Tag Archives: craft booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor should you expect them to.

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

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

But our customers don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And your customers will appreciate it.

THE CONVERSATION

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

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

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

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

PO: “Post Office.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “The ‘what’ number?”

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

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

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

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

pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Yes, I….”

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

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

PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”

Me: “I’d rather….”

PO: “What else do you need??”

Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”

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

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

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

Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”

PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”

At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JEWELRY DISPLAY #1: Thinking Outside the Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reader left a question for me on this series:

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

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

Use them!

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

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

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

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

Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.

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

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

For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:

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

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

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

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

They usually respond with another solemn nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human beings are born yearning to touch things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #25: Booth Evolution

Folks, there will be typos…

But I can’t resist sharing this great article by Bruce Baker in the latest issue of THE CRAFTS REPORT.

In the February 2008 issue, Bruce shows the actual evolution of a typical craft show booth, from those typical craft table displays and blank walls to a sleek booth that really highlights the work.

I’ve sat through a lot of BB seminars, and I’ve seen a lot of his examples of “beautiful booths” and “creative display” in his presentation. I thought I was breaking form by being a “plain vanilla” girl when it comes to booth display.

So I’m delighted to see the points I made in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series echoed and put so succinctly…

“Beautiful” and creative” should NOT apply to your booth at the expense of your WORK. (sorry for all the drama bold & such, but this is a message I want to keep driving home.)

Now, there are still a few things I’d change in the booth. But it’s still a much stronger presentation than the earlier versions, and this article shows that clearly.

I think you can buy single issues from TCR if you don’t already subscribe.

p.s. Hey, if you look on that table of contents page again, you’ll see my latest artcile for TCR, too. (Not a blatant plug, but geez, a girl’s gotta earn a living…)

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Filed under art, booth design, booth floor, booth signs, business, Good booths gone bad, marketing

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #24: When “Perfect” Isn’t Good Enough

Sometimes perfecting the best booth you have isn’t good enough. Sometimes having the best booth, period, isn’t good enough.

What I mean by the first statement is, sometimes we get stuck trying to perfect something that isn’t the best solution in the first place.

Take my search for the “perfect track lighting.” I constantly worked, reworked and replaced my track lighting for my booth. I experimented with light bars, cross bars, looked for more reliable systems and flexible lamps.

I finally got to the point where I realized I hate track lighting. It’s just not the best solution for my booth. The last two shows, I didn’t use any track lighting at all–just gooseneck clamp-on halogen lamps. They are easier for me to ship/pack/set-up and have fewer things to go wrong (fewer electronic connections, for one thing!)

Or my search for the “perfect table display”. My very first booth set-ups included those dreaded folding tables I’ve been harping on throughout this series. I experimented with different drapes and decorations. I tried to make them taller. Then bought narrower tables–before realizing I was never going to get them into my little car. And I was never going to get the professional-looking display I needed with them. I invested in Dynamic Display cases, sometimes augmented with Abstracta, and never looked back.

Then there was my search for the “perfect pipe-and-drape walls”. I struggled with various fabric walls–purchased pipe-and-drape, making my own drapes, adding various shades and blinds to make them stiffer and more stable for displaying my wall hangings. The happiest day of my life was the first day I set up my new Propanel walls.

So sometimes you have to persevere to find the right working version of something for you. But sometimes you just have to start over with something totally different.

Then again, sometimes even that perfect booth isn’t enough.

In 2007, I did two wholesale shows with my “perfect booth.” Okay, I know it’s still not perfect in many ways, but it was beautiful and got rave reviews. The display fell away, the work stood out, and was well received.

But I had the right work at the wrong show. Or the wrong work at the right show, if you want to look at it that way. I had de-emphasized my jewelry to promote my fiber work. It didn’t work.

You can have the best booth in the whole world. But if you have not targeted the right market for your work, you will not do well.

If you don’t do a preshow mailing to your audience, they won’t know you’re there.

If your work is high-end, and the show is low- to mid-end, they will not buy.

If your work is contemporary, and the show is country/folk, they will not buy.

If you specialize in Christmas decor and it’s a retail show in spring, you probably will not do well.

If your work is a little pricey and unusual and not a gift product, you may not do well at Christmas shows.

So what’s a craftsperson to do?

Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Get better.

And laugh.

No one said it would be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!

You keep doing it because you believe in your work, and you believe there are people out there who will love it as much as you do.

You try this, you experiment with that, you tweak this and you replace that. You work hard to get into that dream show, that perfect show for your work. And a few years later, you struggle to find the courage to leave that “perfect show” that is no longer the best marketing strategy for your work.

There is no “finish line” you cross where you finally realize you’ve made it. There is no final formula for success.

There is only another exciting challenge ahead of you.

The downside? It can be exhausting.

The upside? It’s good for you! Aimee Lee Ball writes about “THE NEW & IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM” in the January 2008 issue of OPRAH magazine. Research shows that the brain grows more neurons when challenged. By struggling to figure this stuff out, we get smarter, and more competent.

So don’t despair if it all seems like too much sometimes. Remember–this is IQ training for your LIFE.

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Filed under art, booth design, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, life, mental attitude

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

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

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

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

How much dichroic glass does the world need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what I did.

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

That’s what I did.

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

That’s what I did.

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

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

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

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #22: Say Something!

Here’s something else that drove me nuts at the show:

Vendors just don’t know what to do or say when someone is in their booth or looking at their work.

You see something that catches your eye and approach the booth. The person usually says hello. Then….silence.

You are aware of their gaze upon you as you browse. You can almost feel it. You can almost hear it: “Please, please, please, please by something!!!”

It is simply excruciating to shop when someone is staring at you, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to buy something. I feel like a mouse being watched by a very hungry cat.

At one small show I attended, the traffic was so slow, I could feel an entire roomful of craftspeople staring at me as I made the rounds of their tables. I almost fled.

The opposite is also irritating. The person starts asking silly questions: “How are you?” “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Are you enjoying the show?”

I’m such a crab. I hate questions like this when I’m trying to look at stuff. It’s like we’re both evading what’s really going on–”I’m shopping here!”–and pretending we’re actually making small talk at a party.

Or the vendor starts answering questions you haven’t even asked yet. You may be mildly interested in the product and you are instantly subjected to a full-fledged sales pitch.

People with this approach are caught in the same kind of thinking as “too much stuff”–trying to make something for everyone. In this case, they’re providing too much verbiage, hoping something they say will convince you to buy.

But the connection has to come first, not the reasons to buy.

You need to find a happy medium between babbling and stony silence.

I think this is also why I hate the standard craft fair “booth” set-up–the craftsperson sets up a standard table (that’s the perfect height for eating but a dismal height for shopping) and plunks themselves into a chair behind it. Both seller and buyer feel trapped into unnatural roles. And the model feels too much like a flea market. (Though, I bet with a little finesse, you would even buy more at a flea market if sellers were more savvy.)

Please, please, go buy Bruce Baker’s CD series on how to sell your work. He has such excellent insights into the sales process, the dynamic, the give-and-take you can learn with a little practice.

I’m not perfect at it. I still stumble and find myself caught short. I can’t close every sale easily.

But at least I’m not staring at people as they browse my booth as if they were my last meal.

Until your CD arrives, here are some tips:

1) Greet your customers after they settle into your booth–not as they’re walking in. Let them get their bearings first. You don’t greet guests to your home as they’re getting out of their car. You let them finish that argument with their spouse, gather their stuff, straighten their clothing, check their mirror for spinach in their teeth, and get to the front door. Then you greet them and bid them welcome. They need that little moment to change gears. Let customers have that tiny moment, too.
2) Say something neutral that doesn’t require a yes-or-no answer. What does every seller say? “Can I help you?” And what does every customer say? “No thanks, just looking.” Ow! You just gave your customer a chance to say no.

Try this instead: “IF I can help you, just let me know.” Or, “I’m just sorting some items, I’m right here if you have any questions.” And my favorite: “It’s okay to touch!”

3) Be busy. (But not too busy) Be occupied. (But not preoccupied.) Pretend you are a store manager of a little store. Arrange things, straighten things, restock, re-ticket, dust, wipe glass, any busy little task that seems appropriate to your role. Something you can drop immediately the second your customer indicates they need you.

Although Bruce cautions against out-and-out demonstrating, I’ve seen craftspeople working on little projects with good success. The key word here is “little”. As long as it’s not so involved that it looks like you’re actually demonstrating, it can be a good ice-breaker. And it lets customers browse in peace til they’re ready to have you talk to them.

My friend Carrie the hat lady knits hats while she walks around the booth. (Which is cool because women used to knit as they walked and herded sheep.) Or she works on embroidering a hat, with a pretty container of colorful yarns prominently displayed. What’s brilliant is that people can then choose the exact colors of yarn they’d like their hat embroidered with. (Actually, Carrie stumbled on this ploy by accident. She’d sold out of embroidered hats before she even got to this show, and was trying to catch up.)

Don’t be so engaged that people feel they are interrupting you if they have a question. Reading, talking on a cell phone, talking to fellow craftspeople, all make the customer feel intrusive. Your customers should never feel second-best! Be available the instant they need you.

4) So many craftspeople tell me everything they want me to know about their product–before I’ve even decided if I like it. I hate that. I’m standing there thinking, “Yuck!” and they’re talking a mile a minute. Now I really don’t like it. I just want to get out of your booth.

And don’t start talking as soon as they touch something or pick it up. A vendor did this recently. Every time I picked something up to look at it more closely, he started “selling” it. All that happened was I put my hands in my pockets and quit picking things up, so he would stop talking at me. (Please note the “talking at me” part.)

When I ask you about your work, go to town! Once I’ve indicated that I’m interested by talking to YOU, that’s your signal to start selling.

Let’s all vow to make shopping fun for our customers again!

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #21: Give Me Space!

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

Here’s another tip from a crabby shopper:

Leave yourself room to conduct business.

Please… Give your customers room to write a check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect booth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOT.

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

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

But the amount of water coming through is the same.

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

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

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD#19 Chosing Fewer Choices

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

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

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

Barbara was a step ahead of a shopper like me.

She had limited the choices in her display severely.

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

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

But it was focused.

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

As I did, two thoughts went through my brain.

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

2) “I like THIS pair best!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

So our first corollary is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my theory:

Our heart knows which item speaks to us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So try acting on this corollary:

You touch it, it owns YOU!

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

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

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #18: Intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty (or so) Questions time!

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

Could shoppers easily get into your booth?

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

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

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

Can your customers shop without pressure?

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

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

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

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

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

Or (just as bad) totally ignoring them?

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

Then people can relax–and SHOP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In almost every photo, the seller is SITTING DOWN.

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

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

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

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

) The tables are flush with the aisle.

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

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

) There is always TOO MUCH STUFF.

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

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

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

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

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

They move on.

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

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

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

Until she finds that perfect piece she simply must have.

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

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD Addendum

I’ve gone back and put in a photo of my booth from last year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair in the appropriate essays on booth design.

booth photo

No pointing fingers. I’ve already fixed the lights. And I’m already making changes for my smaller retail fairs this winter.

P.S. This is my booth shot for applying to juried shows. That’s why there is no signage that shows my name. Normally you’d see my name plastered all over this booth!

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #17: Party Time!

One of the most difficult concepts to absorb about booths is where we (the seller) should be and what we should be doing.

Again, building on Bruce Baker’s advice, I’ve come up with a great metaphor that may help you think about this more effectively.

We know we shouldn’t “hide” in the booth. For one thing, it feels weird, and for another, it is weird. Bruce suggests getting right out in the aisle. But why is it okay to stand in the aisle, and not sit in the aisle? (I mean, sit in a chair on the aisle, not sit in the middle of the aisle…. Oh, you know what I mean!)

We know we should “look busy”–but busy doing what? Bruce suggests “appropriate store behavior”–dusting, tagging–but why is that okay and talking on your cell phone not okay?

I think about this a lot, and I think I have a metaphor that will help you get a handle on this. Please don’t take it too literally. It’s just meant to give you a framework for how this works.

Pretend you have been invited to a party to someone’s house you don’t know very well. They are said to be a consummate hostess. You’re looking forward to an enjoyable evening.

You show up promptly at 8:00 p.m. You’re not sure it’s the right house–the number is correct, but no porch lights are on, no other cars are around. There is no indications the owner is expecting you. Maybe you’re too early??

You ring the doorbell.

No one answers. Hmmmmmm….. Are you sure you have the right house? Yep. You ring again. Still no answer.

Then you notice a little sign on the door that says, “I’m upstairs, just come in!” So you go in the house, but you feel a little awkward.

The hostess is nowhere to be found. Now that makes you both nervous and intrigued. You get to look around the house for a bit–it’s fun to snoop a little!–but it also feels weird to be in someone’s house with them not there.

You find their book collection, note some good titles, pick up one to read, when suddenly, out of nowhere, the hostess pops out! You gasp, either in fright, or in embarrassment to have been caught going through her books….

So there’s why you should not hide in your booth.

Now let’s rewind the tape and go back to the door. This time when you ring, the door is opened. But the hostess mutters, “Oh, it’s you” and walks away. You are a little dismayed (“Hmmm, is there something in my teeth??”) but you follow her in. She seems disgruntled about something and ignores you. You’re not sure what to do, so you start making small talk about her home. You notice a photo on the fridge, and, thinking it might be a picture of her kids, ask her a question about them. She rolls her eyes, heaves a sigh, and says, “What a stupid question! Do I look old enough to kids?? Those are my NIECES!!”

See? There was the stupid question we talked about last week. How do you feel now? Not good? I didn’t think so.

YOU are trying to be nice and make conversation, and SHE is determined you are being a jerk. Not appropriate party/booth behavior, either.

Let’s rewind once more. You’re back at the door and see the same note. You let yourself in. This time the hostess is not disgruntled. But she’s busy. She’s on the phone with someone. She nods at you as you come in, but she stays on the phone–for another fifteen minutes.

Don’t you feel special?

Was that an appropriate way for your hostess to behave? Nah. Don’t do it in your booth, either.

Rewind again. Door, note, come in. She greets you, and she’s still busy. She’s in a little side room, sewing curtains. And doesn’t stop–she’s just got so many curtains to sew. Make yourself at home! There’s beer in the fridge, she says.

Does this kind of “busy” seem appropriate for a hostess? Probably not. More on “appropriate” busy later.

Rewind one last time. Door, note, come in, some other guests are there, she’s not busy. In fact, you are the object of her affection. She can’t leave you alone! Wherever you go, whatever you look at, whatever you pick up, she chats away. “Oh, I see you like carrots! Have you always liked carrots? Those are good carrots, aren’t they? I picked them myself! I made the dip, too! It’s a great recipe–in fact, I made the recipe! In fact, I grew the dill in the recipe, too! Isn’t it great dill? Why don’t you try this cheese spread? Guess what–I made that, too!”

How do you like that cheese dip? Does the whole situation feel a little, well, labored? Do you feel a little hounded? Do you wish she would just go away and leave you alone?

So how do you think your booth visitors feel when you “share” everything about your art before they even ask?

We have most of the inappropriate party/booth behaviors. Now…how would you like this party scene to go? What could the hostess do better to make you feel “just right”?

Rewind one last time (I promise!)

You arrive at the house. The lights are on, there is a welcome mat at the door, a pot of flowers on the steps, and a little sign that says, “Welcome, guests! Come right in!” But before you even have to grab the door handle, there’s the hostess meeting you at the door.

“Hey, you must be Donna’s friend! I’m so glad you could come! I’m Jill, and this is my home. Welcome!”

She brings you inside and says, “I have a few things I have to finish in the kitchen. Just relax and make yourself at home here in the living room. Would you like white wine or red? Red? Coming right up!”

She hands you a glass of red wine and settles you in. “Back in a few minutes! If you need anything, I’m right here in the kitchen–just holler!” she says cheerfully.

Sipping your wine, you look around you and take in the surroundings. Such beautiful things! So much to look at! You roam around the living room, looking at her eclectic art collection, the lovely paintings on the wall, the comfy furniture, the handmade rugs on the floor. The rugs especially are outstanding. Wow, did she make them?

Soon, you wander into the kitchen where she’s busily….

….cutting up carrot sticks, making dip, pulling out more wineglasses. Doing all those little tasks that you do to get ready for a party. Oh, it smells good in the kitchen!

“What’s that lovely smell? Is it sauteed garlic?” you ask.

“Oh, you’re right! That’s the secret ingredient in my my special handmade carrot dip–sauteed garlic, with a little curry powder thrown in. Isn’t it wonderful? Here, have a taste!” She hands you a carrot with a dollop of dip, you taste–and you are suddenly in love with this carrot dip. You must have more!

“Did you make all those wonderful things in your living room, too?” you ask, wanting to get to know this amazing and talented person better.

“Why, yes, I made some of the things. What caught your eye?” she says. You ask about the paintings and the rugs. She explains that the paintings are by a friend, but yes, she did indeed weave all the rugs on the floor.

She tells you the wonderful story of her aunt who was also a weaver, and how when she was a little girl, she used to go to her aunt’s house and help her set up her loom, and how much she loved the yarns, and how sometimes she got to help dye the yarns….

She takes you back into the living room and shows you one of the rugs, the one that caught your eye first. She shows you the beautiful finishing details, points out the interesting interplay of colors, and tells you about the quality of the wool yarns she selected specially for this rug. She tells you that a rug of this quality is heirloom quality–with the right care, it will last for generations. “This rug will be around for our children’s children’s children to enjoy,” she says.

And before you know it, you are wishing you could have one of those handwoven rugs for your home, too. You know if you had one, you could capture a little bit of the warmth, and exuberance, and passion and artistry of this woman in your own life.

You beg her to make a rug for you, too. Better yet, will she sell this one? Because you know it is the perfect rug for YOU.

Whew! Sorry, I got carried away there.

But I hope this little exercise has helped you understand better the booth behaviors that are appropriate for you.

Be the party. Not the pooper.

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #16: Leave Me Alone!

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.

Not good.

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?

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #15: Booth Confession

I’m doing my first SMALL retail craft show in ten years in November.

It’s the first out-of-state show I have to drive to, with only a few hours’ set-up. (I usually ship my booth, or have two days’ set-up time.)

I can only take about 25% of my regular set-up, and I can’t even get most of my walls in my car. The most electricity available will only be enough to light my cases, not my walls.

I’ll only be taking jewelry cases and a few propanels, and a couple of lights. I’ll be using the show pipe-and-drapes.

It will be a very “watered down” booth. It feels like I’m taking a huge step backwards in my booth set-up.

I’m terrified everyone who’s been reading my series will come in and take a look and say, “THIS is the person who’s been telling US how to make a great booth?!”

So if you visit the Westport Creative Arts Festival on November 17 and 18, please come see me.

And please be kind.

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

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #14: Food Fight!

Another small topic in the “Good Booths Gone Bad” series, but one I’ve also given a lot of thought to. Artists often supply candy or munchies for their customers. Today I’ll share my experiences with having food for customers.

I’ve run the gamut with the food thing, and I’m currently down to nothing. No food in the booth. And I have different feelings on food treats at retail shows and wholesale shows.

Here are some of the good stories about food in the booth:

Offering treats to your customers is a nice gesture and can break the ice. In his seminars and CDs about selling, Bruce Baker describes how this helps create an air of hospitality in your booth, by “taking care of your customers.”

This really can be a powerful thing in your booth.

My friend Mark Rosenbaum, glass blower extraordinare from New Orleans, brings homemade pralines to his wholesale shows for his customers and his fellow exhibitors. It’s southern hospitality at its finest–and Mark is originally from Connecticut. As a nice side effect, Mark’s pralines create quite a buzz at the show. Buyers see you with a praline and exclaim, “Oh, I have to get down to Mark’s booth for mine!”

Here’s another great example: At one wholesale show, a buyer burst into my booth. He was obviously exhausted and agitated. He’d had a long, hard, frustrating day.

He’d just flown in from the other coast, his plane had been delayed, he’d been up since the wee hours, and he’d missed a couple of meals. Before I even gave him a chance to look at my work, I offered him a clementine and a chair. He took a seat gratefully, ate several clementines and almonds, and told me about his day. It was a wild one!

We had a pleasant chat, and he left with a “be back” tomorrow. I didn’t really think I’d see him again. It had been a slow show, and we hadn’t even talked about my work or his store.

But he came back the next day to thank me for simply taking care of him. He couldn’t believe I’d put selling on hold and just treated him like a fellow human being. He ended up placing a big order. A REALLY big order!

Other ways food can work in positive ways:

Food treats can provide a welcome distraction to children, giving Mom a few minutes to actually look at your wares.

It can also break the ice with a difficult visitor–say, the bored husband who is doing all the shlepping and none of the actual buying.

Now for the downside of offering food in your booth.

Figuring out what to offer is mind-boggling.

And lately, I’m finding that food, like demonstrating, can attract non-customers to your booth.

Let’s start with food choices.

First, anything you offer should either be individually wrapped, in small packets or naturally “wrapped”–like oranges. Otherwise, you have health issues with people eating things that other people’s hands have touched.

This isn’t too hard, though it can be tricky finding anything other than candy that’s packaged this way. Health food stores and the organic sections in supermarkets are great places to look for healthy snacks. Halloween is a great time to look for individually wrapped treats! Stock up for your winter shows then. Lunch box snacks are also a good alternative, like individual boxes of raisins and such.

Now you have a wrapper to dispose of. This can be another nice little touch–”Here, let me throw that away for you!” But still, it’s just more about the food.

Then there’s the issue of food allergies and sensitivities. These are becoming much more common, especially with children. No peanuts! Or anything that touched peanuts. Or anything that looks like it might know a peanut. I’m jesting a little, but I know that peanut allergies are serious business.

Chocolate is off-putting to people watching their weight. (Also the age-old debate: Dark, milk or white?) It’s also messy in really hot weather. Sugar in any form is a no-no with diabetics (and with our aging demographic, including moi, adult-onset diabetes is an issue. People are really trying to watch their sugar intake.)

Very small children can’t have hard candies, so whatever you provide, you may end up with small lollipops for them.

Cheap, out-of-date, bargain basement candy can be like wilted, bedraggled flowers–yuck!

If treats are chewy, they can’t be too chewy–watch those fillings! If they are hard, they can’t be too hard–jaw breakers have limited appeal to middle-aged people. If they are salty, they can’t be too salty–now I need a drink of water!

Clementines are healthy and juicy, but also messy. You not only have lots of pieces of rind to dispose of, you have a customer with sticky fingers. (I had a packet of baby wipes handy for the guy at my wholesale show.) And even though clementines are small, sometimes people just don’t want to eat a whole one.

Werther’s butterscotches were the perfect choice for many years–individually wrapped, quality candy, a flavor almost everyone likes. People loved them! But the last few years, hardly anyone took them. Again, too many people watching their sugar intake.

You think I’m being fussy about this? A few years ago at a wholesale show, a buyer actually complained to me that too many artists at the show were offering chocolate as a treat! (To his defense, he was trying to watch his weight….) So many of us were providing food that we were overfeeding our buyers.

Here’s the next to last item to chew on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Snacks at retail shows can attract people who have no intention of shopping in your booth.

I’ve had people cruising by in the aisle dart over to my booth to snag a handful of candy as they pass by. They often don’t even look at me as they snag a handful of candy. It feels weird–like I’ve paid $1,100 to be at the show so I can assuage their hunger pangs.

I’ve had the kids of fellow exhibitors discover my “candy stash” and help themselves liberally at every opportunity–until I gently pointed out that the candy was for my customers. (To give them credit, they cut it out once I mentioned that. They aren’t bad, just young.)

And as for distracting children for their parents’ sake, we’ve seen that people with kids are rarely actually shopping. We’ve noticed over the years that people who are taking care of other people are usually at the show for the edutainment factor. I don’t begrudge them this. I’m glad they’re there, exposing their kids and companions to the beauty of handmade craft.

But amusing their kids so they can shop is more a function of me being a sympathetic mom than actually thinking a purchase is going to come of it.

I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted and soulless about selling. I don’t expect everyone in my booth to buy something. I love schmoozing with people and I love taking care of people in my booth.

But I’m also there to make a living selling my work. I’m not there to feed or entertain the general public endlessly. When I started to feel like the kind lady at the office who always has a bowl of candy on her desk, who realizes people are simply standing around eating her candy, I knew it was time to do something else.

Now I’m more likely to simply share MY food with customers who really need it.

I tend to bring the same kinds of food anyway–things that are small and bite-sized, easy to munch on between busy times. Things that are as healthy as I can manage at a show. Things that are comfort food.

And the notion of sharing MY food is even more powerful than that bowl of candy. If a customer really looks hot and tired, it’s nice to say, “Hey, I was just going to have a clementine–would you like a few sections?” Or “I packed an extra packet of raisins–have some!”

It also says I see them as an individual who may be tired or hungry, and not just as a customer. It actually makes me feel more kind than just having a bowl of candy out.

My last and biggest reason for not having candy in the booth?

I EAT IT!!

So again, food for thought. (Sorry! Sorry!!!) If none of this resonates with you, then do what’s working for you.

But if you find yourself nodding your head to any of this, then don’t feel guilty about pulling the food treats. Think of other ways to engage and take care of your customers.

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

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

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

Stay in your booth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEEP YOUR BAD MOOD AND COMPLAINTS TO YOURSELF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is their time.

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

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

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

Stay in your booth.

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #12: Drama Queen Flowers

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

WHAT BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS!

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

But they can be a huge distraction, too.

Some common mistakes with flowers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People who love flowers, that’s who.

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

About the flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lose the drama queen flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #11: That Free Milk Thing

Today I’ll share some of the perils of selling and demonstrating in the same booth. The subtitle refers to that old adage, “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?” My titles are getting convoluted, aren’t they?

Our state craft guild has a special kind of booth situation available to exhibitors at our annual craft fair. It is a combination sales and demonstration booth, and it’s HUGE–20′x30′. It’s unusual because usually demonstration booths (which have a greatly reduced booth fee or even pay the craftsperson to demo) are not allowed to actually sell product. In this booth option, we pay a greatly reduced fee, but we are allowed to demo and sell our work.

Traditionally, sales suffer greatly in this hybrid mode. Bruce Baker talks about this in his booth design CD. Once you start demonstrating, people expect to be entertained and educated–edutainment. It can be hard to turn that passive “amuse me” energy around back into active shopping. It can be done, but it’s hard.

Whenever Bruce says this, or when I mention it to other craftspeople, there are always some who protest that they are highly successful demonstrating and selling their work at the same time. But to me, it sounds like the people who claim they sell well enough without taking credit cards. Ask them again a month after they have a merchant service account. They grab your arm and gasp, “I had no idea…!!

In other words, you may be doing well enough, but you could be doing even better. (For those of you who are not selling your work, it’s like someone who buys their first microwave after never having had one before…. Sure, you can get along without one, but you just don’t know what you’re missing.)

To support this observation, traditionally our fair committee had to beg people to do the sales-demo tents. No one wanted to do it because sales were so poor in those tents (even though they are on the “main drag” of the fair.”

It got so bad, some people were allowed to do the same demonstration two years, three, even four years running–and more. (It’s supposed to one-to-two-year-max, temptingly large space at an unusually low price, to offset poor sales.) Often our pool of applicants was new exhibitors who simply couldn’t afford a full booth fee.

One or two applicants might be more established exhibitors who figured they could take a hit for one year, in order to boost their visibility and reputation for years to come. When I interviewed these past participants in the program, they always said they did not do well sales-wise, but it was worth it for the increased sales in later years.

The year I decided to do a sales-demo tent, I actually made an appointment for a consult with Bruce. He gave me some valuable insights in addition to those I’d absorbed from his CDs on selling and booth display.

My sales-demo booth provided record sales for me at that show two years in a row. In fact, I was doing so well that we now have a huge pool of applicants every year for those tents.

What other exhibitors saw those two years was a constant crowd of visitors–and buyers. They saw people actively shopping almost every time they went by the booth.

Unfortunately, though I made it look “easy”, a lot of work and thought went into that design process.

The biggest design problem was how to handle a space that was as big as SIX regular booths. I followed most of the guidelines in the other essays in this series. Here are a few issues specific to sales-demo booths.

DON’T LEAVE ME!!

Most people have the right idea of separating the sales process from the demonstrating process. But many exhibitors carry that to an extreme. The booth ends up looking like the brains of those unfortunate people who have continuous seizures, where the surgeons actually disconnect the two halves of the patient’s brain.

The exhibitor splits the booth right down the middle. On one side is the craftsperson, making his stuff. On the other side is a little store where you can buy the stuff he’s making.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any intuitive flow between the two. You have to leave one world and enter the other. The most extreme case I saw, the divide was so physically complete, you had to actually leave the booth on the demonstration side, and re-enter it on the little store side.

Please do not make people leave your booth and come back again in order to buy something from you. Can you see this in a regular store?

Customer: “Oh, look, I just love this! I’m going to get it! Do you take Visa?”

Sales clerk: “Why, yes, we do! Now, you just run across the street with this to the other store, and they’ll ring it up for you.”

I know it’s “only a few feet” in a tent, but it is halfway around the world psychologically.

How did I bridge the gap between these two worlds?

With traffic flow, signage and display.

TELL, TELL, TELL

As I talked during my demonstration, people listened. In fact, we soon found there were two kinds of people to be found in my tent: Those who came in only to watch and listen–and a totally different group who came in to listen as they shopped.

Oh, and I didn’t have to speak loudly, either, as some exhibitors do during a show. Research shows we are hard-wired genetically to hear the human voice–which is one of the reasons you can hear a single opera singer over an entire orchestra. (Isn’t that COOL??!) So please only raise your normal speaking voice a notch or two, even in this very large space, okay?

I had my demo area right up near the front of the booth. Bruce suggested this, so people didn’t have to commit to even coming far into the booth to see if what I was doing would interest them. They could hang out for a few seconds, then choose if I were engaging enough to stick around.

If they chose to stay, they had several options.

They could sit and watch and listen. But immediately off to one side, there were a series of display areas. These were filled with interesting supplies–piles of fabrics, strands of trade beads, baskets of buttons. A stash of beaver-chewed sticks and antlers. Books showing examples of cave art.

It was visually dense and appealing–like my work! Appealing, colorful, touchable, FUN.

I had signs. Everywhere! Signs explaining what everything was and how I used it in my art. It had the feel of a museum display, except people could actually touch the fabrics and play with the beads.

As people followed this “trail of interest” around the perimeter of the tent, they came to a few environmental settings of my art–a large wall hanging on a “wall”, with a beautiful table underneath, flanked by vases of flowers and my sculptures. “This is what I look like in your home” was the message.

Finally, the whole thing segued into a true shopping experience. The rest of the booth looked like a gallery, with islands of shelving filled with jewelry and sculpture, and more wall hangings on the walls. Lots of lights kept the space bright and easily viewed.

For those more eager to get to the shopping part, the center and front of the booth, right next to the demo area, was set up for sales, too.

People could also come into the booth at multiple points. But once inside, everything was different enough that they wanted to see the entire booth before they left.

BE THE ARTIST

This is one of the few opportunities for you, the artist, to totally immerse yourself in that role. Yes! Your dream, to simply sit and create, and let someone else sell for you!

Use it.

When I am in my regular booth, it’s simple to talk about the work, how I make it, why I make it, and sell it to people who connect with that. When I am demonstrating, the move to selling mode is a total “spiritual disconnect” with most people.

This phenomenon was so visibly profound, my sales team finally told me to stay in my chair when people were in the booth. The mere act of me rising from my demonstration station was enough to send people running from the booth. (Okay, I heard that in the back row!) My sales team even brought potential customers over to my demo table with questions, rather than call me over to them.

It was a subtle but powerful thing: Here is the artist at work. We will have an audience with the artist. We will approach with respect, catch her at a good point, and ask her about this wonderful piece she made.

I’m not saying I sat in my chair hoity-toity with an attitude. If you’ve ever been in my booth, you know me better than that! I’m just saying there was a palpable difference in artists between actually making art and actually selling art–and customers were sensitive to that difference.

In fact, I think when some artists say they hate the selling or business side of their art, they are having a hard time transitioning to that aspect. When we can embrace the creative aspect of selling–as the end result of making stuff–we can perhaps feel more comfortable with it.

Because selling is really just getting our precious work into the hands of people who love it but can’t make it themselves–and so they are willing to trade their time (in the form of money they’ve earned) for our time (the time we spent making it.) Pricing is just establishing the ratio whose time is worth what.

The change in energy from showing/sharing to selling was palpable, even if I knew I was just getting up to offer assistance or answer a question.

TRAINING DAY

So hire–and TRAIN–a sales force. I hired a team of five people to split shifts and work the entire fair for me. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a nine-day show. Every day, I had at least two other people working that booth with me.

First, I picked people who were….I was going to say “people people”, but that just sounds silly. People who were good with other people. This is not a job for terminally shy people! They don’t have to be extroverts, but they have to comfortable in their own skin so they don’t make your customers feel awkward. (You know the kind of person I mean.)

If they’ve had any sales or marketing experience, that helps. And if you ask around, you’ll be surprised how many people do.

Be careful about picking spouses or family members. Best case, they love you so much, they may hound people to buy your work. Not good. Worst case, they don’t really want to do it but can’t say no.

Be careful about picking friends who are also artists. They must be able to set their own art aside and sell yours! You’d be amazed how hard this can be for people. Don’t hold it against them–but if they can’t do it, don’t ask them to! This is YOUR time and YOUR real estate–not theirs. They must not lead conversations around to THEIR work or use precious selling time to market THEIR art. (Hint: If they wear THEIR jewelry or clothing while selling in your booth, big red warning light there.)

I invited them over for dinner before the show. I gave each person a packet of information about me and my work, prices, magazine articles, etc. The purpose was not for them to memorize everything, but to familiarize them with my work and story.

I gave them talking points and selling points. But in the end I told them, “Tell customers why YOU like my work. If what you say is true for you, they will sense that. And that will be more powerful than any prepared sales spiel I could give you.”

So they shared with each other what they loved about my work. BTW, I learned a lot from this, too! They told me great things about my work I’d never thought of.

Then I gave each of them Bruce Baker’s CD on selling craft. I suggested they simply listen to it as they did dishes or on a long drive. If they had time to listen a few times, that would be great. And I included this “listening time” in the number of hours I was paying them for. Though Bruce is so easy to listen to, some of them said they listened for fun.

My investment in this sales team resulted in doubling my sales at this show.

The first year I did this, I couldn’t afford to pay my team what they were worth in cash. So I offered minimum wage and a generous trade option. They could chose the money and $x in goods, or $3x in straight goods. Or if they found another artist’s work at the show they loved, I would offer to trade my work with that artist.

The first year, everyone chose the trading for my work, and one person took me up on trading with another artist. The second year, everyone simply wanted my work. That worked out well for me! But do give people the money option, because some people simply need the cash.

I also bought everyone’s food at the show, and had them over again for dinner after the show. This “wrap-up” dinner was great! Once again, they shared observations about my work, and customer dynamics, that were extremely helpful.

Once again, I hope some of my personal experiences help you rethink what’s not working for you now.

And as always, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change it–unless you think it could be better.

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GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product

Have you ever walked by a booth and couldn’t quite tell what they were selling?

Worse, maybe the booth was full of people, which intrigued you. But the booth was so full, you couldn’t get in. And you couldn’t see the product for the crowd. “I’ll come back,” you may have thought.

But with no visual clue to even remind you later, you probably didn’t.

This is the booth with the Mystery Product.

When your work is very small (like jewelry) or your display or display fixtures are as visually domineering as your product (you make picture frames but not the images you display them with, for example) or if your booth is constantly full of people blocking the view from the aisle, it’s important to signal to people outside your booth exactly what it is you’re selling.

I struggle with this constantly. My wall hangings are vibrant and easy to see. But it’s not always obvious what makes them special–the fine detail, the embellishments, the incredible stitching and layering of fabric.

Also, it’s not immediately obvious I also sell jewelry. This is because I love to display my jewelry on tall stands and cases, with the pieces laid on paper backgrounds or display bean bags, as if you were looking down on a museum display.

But this means no one can actually see my jewelry until they come into my booth.

So how do I let people know?

Big, big pictures.

I started using large-format photos as posters early on, and it has helped hugely. My photographer has a huge printer capable of printing out big images of my work. But places like Kinko’s and Staples can do this quite easily, and cheaply, too.

If you don’t have such a resource near you, try on-line vendors. There are a lot of them nowadays! I just googled “poster from photo” and found services starting at under $20 for a 24″x36″ print.

You can use inexpensive and lightweight poster frames to finish off your print. I had my first few professionally framed in black metal frames, the kinds where you buy two sets of two “sides” and screw them together. What are those called???

Your photographer or a graphic arts service can also print out your poster text–it’s good to at least have your name on it–but in a pinch, you can even just print out one huge word at a time on your home computer. (I vacillate between “Luann Udell” and stuff like “Luann Udell fiber and polymer” or “Luann Udell Mixed Media”.)

If you are neat about it, you can just cut and paste the individual words onto your poster since one word printed in a GIANT FONT will obviously fill an entire sheet of paper. (The original cut-and-paste function, pre-computer!) From six feet away, it will look all of a piece.

One or two posters, hung just high enough to be visible over a crowd, will be easily seen from the aisle.

And now everyone will know what you sell.

Many people use one of their jury shots–a straight-on shot of a single item, on a neutral background. But you can get creative here.

An environmental shot shows something in an appropriate environment. This is great for stuff that doesn’t have an immediately discernible scale or purpose, like, say, a floor cloth. It could be a card, a place mat, a rug…. But do a shot of a big floor cloth on a floor in a room, and it instantly reads as “Floor cloth! In YOUR home! Making YOUR home look as great as THIS!”

A model photo of someone wearing your clothing or jewelry is compelling. One big mistake, though, is focusing on the model over the work. Avoid having the model actually looking into the camera, or even looking out. Make sure any lighting highlights the WORK, not the model. Leaf through fashion magazines. Pay attention to what compositions let you focus on the jewelry or clothing, and which are the ones where you find yourself staring at the person wearing them. Avoid shots like the latter.

Detail shots show a small part of your work. Sometimes it’s obvious what you’re selling (clocks!) but what’s charming about them is small (hand painted flowers!) Here’s where the opposite image can help–a beautiful detail shot or close-up. My photographer has a signature photo style–he will intentionally have the image bleed off the edges. Oh! That sounds terrible! I mean he will show the image partly out of the frame. It gets you “closer” to the product, allowing for more detail, but you can still tell what the item is.

One of the most intriguing posters I ever saw was in the booth of an artist who did simple, enigmatic wooden folk dolls. The image was a small grouping of them, but only from the shoulders up. I borrowed this idea for one of my best known images. You can see it here on the far right of the banner: My home page It’s still one of my favorites, too.

In fact, some people use an actual banner in their booth instead of just a single poster or two. I have one, with my name and some images of tiny details of my work. I had a local graphic arts service design A Sign Stop (their site loads slowly in this preview pop-op, try opening in another tabe or window for best results) and I think they did a beautiful job. But I think my posters look more “upscale” and my banner looks more “craft show”. “Banner” just doesn’t say “art gallery”. That’s just IMHO, though. I do use my banner at shows, but above my sales station now.

Lately I’m experimenting with more “vertical” ways of displaying my jewelry. I’m actually thinking of going back to those plain black velvet upright displays. I think a few of them might help signal that there are cool little wearables somewhere in there….

But for now, a couple of great posters–one showing a beautiful detail of my wall hangings, another featuring a glamor shot of my daughter wearing a stunning necklace–will tell the story for me.

For good images of detail shots, do check out the banner on my home page once more: Banner on my home page You will see close-ups of my fiber work, jewelry and sculptures. If you explore the site, you’ll find many other images that would work well as posters. You’ll see examples of plain jury shots and detail shots in the jewelry section, an environmental shot with detail shots on the wall hangings page. I’ve posted the model shot of my daughter before, but here it is again: Robin looking gorgeous

I hope it inspires you to get creative with your own ideas.

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