Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?
Category Archives: shows
Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.
(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)
Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.
If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!
But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??
Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.
Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.
Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.
Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)
The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.
Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.
What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.
Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….
You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.
Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!
I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.
If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.
Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.
And no one succeeds by giving up.
Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.
There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.
I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.
Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.
I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.
She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.
This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.
If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.
Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”
Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.
Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)
It’s a miracle! :^)
Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!
Buffer failure? Embrace it! Sometimes the manure life deals you is fertilizer for your garden to come.
(This post was originally published on Thursday, December 05, 2002.)
A reader saw my story on Meryl Streep (we have so much in common!) She commented she has overcome her inner critic from time to time, has some success—and then encounters failure. In one case, it resulted in a large financial loss. It stopped her dead in her tracks. How, she asks, do you buffer failure? Is it a sign that we’re heading down the wrong path?
Buffer failure? Embrace it!
No, I’m not crazy. I hate failure as much as the next person. It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t look good, and it usually doesn’t smell very good, either.
But I’ve learned to call it something else. It is now a “life learning experience.” Or “an experiment.” A “calculated risk.” Or “an opportunity/possibility that has been tried, and simply did not pan out.” Whatever you call it, you met it, you got through it, and now you have a precious gift.
You can decide what you learned from it. And what you learn from it is entirely up to you.
We hear all those stories about Edison trying and discarding 423 different materials before he found one that could successfully be used as a filament in his electric light bulbs. Supposedly, he would say, “I didn’t fail—I found 423 things that didn’t work!” In reality, I doubt he was that chipper at trial #218. I’m sure he had some choice words.
But the important thing to remember is, it wasn’t failure. It was a process. He didn’t take each failure as a “sign” he should not continue. He took it as a challenge, an opportunity to explore new possibilities.
There’s a book I read awhile back, title escapes me. A collection of stories as told by assorted famous people, on their failures. Yep. Every single one of them had failed somewhere, along their road to success. You don’t take on risk without encountering failure at some point. Not one person achieved their dream by accepting failure as an end to their dream. Every single one of them walked around it, climbed over it, punched through it, ignored it, learned from it or changed it into a victory.
Look, these people aren’t really smarter, more beautiful, more creative, more talented, more anything than you or me. They’re simply people. Real people.
They’re just incredibly persistent.
Their common denominator was once they knew what their heart’s desire was, they kept after it. Just like me and Meryl, talkin’ down that buzzy whiny voice and doin’ the work. (Yep, me ‘n Meryl…)
It’s not easy. And it doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. I’ve had to work at not giving up. And I’ve had to work at growing a new attitude about “failure.”
I don’t put it in terms at “what did I do wrong?” I think “What did I do well? And how could I do better? What did I learn? And do I have to do that same thing again to learn that particular lesson? Or is it okay to move on to try something else?”
My first few small town craft shows were “failures.” It would have been so easy to get discouraged. Fortunately, I was committed to making what I loved, not making what would sell at a church bazaar. I realized my work was not the bargain gift item one expects to find at such a show. Although, oddly, after every show, someone would call me and buy one of my very expensive pieces. So I learned some people found my work worth the price I asked for. And I learned I had to find a better venue for my work.
I’m still recovering from a more recent, bigger “failure.” I tried a new summer wholesale show, traditionally more of a gift market. I not only did the show, I redid my booth—new floors, new walls, new lighting. I even took a larger booth space. I did the work—did a pre-show mailing; bought an ad in the show guide; updated my catalog’ sent out my newsletter to customers and hot prospects; created new products. I set up my booth, put on my professional artist clothes, and went to work.
And I bombed.
I wrote enough new orders to cover some of my expenses, but not the major improvements I’d made. And because the economy still sagged, many of those new accounts called later to reduce their show orders.
Did I fail? It sure felt like it at the time!
A fellow exhibitor at the show asked me how I did. I started to list all the pluses from the show. He cut me short and said, “Why don’t you just be honest and admit it sucked?!” I didn’t know what to say. Was I being a Pollyanna?
But another friend said, “Do you only measure your success in monetary terms?” Wow. I had to think about that.
Yes, I want to be financially successful with my art. I consistently act and plan accordingly. But I also evaluate my progress by other standards. Money is an important measure, but not the only one.
I took a reasonable risk—to introduce my work to a new audience and to try a new booth design/layout.
What did I do well? The pre-show preparations were excellent. The new booth was great. The improvements were pricey but they’re a long-term investment in my business.
Everyone loved the work, so I know it’s viable. Most of my press kits were taken from the media room—always a good sign! I picked up a dozen new accounts.
I made valuable connections, including an editor at a highly respected trade magazine who was fascinated by my work. The new director of an arts foundation, referred to me by a mutual friend, found me, lined me up for a show and has proven to be a source of valuable experience and information about my targeted market. My booth neighbor was curating her first show at the museum where she works, and invited me to exhibit in their first high-end craft show.
I helped out a friend at the show with lighting problems, and he thanked me with a gift of his lovely art glass. My daughter, assisting me for the first time, bought a faux-leopard skin cowboy hat from another exhibitor—oh my!), met the charming teenage sons of another exhibitor, and was in seventh heaven. We had a great time.
What could I have done better? I realized I could improve my sales technique, especially on selling more expensive items.
What was under my control, and what was not?
Sad to say, the economy is not under my control.
Should I have skipped the show?
Well, I’m not sure. I’m glad for the connections I made. In hindsight, perhaps I could have waited on the booth improvements. But doing the show forced me to make those improvements, and though it would have been nice to recoup their expense with that show, I know I eventually will.
What did I learn?
I learned that I could tank at a show and survive.
I didn’t accept it as a sign my dream was unattainable. I kept the good stuff, I examined the bad stuff, then tossed it. I dug in and got back to work.
In August, I did another show. I took more custom orders than I usually accepted. I got better at closing big-ticket sales.
It was my best retail show ever.
Buffer failure? No. You don’t get anywhere with that approach.
Sometimes the manure life deals you is fertilizer for your garden to come.
This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.
Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”
Don’t leave your early collectors behind.
Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.
In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.
In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.
Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.
I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.
There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.
She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”
I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.
For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.
When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.
To my dismay, things had changed.
Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.
It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.
Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.
The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.
Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.
She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.
She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”
She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.
I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.
Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.
I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.
In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.
At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.
I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.
I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.
I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.
I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.
As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.
I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.
They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.
Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.
But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.
Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.
When is a stupid question from a customer not a stupid question? You can read my latest column at the Fine Art Views website here.
A great tip on customer care just in time for your summer shows!
Last week I made my first little dog artifacts.
Today I have pics of my very first dog pack. I love them so much already! I stayed with a very ancient-looking prototype, with long snout, upright and slightly cocked ears, and a curly tail. The curling tail seems to be the discerning characteristic of a dog versus a wolf or coyote. I could be wrong, but I’m going with it for now.
I also have two little otters who are different from their brethren. Their backs arch up. I think they look like they’re doing that thing kittens do, when they arch their backs and hop sideways. And look–see the tiny toes on this one’s feet??
Deciding if you should do a wholesale show.
When people ask if they should do this big-name show or that new wholesale show, I think of that old song by musician David Bromberg….
“A man should never gamble
more than he can stand to lose….”
(From his song, “Diamond Lil” on the Demons in Disguise album.)
This question came up again in a forum I frequent, and this is my response:
I haven’t done the ACRE show in a few years–I did their first show in Las Vegas, and stopped doing wholesale shows soon after, after about seven years of doing shows like BMAC (wholesale), ACC Baltimore (wholesale/retail) & ACRE Las Vegas (wholesale).
Here are some points to consider:
1) Wholesale shows are EXPENSIVE. And even a good wholesale show is with an established reputation and good management, is not a sure thing. Used to be, but not any more.
2) First year shows are notoriously dicey. An artist friend with 30 years in the biz recently told me, “Never do a first year show or a show you can’t drive to.” I’ve learned the hard way this is excellent advice on both counts.
Wholesale buyers are still being cautious, and buyers at first year shows are the most cautious. Adding travel costs and shipping costs (for your booth) on top of that and you can easily spend $5,000 on a show with no guarantee you’ll get the orders to even recoup your investment (let alone enough to make a profit.) I don’t know where you live, but that’s something to consider.
3) Who are your customers? Who do you hope to find there? Years ago a good wholesale show would draw from stores and galleries across the country. Now, more buyers tend to stick close to home. So there MIGHT be buyers from all over, but it’s MORE LIKELY the buyers will be local. So…are stores in Orlando and Florida your target audience?
4) Have you done any shows at all? Even smaller, local ones, just to tweak your booth, display, selling skills, support materials?
I’m all for people going for their dreams and dreaming big. But you say you’ve only been in business a few months, and you’re still in the process of “building a website, creating a collection”, etc. Doing a wholesale show is a huge outlay in money, time, energy.
Are you–and your business–ready??
You might be one of those people we read about who takes that leap and flies. But doing a wholesale show is a HUGE leap, one that’s daunting even for people who already have some experience doing small shows, doing wholesale, etc.
Almost all shows across the country, retail and wholesale, have taken a hit in attendance and sales. And $3,000 is a lot of money. So…..
5) Can you afford to gamble $3,000–and lose?
My advice: I think the smarter bet is to take advantage of the Visiting Artist/ABI program. I was actually a guest faculty member for ABI, and it’s a good deal.
The critique will be helpful (though remember, even expert advice is still just one person’s opinion). They can advise you on all kinds of wholesale matters: Are you sure you’re making an adequate profit on your product? Do you have reliable sources for supplies? (If one critical supplier drops out, can you still make your product?) Are you solid on your production schedule and shipping procedures? Are you familiar with industry standards re: billing, payment, terms, etc.? Do you know how to qualify your buyers?
And you will get a chance to actually visit the show.FWIW, I think the most educational thing any craftsperson can do (who wants to do a wholesale show) is to VISIT THE SHOW FIRST. You’ll get to see what the deal is, you’ll be able to see how many buyers show up, and you’ll get to talk to exhibitors (if they are not busy and if they are willing, of course).
I wrote a entire series on how to wholesale on my old blog, but this new series I did on how to “half wholesale”–get started building your wholesale biz before doing a major show, may be more helpful to you. You can see links to both series here.
And all this information was before selling on the Internet became a “big deal”! Add in all you know now about websites and selling in your own online store, and you’ll be off to a good 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.
Some of you are probably getting the hang of this now. “Promise them something later…okay, I get it!”
But aren’t we letting ourselves in for all kinds of time spent doing all kinds of favors for those people? After all, “after the show” comes up…well, right after the show. Just when you want to kick back, take a breather, and then get down to filling those special orders and making those repairs.
Well, this is the best part…
You will never hear from most of those people again.
Here’s a look at the dynamic:
There’s something about being at a show that affects us all.
Customers are excited: They’re shopping! They get to see dozens, maybe hundreds of cool little booth-shops, all lined up in rows. There is wonderful new work to be seen, interesting new jewelry and clothing to try on, fabulous new objects to marvel at. And the artists–such an odd breed! They look different, they sound different, they just do stuff and make stuff and gosh, they just have such interesting lives. As Bruce Baker says so enchantingly, “To ‘normal’ folks, artists are people that ran away to join the circus!”
Those same artists may be exhausted, hot, excited, anxious, cold, flattered, suave, frantic, happy, hungry, shy, nervous, polished, bored, thrilled–sometimes all in the same day.
At a show, the rules are different. It isn’t like shopping at TJ Maxx. But it’s not like being at the museum of art, either.
A show does look a little like a circus. There may be “acts” (demonstrators and workshops), fun food, music. Children laughing (and crying.) Serious collectors and Looky-Lou’s.
It’s also impermanent. A few days ago, this wonderful fair may have been an empty gymnasium, or a parking lit, or an empty field. Now it’s filled with tents and tables, crowds and people and noise, noise, noise.
And in a few days, it will all be gone, like fairy gold. It will magically disappear and the gymnasium, parking lot or field will reappear again.
Is it any wonder that some people are at their worst? Especially those who “issues” to begin with?
Is it any wonder that tempers are frayed, that attention wanders, that our skins are thinner and our patience is shorter? That the comments and actions of annoying people suddenly take on monumental proportions?
And that’s why sometimes all we need is a breather. A few seconds to calm ourselves and get centered again. A deep breath so we can get to our happy place again.
It’s the same for those annoying people. They may annoying, but they are bound to be even more annoying. They are out of their element, their normal routine is disrupted, the normal “stops and guards” on their social shortcomings are not in place.
That’s why distracting people with other choices, other options, is so effective. It gets them out of the particular situation that brings out the worst in them (the show), out of that moment (in your booth)–and on to another place, another time (“after the show”).
That’s why getting people to deal with you after the show is so effective. When everyone is back in normal life and normal time, sometimes the annoying behaviors disappear, too. The urgency they felt to get something from you, the negative energy they carried, simply dissipates.
It tends to dissipate so much, the problem simply goes away. I think that of all the people I ask to contact me after the show, probably less than 10% actually do.
If I’ve asked them to follow up by e-mail (which is the most convenient for me), it may take me only a few minutes to take care of all their requests and answer all their questions.
Use those magical words “after the show” like a giant fairy wand, making everything weird and nasty and annoying just disappear into a puff of smoke.
Best of all–you can wave it more than three times, too!
Eighth in a series about getting difficult out of your booth at an art fair or craft show.
A reader wrote to ask:
“Any plans to do a post about the customer who, once she’s bought from you, now thinks she’s your friend? I had this happen once, at a 5-day show (where she bought on day 2, and returned on 3 and 4 to talk endlessly). I was as polite as I could be when I wasn’t trying to duck so she wouldn’t see me (!). That mixture of being grateful she’d bought a piece and annoyed that she kept showing up was difficult to juggle.”
Michelle, your wish is granted!
Hmmmm, that’s a good one–the customer who feels they’ve bought your friendship….
As annoying as that was, it sounds like you handled it well. You dealt with her as politely as you could, and disappeared as you were able.
Here are some thoughts to help you decide which course of action feels right for you.
Remember, a small part of our biz is going to be a form of social work. Some people are lonely or have very poor social skills, or they’re lonely because they poor social skills. For them, this IS how they make friends and interact in society. They do things that give them an excuse to talk to people. It can be hugely annoying, but a little patience and compassion can go a along way–if you aren’t busy with other customers, and if you have the patience for it.
This sounds like a person who has trouble respecting the boundaries of others. Your booth is like a little store with a new friend in it, and she wants to come and visit every chance she gets. The bad news is, this person may be oblivious–it will take more than a gentle hint or two to move her on. The good news is, she’s probably used to blunt tactics, because she probably does this all the time.
Sometimes the only way to deal with a boundary issue is to name it and say it. “I’m delighted you like my work so much. I’m honored you’ve supported me by buying a piece. But I really have to focus on making the most of this opportunity to sell my work at this show. It’s been lovely talking to you. But I hope you’ll understand that I need to get back to work here.”
If this speech is too hard, start shorter and brisker: “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I need to run–thanks for stopping by!”
If she still keeps showing up, repeat. Be consistent. Friendly but firm. It may take a few turns, because people who are oblivious to the fact that they’re being noodges tend to be oblivious to all but the most blatant management.
Of course, this is hard for people like me who have trouble setting boundaries. Just look on it as good practice.
Another tactic: This is another example of a “free milk” person–they want your interest and friendship. The difference is, they feel they have paid for it, though by now you’re feeling they got the better end of the deal.
You could try offering them something more “free”–like offering to put them on your list for open studio events. That could reassure them that you won’t forget them. (As Bruce Baker quips, “How could I ever forget you??!!”)
If there’s no one in your booth and you are dying slowly, you can always try to interest her in another artist at the show. Pass it off as customer service: “You know, as I listen to you, I realize there’s another artist at the show you’d really love. I think her work is perfect for you. It will really resonate with everything you’ve been through. Let me take you over to her booth and introduce you.”
Do it–and RUN. Then she can have TWO new friends!
Finally, there’s the strategy of pushing this to the limit and using this to your advantage.
It’s drastic. But I’ve found that people who are locked in their heads like this usually make it all about ‘them’. Make it about you.
If there’s no one in your booth, I’d use the opportunity to keep selling to her. Keep circling the conversation back to your work. She might be persuaded to buy another piece.
At the very least, as other people enter your booth, they’ll be able to hear you talk without having to deal with you directly. A lot of people who browse will do just that–listen intently to what you say to another customer as they shop uninterrupted. It’s an effective selling technique.
Be sure to stop occasionally as new people come in and acknowledge them by greeting them. Casually say, “If you have any questions, just let me know” or “If you’d like to try something on, the mirror is right here.” That lets other customers know you’re paying attention.
At the slightest hint someone needs your help, smoothly interrupt the talker to say, “Excuse me just a moment.” and move to assist the other person.
If it’s just you and her, and she won’t buy anything else, then….Talk away to your heart’s content. Just make sure it’s all about you. Sometimes the only way to shoo a bore away is to be a bigger bore.
Did I just say that??!!
Seventh in a series of getting difficult people out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.
I can almost guarantee you this “difficult person” will be the hardest one of all to deal with. If this happens to you, my only consolation is, you are not alone.
It will happen after you’ve asked a friend to help you in your booth at a show.
Because there may come a time when you will have to ask that friend to leave your booth.
I have a few friends who not only work with me on my booth at some shows, they volunteer to help, calling me months ahead of time to offer their services.
And they are simply amazing at it. I secretly think they are better at this than I am. They are a miracle made manifest in the world, and I am the luckiest artist alive because of them.
And even if someone isn’t stellar at selling, they are such good company, I’m delighted to have them on board. Their companionship is all that is necessary.
I also had a few friends, perfectly good friends…. Friendships of many years duration that have gone screaming down in flames from working with me in my booth.
A day into the show–sometimes an hour into the show, you realize with a terrible sinking feeling that it’s all gone wrong. They are not doing well in your booth. It is so not working out.
They show up dressed inappropriately–either under-dressed (“I want to be comfy!”) or over-dressed–or barely dressed at all. (“Oh gosh, I can’t get this top to stay up!”)
They’re so busy telling you about their hot date last night, they ignore customers in the booth. Or get mad when you interrupt their hot date story to deal with those customers. Or can’t understand why you don’t even want to hear their story when the customers are just looking, for cryin’ out loud.
They don’t know how to talk with customers, saying, “Can I help you?” even when you’ve told them a dozen times that’s the worst possible thing you can say to a potential buyer.
The friend loves to share funny stories about you with your customers. Stories you kinda wish she would not share.
It can get even worse.
One artist told me her assistant used her high-end booth display to do his ballet warm-up exercises. In front of customers. All. Day. Long.
Another told me her friend came back from lunch–two hours late. She’d decided to go shop around the fair. The artist, having sent her to eat first, was starving.
Another said a friend got plastered at a dinner out with important clients–buyers for a chain of stores–and behaved inappropriately. (Still waiting to here the juicy details on that one.)
Two different artists with compatible work share a booth to save on expenses. Only one is constantly trying to steal the customers of the other.
Whatever the attitude or behavior, it’s detrimental to your business and to your mental health.
And you are going to have to ask them to leave. Either at the end of the show (if it’s just mildly annoying), the end of the day (if it’s hugely annoying) or within the hour (if it’s such a disaster you are going to kill them any minute.)
And before you say, “Oh, Luann, we know what a pistol you are! That would never happen to me!”, let me assure you–it happens a lot. It has happened to people who have been in business for many, many years.
It happens so much, I know people in the biz who now have an iron-clad rule: They never–ever–hire friends to work for them anymore.
How can this happen? Why does a normal person who is nice enough to be your friend suddenly turn into the booth assistant from hell?
STRESS Shows are hard. No. Shows are really, really hard. It’s the work of getting enough product made to stock your booth. The weeks of preparation, making sure all your booth components are in place and in good working order. Making travel arrangements (and maybe family arrangements for your absence), and dealing the expense and stress of packing and loading and simply getting to the show. Set-up (ye gods, we could all write a book about the things that go wrong during set-up) and break-down. The weary drive home, the unpacking and trying to get back into your normal life–so you can do it all again for the next show.
In between is the part that is both wonderful and dismal, fun and agonizing–doing the show. Talking to enthralled customers about your work, and watching people walk by who couldn’t care less about your work. Making big sales and wondering if you are going to make booth expenses. Meeting other cool and interesting artists, and dealing with weird, psychotic fellow artists. It’s all there, it’s all happening at the show.
In short, S*H*O*W*S = S*T*R*E*S*S
And there’s your friend, a show virgin who just doesn’t get it. Who just doesn’t get any of it, at all. She doesn’t understand what you’ve already been through, or how critical the show’s success is to you, or how frantic you are underneath your smiling exterior. It all looks fun and glamorous to to her, and that’s what she’s expecting.
Or she’s under stress, too (see “their stuff” below). Or they worry they’re not going to do things right. Or they worry you’re going to do the crazy artist thing and yell at them.
So maybe you’re both stressed. whoo hoo.
UNCLEAR EXPECTATIONS Some people, despite your telling them the way it works, do not understand that being in a show is WORK. They don’t really understand it is a business situation, and that you have to generate sales to stay in business.
They arrive with a vague idea that it’s going to be a fun-filled day, full of chatter and fun food and wonderful sights to see.
They won’t understand why you interrupted their moving reenactment of the last awful days of their collapsed marriage just because a customer came into the booth.
They won’t understand why it wasn’t okay to just disappear for two hours at lunchtime because they felt like taking a walk.
They won’t understand why it’s really, really important to get ALL the numbers imprinted on a charge slip, including the card’s expiration date and the customer’s telephone number.
And because operating the credit card machine is just “too confusing”, they won’t understand why you can’t just do it, while they schmooze your customers.
And they won’t understand why you will have to tell them to shape up or ship out.
SHADOW ARTISTS We’ve covered this in previous chapters in this series, but it bears repeating. At a show, these SA’s are in your booth–a booth that is actually a tiny monument to your ambition and achievement.
They will be surrounded by your work. They will see and hear your fan base–your customers. They will have to listen to people rave about you with excitement and admiration. They will have to listen to you talk about your work with pride and confidence.
It will be too much for them.
It will simply be too painful, the cognitive dissonance too great, and they will resent it. For some people, seeing your success in pursuing your art, up close and personal, will be the final straw.
EGO Some people cannot handle being in a subordinate position in the friendship, even a temporary one as you booth assistant. They will refuse to follow your suggestions for selling. Or they will continue to push their craft over yours. They may resent having their time managed.
CHANGING ROLES We start a friendship with everyone’s roles firmly in place. And then the roles change.
Many relationships struggle with this transitions, not just friendships. Business partnerships. Mentor and student. Parent and child. Even marriages often topple under the stress of two people growing and changing apart.
Somehow, we don’t ever expect our friendships to fail from our changing roles. But they do.
One explanation: If you scratch the surface of the friendship, my humble experience has been it may have actually been based on one of these prototypes.
And like them, subject to the same sad conclusion when the roles change and the pressure to adapt rises.
THEIR STUFF Other people have their stuff–my catch-all term for emotional baggage, hard times, psychological upheaval, whatever.
They may have recently lost someone they loved, or even someone they hated. (The stress from either is great.) They are in a hard place for reasons that have nothing to do with you.
It’s going to spill over at some point. If you are near them when it happens, you are going to get scalded.
So what are the clues this beautiful friendship-cum-sales team is heading south?
They are resistant to your suggestions and training. I give out Bruce Baker’s sales training CD to new assistants before a show. One person said they were too experienced with sales to listen to it. I believed them. The first hour in the booth, it was painfully obvious their experience was not as good as they thought it was.
They forget who’s boss. They will show resentment when you ask them to do something they see as trivial or mundane or demeaning–running an errand, etc.
They will rearrange your display when you step out of the booth, and their feelings will be hurt if you are not happy with their efforts.
They may even decide not to show up at all, telling you that you don’t really need them–leaving you in the lurch and too late to make arrangements for other assistance.
They forget whose booth it is, and whose work they’re selling. I actually had one friend refuse to wear my jewelry in my booth. She wanted to wear her fashion accessories instead. Not wanting to push it, I let her–until the first customer noticed her work and asked her about it, and she happily started to tell them about her business.
They see the time with you in your booth as a social thing, a chance to catch up on all their life changes. This is so hard. Of course you want to hear all this stuff. But the show has to come first.
At a show you are working. The focus has to be on selling your work. And you can’t afford to deal with downer stuff. You must stay upbeat and positive.
Worse, your efforts to remind them of this will sound heartless and uncaring. It’s an impossible situation.
Now for the sad part.
In all my years of dealing with this, I have never found a good way to “fire” a friend.
I have yet to salvage one friendship from a “firing”.
And I have never felt good about what I had to do.
I’ve tried many different approaches.
I’ve tried heart-to-heart talks over dinner and drinks after the first day.
I’ve tried taking in all the responsibility for the misunderstanding (for which I was accused by the friend as “You’re treating me like a damn teenager!” I had to bite my tongue in order not to respond, “That is exactly how you’ve been acting the last 24 hours!!”)
I’ve tried to fudge it by saying I overestimated my needs, and don’t really need to tie up their time for the entire show, or even the entire day.
I’ve tried to be upfront and honest and calm. “Look, I know your life is your life–it’s not my place to expect you to put my needs above yours. I know if you are sick, you shouldn’t be expected to work. But you offered to help, and I told you my expectations, and you accepted them. And when you wait til five minutes before the show opens to call and say you won’t be coming in, that puts me in difficult position. I simply need more time than that to line up someone else to help.”
Nothing worked. Anger, resentment, recriminations follow, all falling on my head and making me feel even worse. The only thing left to do is say nothing more so as not to make it even worse.
When I asked my fellow artists how they handled it successfully, they confirmed a sad fact. No matter how you couch it, it’s going to suck big-time. And the only friendships that survived were the ones where the friend took it in stride and let it go. The friend has to decide it is not going to ruin the friendship.
One consolation for me was, I felt like I was choosing business over friendship. It is only with time and some emotional distance that I can see the storm clouds were often already on the horizons. The show only acting like a giant magnifying glass, focusing little heat rays on the issue and setting it on fire.
It’s also a part of doing business. Sometimes you have to fire someone, and they just aren’t going to like that or deal with it well. If it happens to be a friend, it’s just more gasoline on the fire. But there’s never a good way to fire someone. And there will never be a good way to fire a friend.
If it were a small show, where I only hoped to gross a few hundred bucks, I might feel that it’s not worth it to risk the friendship. You might choose to simply let it go, get through the day, and do things differently next time.
But at a big retail or wholesale show, where thousands of dollars and your professional reputation are at stake, you may have to act–unless you are independently wealthy, or just don’t need the money.
The only thing I can think of that might be worse is if this happens with a family member. And at least there is huge incentive for a family member to eventually come around. Although, come to think of it, there are a lot of divorced people who used to be in business with their ex-spouse…..
Think long and hard before asking–or allowing–a friend to work with you in your booth. And hope for the best. But be prepared for the worst.
Sixth in a series of people you want to move out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.
There is a reprehensible sport from ancient times known as bear baiting. Bears and other wild animals were teased and provoked into attacking and fighting other animals, for the enjoyment of spectators.
It’s hard to imagine, but we still have a civilized version of this sport today.
There are people among us who thrive on confronting and insulting other people for their own amusement and excitement.
The internet, with its potential for anonymous baiting and the virtue of distance from our targets, can encourage this type of behavior in modern times. On forums, we call it “flaming”.
Very occasionally, you may have the misfortune to find someone like this in your booth.
It may be fellow artist with a bone to pick with you (a real or imagined bone.)
It may be a customer who loves to “tease” you, perceiving you as a captive audience in your booth , making “funny” rude comments about your work
It may be as subtle as someone who, seemingly interested in your work, asks you questions–but then refutes or argues with every answer you give.
Why does this happen at shows? Because we’re seen as a captive audience and an easy target.
We may be perceived as a captive audience because
a) we obviously are “tied down” to our booth space during a show, and
b) we are taught “the customer is always right” even if the customer is being ridiculous.
Sometimes, c) because we are women and socialized to be more conciliatory, we are baited by people who know we won’t fight back (because that would be rude.)
And d), these people also sense we are trying desperately not to make a scene in front of other customers.
Whatever the situation, whatever the rationale in their mind, know that someone who pulls this stunt while you are conducting your business at a show doesn’t deserve an extra minute of your time and energy. Move them on!
A good analogy to keep in mind is treating your booth as your private home. Would you let just anyone into it because they showed up at your door? Would you let someone rude stay just because you were too polite to get them to leave? (And if the answer is “yes”, then sign up for an assertiveness training course immediately!!)
If it’s a fellow artist, you should know that in most shows, even small ones, in your contract there is an unspoken (or even stated) assumption that your booth is your space, for the duration of the show. You paid the booth fee, you’ve set up your display to do business there, and you have control over who is allowed in. Technically, you do not have to even allow other artists into your booths. This is especially true of wholesale shows. Artists who enter your booth without your permission or who refuse to leave when asked can get into a lot of trouble with show management.
If there are artists who stir up such bad vibes in your booth, make a point of cheerfully but pointedly drawing any conversations to an instant close the second a customer enters your booth. “It’s was nice of you to stop by, but I really have some things I need to work on right now.” Make a point of escorting them out to the aisle.
If there are no customers, you can still ask them to leave, or head them off before they even come in. “Hi! I really can’t stop to talk now–maybe later?” (Make sure “later” never comes….)
If they don’t take the hint, be polite but blunt: “I’m so sorry, but I cannot do this right now. It’s time for you to leave.”
If you maintain your composure and stay grounded and calm, even if there are customers in your booth, you will still come off okay.
But what if the baiter is a customer?
You still don’t have to put up with it. But sometimes, putting up with it can win friends and influence people.
The social dynamics of bullying and baiting are beyond me, and I don’t have answers. But I know when someone is being baited, it’s hard to watch. And harder to figure out what to do about it, especially if the person being baited is at least as competent or powerful as you. (And since we are the artist and the rightful “owner” of the booth, we are actually perceived as more powerful and competent than the person baiting us.) You desperately hope they will do something to defend themselves. But you are also hoping they don’t make the situation worse, too.
Your customers are watching and feeling the same way. So dealing with that customer’s behavior diplomatically will set your other customers at ease.
I had one customer bait me with the “asking questions/arguing with the answers” thing. It was hugely annoying. But I didn’t really get that he was doing that. I was just determined to turn him around with my sincerity and my passion for my work.
In my innocence, this turned out to be the perfect ploy. Every time he said something pissy about my motivations, I answered with genuine conviction about what I was doing. I was genuinely puzzled by his behavior, and kept my responses thoughtful and calm.
He just kept it up–til his wife came looking for him.
She instantly recognized what he was doing. (Evidently, this is what he did for fun at craft shows.) She said in an exasperated tone, “Oh for godsake, leave that poor artist alone! Why do you act this way?!”
She glared at him til he sheepishly hulked out of my booth, and then said to me, “I’m so sorry, he does this all the time!” Her voice drifted back to me as they walked down the aisle, “If you don’t quit treating people like that, I’m leaving you home next time!”
I admit I am such a small person, I found this extremely gratifying. But what gratified me even more was what happened next.
A browser nearby came in and said, “Wow! You really held your temper with that old coot! I’m impressed!” And promptly began shopping in my booth.
Then there’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way. I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends.
Well, there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”
But never in your business place. Never where you are trying to earn your living. NEVER in front of your customers.
I had a “friend” visit me at a show and act this way–it was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend. And I called him on his behavior on the spot. I said something like, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)
It worked. He mumbled an apology, he made some effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.
With a customer I don’t know, I would use the “innocently passionate” ploy I used with the first gentlemen. It seems to work really well! They will be baffled when they just can’t get a rise out of you.
And then there is the scenario that really happened to me this summer at a big show–another artist confronted me in my booth, screaming at me for some perceived insult and behaving in a threatening manner.
I still don’t feel like I handled this perfectly, though in hindsight, I didn’t handle it badly, either. It was fortunate that it was before show hours, so no customers were around. But unfortunately, I was alone in the tent and feared for my safety.
What I did right was I stayed reasonably calm. (In hindsight, I should have stayed even calmer.)
I tried to reason with the person (which does not work with a bully or baiter, so in hindsight, I should not have even engaged him at all.)
I asked him to step back–his face was three inches from mine–and he refused. (In hindsight, I should have stepped away and not stood my ground nor let him get that close to me, even if it meant me having to leave my booth.)
I asked him to leave, and he refused. (I’m wondering if, after he did leave, I should have called the security people.)
I honestly can’t remember how it ended, whether he finally stomped away or whether I finally fled to the fair office.
Although this person was clearly in the wrong and I still feel indignant about it, I should have recalled my Impact/Model Mugging training. I’ve taken workshops from this organization’s Boston chapter and I recommend them highly. What composure I maintained was due to those workshops.
The training teaches you to identify potentially dangerous situations, and helps you respond appropriately. In this case, staying calm and placating the person threatening (“I don’t want any trouble. We can talk about this later, but not now.”) But not actively engaging them or trying to reason with them. Keeping my distance (holding out my hands and saying, “Stay back!” firmly, moving away if he moved closer.) Leaving the scene as soon as I could get away (and reporting the incident to the fair office and security immediately, instead of staying in my booth.)
In this case, I felt conflicted as tent captain, feeling I was called upon to “stand my ground” and “deal with the person.” I was lucky, because I was wrong. And I won’t make that mistake again.
In the case where someone is behaving in a way that is threatening and frightening, your first priority is to protect yourself and get to a place of safety. Don’t try to salvage your dignity, do not respond in kind or in anger, do not turn your back on them.
This is an extreme example, and you may never encounter this. But having a strategy in mind goes a long way to preparing yourself in the event it does happen. And knowing you are prepared goes a long way to helping you stay calm and in the moment.
Why do some people do this?
Again, the question to ask is, what do they get from this? What is their pay-off?
It’s a game to see if they can get you to lose control. Then they can play innocent and leave you looking foolish. (“Hey, I was only joking, geez!”) It makes them feel powerful to be able to manipulate people’s emotions. Playing into their hands only encourages them.
And as artists, with our soul’s work out there for all to see and make fun of, we are vulnerable targets.
Just remember why we are targets.
Because as artists at a show or other public venues, we’re showing we have the guts and the determination to not only make our work, but to get it out there where the world can see it. Maybe for the world to buy it.
We take real risks, we take huge risks by investing in that show, by schlepping our work and our booth across the country, and offering it up for others to look at, to judge, and hopefully, to buy. Maybe some of us only make enough to make a car payment or two, but some of us help support our families with our work, put our kids through college, put a roof over our heads and food on the table.
We truly lay it on the line.
Who’s the brave person in this dynamic? Uh-huh. That’s you, baby.
And who’s the coward in this dynamic? Uh-huh. Not you.
Remember that when someone is trying to get your goat.
And remember this, too. A boss told me years ago, “If someone is out to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.” It was good advice 30 years ago, and it’s still good advice today.
And if you do find goat-getter is in your booth, get him outta there!
Fourth in a series of how to get certain people out of your booth at a craft show.
I know all my show buddies are going to laugh themselves to death at this one. Could it be because I tend to do this? oooooh nooooo…..
It’s the person who hangs out in your booth–often another artist–who is sad.
Sad ,sad, sad. And they are going to tell you about it. And nothing is going to stop them.
The show isn’t going well. The management is giving them a hard time. They forgot to pack enough light bulbs. They can’t find their favorite sweater. Their feet hurt. Their mother died. Their dog died. You get the idea.
The ones I hate the most have a wistful, sad, breathless little voice to go with the tale of woe.
This is not the person who, in the course of chatting or catching up, simply mentions the ups and downs in their life of the last few months. This is the person who goes on and on and on, without break, without end, without stopping to even inhale, it seems. A never ending tale of woe and grief.
In your booth.
At the show.
Your natural tendency is to try to cheer up this person. Don’t do it! Doesn’t work. Ain’t gonna happen. The person determined to hang out and complain in your booth has had years of practice doing this. It’s how they get what they need from people. You can’t change that in a few minutes.
Look, I whine. You whine. We all do a little whining. Shows are hard. Really, really hard! Set-up is brutal, and sometimes it’s just not a good show.
The thing is, there’s a time and a place for whining. During the show is not the time. And parking yourself in someone else’s booth is not the place. Parking yourself in someone else’s booth while there are customers around is inexcusable.
You, me, our fellow craftspoeple, have paid hundreds–no, thousands–of dollars to be at this show. The last thing I want, after creating an atmosphere of passion and excitement and happiness, is for a Gloomy Gus to take up residence in my booth.
Do you really have time for this? I don’t.
I’ve tried a few different diversions, with some success. If someone tries this during set-up, I let them go on for a few minutes. (Especially if they’re willing to listen to my tale of woe! You know I’m big on reciprocity.)
Then I interrupt with, “I am really sorry you are in such a hard place right now. Unfortunately, I have a small crisis going on here, and I simply have to take care it. Can we meet up later and have a cup of coffee?” (For bigger woes, a bottle of wine.)
This is especially good for someone you’d like to maintain relations with. You acknowledge their pain, but defer it to another time.
A tactic that’s been used effectively on moi goes something like this:
I’m hanging out in a friend’s booth, (never while a customer is there, thank goodness–I have SOME limits!) rambling on about how hard life is for me, when I notice that Bonnie or Mark or Amy is staring at me with huge, round, unblinking eyes and a trembling lower lip. When I wind down, they say in a soothing voice, “There, there, Eeyore!”
I know it’s time to stop. But I think this only works with people you love who are willing to take the hint.
I’m getting better. Sometimes I just catch myself doing it, clap my hands over my mouth, mumble, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” and flee. I try to buy them a beer after the show, too. Lots and lots of beer.
There are other people…oh, let’s just call them noodges! I don’t really care if I maintain relations with them. In fact, they probably aren’t your friend. You are simply a captive audience to them. You know who they are! It gets harder to move them on without getting rude. Still, if there are customers in the booth, it’s worth treating them nicely just so customers don’t see your dark side.
Other than shoo this person out of the booth with promises of calling them after the show (did you see that one coming?), I’m still looking for the perfect one-liner. I’m thinking it might run along these lines: “Listen, here’s the number of my therapist–she’s not cheap, but she’s really good! And she says I have to stop trying to help other people myself, or she’ll take me to court for practicing without a license.”
Oh, how about this one? “Hey, the liquor store just called for you; they want their ‘whine’ back!”
Just kidding on that one. Customers may laugh if you get sarcastic, but no one really feels comfortable with it. They fear that, if they slip up, they’ll be the one to feel your tongue-lashing next.
Seriously, get these people out of your booth before they bring you, and your customers, down, down, down. If they need a hug, give it to ‘em. But move them on.
And don’t be one, either.
Okay, so what if the sad person is a customer?
That’s a hard one. But here’s an insight: I treat them like the people who want something for free.
Because, in essence, that is what they want–your time, and your sympathy, during what is a work period for you.
Sometimes, like the free milk people, I give them something.
I keep the names of some self-help books I’ve enjoyed, and jot them down on one of my postcards. I refer them to my blog, if their issue is something I’ve dealt with there. I offer to put them in contact with people who have helped me with similar situations.
And often, I talk about how making my art has helped me. And how some people have actually bought my work to help themselves, as talismans to remind themselves how powerful they really are.
I hope I don’t sound like friends and customers can’t come and talk to me about the big stuff in my booth. Gosh, sometimes we bond so much, we all end up crying! That’s what art does sometimes–opens our hearts up and empties our tears, so something healing and restorative can begin.
But the thing is, in almost every case, these sad people are not really customers.
By that I mean, maybe they are at the show, and they are not artists. They look like shoppers.
But they rarely buy anything, they never bring their friends to buy, they never promote your work in any way. It’s always about them. They are simply looking for an ear, and they are very good at finding captive audiences.
Don’t let them trap you in your booth!
I’ve had a lot of response to my post on shadow artists in my “GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH” series. People keep saying they thought they were the only artists who, as they became successful, found they were losing friends.
I wrote an essay about this phenomenon awhile back, called MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux.
I haven’t figured out a solution yet–there probably isn’t one, since this is more about them than it is about you–but I hope it will at least help you feel better.
Third in series of how to move certain people out of your booth at a craft show.
The next kind of “undesirable person” is actually very a little different. First, because they used to be a highly desirable person–a former customer. Second, because it’s not actually about getting them out of your booth. It’s more about getting them turned around.
It’s the person who bursts into your booth (why is it always when you have a bunch of customers??) carrying a piece of jewelry they bought from you last year, and exclaiming (and why is it always in a very loud voice??), “I bought this necklace from you last year, and it just broke for no reason!!“
This is awful on so many levels. Where do I start?
It’s awful to go through all that time and effort and energy to sell my work, only to find out that person is unhappy with it. It just sucks bigtime.
Then there’s the terrible thought that you’ve made something that didn’t hold up. What does that say about my claims of using high-quality materials, having strong technical skills, and making good work?
Finally, here I am with a booth full of potential new customers, who are watching this little melodrama unfold with ‘bated breath. Here is the artist herself assuring us her work is beautiful, of good quality and will make you happy for years to come. Here is a customer who believed the artist last year, who spent good money on the artist’s work. And now this same customer is decidedly unhappy, waving a broken whatsit around in her hand, claiming it “just fell apart” and confronting the artist. Oh my, this is better than Jerry Springer!
First things first.
Realize the piece has “failed” because they loved it so much, they it wore it a lot.
Realize their consternation is because they are unhappy because they can’t wear it.
Realize the unhappy person may also have marshaled a lot of negative energy because she is unsure of her reception. She doesn’t know how she will be treated.
Most of us have experienced about the runaround we get when we are unhappy with a service or product. We are often met with indifference, or defensiveness, or disbelief about what happened.
She is afraid she will treated the same way.
And, worse, every single person in your booth is now thinking, “That customer could be me next year!!” They are watching and listening to see what you will do.
A lot is riding on what you chose to do next.
Do not–do not–go to the unhappy place. The place where you are embarrassed, defensive, angry, upset. Do. Not. Go. There.
It is so tempting to be defensive or to blame the customer. And I have to say here, in 75%-85% of the pieces I get back that need repair, it is not because of any flaw in my design or work, nor the quality of my components. In fact, the number one cause of damage to my jewelry is from the piece being worn to death. (Several customers have told me they wear my silk cord necklaces everywhere and never take them 0ff–lap swimming, into the shower, into the ocean. Oh dear….)
You must bring all your resources to bear to turn this situation, and this customer, around.
If you can hold those thoughts in your head, if you can see all the threads while you are being flooded with embarrassment and your pride is taking a beating, you will be okay. Not just okay–you can turn this whole scenario into an extremely powerful marketing opportunity.
You can show the world who you are. Or, at least, you can show the world the person you’d like to be.
The first thing out of your mouth absolutely must be the apology.
“I’m so sorry!”
Sincerely, heartfelt, sad. You must acknowledge that your customer is unhappy, distraught, disappointed, with absolutely no judgment or defensiveness. This is the only way to defuse the situation so you can figure out what your next steps will be.
In fact, I can say these words sincerely, because even while I am being flooded with dismay, with defensiveness, with resentment (because I am a small and insecure person at heart, just like anyone else), I can honestly say, “I am so sorry you are coming into my booth and waving that broken necklace around and making me out to be an incompetent, disreputable artist.” “I am so sorry there is a booth full of people watching us right now!” “I am so sorry you found me!!” And if I’m honest, “I’m so sorry I might have screwed up!!”
Nonetheless, an apology is needed, there is no need to say those thoughts out loud, and apologizing will smooth the way for everything to follow. You will feel better you did not bark first, ask questions later. And everyone will start to relax.
The next step is reassurance. You will take care of this. You will fix it. It will be okay. “As I told you when you bought your necklace last year, my work is guaranteed. I use good components and I stand by my work. I’m sure I can fix it.”
Not only that, I often thank the person for bringing the piece back to me. “I am so glad you like my work so much. Thank you for bringing it back so I can make this right!” And I apologize again for the inconvenience to them: “I’m so sorry you had to bring it back. Let’s look at it.”
There! The message is, “Even if something goes wrong, it will still be okay.” Again, everyone in your booth takes a deep breath. No Jerry Springer-style fistfights today!
Since you made the darn thing, you should be able to quickly tell what happened. Did the clasp fail? Was a knot improperly glued? Did the cord break? How will you fix it? Let the person know that you know what you’re doing. “Oh, I see what happened! This is an older clasp–I used to use these when I first started out, but then I switched to a better style. I’ll be happy to replace that for you! Let me take this back to my studio. I can fix it after the show (you knew that was coming, right?) and I will mail it back to you free of charge for your trouble.”
(I don’t advise trying to make even a simple repair at the show, unless you are absolutely sure it will work. First, it ties you up and takes you away from selling. Second, if you can’t make it work, you just come off looking a little worse.)
This inspection also gives you a chance to talk up your work. That older clasp, for example. Did she buy it recently? From you directly, or from a store or gallery? If she bought it from you, you can say, “Wow, that must have been awhile back–when did you get it?” If it’s a long time, you can say, “So you are an early collector of my work! I’m so delighted–thank you! And you been wearing it every day since? WOW!!” and so on.
If she bought it from a nice gallery, you can talk up the gallery: “Oh, yeah, that is a really great gallery! Very prestigious–they carry beautiful work by some of the top artists in the country. I’m honored they carry my work. Hey, you mean you picked my jewelry out of all the gorgeous work in that store?! I’m flattered!”
These things come easily for me because I am honored, and I am flattered, and I am grateful. I’m getting past the defensiveness, and connecting to the good and the positive and the powerful in this whole transaction.
That is what I want everyone in the booth to be aware of. That’s what I want the customer to be aware of.
There! You have shown this customer, and every potential customer in your booth, that you excel at customer service.
But what if it isn’t your fault? What if you can tell the piece has been mishandled, mistreated or misused?
Doesn’t matter. You do not want to assign “blame” just yet. You want to turn this episode into a positive experience. And interrogating the customer about how it broke will out her on the defensive again.
If I’m alone in my booth, I might take on this next step. Otherwise, I wait until after the show, either after I’ve made the repair (so I can call with the good news) or when I’m about to start with the repair, depending on what I suspect is the cause of the damage.
This is when you can begin a gentle, non-threatening chain of questioning to find out what really happened when the jewelry “just broke for no reason.”
First, I tell them the good news–it’s on its way back. I tell them what I did to repair it. (I also include an invoice with the piece, listing the repairs and services, with a cost, even if I end up noting “no charge”. I want people to appreciate the value of what I’ve given them. For example, “Restring and replace missing pearls and crystals, replace broken lobster clasp: Labor 1/2 hour @ $25/hr (no charge); Materials $8 (no charge), return shipping USPS Priority Mail $4.60 (no charge), etc.)
Then I ask them if they can answer a few questions for me. I tell them it’s an opportunity to learn more about what went wrong. Then I can make the appropriate changes in my designs to prevent it from happening again. It’s purely an information-gathering exercise.
By being genuinely curious, non-judgmental and without assessing blame, and because the customer now knows the piece is on its way back to them, they may now be more willing to say what happened.
For example, one woman confessed her dog used to jump up and snag her necklace repeatedly–until it broke. (I asked her if she wanted a stronger cord or a shorter length.)
One woman slept with hers on, every night.
Another woman confessed that when she was nervous, she would “flex the horse pendant” (there is sometimes a bit of “give” in the longer or larger pendants.) During a particularly stressful week, she bent and flexed the horse repeatedly–until it broke in two. (I couldn’t salvage the pendant–I made it into a pin instead, and made her a new one.)
Then there was that line of pearl-and-crystal silk cord necklaces I made that everyone wore so much, the silk cord would literally rot and fall apart. I don’t know how many of those damn things I’ve restrung, usually free of charge or for a nominal fee.
And I have a standard policy of replacing the first lost earring free of charge.
I know some craftspeople think my repair and replacement policy is ridiculous or extravagant. Sometimes, I think so, too. After all, it really isn’t gold or precious stones. It is polymer clay, and delicate silk cord, and antique glass beads. It’s priced accordingly. And all jewelry will tarnish or break or pull apart if it’s dipped repeatedly in a swimming pool or yanked by small children and large dogs.
But I see these incidents as teachable moments. It’s an opportunity to explain that, though my jewelry works hard and is meant last, it really does need a little bit of care and good treatment. That even silver jewelry can get tarnished and corroded, that gold chains can break when grabbed, that glass and pottery sculptures break when dropped. They end up seeing that they have some responsibility, too, to keeping my artwork in good condition, rather than seeing it as somehow flawed or defective if they don’t.
Sometimes, even if it’s a lot of work and not my fault, I still don’t charge for repairs. The woman who “flexed her horse”? She and her husband, an archaeologist who had actually been in the Lascaux cave, bought four necklaces (one for her, three for their daughters and daughter-in-law) and a small wall hanging that year. There was no way I was going to nickel-and-dime her on that repair/replacement.
And when these customers have calmed down, when they realize they are going to have their beloved piece back and they realize they will be able to wear it again, the things they say then make it all worthwhile.
“Oh my God, I’m so relieved!” one woman exclaimed. “It is absolutely my favorite piece of jewelry. I want to wear it every day–I never want to take it off! I was so upset when I broke it, I cried.”
Now isn’t that the best testimonial an artist could ask for? That is what I want everyone else in the booth to hear.
And here’s where this good energy can take you. Last week, when I was having a very bad day about all my injuries and setbacks, feeling very very sorry for myself, I got a packet in the mail. It was from a customer, one I’d done a repair for on one of these afore-mentioned pearl-and-crystal silk cord necklaces.”Damn!” I thought. “It broke again, and she wants me to fix it!” I opened the packet to find…
A copy of her latest music CD.
With a portrait of her on the back, wearing…my necklace.
And a little handwritten note thanking me once more for fixing her necklace, which she love, love, loves.
Isn’t that a lovely reward for good customer service?
P.S. Just to let you know, not all of my customers who need work repaired act this way. Most are genuinely anguished and apologetic when they bring a damaged piece in. This is just how to handle it when you get someone who doesn’t yet know what exquisite care you are going to give them!
Second in a series of people you need to get out of your booth at a craft show–fast!
Oddly, the next group of people I’d like to talk about are the people who wish they were you.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, described a type of person she called the “shadow artist”. A shadow artist is someone who is an artistic, creative person themselves, who chooses instead to stand in the shadow of someone who is perceived to be a “real” artist. The shadow artist may play a supportive or secondary role in the arts, working for groups that promote artists, or even marrying an artist.
Being a shadow artist can be a sad and painful thing. These people may have never been encouraged to explore their artist self. They may have been told they weren’t good enough. Yet something in them hungers for art, and draws them near others who have it.
Many artists are former shadow artists. I was.
Many of your best customers and supporters are shadow artists. They celebrate what you do. They cheer you on. They delight in you doing what they feel they are not capable of doing themselves.
Many shadow artists are still positive, constructive people. They learn to channel all their creative energy into helping others. They do amazing work, supporting artists and the arts with their time, their money, their patronage. Many of our art guilds, organizations and schools would not be nearly as effective without them.
But they may still be unhappy. Deep down, they may feel the loss of not living the life they would like for themselves.
Consequently, some shadow artists are not positive or supportive people. They may be jealous or resentful of the very artists they say they appreciate and support.
They may even be artists at some level already–but jealous of people they perceive to be “more successful” or “more artistic” than themselves. The pain of seeing others live the life they want so badly for themselves spills over onto other people.
Sometimes it spills right over into your booth. Not good.
I know, because as hard as it is to admit it, that was me, too.
So as much as this type of person annoys and irritates me, I have a soft spot in my heart for them. I’ve been there. I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like.
But I still have low tolerance for their behavior, especially in my booth.
How will this person act in your booth?
You may hear someone like this making snide little comments to a friend as they peruse your work. They may hint the quality isn’t what it should be. At a wholesale show, a buyer may be overly fussy and particular about your work, insinuating that most pieces are just not quite good enough for their store, handpicking through your samples. They may make disparaging comments about your color choices, your materials, your design choices.
Retail customers may imply that they could do your work–the “I can make that!” people. Anything that makes them look good and you look not-so-good.
Now, hey, it’s human nature to think this way sometimes, and I groan and roll my eyes at what passes for “art” and “fine craft” all the time.
But not in someone else’s booth. Not where they can see me and hear me. That’s just rude.
I’ve found a few ways to deal with this kind of behavior. Please feel free to add your own tactics in the comment section.
One way to handle it is to ignore it completely, especially if there is no one else in your booth. There’s simply no way to interact that won’t put you on the short end of the stick emotionally. Recognizing this behavior for what it is–passive-aggressive, hard to pin down, hard to argue with–can help you decide to ignore it.
Resist responding in anger. Either the person doesn’t realize they come across that way, in which case your response will seem unjustified, or they do mean it, and they get a rise out of you. Getting angry in your booth is just bad, bad, bad for you, your booth, your business. People will sense it long after the offender is gone. Resist making comments about that person to the next visitor, too. Otherwise, they worry you’ll be talking about them next!
Your best weapons, believe it or not, are your good humor, your patience, your professionalism, sincerity (yes, sincerity) and the fact that it’s Y*O*U who is at the show, not them.
Bruce Baker recently suggested two good responses for the “I can make this!” crowd. Both have to be done with good humor and as much sincerity as you can muster.
When someone starts hinting or making comments that they could do the same work, simply say politely, “Well, these are for the people who aren’t as creative as you!” I’ve used this statement many times, and it works. It leaves them with absolutely nothing to say. It sounds like you are acknowledging their creativity.
The unspoken point is, that if they were as creative as you, they’d be doing the show, too. You win tons of points for subtlety and restraint. If there are other people in your booth who overhear this, they will actually come up and compliment you on your professional restraint. They’ll marvel that you were able to hold your temper and respond so calmly. I know, because people have done just that.
Another BB suggestion is to respond with total good nature and wide-eyed innocence: “Oh, you’re a potter/jeweler/painter/whatever, too? What shows do you do? What galleries do you sell to?” Again–you must be sincere to make this work. You are gently challenging them to prove they really are at your level.
Most people will back down, mumbling something about being “between studios” or “needing to do more marketing research.” Because, of course, they usually aren’t at a point where they are actually making and selling their work. (This also works for the people who claim their daughter makes the same stuff you do.)
If they claim self-righteously that they make their work for love, not money, keep on pressing with something like, “Oh, so then where do you exhibit your work?”
Then there’s my personal favorite: I take a tough love approach.
I will actually give shadow artists a little lecture about the importance of making their own art. I tune in to that “healing” aspect of my work, by sharing how it came to heal me.
Again, it works best if you are grounded and sincere. And when I do this, I am speaking out of sympathy and love. (If I can’t muster it for the annoying person in my booth, then I do it out of forgiveness for my former, miserable self.)
Without coming out and actually naming what they are doing, I tell them my story of how I got started doing this artwork. I tell them how miserable and jealous I was, sitting on the sidelines, being afraid and critical of everyone else’s artistic efforts–until I finally got into the game myself. I quit being a back seat driver, and started driving my own little art/life car.
I tell them I firmly believe that almost everyone is creative in their own unique way. That everyone has something of value to offer the world. That the world would be a better place if more people had the courage to do just that–figure out what they can offer, then just do it.
I tell them the power of being their authentic self. The healing that comes from being the artist they were meant to be. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.
The story is about me. But it’s still a challenge–and an opportunity, if they see it–for them.
I think when people hear it, they can see themselves, just for a moment. I think, by being honest about the fact that I wasn’t nice person when I was in that horrible little place, it gives them permission to see a new possibility for themselves.
I hope so, anyway.
It usually is enough to at least turn the energy around, to take that negative stuff and turn it into something positive. Most people who can’t deal with it, hunker down and run at this point.
The people who can hear it, are hungry for more. I refer them to my blog, or to Julia Cameron’s books (or other resources), or offer to talk to them more….
(wait for it.)
…after the show. (You knew that was coming, right?)
Shine a gentle yet powerful light on these shadow artists, and watch the scary stuff disappear.
P.S. As for the picky, picky buyer at a wholesale show or a store where you’re presenting your work, I’ve found there isn’t much you can do to turn the attitude around. After all, even if you can turn it around on the spot, you still have to trust them to do the right thing and continue to promote and sell your work long after you’ve sold or consigned the work to them. The most effective ploy takes a lot of courage and conviction and belief in your work.
You can choose to pick up your marbles (er, work) and go home.
Simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think my work is right for your store. Thank you for your time.” Pleasantly, professionally.
Surprisingly effective for those buyers hoping to put you on the defensive, because now if they really want your work, they have to cajole you into staying.