One of the nicest perks about being a craftsperson is trading stuff with other artists.
At its best, you get wonderful, beautiful works of art you might never afford on your own. I have some lovely pieces from top-notch artists, items that are totally out of my price range. And my own work now graces the homes of those very same artists.
It’s also a great way to “pay” the people who help me out by working in my booth at shows. Sometimes they fall in love with the work of another craftsman. Trading my work for that often works better for me than paying my assistant outright.
At its worst, however, there is embarrassment, frustration and hurt feelings. What can go wrong? Let me count the ways….
It’s not your style.
Someone asks you if you’d like to trade, you say yes, and then realize their work is not to your taste. You get to their booth and realize there is nothing there you want. (You can get around this by using their stuff as gifts for other people, but it’s just not as much fun as an “emotionally balanced” swap.)
It’s not to your standards. It’s just not as well-made or executed as you thought.
It’s not comparable in price. By that I mean you may not want to trade one of your $600 wall hangings for fifty $10 mugs, no matter how lovely they are. Or vice versa.
It may be unrealistic in price. Or the work might be hugely overpriced, something that sometimes happens with new craftspeople. They see something in the marketplace priced at $1,000 and think, “Oh, I can sell mine for that, too!” Maybe yes. Maybe…not.
Someone very new to the industry once offered their product in trade, naming a price equal to one of my $600 wall hangings. They really wanted a fiber piece, and insisted it was a fair trade.
In a nice way, I demurred but they persisted. They just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Finally, I said, “Look, your work is nice but I’ve exhibited and sold my work for over a decade. I’ve won awards. I’ve been published. This is the going price for this piece. I know I can sell it for this much money. It’s proven itself in the marketplace.
You’re just starting out, you’ve never exhibited or sold your work, you just made this and put a price on it. It’s not a medium I like or collect. So it may very well be worth that much–but not to me.“
Fortunately, he got it, and we’ve stayed friends. Whew!
Bottom line–You just don’t want their stuff.
But even when you DO want their stuff, things can still go terribly wrong. Perhaps because….
The person is whacko. (Sorry, no other way to put it.) One of my most excruciating trades was a woman who approached me at a wholesale show, asking to trade some jewelry for her beautiful fabric purses. I knew her work and loved it. I went to her booth, selected a purse (checking again to make sure that was okay with her) and invited her back to choose her goodies. She chose several pieces and left.
What’s embarrassing about that?, you may well ask. Well, a few hours later, she stomped into my booth with my jewelry and tersely demanded the bags back, saying she’d “changed her mind”. I never found out what that was about, but it felt awful.
Whatever the circumstances, when things are out of balance, it gets difficult. There you are, standing there stammering like an idiot, trying to figure out how to get out of the swap. And everyone feels bad.
Here’s a simply way to set the stage so everyone can feel good about a trade:
Say NO first.
If I am asked to trade, I always start off by thanking the person for wanting to trade, what an honor, etc. Then I say no.
It may look like this:
I’m so honored you want to trade–I’m delighted you like my work! And I really, really wish I could. Unfortunately, I’m extremely strapped for cash this season. So I can’t do any trading at this show. I’m so sorry!
I always offer a discount to fellow exhibitors and show employees, always, so I let them know that, too
Then when I get a chance, I come over to look at their stuff.
If my answer is still “no”–If it’s not my taste, or if I can’t use it for gifts, whatever, I just make cooing noises (“So pretty! Maybe next year….”) and leave.
If it’s something I want I say “yes.” “You know, I really shouldn’t because I’m so broke–but I just LOVE your stuff, so if you still want to trade, I’d be willing to trade with YOU!”
See how much better that sounds?
Saying “NO”, then “YES” works better than saying “YES”, then “NO”.
If I initiate the trade, I don’t ask outright, forcing them to say “yes” or “no” on the spot. I’ll say, “If you’d be interested in trading, let me know.” And then I leave so they don’t have to respond.
In fact, it’s even better if they’re busy with a customer, or not even in their booth. I’ll discreetly leave a business card or postcard at their booth. The card has an image of my work and my booth number, and “Do you trade?” I don’t follow up. If the person wants to trade, they can respond. If not, I’ll never know if it was because they didn’t want to or they didn’t have time, or they couldn’t afford to.
The “left card” approach works for me because it gives the person an idea of what I do. They have time to think about it. And they can come by and browse without pressure.
I like these approaches because….
Nobody’s feelings are hurt if I (or they) don’t want to trade. Everyone involved gets a graceful “out” if they need it.
When I say no and then “change my mind”, it’s an even greater compliment to the person I’m trading with. (“I won’t trade with just anyone, but I’d love to trade with YOU!”)
Even if I don’t want to trade this time, I’ve left the door open for future trades. (Because you never know….!!)
The biggest benefit of all?
I can’t afford to trade with everyone and anyone. I do always need cash.
It’s also easy to modify–I can say, “I can’t afford trade a $600 wall hanging this year, but I could do a trade in the $100 range….” Or do a partial trade, $100-$200 in trade and the balance in cash. Whatever.
And if any trade-willing fellow exhibitors are reading this, OY!!!! My secret is out!!!