Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?
Tag Archives: booth behavior
Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
Be brave. Be YOU.
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!
A reader left a question for me on this series:
“Would you discuss one other group of people that one sometimes needs to get out of the booth — the people with kids who think everything in your booth is something neat to play with?
OR the adults who think your booth is a cool place to let the kids handle everything? Especially with sticky, gooey fingers? I’m a spinner/weaver, and trying to figure out how to say nicely, “Only with clean hands, please…” Dirty sticky yarn doesn’t sell well…”
Actually, you don’t need to boot these people out.
How you deal with kids signals other potential customers how you will deal with them if they do something stupid. (Accidentally, we hope!)
A little patience, and some little tricks along the way, will go a long way to creating a relaxed atmosphere in your booth.
Use these moments to educate the kids about your work. They’ll either be enchanted, and you can work you sales pitch gently into the talk.
OR they’ll get bored, because now it sounds like school, and they’ll lose interest, moving on to the next exciting booth to manhandle.
Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.
Trust me. One of the most important things I learned from Bruce Baker is that what people overhear you telling another customer is perceived as being the truth. Use this opportunity to tell everyone in your booth about your work. (Er…but not loud enough that people two booths over can hear you….)
I know there are some children who don’t behave well. But I’ve only had a very few incidents where the child was actually destructive or totally disrespectful.
For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:
Keep a “special skein” available behind the counter for kids to touch, maybe even a few samples of roving–something you won’t care about if it gets messed up. Come on, we ALL have those dud projects hanging around somewhere. Now you can put it to perfect use!
I keep a package of baby wipes handy. When a child starts pick something up, I quickly say, “Here, let me help you.”
I ask in a friendly way, “I have a special yarn for kids to touch. Are your hands clean?” They usually get a little settled here. You’re starting to act like a teacher or a parent. They usually nod solemnly. “I say let me feel your hands.” You can tell instantly if a kid’s hands are clean! If they are, give them the sample skeins. If not, hand them a wipe.
I say, “It’s okay to touch my work, as long as you treat it gently and with respect. I’ve worked really really hard to get it to look just right.”
They usually respond with another solemn nod.
Then, depending on the age of the child, I talk a little bit about the horse. I point out all the tiny layers that make it look like ivory. I point out all the little details that make it special. If they are pre-teens or older, I talk about how four teenage boys discovered the first, and most beautiful Ice Age cave art in the world. They are enchanted that someone their age did something so incredible.
Okay, Alta Mira in Spain was discovered first, but no one knew what it really was until after Lascaux.
As I point out each detail, the parents start looking, too. And so do other customers. Everyone starts to really see the work. Sometimes I even see other customers finally reach out to touch a piece they’ve been looking at.
This permission to handle your work with care and with clean hands and under your supervision helps to create an air of respect for your work. The dynamic changes. Instead of “play time!”, you’ve created a teachable moment.
Use this moment to talk about your work with love and pride, and I think you’ll find that most kids will respond to that. And their parents will be grateful.
Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve found over the years that the parents rarely buy anything. You’ve provided that edutainment (education + entertainment) that Bruce Baker talks about so often.
View this as your contribution to fostering appreciation for the arts and crafts for a future generation.
Actually, sometimes parents do buy your work, if the child gets attached to your product and your work isn’t outrageously expensive. They buy it as a souvenir of the experience you’ve provided, or to foster a budding interest in the child. I have had parents buy $50 and $75 items because their child was so fascinated with it. (And sometimes those are the most difficult kids, because their parents do like to indulge their kids.) Don’t be too hard on them. We all know how tough it is to be a good parent, even the best parents have their bad moments.
You can adapt this script to work with other products as well. I keep a couple artifacts behind the counter, or pick up something sturdy like one of my netsuke animal artifacts. It’s neat to have two, because then the child can choose which one to hold, which adds to the fun (and helps capture their interest.) This also helps if there is more than one child, because then everyone can hold one. Fun for all!
If your work is just too delicate or fragile for such handling, have a sample of the materials you use, or one of your tools, or again, a cast-off piece that you don’t care about. You can actually use this approach for adults, too.
Treating children with respect and genuine warmth pays off in other ways, too. A regular customer brought his son in last year. The boy had visited every booth in the fair, looking for that special something to spend his money on. His father said, “When we finished, he didn’t even want to look again–he came right back here to buy this!”
He pointed to a small wall hanging for $350. That boy had saved a lotta money!
I was honored a child would be so enchanted with my work, he would actually buy such a fabulous piece.
And I was doubly glad that I deal with kids the way I do!
Here’s another reason–a BIG one–why you don’t really want to get these people to leave:
Human beings are born yearning to touch things.
Touch is how we explore our world, and we rejoice in the experience.
“Feel how soft this sweater is!” we exclaim as we shop. “No, not this scarf, it’s too scratchy.” “These pears are too firm, but those pears are just right!”
We constantly talk about how things feel: “Oh, this puppy’s fur is so fluffy!” “I love to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and feel the wind in my hair, and play tag with the waves.” “I can’t stand wearing that shirt because the tag is scratchy!” “I love it when my kids hug me.”
When we tell children not to touch, we are asking them to go against their very nature. Our very nature. When you see people enter your booth with their hands behind their back, it’s because the temptation to touch is so strong (and they know they “shouldn’t”) they have to physically hold themselves back.
I’m lucky to use a material that’s sturdy and durable. I know not all artists have that luxury. But when I tell people that it’s okay to touch my work, and to feel free to pick up a piece to look more closely, their relief–and joy–are palpable.
It creates an incredible feeling of participation and delight in my booth.
Try to find ways to let people touch something in your booth. Your customers will be happy, your visitors will be charmed, and you will feel better all around.
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.
Today’s essay isn’t actually about booth design (except for the unlocked case thing below.) It’s about booth behavior. But it’s actually just as important–maybe more important–than having the perfect booth set-up.
I’ve often called myself a poster child for Bruce Baker’s CDs on booth design and selling. I’ve learned so much from “the Master”, and still always find something new when I listen to him or his CDs.
He’s made me a keen observer, too. I now pay attention when a sales situation or a booth is annoying me. In turn, I try to ensure I don’t do it to MY customers.
So today I’m sharing a common mistake craftspeople make when customers enter your booth.
Leave them alone!
Quit being so damn friendly, especially when they first come in.
Give them a few minutes to get their bearings and see what you’re about.
And when you do talk, don’t ask them stupid questions.
People know how to shop. Assuming that they don’t is insulting.
A few days ago I drove two hours to Boson to attend a Rings & Things trunk show. This company is one of my personal favorites. They sell beads and jewelry findings, and they are one of my sources for antique trade beads. They aren’t always the least expensive, but their range of products and customer service often makes up for it. And their trunk shows are wonderful! Check out their trunk show schedule to find one near year.
On the way back, I stopped into a promising dealer antique store I’d seen on the way down. I walked in after driving for many hours, through rush hour traffic and without stopping to eat. I was wired, tired and hungry.
But ready to shop!
And was immediately bombarded with joviality and perkiness by the store owner.
The door hadn’t even shut behind me when the pounce happened. I say “pounce” because that’s just what it feels like when sellers start selling the second you appear.
JUST LET ME LOOK.
The nice lady in charge asked me how I was enjoying the beautiful day. (I wasn’t. I’d just spent four hours in my car with a cramped leg and two hours inside a hotel convention room shopping.) I murmered, “Fine, thank you.”
She said the store was filled with lovely things I was sure to love. (Please. Let ME be the judge of that.) I said something like, “How nice!”
She said she would be happy to show me anything I liked. She talked on about some other stuff–by that time I was blocking well. I put an attentive face on my focused inattention, something we all learned to do in fourth grade geography class. I kept saying, “Oh, how nice.” “Thank you.” “How nice.”
Now, imagine this little dance.
I’d been looking forward to visiting this shop all day, since I’d seen it passing by that morning. I start to look at something–and the manager tells me something, or asks another question. I have to stop looking and answer her question, or it would feel rude. I’m responding in a neutral voice, clearly indicating I’d rather be shopping. The questions are sort of mundane and predictable, but I feel forced to respond.
I look like a little sideways bobbing doll, turning to look, turning back to answer, taking a step or two away from her each time, hoping I’ll be out of talking range eventually. By the fifth comment/question, I can actually pretend I can’t hear her anymore–and I proceed to shop more attentively.
This poor woman! She thought she was being a good salesperson. She thought she was being gracious and welcoming. She thought she was “selling”.
She was actually keeping me from shopping.
I wanted to say, “Look, lady, I’ve been shopping since I was four years old. Over fifty years now! I don’t need your instruction or your encouragement. Just let me look!”
In short: “Leave me alone!”
DON’T JUST SAY YOU’RE GONNA HELP, BE READY TO HELP.
Now, ironically, ten minutes later, when I’d had a chance to look around and found something in a case, she was so deeply engaged in pleasant conversation with another customer about personal matters, I couldn’t get her attention. I stood patiently, waiting to catch her eye while she ignored me, finally resorting to saying, “Excuse me…..”
A MATTER OF TRUST.
And though the case was unlocked, when I finally got her attention, she insisted on opening it herself, and handing me the items–clearly signaling she did not trust me. She actually said,”You tell me what you want to look at and I will hand it to you.”
When I selected several pieces of jewelry to examine, she said brightly, “Well, it’s clear that you love vintage jewelry!” For some, that may have been another conversation opener. To me, as tired as I was, it was another “well, duh!” statement.
Later, I took an item up I knew to be an unmarked McCoy vintage pot. Unasked, she told me firmly that she’d originally thought it was a McCoy, but it wasn’t marked “McCoy”, so it wasn’t–showing me clearly that she was not very knowlegable about McCoy pottery.
So was I going to trust her judgment on another item she assured me was “genuine” something or other, but I suspected was not?
DON’T LIE TO ME.
When I went to pay, I pulled out my debit card–and was told that they didn’t accept credit cards or debit cards. (I’m sorry, in this day and age, that smacks of either a business running “under the table” as far as reporting earnings, or someone not very savvy about credit cards and how much they can increase your sales. I understand an emerging craftsperson perhaps not wanting to pay the extra percentage and fees….but a store??!!
Further proof of the of the lack of professionalism was the excuse that it was “impossible to split up the charge among the group dealers with credit cards”–something I know to be untrue, not only because I shop at group stores all the time with my debit card, but also because my daughter works for a group dealer antique shop.
IF YOU DON’T TRUST ME, THEN TAKE REASONABLE PRECAUTIONS.
The final indignity was being asked to put my phone number and drivers license number on the check. Myself.
Now, if someone is going to demand my drivers license for ID, then they can look at it to see if the photo matches me, and write down the number themselves to show they checked.
But not looking at it at all, and having me write down the number? Come on! If I were a dishonest person looking to rip you off, wouldn’t I also simply write down an incorrect ID number?
The exercise was pointless and mindless.
So she’s showing she doesn’t trust me, she doesn’t trust me, she doesn’t trust me, while gushing friendliness and “helpfulness”, all the while showing I shouldn’t trust her.
Here’s how put-off I was by the whole experience. There was one item I kind of wanted, but it was overpriced. Usually I would ask if the price were “firm”, a nice way to ask if there is a discount or bargaining room.
I didn’t even ask.
GOODBYE. I WON’T BE BACK.
At the end of the transaction, she offered me a chance to win a gift certificate that would have paid for the item, if I would sign up for the mailing list.
And I turned it down, because I didn’t want to hear from the store again!
Learn from this.
Let your customers shop.
Don’t ask stupid questions. Or at least limit yourself to only one! Trust me, people come in your booth because they can tell you are selling something. They want to decide if it’s something they’d like to buy. They already know how to look and how to shop.
Be available to help if you’re needed. (Bruce’s “trademark” sentence, “IF I can help you, just let me know” is perfect.)
If you don’t trust your customers, fine. I respect that. But handle that gracefully and discreetly. Don’t make it clear you don’t trust ME. I’d actually prefer a locked case that says they don’t trust anybody, rather than an unlocked case I’m not allowed to touch.
Don’t treat your customers like they’re stupid. It only reflects badly on YOU.
Am I being hard on this poor woman? Probably. After all, I did manage to find a couple of things I liked, and I persevered and actually bought them.
But do you want to put your customers through a gamut like this? Do you want to risk them running out of patience and moving on to another booth, with items just as lovely and enticing as yours?
A booth where they can shop, shop, shop to their heart’s content–and actually buy a lot of stuff?
Today’s topic isn’t a no-no in the sense that it will reduce sales. It’s a no-no regarding your professionalism, and consideration for your fellow craftspeople.
Stay in your booth.
You have signed a contract for the use of a 10’x10′ space (or however big a space you paid for.) It’s amazing how many people interpret that to mean “….and whatever else I can get away with.”
It’s 10’x10′. Period. Your booth must fit inside this space. Most commercial booth set-ups are actually a smidgen less than 10’x10′ for this reason.
That means if you construct your own booth, any bolts, bracing, floor plates, light bars, etc. must fit inside your own space–and NOT stick out into your neighbor’s.
There’s sometimes a little leeway in the airspace–IF you check first. Even then, you must be thoughtful of what is going to cause problems and what will be okay. A banner above your booth may be fine. A banner that hangs over into the aisle and gently whaps people passing by in the face is not.
Although sometimes shows set height limits for booths, these are often ignored by craftspeople. Sometimes I’m the shortest booth in my row. This usually isn’t a problem, if the backs of the booths towering above me aren’t too ugly. Most of people’s attention does stop at the top of my walls and lights.
Once, though, an artist with a very tall booth behind me got the bright idea to use the BACK of their booth as exhibit space. They put artwork up. (Yes, I know my noun/pronouns don’t match up. I’m going so far to protect their identify, I’m not even mentioning their gender!)
My first clue something was wrong was when a gentleman in my booth looked up, pointed to his wife at something above him–and both of them abruptly left. It happened a few more times. I stepped out from behind my counter–and saw several pieces of artwork displayed prominently above my booth wall.
Not nice. I complained to the show management, and the offending work was taken down.
In fact, this is a good guide for judging if you have crossed the line or not. When someone is in my booth, nothing in your booth should attract them out of it–except, of course, the “regular” view they would have of your booth across the way.
This guideline explains why music could be considered the same kind of infringement, and why some shows ban music being played in your booth.
In a way, it’s too bad–I would love to create a total environment for my booth using music, as I do in my open studio events. But the reality is, it’s hard to do that without at least 3-5 other exhibitors also being able to hear your music (your neighbors and abutters, front and back.) If customers love your music, they will be pulled from your neighbors’ booths into yours. And if they hate your music, you will drive everyone’s customers away.
And if you don’t think that’s a big deal, wait until it happens to you. At another show, someone rows and rows away from me began playing a guitar–and customers streamed from booths all around to go see what was happening.
Also, think how it would sound if everyone played music–even soft music–in their booth. Can you say cacophony? (I can say it, but I couldn’t spell it. I had to look it up.)
Another common “trespassing” offense is exhibitors who use the aisles to display work. If the work is on your booth walls, that’s usually okay. But if you put a rack of clothing out in the aisle, that is usually verboten (or should be.)
Not only does are you taking up more floor space than you paid for, but you are actually affecting the traffic flow of customers in the aisle. People are either slightly blocked by the rack–and pause to look, or even decide to go into the booth. Or worse, they swerve around it–and the swerve can actually move them totally past the entrance to YOUR booth (if you have the misfortune to be next to this craftsperson.)
Even sitting on a chair in front of your booth has this effect. In fact, it can be worse. I’ve stood at the end of a row of booths and watched people apparently swerve nonchalantly around a seated artist.
I say “apparently” because several things are actually going on. They are not only avoiding the artist’s physical space, but his emotional space. When you walk around someone, you tend to avoid eye contact–like maneuvering down a crowded sidewalk. It’s the way we peacefully navigate in crowded spaces. We avert our eyes slightly, murmur an apology if necessary–“…’scuse me, pardon me”–and move on.
Except when people avoid eye contact, they tend to look away–and miss looking at the booth next to that artist’s booth. Ta da! Your six seconds of opportunity to visually attract people into your booth is gone. Six seconds or LESS, because that’s how much time it takes to walk past a booth.
The rack people usually know exactly what they are doing. In fact, at one show I did, the person (not coincidentally, a buy-sell guy) asked to put a rack in my booth and offered me $10 for every garment I sold. (I thought it was odd at the time–I was very green–and said no. Now I know how totally bozo that request was!)
Although usually high-end shows, don’t allow racks in the aisle, the first artist to ever block entrance to my booth was a very famous artist, who does all the top shows. The rack actually extended several feet across my booth. (**fume**) This person ought to have known better.
Show management is usually good about trying to keep the aisles clear, for fire safety rules if nothing else. If you’ve asked the person nicely to move the rack, and get no response, show management will handle that one for you.
The chair people….I dunno, I don’t have a great solution for that one. Except to ask nicely if they would move to the other side of their booth, away from your side. I’ve done this before, and it works reasonably well. At outdoor shows, it’s possible to sit outside the aisle, and then everyone is happy (and the aisles are clear.) Again, sometimes show rules come right out and say “no chairs in the aisles”, and again, they will handle this if asked.
Another way you should stay in your booth is vocally. When you are talking to your customers, it’s easy to get excited. And some of us do get a little exuberant–and loud. Please, please, lower your voice. Do try to remember that this really isn’t fair to your neighbors who are also trying to talk about their work. It’s a small space–even if you want to talk to one person so that the person browsing in the other corner can hear you, it doesn’t take much volume in a 10’x10′ space. If people three booths down can hear everything you’re saying, you are being too loud.
One artist near me was so exuberant one year, customers came while they were away from the booth–and I could do their pitch for them perfectly. (Okay, that should NOT be read as encouragement to bellow. I’m not going to do that for you if you keep it up.)
Another way to stay in the booth is to keep your bad mood and complaints to yourself. Let me say that again, in big, bold letters:
KEEP YOUR BAD MOOD AND COMPLAINTS TO YOURSELF.
I am astonished at artists who rant at the drop of a hat, especially during a fair. It’s bad enough to have to be around people like this in any circumstances. Set-up and breakdown are stressful enough. We all have our moments, of course. But someone who is unhappy and determined that everyone else needs to know that, is a total downer.
It’s hard enough to listen to this before and after a show. But during a show, it’s criminal. Nothing breaks a happy fair shopping mode than listening to someone else complain.
If you are a show complainer, you may think your fellow artisans are admiring you for your amazing insights and cutting words. They aren’t. They are sitting there wishing, hoping, praying that you will suddenly be struck down with laryngitis. Or worse.
Because you are bringing everybody down, down, down. And “down” people do not buy stuff.
Save it for later. Save it for drinks with friends. Organize a meeting and get your complaints in a row. Hey, bring some solutions, too! Those are always helpful.
If you must complain, do it Q-U-I-E-T-L-Y, so the only shopping mood destroyed is the one in your own booth. Please, please, please, don’t muck up ours.
Which brings me to the last “stay in your booth”, which is simply, “stay in your booth”.
I’m so guilty of this. I’m so used to the flexibility of my life, being able to move in and out of my studio at will. Staying in my booth all day, every minute, especially at my nine day retail show, is really, really hard.
But it never fails. The minute I leave, someone who came in especially to see me invariably drops in. And I’m not there. “Where were you??!!” hisses my daughter when I come wandering back.
It’s so hard. There are so many temptations, so many lovely things to look at, so many delightful fellow craftspeople to catch up with. I love schmoozing with people, and many are folks I only see at shows.
But try to remember why you are here. This is your big chance to see your customers, those wonderful people who think your work is marvelous, and prove it by buying it. Customers are the people who make it possible for you to even make this work, by providing you with income so you can stay home and make it. Customers are the people who come back in with stories of how your work has made them happy, beautified their home, enriched their lives. They are the ones who bring you photos of your work on their mantelpiece, and bring their friends in to meet you.
This is their time.
I’m really trying to make time for fellow craftspeople after the show, getting together for dinner, etc. It’s hard–they are so interesting!–but it has to be done.
Of course, we could always solve this problem the obvious way–and simply go to a show occasionally as a customer!
Make the most of your show hours. And be a good booth neighbor.
Stay in your booth.
Today’s Bad Booth topic is a difficult one. Some of you will not even want to consider it, and perhaps some of you can’t. I simply ask you to think about it, because the results are so profound.
Allowing people to touch your work is powerful.
Allowing children to touch your work will move mountains.
Bruce Baker talks about the increase sales you will experience if people can touch your work. His arguments are compelling–people rarely buy something they HAVEN’T touched first, in some way. Catalogs and web shopping sites use compelling descriptions and beautiful images to allow you to “cyber-touch” the items. Think Sundance Catalog.
Even if you have work that is too delicate to touch, he has a few suggestions on how to do that. For example, if you make items of handmade paper, you could have samples, or even business cards, made of the same paper for people to touch.
This gets hard for people who make delicate or expensive items. If you make expensive jewelry, you can’t display it easily or safely outside a case, especially at most shows.
But you should be willing and able to whip out that diamond bracelet instantly, not even waiting til people ask. When you hear that little, “oooooh..!” sound people make when something catches their eye, that’s your cue. Get it out and into their hands.
Because giving people–especially children–permission to touch something is so empowering for your customers, I urge you to find some way to make that happen.
I am fortunate the material I work with is strong and durable. When people come in my booth, I “let them land”, as Bruce says. I give them a moment to take a breath, look around, and see if the work is something they’re interested in.
The minute I see something engage their interest, I say, “It’s okay to touch!”
You cannot believe the response.
There is a look of disbelief and astonishment. And then, most people LAUGH.
It’s a laugh of relief. (Especially since most people have sneaked in a little touch already.) And they always say, “Thank you!” Many comment that they rarely hear artists say that.
They relax. And they start shopping in earnest.
We are humans. We explore our world through all our senses. But the way we really get to discover our environment is with our hands, through touching.
We stroke velvet, we touch polished wood surfaces, we pick up sparkley things. We pick up objects to feel their heft, to judge what their made of. We shake things to see if they rattle, or jostle them to hear them jangle.
It puts me in mind of our hunter-gatherer ancestors on the great plains. We pick through the roots and grubs and berries, and eventually someone (a woman, I bet) picks up a pretty pebble instead, and says, “Hey, nice rock!” (This is also my theory about why women love beads so much.)
It is such compelling behavior that when people are in situations where they know they shouldn’t touch, they actually put their hands behind their back. Or hug themselves to contain their hands. Or put their hands in their pockets. They are physically restraining themselves from touching, because “don’t touch” goes against our very nature.
So we understand why we should find a way for our customers to touch. But why kids? Does that garner us more sales?
My daughter often assists me at shows, and she’s a damn good observer of human nature. She’s noted that people with children in tow at shows, especially young children, are rarely actually shopping. They are simply out and about with kids. Even if they want to shop, the kids usually don’t let them anyway.
So why should we care if children can touch, if it isn’t even going to result in a sale?
Because showing people that you understand the behavior creates a loving environment in your booth.
And kids are the ones who are constantly being yelled at for touching.
Sometimes I think our culture is a little too hard on kids. It’s easy to see the ways we pander too much to kids. But often we expect kids to be little adults–and they’re not. They are little people, though. As Oprah says, little people without as much life experience as grown-ups.
The “don’t touch” rule is especially hard on them. It’s like telling them “don’t look!” or “don’t listen!”
So I find ways to let them touch.
Depending on their age, I just ask if they’d like to hold a horse (I keep a little hand-held sculpture handy for this). Or tell them if they are gentle, they may touch my artwork. Or if they are respectful of my work, they may touch it.
The atmosphere in my booth instantly relaxes and mellows.
The parents are relieved and grateful their kids aren’t going to get into trouble.
I get to tell the kids a little bit about my work.
Other customers in the booth–who are shopping–enjoy the vibe, too. Nobody likes misbehaving children. But no one likes to listen to someone yelling, either.
And the other customers get to listen to what I have to say about my work without talking to me directly until they’re ready. Often, after the family leaves, other customers comment on how kind I’ve been.
But I get rewarded in other ways, too. I get the funny stories. Last week at the Fair, I asked a very young child if he would like to hold one of my horses. He gazed at me solemnly with huge eyes, then softly asked, “Does he make a noise?”
I’ve come to realize that, if you look around my booth, every single artifact, every single horse, bear, stone, bone, shell, artifact (except for the ones that got big and became sculptures) can fit in your hand.
And this, I think, is no coincidence. I think from the very beginning,I knew how important it would be for my audience to touch, and hold, my work.
I talked earlier about booths with so much stuff in them, you can’t get in. This common booth layout flaw is similar.
The way(s) into and out of the booth are way too small.
I called this essay “Alice’s Tiny Doors” because it reminds me of one of John Tenniel’s illustration in the book Alice in Wonderland. It’s the one where Alice is trying to get through a door that’s only two feet tall. Alice’s tiny door
I’m guessing this booth layout problem happens when people design their booths on graph paper. You start to lay out these little squares and rectangles, lining everything up just so and squishing in as much display as you can. You plan a three-foot wide entrance, and leave a little three-foot wide path along here. The idea is the booth visitor will come through the little entrance and work there way along the path you’ve created.
In fact, years ago when I was part of a large group booth, the original plan was just that–a long, narrow booth with a U-shaped path consisting of two narrow entrances at the front. The idea was we would have display tables lining every wall. Visitors would come in one leg of the U and walk through, looking at every exhibit.
Everyone was very excited about the layout. Until I said, “How many people do you think can shop in that booth at one time?”
I pointed out that the aisles were less than three feet wide. “That’s plenty of room for people to get through!” protested one artist.
Well…maybe. Though that didn’t mean people would WANT to walk through such a narrow aisle. “What happens if another person comes in the other ‘leg’ of the U?” I asked.
“People can scootch by each other”, one guy said. I noticed some of the women beginning to look uncomfortable. Women do not like people scootching by them when they are shopping.
“Okay, so let’s assume people will be willing to scootch. Buyers often shop in pairs. Now we have three people–or four people–trying to squish by each other. How conducive is that to shopping?” People began to nod their heads.
“And we’re supposed to be manning the booth. If two or three of us are in this aisle, that means every single shopper has to squish by every single craftsman working in the booth. How conducive is that to shopping?”
The layout was scrapped.
In this case, we had a beautiful booth location–four back-to-back booths at the end of a double row. We ended up keeping one large back wall (for our banner, wall art, etc.) and made multiple islands of display. Let people come into the booth no matter what aisle they’re in, I suggested. We ended up with almost six points entry.
That meant whenever one special item caught a buyer’s eye, they could immediately and easily pop into the booth and look. Once they were in our space, it felt like a department store. They could see many other intriguing displays, and they could easily move from one to the next.
This was a highly successful booth, because once people came in, they stayed. And the longer they stayed, the more they bought.
Try not to herd people through cattle chutes in your booth. No scootching! Pablo Underhill used the term “butt brush” in his excellent book Why We Buy
The butt brush is when aisles are too narrow and someone brushes someone else from behind as they attempt to pass buy. The reaction of the brushed person is profound and extreme–they immediately stop shopping. It is an especially powerful reaction in women. So by all means, if you want women to stop shopping and leave your booth, make sure they are getting brushed and bumped from behind as people scootch by.
Guide people subtly with your display layout, and use visual cues to move them through your booth. Arrange your work so that one display leads to the next. Signage, dashes of color in a neutral display, lighting, work angled in interesting ways–all of these are so much more conducive to shopping than narrow paths and rigid layouts.