Category Archives: display

BOXES: More Thoughts

Not the final version, but getting there!

Not the final version, but getting there!

I’m almost finished putting my window display together for Keene’s Art Walk 2013.

I actually added another box soon after taking this picture. I’ll try to get another shot of the completed set-up later this morning.

I finished exactly on time yesterday–I gave myself until 3:30 yesterday, and I finished at 3:35. Whoo hoo!

I was worried, because two dear friends, Jenny and Roma, finally had time to meet for lunch Tuesday. Our joint schedules are crazy lately, and we don’t see each other often anymore. And because I was so behind in pulling this together, I considered skipping lunch with them.

At the last minute, I realized that the pattern in my life for projects is, they take up exactly as much time as I allot them. I decided to risk shaving a couple hours off my prep time in order to spend time with them.

If you’d overheard our conversation that day, you might have thought, “Women gritching again!” We took turns listening about where each of us were stuck. We try not to “fix” things for each other–that never works! But we listen, ask questions, and support each other.

At first, I felt even worse. It’s been a very bad week emotionally and spiritually for me. (By spiritual, I mean when I feel my true self feeling achy and lost, un-centered, unmoored and off-course, that goes deeper than “emotion”.)

And none of our “issues” were easily “fixed”. I felt better when we disbanded, but not for any reason than that I’d spent time with people I care about, and who care about me.

But today, after reading my inbox, I see that everybody feels better. In one case, talking about other possibilities encouraged someone to find out more. Turns out they don’t have to take action on their situation right away, maybe not for a long time. Whew! Something that’s blocked them can now be set aside.

The other person just feels better, and knows no matter what she chooses to do, she will have our support.

And it came to me why I love meeting with these women:

We are always talking about our future, and how we can work our way toward it in an artistic way, with love, with creativity, with integrity.

We are always talking about how to be our best, most evolved self, while still caring and including the people we love.

It occurs to me that there’s bitching, and there’s bitching. There’s the kind of bitching where you throw away everything you thought you cared about into a wastebasket, but a wastebasket that never gets emptied.

And then there’s the bitching where you look at your hopes and dreams, examining them closely with the art of possibility, sharing how to bring them fully into the world.

And putting them back into a precious box for safekeeping, to be taken out and cherished another day.

Perhaps even tomorrow.

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Filed under art, Boxes, display, friendship

OPEN STUDIO

People have been asking for pictures of my last Open Studio, so I published an album today. You can see it here

The next sunny day we have in Keene, NH, I’ll take more pics and add another album.

My next Open Studio is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 6 & 7, 2011, as part of the statewide NH Open Doors event. Hope you can come, and til then….

Enjoy!

Little clown bank.

Dolls

Vintage button jewelry.

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Filed under art, cleaning the studio, craft, display, inspiration, jewelry, jewelry display, open studio

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 4: More Papas, Fewer Babies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The biggest drawback? It’s soul-numbing.

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

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

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

So….How to proceed?

Offer fewer ‘babies’.

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

I sold more ‘mamas’ than ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under art, booth display, business, craft, display, marketing, Respect Your Collectors

NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under adoption, art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, life with pets, pets

HOW MUCH IS THAT HORSIE/BIRDIE/FISHIE IN THE WINDOW?

Thinking inside and outside the box for a special window display.

It’s that time of year again, Keene’s annual Art Walk. Downtown store owners offer their window space for artists to display their work, for nine days. Area schools bus their students downtown to see the art and meet the artists.

I have a special place in my heart for Art Walk. It was one of the very first venues I displayed my artwork, starting a little over ten years ago.

As an art venue, it really has its little idiosyncracies, though. I remember one year when I took my family downtown to see my display. To my dismay I discovered my host store, a drugstore, lowered its blinds every evening. No one could see my wall hangings after 5 p.m.!

Another year, my host store had no way to hang anything in their windows–and I had wall hangings. I was allowed to use duct tape on the metal frame along the top of the windows. It seemed to work. I spent the better part of the morning running up and down a ladder, hanging each of my wall hangings from fish line that I tied to strips of duct tape, taped along the top of the window. Everything looked great!

Unfortunately, as the afternoon sun poured in the windows, the heat softened the duct tape, it gently sagged under the weight of the fiber pieces, and everything began to sadly droop. It took about 3 days for everything to actually peel off to the floor, so every two days I went in to put up fresh duct tape and rehang the work, until the end of the show.

I begged the organizers not to put me back in that store the next year. They gave it to a painter with easels for display. And I thank the Lord every day for my wonderful ProPanels display. They were not cheap, but they have made my art display issues sooooooo much easier.

Last year I was split between two stores. One was down a flight of steps, below street level. The other was right above, up a flight of steps. No problem, I thought, I’ll actually have twice as much display space.

Til I realized that a store window that’s already eight to ten feet above street level is not a good place to hang a wall hanging that’s six feet long. People could only see the bottom half of it, it was hung so high. I reconfigured my ProPanels, using only the bottom halves. I decided to display only short pieces. And I was consoled by the lovely wine tasting my downstairs host store held for me on opening night. We tasted many, many, many kinds of wine. I love Colline the wine lady!

This year I started out in one store. Yay! Then I found out which store it was. Hmmmmmm…..

There’s not much foot traffic in front of the store–it’s actually on a side street–but there’s tons of car traffic. It’s at a major intersection, and if you drive through Keene, you’re gonna get caught at that light sooner or later. As you wait for the light to change, your eyes wander to look in the handful of stores right there (narrow sidewalk, no parking, so the stores are right there)–and right there is where my work will be!

The store has four large windows, but unfortunately they are paned–about 20 panes per window, about 10″x12″ per pane. (I say “about” because I measured them wrong the first time.) (In fact, I’m beginning to realize how really, really bad I am about measuring things….) Anything big I put behind those panes would simply be chopped up and difficult to “read”.

To make up for it, I was given additional space in another storefront about 50 feet down the block for my wall hangings.

But how to create a cohesive jewelry display in those little sections?

After much thought and countless sleepless nights, I came up with a great solution.

First, I decided to just use two of the windows. That would be better than trying to utilize eighty panes! I also decided the top row or two was really out of sight of most pedestrians, and even most cars. So that narrowed the number of panes to deal with, down to about 24-30.

I rewrote down my “Animal Stories” and broke it out into sections, including a separate section for each animal mentioned. I printed out each section into its own individual sign with a huge-sized font. These could be taped directly onto the glass pane.

I would create little vignettes of jewelry and mini collages, one for each section, and each animal.

I have a large stash of leftover mat board pieces from friends who used to own a framing ship. I cut several colors of mat board into pieces that were a little bigger than the glass panes. They actually sat out about half an inch from the glass, creating a little “shadow box” in each window.

Fortunately, after cutting all the mat board, it occurred to me to actually test one to see it if actually fit in the window. Too big! I hastily trimmed them all again. Thank goodness I thought to do that before completing my display….

I affixed a selection of jewelry on each mat board. For the “artifacts” in the introduction, I laid out a sampling of artifacts. For each animal, I laid out a selection of jewelry, netsuke (small hand held sculptures) or tiny fiber collages featuring that animal.

I agonized about how to attach the jewelry and polymer pieces. I thought I could use fine wire to attach them. I have some nifty black annealed wire, very fine, and that would blend in well. But what about punching tiny holes in the mat board?? I remembered that book artists sometimes hand drill tiny holes for stitching bindings. Maybe I could do that…..?

After trying to hand drill ONE measly little hole, I almost gave up. Then I realized I had that little jeweler’s drill, with a diamond bit I use to enlarge holes in pearls and glass beads. Would that work? YES!!! It took seconds to drill each hole. Yay!!!

I marked where each hole would go to fix each piece, drilled all the holes at once, and wired each item down. It worked beautifully, and went rather quickly (considering.)

I even remembered to make a sign to let people know I had more work on display a couple stores down the street.

Again, I agonized over having to use masking tape to secure everything–I didn’t want scotch tape pulling their paint or fusing to the glass. But it didn’t show up very much, so that was a lot of needless worrying. (Please note that perfectionist tendencies are still very much in the forefront of my brain….)

It took less than an hour to fill up about 25 panes. It looked great! The fine black wire actually looked kinda neat, like an old museum displays. I’d worried that using five different colors of mat board wouldn’t look cohesive, but it gave the display some movement and a little liveliness. (The host store is painted sort of a golden yellow, and my mat boards were medium blue, rust, olive green, aqua and bittersweet orange, so the whole thing had a Van Gogh sunflower-thing going.)

I think it looks so good, I’m thinking about maybe using an old paned glass window someday as a display. It would be really hard to get the jewelry in and out of it, so I wouldn’t use it as an actual selling display. But something about the pieces being right up inside the window, only half an inch or so from the viewer, made it look lovely.

A few things were a teensy bit tippy, and after I finished hanging my wall hangings at the neighboring store, I realized I’d bumped the display when I squeezed past it to get out. But I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that.

The whole experience was an exercise in just doing my best, preparing for as much as I could, and then letting serendipity take over.

I’ll see if dear hubby can get some pics.

And I’m going to try not to hang out on the Central Square this weekend to see if I can catch people oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing over my display!

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Filed under art, craft, display, jewelry, jewelry display, mental attitude, window display

Jewelry Display #5: Organic Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let your display stand out enough to pull them in.

But then let your work do the shining.

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Filed under art, booth display, business, craft shows, display, jewelry

JEWELRY DISPLAY #2: Mix It Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under art, booth display, business, craft shows, display, jewelry, selling

JEWELRY DISPLAY #1: Thinking Outside the Box

When it comes to displaying your handcrafted jewelry, you have a lot of choices. There are tons of commercially-made products available to you. The choices can be overwhelming.

They range in price from the incredibly cheap to the ridiculously expensive. (By the way, those inexpensive stands are cute, but not very stable. If you use them, you might want to attach them to a larger base of some kind.)

You can find displays made of white leather, black steel, wood and plastic. You can find display stands with feathers, glitter, sequins and in twelve colors. You can find styles like contemporary, country, funky, whimsical, Victorian, romantic, techno, whatever your little heart desires.

There’s a fine line between displaying your work creatively without overpowering the work. I’ve seen displays so elaborate, it was hard to tell what was being sold–the jewelry or the display.

But simple, repetitive display can be boring. I’ve seen displays so monotonous I didn’t even want to stop to look them. One awful example is a common one: Row upon row of white necklace bust stands lined up in a straight line, every one holding a single necklace, each necklace the exact length and design.

It’s mind-numbing to see these “jewelry soldiers on parade”. And yet it’s possibly the single most common jewelry display I see at craft fairs.

One problem with jewelry is, if you display it on an upright display (like the white necklace busts) so people can see it from the aisles, it’s hard for people to actually look at the work easily. You have to sort of bend over to get it back at eye level.

If you display it at a good viewing level, and laid flat (on velvet pads, for example), it’s easier for people to look at. But it’s hard to catch the attention of people out in the aisle. They may not even be able to tell what you’re selling. (Good over-sized photos/posters of your work on your walls can help overcome this.)

Even if you find the perfect commercial display product, if it’s too popular, your display ends up looking like everyone else’s.

I’d like to show you some ways to mix up your display, using commercial and non-commercial display products. Some weren’t even meant to display jewelry at all.

Excuse the not-ready-for-prime-time photography and set-ups. I just wanted to give you some quick examples of non-traditional display pieces and ways to mix and match components without your display looking all over the map.

This vertical necklace stand by Vilmain is one of my favorite display units. It’s upright, stable and holds several necklaces. It’s relatively flat for easy packing and shipping to shows outside your area. It’s pretty sturdy–no fussy little parts to break off or get bent. The black painted steel is neutral, and allows your jewelry to take center stage. It could work with many different styles, including contemporary, funky, elegant, or whatever-style-you’d-call-my-work. (I’ve been told it’s “post-modern”, which sounds ever-so-cool, but I’m still not sure what that actually means…)

The next image shows my Ancient Bull Pendant necklace on a similar stand. It’s the same material and color as the Vilmain stand, and does a decent job showcasing my bigger, bolder designs.

But this second jewelry stand isn’t a necklace display at all. In fact, it’s something I purchased at T.J. Maxx. It originally held two pieces of shaped glass, which sort of formed a vase. I would take a picture of it in it’s original state, but I’ve ditched the glass already. Hey, I found something very similar here. I just love that Google “image” feature….

I guess they weren’t too popular, because they were marked down to less than $10. A month later, I found the same item at Marshalls’ and they had been marked down, too. I bought about four of them, and use them interspersed with other display pieces.

I’m off to pick up the images for my new Etsy shop. I’ll pick up this thread tomorrow with more tips and examples of how to mix up your jewelry display.

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Filed under art, booth display, business, craft shows, display, jewelry

How to Half Wholesale #2: Wholesale Shows

Most people assume wholesale shows are the only serious “next step” to building your wholesale business.

They can be. As recently as a handful of years ago, a good wholesale show could bootstrap your wholesale business efficiently and quickly.

Times have changed. It’s not impossible to achieve immediate success with such shows. But it’s not a sure thing anymore. And like any other endeavor we’ll talk about over the next few essays, it takes preparation. Lots and lots and lots of preparation.

A few guidelines to evaluating whether a wholesale show is right for you, and then we’ll explore ways to do them without spending $5,000.

Always–always–walk a show first. Visit and see for yourself what’s going on.

See how many buyers are there and what kind of businesses they represent. Are they stores that would target your audience? And note if they are actually placing orders.

Note what vendors are there. Is your work compatible, similar, in the same general ball park? Or is your work wildly dissimilar? (Not necessarily a bad thing, but it takes skill and insight to work that disparity.) Talk to exhibitors to learn their experiences with the show (when they don’t have anyone in their booth, of course.)

Take advantage of any guest visitor services or programs. The BUYERS MARKET OF AMERICAN CRAFT, a show that targets retailers of fine contemporary American handcraft, offers a stellar Visiting Artists Program run by the Arts Business Institute. (I am proud to say I am a former faculty member of ABI.) Programs like these can be an excellent introduction to the art of doing a wholesale show.

Before deciding to do a show, calculate the total cost of doing such a show. Not just the booth fee (easily $1,400 and up), but the cost of shipping your booth and work to the show (and drayage charges to haul it around the show, if that isn’t included); your travel, hotel and food expenses; taxis (if you find a cheaper hotel far from the exhibition hall); electricity and other services for your booth; support materials (catalog or line sheets, displays, banners or posters, etc.); advertising and promotion (if you decide to place an ad in the show program).

If you do the show, PREPARE. Contact potential buyers before the show, and invite them to your booth. Send postcards to current and potential customers, with an image of your newest work and your show info (booth number, show specials, etc.) Conventional wisdom calls for a minimum of two mailings! (If you don’t have a mail list of current or prospective clients, see a future essay in this series on building a mailing list from scratch.)

You can call your best accounts and extend a personal invitation. Some artists even offer to purchase show tickets and distribute them to buyers. It can be money well spent if it gets your target store buyers to the show.

Last, be aware of the differences between a fine craft wholesale show (such as the BMAC or the new AMERICAN CRAFT RETAILERS EXPO and a gift show like THE BOSTON GIFT SHOW. A gift show may indeed be a good fit for your product. But know that you’ll be competing with vendors selling imported and manufactured goods. There may also be a higher risk of your product ideas being stolen or copied easily.

Let’s say you’ve already decided that a wholesale show, or its buying audience, is absolutely the next step for you. What are ways to explore this market and/or get your work in front of attendees without going 100% all the way?

1) Advertise in materials that will be distributed at the show.

For example, industry-related publishers often distribute free samples of their magazines at the show. A great ad can draw attention to your work at a time where buyers are actively thinking about buying. At wholesale fine craft shows, you can often find The Crafts Report, Niche and AmericanStyle magazines, New Age Retailer, Giftwear News, etc. If you can’t afford a regular ad (ranging from $500 and up), groups such as Wholesalecrafts.com often place large co-op ads in these same magazines at a greatly reduced cost. (pssst! This tip will also appear in an essay on how to have a presence at a wholesale show when you are not an exhibitor!)

2) Try a group or co-op booth.

Large shows like the Boston Gift Show sometimes offer discounted or comped booth space to large craft guilds and associations. (They are, of course, hoping you will love the experience and eventually want to have your own booth!)

If you are–or could be–a member of such a group, you can often participate with the group for not very much money. See my article Boston Gift Show 101. This can be an affordable and highly educational option.

3) Share a booth.

Some shows allow you to share a single booth space, halving your show fees right up front. There are pros and cons, of course, ranging from “Are your two bodies of work compatible or competitive?” to “Are you and your booth mate compatible or competitive?”

4) Travel light.

Select local or regional shows to cut down on travel expenses. It’s a lot cheaper for me to attend the Boston Gift Show, a two-hour drive away, than the ACRE show in Las Vegas, plus I can stay with friends in Boston for free. Of course, this doesn’t work if the ACRE show targets a better audience! Still, it’s something to consider.

If you drive to shows, buddy up with another vendor and cut down on your travel expenses. Share a hotel room. Find alternative ways to eliminate costly restaurant meals. For example, Reading Terminal Market, right across the street from the BMAC show, offers fresh fruits, sandwiches, take-away food that can save you big bucks over fancy dinners out.

5) Keep your booth light.

We all want to have a spectacular booth display. But if money is extremely tight, bring a minimal display to cut down on shipping costs. Tighten your inventory to your best sellers. Rely on large banners over pricey (and heavy) framed posters and wall treatments.

If you have any doubts about wholesale shows, it’s sometimes cheaper to rent basics like lights, carpeting, display cases or tables instead of buying these outright. You’ll also save on shipping costs if you can’t drive to the show.

Yes, a fancy display helps bring people in your booth. Yes, all the extras create a beautiful environment for customers. But your work is what makes them want to buy. If you’re a newbie, use that to your advantage, instead of trying to look like the Big Boys with the fabulous display.

6) Use FREE publicity instead of ads.

Distribute press releases before show (start six months before so your story has time to get picked up by magazines and newspapers). Email potential customers (but send links to your website or images instead of embedding them in the email itself.) Be ready for the media that comes to the show and bring press kits.

7) Be a renegade!

Some artists (like the Baltimore Alternative Show) set up their own mini-shows in nearby hotels while the “big” show goes on in the exhibition hall. You may not get the throngs of buyers, but…a) there aren’t any throngs anywhere anymore anyway, and b) your expenses are so low (no booth fee, just the cost of your hotel room), you don’t need as many buyers.

8) FOLLOW UP!

In every alternative/half measure we discuss, remember that following up on your leads and prospects will double, even triple your success. Make that phone call to the gallery that expressed interest but wasn’t quite ready to buy. Mail that info you promised. Track down every lead, opportunity, connection you made at the show, whether it’s a potential sale, a networking piece, an exhibition opportunity. You never know where your next break will come from.

If you have suggestions for how to drastically reduce the cost of doing a wholesale show, jump in!

Then we’ll take about options besides wholesale shows for growing the wholesale side of your biz.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft shows, display, half-wholesale, marketing, selling, selling to stores, wholesale

I CAN’T HEAR YOU

Sometimes the best advice is right under our nose. We just heard it five minutes ago.

But we can’t hear it. Why not?

Because we aren’t ready.

We may think we are. We hound friends, family, peers, complete strangers for advice. “Tell me what to do!” we beg.

But if we aren’t truly ready, if our hearts aren’t open, if we haven’t made room for it, we cannot hear it.

Not all advice is advice we should act on. People have their own agendas, and they don’t always have your best interests at heart. Sometimes you just need to nod your head and murmur, “hmmmm….yes….” and leave it at that.

But sometimes, we are so caught up in our own stuff, we can’t hear the best advice in the world.

Here are two recent examples.

This weekend I did a small local craft show, my first in over ten years. It was a nice little show, artist-friendly, well-managed, decent quality work being sold, in a beautiful setting.

I overheard someone talking to a jewelry person near me. I’d seen her at several other shows recently and was familiar with her work. It’s straight bead stringing, nothing exciting, but competent, pretty work.

The person was asking her if she’d tried displaying her work outside of her small covered case so people could see it. She defended her decision, saying she tried that once, and it didn’t work. She said that some of her work was already out and touchable, but honestly, she couldn’t see people buying more of the pieces that were out.

Now, I’d looked at this woman’s jewelry at two different shows. As I said, it’s pretty. And lord, was it cheap. Ridiculously cheap. So I kept thinking I’d buy a few pieces as gifts.

But I couldn’t.

For one thing, although she didn’t have a ton of stuff, what she had was crammed together in her display. No one piece stood out.

Her display was so crowded, I couldn’t touch the pieces that were out. Everything was arranged nice and straight. But there were so many items they were almost piled on top of each other. I was subconsciously afraid of making a mess if I tried to pick up one piece.

It also wasn’t clear it was okay to pick up piece to look at it more closely.

Last, her personality was….large. She had a big voice. She knew everyone at the show, and talked constantly. That can be a good thing, if you know when to to talk and when to get quiet so people can shop. Sometimes I’m in the mood for “big”. But if I’m not, I walk away.

I ended up walking away again without buying anything.

I think the advice she got was good. I think she would have more sales if the pieces had more “breathing space” around them, if it were easier to touch and actually pick up the pieces.

But she couldn’t hear it.

She probably tells herself after every show that people are simply cheap and won’t buy nice jewelry at any price.

But she’s wrong. I was steadily selling jewelry at three times her prices. I think she could have sold out, at her price points, if she’d made it easier on her customers to actually buy.

(Caveat: As always, this is IMHO. Maybe she didn’t care, or maybe she was perfectly happy with her sales.)

Here’s my second example:

A few months ago, I was ready to test for placement in my new Tae Kwon Do class. I had tons of issues–feeling out of place because the curriculum has changed so much; my age; my injuries and physical condition.

The head teacher encouraged me to test at the level I’d left at twelve years before (green belt.) He said I had at least that skill level, maybe even higher. He knew I could do it. It would be a challenge. But it was something I needed to do for myself.

The closer I got to my test date, however, the more I panicked. I felt my limitations strongly. I was terrified of failing.

I asked to be tested for a belt below that, yellow belt. I was pretty sure I could pass yellow belt with no issue.

He argued that I was selling myself short. Yes, there were physical limitations. But my training was sound, and my techniques were consistent. I would make it, if I worked at it. (A good school only recommends you for a level they feel you are ready for.) Most of all, he kept saying, “You need to do it for ‘Luann’”.

But I couldn’t hear him.

All I could feel was the fear and self-doubt. I felt if I got a belt–any belt–I could settle in and move on.

Although the final decision was theirs, in the end they tested me for yellow belt. I passed with no problem.

But they were right. I should have gone for green belt.

It’s odd, but once the stress of anticipating the test was over, I relaxed. I “fell in” with the class more easily. And it became crystal clear to me what I’d done.

I told my teacher soon after, “I could hear your words. But I couldn’t hear what you were saying. My fear and self-doubt got in the way. I know that now. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you.”

Now, maybe I needed to take that easy step to just get to that next level.

But next time, I may just take that leap of faith instead.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft shows, display, fear of failing, martial arts, mental attitude, selling, taking chances

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #23: Be Different. Please.

I’m going to pick on jewelry booths today, partly because there are so many of them at shows. And because it’s just a good example of what’s wrong with so many of these shows.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are perfectly happy with your work and your shows, don’t read any further. It will just annoy you. If you are having the degree of success you want, don’t change anything! It’s working for you, and you don’t need my opinions on what you’re doing.

But if you feel like you’re struggling and can’t figure out how to get ahead, it may be time for you to hear this:

How much dichroic glass does the world need?

I’ve visited a lot of smaller shows in my area this season. And at every single one, there are at least two, three, sometimes four craftspeople working with dichroic glass jewelry.

Is there anyone who isn’t working in dichroic glass?

More importantly, is there anyone doing something different with it?

Of the last two to three dozen dichroic glass jewelry booths I’ve visited, I saw one person–ONE–who was doing something a little different. That person had made round beads. And that was only featured in a handful of designs. (Actually, I’m not even sure you can form dichroic glass into round beads. She may have been using purchased beads that just resembled dichroic glass….?)

Dichroic glass is popular because it’s colorful and bright. It’s also chunky and clunky. I have a feeling you can now also buy it at craft stores like Michael’s.

That means you’ve either got to be absolutely brilliant at working with it….

…or it’s time to move on to something else.

Another overused jewelry category is necklaces made with beads anyone can get. The pattern is something like “Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, etc.” Sometimes someone goes out on a limb and uses two Bali bead spacers. Or two different colors of stone beads.

Dichroic glass, semi-precious stone beads, Swarovski crystals, Czech glass beads (or worse, cheap Indian glass beads)… Whatever. These ready-made materials are easily available, and they have saturated the jewelry market. In the end, it’s hard to come up with anything really different, innovative or unusual.

This kind of jewelry-making is called “bead stringing.” And the word “bead stringer” has become an insult among jewelry designers. I couldn’t see why until I started visiting websites and perusing craft fairs again, and browsing on-line handcrafted jewelry sites.

It’s because that’s ALL that’s out there.

I know it’s how we all get started. I know, I know, I know. I did the same thing when I first started out.

But it seems like in the last ten or twelve years since I started, everyone and their sister is now making jewelry. Access to supplies and resources is easier than ever. Anyone can make it–and does, it seems. If a ten-year-old can do it as well as you (and yes, at an Arts Business Institute seminar, I once mentored a ten-year-old who made jewelry almost as well as anything I’ve seen so far) then that says something.

And a ten-year-old may outsell you with the same work, as you’ll see below.

When everybody is doing the same thing, then it becomes all about

a) pricing
b) salesmanship
c) presentation
and d) story.

You can compete with your pricing. But you must understand that when it comes to price, there is no bottom. There are stores importing huge amounts of sterling silver and semi-precious stone jewelry from India, China, Indonesia and you cannot underprice them. I’ve seen sterling silver rings with semi-precious stone cabochons for under $4.00 at gift stores. I’m sure they are not very fine rings. But they looked okay, and if your work’s only competitive edge is price, then your customer will choose that $4 ring over your $12 ring.

You may be happy with your sales at your smaller craft shows offering low prices. But you will not be able to grow your business much past a small local market. You will only attract bargain-hunters. And you will not be able to wholesale to stores and galleries.

Presentation helps! The only booth with semi-precious stone beads and silver jewelry I even paused at had decent presentation and display–coordinated colors in table cloths and drapes, nice banners, beautiful display. And she had slightly more original designs.

But in the end, it was all still so much like everything else out there. And I passed.

Salesmanship helps. Knowing how to act when customers stop to browse will go a long way to closing a sale, and we’ve seen how very simple questions and statements can give your customers the emotional space to do just that.

The last thing that can help set your work apart is story. Being able to share with your audience why you do this is a huge edge. (Please, not because you love it. Frankly, why should I care?? When an artist says, “I just love color!”, I have to bite my tongue to respond with, “So who doesn’t love color??!”)

And here’s where than ten-year-old is going to beat you out. Is there anything cuter than a 10-year-old with the entrepeneurial spirit? If her work is just as good as yours, or even almost as good as yours, I’m going to buy her work to encourage her to follow her dreams. Or make enough money for her to go to summer camp.

Once again: If you are in this to make a little money at Christmas and to have a little fun, then ignore everything I’ve said in this post. As I said, we all have to start somewhere. I’d hate for you to see the kind of work I started with!

But if you have bigger dreams in your heart, then start thinking ahead. Use the money you make from these shows to take classes, to gain more skills, to expand your techniques, to buy better materials and tools.

That’s what I did.

When your season slows, take time to look into your heart and explore what you really want to come of all this hard work and perseverance.

That’s what I did.

Make sure you have a good product that’s different, high quality, that you absolutely love to make.

That’s what I did.

Because when you find your audience, you’re going to be with this product a long, long time.

Make sure it’s something you can live with, something you can be proud of making for years to come.

Make sure it’s the very best you can do. And take every opportunity to make it even better.

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #21: Give Me Space!

I had another chance to walk a craft fair recently. I was actively shopping at this one, or trying to. Once again, I was thwarted by my fellow craftspeople.

Here’s another tip from a crabby shopper:

Leave yourself room to conduct business.

Please… Give your customers room to write a check.

I watched a young woman with a very nice product make a sale to an eager customer. Her table was so full of product there was absolutely no room for the buyer to write a check. (And although the product was lovely, the display was not as appealing as it could have been.)

At one point, the craftsperson actually pointed to a towering display of boxes with product stacked on it and said, “Here, you can write there.” The customer tried to write a check above shoulder height, on the display. The tower wobbled slightly. I could hardly watch.

If your customer has to drop all her packages, including her purse, to write a check with her checkbook balanced on her thigh, then you have just made them jump through incredible hoops simply to buy something from you.

This phenomena isn’t just an issue of limited space. I’ve seen people with very large, complicated booths who still don’t leave twelve square inches of space for people to set down a purse and pull out their wallet.

At the very least, provide people with a clipboard to write a check or sign a credit card slip.

At best, leave a bit of space for you to wrap up that sale.

You may be thinking, “Hey, I made the sale. What do I care what happens after that?!”

Well, halfway through the show, they might think, “Hey… Those would make a great gift for Aunt Sue and Jolene! I should go back and grab a couple more….”

Do you want them to then think, “It would only take a few minutes, I already know what I want.”

Or for them to think, “Oh, geez, no, I can’t bear to go through THAT again!”

Make it easy for them to buy. And make it easy for them to come back and buy MORE.

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Filed under art, booth design, business, craft shows, display, selling

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #20: When to Break the Rules

I’m back from the Westport Creative Arts Festival. It was a beautifully run show, well-managed and supported by the Westport Young Women’s League. They did everything right! Unfortunately, attendance was down, down, down and although I didn’t crash and burn, I did not do well enough to return.

It did give me a chance to see all kinds of booth set-ups, though. I’m here to report that sometimes it’s good to break the rules of good booth design.

One of my favorite booths was Riverstone Jewelry.
It was one that broke several “rules”, to great effect.

The tables were low and deep. There was barely enough room for more than three or four people to browse at a time. There was a lot of work on display.

But it worked.

I’ve been thinking why, and here is my theory:

She created an atmosphere of a true “trunk show”. It felt like she had just returned from a buying trip, set up her well-worn traveling cases in an exotic but peaceful tent in a bazaar, and invited you in to see her new wares.

The backdrops were simple, neutral-colored (sort of beige) but layered–some sort of matchstick blinds over similar-colored material (linen??), very “Thai” or “Bali” looking.

The cases seemed to be old wood cases or boxes, with the jewelry lined up attractively. The items that were laid out in great numbers still worked, too. Bracelets were aligned in rows, but each one was different. Your eye could quickly take in the one or two that jumped out at you, according to your taste. I don’t think they were displayed on black, either, although I now can’t recall the color. More neutral, I think.

And the reason I say “looked” and “seemed” is, all I could really focus on was the jewelry. Everything else was warm and attractive and blended into the theme, then fell away so you only saw the jewelry.

I overheard a little of her sales approach. She told a woman how, in the villages where she buys the components, a shaman consults with you when you are ailing.

Once the source of your ills is determined, special healing amulets are prescribed. You go to a amulet “pharmacy” and purchase the right amulets. The amulets are then made into jewelry for you to wear.

The entire effect was that you were participating in such a healing process. And, as we all feel the need for such care from time to time, it was a compelling notion. People were scouring for just the right piece for healing.

People felt justified in buying more jewelry–”It’s therapeutic!”

And because the experience also felt “exotic” and “traveling to faraway places” and “marketplace”, people seemed to tolerate the crowding better. It was part of the total adventure.

Perfect booth!

So why doesn’t this table set-up work for every booth?

Because here it recreated a specific atmosphere–exotic locale/shaman healing/ancient wisdom/community.

When misused, the recreated atmosphere is “yard sale.”

I also recant (a little) on the booth lighting thing. Sometimes the worst way to light a booth is what works best under the circumstances.

It is really hard to light a booth on 400 watts of electricity! I don’t know how you do it if the fair doesn’t provide any electricity. (There are batteries available for outdoor shows, but most indoor shows don’t allow them.)

My booth was way too dark. Of course, part of my problem is trying to display three different lines that demand three different display modes–2-D (walls), sculptures (shelves/table top) and jewelry (cases).

Under these circumstances, the best-lit booths were indeed the ones that had a rack of track lighting across the top front bar of the booth. Yes, when I turned around, I was blinded by the lights. But if I didn’t have jewelry, too, I would seriously consider doing that just to get enough light into my booth quickly and easily.

The one exception was a guy across from me who had the more-successful light set-up–track lighting on all three sides of his booth, with the track set up about a foot or two away from each wall (my recommended solution.)

But when I counted the lights, I saw he also had at least 9 lamps, and another bar of 4 lamps. Either he was using lower watt lamps or he simply ignored the 400 watt limit. I did find some on-line sources for low watt MR16 halogen bulbs so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I will consider these bulbs the next time I have limited electricity.

So remember, there are many good rules to making a great booth. But some rules are made to be broken.

The trick is to know when and how to break them and why.

p.s. Low voltage does not equal low wattage. Low voltage lamps are not the same as low wattage bulbs.

Some craftspeople (and I used to be one of them) think if we are using low-voltage lighting, we can use twice the number of lamps/bulbs in our booth. “I can buy 400 watts, and have 800 watts’ worth of low-voltage lamps in my booth!” we exclaim happily.

NOT.

A common mistake we make is thinking low-voltage lamps use less energy. They do–but not in how much power you’re drawing. The BULBS use less energy, and last longer–and is safer to work with. That’s why low-voltage light systems are increasingly being used in outdoor residential lighting.

Think of electricity as a stream of water, like a hose, coming in your booth. If the nozzle has a wide-spread setting, the stream/current is wide, the power is diffused. If the setting is narrow, the water comes out harder and more powerfully.

But the amount of water coming through is the same.

To figure out how much wattage you’re using at a show, you still have to add the total wattage of your light bulbs. If you have bought 400 watts of power,the total wattage of your bulbs should not exceed 400.

My electrician tried to explain about dividing the total number of watts into the total number of volts in the system for figuring out the actual “draw” on the system, but he lost me several times along the way. When I repeated the above to him, he said, “Yeah, just stick with that.”

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD#19 Chosing Fewer Choices

Let’s go back over the issue of having too much stuff in our booths. I have two anecdotes that I hope will encourage you to pare down your offerings.

A few years ago, I browsed another jewelry artist’s case. Barbara Sperling does polymer clay canework, which means once she makes a cane design, she can take dozens and dozens of slices from it to make jewelry. (Barbara also happens to be one of the nicest and most professional craftspeople in the industry, so if you see her at a craft fair, BUY HER STUFF!)

I tend to be one of those people who looks for the “perfect one” whenever I have a pile of things to look at. I love to paw through baskets of earrings and piles of bracelets looking for “just the right one.” Oddly, usually I can’t find the one I’m looking for. (More on that below.)

Barbara was a step ahead of a shopper like me.

She had limited the choices in her display severely.

Instead of displaying every single piece she’d made, she’d set up a square panel of black velvet, perhaps 2-4 to a case, with only one or two samples of each design for each jewelry item. For example, in her Great Blue Heron design (my favorite!) she had ONE fancy pendant necklace, ONE simple pendant necklace, TWO pairs of earrings (one large, one small) and a pin.

It was not “sparse”. There was still plenty of jewelry to look at.

But it was focused.

My attention was caught. I zoomed in on the earrings, and I quickly selected a pair.

As I did, two thoughts went through my brain.

1) “Wow! She only has two pairs of heron earrings left. I better snag a pair before she sells them to someone else!!”

2) “I like THIS pair best!”

After I’d paid for my purchase and was on my way back to my booth, I remembered something, and turned back…

Just in time to see Barbara quickly replacing the earrings I’d just bought with another pair!

She had tons of those heron earrings, all subtly different. She had them stashed away behind the counter, ready to quickly replenish any stock as it sold.

She could have put out dozens of heron earrings, and saved herself the trouble.

But choosing from dozens would have been overwhelmed me. Flooded me. Left me unable to choose.

In fact, for some people, this feeling is so uncomfortable they will not stay in a booth that has too much stuff–especially if it’s a lot of similar stuff.

So our first corollary is:

Choosing from many is hard. Choosing “the best of two or three” is easy.

My second anecdote is simply an observation I’ve made from watching people browse my booth. I especially noticed this when I did a 600 square foot sales/demo booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair three years ago. I had over 30 feet of “aisle footage”, and that’s a long time for people to be walking by your booth.

I had several jewelry and sculpture displays along the walkway, and several places people could enter the booth. (ALWAYS leave plenty of space for people to come in and mill around.) As people strolled by, something would catches their eye.

Intrigued, they’d step up for a closer look. Then they’d come in and start browsing in earnest. Finally, they’d decide they were seriously looking for “their piece.”

Now, some knew what that was. But others had a harder time.

When the people having a harder time were ready for help–when they indicated they LOVED the work, wanted to purchase something, but they couldn’t make up their mind–I’d ask them a very simple question:

“What was the first piece you touched when you came in my booth?”

People, I swear to you….99 times out of 100, that is the piece they end up buying.

One woman protested, “But I literally just put out my hand and touched it. I didn’t really even look at it!”

But in the end, it was still the necklace she chose to buy, after insisting at looking at dozens and dozens of similar pieces.  (I know, because I pulled each and every one of those pieces.)

Here’s my theory:

Our heart knows which item speaks to us.

Sometimes it’s even the first piece that catches our eye. (Our brains are actually super-processors of date. We’re hard-wired to notice the cheetah’s outline amidst the leaves in the forest jungle. We really can pick out that lovely turquoise-accented necklace from a myriad of pale blue ones….)

Our heart gives a little leap and says, “That’s the one!” Our hand goes out to the item, and we touch it (or wish we could, if it’s under glass or signs say “please don’t touch.”)

Then our busy brains kick in. “Wait, there might be something better!” it cajoles. “Let’s go look at everything so we’re sure we’re getting the nicest one!”

Or we agonize about whether it will go with our clothes. Or if it’s too fancy to wear for every day. Or if it’s too different than the kind of thing we usually buy.

We are afraid of making the wrong choice. And so we choose nothing.

That’s when your customer says those dreaded words: “I’ll be back.”

You’ve lost them. Only one in a hundred people will work their way back to you. There’s just too much going on at a good show, too many other wonderful distractions.

Our jobs as sellers is to encourage people to trust their heart. To trust the choice that comes from their unconscious yearnings.

Because that is the choice that will stay with them, and give them the most joy in the years ahead.

I now do this myself when I shop. Sometimes I’m wrong, but not as often as you might think. And it frees me up to do more shopping in more booths, too!

So try acting on this corollary:

You touch it, it owns YOU!

Be gentle, be subtle, and don’t force it.

See if it doesn’t help those indecisive customers get to their happy place faster.

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #18: Intervention

A reader just posted a plea for help on booth layout.

He set up a U-shaped booth at a recent show. Unfortunately, if a peek at the small sample of goods displayed at the top of the “U” didn’t capture people’s interest, they walked on.

He’s now thinking of a table across the front of the booth with “bits of this and that”, samples of everything he does. He’s dreading another booth redesign.

Okay, Tom, put down the pen and step away from the graph paper.

It’s time to look at how people act in your booth before we decide whether a different layout would work better.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with either layout, properly done. But the same things can go wrong with both.

In a nutshell, I would take a good look at three things in a booth redesign:

Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?
Can your customers shop without pressure?
Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?

Twenty (or so) Questions time!

Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?

Could shoppers easily get into your booth?

Sometimes a U-shaped layout creates a bottle-neck at the front of the booth, especially if the display tables are too deep. Many craftspeople use those low, wide tables that are almost 3 feet deep. Place these around the perimeter of the booth, and you may end up with a central space only four feet wide. Not enough room for customers to move in! See this essay in the series for information on the butt brush phenomenon.

Did the front tables force people to stand out in the aisle? There are a lot of distractions out there! I would pull the tables at the legs of the “U” in a little, so people come into the booth a little.

Do you have enough signage to engage people as they look at your work? Are the prices clearly displayed so they have an idea if they can afford it?

Can your customers shop without pressure?

Where were you standing in the booth? And what were you doing?

Were you standing in the middle of the booth, staring out at the aisle? This always looks like the artist is guarding the booth. Not good vibes for shopping!

Were you standing someplace where you could watch your browsers constantly? I hate that! Every single guy did this to me at a recent craft fair I visited. I felt like a rabbit in a beagle’s doghouse. Not Snoopy’s doghouse, either.

Guys tend to stand with arms folded. Or with hands in pockets. Both tend to signal “I’m bored!” Women shoppers know this stance well. It is the “bored husband” stance. And we don’t like it. It takes away the fun of shopping. Ouch!

Where you leaping (figuratively) on people as soon as they came into the booth, forcing conversation on them before they could even start browsing?

Or (just as bad) totally ignoring them?

One of the most effective sales tips Bruce Baker has to offer is how to look busy in your booth doing business-appropriate activities.Try doing something a shopkeeper (because that’s what you are at a show) would be doing–dusting, pricing, arranging, restocking, etc. Simply let people know you are available for help IF they need you.

Then people can relax–and SHOP.

(See this collection of essays on <a href=”http://luannudell.wordpress.com/category/booth-behavior/”&gt;booth behavior</a> for more information.

Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?

What did you display look like? Tell me you didn’t have EVERYTHING YOU MAKE laid out evenly on tables that were waist-high. (Actually, I hope you DID because you can easily fix that for next time!)

If the dichroic glass jewelry wasn’t pulling people in at that show, could you have switched something more enticing out there on those front aisle tables?

Can people easily see what you make? If it’s tiny, and only displayed on tables, try a large-format photo/poster of your work–a beautiful jury shot, an image of a model wearing the work, an environmental shot of the product in an appropriate setting.

This gets that information (“This is what I make”) to potential customers even across the aisle. (This also helps if you are thronged with buyers, and other browsers can’t even see into your booth.) (BTW, that is such a good problem to have, isn’t it?)

Now, about the idea of putting a table across the front of the booth….Here’s a fun exercise. Go to Flickr and search for “craft fair booth”. You will find hundreds of booths with that table-across-the-front-of-the-booth layout you’re thinking of trying.

Here’s what I noticed in almost every single image:

) The tables are invariably those standard folding tables everyone uses at craft shows. They are TOO LOW and TOO DEEP.

Even if a customer sees something they like at the back of the table, if they can’t reach it, they will not try to pick it up.

Go look at a fancy jewelry store in your home town. Note the height of the actual display surface of their cases. It’s higher than your dining room table, right?

) Every single seller is committing the #1 energy drainer in a show booth.

In almost every photo, the seller is SITTING DOWN.

It reminds me of seeing friends at a restaurant. One of you is sitting down, looking up (hungry!), and the other is standing there, looking down (suddenly aware of how hungry the diner must be.) The energy is weird.

Worse, the vendors are sitting down facing directly into the aisle. Every single customer has to endure the pressure of eyes upon them as they shop. (You can almost here their thoughts of “please please please buy something!!!”) It’s awful.

Raise your tables. If you must sit, get a higher chair, so you and the customer are on the same eye level.

And sit angled, and be busy, so people can approach your display and browse without feeling your watchful eyes on them.

) The tables are flush with the aisle.

There is no place where people can “get off the aisle”. They are standing in the aisle, open to every distraction of every booth around you. They are being jostled by the crowd behind them.

Get them IN your booth. Create an environment that engages them.

) There is always TOO MUCH STUFF.

And there is either NO display–just a jillion items laid out on the table.

Or there is TOO MUCH DISPLAY–so many cute baskets, fancy displays, patterned tablecloths, stacked boxes, etc., etc., etc., you can hardly tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

All those subtle variations in your designs that are so obvious to you, the myriad color choices, are not obvious to your customer. It just looks like too much stuff.

Or even worse, it is all different. It looks like the artist has NO FOCUS.

The eye cannot settle. The customer cannot find that one special thing that might call to them.

They move on.

I started to link some of these issues to the appropriate essay in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series. But there were too many! I think if you have time to search the “category” box on my site for “booth design”, you will find almost all of these topics addressed more fully.

I want to say again, all of us make mistakes. My booth tends to be visually dense (a euphemism) and I struggle with this all the time. In fact, having only a three-hour set-up time at my next show is forcing me to streamline my offerings.

But I have managed to create a total environment, which helps. IF the work interests a customer, there is plenty to keep her engaged and entertained.

Until she finds that perfect piece she simply must have.

Don’t give up, Tom. You are doing the right thing–seeing what’s not working, and thinking about doing something different. Just focus on WHY it’s not working, and I believe you will come up with a way to do it better.

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BEST BOOTH AWARD

Just for fun, I googled “best booth award” and clicked “image”. I found this collection of award-winning booths. Best Booth Award Winners

Not what I expected, but interesting and informative!

Better yet, google Craft Show Booth and you see more useful examples.

In fact, browse through these images. See which booths attract you and which ones leave you thinking, “hmmmmm……no.”

A lot of these awards are for trade show booths–way, way out of most budgets and not conducive to selling crafts. BUT some of the design principles should be the same, no matter what we’re selling!

Let me know if you find some great booths. We’ll all go take a look at ‘em!

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MAKE ME BUY IT!

I did some market research this weekend, and threw in a little retail therapy to boot. I went shopping with a friend at a small local craft fair.

My friend is just starting out with a product she wants to make. I wanted her to walk the show with a different filter in mind–to look at how booths were set up, how product was displayed, and how people acted in their booths.

It was an eye-opener.

Afterwards we went out for coffee and discussed our experiences.

There were glaring omissions in the booth set-up, display, lighting areas.

But mostly, people had no idea how to sell their work.

I was surprised how little lighting was used. It made me realize that electricity is probably not even offered at most of the smaller fairs like this one. Someone had set up a couple of clamp-on lights, but they were the kind you use for task lighting at home. They were oversized, top-heavy, falling down into the display, and not putting out enough light to produce much effect. The hall was bright, so the lights would mostly have been for drama.

But it made me think how to use what electricity I’ll have at these smaller shows to the best effect.

I was also surprised how poorly delineated most of the booth spaces were. Some people were sharing booths, but many simply looked like they were sharing. That is, it was hard to tell where one booth left off and another vendor’s space started. It was embarrassing to ask a question of someone seated behind a table, and have them glare at me and say, “That’s not MY stuff, ask HIM!” with an angry nod to their more popular neighbor.

That made me realize that even a very modest “walling” of my booth will have a huge effect. The lack of a fully walled booth will not hurt me much at this kind of show. I’ll think of other ways to create a secluded environment in my space.

I don’t think any of the booths had any kind of flooring, and in this environment, that was not detrimental.

People seemed to have either too much display stuff, or too little. Too little–product simply laid out on a plain table top, like a flea market. Too much–we couldn’t tell what was product and what was display! As an example we didn’t actually see at the show, if I see ten different kinds of wooden drying racks with mittens pinned to them, I would like to know instantly if mittens are being sold, or drying racks. Or if you are actually selling the clips holding the mittens to the drying racks. Or you are selling a decorative item which consists of a faux drying rack with fake mittens…..

I noticed most booths had very little signage, or poorly utilized signage. One person had a tiny booth filled with her goods–too filled, as there was only room for one person at a time to actually be in the space. (And once you were in there, you were keenly aware of other people behind you waiting for you to leave so they could look, too.) No pricing anywhere. When I finally asked how much an item was, the artist pointed to a handwritten sign stuck off the the side with the price of everything in the booth carefully listed on it. Like I’m going to stand in the booth skimming the list looking for the item I’m thinking of with that crowd muttering behind me….

I realize I will be a totally new vendor at the smaller retail shows I’m doing, with a brand new audience. I must be sure everything is clearly priced, and that my signage quickly tells my story.

I saw the person who makes “a little bit of everything”, including some items that were obviously buy-sell–which inadvertently made me question everything else in her booth.

I realize that, though I have no idea which of my “lines” will appeal the most at my upcoming shows, it will still be better to streamline them into a few cohesive lines. Or to group things in a way that makes sense and hangs together, yet still offers enough variety and choice.

Most of the vendors would stare at us as we shopped. You could almost hear their thoughts over the din of the crowd: “Buy something buy something buy something oh please dear god BUY SOMETHING!!” The men were the worst–they would stand there either with their ams folded or their hands in their pockets, staring or talking nonstop.

But not saying the things that would encourage us to buy.

I started a little experiment. I actually started selling stuff for them.

“You have to try this cream!” I exclaimed to my friend. “I’ve been using it for years. It is absolutely the only thing I’ve found that works on my dry feet.” I went over the things I liked about it. I have to tell you, the packaging on this stuff looks like it was designed by the tractor company, John Deere. There is no schmoozing of the product in the packaging or anything. But I buy it because I know and like the vendor and because it works. Slowly, a small crowd formed around us. My friend was impressed with my testimonial, and bought some herself.

I met up with another friend the next day, and she said that show is typical of “shows in Keene.” In Keene, she says, “It’s all about price.” People in Keene just won’t spend money.Well, I have been in some homes in Keene over the years (!!!) and I’m here to tell you, people here have just as much money to spend, and inclination to do so, as people anywhere else.

Here’s proof:

We looked at some beautiful wood boxes, which my friend collects. She admired one square box that turned out to be a sort of night light or lantern. But not until she’d decided to buy it did the guy open it and show her there were multiple panels inside that allowed her to change the scene.

And she had nearly walked out of the show before I convinced her she really should go back to that guy’s booth and look again at his boxes. She almost never knew about those panels.
She almost bought nothing at all, thought she clearly loved the work.

Because I knew how much she wanted those bowls, I urged her to go back. And she ended up spending a nice chunk of change in that booth.

So what was missing for that guy to sell his bowls at that show? I’m sure the guy is convinced that people in Keene just won’t spend money on nice wood bowls.

In fact, my friend I was shopping with had plenty of money to spend, and wanted to do so.  She collects wooden boxes, fercryinoutloud.

But she had talked herself out of buying one. She has “enough”, she “doesn’t need more”. Just what we all tell ourselves when confronted with something we love.

People, it’s not about the price.

I think if you have a remarkable product, and if you price it appropriately, and if you display it nicely, and are able to talk about it intelligently, you can sell it.

My friend needed to have that box pitched to her so she could give herself permission to buy it. She needed someone to tell her that it’s okay to collect boxes. It’s okay to love them. It’s okay to enjoy them. It’s okay to display them. It’s okay to show them to your friends! Heck, I didn’t even know she HAD any wood boxes. I’ve never seen them. (They’re all upstairs in the family’s private quarters, it turns out.)Let me pick on this wood box guy. Because he had a nice product at decent prices.

If I were him…..

Instead of displaying a ton of boxes and bowls on plain lattice shelving, I’d set aside at least one section of a wall for a few beautiful display shelves–NOT unfinished pine, which made the boxes look like cheap pine, too.

I’d put my best pieces here, including the lantern. I’d make it look like it was someone’s private collection of beautiful handmade wood bowls and boxes (which, just coincidentally, all happen to be made by “moi”.) Maybe two or three displays–one for a formal living room, one for a children’s room, or a kitchen.

I bet if he had, my friend would have started thinking, “Wow, that looks beautiful, having all the bowls displayed like that.” And then, “Hmmmm….maybe I could do that in our living room….and another display of my bowls in the kitchen…..?” “Oh, wouldn’t that lantern look nice in my daughter’s bedroom?!” And then…”I could do that, and I would have more display room to buy a few more bowls!”

I’d have a few–a very few–obviously decorative accents–perhaps a few small branches of fir branches, some candlesticks, perhaps a stack of lovely old, well-read children’s books on the “children’s” shelf. The lantern, I’d set up with a light inside, just as it would be used. (If there’s no electricity, I’d get a nine-volt battery and hook it up to a 4-watt light bulb for this purpose.)

I’d have a sign that said “Handcarved lantern–Four gifts in one!” and a little blurb with something like “Perfect gift for that special niece or nephew!” or “Great wedding gift!” or “A housewarming gift they’ll enjoy for years to come!” Maybe even “gift box available!”

I’d either make it very clear there are four panels that are interchangeable, AND they all store neatly inside the lantern when not in use. OR as soon as people seemed hooked on the lantern itself, I’d show them the extra panels. What a finale!

If people still weren’t sure, I’d tell them the story of how my kids always needed a nightlight because they were a little scared of the dark when they were small. But the nightlights were always on the floor in the outlets, and they weren’t very pretty. So I made one that could sit on their table by them at night.  (“Oh, my child/niece/grandchild is afraid of the dark, too–this would be perfect!”)

Or if they don’t have little ones, I share the story of how I made one for our familiy for Christmas, but my wife loved it so much, I made a different panel that could be put in after Christmas, with a different theme–and realized we could now use it year-round. (“Hey, this would be one Christmas decoration I wouldn’t have to pack away every year!”)

And how I’d made one for each of our kids, so they’d always remember our Christmases together.  (“Hey, I could get one for each of my kids!”
And every year, I’d offer another set of 2 to 4 new panels for people to come back and buy. Perhaps even a few limited editions. (“Get ‘em now, because there’s only so many of these.”)

When someone new asks if they are good gifts, I’d be able to say, “Yes, not only do people come back to buy more panels every year, they buy MORE–because the people they gave them to like them so much!”

And I’d have a little gift enclosure card to go with each one, telling them about the little retired guy who used to make these for his grandkids and figured other people might like one for their grandkids, and now you can have one for your grandkids. Or sister, or niece, or friend. With a little contact info so they can order new panels from you, too.

Don’t you just want to run out and buy ten of these?!

And for heaven’s sake, I’m not going to tell you I’m going to be at another show in a week and you can get them from me then. And I’m not going to tell you I have a website, either, until AFTER you’ve purchased it. I want you to buy it NOW. I’ll tell you if you realize you could use more of these as gifts later, you can order more from my website.

To wrap this up, it’s all about how you act in your booth and how you talk about your booth that’s going to turn a show like this around.

Here are some things to think about for your next show:

Figure out a game plan for talking to people. There were people who totally ignored us when we came in the booth, and people who hung on us like lemurs.

Pay attention to business. There were vendors who stopped to take calls on their cell phones while we were waiting for our purchases to be wrapped.

It’s a short show–stay in your booth! Wives left husbands to mind the booth while they went to chat with other vendors–and their husbands knew absolutely nothing about the product.

Be of service to your customers, and help them S*H*O*P. There were vendors who watched as I struggled to look at an item with one hand while holding my purchases and struggling to maneuver with my aircast who never said, “Here, let me hold your packages for you a minute while you shop”, or “Let me help you get that down.”

Listen to your customers. One woman kept trying to sell my friend a doll’s nightgown for a 16″ doll after my friend said her daughter had a 10″ doll, and the vendor had already said she had nothing for a doll that size.

Don’t be afraid to let your customers know you love what you do. Tell us why you love it, and make us love it, too!

Get serious about selling. Your product is simply not going to sell itself, no matter how wonderful it is.

And it IS wonderful, isn’t it?

You know I want it.

Make me buy it!

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #13: Stay In Your Booth!

Today’s topic isn’t a no-no in the sense that it will reduce sales. It’s a no-no regarding your professionalism, and consideration for your fellow craftspeople.

Stay in your booth.

You have signed a contract for the use of a 10′x10′ space (or however big a space you paid for.) It’s amazing how many people interpret that to mean “….and whatever else I can get away with.”

It’s 10′x10′. Period. Your booth must fit inside this space. Most commercial booth set-ups are actually a smidgen less than 10′x10′ for this reason.

That means if you construct your own booth, any bolts, bracing, floor plates, light bars, etc. must fit inside your own space–and NOT stick out into your neighbor’s.

There’s sometimes a little leeway in the airspace–IF you check first. Even then, you must be thoughtful of what is going to cause problems and what will be okay. A banner above your booth may be fine. A banner that hangs over into the aisle and gently whaps people passing by in the face is not.

Although sometimes shows set height limits for booths, these are often ignored by craftspeople. Sometimes I’m the shortest booth in my row. This usually isn’t a problem, if the backs of the booths towering above me aren’t too ugly. Most of people’s attention does stop at the top of my walls and lights.

Once, though, an artist with a very tall booth behind me got the bright idea to use the BACK of their booth as exhibit space. They put artwork up. (Yes, I know my noun/pronouns don’t match up. I’m going so far to protect their identify, I’m not even mentioning their gender!)

My first clue something was wrong was when a gentleman in my booth looked up, pointed to his wife at something above him–and both of them abruptly left. It happened a few more times. I stepped out from behind my counter–and saw several pieces of artwork displayed prominently above my booth wall.

Not nice. I complained to the show management, and the offending work was taken down.

In fact, this is a good guide for judging if you have crossed the line or not. When someone is in my booth, nothing in your booth should attract them out of it–except, of course, the “regular” view they would have of your booth across the way.

This guideline explains why music could be considered the same kind of infringement, and why some shows ban music being played in your booth.

In a way, it’s too bad–I would love to create a total environment for my booth using music, as I do in my open studio events. But the reality is, it’s hard to do that without at least 3-5 other exhibitors also being able to hear your music (your neighbors and abutters, front and back.) If customers love your music, they will be pulled from your neighbors’ booths into yours. And if they hate your music, you will drive everyone’s customers away.

And if you don’t think that’s a big deal, wait until it happens to you. At another show, someone rows and rows away from me began playing a guitar–and customers streamed from booths all around to go see what was happening.

Also, think how it would sound if everyone played music–even soft music–in their booth. Can you say cacophony? (I can say it, but I couldn’t spell it. I had to look it up.)

Another common “trespassing” offense is exhibitors who use the aisles to display work. If the work is on your booth walls, that’s usually okay. But if you put a rack of clothing out in the aisle, that is usually verboten (or should be.)

Not only does are you taking up more floor space than you paid for, but you are actually affecting the traffic flow of customers in the aisle. People are either slightly blocked by the rack–and pause to look, or even decide to go into the booth. Or worse, they swerve around it–and the swerve can actually move them totally past the entrance to YOUR booth (if you have the misfortune to be next to this craftsperson.)

Even sitting on a chair in front of your booth has this effect. In fact, it can be worse. I’ve stood at the end of a row of booths and watched people apparently swerve nonchalantly around a seated artist.

I say “apparently” because several things are actually going on. They are not only avoiding the artist’s physical space, but his emotional space. When you walk around someone, you tend to avoid eye contact–like maneuvering down a crowded sidewalk. It’s the way we peacefully navigate in crowded spaces. We avert our eyes slightly, murmur an apology if necessary–”…’scuse me, pardon me”–and move on.

Except when people avoid eye contact, they tend to look away–and miss looking at the booth next to that artist’s booth. Ta da! Your six seconds of opportunity to visually attract people into your booth is gone. Six seconds or LESS, because that’s how much time it takes to walk past a booth.

The rack people usually know exactly what they are doing. In fact, at one show I did, the person (not coincidentally, a buy-sell guy) asked to put a rack in my booth and offered me $10 for every garment I sold. (I thought it was odd at the time–I was very green–and said no. Now I know how totally bozo that request was!)

Although usually high-end shows, don’t allow racks in the aisle, the first artist to ever block entrance to my booth was a very famous artist, who does all the top shows. The rack actually extended several feet across my booth. (**fume**)  This person ought to have known better.

Show management is usually good about trying to keep the aisles clear, for fire safety rules if nothing else. If you’ve asked the person nicely to move the rack, and get no response, show management will handle that one for you.

The chair people….I dunno, I don’t have a great solution for that one. Except to ask nicely if they would move to the other side of their booth, away from your side. I’ve done this before, and it works reasonably well. At outdoor shows, it’s possible to sit outside the aisle, and then everyone is happy (and the aisles are clear.) Again, sometimes show rules come right out and say “no chairs in the aisles”, and again, they will handle this if asked.

Another way you should stay in your booth is vocally. When you are talking to your customers, it’s easy to get excited. And some of us do get a little exuberant–and loud. Please, please, lower your voice. Do try to remember that this really isn’t fair to your neighbors who are also trying to talk about their work. It’s a small space–even if you want to talk to one person so that the person browsing in the other corner can hear you, it doesn’t take much volume in a 10′x10′ space. If people three booths down can hear everything you’re saying, you are being too loud.

One artist near me was so exuberant one year, customers came while they were away from the booth–and I could do their pitch for them perfectly. (Okay, that should NOT be read as encouragement to bellow. I’m not going to do that for you if you keep it up.)

Another way to stay in the booth is to keep your bad mood and complaints to yourself. Let me say that again, in big, bold letters:

KEEP YOUR BAD MOOD AND COMPLAINTS TO YOURSELF.

I am astonished at artists who rant at the drop of a hat, especially during a fair. It’s bad enough to have to be around people like this in any circumstances. Set-up and breakdown are stressful enough. We all have our moments, of course. But someone who is unhappy and determined that everyone else needs to know that, is a total downer.

It’s hard enough to listen to this before and after a show. But during a show, it’s criminal. Nothing breaks a happy fair shopping mode than listening to someone else complain.

If you are a show complainer, you may think your fellow artisans are admiring you for your amazing insights and cutting words. They aren’t. They are sitting there wishing, hoping, praying that you will suddenly be struck down with laryngitis. Or worse.

Because you are bringing everybody down, down, down. And “down” people do not buy stuff.

Save it for later. Save it for drinks with friends. Organize a meeting and get your complaints in a row. Hey, bring some solutions, too! Those are always helpful.

If you must complain, do it Q-U-I-E-T-L-Y, so the only shopping mood destroyed is the one in your own booth. Please, please, please, don’t muck up ours.

Which brings me to the last “stay in your booth”, which is simply, “stay in your booth”.

I’m so guilty of this. I’m so used to the flexibility of my life, being able to move in and out of my studio at will. Staying in my booth all day, every minute, especially at my nine day retail show, is really, really hard.

But it never fails. The minute I leave, someone who came in especially to see me invariably drops in. And I’m not there. “Where were you??!!” hisses my daughter when I come wandering back.

It’s so hard. There are so many temptations, so many lovely things to look at, so many delightful fellow craftspeople to catch up with. I love schmoozing with people, and many are folks I only see at shows.

But try to remember why you are here. This is your big chance to see your customers, those wonderful people who think your work is marvelous, and prove it by buying it. Customers are the people who make it possible for you to even make this work, by providing you with income so you can stay home and make it. Customers are the people who come back in with stories of how your work has made them happy, beautified their home, enriched their lives. They are the ones who bring you photos of your work on their mantelpiece, and bring their friends in to meet you.

This is their time.

I’m really trying to make time for fellow craftspeople after the show, getting together for dinner, etc. It’s hard–they are so interesting!–but it has to be done.

Of course, we could always solve this problem the obvious way–and simply go to a show occasionally as a customer!

Make the most of your show hours. And be a good booth neighbor.

Stay in your booth.

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #12: Drama Queen Flowers

I can’t think of big huge categories to talk about anymore. Let’s talk about flowers in your booth.

WHAT BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS!

I am so conflicted about flowers. I love them. They add a festive note to your booth, to be sure.

But they can be a huge distraction, too.

Some common mistakes with flowers:

1) Common flowers. Some flowers just scream “grocery store purchase!” Skip the mums.

2) Fake flowers. We’re trying to sell art here. Or fine craft. Or at the very least, handmade stuff. What do plastic flowers say??!!

3) The wrong color flowers. Make sure they fit in with your color scheme. It’s amazing, but an “off” color in your arrangement can really grab the eye in a not-good way. (Yes, I have made this mistake.)

4) Overkill. Too many flowers. It looks like you’re actually selling flowers. Or the flowers overwhelm the vase they’re in. Potters do this sometimes–the flowers are more attractive than the pots. (This is not a slight to potters, just that they’ve picked flowers that are not fitting in with their work.)

5) Underkill. (I know, there’s no such word, but I couldn’t resist.) Scraggly, ungenerous displays spread too thinly throughout your booth. Potters do this all the time, too. They show dozens and dozens of vases, and want to show that the pieces are, indeed, vases. So they take one or two nice bouquets and break them apart, sticking a few stems in each vase.

The look is one of a person who collects so many vases, they no longer have enough money to spend on flowers to put in them.

6) Too, too beautiful. This is the worst thing. You have only a single beautiful display of flowers, and you don’t sell vases, you are just decorating your booth.

The problem here is, the flowers are the most eye-catching thing about your booth.

Some people think this is a way of pulling people into your booth. Yes, it works. The catch is, WHO are you pulling into your booth?

People who love flowers, that’s who.

One year I spent big money to have a local artist make me a gorgeous arrangement for my booth. The colors were great, it looked great in my booth. And I got lots of people coming in, asking me all kinds of questions.

About the flowers.

They’d ask if I’d grown the flowers. When I said no, they asked who did. I told them about the fabulous flower person in my home town. They’d ask about the flowers (miniature gladiolas.) Where did I get them? Did I have a garden? They’d tell me about their gardens and gladiolas.

Which led to long, involved conversations with people who actually had very little interest in my work.

If I were a gardener who was selling flowers, it would have been great. But I’m not.

By the second day, I got it. I took the lovely flowers home to grace my home. I substituted a plain vase of dried reeds. You can see this vase in the back left hand corner of my booth here.

It was just as good a “prop” for my little environmental display in that corner, but it did NOT distract from the art anymore.

Even if you are at a wholesale show, where presumably buyers are a little more focused, an incredible display of flowers can be a huge distraction.

I saw one jeweler at a high-end show who had the most fantastic display of orchids. As I walked by her booth (we were on the same aisle), those orchids caught my eye every single time. I kept going into her booth to look at her work–and all I could look at was the damn orchids. It was like an enchantment.

Lose the drama queen flowers.

And just in case you think I’m exaggerating….

Two years ago, AmericanStyle magazine did a huge article on me and my studio. Page after glorious page of images of my work, my worktable, the artwork in my home. Lots of pictures of me, me at work, me next to a fabulous wall hanging.

The photo shoot, which you can read about here was a day-long affair. The photographer brought two bunches of tulips from a flower shop in his neighborhood. They were the only tulips he could find in Boston, and because they were not fresh, they were cheap. We used them in several shots–in my studio, in my home–switching the vases around, etc.

I cleaned my house for weeks. My studio looked fabulous! You could see the floor!! There were no shoes or dirty laundry piles in my home. We looked civilized! Or at least like we had no kids or pets. My artwork looked incredible!

I have a jillion copies of the article, and I show it proudly to anyone who visits my studio. I even made a poster out of it.

And there’s always someone who says, “Where did you get those lovely tulips?!”

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