Category Archives: booth display

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 4: More Papas, Fewer Babies

Don’t let your cheaper work devalue your finest work. More papas, few babies.

Fourth in a series on how to think about your true collectors.

I have a friend who’s been in the fine craft biz for over twenty years. He’s in the very best shows. He’s an astute businessman as well as a talented artist. The first time he came to my open studio, he shared an insight I’d never considered before:

Offering too much lower-priced work to attract a wider audience can actually diminish your value for serious collectors.

Human nature being what it is, people won’t think your cheaper work is “a bargain”. They’ll perceive your higher end work as “overpriced.”

I favor the papa/mama/babies model in my display. I show one high-end piece—my biggest and best work of the year. That’s the ‘papa’ piece. I’ll add in three to five mid-range pieces—things that echo the same spirit and flavor but in the $150-$500 range. These are the ‘mama’ pieces. Then I fill in with a large selection of items under $150, down to $25. These are the ‘babies’.

The theory is that the ‘papa’ piece is the attention-getting show-stopper. It rarely sells, but acts as a major draw. Well-heeled and confident collectors will then readily purchase the ‘mama’ pieces. People with smaller budgets, or who are unsure of their choices, will load up on the smaller ‘baby’ pieces.

It works pretty well in stores and galleries, where stores have to appeal to a wide range of customers and sizes of pocketbooks. But is it the right model for an open studio, or a booth at a show? What are the pros and cons?

My friend believes that mixing our high-end and our low-end work sends a bad message to our serious collectors. It signals confusion on the part of the artist, a lack of focus and intent.

Someone who’s thinking about buying a $5,000 or $10,000 piece from you does not want to see a $50 pair of earrings next to that piece. Their thinking? “Why should I invest five figures in you, when I can have a piece of you for $50?” Or worse….”If this piece is only $50, then that $5,000 piece must be overpriced!”

Eliminate the ‘babies’?? It’s a hard concept to embrace when times are tough. Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat. It’s tempting to stay with the safer strategy of ‘something for everyone’.

But building a business model that relies on the sale of lots of $50 has its drawbacks, too.

The biggest drawback? It’s soul-numbing.

This is not conjecture. I’ve been there. You focus totally on what sells. It becomes all about the “small”: Small in price, small in stature, small in risk.

Soon you feel your creative self and artistic vision getting small, too.

I’ve been there–and I never want to go back.

So….How to proceed?

Offer fewer ‘babies’.

In an open studio recently, I simply didn’t have time to set out lots of lower-priced work. The ‘mamas’ took the place of the ‘babies’.

I sold more ‘mamas’ than ever!

So my advice to you: Consider your venues, and these economic times.

In the past, I could easily do the ‘all papa’ strategy at the tried-and-true big shows in my industry. The shows had the great reputation and reliable attendance, and targeted the right demographic, for those big, wonderful works. Money flowed more freely and people loved the attention that came from their spectacular purchases.

Things are different now. Show attendance is down. People hesitate to flaunt their money when their friends are hurting. They’re cautious about what they invest in.

The internet has changed things: Buyers are more comfortable buying on the internet now. It’s secure and the selection is limitless. It’s also more discreet. No need to reveal just how much money they spent on that new piece of art.

When money is tight and sales are slow, maintain your confidence in your work. Focus on keeping your technique sharp. Be patient. You still need face time with collectors to build a relationship. But also give them more opportunities online to buy.

If you love your lower-end pieces, that’s okay. I love mine, too! Instead of mooshing them in with your finer work, try this: Separate the lines and market them differently.

Or try using a different venue for them. I have one line of jewelry that’s decidedly out-of-sync with my “ancient art” aesthetic. I now market that under a totally different business name.

In the end, we all have to ask ourselves: What is the highest and best use of our time and talent?

I still keep a few smaller, less expensive items available. But I’ve slowly raised the bar by raising the prices on them. I’m asking my collectors for a bigger commitment to own one of my pieces. I’d rather sell one $250 item than ten $25 items. I focus on making those more expensive pieces even more special–more one-of-a-kind, more daring, more unusual.

Interestingly, when I look back at my sales over the last 15 years, I’m not selling more items. I’m selling more expensive items. The demand has remained constant but there’s less resistance to my prices. My friends who assist me in my booth say this all the time. I worry about charging too much. “Luann!” they exclaim. “People know your work is worth it!”

The energy is better, too. People don’t buy my work because ‘it’s a deal’. They buy it because they love it and they see it as worthy of owning.

By valuing my time and my skill, I’ve encouraged others to have respect for my work.

Remember: When we have an open studio, or a solo show, or a booth at a fair, our audience is self-selected; that works in our favor!

A store or gallery has to appeal to anyone who walks by. They don’t care which artist’s work sells, as long as the customer buys something.

As an artist, I have a style, an aesthetic and a story that connects people to my work. If the buyer wants to buy my work, I have more leverage.

Is the just papas, a few mamas, no babies approach for everyone? Of course not. Have I embraced it 100%? Nope. But I’m inching my way there.

And let me be clear: This is me in my “business hat” talking.

I’d never disdain someone who loved my work but cannot afford a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to invest. I love my ‘smaller’ collectors. I’m just as grateful for them as I am for my ‘bigger’ collectors.

My prices aren’t arbitrary. I’m confident they reflect the skill, time and passion necessary to create each piece. In fact, many collectors start small and then move on to more expensive pieces.

I would never twist a collector’s arm to buy more than they are comfortable with. I’m honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on my work. I love it when customers come back the year after they invest in a major piece and tell me how much joy it’s giving them.

Ask your true collectors to step up to the plate and commit to you. The worst they can say is ‘no’.

And it’s simply wonderful when they say ‘yes’.

Respect Your Collectors Part 4
by Luann Udell originally published on the Fine Art Views website on January 10, 2011.)

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

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TRUNK SHOW

I’d never done a trunk show before. You know me–that was all the excuse I needed to over-think and over-prepare!

But I think it was a successful event. You can see the photos of my set-up here.

Here are some of the things I considered as I pulled my display together:

1) A trunk show means you bring EVERYTHING.

But it can’t look like everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink, either. I still wanted a cohesive display. So I set out several “series” of jewelry and grouped them accordingly. I had plenty more samples in reserve.

2) It should look different than a craft show booth.

My artist-of-the-month display looks a lot like my fine craft booth. It’s a formal display, an in-depth look at my work in a museum-like setting.

But I wanted my trunk show to look like just that–like I’d traveled to the show, bringing a personal collection of items for my customers’ enjoyment. I even asked for a few chairs, so that people could sit and talk as I worked.

3) It should still be obvious what you’re selling.

One of the drawbacks of a totally creative display is, sometimes you can’t tell what people are selling. How many times have you walked by a booth at a show filled with wonderful props and eclectic display–only to wonder what the heck they’re selling??!! (Hint: If people keep trying to buy your display pieces, those display pieces are TOO interesting!)

I got around this by sticking to the vintage suitcases as my only “prop”. The rest of the display featured traditional black steel jewelry display pieces–earring holders, necklace holders, etc.

I also confined my larger, bolder, more elaborate pieces to the suitcase display. The smaller, simpler pieces went on the traditional display fixtures, where they were able to be seen more easily.

People did ask about the suitcases, but they also stuck around longer to enjoy the entire show. Because the pieces were simply “laid out”–not elaborately draped and swagged–the message was still clear: “It’s okay to touch!”

4) Give people a reason to hang out.

At a craft show, there may be thousands of people coming with the intent to see as much as they can. If they like my work and my booth, they enter. Then they are in “my world”.

It can be harder when you’re simply a display in a store. Right next to your table are examples of a dozen other artists’ work!

I decided to do make up some simple necklaces featuring my artifacts and torch work with sterling silver wire. This gave even casual observers an excuse to hang out, watch and ask questions.

5) It’s only your time. Have fun!

To quote Greg Brown, “Time ain’t money when all ya got is time.” (From “Just a Bum”

Yes, my time is valuable, but it wasn’t like I was paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be there at the gallery that day. It was a nice, relaxed opportunity to introduce new people to my work.

So by keeping my expectations low, my presentation skills high, by keeping myself busy even during slow times (but totally available during busy times) I ended up having a great time, acceptable sales and met some amazing new collectors of my work!

Trunk display for my trunk show!

Trunk display for my trunk show!

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NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??

I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.

A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?

Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.

But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000″ up to “over $1,000,000″.

The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.

Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.

But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.

And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….

Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.

The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.

Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.

I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!

My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.

If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.

Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.

When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.

And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.

I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.

P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.

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

VACATION MODE–OFF! Sunburn, Island Dogs and Fire Safety

We’re back from our very first Caribbean family vacation. We spent a week on the Turks and Caicos islands. And yes, it’s as beautiful as it looks in the pictures.

My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.

Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.

We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.

Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.

Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.

People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.

And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.

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Jewelry Display #5: Organic Design

By “organic”, I don’t mean your jewelry display has to be crunchy-granola, or even of natural materials. What I mean is, choose display that supports the style of your jewelry. Or choose display that falls away so completely, only your jewelry is noticeable.

Avoid display that overwhelms your jewelry. You’ll know this is happening when people try to buy your display fixtures! They really can’t tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

When this happens, some craftspeople bemoan how stupid their customers are. But that’s not the case.

If your customers really can’t tell, then you have confused them. It’s your job to make the distinction clear, not their job to stand in your booth and wonder if you make and sell earrings, or if you make and sell very cool earring holders.

Avoid display that takes your work down a notch in materials or quality. Display that looks cheap will not reflect well on your hard work and creativity. You can make great display with inexpensive materials , but be sure it looks classy !

Notice when your display materials is working against your story or aesthetic. When I first started out, I used more wood fixtures for display–until people began asking me if I were making my artifacts out of wood.

Now, this is not to denigrate wood carvers, but “wood” does not normally translate into “ancient artifacts”. (Yes, people have been carving wood for ages, but it doesn’t usually last 15,000 except under unusual conditions.

If I wanted people to think I was using fossil ivory or bone or antler, then I needed to eliminate a possible comparison to wood. That’s why I’ll occasionally include deer antlers in my display. Not too much–just enough to suggest animal material rather than plant material. Something that could have endured over thousands of years instead of only hundreds.

“Organic” can actually be “techno”, if that’s your jewelry style, if the display seems like a natural extension of your work. The danger here is going too far with it.

At a major trade show, I saw a new exhibitor with extraordinary handmade cases. Made with ordinary metal hardware combined in a highly creative way, they were absolutely stunning.

They were so stunning that, though people flocked in from the aisles for a closer look, the cases actually overwhelmed her jewelry. Her jewelry was okay, but not nearly as “cutting edge” as her cases. In fact, in comparison to her cases, I was mildly disappointed in her jewelry designs. I don’t think I would have felt this way if her cases hadn’t been so wonderful.

As I looked, I heard her answer another viewer for probably the hundredth time about how she made her cases, and no, the cases were not for sale, and no, she was not taking orders for the cases, she made jewelry.

Of course, if you find yourself in this situation, maybe you could seriously consider a new career in making cases!

The concept of “organic display” is why the typical jewelry store displays like these and these don’t usually work so well with handmade jewelry.

What do they look like? They look like displays you’d see in commercial jewelry stores (where, unless it’s artisan-owned, much of the jewelry is ready-made) and department stores.

They are not usually associated with unusual, handcrafted or unique jewelry. They don’t accentuate what’s wonderful about your work. They just look too ordinary. And yet they can be so obtrusive, they won’t “disappear” and let your work shine.

They’re not totally useless–I like to include a few of these “traditional” pieces in my display, just to mix it up a bit.

You can do the experiment for yourself: The next time you set up your jewelry for your booth, take a few pictures from different angles. Preferably from where a potential customer would walk down the aisle and first see your booth.

If all you see are rows and rows of identical standard units*, ask yourself if this is really the best way for folks to understand what is wonderful about your work.

*(With apologies to the perfectly-nice people who make this jewelry for resale. It probably works for them and their market. But hopefully our market is different.)

Remember, especially when times are hard, people still love to shop. But they also try to avoid temptation. It’s so easy to run through a show and quickly eliminate an ordinary-looking booth by dismissing it as “just another jewelry booth.” I’ve done it.

Let your display stand out enough to pull them in.

But then let your work do the shining.

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #3: How Sweet It Is…

Candy, that is.  And today’s display idea is a candy dish from a dollar store.

I think this cost me about $6 or $7. I’ve started seeing similar items elsewhere, too, so keep lookout if you think it might work for you.

Here’s what it could look like as jewelry display. (I know, I know, my photography is awful. That’s why I’m a fiber artist, dude!)

Actually this was a real rush set-up, just to give you a way to look at “ordinary items” with an eye for display. What I like about this candy dish thingie is a) it breaks down into parts, so it’s easy to transport; b) it has different levels; and c) it was cheap!

To make it lighter/easier to pack or ship, you could look for baskets to substitute for the dishes.

Utilizing different eye levels in your display is a quick and easy way to add interest and movement.

Bruce Baker, noted speaker on selling and marketing craft, commented on artists and display years ago. He said, “Artists tend to line everything up–paintings, jewerly, pots. It’s so boring!” I thought it was an odd thing to say at the time. Aren’t artists creative?? Don’t we like wild and crazy??

But I started looking at booths and displays more closely, and he’s right. We may be wild/crazy/reckless/ambitious/outre/color-outside-the-lines with our art. But we tend to be very rigid and linear in our display.

Vary the levels a little, set some things off-kilter, work with small groupings and assemblages. See for yourself if it helps generate more interest in your display.

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JEWELRY DISPLAY #2: Mix It Up!

I found a cool item this weekend at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s a black metal tree for hanging jewelry called (appropriately enough) “Hannah jewelry tree.”

Since this is an item that’s made with jewelry display in mind, it doesn’t take any tweeking to use with your wares. It could work with a lot of different design styles. It could probably be painted if you wanted a different look. Maybe it would even work for displaying ornaments.

It does have drawbacks. It would be a bear to pack if you have “away” shows. (If you intend to do that, hang on the the box and packing materials it comes in.)

It doesn’t hold a ton of pieces, either. That can work to your advantage, though, since most craftspeople, especially jewelry people, usually have too much stuff.

Another reason not to go overboard with this display is that reaching into its branches could be intimidating to your customers. Jewelry, especially fashion jewelry, usually sells better when people can touch it and pick it up to look at it easily. People hesitate to touch displays that look tricky to navigate, or tippy. (No one likes being “the oaf” in a booth….!!)

I still thought it was interesting enough to snag a couple and do the experiment. Here’s an impromptu shot of a mix of displays to show you how different ones can work together.

I actually saw a variation on this tree recently, at a Marshall’s store. The base was a large, polished “bole” of wood, and the tree was more….tree-ish. More leaves and such. Heavier, too. And more expensive! I think the BB&B version is nicer because it’s simpler and lends itself more to display.

I’ll share more unusual items for jewelry display soon. If you’re the kind of person who likes to “read ahead, you can see the rest of the images in this series at Flickr. How do I know that’s you? Because that’s what I always do!

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