Category Archives: customer care

MODERN TRAVELS/TRAVAILS

My nephew is getting married today in Chicago. He’s the first grandchild in our family, and the first one to get married, too. I wanted to be there.

(This is a long shaggy dog story about poor customer service, so if you’re not in the mood, just scroll down to the last few paragraphs.)

So I spent hours researching flight schedules and ticket prices. Found a great deal on Spirit, non-stop (bonus!) and acceptable times. (We live two hours from various airports, so 6 a.m. flights are not an option….)

I made my sisters & sisters-in-law (old and new) jewelry two days before. I went over my wardrobe the night before. I packed my bags, got a good night’s sleep, and printed out my boarding pass.

In hindsight, maybe I should have foreseen where this was all heading when I realized I had to pay an extra $70 to carry on ONE bag ($35 each way.) And to ensure an aisle seat (knee surgery last month, remember?), I had to pay an extra $20. So the “bargain fare” was beginning to look less and less like a bargain.

Oh, well. It was worth it, right?

We left for the airport with my husband in good time to catch my flight.

My husband dropped me off at the terminal for Spirit, and that’s where the real fun began.

I had a mental hiccup–do you have to check in if you already have your boarding pass? I asked one of the “line helpers” at a neighboring airline.

“You with United? No? You have to go over there for Spirit.” I told him it was a pretty generic question, but he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t “his” customer, so he just insisted I go somewhere else. Of course, I realized after one quick look at the ticket kiosk that I was all set. As I walked away, he followed me, saying repeatedly, “Miss! Did you get the answer to your question? Can I help you?” Well, thank you for the help–NOT.

I went through one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen, with a nervous gentleman behind who kept trying to nudge me forward or snake around me. He finally succeeded in doing so, only to be pulled from the line to be searched. HA!

I found my gate and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.

Finally, one of the other passengers went up to ask what was going on. Guess what? Our flight was cancelled. When were they going to announce it? In a little while. Why? There was bad weather in Chicago (which I found out later was not so bad and didn’t last long.) Our flight was not delayed, or rescheduled. Just cancelled. There would be no rebookings til the next day, in the afternoon. AFTER the wedding.

A bunch of us tried to find a new flight, but it was difficult. I realized I’d be arriving very late, if at all, and exhausted (still recovering from surgery, not much stamina.) I decided to just get a refund and go home. I’m glad I did, because I saw the other passenger two hours later, still trying to rebook her flight with another airline, with no success.

I called the hotel to cancel my reservation–I only had a couple hours before a penalty fee would kick in. I was put on hold several times. The agent asked for my confirmation code eight times. (No exaggeration.) She kept asking when I would be arriving. I kept reminding her I was cancelling. She kept putting me on hold to “check with a supervisor.” After being kept on hold for 10 minutes, I hung up and used my smartphone to cancel the reservation on their website. It took me one minute.

I decided to have lunch while waiting for Jon to come pick me up. I went to the only restaurant outside the secured area. I asked the man at the cash register if it was self-serve or table service. (It looked like both, and I wanted to be served.) “We have table service,” he said. “Sit anywhere!” I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. After fifteen minutes, (and after several larger groups were seated after me, and waited on before me), I decided to just get a salad to go and eat it in the hallway. I picked a packaged salad and waited at the cash register. And waited. And waited. Near me were a group of waiters chatting. I waited about five minutes, then turned and walked out. As I walked out, one of them ran after me, saying, “Miss, can I help you? Miss! Did you want something??”

I got a quick sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts. (I was desperate.) Jon soon arrived, and we started home.

We decided to stop in Jaffrey and eat at a very nice inn. It was lovely. We sat on the screened-in porch and watched the world go by.

After a few minutes, I left to go use the restroom. Jon said it was kind of hidden, and to just ask one of the staff. After wandering through a few rooms, I saw a waiters station with three staff members talking. I waited til I caught the eye of one of the waiters and said, “Can you tell me where the restroom is?”

And he said, “Yes.”

I waited. He waited. I waited. He waited.

I know he thought he was being funny. I know he didn’t know I’d already had a 10 hour day full of waiting, disappointment, rude and pompous air terminal employees, and a long, hot drive still ahead of us. I know it was a joke.

Unfortunately, I was in no mood.

I turned around and walked out.

Of course, he came chasing after me. “It was a joke, I’m so sorry, the restroom is right there!”

We finished our meal, paid and left.

On the way home, I thought about the day’s events.

I wanted to be at that wedding. I tried hard to be at that wedding.

It’s nobody’s fault that I can’t be there, but it’s certainly not mine. All day long, I dealt with people who were paid to serve me, paid to assist me, paid to give me excellent customer service.

Very, very few of them did.

At one of the fanciest restaurants in the region, I was humiliated. I just wanted to know where I could pee. I politely asked a paid employee for assistance. All he had to do was point and say, “Right there” and I would have been content. Instead, at the end of a very long, exhausting day, I was made the butt of his little joke.

In fact, the best customer service I received that day was from the two cheerful, accommodating women at Dunkin’ Donuts. They were making minimum wage, and they barely spoke English. But that didn’t stop them from making sure my coffee was exactly the way I wanted it. (And yes, I gave them a big tip.)

So here’s the customer service point:

Whenever I write or talk about giving great customer service at a show, in your booth, when I write about how to answer customers’ questions about your work or your product, there’s always someone who insists that a funny, snappy answer is a good thing. When you ask, “How long did it take you to make this?” they respond, “It took me 30 years to make that!” I am here to tell you, it’s not funny to the person who asked you a question.

As a person who was exhausted, in need, and paying a lot of money to have a nice dinner, I just did not appreciate the “joke”.

In fact, I contend it’s not “a joke” nor “funny” to the person who’s at your mercy. It’s condescending at best, and passive-aggressive at worst.

Please. Don’t do this to your customers.

The best service I received that day was from a woman at Dunkin’ Donuts who barely spoke English. She simply kept asking if my order was “okay?” until I said yes. She put more cream in my coffee, gave me more napkins for my sandwich, till I was “okay!” Taking care of me wasn’t “beneath her”. She didn’t even need to smile or crack jokes. She simply took her job seriously, and I am grateful.

All the customer service advice in the world comes down to this, and it’s really very simple.

Treat your customers as treasured guests (until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt they don’t deserve it, and even them, simply move them on.) Okay, maybe they are stupid. But more likely, they are confused, overwhelmed or exhausted.

If you want your customers to become owners, treat them with courtesy. With kindness. With respect.

That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, customer care, questions you don't have to answer

CLEANING MY DESK

Here’s a link to the column I wrote for the art marketing blog at Fine Art Views:

Cleaning My Desk

I hope it helps you with your next studio housekeeping chore!

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Filed under art, craft, customer care, fear of failing, Fine Art Views, mental attitude

QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: “Do You Have a Website?”

Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?

Don't be too quick to hand these out!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, customer care, questions you don't have to answer, selling, selling online, shows

SELLING YOUR WORK: Far Afield? Or Close to Home?

There are pros and cons to being a ‘local artist’, and many artists opt to ‘get out of Denver’ as quickly as they can. But there are deep reasons to building a local audience first.

I got an email newsletter from artist and writer Robert Genn. I always enjoy his thoughts on making and selling art. He’s a good writer, and a thoughtful one.

Today (insert link here) he tells why he decided to skip a local market, and developed more distant venues to sell his paintings.

I felt the same way when I started out with my art. I feared that ancient ponies and bone awls would never find a hold in a traditional New England marketplace. I did a few local shows, just to prove to myself I needed to go further afield. And then I did just that.

But I’m here today to eat my words. (I do that a lot.) There are lots of good reasons to start local. And I’ll give you suggestions on how to make it work.

You’ll learn how to talk about your work.

“I hate talking about my work!” “I don’t know what to say.” “My work speaks for itself.” “I’m shy–I just can’t talk to people!” I’ve heard–and said–these words so many times. Let’s cut to the chase. Art rarely ‘sells itself’. Somebody has to talk about it. If it’s not you, then it has to be your gallery or sales rep.

And how are they going to know what to say about it unless you give them a clue? If a thousand artists paint a picture of a tree in a field, then how will someone decide yours is the one that goes home with them?

If you believe that artistically knowledgeable people can tell the difference between your tree and 99 others, or a thousand others, or 10,000, then you’re going to have to be the absolute best painter out there.

In reality, many collectors aren’t looking for ‘the best out there’. They want to believe the one they like best, is the best one.

And your job is to tell them why your painting is the best for them.

You can do it with credentialing–art school degrees, awards, honors, solo shows, etc. You can do it with publicity–press releases, getting your work published and exhibited, etc.

The easiest thing, of course, is to just tell them. You share your technique, your process, your story. Whatever works best to connect them to your work. (You know I vote for ‘story’, but if it feels safer to start with ‘process’, go for it.)

Of course, a gallery will do this for you. But who tells the gallery? Yup. Y-O-U. I got practice talking to my customers. By the time I talked to gallery owners, I was comfortable and confident.

You’ll discover what people love about your work.

I talked easily and readily about why I loved my work, once I got used to the notion. It’s when I shut up and listened that I found out why others loved it.

What other people say about your work is powerful. People overhearing someone else saying something wonderful, is even more powerful.

People saw things in my work that astonished me. As they told me how it affected them, what it meant to them, I became even more dedicated to making it. I realized I need to make it. And others need to see it.

That’s hard to do when your work–and your audience–is a thousand miles away.

And it’s powerful to be able to say to a prospective gallery, “This is what people say about my work….”

You’ll perfect your booth, your display, your signage, your entire presentation.

Let’s say you do get that perfect out-of-state show with the oh-so-sophisticated audience, or the super duper gallery with the big name artists roster. What will they say when they see your awkward framing? Your lack of support materials?

What do you do when your far from home and realize you’re missing a critical piece of your booth? It’s one thing to run home and grab it. It’s another to be looking for the nearest Home Depot at night, in a cab.

Doing local shows was an education. I learned the hard way how to streamline my set-up and breakdown (as much as I can with jewelry cases, table top AND wall displayed items!) I learned they hard way what was essential and what wasn’t. I learned through practice the best ways to display my work.

And then I did my first big out-of-state show. When I did, I hit the ground running. (Well. Running, yes. But there was still a lot I had to learn!)

You’ll generate enough money to keep going.

Getting into an out-of-state art exhibit was exhilarating. It forced me to get good images of my work, and to go looking for opportunity.

But it wasn’t great for sales.

It was a small but steady stream of local sales that kept me going. My local collectors supported me just enough for me to always take the next step. And that was really all I needed.

You’ll learn that you are responsible for your success.

Local market or farther afield, it still takes dedication and work to build your name as an artist. It’s easy to say, “Oh, no one around here appreciates good art” or “People here are too cheap to buy real art.”

I would have an easier time believing that, if I didn’t hear artists from around the world say this. All. THE. TIME.

We all like to blame others when our efforts don’t fly. I do! I want to blame everybody except myself.

I know we can’t control everything. I know we can’t command success. I know sometimes even the best efforts fail.

But we are responsible for doing the best we can.

As I learned how to do better–as I knew better–I did better, and I got better. My presentation improved. My ideas grew. My self-promotion got better. I learned how to believe in myself, and my art.

And I found it a lot easier to learn how to do that, with local venues and local customers.

The biggest reason I’m glad I started local?

When times got hard, I had a safety net.

When the recession hit, and the sales at big shows fell off, when galleries were closing left and right, my local audience saved my ass.

In all the years I’d bemoaned the lack of a ‘local audience’, my small band of collectors and supporters was actually growing quietly and steadily.

My open studios became more successful. My sales at state craft venues climbed–the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair; the League shops: the Sharon Arts Center. Each year, just as sales tapered off at one venue, another would leap ahead. (For various reasons, my work tends to ‘cycle’ in popularity. Instead of despairing when sales falter, I now know to sit tight and come back with new work in a year or two.)

I now feel honored and supported by my local community.

As I said in my article about local self-promotion, publicizing your successes goes a long way to building that local audience. But I’ve learned it’s well worth the effort.

With the ease of discovering new markets and venues on the Internet, I don’t feel any artist is limited anymore to a local market. But I wouldn’t discount them, either.

Put your eggs in both baskets, and see what happens.

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Filed under art, business, customer care, finding your tribe, marketing, press release

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 2

This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.

Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM

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….”

Don’t leave your early collectors behind.

Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.

In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.

In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.

Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.

I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.

There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.

She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”

I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.

For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.

When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.

To my dismay, things had changed.

Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.

It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.

Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.

The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.

Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.

She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.

She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”

She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.

I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.

Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.

I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.

In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.

At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.

I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.

I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.

I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.

I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.

As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.

I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.

They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.

Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.

But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.

Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.

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Filed under art, business, collectors, craft, craft shows, customer care, Fine Art Views, marketing, Respect Your Collectors, selling, shows

SAY THE RIGHT THING

When is a stupid question from a customer not a stupid question? You can read my latest column at the Fine Art Views website here.

A great tip on customer care just in time for your summer shows!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, craft, craft shows, customer care, marketing, selling, shows

WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Yes, You Have One!

We all have a story that tells us how to live, and who we are.

There were so many beautiful, thoughtful, passionate responses to the last post, I have to write more on the topic.

There were so many threads to follow, too! Copying hit a nerve, on both sides. Some echoed the plaints of many, that they don’t have a story. Some had a story, but didn’t think it was “big enough”. And others were afraid to share theirs.

I don’t have all the answers. I can offer insights I’ve gained, insights gleaned sometimes easily, sometimes painfully, on my own journey as an artist. And I will continue to share those with you as this series continues.

Today, let’s start with how I know you already have a story:

You are a human being.

Over the centuries, there have been many definitions of what it means to be human. From “Man is the animal who uses tools” to “Man is the only animal that blushes–or needs to” (Mark Twain) and “Man is the only animal that uses Mastercard”, we strive to understand what sets us apart from other living things.

I believe we are the animals who tell stories.

We tell stories about everything. Why we don’t think we are pretty. Why our life sucks. Why we were late to that appointment. Why we deserve a raise, or a vacation, or that outrageously expensive pair of boots.

We have stories about why our mom loved our brothers more, why it’s a good thing to believe in God, why someone else is successful and we’re not, and why we’re successful and other people aren’t.

Whether you tell a funny story about your childhood or the sad story of how your first big relationship ended, you are telling a story.

And if you get to a point in life where you are able to dig deeper, when you feel brave enough, or desperate enough, or simply tired of all the b/s you give yourself…

…You will find a story about why you make the art you do.

My gripe is, sometimes we settle for the easy story and don’t go any deeper. That’s why when a creative person says “I just love color!” I cringe. Who doesn’t love color??

Luann's wall o'fabric

But we all gotta start somewhere.

Here’s your incentive to go deeper:

When you start to know your story well enough to share it with others, you will strengthen the connections they form with your work.

Because no matter how unique your story is, and no matter how ordinary your story is, there are people who will relate to it. It will resonate with something in them. It will inspire them. It will make them laugh–or gasp–in recognition.

So let’s get started.

Your homework for today, if you don’t think you have a story about your art, is to write down what you do have. We’ll start there, and we’ll poke at it, and see what happens next.

Get out your pointy sticks!

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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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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, business, craft shows, customer care, demonstrating, jewelry, jewelry display, marketing, shows, trunk show

EMBRACE THE POWER OF THEY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 3

Your homework, before/after you read this article today, is to take eight minutes and listen to this podcast:

Listen to music excerpt and composer David Lang’s statement by clicking Listen to the whole show on this page. (8 minutes, if you skip the fund raising and stuff at the end.)

After that, if you want to listen to the entire composition without the artist’s comments, you can click on Listen to David Lang’s piece – Départs (18’14″) at the bottom of this page. (18 minutes)

Lang was commissioned to create a very special work of music, to quote the intro at WNYC “Radiolab”:

Imagine that you’re a composer. Imagine getting this commission: “Please write us a song that will allow family members to face the death of a loved one…” Well, composer David Lang had to do just that when a hospital in Garches, France, asked him to write music for their morgue, or “Salle Des Departs.”

Sounds morbid. But this piece is so poignant, I’ve listened to it a dozen times already. (Thank you to Heather Lawless for sharing this example in her recent workshop on artist statements at the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, NH.)

Lang’s comments do not comprise a formal “artist statement”. But the story this artist tells about his work, contains the elements of a powerful artist statement.

Lang does not focus on describing his techniques.

He tells enough about his process to make you want to listen more closely to the music. Akin to one definition of a good artist statement, that it “makes you want to go back and look at the art again.”

He tells why composing this piece meant so much to him. “I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for this opportunity…”

He tells a simple, honest, personal story–about death, loss and grieving–that anyone can relate to.

He shares the effects he used to compose the piece: Music that “cannot be performed live, that is beyond the ability of human beings to perform.” Music he hopes “no one should ever actually have to hear.” These are not semantic word play; they are powerful metaphors for the grief born of of any death–but especially sudden, tragic death.

His goal was to create an environment that, unlike most music, does not tell the listener how to feel or how to act. Instead, it gives permission for the audience to define their own experience. “Here is my contribution. Now I leave you so you can make your own.”

It’s possible someone else might intuitively understand everything he says from the music alone. But I couldn’t. If I’d heard this piece alone, I might think it was pretty, even beautiful.

The power of the artist’s words makes the experience richer, more poignant, and more meaningful. I felt like this artist was taking something deeply important for him, and sharing it with me. I felt that sharing, that connection–and it moved me.

Now, for the artists who want the work to speak for itself, no comment needed from them…. Okay. If you want to split hairs, then yes, Lang says his music does not tell the listener how to feel.

And yes, people listening to it in the room would not hear his words and thoughts overlaid. The music would, indeed, have to “speak for itself”.

But the intended audience is in extreme circumstances, not a concert hall. They are in a situation few of us would wish upon our worst enemy–the last chance to say goodbye to a loved one who will never hear it.

We, the ones with the luxury of sitting back, safely at a distance, and only imagining the horrible circumstances under which we would hear this music, are only fooling ourselves with that academic argument.

When we are afraid to talk about our work in this way, when we focus on technique (“I used a #10 camel’s hair brush on gessoed linen canvas”) or our education (“I studied at this university, or under this famous artist…”), when we resort to cliche’ (“I just love color!”), when when we say nothing and insist our art “speaks for itself”, we shortchange our audience.

We leave them to make their own connection. But we’ve eliminated the human interaction. We say, “No need for me to reveal myself as human, or as a feeling/caring/grieving/loving/being person. You either get it or you don’t. So there!”

I believe, as artists, we can do better than this. I believe our responsibility to our customer, to our audience, to the world, is deeper than this.

There are those who will simply not agree with me, and that’s okay. (Just don’t write to tell me, okay? Not today. Not about this.) Maybe my hospice training is removing another protective layer off my psyche. Maybe my age is showing here. Maybe I’ve always been “too sensitive” for my own good.

There’s a time and a place for more formal, stuffy artist statements, I get that. And hey, I’m still nudging closer to my own truth. Haven’t gotten it down to half a page yet.

But to quote one of my favorite writers….(I love Anne Lamotte and I welcome the opportunity to throw her words at you today):

….Then two things happened. One was that I got obsessed with something my best friend had said right before she died, when she was in a wheelchair, wearing a wig to cover her baldness, weighing almost no pounds, but very serene, very alive. We were at Macy’s. I was modeling a short dress for her that I thought my boyfriend would like. But then I asked whether it made me look big in the hips, and Pammy said, as clear and kind as a woman can be, “Annie? You really don’t have that kind of time.” I just got it. I got it deep in my being. And all of a sudden, two years ago, it began ringing through the chambers of my head again: You don’t have that kind of time.

You really don’t have that kind of time.

We do not know when our last day on earth will be. Maybe we got fifty years, maybe fifty weeks. Maybe ten minutes. There is a certain clarity when we do, and that is one of the many gifts of hospice.

Say what you mean to say. Make the work that is important to you. Share it with the world in a meaningful way. We’re big enough, we’re strong enough.

That’s why we were given the gift of being creative.

And so I say to you all, “Artist! Embrace the power of thy ample heart!”

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Filed under art, artist statement, craft, creativity, customer care, marketing

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #5: My Art Speaks for Itself

Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.

We all know the scene:

Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”

If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.

Here’s my own personal observation:

Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.

Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.

There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.

Here are some ways not to talk about your art:

PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.

Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.

Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.

Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.

And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.

Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.

I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”

Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)

ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.

RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.

FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.

I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.

All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….

Why?

I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.

So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?

Most importantly… Why should your audience care??

I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.

When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)

They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.

That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.

Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.

And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.

How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.

If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.

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Filed under art, artist statement, booth behavior, craft, customer care, marketing, mental attitude, myths about artists, press release, self promotion, selling, telling your story

CUSTOMER CARE: Feel the Love

Never forget the love you have for what you do. Remember the blessing of being able to make what you make.

Here’s something to consider the next time you feel a sharp retort rising to your lips when someone in your booth asks a “stupid question”. (Which, in case you don’t already know, isn’t so stupid after all.

The times I find it hardest to deal with problem customers, is when I am not in a good space myself.

There will be times in your life when things get hard. When nothing seems to go right. When you body simply can’t do what you ask of it, not the simplest task. When worries about money seem to overwhelm everything else. When your spirit is exhausted.

There will be people in your life who make things difficult. People who are impossible to please. People who are threatened by what you do. People who are envious of what you have.

There will be stages in your life when you question everything about your work. Is it good enough? Is it still my best work? Does the world even want it? Do I still believe in it?

And just like the times when a difficult child needs your love all the more, this is the time to remember the love you have for your art.

Here’s how that happens for me:

I’ve been head-high in frenzied preparations for my upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. On one hand, it’s my tenth year at the Fair, and I pretty much know what to do. On the other hand, every year there’s something major I forget/mess up/leave to the last minute. Every year there’s a big scramble to deal with it, with frantic phone calls, late nights and the inevitable last-minute make-do. (Which almost always seems to work out better than my original intention.)

This year is no exception. But I have some secret weapons.

The first is modern medicine. After waiting years for the brain buzz of menopause to wear off, I realized it wasn’t going away and it wasn’t even getting better. I realized I’ve always had it–it was just getting worse with age. I sought professional help. I’m now seeing an excellent therapist who specializes in working with creative people. And I’m on a very low dosage of anti-anxiety medication. (Don’t worry, not the addictive stuff!)

For the first time in years, I am sometimes sleeping through the night. I don’t wake up in a panic with my heart racing. Get this–my blood pressure (which used to be low normal but has inched upwards for five years) dropped almost 25 points–in a month! My doc isn’t sure why, but she says we’ll take it. (She thinks it may be the relief from constant worrying.)

I feel more at peace with myself. All the issues I knew intellectually how to manage, but couldn’t emotionally let go of, are softening. I know enlightenment can’t be found in a pill bottle, but it sure makes it easier to actually listen to my heart.

The second secret weapon is my work. The Fair is a concrete “deadline” which helps generate creative energy. Simply immersing myself in making new artifacts always centers me. Okay, partly I bury myself in making bears and otters and horses because it’s much more fun than figuring out how to make new covers for my jewelry case pedestals. Procrastination is a powerful tool in my life for getting something else done.

The third secret weapon is the Fair itself. Despite all the hard work getting ready for, and just being at the Fair (3 days of set-up, 9 days of show), there is a lot of good energy at the Fair.

My daughter, to date, has always found time to come and work with me again, even if only for that first, very busy opening weekend. She’s worked in my booth at both retail and wholesale shows for over eight years now. She’s not only very good at it, she’s simply a joy to be with.

There are old friends to catch up with, new exhibitors to meet, wonderful work to see (and buy!), music, wine and the incredible beauty of Mount Sunapee itself.

And my customers are a big secret weapon, too.

Opening day at the Fair is tough. It takes me awhile to get my “sea legs”. (Would that be “Fair legs”??) To get into the rhythm of being “on stage” instead of “in my studio”.

But when I catch the rhythm, I can dance all day. All week!

People who have bought from me for years, come to see what’s new. People who bought something for the first time last year, come back to tell me how much they love it. People bring their friends to introduce them the artist. (Moi. Maybe in my normal hours I look like a dumpy middle-aged woman, but at a show I am an artiste.) People who lost an earring or broke a necklace rush in to see if I can make their favorite piece wonderful and wearable again. People who I encouraged to pursue their own creative destiny stop by to share their own lovely work.

Even years when the Fair is slow, the energy from seeing my old collectors and meeting new ones, is a spiritual high.

In the midst of all this wonderful, powerful energy, I would be a small person to let an off comment or odd interaction here and there, to bring me down.

But I would be human, too. Because that’s what we do–we hang on to the one hurtful comment or ignorant act.

Remember–as artists, we can choose:

We can wallow in indignation and anger.

Or we can remember that the work we do is blessed work. Not only for us, but for the world.

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Filed under art, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, mental attitude, selling

CUSTOMER CARE: Repair the Goods, Repair the Relationship

What you do for customer care AFTER the sale is important, too!

A question came up in an online forum the other day. People shared their business policy for repairs.

Nobody likes to hear their work didn’t hold up. My heart always sinks when I get a request from a store or customer to repair a piece. I feel slightly guilty. I take pride in my work and always stress the fact that my work is well-made. In fact, my original studio name was Durable Goods. A broken piece feels like I’ve misled the customer.

It doesn’t help that sometimes the customer is already upset and defensive. “It just broke!” is what I usually hear. Who wants to hear that about our product?? Not me.

It helps to take a deep breath and listen with your heart.

I’ve come to realize a few things about the repair process. First, even expensive, commercially-made jewelry isn’t necessarily impervious to harm. A fine gold chain breaks when a jumping dog snags it, diamonds fall out of their settings and rings drop down the garbage disposal. My jewelry is as well-made as I can make it, but things do wear out, get lost, break down. I don’t need to get defensive if one of my pieces gets broken.

I’ve also come to realize that customers often start out on the offensive because they expect to be given a hard time.

Isn’t that awful?? They love my work, they paid their hard-earned money for it, they wore it every day, it broke, they want to get it fixed so they can wear it some more.

And they think I’m going to be snotty about it. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from other small businesses and vendors when they have issues with a purchase.

The solution is to immediately reassure them that they will be taken care of. And to offer exquisite customer care.

My first response is, “I’m so sorry that happened! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me make it right for you so you can wear it again.”

As soon as they realize I will listen, and sympathize, and then resolve the issue, they calm down. They are relieved and grateful they will be taken care of.

As they describe or show the damage (depending on whether they’ve called or come to my booth at a show), I assess what has to be done. I offer options–repair, replace, restring, etc.

After I’ve assured them the piece can be repaired, then it’s time to gently find out how the damage occurred.

This will give valuable information about whether the damage is their “fault” or mine. This is not to assess blame. It’s to determine whether I need to make changes in my process, or if this is a “teachable moment” for the customer.

Here’s how I think about it:

If I had TONS of repairs, then it might be MY problem.

A lot of repairs indicates I have to review my product and perhaps make adjustments. Maybe I need to look at my construction techniques and ask myself why I was getting so many returns. Is the stringing material durable enough? Was the glue old? (Even epoxies have a shelf life.) When I was just starting out selling jewelry, I thought I could save money by using cheap spring clasps for my necklaces. The clasps didn’t hold up. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of returns for repairs. That was a valuable lesson. I now only work with high-quality components.

If I DON’T have a lot of repairs, then providing free (or at least cheerful) repairs is the best customer service I can give.

Either the customer loved the item enough to wear it often and is disappointed she can’t anymore or she paid a lot for item and didn’t get the usage out of it she expected.

Either way, she has paid me a very high compliment–loving my work, and investing in my work.

Either way, a repair will make her very, very happy, and willing to buy from me again.

A refusal will upset her and you can bet she will let everybody know about it.

So what do I mean by a “teachable moment”?

If I’ve put the customer at ease by reassuring her I will take care of her, and it turns out the damage is not my fault, then there’s an opportunity to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A customer indignantly said the artifact on her necklace “just broke.” I immediately told her I was sorry. I asked her to send it to me immediately, and I would either repair or replace it. I apologized for the inconvenience, and she grew calmer. We talked more. She told me she desperately hoped I could fix it, because she loved the artifact (a horse.) Under gentle questioning, she admitted that when she was nervous, she liked to “flex” a flat artifact pendant I’d made. That “flexing” eventually caused the artifact to break.

Her initial defensive attitude was because she thought I would not help her if she admitted she’d broken it, and she was distraught because she loved it so much.

I made her a new, thicker pendant, jokingly telling her “no more flexing!” Because she loved the original artifact so much, I glued it back together, put a backing layer of polymer on it to strengthen it, and made it into a pin.

When I’m feeling defensive, this is important to keep in mind: An item that breaks with overuse means the item was being worn, and worn a lot. One woman told me she never took off the silk cord necklace she’d bought from me. She even wore it swimming, and showered in it.

It took some doing to convince her that silk cord won’t hold up under that kind of usage. But that was just proof of how much she loved it. And I still restrung her necklace. Free.

Last, when you have wholesale customers and get a customer repair request, remember you are actually dealing with two customers–their customer, and the store owner/buyer/manager. When you show your willingness to stand behind your work, you make it easier for the store to do their work–selling your stuff.

Just my humble opinion, and experience. And of course, there are exceptions.

We’ve all had the occasional customer who simply can’t be satisfied. It happens rarely in face-to-face encounters. It’s more common with online sales if you don’t already have a relationship with the customer. When you feel you’ve gone above and beyond, and the customer is still not happy, it may be worth your while to simply take the item back and refund their money.

And if your materials are very expensive, then of course you may have to charge a reasonable fee for repairs regardless of why they are needed.

But even if you must charge for repairs, these are still ways you can make your customer feel treasured. Listening and taking care of your customers after the sale–offering support and non-judgmental service–is excellent customer service indeed.

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Filed under art, business, craft, customer care, jewelry, listening, mental attitude, selling

CUSTOMER CARE: It’s Not Just WHAT You Do, It’s HOW.

Expecting customers to already know how to do business with you, is not good customer care.

I had an interesting–no, make that incredibly frustrating–exchange with the post office awhile ago. It got me thinking about customer care.

We may have different ideas of what giving good customer care is, but we all recognize when we’re not getting it.

If you want to read the conversation, I put it at the end of the article. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my point:

Nobody knows your business like you do. Nobody knows better than you how you prefer people to order, pay or ask for more information. Nobody knows better than you what your return policy is.

Yep, nobody knows better than you–not even your customers.

Nor should you expect them to.

Expecting people to know the ins, outs and idiosyncracies of your biz, and treating them like they’re stupid when they don’t, is not good customer care.

We all have unique ways of running our business. We have our policies and procedures for handling orders, mistakes, returns, questions and repairs. We know our hours of operation, our location, our inventory. After all, we deal with our business every day.

But our customers don’t.

We should keep in mind that our customers deal with many, many other businesses, every day–not just ours.

They deal with schools, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, shoe stores, hair salons, pharmacies, baby sitters, auto dealers, telephone companies, banks and post offices. They order online from Amazon, Blockbuster, Borders, eBay and Medco.

Each of these businesses does things a little bit differently. Each asks its customers to interact with them slightly differently. Each one has their own hours of operation, procedures, policies, forms, payment methods.

As wonderful and distinctive as I’d like to think my biz is, to my customers–even my loyal, loving, regular customers–it’s just one more operation with its own hours, procedures, policies, etc., etc.

Very few people want to expend a lot of brain cells memorizing all the nuances of each business, especially if their interaction is infrequent. After all, how many insurance claims have you filed in your life? Should you be expected to know the name of the form, the supporting documents you need, and the deadline for filing it? Especially if the procedure was updated since you filed your last claim eight years ago?

Even “standard procedures”–say, writing a check for cash at the bank–is tricky if we only do it once every few years. Do you make it out to yourself, or to the bank or for “cash”? Which method do you have to endorse? Which method does the bank prefer??

If we work at a bank, it’s obvious. However, if we rarely even visit the inside of a bank anymore, it’s not so obvious.

Remember–We are just one more business our customers deal with. There’s nothing “more special” about us that would lead us to expect they should memorize how we want things done.

We may think our website is easy to navigate. We may think our return policy is hard to miss. We may think it’s obvious how to use our product. But maybe it’s not. Or maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle.

It’s even worse when policies are non-standard or downright odd. I bet we all know businesses that are closed Sundays and Mondays. Or Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open 4-7 on Tuesday, 12-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, closed Thursdays, and open Friday 10-3. Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only (but no phone number is given and they never answer the store phone.)

Am I really expected to remember that? Maybe for one biz. But for two? Six? Twenty???

Even something as supposedly stable as location can get dicey. Some businesses around here have moved three, four, even five times in the 20 years we’ve been here. Once I sent my husband on an errand I usually take care of. He called me fifteen minutes later–no store. Where the heck were they?, he wanted to know. He’d gone to their address from five years ago. It was already two addresses old.

It’s bad enough to assume people will remember all our quirky hours, or that we tend to move every three years. It’s bad enough to assume they know all the proper terminology, or are familiar with all the forms they need to do business with us

But it’s even worse to treat your customers like they’re stupid when they don’t know. (Hence my post office story.)

We can tell them, we can show them. Signage in your booth helps. (“We accept all major credit cards.”) But you’re still going to get asked, “Do you take credit cards?” After the fiftieth time you’re asked that, saying, “Read the sign!” is not good customer care. (Unless, of course, it’s the same customer asking fifty times. If that’s the case, I give you permission to say, “Hey, no, I don’t, but that artist (insert the name of your least favorite artist) over there takes credit cards.”) Saying cheerfully, “Yes, we do!” is smart.

Clear, accessible policies on your website helps. (“Custom orders are not returnable.”) Telling them helps. (“If this doesn’t work out for you, you can return this pin for exchange or credit towards another piece within 10 days.”) Putting it in writing helps. (“Items can be returned for exchange or credit ONLY with 10 days of purchase.” on your invoices.) Usually, terms such as your return policy must be posted visibly in your store/booth or printed on the receipt.

Clarity helps. Ensure your website is ridiculously easy to navigate. Redundancy helps. Make vital information incredibly easy to find, posting it in several places if necessary.

But most people (me included) simply let all your information leak into “overflow parking.” It’s human nature: Too. Much. Information. Making them feel stupid when they realize the bracelet is too hard to put on by themselves will put the kabosh on future sales. Offering them a different clasp when they complain, or offering the option of an exchange, will help.

Patience will go a long way when hiccups occur. Yes, some customers ramble and have to be gently reined in. But good listening skills, asking good questions, and simply being professional, courteous–and kind–will help you target what your customer needs from you.

And your customers will appreciate it.

THE CONVERSATION

In this case, I was out of the country for over a week, and it took me a couple of days to get through my mail. So almost 10 days had gone by before I found the a form notice that my mail carrier had attempted delivery of a registered item that needed my signature. It said the item was being held for me at the post office.

I know that some kinds of mail get returned if not claimed within a certain time, but I wasn’t sure if this would happen with my item.

Form in hand, I called the phone number for the post office on the form and spoke to an employee there.

The ensuing conversation read like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.

PO: “Post Office.”

Me: “Hi, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and I got a notice that my carrier had tried to deliver registered package, but no one had been home to sign for it. It’s dated over a week ago, almost 10 days. Is it still at the Post Office, or had it been sent back to the sender?”

PO: “What’s the address?” (Spoiler: She probably should have asked if I had the form.)

I give it to her, she disappears, comes back on line.

PO: “There’s nothing there for that address. What’s your name?”

I tell her my name. (Spoiler: She probably should have said, “What’s the name of the addressee on your form?”) I start to ask if providing a tracking number would help, as there are a couple of numbers on the form, but she puts me on hold again before I can say anything more.

PO: “There’s nothing here under that name.” (silence)

Me: “Oh. Was it sent back already? Is there any way to track it? I have some…” (I was going to say “…numbers on this form” again but she says, “Hang on” and dashes off again.)

PO: “I’ve looked at all the packages and boxes, I looked in x, y, z places and it isn’t here.”

Me: “Oh, sorry, it says here that it’s a ‘large envelope, catalog or…”

PO (very exasperated): “Why didn’t you say so?? Hang on.” (Puts me on hold again, returns.) “Nope, nothing.”

Me: “Is there any way to track it? If I give you the number on the form…”

PO (interrupts): “You have a form?? Why didn’t you tell me that?!”

Me: “Well, I thought I did. Let me read you….”

PO (interrupting again): “Give me the number.”

Me: “Okay, there are several numbers on here, which one…”

PO (interrupting again, speaking louder and faster): “The (indistinct) number.”

Me: “The ‘what’ number?”

PO (angrily): “The (indistinct) number! On the back!”

Me: “Look, I can here you say ‘something number’ but I can’t hear what the ‘something’ is.” (silence)

Me (trying again): “I can’t tell which side of the form is the back or front, there are two numbers, one starts with…”

PO (interrupts again): “The (indistinct) number! On the BACK of the form!”

pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)

Me: “I can hear you say it’s a number and that it’s on the back. My confusion is it’s not very clear which is the front and which is the back of the form, and there are several strings of numbers. Is it the number starting with RF…”

PO (interrupts again): “No, no the number on the BACK!”

Me (cautiously): “Is it the bar code number?”

PO: “That’s not it! The BACK of the form!”

My tongue is now bloody from biting it so hard. I read her one of the other numbers, which thankfully is the right one. She puts me on hold again, and comes back.

PO: “Are you by any chance also known as ‘Durable Goods’?”

Me: “Yes, I….”

PO (interrupting): “Why didn’t you say so?? It’s right here. You can pick it up anytime.” (I refrain from telling her I answered every question she asked me, but she hasn’t answered any of mine yet.)

Me: “Well, actually, I’d like to have it….”

PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”

Me: “I’d rather….”

PO: “What else do you need??”

Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”

PO: “You have to sign the form to have it delivered.”

Me: “Yes, I understand, I can sign the form, I just didn’t know if it were still at the post office…”

PO (interrupting, angrily): “Yes, I SAID it’s RIGHT HERE, you can pick it up anytime. If you sign it, you won’t get it til Friday.”

Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”

PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”

At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.

PO: “Why? She’s not going to get that package to you any faster.”

Me: “Look, this is getting out of hand, I…” and she puts me on hold again.

Supervisor: “Your package is right here, you can pick it up anytime.”

Me: “I know that, I want to let you know how rude….”

Supervisor: “Hold on, the other phone’s ringing.” (puts me on hold) “Look, we’re pretty busy, you’re package is here and you can pick it up anytime.”

Me: “I know that, I’ve been treated very rudely by your employee. Don’t you care about that?”

Supervisor: “Well, I can’t help you with that. Goodbye.”(hangs up)

Now, I usually don’t engage in Post Office bashing. I think they move an incredible amount of mail at reasonable rates. And usually I am treated with courtesy in my interactions with them. Although I noticed the last time I was there that all the nice people have retired….

But if there were another option for mail service, I would have seriously considered it after this little incident.

All this, just because this person assumed I should know their procedures for registered mail. Which I get about once a year. And let me know how dumb she thought I was because I didn’t know.

If all queries are handled like mine was, I have my suspicions about why they’re so busy.

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Filed under art, booth signs, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, selling, selling online

KNOW YOUR PAYPAL

Using PayPal for online sales can be great, but know the drawbacks of PayPal before you get burned.

I found out the hard way that online shopping can be a dangerous thing.

I’ve shopped on Ebay for years, back in the day when its url was actually eBay with a jillion letters and stuff, and many vendors didn’t even post pics of their products. And I was an early user of PayPal, too. It guaranteed your money was safe with Ebay transactions, and it made everything soooooo easy.

As PayPal expanded its services to other online venues, I continued to use it in good faith. I heard rumors of “issues”, but figured it was mostly the kinds of transactions I didn’t indulge in–gold coins, international purchases, deals that were somewhat shady to begin with, etc.

So when I found an ad with a great deal for custom-printed T-shirts on Facebook last month, I didn’t think twice about ordering a bunch for our family. (“I’d Rather Be Watching FIREFLY”, in case you’re wondering.) I paid with my Paypal account, which actually had a balance for a change.

Weeks went by. No T-shirts. I checked back at the website to email the company.

When I clicked on the “contact us” tab, a funny message appeared. And not “funny ha ha”, either.

It said the company was experiencing “problems” processing orders. And it said to be patient and wait “a few more weeks”, as orders would be processed in the order they were received.

Warning bells started ringing. For one thing, the vendor hadn’t been proactive and contacted me. I’d had to track them down. And “a few more weeks” would put me outside the 45-day safety period where I could still file a claim with PayPal.

I immediately filed a claim with PayPal, thinking of their buyer protection guarantee. But that turned out to be a little more difficult–and ultimately problematic–than I’d anticipated.

First the process and the form to fill out was a little confusing. I was asked over and over to contact the seller myself to resolve issues. Been there, done that, did NOT get the T-shirt. Duh!

Then I was asked to submit “documents”. What documents are there in an online transaction?? I left that blank. For the rest of the process, a stern and rueful “You did not submit documents!” glared at me from my report.

Then I was told I had to escalate the claim before any action could be taken. But if I waited too long, the claim would automatically be dropped.

I waited a few days, then escalated.

I waited a week for a report on my claim. And the results shocked me.

PayPal had indeed determined that I had paid for goods I had not received. They had determined the seller was not responded to emails. And then they determined the seller had no money in her account. Hence, no money could be refunded to me.

So the case was CLOSED. Thank you for using PayPal, the safe way to shop online.

I could not believe it. I called PayPal, and got the same answer.

Short story: PayPal guarantees buyer protection only for transactions made through Ebay. No other transactions are guaranteed.

I think of the hundreds of transactions I’ve made over the years buying books, craft supplies, all the shopping I’ve done on Etsy and other vendors over the years, and I’m floored.

I asked what happened to the vendor who’d disappeared with my money. “Oh, we’ll watch and make sure they don’t open another PayPal account!” Huh? How are they going to do that?? They don’t have any way of contacting this vendor other than an email address, and yet they were sure they could “identify” this person if they ever open up another PayPal account…..??!! Yeah, we all know how hard it is to get a new email account.

I feel fortunate. I am sadder, $36 poorer and wiser. But all I lost was less than $50 and a few hours of my time. It could have been worse, much worse.

And I’ve learned my lesson. I now make sure that when I pay with PayPal, I select the “other funding options” which puts the money on my credit card instead. I may pay extra fees, but if I have a dispute, my credit card company will do battle instead. And I believe they will take better care of me than PayPal did.

So be forewarned. Read the fine print. If “guaranteed buyer protection” means “We kinda tried to get your money back but we didn’t have much luck”, then that’s a guarantee I can do without, thank you very much.

Hellooooooo Visa!

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Filed under art, business, customer care, selling, selling online

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #10: Don’t!!

A reader left a question for me on this series:

“Would you discuss one other group of people that one sometimes needs to get out of the booth — the people with kids who think everything in your booth is something neat to play with?
OR the adults who think your booth is a cool place to let the kids handle everything? Especially with sticky, gooey fingers? I’m a spinner/weaver, and trying to figure out how to say nicely, “Only with clean hands, please…” Dirty sticky yarn doesn’t sell well…”

Actually, you don’t need to boot these people out.

Use them!

How you deal with kids signals other potential customers how you will deal with them if they do something stupid. (Accidentally, we hope!)

A little patience, and some little tricks along the way, will go a long way to creating a relaxed atmosphere in your booth.

Use these moments to educate the kids about your work. They’ll either be enchanted, and you can work you sales pitch gently into the talk.

OR they’ll get bored, because now it sounds like school, and they’ll lose interest, moving on to the next exciting booth to manhandle.

Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.

Trust me. One of the most important things I learned from Bruce Baker is that what people overhear you telling another customer is perceived as being the truth. Use this opportunity to tell everyone in your booth about your work. (Er…but not loud enough that people two booths over can hear you….)

I know there are some children who don’t behave well. But I’ve only had a very few incidents where the child was actually destructive or totally disrespectful.

For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:

Keep a “special skein” available behind the counter for kids to touch, maybe even a few samples of roving–something you won’t care about if it gets messed up. Come on, we ALL have those dud projects hanging around somewhere. Now you can put it to perfect use!

I keep a package of baby wipes handy. When a child starts pick something up, I quickly say, “Here, let me help you.”

I ask in a friendly way, “I have a special yarn for kids to touch. Are your hands clean?” They usually get a little settled here. You’re starting to act like a teacher or a parent. They usually nod solemnly. “I say let me feel your hands.” You can tell instantly if a kid’s hands are clean! If they are, give them the sample skeins. If not, hand them a wipe.

I say, “It’s okay to touch my work, as long as you treat it gently and with respect. I’ve worked really really hard to get it to look just right.”

They usually respond with another solemn nod.

Then, depending on the age of the child, I talk a little bit about the horse. I point out all the tiny layers that make it look like ivory. I point out all the little details that make it special. If they are pre-teens or older, I talk about how four teenage boys discovered the first, and most beautiful Ice Age cave art in the world. They are enchanted that someone their age did something so incredible.

Okay, Alta Mira in Spain was discovered first, but no one knew what it really was until after Lascaux.

As I point out each detail, the parents start looking, too. And so do other customers. Everyone starts to really see the work. Sometimes I even see other customers finally reach out to touch a piece they’ve been looking at.

This permission to handle your work with care and with clean hands and under your supervision helps to create an air of respect for your work. The dynamic changes. Instead of “play time!”, you’ve created a teachable moment.

Use this moment to talk about your work with love and pride, and I think you’ll find that most kids will respond to that. And their parents will be grateful.

Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve found over the years that the parents rarely buy anything. You’ve provided that edutainment (education + entertainment) that Bruce Baker talks about so often.

View this as your contribution to fostering appreciation for the arts and crafts for a future generation.

Actually, sometimes parents do buy your work, if the child gets attached to your product and your work isn’t outrageously expensive. They buy it as a souvenir of the experience you’ve provided, or to foster a budding interest in the child. I have had parents buy $50 and $75 items because their child was so fascinated with it. (And sometimes those are the most difficult kids, because their parents do like to indulge their kids.) Don’t be too hard on them. We all know how tough it is to be a good parent, even the best parents have their bad moments.

You can adapt this script to work with other products as well. I keep a couple artifacts behind the counter, or pick up something sturdy like one of my netsuke animal artifacts. It’s neat to have two, because then the child can choose which one to hold, which adds to the fun (and helps capture their interest.) This also helps if there is more than one child, because then everyone can hold one. Fun for all!

If your work is just too delicate or fragile for such handling, have a sample of the materials you use, or one of your tools, or again, a cast-off piece that you don’t care about. You can actually use this approach for adults, too.

Treating children with respect and genuine warmth pays off in other ways, too. A regular customer brought his son in last year. The boy had visited every booth in the fair, looking for that special something to spend his money on. His father said, “When we finished, he didn’t even want to look again–he came right back here to buy this!”

He pointed to a small wall hanging for $350. That boy had saved a lotta money!

I was honored a child would be so enchanted with my work, he would actually buy such a fabulous piece.

And I was doubly glad that I deal with kids the way I do!

Here’s another reason–a BIG one–why you don’t really want to get these people to leave:

Human beings are born yearning to touch things.

Touch is how we explore our world, and we rejoice in the experience.

“Feel how soft this sweater is!” we exclaim as we shop. “No, not this scarf, it’s too scratchy.” “These pears are too firm, but those pears are just right!”

We constantly talk about how things feel: “Oh, this puppy’s fur is so fluffy!” “I love to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and feel the wind in my hair, and play tag with the waves.” “I can’t stand wearing that shirt because the tag is scratchy!” “I love it when my kids hug me.”

When we tell children not to touch, we are asking them to go against their very nature. Our very nature. When you see people enter your booth with their hands behind their back, it’s because the temptation to touch is so strong (and they know they “shouldn’t”) they have to physically hold themselves back.

I’m lucky to use a material that’s sturdy and durable. I know not all artists have that luxury. But when I tell people that it’s okay to touch my work, and to feel free to pick up a piece to look more closely, their relief–and joy–are palpable.

It creates an incredible feeling of participation and delight in my booth.

Try to find ways to let people touch something in your booth. Your customers will be happy, your visitors will be charmed, and you will feel better all around.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, mental attitude, selling

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #8: Your New Best Friend

Eighth in a series about getting difficult out of your booth at an art fair or craft show.

A reader wrote to ask:

“Any plans to do a post about the customer who, once she’s bought from you, now thinks she’s your friend? I had this happen once, at a 5-day show (where she bought on day 2, and returned on 3 and 4 to talk endlessly). I was as polite as I could be when I wasn’t trying to duck so she wouldn’t see me (!). That mixture of being grateful she’d bought a piece and annoyed that she kept showing up was difficult to juggle.”

Michelle, your wish is granted!

Hmmmm, that’s a good one–the customer who feels they’ve bought your friendship….

As annoying as that was, it sounds like you handled it well. You dealt with her as politely as you could, and disappeared as you were able.

Here are some thoughts to help you decide which course of action feels right for you.

Remember, a small part of our biz is going to be a form of social work. Some people are lonely or have very poor social skills, or they’re lonely because they poor social skills. For them, this IS how they make friends and interact in society. They do things that give them an excuse to talk to people. It can be hugely annoying, but a little patience and compassion can go a along way–if you aren’t busy with other customers, and if you have the patience for it.

This sounds like a person who has trouble respecting the boundaries of others. Your booth is like a little store with a new friend in it, and she wants to come and visit every chance she gets. The bad news is, this person may be oblivious–it will take more than a gentle hint or two to move her on. The good news is, she’s probably used to blunt tactics, because she probably does this all the time.

Sometimes the only way to deal with a boundary issue is to name it and say it. “I’m delighted you like my work so much. I’m honored you’ve supported me by buying a piece. But I really have to focus on making the most of this opportunity to sell my work at this show. It’s been lovely talking to you. But I hope you’ll understand that I need to get back to work here.”

If this speech is too hard, start shorter and brisker: “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I need to run–thanks for stopping by!”

Then run.

If she still keeps showing up, repeat. Be consistent. Friendly but firm. It may take a few turns, because people who are oblivious to the fact that they’re being noodges tend to be oblivious to all but the most blatant management.

Of course, this is hard for people like me who have trouble setting boundaries. Just look on it as good practice.

Another tactic: This is another example of a “free milk” person–they want your interest and friendship. The difference is, they feel they have paid for it, though by now you’re feeling they got the better end of the deal.

You could try offering them something more “free”–like offering to put them on your list for open studio events. That could reassure them that you won’t forget them. (As Bruce Baker quips, “How could I ever forget you??!!”)

If there’s no one in your booth and you are dying slowly, you can always try to interest her in another artist at the show. Pass it off as customer service: “You know, as I listen to you, I realize there’s another artist at the show you’d really love. I think her work is perfect for you. It will really resonate with everything you’ve been through. Let me take you over to her booth and introduce you.”

Do it–and RUN. Then she can have TWO new friends!

Finally, there’s the strategy of pushing this to the limit and using this to your advantage.

It’s drastic. But I’ve found that people who are locked in their heads like this usually make it all about ‘them’. Make it about you.

If there’s no one in your booth, I’d use the opportunity to keep selling to her. Keep circling the conversation back to your work. She might be persuaded to buy another piece.

At the very least, as other people enter your booth, they’ll be able to hear you talk without having to deal with you directly. A lot of people who browse will do just that–listen intently to what you say to another customer as they shop uninterrupted. It’s an effective selling technique.

Be sure to stop occasionally as new people come in and acknowledge them by greeting them. Casually say, “If you have any questions, just let me know” or “If you’d like to try something on, the mirror is right here.” That lets other customers know you’re paying attention.

At the slightest hint someone needs your help, smoothly interrupt the talker to say, “Excuse me just a moment.” and move to assist the other person.

If it’s just you and her, and she won’t buy anything else, then….Talk away to your heart’s content. Just make sure it’s all about you. Sometimes the only way to shoo a bore away is to be a bigger bore.

Did I just say that??!!

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, selling, shows, time management

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #7: The Hardest Cut of All

Seventh in a series of getting difficult people out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.

I can almost guarantee you this “difficult person” will be the hardest one of all to deal with. If this happens to you, my only consolation is, you are not alone.

It will happen after you’ve asked a friend to help you in your booth at a show.

Because there may come a time when you will have to ask that friend to leave your booth.

I have a few friends who not only work with me on my booth at some shows, they volunteer to help, calling me months ahead of time to offer their services.

And they are simply amazing at it. I secretly think they are better at this than I am. They are a miracle made manifest in the world, and I am the luckiest artist alive because of them.

And even if someone isn’t stellar at selling, they are such good company, I’m delighted to have them on board. Their companionship is all that is necessary.

I also had a few friends, perfectly good friends…. Friendships of many years duration that have gone screaming down in flames from working with me in my booth.

A day into the show–sometimes an hour into the show, you realize with a terrible sinking feeling that it’s all gone wrong. They are not doing well in your booth. It is so not working out.

They show up dressed inappropriately–either under-dressed (“I want to be comfy!”) or over-dressed–or barely dressed at all. (“Oh gosh, I can’t get this top to stay up!”)

They’re so busy telling you about their hot date last night, they ignore customers in the booth. Or get mad when you interrupt their hot date story to deal with those customers. Or can’t understand why you don’t even want to hear their story when the customers are just looking, for cryin’ out loud.

They don’t know how to talk with customers, saying, “Can I help you?” even when you’ve told them a dozen times that’s the worst possible thing you can say to a potential buyer.

The friend loves to share funny stories about you with your customers. Stories you kinda wish she would not share.

It can get even worse.

One artist told me her assistant used her high-end booth display to do his ballet warm-up exercises. In front of customers. All. Day. Long.

Another told me her friend came back from lunch–two hours late. She’d decided to go shop around the fair. The artist, having sent her to eat first, was starving.

Another said a friend got plastered at a dinner out with important clients–buyers for a chain of stores–and behaved inappropriately. (Still waiting to here the juicy details on that one.)

Two different artists with compatible work share a booth to save on expenses. Only one is constantly trying to steal the customers of the other.

Whatever the attitude or behavior, it’s detrimental to your business and to your mental health.

And you are going to have to ask them to leave. Either at the end of the show (if it’s just mildly annoying), the end of the day (if it’s hugely annoying) or within the hour (if it’s such a disaster you are going to kill them any minute.)

And before you say, “Oh, Luann, we know what a pistol you are! That would never happen to me!”, let me assure you–it happens a lot. It has happened to people who have been in business for many, many years.

It happens so much, I know people in the biz who now have an iron-clad rule: They never–ever–hire friends to work for them anymore.

How can this happen? Why does a normal person who is nice enough to be your friend suddenly turn into the booth assistant from hell?

Reasons:

STRESS Shows are hard. No. Shows are really, really hard. It’s the work of getting enough product made to stock your booth. The weeks of preparation, making sure all your booth components are in place and in good working order. Making travel arrangements (and maybe family arrangements for your absence), and dealing the expense and stress of packing and loading and simply getting to the show. Set-up (ye gods, we could all write a book about the things that go wrong during set-up) and break-down. The weary drive home, the unpacking and trying to get back into your normal life–so you can do it all again for the next show.

In between is the part that is both wonderful and dismal, fun and agonizing–doing the show. Talking to enthralled customers about your work, and watching people walk by who couldn’t care less about your work. Making big sales and wondering if you are going to make booth expenses. Meeting other cool and interesting artists, and dealing with weird, psychotic fellow artists. It’s all there, it’s all happening at the show.

In short, S*H*O*W*S = S*T*R*E*S*S

And there’s your friend, a show virgin who just doesn’t get it. Who just doesn’t get any of it, at all. She doesn’t understand what you’ve already been through, or how critical the show’s success is to you, or how frantic you are underneath your smiling exterior. It all looks fun and glamorous to to her, and that’s what she’s expecting.

Or she’s under stress, too (see “their stuff” below). Or they worry they’re not going to do things right. Or they worry you’re going to do the crazy artist thing and yell at them.

So maybe you’re both stressed. whoo hoo.

UNCLEAR EXPECTATIONS Some people, despite your telling them the way it works, do not understand that being in a show is WORK. They don’t really understand it is a business situation, and that you have to generate sales to stay in business.

They arrive with a vague idea that it’s going to be a fun-filled day, full of chatter and fun food and wonderful sights to see.

They won’t understand why you interrupted their moving reenactment of the last awful days of their collapsed marriage just because a customer came into the booth.

They won’t understand why it wasn’t okay to just disappear for two hours at lunchtime because they felt like taking a walk.

They won’t understand why it’s really, really important to get ALL the numbers imprinted on a charge slip, including the card’s expiration date and the customer’s telephone number.

And because operating the credit card machine is just “too confusing”, they won’t understand why you can’t just do it, while they schmooze your customers.

And they won’t understand why you will have to tell them to shape up or ship out.

SHADOW ARTISTS We’ve covered this in previous chapters in this series, but it bears repeating. At a show, these SA’s are in your booth–a booth that is actually a tiny monument to your ambition and achievement.

They will be surrounded by your work. They will see and hear your fan base–your customers. They will have to listen to people rave about you with excitement and admiration. They will have to listen to you talk about your work with pride and confidence.

It will be too much for them.

It will simply be too painful, the cognitive dissonance too great, and they will resent it. For some people, seeing your success in pursuing your art, up close and personal, will be the final straw.

EGO Some people cannot handle being in a subordinate position in the friendship, even a temporary one as you booth assistant. They will refuse to follow your suggestions for selling. Or they will continue to push their craft over yours. They may resent having their time managed.

CHANGING ROLES We start a friendship with everyone’s roles firmly in place. And then the roles change.

Many relationships struggle with this transitions, not just friendships. Business partnerships. Mentor and student. Parent and child. Even marriages often topple under the stress of two people growing and changing apart.

Somehow, we don’t ever expect our friendships to fail from our changing roles. But they do.

One explanation: If you scratch the surface of the friendship, my humble experience has been it may have actually been based on one of these prototypes.

And like them, subject to the same sad conclusion when the roles change and the pressure to adapt rises.

THEIR STUFF Other people have their stuff–my catch-all term for emotional baggage, hard times, psychological upheaval, whatever.

They may have recently lost someone they loved, or even someone they hated. (The stress from either is great.) They are in a hard place for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

It’s going to spill over at some point. If you are near them when it happens, you are going to get scalded.

So what are the clues this beautiful friendship-cum-sales team is heading south?

They are resistant to your suggestions and training. I give out Bruce Baker’s sales training CD to new assistants before a show. One person said they were too experienced with sales to listen to it. I believed them. The first hour in the booth, it was painfully obvious their experience was not as good as they thought it was.

They forget who’s boss. They will show resentment when you ask them to do something they see as trivial or mundane or demeaning–running an errand, etc.

They will rearrange your display when you step out of the booth, and their feelings will be hurt if you are not happy with their efforts.

They may even decide not to show up at all, telling you that you don’t really need them–leaving you in the lurch and too late to make arrangements for other assistance.

They forget whose booth it is, and whose work they’re selling. I actually had one friend refuse to wear my jewelry in my booth. She wanted to wear her fashion accessories instead. Not wanting to push it, I let her–until the first customer noticed her work and asked her about it, and she happily started to tell them about her business.

They see the time with you in your booth as a social thing, a chance to catch up on all their life changes. This is so hard. Of course you want to hear all this stuff. But the show has to come first.

At a show you are working. The focus has to be on selling your work. And you can’t afford to deal with downer stuff. You must stay upbeat and positive.

Worse, your efforts to remind them of this will sound heartless and uncaring. It’s an impossible situation.

Now for the sad part.

In all my years of dealing with this, I have never found a good way to “fire” a friend.

I have yet to salvage one friendship from a “firing”.

And I have never felt good about what I had to do.

I’ve tried many different approaches.

I’ve tried heart-to-heart talks over dinner and drinks after the first day.

I’ve tried taking in all the responsibility for the misunderstanding (for which I was accused by the friend as “You’re treating me like a damn teenager!” I had to bite my tongue in order not to respond, “That is exactly how you’ve been acting the last 24 hours!!”)

I’ve tried to fudge it by saying I overestimated my needs, and don’t really need to tie up their time for the entire show, or even the entire day.

I’ve tried to be upfront and honest and calm. “Look, I know your life is your life–it’s not my place to expect you to put my needs above yours. I know if you are sick, you shouldn’t be expected to work. But you offered to help, and I told you my expectations, and you accepted them. And when you wait til five minutes before the show opens to call and say you won’t be coming in, that puts me in difficult position. I simply need more time than that to line up someone else to help.”

Nothing worked. Anger, resentment, recriminations follow, all falling on my head and making me feel even worse. The only thing left to do is say nothing more so as not to make it even worse.

When I asked my fellow artists how they handled it successfully, they confirmed a sad fact. No matter how you couch it, it’s going to suck big-time. And the only friendships that survived were the ones where the friend took it in stride and let it go. The friend has to decide it is not going to ruin the friendship.

One consolation for me was, I felt like I was choosing business over friendship. It is only with time and some emotional distance that I can see the storm clouds were often already on the horizons. The show only acting like a giant magnifying glass, focusing little heat rays on the issue and setting it on fire.

It’s also a part of doing business. Sometimes you have to fire someone, and they just aren’t going to like that or deal with it well. If it happens to be a friend, it’s just more gasoline on the fire. But there’s never a good way to fire someone. And there will never be a good way to fire a friend.

If it were a small show, where I only hoped to gross a few hundred bucks, I might feel that it’s not worth it to risk the friendship. You might choose to simply let it go, get through the day, and do things differently next time.

But at a big retail or wholesale show, where thousands of dollars and your professional reputation are at stake, you may have to act–unless you are independently wealthy, or just don’t need the money.

The only thing I can think of that might be worse is if this happens with a family member. And at least there is huge incentive for a family member to eventually come around. Although, come to think of it, there are a lot of divorced people who used to be in business with their ex-spouse…..

Think long and hard before asking–or allowing–a friend to work with you in your booth. And hope for the best. But be prepared for the worst.

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, envy, friendship, getting people OUT of your booth, jealousy, life, selling, shows

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #6: Bear Baiters and Goat Getters

Sixth in a series of people you want to move out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.

There is a reprehensible sport from ancient times known as bear baiting. Bears and other wild animals were teased and provoked into attacking and fighting other animals, for the enjoyment of spectators.

It’s hard to imagine, but we still have a civilized version of this sport today.

There are people among us who thrive on confronting and insulting other people for their own amusement and excitement.

The internet, with its potential for anonymous baiting and the virtue of distance from our targets, can encourage this type of behavior in modern times. On forums, we call it “flaming”.

Very occasionally, you may have the misfortune to find someone like this in your booth.

It may be fellow artist with a bone to pick with you (a real or imagined bone.)

It may be a customer who loves to “tease” you, perceiving you as a captive audience in your booth , making “funny” rude comments about your work

It may be as subtle as someone who, seemingly interested in your work, asks you questions–but then refutes or argues with every answer you give.

Why does this happen at shows? Because we’re seen as a captive audience and an easy target.

We may be perceived as a captive audience because

a) we obviously are “tied down” to our booth space during a show, and

b) we are taught “the customer is always right” even if the customer is being ridiculous.

Sometimes, c) because we are women and socialized to be more conciliatory, we are baited by people who know we won’t fight back (because that would be rude.)

And d), these people also sense we are trying desperately not to make a scene in front of other customers.

Whatever the situation, whatever the rationale in their mind, know that someone who pulls this stunt while you are conducting your business at a show doesn’t deserve an extra minute of your time and energy. Move them on!

A good analogy to keep in mind is treating your booth as your private home. Would you let just anyone into it because they showed up at your door? Would you let someone rude stay just because you were too polite to get them to leave? (And if the answer is “yes”, then sign up for an assertiveness training course immediately!!)

If it’s a fellow artist, you should know that in most shows, even small ones, in your contract there is an unspoken (or even stated) assumption that your booth is your space, for the duration of the show. You paid the booth fee, you’ve set up your display to do business there, and you have control over who is allowed in. Technically, you do not have to even allow other artists into your booths. This is especially true of wholesale shows. Artists who enter your booth without your permission or who refuse to leave when asked can get into a lot of trouble with show management.

If there are artists who stir up such bad vibes in your booth, make a point of cheerfully but pointedly drawing any conversations to an instant close the second a customer enters your booth. “It’s was nice of you to stop by, but I really have some things I need to work on right now.” Make a point of escorting them out to the aisle.

If there are no customers, you can still ask them to leave, or head them off before they even come in. “Hi! I really can’t stop to talk now–maybe later?” (Make sure “later” never comes….)

If they don’t take the hint, be polite but blunt: “I’m so sorry, but I cannot do this right now. It’s time for you to leave.”

If you maintain your composure and stay grounded and calm, even if there are customers in your booth, you will still come off okay.

But what if the baiter is a customer?

You still don’t have to put up with it. But sometimes, putting up with it can win friends and influence people.

The social dynamics of bullying and baiting are beyond me, and I don’t have answers. But I know when someone is being baited, it’s hard to watch. And harder to figure out what to do about it, especially if the person being baited is at least as competent or powerful as you. (And since we are the artist and the rightful “owner” of the booth, we are actually perceived as more powerful and competent than the person baiting us.) You desperately hope they will do something to defend themselves. But you are also hoping they don’t make the situation worse, too.

Your customers are watching and feeling the same way. So dealing with that customer’s behavior diplomatically will set your other customers at ease.

I had one customer bait me with the “asking questions/arguing with the answers” thing. It was hugely annoying. But I didn’t really get that he was doing that. I was just determined to turn him around with my sincerity and my passion for my work.

In my innocence, this turned out to be the perfect ploy. Every time he said something pissy about my motivations, I answered with genuine conviction about what I was doing. I was genuinely puzzled by his behavior, and kept my responses thoughtful and calm.

He just kept it up–til his wife came looking for him.

She instantly recognized what he was doing. (Evidently, this is what he did for fun at craft shows.) She said in an exasperated tone, “Oh for godsake, leave that poor artist alone! Why do you act this way?!”

She glared at him til he sheepishly hulked out of my booth, and then said to me, “I’m so sorry, he does this all the time!” Her voice drifted back to me as they walked down the aisle, “If you don’t quit treating people like that, I’m leaving you home next time!”

I admit I am such a small person, I found this extremely gratifying. But what gratified me even more was what happened next.

A browser nearby came in and said, “Wow! You really held your temper with that old coot! I’m impressed!” And promptly began shopping in my booth.

Then there’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way. I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends.

Well, there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”

But never in your business place. Never where you are trying to earn your living. NEVER in front of your customers.

I had a “friend” visit me at a show and act this way–it was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend. And I called him on his behavior on the spot. I said something like, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

It worked. He mumbled an apology, he made some effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

With a customer I don’t know, I would use the “innocently passionate” ploy I used with the first gentlemen. It seems to work really well! They will be baffled when they just can’t get a rise out of you.

And then there is the scenario that really happened to me this summer at a big show–another artist confronted me in my booth, screaming at me for some perceived insult and behaving in a threatening manner.

I still don’t feel like I handled this perfectly, though in hindsight, I didn’t handle it badly, either. It was fortunate that it was before show hours, so no customers were around. But unfortunately, I was alone in the tent and feared for my safety.

What I did right was I stayed reasonably calm. (In hindsight, I should have stayed even calmer.)

I tried to reason with the person (which does not work with a bully or baiter, so in hindsight, I should not have even engaged him at all.)

I asked him to step back–his face was three inches from mine–and he refused. (In hindsight, I should have stepped away and not stood my ground nor let him get that close to me, even if it meant me having to leave my booth.)

I asked him to leave, and he refused. (I’m wondering if, after he did leave, I should have called the security people.)

I honestly can’t remember how it ended, whether he finally stomped away or whether I finally fled to the fair office.

Although this person was clearly in the wrong and I still feel indignant about it, I should have recalled my Impact/Model Mugging training. I’ve taken workshops from this organization’s Boston chapter and I recommend them highly. What composure I maintained was due to those workshops.

The training teaches you to identify potentially dangerous situations, and helps you respond appropriately. In this case, staying calm and placating the person threatening (“I don’t want any trouble. We can talk about this later, but not now.”) But not actively engaging them or trying to reason with them. Keeping my distance (holding out my hands and saying, “Stay back!” firmly, moving away if he moved closer.) Leaving the scene as soon as I could get away (and reporting the incident to the fair office and security immediately, instead of staying in my booth.)

In this case, I felt conflicted as tent captain, feeling I was called upon to “stand my ground” and “deal with the person.” I was lucky, because I was wrong. And I won’t make that mistake again.

In the case where someone is behaving in a way that is threatening and frightening, your first priority is to protect yourself and get to a place of safety. Don’t try to salvage your dignity, do not respond in kind or in anger, do not turn your back on them.

This is an extreme example, and you may never encounter this. But having a strategy in mind goes a long way to preparing yourself in the event it does happen. And knowing you are prepared goes a long way to helping you stay calm and in the moment.

Why do some people do this?

Again, the question to ask is, what do they get from this? What is their pay-off?

It’s a game to see if they can get you to lose control. Then they can play innocent and leave you looking foolish. (“Hey, I was only joking, geez!”) It makes them feel powerful to be able to manipulate people’s emotions. Playing into their hands only encourages them.

And as artists, with our soul’s work out there for all to see and make fun of, we are vulnerable targets.

Just remember why we are targets.

Because as artists at a show or other public venues, we’re showing we have the guts and the determination to not only make our work, but to get it out there where the world can see it. Maybe for the world to buy it.

We take real risks, we take huge risks by investing in that show, by schlepping our work and our booth across the country, and offering it up for others to look at, to judge, and hopefully, to buy. Maybe some of us only make enough to make a car payment or two, but some of us help support our families with our work, put our kids through college, put a roof over our heads and food on the table.

We truly lay it on the line.

Who’s the brave person in this dynamic? Uh-huh. That’s you, baby.

And who’s the coward in this dynamic? Uh-huh. Not you.

Remember that when someone is trying to get your goat.

And remember this, too. A boss told me years ago, “If someone is out to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.” It was good advice 30 years ago, and it’s still good advice today.

And if you do find goat-getter is in your booth, get him outta there!

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GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #5: The Design Diva

Fifth in a series about how to get certain people out of your booth at art and craft shows.

This one is going to be odd, but if you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll be nodding your head. (Or holding it in your hands or tearing your hair out.)

It’s a special type of customer. The picky, picky customer. The contessa of custom work.

The Design Diva.

It’s the person who love, love, loves your work, and wants to own a piece. But nothing you have on hand really suits. It has to be a special piece. It has to be custom. It has to be….

Micromanaged to within an inch of its life.

If you aren’t careful, this faux customer will take up tons of your time and energy, designing that special piece–yet you will never close the sale.

Some custom work and special orders are easy. The customer wants this necklace, but in a longer length. Or this wall hanging, but a bit bigger to fit a special niche. Orders like these don’t require a lot of fussing.

Some custom orders are necessarily more involved. You’re going to be making something you’ve never done before–a brand new animal totem, or a piece larger than you ever attempted before. Some customers have never placed a custom order before, or they may not be familiar with you. Or it’s a lot more money than they are used to spending. More attention and hand-holding is necessary.

But there are some custom orders that are almost doomed to fail before they even start. It’s not you. It’s not the project.

It’s the Design Diva.

I’m talking about the faux customer who has you absolutely convinced that you have been commissioned to make a fabulous piece of art for them–who then drives you crazy with all the details they want to be in control of. The process drags on for months, long past the point where you can ever hope to profit from it.

Or they drop off the face of the earth after they leave your booth.

Or they cancel the order when you make your first follow-up call.

This customer actually envisions herself as the creative genius behind the work. She knows exactly how it will look, down to the precise size and shape and color.

You, with your technical skill and tools and materials, are simply the working stiff that will bring this imagined piece into the world.

IF the Design Diva actually ends up buying the work, it would be some solace. But sadly, most of these over-managed orders end up going nowhere.

The worst thing about these people is, they get your engine going about the big sale you are going to make. They can also suck up huge amounts of your time and your energy. You may not be able to take care of other would-be customers in your booth, trying to close this “big sale”.

We all go out window shopping, and it’s fine for customers to window shop in our booths. But this goes way, way beyond that.

Why would someone do this to an unsuspecting artist?

The question to ask is, what’s in it for them?

They get to play art patron. They get to be “Lady Bountiful” for a day. They get to have the undivided attention of a talented artist (you), eating out of their hand and hanging on every word about their artistic sensitivities, their lovely collection, their beautiful home.

It’s an exquisitely powerful position for someone to hold. And I suspect that some of these people are shadow artists, themselves.

Here are a few sad stories about Design Divas.

One customer approached me at a show for a three-piece wall hanging project. We worked out the idea. We talked for a long, long, time. I did not collect a deposit. She was so nice! I was thrilled to have such a big order to work on.

After the show, I sent her a design, fabric swatches and a proposal. When I didn’t hear from her, I called. That’s when I found out she’d found another option for that wall space from an artist in the next tent at the show. Thirty feet from my booth, she found a cheaper solution to her decorating dilemma.

She could have doubled back and tell me she’d changed her mind. She could have called. But she didn’t–because she had nothing invested in the process and nothing to lose. If I’d had a deposit, she would at least have called to make sure I didn’t cash the check.

Another buyer at a wholesale show came back to my booth three times to admire my work. He was a very pleasant gentleman, and eager to tell me about his fabulous multi-niched business. He placed a huge order for wall hangings, and wanted to buy a ton of jewelry, too.

But oddly, he could never find his wife to complete the order. After the show, when I called to confirm a ship date, I was told that though he was part-owner of the store, he was not the buyer. It sort of sounded like he did this a lot, too. Apparently, he enjoyed pretending he was. (At least he hadn’t ordered custom work.)

It’s actually a good strategy to get people talking about your work in their home or store.  The thing is, at some point, they have to commit to actually buying your work for it to actually be in their home or store.  Design Divas stretch out the talking, and never really get around to the buying.

Some hints that you are dealing with a design diva.

It’s not really about your art. It’s about their home. You hear more about the room it’s going into than anything else.

It’s not really about your work. It’s about the other stuff they have. You hear more about the other fabulous objets d’art the collector has already acquired than about yours.

It’s not really about you, the artist. It’s about them, the art patron. You hear more about the collector herself than you the artist. And why are they spending so much time talking about themselves, trying to impress you? Real collectors gather as much information about you, the artist, as they can. Because the stories about you are the ones they’re going to be sharing with their friends and guests when they come see your lovely work in the collector’s home.

Your artistic vision isn’t quite…quite. The way you do it isn’t quite good enough. There will be many, many changes and alterations along the way. The shade of rust you pick is a little off. It needs to be a wee bit bigger. Oh, and can you add some stuff over here?

It’s not really up to them. There is a mysterious husband who has to be consulted before anything is final, and he’ll probably say yes, but he never appears or can be contacted at the show. (Trust me, when he is finally found, the answer is always “no”…)

It just takes too long. Long after the order is recorded, the terms are discussed and it’s time for this customer to move on, they’re staying on way too long. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like they know they’ve got a big one on the line–you! And they’re having too much fun to let you go.

How can you protect yourself against these folks? It’s really hard, because they look so much like real customers. But here are some strategies:

Maintain control. For example, if you start to feel like you are simply a seamstress-for-hire instead of an artist, you can refuse to play the game. Put on your artist hat, and have confidence in your skills. “This sounds more like ‘work-for-hire’. Maybe you would be happier with a seamstress who can follow your exact specifications instead. Here’s the name of a good one near you.”

Get the OK from everyone involved. If they start deferring their final purchasing to some other person, stand down. You are either not dealing with the actual decision-maker, or the customer is starting to realize that significant “other” is probably going to say “no”–and that’s going to be embarrassing for everyone concerned. In fact, it’s so embarrassing, they won’t tell you that to your face. They’ll wait til you call for the next payment and tell you it’s all off. Get firm. Don’t go any further until you have the decision-maker in on the buy, too.

Put all your terms for custom/special orders in writing! Have your terms for custom work ready. And if you are not familiar with the customer,or you start getting those odd vibes, stick to your terms like glue. You can always relax your terms as you get buyer compliance.

Make it clear you charge a non-refundable design fee. Some people make it a percentage of the total order amount, others make it a flat fee–$50, $100, depending on how much work you anticipate putting into it.

Decide how many times you are willing to tweak the design to satisfy the customer. (Portrait painters have a hard time with this, especially when they are just starting out and their reputations aren’t “big enough” to command respect.) One or two tweaks should be all that is needed. More than that, accept the fact you will never come up with a design the customer will be happy with. You may want to charge for extra re-designs (beyond one or two) to discourage this.

Decide how much money you need as a deposit. 50% down, 50% at time of completion is an option.

At wholesale shows, many craftspeople simply refuse to take custom orders on new accounts. Changing a bead color here or there is one thing. Creating a whole new design you might not be able to sell anywhere else if the order falls through is another.

And remember…it’s okay to qualify your buyers–even retail buyers! Get references. Ask if they’ve commissioned work from artists before, and check them out. I did this at a new show for a custom order I took from a very nice couple. They actually offered the other artist’s name as a reference, and the artist gave them a rave review. (See how the buyers were trying to reassure me?) Everything went beautifully.Make them step up to the plate. If you feel like everything is sliding away, our first reaction is usually to work frantically harder to close the sale. But I’m learning to step back and think, “I think I need to see a commitment from you. Prove to me how badly you want my work!” Don’t draw up sketches or send swatches until you have money in hand.

Defer the big decision til after the show. This one is tricky, especially if you’re doing a show far from home. But if you’re getting that bad feeling about the whole transaction, and it’s a biggie, better to have it come apart later than to waste another precious minute of booth time. Arrange for the prospective customer to come for a studio visit. Or arrange for you about the project to consult in their home (paid, of course.)

Know when to fold. If you suspect you have a customer who will never be pleased, throw in the towel. Return as much of the deposit/payments as you can (keeping all the work you’ve already produced for them, of course) and refer them to someone else. (Preferably another artist you don’t like.)

Even with all these protections in place, however, all the person has to say is “My husband is a lawyer” (like one customer did) and you know this is a battle you are going to lose. Even if you are right, do you really have the time, the energy, the resources and the money to pursue this?

Truth be told, I still get tripped up by people like this. It’s impossible to close all the loopholes.

But f I can save you from one Design Diva, this column will not have been in vain.

Remember, your audience LOVES your work. They WANT to have it. They would not dream of jerking you around just to make themselves feel more important–because then you would never sell to them again.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, qualifying buyers, selling, shows, time management

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #4: He-e-e-ere’s Eeyore!

Fourth in a series of how to get certain people out of your booth at a craft show.

I know all my show buddies are going to laugh themselves to death at this one. Could it be because I tend to do this? oooooh nooooo…..

It’s the person who hangs out in your booth–often another artist–who is sad.

Sad ,sad, sad. And they are going to tell you about it. And nothing is going to stop them.

The show isn’t going well. The management is giving them a hard time. They forgot to pack enough light bulbs. They can’t find their favorite sweater. Their feet hurt. Their mother died. Their dog died. You get the idea.

The ones I hate the most have a wistful, sad, breathless little voice to go with the tale of woe.

This is not the person who, in the course of chatting or catching up, simply mentions the ups and downs in their life of the last few months. This is the person who goes on and on and on, without break, without end, without stopping to even inhale, it seems. A never ending tale of woe and grief.

In your booth.

At the show.

Your natural tendency is to try to cheer up this person. Don’t do it! Doesn’t work. Ain’t gonna happen. The person determined to hang out and complain in your booth has had years of practice doing this. It’s how they get what they need from people. You can’t change that in a few minutes.

Look, I whine. You whine. We all do a little whining. Shows are hard. Really, really hard! Set-up is brutal, and sometimes it’s just not a good show.

The thing is, there’s a time and a place for whining. During the show is not the time. And parking yourself in someone else’s booth is not the place. Parking yourself in someone else’s booth while there are customers around is inexcusable.

You, me, our fellow craftspoeple, have paid hundreds–no, thousands–of dollars to be at this show. The last thing I want, after creating an atmosphere of passion and excitement and happiness, is for a Gloomy Gus to take up residence in my booth.

Do you really have time for this? I don’t.

I’ve tried a few different diversions, with some success. If someone tries this during set-up, I let them go on for a few minutes. (Especially if they’re willing to listen to my tale of woe! You know I’m big on reciprocity.)

Then I interrupt with, “I am really sorry you are in such a hard place right now. Unfortunately, I have a small crisis going on here, and I simply have to take care it. Can we meet up later and have a cup of coffee?” (For bigger woes, a bottle of wine.)

This is especially good for someone you’d like to maintain relations with. You acknowledge their pain, but defer it to another time.

A tactic that’s been used effectively on moi goes something like this:

I’m hanging out in a friend’s booth, (never while a customer is there, thank goodness–I have SOME limits!) rambling on about how hard life is for me, when I notice that Bonnie or Mark or Amy is staring at me with huge, round, unblinking eyes and a trembling lower lip. When I wind down, they say in a soothing voice, “There, there, Eeyore!”

I know it’s time to stop. But I think this only works with people you love who are willing to take the hint.

I’m getting better. Sometimes I just catch myself doing it, clap my hands over my mouth, mumble, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” and flee. I try to buy them a beer after the show, too. Lots and lots of beer.

There are other people…oh, let’s just call them noodges! I don’t really care if I maintain relations with them. In fact, they probably aren’t your friend. You are simply a captive audience to them. You know who they are! It gets harder to move them on without getting rude. Still, if there are customers in the booth, it’s worth treating them nicely just so customers don’t see your dark side.

Other than shoo this person out of the booth with promises of calling them after the show (did you see that one coming?), I’m still looking for the perfect one-liner. I’m thinking it might run along these lines: “Listen, here’s the number of my therapist–she’s not cheap, but she’s really good! And she says I have to stop trying to help other people myself, or she’ll take me to court for practicing without a license.”

Oh, how about this one? “Hey, the liquor store just called for you; they want their ‘whine’ back!”

Just kidding on that one. Customers may laugh if you get sarcastic, but no one really feels comfortable with it. They fear that, if they slip up, they’ll be the one to feel your tongue-lashing next.

Seriously, get these people out of your booth before they bring you, and your customers, down, down, down. If they need a hug, give it to ‘em. But move them on.

And don’t be one, either.

Okay, so what if the sad person is a customer?

That’s a hard one. But here’s an insight: I treat them like the people who want something for free.

Because, in essence, that is what they want–your time, and your sympathy, during what is a work period for you.

Sometimes, like the free milk people, I give them something.

I keep the names of some self-help books I’ve enjoyed, and jot them down on one of my postcards. I refer them to my blog, if their issue is something I’ve dealt with there. I offer to put them in contact with people who have helped me with similar situations.

And often, I talk about how making my art has helped me. And how some people have actually bought my work to help themselves, as talismans to remind themselves how powerful they really are.

I hope I don’t sound like friends and customers can’t come and talk to me about the big stuff in my booth. Gosh, sometimes we bond so much, we all end up crying! That’s what art does sometimes–opens our hearts up and empties our tears, so something healing and restorative can begin.

But the thing is, in almost every case, these sad people are not really customers.

By that I mean, maybe they are at the show, and they are not artists. They look like shoppers.

But they rarely buy anything, they never bring their friends to buy, they never promote your work in any way. It’s always about them. They are simply looking for an ear, and they are very good at finding captive audiences.

Don’t let them trap you in your booth!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, mental attitude, selling, shows, time management