Which leads us to, what color should you pick for your floor? I’ll pick up this topic of color, theme and “branding” in future essays. But for now, I’d say keep it simple.

When I went to order my Alessco puzzle mats, I wanted a checkerboard pattern for my booth. I had seen it in another booth and loved the look. But a friend held me back. She said, “Is your work about fun and whimsy?” Okay, how about black and brown checkerboard? She shook her head. “What do you want people to look at? Your floor? Or your work?”

Well, that was a no-brainer.

For my purposes, a black floor works well. It matches my display and my pedestals, and most of my “infrastructure”. The black blends in–and disappears.

LOVELY TO LOOK AT, BUT…

What about other floor options? I’ve seen people actually “build” floors that create a totally level surface in their booths. They construct some sort of frame on the ground, level and shim it, then lay a hardwood floor on top. Some people even have handicapped-accessible ramps leading up to their floor.

Since this is beyond my capabilities–I get a headache just thinking about it–I can’t give you much information about this kind of floor approach. It does look beautiful, it does create a “room environment”, and it is flat and easy to navigate–once you are inside.

And there’s the kicker. If the ground is not somewhat level to begin with, getting inside is the hard part.

The booth next to me this year had a drop across the frontage of the booth of almost a foot. The floor started out about 8″-10″ above the ground one one side. That meant by the time you walked ten feet to the other side of the booth, there was a drop-off of almost 18″. No problem–the artist built a ramp.

Unfortunately, most shows say any such ramp access must be inside your booth, not sticking out into the show aisles (which makes good sense.) So the ramp, in order to fit inside the booth, had a 45 degree angle. Which made it as much of a barrier as the drop-off was.

People had to “launch” themselves up the ramp. They tended to grab my wall to steady themselves. I saw no one in a wheelchair in the booth (which was the point of the ramp, was it not?) And the ramp provided endless amusement to small children, who saw it as a climbing challenge. I saw many determined tots getting ready to launch themselves in a running start up the ramp, only to be checked just in time by their alert parents. Whew!

Worse, once people did get inside the booth, they had to be careful not to step down onto that ramp, or over the lip of the floor. Remember, there was still an 8″ drop-off along the front edge.

Such a floor is tempting. Once that floor is up and level, setting up the rest of your booth must be a breeze. No need to level and shim your walls, cases, display, etc.

But all week, I shuddered to think what would have happened if one person had fallen out of that booth and injured themselves.

I saw a better solution from a furniture maker a few years. He created mini-islands of raised floor sections, just big enough to fit under either individual pieces of furniture or small vignettes. They were just high enough to level and raise his furniture, sort of like extremely short (6″) pedestals. The look was a nice blend between “museum-quality display” and “this is what it looks like in your own home display.” He left the grass between the pedestals, but somehow, it wasn’t as off-putting as a pure grass floor.

BIG, BIG FLOOR

I borrowed this idea when I did a huge sales/demo booth two years ago. I had the use of a 600 square foot tent all to myself. That is a HUGE space to fill–more on that later, too. And covering that much ground with nice flooring would have cost big bucks.

After looking into options like woven environmental matting (intriguing, but I never got the samples to see how walkable it was), carpeting (even at $1 a square foot, a pricey proposition), sisal matting, etc. I settled on this solution.

I created different “areas” in the booth and treated them separately.

The actual demo area where I worked was 10’x10, and I set my indoor/outdoor carpet there. That was big enough for the work table and a bunch of chairs for my audience.

Some of the corner displays, where I had big beautiful wall hangings in “environmental” settings–with tables, flower arrangements, etc., just like in a home–I set down some small Oriental rugs.

For most of the store-like display areas, I went to a local professional laundry–the kind that provides towels and linens to hotels, floor mats, etc. I bought a bunch of used floor mats, the kind with low-nap carpet on top and rubber on the bottom. They were worn, but in decent shape and still serviceable–just not nice enough for fancy restaurants. They were GREAT for an outdoor booth. They were CHEAP, too–$7 to $15.

I used these mats under each display shelf, creating individual “islands” of shopping areas, just like the furniture maker had done. I made sure they all lay flat so as not to trip people. And I left the rest of the ground open, with the grass (mowed short to start.)

It worked beautifully. The open areas created subtle paths, yet the islands subtly set off the work on display.

I used these mats for two years in a row, then retired them our personal home use. Some are in use as “welcome mats” and several are in our mudroom. Where my rabbit found the last best thing about them–they are great fun to chew!

I was going to add about other interesting floors I’ve seen. But then realized they all had similar issues. They were either too interesting, and distracted attention from the work. Or they were not flexible and versatile enough to work in many different environments.

I would love if people shared other good solutions that have worked for them.

Remember, though, sometimes the absolute best floor is the one nobody remembers.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth floor, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, Good booths gone bad, marketing, selling, silent evidence

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #0.1 Just Do It!

I’m hearing a lot of angst and guilt from folks who are reading this series. People who are ashamed of their booths, or realize they’re making some of the mistakes I’m describing.

Don’t be.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Your first booth will not be perfect.

Alas, neither will your second, third, nor probably even your fourth booth.

And for those of you who are bugging me to post pics of my booth, well, I will as soon as I figure out how to post images to this blog, or to Flicker. But I can almost guarantee you will look at it and go, “What’s the big deal?? I thought she’d have a perfect booth!!

Nope. I have a booth-in-progress that’s doing pretty well for selling my work.

It keeps getting better and better. But every time I change something, I create a whole nother set of problems to solve.

It never ends.

Nor should it–because my goal isn’t to have a perfect booth.  My goal is to have a booth that’s good enough so I can leave it alone for a couple of years.

So my advice to you whether you are trying to put together your very first booth, or fine-tuning your 20th booth, is this:

Start where you are.

Just do it.

Make it a little better as you can.  As you can afford it, as you can find the time, as you think of it.

And look, look, look at other booths. Note what you like, and what’s working. But also note if you are paying too much attention to a beautiful booth.

Because you’re not here on this planet to make a beautiful booth.  You are here to make beautiful art.

In the end, your booth is like the rest of your marketing tools.  it’s just another way to present–and more importantly, SELL–your art.

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Filed under action steps, art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, marketing, selling, shows

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #6: Let There Be Light

Lighting a booth is such a difficult topic to cover, I was kinda hoping to sneak out the back while you were reading the other essays in this series.

But that would be wrong. And I promise that’s the last time I quote Richard Nixon in this series.

There is so much I don’t know about lighting. I’m not going to even attempt to cover wavelengths and warm and cool colors, except that halogen has a brighter look to it than most incandecent bulbs which are usually yellowish. Though sometimes those cases of cheap halogen bulbs you can buy on eBay can be yellowish, too. (Think cheap lighting at Salvation Army stores….) And I would say never use fluorescent bulbs, except the newer, daylight-quality bulbs are pretty nice. And I have no idea which bulbs work well with jewelry and precious stones, and which ones work with textiles. There are wiser minds than mine you can listen to when it comes to the tech side of lighting.

I also don’t do outdoor shows. So I don’t have any information on powering lights if it’s not already provided for you by show management. Sorry!!

So as always, I will simply share what has and has not worked for me.

TO LIGHT, OR NOT TO LIGHT…??

Why should you light your booth, anyway? Especially if you have an outdoor booth. Isn’t plain ol’ sunlight good enough?

I think you’ll find even a little extra lighting in a sunny booth is a good thing. You will always have either dark corners or dark times of the day. And once that sun hides behind a cloud, you’ll wish you’d figured out a way to get some extra lighting on your goods.

Even more importantly, good lighting creates drama, focus and movement in your tent. Light something up, and that’s what people will look at.

Lighting lets people actually see what you’re selling, so they can decide if it’s the right color, quality, texture they’re looking for.

Lighting makes people relax and feel comfortable in your booth. We are not little bat people–we still tend to mistrust the dark. We gravitate towards bright spaces and feel safer there.

HOW MUCH LIGHT?
Most people are perfectly happy with 500 watts of light. But that’s only ten 50-watt lamps. If you only have wall art, or you only have ten items to illuminate, that might suffice.

My problem in my booth is I need wall display for my 2-D fiber wall hangings, shelf display for my sculptures, and case display for my jewelry. Ten lamps gives me a light fixture every three feet in the booth, with one left over. Not enough. I almost always go for 1,000 watts in my outdoor-under-tents 10’x10′ booth. And at wholesale shows, I’ll spring for 1,500 to 2,000. That gives lots of light to play with, even allowing me to devote 2-3 lights to a single wall hanging if I want to. (And since some of them are seven-to-eight feet tall, they need more than one light….!)

HOW NOT TO LIGHT

One of the most common mistakes I see is people putting up some sort of light bar across the top and front of their booth, then shining five or six lamps down into their booth. The effect is a giant spotlight, and looks okay–until someone steps inside your booth. Now all the lighting is behind them. Wherever they look, whatever they look at, is in shadow.

Now the worst part. They turn around to ask you a question–and they are instantly blinded by the light.

I’ve found the best people to assist me with setting up my lights are my daughter and her friends who have some tech crew experience in their drama club. They understand how to use lighting to highlight and accent what you want noticed on your “set”. And a set is an excellent metaphor for how to think about your booth.

THE BEST LIGHTS ARE….???

What are the best lights?

I’m not going there, but I’ve had five different systems. You are free to pick and choose from the good, the bad and the ugly of my set-ups.

Track lighting is nice because it’s versatile. You can buy as many units as you need, and if you buy from someplace like Home Depot, you can always buy extra units and replacements if you need to. There’s almost always a Home Depot around… You can buy all kinds of lamp units to suit your needs and style, and most of them come in at least two colors, white or black, to go with your booth.

The basic problem with track lighting is it wasn’t designed to be put up and taken down over, and over, and over again. It wasn’t designed to be used outside, in the rain and heat and cold. It wasn’t designed to be held in place with cable ties. Originally, you couldn’t even buy it with plug-in cords. It was meant to be hard-wired in place, in your office or home. My first sets had to be rewired with extension cords with plugs.

My first lighting set-up was an expensive set of low-voltage track lighting from a very popular on-line lighting company, supposedly marketing to the craft show industry. The track was actually pretty good quality. I had issues with the low-voltage lamp units from day one. They were so heavy, they would actually pull apart under their own weight. I was constantly having to strap them back together with cable ties. I think they are still upstairs in my barn attic somewhere.

BWT, here’s common misconception about low-voltage lighting–you are NOT using less wattage! This is a very layman explanation, but wattage is the AMOUNT of electricity/energy you are using. Voltage is how hard and fast that electricity/energy coming through your set-up. It’s sort of like water coming through a squirt bottle in a fine, hard stream that travels 15 feet, and a wide, fine misty spray. Same amount of water coming through. So don’t think you are going to pay for 500 watts of electricity and you can put up 1,000 watts of low-voltage units/lamps. If you have 1,000 watts’ worth of bulbs, you are using 1,000 watts of energy. The low-voltage thing is a safety issue, not an energy conservation issue.

In fact, in low-voltage units, that extra energy is dissipated in the transformers in the form of heat. I’m told that build-up of heat can be a source of some of the problems I experienced with low-voltage systems.

I’m also told that other kinds of transmissions can interfere with low-voltage set-ups, like if someone in the next booth at a big trade show is using a TV in their display. I have no idea if that is true. Maybe a techie person can research that and report back. I do know that my system would work beautifully at one show and totally conk out at the next.

My second set of low-voltage track came from Home Depot. I had the same issues with reliability, but fewer than I did with the expensive mail-order set.

In my third set of track lighting, I decided to skip the cheap made-in-China stuff and invest in good-quality lamps. That’s when I found that a) everything electrical is now made in China and b) expensive means H-E-A-V-Y. I set up my brand new units for the first time at a wholesale craft show, on my angle irons I used for supports–and watched the angle irons actually bend under the weight of the new lamps. There was no time to search for other supports, so I had to just strap the track onto the top poles of my pole-and-drapes booth.

The track is NOT sturdy enough to just suspend with lamps in it–you MUST have something to attach it to to span across your booth. Some people always install their track lighting this way, but I found it limiting. Also somewhat unsafe–your neighbor goes to hang their own drapes or display from those S-hooks that go over the pipe, and can actually stick their S-hook right into your track. ZAP!!!

That issue of finding what was sturdy enough to hold track lighting, long enough to span my booth, yet short enough to carry or ship to shows without incurring extra shipping charges, also kept me awake many, many nights.

For a long time, I used angle irons, which you can buy at any full-service hardware or lumber store, or places like Lowe’s or Home Depot.. Angle irons are perforated metal bars, L-shaped in profile, that can be bolted together to get the length you need. Then you can take them apart into shorter lengths for easier packing and shipping. They come in two weights, and I found out the hard way that the heavier weight is needed for most track lighting. It’s also nice because it provides a flat surface to strap the track onto, for more stability.

Some people use those extendable, telescoping metal “handles” for attaching to paint rollers for painting ceilings. I worried because they looked like they wouldn’t be strong enough to hold track, and they were round–so you would have round pipe attaching to round pipe. But it might be worth the experiment. Other people have used lengths of electrical conduit. I’ve seen it, I’ve never used it. And I can’t remember what I thought of it. Rats, I was hoping to get through this paragraph without admitting that…. Again, it doesn’t break down into smaller lengths, so be aware of this if you have to ship your booth.

My nice new MD ProPanel booth has stabilizer bars which “lock” the walls together and keep it…well, stable. These also double as light bars. YAY!!!!

I eventually went back to Home Depot track lighting, using their new long goose-neck lamps. They are small, lightweight and infinitely flexible. I LOVE them. One caveat–they hang down into your booth about a foot. So if your booth is seven feet tall (about industry standard) and your track is attached at seven feet, and the lamps hang down a foot….you are going to burn people who are over six feet tall. Just so you know. You can see these dangling lights in this image of last year’s booth at the LNHC fair. Don’t bump your head! (I fixed that this year.)

Also, as you insert, remove, reinsert and remove lamps from your track, you are constantly squishing apart the track. Eventually, it deforms enough that your lamps will not make good contact with the track. You may have to strap cable ties around the track itself and squinch it down good and tight to hold it together.

Look at the end where you screw in a screw to hold that plug-in extension cord. That can be another trouble source. You want that screw tight enough to hold the unit snugly. But again, if you screw it in too tight, you will actually force the track unit apart slightly. Enough to lose that electrical connection. And again, a cable tie strapped tightly around that section of the track may help hold things together.

If you use your track lighting outside a lot, you may get a build-up of corrosion on the contact points (the long thin copper strips in your track, the little copper clips in your lamps.) Keep a piece of steel wool on hand to scrub these contact points clean if you’re having trouble getting your lights to work. (Unplug everything first, of course.)

At one point, I invested in expensive clamp-on halogen wall-washers. They were designed to work on pole-and-drape. (Pole-and-drape are difficult to work with, because clamps are usually designed to hold onto something flat, and poles are round.) Unfortunately, it turned out they didn’t really work well on poles or flat walls.

AND THE WINNER IS….

I’ve now discovered individual clamp-on goose-neck lamp units. They each have their own extension cords, which is a bit of a hassle. But I also don’t have to fuss with track, track lamps, light bars to support the track and risers to raise the light bars out of range of six-feet tall people (or shorter people with tall hair.) So far, my favorite units are these offered by Pegasus Lighting: Flexible Display Light I am praying the low voltage issue does not raise its ugly head again.

These lights are good because they can light work on a shelf or on the wall, and be between the customer and the work–no shadows. But they also don’t shine in people’s eyes. They are infinitely flexible. I was able to use them at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which has a strict lighting safety code–although the cords/plug aren’t grounded, they are low voltage and self-contained. One light per cord. Also, the halogen bulbs are covered–there is a layer of glass across the front of the bulb, so the halogen filament is not exposed. The C-clamp is very secure on flat surfaces, and the cord is long enough to reach most of the places it needs to.

How do I know these are the best lights? My daughter says if I stick with the MD ProPanels and these lights, she will always come home to help me set up my booth for shows.

CASE LIGHTING

Unfortunately, I’m still on a quest for the perfect case lighting. I have light strips I bought with my original Dynamic Display System cases, with all three of the light bulb styles they’ve sold over time. Dynamic Display Systems case lighting The little “eyeball” units are the most versatile–they rotate in every direction and allow you to pinpoint an item in the case. But they are outrageously expensive, and it’s hard to find replacement bulbs. And the metallic backing paint is chipping off, allowing the brilliant halogen bulb to glare through. When I inquired about heat-proof paint to recoat the unit, I was told the paint would severely cut down on the life of the bulb. OY VEY!!! I don’t see these for sale on their website anymore, just the strips with the little 20 watt halogen bulbs. These are good, reliable bulbs, and easily found at stores. Okay, relatively easy to find. But they are not directional, or at least minimally so. I did love my eyeball bulbs….

SAFETY ISSUES
Use the heaviest gauge extension cords recommended by the show. 14 gauge is getting to be more and more common, but can still be hard to find. (Just because a cord is really thick doesn’t mean it’s 14 gauge.) Use the shortest cord you can get away with–cord that is coiled that cause heat to build up, which isn’t good.

If you are doing an outdoor show, keep all your connections off the ground. This will keep rain, dew, other moisture from shorting out the system.

If the show provides electricity and is using GFI’s do NOT attempt to circumvent them. During set-up at my big retail show, people complain constantly that the lights keep going out. As they plug in their cobbled-together lighting systems, the ground fault interrupters trip, cutting off power. They say, “The GFI’s are so damn sensitive!” As the show electrician carefully explained to me during my very first show, “Yes, GFI’s are sensitive. They trip at the very slightest flare in power. That’s what they are supposed to do. It keeps you from being electrocuted.” Get your lights set up, and test the circuit by plugging in a light then turning it on (rather than just screwing in a light into a live circuit, such as sticking a lamp into a track unit that’s live.” That helps prevent a little surge of power that triggers the GFI.

Use 3-prong plugs wherever you can. Sometimes it’s impossible, and some convention halls prohibit rewiring your own lighting set-up (like I did to rewire my two-wire extension cords to make 3-wire plug-in extension cords for my track lighting.) And always look for that “UL” (Underwriters Laboratories) label to signify your system has passed some basic safety testing. Here’s an interesting article on what that label means and how to recognize fake labels: Understanding UL by Gerry Zekowski

Remember that lights get HOT, especially halogen bulbs. Turn off and let cool before touching, handling, repositioning a hot lamp. Do not touch a halogen bulb (the part that actually lights up) with your fingers–the oil in your fingertips can actually concentrate the heat and cause the bulb to break. And periodically check your lamps to make sure they aren’t touching fabric or other combustibles, or causing your display to overheat and actually melt.

Lights themselves are hot, too. As I said earlier, I try to always go with at least 1,000 watts of lighting in my 10’x10′ booth. But I’m learning not to go over that much in my outdoor-under-tents August show. It just gets to be too much heat.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS ALWAYS unplug your units when doing any kind of work on them. I like to even unplug the units when testing my lamps. It takes a few more seconds, but if your hand should slip, or in your set-up frenzy mood you should forget and stick your hand in the track, you will stay safe. Yes, those pesky GFI’s should save you, but why take the chance?

Have I forgotten anything? Tons, I’m sure. I’ll check back and add stuff as I think of it.

Ooh, I forgot this: If you use low-voltage lamps or little case lights, they come with transformers–just like your phone charger. Transformers take up a lot of space on your surge strips. A power squid is handy to conserve space, or I use a set of short little 12″ extension cords, both from Herrington Catalog: power squid and

mini extension cords

And be sure to add your own suggestions and experiences in the comments section. Together, we can keep our fair booths looking bright and shiny–and safe.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, lighting, shows

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #5: Don’t Touch!

Today’s Bad Booth topic is a difficult one. Some of you will not even want to consider it, and perhaps some of you can’t. I simply ask you to think about it, because the results are so profound.

Allowing people to touch your work is powerful.

Allowing children to touch your work will move mountains.

Bruce Baker talks about the increase sales you will experience if people can touch your work. His arguments are compelling–people rarely buy something they HAVEN’T touched first, in some way. Catalogs and web shopping sites use compelling descriptions and beautiful images to allow you to “cyber-touch” the items. Think Sundance Catalog.

Even if you have work that is too delicate to touch, he has a few suggestions on how to do that. For example, if you make items of handmade paper, you could have samples, or even business cards, made of the same paper for people to touch.

This gets hard for people who make delicate or expensive items. If you make expensive jewelry, you can’t display it easily or safely outside a case, especially at most shows.

But you should be willing and able to whip out that diamond bracelet instantly, not even waiting til people ask. When you hear that little, “oooooh..!” sound people make when something catches their eye, that’s your cue. Get it out and into their hands.
Because giving people–especially children–permission to touch something is so empowering for your customers, I urge you to find some way to make that happen.

I am fortunate the material I work with is strong and durable. When people come in my booth, I “let them land”, as Bruce says. I give them a moment to take a breath, look around, and see if the work is something they’re interested in.

The minute I see something engage their interest, I say, “It’s okay to touch!”

You cannot believe the response.

There is a look of disbelief and astonishment. And then, most people LAUGH.

It’s a laugh of relief. (Especially since most people have sneaked in a little touch already.) And they always say, “Thank you!” Many comment that they rarely hear artists say that.

They relax. And they start shopping in earnest.

We are humans. We explore our world through all our senses. But the way we really get to discover our environment is with our hands, through touching.

We stroke velvet, we touch polished wood surfaces, we pick up sparkley things. We pick up objects to feel their heft, to judge what their made of. We shake things to see if they rattle, or jostle them to hear them jangle.

It puts me in mind of our hunter-gatherer ancestors on the great plains. We pick through the roots and grubs and berries, and eventually someone (a woman, I bet) picks up a pretty pebble instead, and says, “Hey, nice rock!” (This is also my theory about why women love beads so much.)

It is such compelling behavior that when people are in situations where they know they shouldn’t touch, they actually put their hands behind their back. Or hug themselves to contain their hands. Or put their hands in their pockets. They are physically restraining themselves from touching, because “don’t touch” goes against our very nature.

So we understand why we should find a way for our customers to touch. But why kids? Does that garner us more sales?

No….and yes.

My daughter often assists me at shows, and she’s a damn good observer of human nature. She’s noted that people with children in tow at shows, especially young children, are rarely actually shopping. They are simply out and about with kids. Even if they want to shop, the kids usually don’t let them anyway.

So why should we care if children can touch, if it isn’t even going to result in a sale?

Because showing people that you understand the behavior creates a loving environment in your booth.

And kids are the ones who are constantly being yelled at for touching.

Sometimes I think our culture is a little too hard on kids. It’s easy to see the ways we pander too much to kids. But often we expect kids to be little adults–and they’re not. They are little people, though. As Oprah says, little people without as much life experience as grown-ups.

The “don’t touch” rule is especially hard on them. It’s like telling them “don’t look!” or “don’t listen!”

So I find ways to let them touch.

Depending on their age, I just ask if they’d like to hold a horse (I keep a little hand-held sculpture handy for this). Or tell them if they are gentle, they may touch my artwork. Or if they are respectful of my work, they may touch it.

The atmosphere in my booth instantly relaxes and mellows.

The parents are relieved and grateful their kids aren’t going to get into trouble.

I get to tell the kids a little bit about my work.

Other customers in the booth–who are shopping–enjoy the vibe, too. Nobody likes misbehaving children. But no one likes to listen to someone yelling, either.

And the other customers get to listen to what I have to say about my work without talking to me directly until they’re ready. Often, after the family leaves, other customers comment on how kind I’ve been.

But I get rewarded in other ways, too. I get the funny stories. Last week at the Fair, I asked a very young child if he would like to hold one of my horses. He gazed at me solemnly with huge eyes, then softly asked, “Does he make a noise?”

I’ve come to realize that, if you look around my booth, every single artifact, every single horse, bear, stone, bone, shell, artifact (except for the ones that got big and became sculptures) can fit in your hand.

And this, I think, is no coincidence. I think from the very beginning,I knew how important it would be for my audience to touch, and hold, my work.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, booth design, booth display, booth signs, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, life, mental attitude, selling, shows

STEALING SOULS

Another quick break in the booth design series, although this topic also relates to exhibiting your work at shows.

What should you do about people photographing your work at shows?

There is no right or wrong way to think about this. Some artists don’t care at all about having their work casually photographed. Others scream.

These are simply some of my thoughts about why it can be upsetting, and how it could be handled by both parties.

Obviously, circumstances have an impact. An admiring customer at a church bazaar sale snapping a quick picture is different than a team of people furtively snapping many photos of your work at a wholesale trade show, then running for the door.

Or is it different?

I’m amazed at the breach in perception between people who take pictures of other people’s work, and the artists whose work is being photographed. Perhaps if we both understood each other better, some rules of etiquette could be laid down.

I’ve had my work photographed by people I’ll call amateurs. These are people who are not professional photographers–just “camera bugs” who love to take pictures of things they like.

At my most recent show, one woman was murmuring, “Lovely! Just beautiful!” and before I could even say anything, she whipped a little camera out of her purse, snapped a shot, and walked out. I have no idea what her purpose was, but suspect it was harmless in intent. Still, I was surprised at my reaction.

I was irked.
Once I questioned a gentleman who was asked to take pictures of my work. He became indignant and defensive, but told me he simply liked taking pictures of beautiful crafts and posting them on Flicker. We checked up on him later, and sure enough, there were some nice shots of my work in his portfolio.

But my first reaction was irritation.

Early one morning at the show, a woman made the rounds of the fair shooting pictures of everyone’s booth. I offered to let her take a picture of one piece with me next to it. But she just wanted to take a picture of the entire booth. She’d already taken “dozens”, she said. I have no idea why someone wants a hundred different booth photos. When I asked, she said I was “too sensitive” and walked off in a huff. I’m still baffled.

But I also just got a bad feeling from her behavior, and her response.

Are my feelings justified? Yes. And no.

Several years ago, a woman came in while I was demonstrating and took many pictures. As she was shooting, she also spilled her drink (it was a special sales/demo booth, no flooring or carpet, so no damage was done.) She rushed out, deeply embarrassed. I was upset–I had no idea who she was or what she was doing. I wasn’t even aware she’d been photographing my work til afterwards.

I found out later she was a writer/reporter for a magazine. She did a full-page article on my work after the show (for which I wrote her a thank-you note.) This year, one of her photos appeared in a write-up about the show. It’s me, demonstrating. It’s a pretty nice image, and I didn’t even know she was taking it.

How do I feel about this?

Well, I’m glad that in all three cases, I didn’t follow my gut reaction–which was anger. And, let’s face it, fear. A lot of good came out of the magazine writer taking pictures. I couldn’t have paid for the publicity those images garnered me. The person simply loved my work and has used those images to help promote it for me.

The man with the Flicker files was willing to help promote my work, too, after I asked him.

I wish, however, photographers understood where the anger and fear come from.

The title of this essay comes from the belief of some so-called “primitive people” that photographing a person was a way of stealing their soul. I used to find that quaint. In fact, as tourism increases around the world, you now find such photographic subjects demanding payment for being photographed. Some of us may find that a jaded response to such a harmless act.

But is it harmless?

We who live in so-called “modern” cultures are photographed and filmed at the drop of a hat. We beg to appear on reality TV shows. To be You-Tubed is to ensure fame–or at least, notoriety. We’ve been conditioned to see no harm in it. Even if it’s a bad image, any publicity is good publicity, isn’t it?

Maybe these “primitive” people in other cultures have a better grasp of the dynamic. Maybe their thinking is actually more sophisticated than ours.

Artists make the beautiful work they do for many reasons–for fun, enjoyment, relaxation. Sometimes we feel compelled–there’s just an overpowering need to share our vision, our work, our message, with others.

Or we feel whole or connected to something bigger–a parent or grandparent who shared a skill with us, or a tribal tradition we want to carry on.

Some of us enjoy the rewards we get–the admiration from the public, the recognition from our peers. And frankly, some of us enjoy the financial rewards, too.

Some artists do this privately. But you can assume if an artist has paid for a table or booth at a fair or show, or if they have work hanging in an exhibit, or they’ve sent a picture in to be published, that they have taken the step of sharing their work with a wider audience.

Once art is exhibited or offered for sale, a request for exchange has been made.

We are asking you to enjoy it, to admire it, to talk about it, and hopefully, to buy it.

We ask you to exchange your time, your interest, yes, your money, in exchange for our time, energy, interest and investment.

We figure if you love the work enough to buy it and hang it in your home, then everyone is happy with that exchange. In fact, I find selling my work the ultimate exchange. When someone is willing to give me their hard-earned money for my work, it is an honor.

They are supporting my mission to create beautiful work. And helping me to create more beautiful work.

Photographing someone’s work without their permission sidesteps that exchange.

Even if it’s for private use, that action is still “taking” the image without an exchange. Without even the benefit of promoting the artist’s work.

In the worst case scenario, the image is taken, the design is copied, and the product is mass-produced in a factory overseas. It has happened to many, many artisans in our country. It is something that frightens all of us because it is so pervasive and so difficult to fight. In fact, it’s almost impossible to stop, unless you have deep pockets and a bevy of lawyers at hand.

In a best case scenerio, as with the writer, I did get my “exchange”. I just would have slept better if I’d known ahead of time, rather than waiting months to learn about her good intentions.

Arguably, the man who posted my images on Flicker felt he was sharing my work, too. On the other hand, it didn’t occur to him to list my name and credit me as the artist til I asked him to. So the “sharing” wouldn’t have done me any good without that.

It’s also important to remember that in our “how-to” and “can-do” culture, publishing an image sometimes gives some people permission to copy that image. Look, we’re all inspired by the beautiful work of others. But my job on earth is not to think up great ideas so someone else can copy them outright. I have bigger plans than that.

That’s why, if you are someone whose hobby is photographing beautiful artwork, it would be nice if you a) introduced yourself first; b) explained the context of your interest and tell how the images will be used and c) asked permission.

If you are an artist, you can choose to limit all photography in your booth. You can post a sign to that effect.

Or you can simply ask people who pull out a camera, what their intention is. Most camera bugs simply don’t know how we feel about it. Or they mean well, but are too shy to ask first. We can choose to make this a teachable moment.

Most members of the media will ask, but they are just people, too. Some of them know they should ask, some don’t. Taking a deep breath and staying pleasant may open publicity doors you’ve only dreamed of before.

And just in case anyone thinks I’m being “too sensitive”, most galleries and stores do not allow customers to photograph artwork. Trade shows and wholesale craft shows do not allow cameras, except to credentialed members of the press/media. Nor do performances (plays, concerts, movies) allow photography. Our local Y now forbids cell phone cameras in changing rooms.

We’re beginning to understand that, in a time of almost effortless photography, we also feel the increased need for parameters–and courtesy–governing it.

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #4: And the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down

This article will be a long, but not inclusive look at walls. I am not the expert on booth design Bruce Baker is. I haven’t tried tons of different wall designs. But I’m happy to share my own personal experience with walls.

I have the unfortunate privilege to have created three distinct product lines that all demand different presentation. I need walls for displaying 2-D work; flat surfaces for displaying sculpture; and cases for displaying jewelry. I’ve had to do a lot of scrambling and head-scratching to come up with a good, integrated display to showcase my work, and not have it look like a jumble sale. (Sometimes it still does….!!)

Walls have been the most difficult.

I built my first booth for my in-state 9-day outdoor retail show, the Annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair. It’s not a good show to build a first booth for, because you get lulled into thinking you have to build an actual little “house” for such a long show. (It’s also under huge tents, which offers a lot of protection against the elements, but that’s another theme.)

In fact, many exhibitors show up with huge panel vans and trucks toting huge amounts of lumber and other building materials. You can actually hear power drills and saws whining during the two days of set-up (which is almost as loud as the whining of us craftspeople….), and hammmers pounding into the night.

Bruce Baker says most of us women say to our husbands, “Can you build me a booth?” and the guys swagger a bit and stick their thumbs in their toolbelts and drawl, “Sure, little lady, just leave it to me!” And then they build us these bulky, sturdy, heavy booths that demand a small crew of people to load, set-up, dismantle and cart away. I have actually seen women who divorced and showed up the next year with a completely different, streamlined booth, so I suspect it’s true.

I don’t mean they got divorced because of the booth (although, if you’ve ever eavesdropped while a couple puts a booth up, you can see how that would happen.) I mean that when they divorce, they come up with a different booth because they no longer have a guy with a truck and major power tools to help them put it up anymore.

The simplest, easiest and often cheapest wall solution is pole-and-drape. I bought mine from these people almost ten years ago: Flourish Canopies and Display Products They are nice people and took care of me and my pole-drape-needs for many years. It’s a good product and was competitively priced. I have no idea what’s out there now, but this company is a good place to start your research.

I have seen people make their own with good success, too. It depends on how much time and energy vs. money you have. I thought the drapes were well-made and the material was great. Lots of color choices, too. Much cheaper than I could have bought and sewn myself–and I sew for a living.

I went with a just-barely off-white color that was bright and light. I wish I could have figured out a way to have flat walls, but the drapes are pretty standard. Their material is inherently fire-retardant (VERY important, especially when you start to do juried shows and indoor shows). The poles broke down into shorter lengths, and a handy carrying bag kept it all together.

As I started to do wholesale shows, I could actually pin or attach my own drapes over the show pipe-and-drapes, to set my booth off from the hundreds of other gray drape booths. I could leave my pipe at home and simply ship the drapes (which were compact and lightweight.)

Drawbacks–the poles are HEAVY. This kind of tent is difficult to level on uneven ground. It is not weatherproof–you can ONLY use it under bigger tents or indoors. And it’s basically a square (or rectangle, depending on how many poles you set up). You can only work with straight lines and right angles.

The worst part for me was the walls were SOFT. If you only need a backdrop, that may not be a problem. But when I needed to have a stiff wall, I had to do things like hang reed roll-up curtains on top of the drape, or use those roll-up rice paper shades from Pier 1 Imports or stores in Chinatown. It looked kinda nice, all those layers, but also gave the booth a decidedly oriental look. Which was NOT what my work was about. Also, I now needed to pack more and more of these shades and screens. So my set-up was getting MORE complicated. Harder to level, harder to get straight lines, harder to get everything visually lined up.

I’ve seen booths using ONLY these roll-up shades (rice paper, reed), and they can be highly effective. Be sure to treat them with a fire-retardant spray, though, as they are highly flammable, too.

My next walls were fabric panels I made myself. I used heavyweight synthentic chenille panels. They hung from my poles and I pinned them together along the sides and at the bottom. They were rich but subdued colors, “tobacco colors” as one fiber artist said–gold, sage green, chestnut, brown. The panels hung straight, simulating a flat wall.

The effect was like being in a nomad’s tent, with layers of rich, textured fabric. The colors were warm and soothing, yet let my work pop. (I noticed men with color-blindness hated this booth–the colors seemed muddy to them.) Best of all, the look was very different from other trade show booths. You could catch a glimpse of the fabric walls way down an aisle and it just looked interesting and different–a good thing at a big show!

People came in my booth and stayed and stayed–and shopped and shopped. The fiber layers muffled noise and softened the lights, making a haven for weary buyers at wholesale shows and a peaceful, serene environment at retail shows.

Again, I could use my drapes over/with the show pipe-and-drapes. The drapes doubled as cushioning for my artwork during shipping, so it was cheap and easy to pack and ship.

Unfortunately, these panels were fussy and difficult to put up. And though the walls were flat, they were not sturdy. I still had a hard time hanging signs, 2-D work, etc.

Last year I splurged big-time and invested in MD ProPanels, which you can see here:
MD ProPanels and you can see them in situ <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/14881284@N08/1531994565/”here.

I absolutely love them. I will not compare them to Armstrong Panels because I can’t remember why I went with the MD Propanels. You can see the Armstrong version here:

Armstrong display panels

I THINK the Armstrong versions have an interior mesh, while the MD Propanel versions have a slab of styrofoam, and are lighter. I spoke to a lot of artists and went with the MDs, but you may find the Armstrongs will work better for you.

I’ve seen homemade versions of these panels being assembled at shows, and I still shudder to think of it. If you have tons of time, absolutely no money and love doing everything yourself, this may be for you. But the thought of cutting large sections of carpeting, screwing together dozens of little pieces, getting everything aligned, looking for little washers and screws, getting the fabric on straight, etc. etc. and watching those people sweat and swear and weep….well, it’s not for me.

What do I think of my MD Propanels?

I LOVE THEM.

These panels are expensive, but everything is already done–PERFECTLY. The panels arrive in uniform shape, perfectly finished and beautiful. You can order the adjustable legs which make leveling the booth on uneven ground a breeze. It takes a little practice, but the walls go up quickly and are perfectly stable once they are all connected and your stabilizer bars are in place.

I picked a neutral color that totally drops away and lets my work take center stage. The fabric still acts as a noise barrier, creating a quiet environment. It is ridiculously easy to hand signs and 2-D work with either T-pins or Velcro hangers.

You can order units that break down into two segments for easier shipping or carrying. You can order units that will accept shelves. There are many accessories and add-ons that allow you to add features at a later date.

Best of all, you can reconfigure the panels into all kinds of booth layouts. I actually used three panels to create a “tower” in one corner for a corner booth layout. You can also use both sides of the panels, so you can create little “half walls” or partitions. And hinged panels can act as doors to access storage, or to set off a little changing room for wearables.

Are they perfect?

No. You need to know you want shelves and where you want them when you order panels with shelf capability.

I wish the stabilizer bars came in varying heights because I have shows with different height restrictions.

I wish they had more components for hanging and display, because I’m finding my homemade Velcro components melt under summer heat, or freeze during shipping to winter shows.

It can be tricky to get everything square at first on hilly sites, though this is an incredibly stable booth once everything is in place.

And though the KD (knock-down) units are easier to ship, it’s still not SIMPLE or CHEAP to ship, like my drapes were.

One last caveat–as more and more people turn to MD Propanels, it will be hard for your booth to stand out. There are only half a dozen or so color choices, and the best (black) is becoming as common as dirt at shows. (Oooh, bad simile….)

On the other hand, when it came time to decide, I realized I’m not selling my booth.

What I mean is, I’m not in the business of creating the best BOOTH I can make. I’m in the business of creating the best ART I can make. The booth is just a vehicle for displaying and selling my art.

I don’t really want people noticing my booth or my floor or my display anymore. I want everything working quietly, subtly, to encourage them to simply see the ART. And to be comfortable, and enjoy peace and quiet to do that.

I think it’s working. What I’m hearing over and over the last few shows is, “You’ve created an entire world in here!

And oddly enough, although I always get high booth scores, this is the first year I got an honorable mention for my booth design. It’s odd because the booth structure itself is not “creative”.

But it’s doing it’s job–showcasing my art–beautifully.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, marketing, ProPanel, selling, shows

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #3: Alice’s Tiny Doors

I talked earlier about booths with so much stuff in them, you can’t get in. This common booth layout flaw is similar.

The way(s) into and out of the booth are way too small.

I called this essay “Alice’s Tiny Doors” because it reminds me of one of John Tenniel’s illustration in the book Alice in Wonderland. It’s the one where Alice is trying to get through a door that’s only two feet tall. Alice’s tiny door

I’m guessing this booth layout problem happens when people design their booths on graph paper. You start to lay out these little squares and rectangles, lining everything up just so and squishing in as much display as you can. You plan a three-foot wide entrance, and leave a little three-foot wide path along here. The idea is the booth visitor will come through the little entrance and work there way along the path you’ve created.

In fact, years ago when I was part of a large group booth, the original plan was just that–a long, narrow booth with a U-shaped path consisting of two narrow entrances at the front. The idea was we would have display tables lining every wall. Visitors would come in one leg of the U and walk through, looking at every exhibit.

Everyone was very excited about the layout. Until I said, “How many people do you think can shop in that booth at one time?”

Huh?

I pointed out that the aisles were less than three feet wide. “That’s plenty of room for people to get through!” protested one artist.

Well…maybe. Though that didn’t mean people would WANT to walk through such a narrow aisle. “What happens if another person comes in the other ‘leg’ of the U?” I asked.

“People can scootch by each other”, one guy said. I noticed some of the women beginning to look uncomfortable. Women do not like people scootching by them when they are shopping.

“Okay, so let’s assume people will be willing to scootch. Buyers often shop in pairs. Now we have three people–or four people–trying to squish by each other. How conducive is that to shopping?” People began to nod their heads.

“And we’re supposed to be manning the booth. If two or three of us are in this aisle, that means every single shopper has to squish by every single craftsman working in the booth. How conducive is that to shopping?”

The layout was scrapped.

In this case, we had a beautiful booth location–four back-to-back booths at the end of a double row. We ended up keeping one large back wall (for our banner, wall art, etc.) and made multiple islands of display. Let people come into the booth no matter what aisle they’re in, I suggested. We ended up with almost six points entry.

That meant whenever one special item caught a buyer’s eye, they could immediately and easily pop into the booth and look. Once they were in our space, it felt like a department store. They could see many other intriguing displays, and they could easily move from one to the next.

This was a highly successful booth, because once people came in, they stayed.  And the longer they stayed, the more they bought.

Try not to herd people through cattle chutes in your booth. No scootching! Pablo Underhill used the term “butt brush” in his excellent book Why We Buy

The butt brush is when aisles are too narrow and someone brushes someone else from behind as they attempt to pass buy. The reaction of the brushed person is profound and extreme–they immediately stop shopping. It is an especially powerful reaction in women. So by all means, if you want women to stop shopping and leave your booth, make sure they are getting brushed and bumped from behind as people scootch by.

Guide people subtly with your display layout, and use visual cues to move them through your booth. Arrange your work so that one display leads to the next. Signage, dashes of color in a neutral display, lighting, work angled in interesting ways–all of these are so much more conducive to shopping than narrow paths and rigid layouts.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, booth layout, booth traffic, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, display, Good booths gone bad, organization, selling, shows

PRESS RELEASES FOR ARTISTS

Just to make it a little easier for you, here is a link to some links to past articles I’ve on creating publicity for yourself with press releases:

PUBLICITY 101: A List of Articles on Self Promotion

As always, feel free to read and peruse for your own use.. I teach workshops on this topic for the Arts Business Institute and have presented this material for various arts organizations. So sharing what I’ve learned is part of my livelihood as an artist. Enjoy!

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WORDS

I’m often asked where I get the wherewithall to blog so regularly.

Today I finally thought of the main reason.

It’s often the only chance I get to tell a story from beginning to end.

Sometimes, it’s the only chance I get to finish a sentence.

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THE SEED WITHIN

I’m smack in the middle of my one big retail show, the Annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair. So I’m taking a break in my booth design series to write some shorter essays. Today I’ll get a chance to walk around the fair. I hope to again “pay attention” to which booths invite me in and which booths don’t.

I serve on the Fair Committee. Once a month, I drive up to League HQ and discuss various issues that have been brought to our attention. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t lie awake nights trying to figure out new and astounding ways to annoy exhibitors and prevent artists from making a living. After all, every single member of the committee is an exhibiting artist at the fair, too. But some people feel that way, and as they vent and fume and yell their way through the Fair, I find myself feeling disheartened, abused and disconnected from my artist self.

Until my customers come in, that is. One brought me photos of the work she brought from me last year, proudly displayed on her mantelpiece with other, museum-quality pieces. Another brought his young son in to select one special piece from money he’d saved all year.

And most of my fellow craftspeople and the League administration have been kind, supportive, and yes, loving. I am surrounded by hugs and laughter and cheers.

Yesterday was especially difficult, and it was a little hard to get out of bed this morning. This was a good day to read Lynn Colwell’s essay in her e-newsletter “The Seed Within”. You can view Lynn’s entire essay at her website here:

The Seed Within

Lynn writes about her struggles to create a beautiful garden. She fails miserably til she finds the right climate and the right place for each plant. Even then, she doesn’t quite master all the components necessary. But the seeds and plants come through on their own. Because the seed within will overcome all difficulties, given even the tiniest chance to survive.

Here are her words that give me the courage the get up and try again today:

“It’s no different with human beings. The seeds of greatness, beauty, empathy and love are locked inside from the moment of conception. It is up to each of us to be attentive, to find ways to nurture the best that is us and each other. We can make mistakes along the way, but that’s all right. That seed maintains its promise as long as we are here.”

As I read Lynn’s words, I realize that my art is that tiny chance for me. And for many other people. I have seen people change their lives because of something I said while talking about my art and what it means to me. In fact, someone came to my booth just as I was closing up last night to tell me that. She returned to painting after having me speak to her elementary school classes several years ago. She came by to thank me for giving her the courage to change her life.

I didn’t really, of course. Give her the courage, I mean. The courage was in her already. She just saw it for herself.

But I am proud to be a small part of that process, of bringing one more artist into the world.

So I will ignore the rocky people, the thorny people, the screamers, the complainers, the little tyrants who would gladly rip up any tiny little green thing they see.

I will remain true to my own artistic self. I will show what art has done for my own “seed within”. And by sharing that with others, perhaps a few other beautiful blooms will grow in this world that sorely needs a little more color, beauty, patience, kindness and love.

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BOOTHS GONE BAD #2: Let Me In!

There’s a booth mistake that’s sort of related to the “Too Much Stuff” syndrome. But sparsely furnished booths can fall prey to it, too.

I call it the “I can’t come into your booth” syndrome.

People need to have easy access to your booth. They need to be able to walk in and feel like they aren’t going to knock something over or get bonked in the head.

You may think that’s a no-brainer, but it isn’t.

No whapping the customers in the head.

An artist who makes mobiles and wind chimes thought it would be cool to hang them all from the top of her booth. It would have been cool, too. Except that the top of her booth was only seven feet tall, and the mobiles hung down about 2-3 feet into her booth. And about 3-4 feet inside the walls of her tent. The effect was like walking through a fun tunnel at the fair. I was terrified I was going to get a mobile stuck in my hair.

Moving them against the walls, and up and out of range of people’s heads, would have the same wonderful effect with less customer intimidation.

Please do not electrocute the customers.

I use long goose-neck track lighting lamps overhead. The first time I used them was at a trade show booth, which is eight feet high. No problems.

The second time I used them was in my retail booth, which was seven feet high. They were out of the way of most people. Except for the tall guy who came in and had to keep swerving to avoid getting whapped in the head with my lamps. Oh, and the guy who came in with his little kid on his shoulders. Who promptly reached for the tracks. ai yi yi…..

I bought some risers that lifted the track lighting out of reach of everybody.

Let me in, let me in.

An artist had a tall display shelf right smack in the middle of the booth. “How does it look?” she asked. Great, I said. Except now I can’t see anything along the back wall. And it only leaves two feet on either side to get through–so I won’t even try, because I won’t want to run the risk of bumping anything. Why was it there, anyway?

“I don’t want to scare people out of the booth, so I thought I’d kinda hide behind it while I do some work,” she said.

Nice sentiment, but it doesn’t work. Do not hide from your customers. And put that shelf along the back wall. Until you get that 10×20 booth, of course.

Do not trip your customers.

I hate it when artists display stuff anywhere on or near the floor. Unless it’s a floor mat and supposed to be on the floor.

For one thing, anything sitting on the floor doesn’t look like you treasure it. It looks like you didn’t have a place for it so you set it on the floor. Stuff on the floor says “yard sale!”
For another, people’s feet stick out from their bodies. That is why there is a toe-kick space under your kitchen cabinets–so your feet have a place to go while you stand at the sink doing dishes. When people are standing at your booth wall, looking at your work, they do not think to look down to mind where their feet go.

Bruce Baker says people also hate, hate, hate bending over to look at stuff. This is true, too. I’m now at that age when even if I squat down, I have to think really hard about getting back up.

So don’t put stuff on the floor.

I need my space….

The next time your booth is set up, take a cold, hard look at how Can people come in easily? If they stand outside your booth and look in, that’s a good sign there’s something psychological that’s keeping them out.

If the layout is cramped, or narrow or shallow, or if things look precarious, people will not come in. They don’t want to wreak havoc in your booth!
If you do have “aisles”, make them spacious so people can get by. And wide enough so that if one person is looking at something, others can get passed them.

If you have a displays that jut out, is there enough space for people to navigate around it? Especially without bumping something else??

Watch out for dead-ends in your booth. They can be subtle–a little alcove-type space behind your cases, for example. Believe it or not, people hate being “trapped” in a booth and won’t go into places if they feel they might not be able to get out. If there’s a little corner or space people aren’t checking out, it may mean there’s a little psychological “dead-end” space there. Smooth out an angle or open it up a bit, and see if that makes it more approachable.

How to freak out your customers

Are your displays secure? Sometimes we get so caught up in making our displays easily transportable, we forget that they have to stand up to actual use. If people touch a pair of earrings and the display stand falls over, it will freak them out. If they lean on a jewelry case and it rocks, it will freak them out. If a branch holding Christmas ornaments is sticking out and snags their shirt as they walk by, it freaks them out. Especially if they pull the entire display over. And something breaks. oy.

A furniture maker makes coffee tables, end tables, smaller pieces. These are something that could easily be bumped into and knocked over, or ding a knee on. He came up with a great solution. He created little “floor islands”–small raised floor sections a little bigger than each piece of furniture–sometimes big enough to hold two or three pieces in a setting. They had a twofold effect. They elevated the furniture and gave it more presence. And they gave each piece a little “breathing room”, room for people to walk around and not run into stuff. It felt very elegant yet comfortable being in his booth.

Avoid making your customers feel like the proverbial bull in the china shop, and they will relax and shop. And shop. And shop!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, booth design, booth display, booth layout, booth traffic, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, marketing, selling, shows

BOOTHS GONE BAD #1: Too Much Stuff

One of the biggest mistakes I see in booth design is the “Loaded Booth” look.

There are many variations on this theme. There is the “Something for Everyone” look. There is the “One in Every Color” look. There is the “I Can Make a Million of These (and I Have!)” look.

Unfortunately, the result is the same. It ends up looking like the “Artist with No Focus” look.

Believe me, I know what you’re trying to say: “I’m an artist, I am extremely creative, I have a million ideas, and I don’t want to color inside the lines!”

But the result is chaos and confusion.

There is work covering the entire walls of the booth. There are widgets right up to the top of the booth. There are widgets hanging ten inches off the ground. In fact, the walls are not enough. Sometimes the widgets are actually on the floor, leaning against the walls.

Every surface is covered with widgets and more widgets. “Maybe I can cram another one in here!” thinks the artist during set-up.

If the widgets are displayed in a basket, there aren’t merely a handful, or a even a basketful. The basket will be piled to overflowing. No one can actually look through them, either, without actually dumping the basket out in a pile and looking through them that way. Except the counter the basket is on is full, too.

If there is a print bin, it is jammed so full you can’t thumb through the stash. Or there are so many bins, you know it will take a huge chunk of time to go through them.

If there are little widgets on the wall, evenly spaced so as to maximize the display space, the eye has no resting place, no focal point. You simply stand and gaze around and around, looking, wishing desperately for something to jump out at you.

How do I know?

Because this is how I set up my first booth. And this is what a friend told me afterwards.

She had money. She was a shopaholic. She loved my work.

She wanted to buy something from me. She really wanted to buy something from me. She wanted to buy a lot of things from me.

But she has mild attention defiecit disorder, and was overwhelmed with all the choices. In fact, the “buzz” of my display made her anxious.

She ended up buying NOTHING.

We could blame it on her ADD, but the fact is, almost everyone feels this way when presented with too many choices.

Even those of us who adore the yard sale modality don’t expect to find this with art.

And even if we do, it doesn’t mean we have the time, energy or patience to dig through this at an art fair.

Now pretend you are at a big art fair. Or a huge wholesale show. Or a monstrous trade show. (Think of thousands of booths….)

We want to chose the best one of something. Or be able to quickly sort out what strikes our fancy, and eliminate that which doesn’t.

Too many choices makes it too hard for us to sort.

So limit people’s choices.  As counterintuitive as this sounds, it works.

Don’t make them choose the best of fifty.  Make them choose the best of seven.  Or three.  Or even two.

Don’t make them choose from 28 subjects.  Let them choose from half a dozen.  If they don’t see what they want, they can ask.  And that gives you a chance to talk to them, too.

If you make something in lots of colors, only show a few. Or spread out the color choices among several styles. People will get that you can make it in purple. And if they like it, they’ll ask if you also make it in green. (That’s your cue to whip out your green one.)

Display fewer things, and be ready to restock an empty space quickly. In fact, sometimes that empty space is a good thing. I’ve had customers ask, “What was here??”, pointing to an empty place with a price tag. They’re curious what sold. They want to know what they’re missing. When you pull out another piece, they look at it closely. Maybe they should get one, too!

Signs can be a good way to get a customer’s overloaded brain to rest for a moment. Just keep them neat and simple and easy to read. You can hang your artist statement, or introduce a new series. You can describe a special feature about your widget, or tell a little story about a special piece.

Group your work in some way. This can be by subject, color, style or series. There are pros and cons for each way of organizing, but don’t worry about that right now. Just make some “white space” around your work.

In fact, think of how you feel when you pick up a magazine and browse through the articles.

How do you feel when you see page after page of tiny print, long paragraphs, long run-on sentences with convoluted syntax, no photos or images, and no captions?

Now think of an article with good column width, good margins, a comfortably-sized and easy-to-read font, subtitles, captions, highlights, etc. It’s easier to read, easier to jump in and sample a section, easier to find your place if you get distracted or have to put it down for a moment.

Make your booth easier to read. Make it easier to jump in and sample. Make it easier to navigate.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to prove you’re an artist. They’ll know.

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