GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #14: Food Fight!

Another small topic in the “Good Booths Gone Bad” series, but one I’ve also given a lot of thought to. Artists often supply candy or munchies for their customers. Today I’ll share my experiences with having food for customers.

I’ve run the gamut with the food thing, and I’m currently down to nothing. No food in the booth. And I have different feelings on food treats at retail shows and wholesale shows.

Here are some of the good stories about food in the booth:

Offering treats to your customers is a nice gesture and can break the ice. In his seminars and CDs about selling, Bruce Baker describes how this helps create an air of hospitality in your booth, by “taking care of your customers.”

This really can be a powerful thing in your booth.

My friend Mark Rosenbaum, glass blower extraordinare from New Orleans, brings homemade pralines to his wholesale shows for his customers and his fellow exhibitors. It’s southern hospitality at its finest–and Mark is originally from Connecticut. As a nice side effect, Mark’s pralines create quite a buzz at the show. Buyers see you with a praline and exclaim, “Oh, I have to get down to Mark’s booth for mine!”

Here’s another great example: At one wholesale show, a buyer burst into my booth. He was obviously exhausted and agitated. He’d had a long, hard, frustrating day.

He’d just flown in from the other coast, his plane had been delayed, he’d been up since the wee hours, and he’d missed a couple of meals. Before I even gave him a chance to look at my work, I offered him a clementine and a chair. He took a seat gratefully, ate several clementines and almonds, and told me about his day. It was a wild one!

We had a pleasant chat, and he left with a “be back” tomorrow. I didn’t really think I’d see him again. It had been a slow show, and we hadn’t even talked about my work or his store.

But he came back the next day to thank me for simply taking care of him. He couldn’t believe I’d put selling on hold and just treated him like a fellow human being. He ended up placing a big order. A REALLY big order!

Other ways food can work in positive ways:

Food treats can provide a welcome distraction to children, giving Mom a few minutes to actually look at your wares.

It can also break the ice with a difficult visitor–say, the bored husband who is doing all the shlepping and none of the actual buying.

Now for the downside of offering food in your booth.

Figuring out what to offer is mind-boggling.

And lately, I’m finding that food, like demonstrating, can attract non-customers to your booth.

Let’s start with food choices.

First, anything you offer should either be individually wrapped, in small packets or naturally “wrapped”–like oranges. Otherwise, you have health issues with people eating things that other people’s hands have touched.

This isn’t too hard, though it can be tricky finding anything other than candy that’s packaged this way. Health food stores and the organic sections in supermarkets are great places to look for healthy snacks. Halloween is a great time to look for individually wrapped treats! Stock up for your winter shows then. Lunch box snacks are also a good alternative, like individual boxes of raisins and such.

Now you have a wrapper to dispose of. This can be another nice little touch–”Here, let me throw that away for you!” But still, it’s just more about the food.

Then there’s the issue of food allergies and sensitivities. These are becoming much more common, especially with children. No peanuts! Or anything that touched peanuts. Or anything that looks like it might know a peanut. I’m jesting a little, but I know that peanut allergies are serious business.

Chocolate is off-putting to people watching their weight. (Also the age-old debate: Dark, milk or white?) It’s also messy in really hot weather. Sugar in any form is a no-no with diabetics (and with our aging demographic, including moi, adult-onset diabetes is an issue. People are really trying to watch their sugar intake.)

Very small children can’t have hard candies, so whatever you provide, you may end up with small lollipops for them.

Cheap, out-of-date, bargain basement candy can be like wilted, bedraggled flowers–yuck!

If treats are chewy, they can’t be too chewy–watch those fillings! If they are hard, they can’t be too hard–jaw breakers have limited appeal to middle-aged people. If they are salty, they can’t be too salty–now I need a drink of water!

Clementines are healthy and juicy, but also messy. You not only have lots of pieces of rind to dispose of, you have a customer with sticky fingers. (I had a packet of baby wipes handy for the guy at my wholesale show.) And even though clementines are small, sometimes people just don’t want to eat a whole one.

Werther’s butterscotches were the perfect choice for many years–individually wrapped, quality candy, a flavor almost everyone likes. People loved them! But the last few years, hardly anyone took them. Again, too many people watching their sugar intake.

You think I’m being fussy about this? A few years ago at a wholesale show, a buyer actually complained to me that too many artists at the show were offering chocolate as a treat! (To his defense, he was trying to watch his weight….) So many of us were providing food that we were overfeeding our buyers.

Here’s the next to last item to chew on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Snacks at retail shows can attract people who have no intention of shopping in your booth.

I’ve had people cruising by in the aisle dart over to my booth to snag a handful of candy as they pass by. They often don’t even look at me as they snag a handful of candy. It feels weird–like I’ve paid $1,100 to be at the show so I can assuage their hunger pangs.

I’ve had the kids of fellow exhibitors discover my “candy stash” and help themselves liberally at every opportunity–until I gently pointed out that the candy was for my customers. (To give them credit, they cut it out once I mentioned that. They aren’t bad, just young.)

And as for distracting children for their parents’ sake, we’ve seen that people with kids are rarely actually shopping. We’ve noticed over the years that people who are taking care of other people are usually at the show for the edutainment factor. I don’t begrudge them this. I’m glad they’re there, exposing their kids and companions to the beauty of handmade craft.

But amusing their kids so they can shop is more a function of me being a sympathetic mom than actually thinking a purchase is going to come of it.

I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted and soulless about selling. I don’t expect everyone in my booth to buy something. I love schmoozing with people and I love taking care of people in my booth.

But I’m also there to make a living selling my work. I’m not there to feed or entertain the general public endlessly. When I started to feel like the kind lady at the office who always has a bowl of candy on her desk, who realizes people are simply standing around eating her candy, I knew it was time to do something else.

Now I’m more likely to simply share MY food with customers who really need it.

I tend to bring the same kinds of food anyway–things that are small and bite-sized, easy to munch on between busy times. Things that are as healthy as I can manage at a show. Things that are comfort food.

And the notion of sharing MY food is even more powerful than that bowl of candy. If a customer really looks hot and tired, it’s nice to say, “Hey, I was just going to have a clementine–would you like a few sections?” Or “I packed an extra packet of raisins–have some!”

It also says I see them as an individual who may be tired or hungry, and not just as a customer. It actually makes me feel more kind than just having a bowl of candy out.

My last and biggest reason for not having candy in the booth?

I EAT IT!!

So again, food for thought. (Sorry! Sorry!!!) If none of this resonates with you, then do what’s working for you.

But if you find yourself nodding your head to any of this, then don’t feel guilty about pulling the food treats. Think of other ways to engage and take care of your customers.

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4 Comments

Filed under art, booth behavior, booth design, booth display, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, Good booths gone bad, shows

4 responses to “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #14: Food Fight!

  1. Jen

    I found this posting amusing because of what happened to me at my last show. Normally I put a handfull of those red and white individually wrapped mints or the werther’s candies in a small box I made (compliments the work I sell in my booth) for my customers. Most people take one, maybe grab a second for a friend, etc. Because it’s a small box I think that keeps people from taking handfulls and my case is standing height so the really little kids don’t even see it. I like to keep the mints around for those hot afternoons when I start to droop, or if I’ve had something a little spicey for lunch,etc. Remembering that I was out of mints the night before a show while running an errand to one of those big electronics stores I noticed that they had bags of candies at the register. I knew I’d pay top dollar for them but figured I could manage to pay and extra buck. Not finding my prefered mints or other hardcandy I went for two bags of Hershey Kisses. Figured hey, they’re small, they’re individually wrapped, what the heck! The next morning I happily put them in my little box and got wrapped up in the commings and goings of my customers. Later in the day, as the sun got hotter a customer picked up one of the shiny wrappers and attempted to pop the chocolate morsal in her mouth, only to find her fingers smeered with melted chocolate! What a mess. Luckily we had wipes handy and we were able to clean her up and she was a good sport about the whole thing. Needless to say both bags of the overpriced candy were a loss! Once home I made a point of picking up several bags of mints and stuffed them into my display box for my next show!

  2. Thank God for baby wipes! Perfect anecdote for this blog entry–thanks for sharing, Jen!

  3. This August at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair, my garden was producing prodigious quantities of sugar snap peas… a perfect treat and fun to share!

  4. Karen Ottnebreit

    Good topic.
    I believe I found a perfect food for the booth. I like the little peppermint patties. They are relatively inexpensive, there isn’t enough chocolate for kids to get messy, no nuts/no allergy issues, calorie wise they are low (with no fat), yet they still represent “chocolate”…..(without being too decadent.) The mint is also nice for those how have had lunch.
    I have often offered the beleagered looking shopper the bowl with the encouragement of needing to keep their energy up. There is also the added benifit of me not liking them too much, so I can resist indulging myself.

    I think a bit of decadence goes with shopping…why not indulge a little bit more…?

    by the way Luann…Happy Birthday!

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