Tag Archives: trade shows

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

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #9: Why Distraction Works

Some of you are probably getting the hang of this now. “Promise them something later…okay, I get it!”

But aren’t we letting ourselves in for all kinds of time spent doing all kinds of favors for those people? After all, “after the show” comes up…well, right after the show. Just when you want to kick back, take a breather, and then get down to filling those special orders and making those repairs.

Well, this is the best part…

You will never hear from most of those people again.

Here’s a look at the dynamic:

There’s something about being at a show that affects us all.

Customers are excited: They’re shopping! They get to see dozens, maybe hundreds of cool little booth-shops, all lined up in rows. There is wonderful new work to be seen, interesting new jewelry and clothing to try on, fabulous new objects to marvel at. And the artists–such an odd breed! They look different, they sound different, they just do stuff and make stuff and gosh, they just have such interesting lives. As Bruce Baker says so enchantingly, “To ‘normal’ folks, artists are people that ran away to join the circus!”

Those same artists may be exhausted, hot, excited, anxious, cold, flattered, suave, frantic, happy, hungry, shy, nervous, polished, bored, thrilled–sometimes all in the same day.

At a show, the rules are different. It isn’t like shopping at TJ Maxx. But it’s not like being at the museum of art, either.

A show does look a little like a circus. There may be “acts” (demonstrators and workshops), fun food, music. Children laughing (and crying.) Serious collectors and Looky-Lou’s.

It’s also impermanent. A few days ago, this wonderful fair may have been an empty gymnasium, or a parking lit, or an empty field. Now it’s filled with tents and tables, crowds and people and noise, noise, noise.

And in a few days, it will all be gone, like fairy gold. It will magically disappear and the gymnasium, parking lot or field will reappear again.

Is it any wonder that some people are at their worst? Especially those who “issues” to begin with?

Is it any wonder that tempers are frayed, that attention wanders, that our skins are thinner and our patience is shorter? That the comments and actions of annoying people suddenly take on monumental proportions?

And that’s why sometimes all we need is a breather. A few seconds to calm ourselves and get centered again. A deep breath so we can get to our happy place again.

It’s the same for those annoying people. They may annoying, but they are bound to be even more annoying. They are out of their element, their normal routine is disrupted, the normal “stops and guards” on their social shortcomings are not in place.

That’s why distracting people with other choices, other options, is so effective. It gets them out of the particular situation that brings out the worst in them (the show), out of that moment (in your booth)–and on to another place, another time (“after the show”).

That’s why getting people to deal with you after the show is so effective. When everyone is back in normal life and normal time, sometimes the annoying behaviors disappear, too. The urgency they felt to get something from you, the negative energy they carried, simply dissipates.

It tends to dissipate so much, the problem simply goes away. I think that of all the people I ask to contact me after the show, probably less than 10% actually do.

If I’ve asked them to follow up by e-mail (which is the most convenient for me), it may take me only a few minutes to take care of all their requests and answer all their questions.

Use those magical words “after the show” like a giant fairy wand, making everything weird and nasty and annoying just disappear into a puff of smoke.

Best of all–you can wave it more than three times, too!

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

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #8: Your New Best Friend

Eighth in a series about getting difficult out of your booth at an art fair or craft show.

A reader wrote to ask:

“Any plans to do a post about the customer who, once she’s bought from you, now thinks she’s your friend? I had this happen once, at a 5-day show (where she bought on day 2, and returned on 3 and 4 to talk endlessly). I was as polite as I could be when I wasn’t trying to duck so she wouldn’t see me (!). That mixture of being grateful she’d bought a piece and annoyed that she kept showing up was difficult to juggle.”

Michelle, your wish is granted!

Hmmmm, that’s a good one–the customer who feels they’ve bought your friendship….

As annoying as that was, it sounds like you handled it well. You dealt with her as politely as you could, and disappeared as you were able.

Here are some thoughts to help you decide which course of action feels right for you.

Remember, a small part of our biz is going to be a form of social work. Some people are lonely or have very poor social skills, or they’re lonely because they poor social skills. For them, this IS how they make friends and interact in society. They do things that give them an excuse to talk to people. It can be hugely annoying, but a little patience and compassion can go a along way–if you aren’t busy with other customers, and if you have the patience for it.

This sounds like a person who has trouble respecting the boundaries of others. Your booth is like a little store with a new friend in it, and she wants to come and visit every chance she gets. The bad news is, this person may be oblivious–it will take more than a gentle hint or two to move her on. The good news is, she’s probably used to blunt tactics, because she probably does this all the time.

Sometimes the only way to deal with a boundary issue is to name it and say it. “I’m delighted you like my work so much. I’m honored you’ve supported me by buying a piece. But I really have to focus on making the most of this opportunity to sell my work at this show. It’s been lovely talking to you. But I hope you’ll understand that I need to get back to work here.”

If this speech is too hard, start shorter and brisker: “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I need to run–thanks for stopping by!”

Then run.

If she still keeps showing up, repeat. Be consistent. Friendly but firm. It may take a few turns, because people who are oblivious to the fact that they’re being noodges tend to be oblivious to all but the most blatant management.

Of course, this is hard for people like me who have trouble setting boundaries. Just look on it as good practice.

Another tactic: This is another example of a “free milk” person–they want your interest and friendship. The difference is, they feel they have paid for it, though by now you’re feeling they got the better end of the deal.

You could try offering them something more “free”–like offering to put them on your list for open studio events. That could reassure them that you won’t forget them. (As Bruce Baker quips, “How could I ever forget you??!!”)

If there’s no one in your booth and you are dying slowly, you can always try to interest her in another artist at the show. Pass it off as customer service: “You know, as I listen to you, I realize there’s another artist at the show you’d really love. I think her work is perfect for you. It will really resonate with everything you’ve been through. Let me take you over to her booth and introduce you.”

Do it–and RUN. Then she can have TWO new friends!

Finally, there’s the strategy of pushing this to the limit and using this to your advantage.

It’s drastic. But I’ve found that people who are locked in their heads like this usually make it all about ‘them’. Make it about you.

If there’s no one in your booth, I’d use the opportunity to keep selling to her. Keep circling the conversation back to your work. She might be persuaded to buy another piece.

At the very least, as other people enter your booth, they’ll be able to hear you talk without having to deal with you directly. A lot of people who browse will do just that–listen intently to what you say to another customer as they shop uninterrupted. It’s an effective selling technique.

Be sure to stop occasionally as new people come in and acknowledge them by greeting them. Casually say, “If you have any questions, just let me know” or “If you’d like to try something on, the mirror is right here.” That lets other customers know you’re paying attention.

At the slightest hint someone needs your help, smoothly interrupt the talker to say, “Excuse me just a moment.” and move to assist the other person.

If it’s just you and her, and she won’t buy anything else, then….Talk away to your heart’s content. Just make sure it’s all about you. Sometimes the only way to shoo a bore away is to be a bigger bore.

Did I just say that??!!

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, selling, shows, time management

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #7: The Hardest Cut of All

Seventh in a series of getting difficult people out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.

I can almost guarantee you this “difficult person” will be the hardest one of all to deal with. If this happens to you, my only consolation is, you are not alone.

It will happen after you’ve asked a friend to help you in your booth at a show.

Because there may come a time when you will have to ask that friend to leave your booth.

I have a few friends who not only work with me on my booth at some shows, they volunteer to help, calling me months ahead of time to offer their services.

And they are simply amazing at it. I secretly think they are better at this than I am. They are a miracle made manifest in the world, and I am the luckiest artist alive because of them.

And even if someone isn’t stellar at selling, they are such good company, I’m delighted to have them on board. Their companionship is all that is necessary.

I also had a few friends, perfectly good friends…. Friendships of many years duration that have gone screaming down in flames from working with me in my booth.

A day into the show–sometimes an hour into the show, you realize with a terrible sinking feeling that it’s all gone wrong. They are not doing well in your booth. It is so not working out.

They show up dressed inappropriately–either under-dressed (“I want to be comfy!”) or over-dressed–or barely dressed at all. (“Oh gosh, I can’t get this top to stay up!”)

They’re so busy telling you about their hot date last night, they ignore customers in the booth. Or get mad when you interrupt their hot date story to deal with those customers. Or can’t understand why you don’t even want to hear their story when the customers are just looking, for cryin’ out loud.

They don’t know how to talk with customers, saying, “Can I help you?” even when you’ve told them a dozen times that’s the worst possible thing you can say to a potential buyer.

The friend loves to share funny stories about you with your customers. Stories you kinda wish she would not share.

It can get even worse.

One artist told me her assistant used her high-end booth display to do his ballet warm-up exercises. In front of customers. All. Day. Long.

Another told me her friend came back from lunch–two hours late. She’d decided to go shop around the fair. The artist, having sent her to eat first, was starving.

Another said a friend got plastered at a dinner out with important clients–buyers for a chain of stores–and behaved inappropriately. (Still waiting to here the juicy details on that one.)

Two different artists with compatible work share a booth to save on expenses. Only one is constantly trying to steal the customers of the other.

Whatever the attitude or behavior, it’s detrimental to your business and to your mental health.

And you are going to have to ask them to leave. Either at the end of the show (if it’s just mildly annoying), the end of the day (if it’s hugely annoying) or within the hour (if it’s such a disaster you are going to kill them any minute.)

And before you say, “Oh, Luann, we know what a pistol you are! That would never happen to me!”, let me assure you–it happens a lot. It has happened to people who have been in business for many, many years.

It happens so much, I know people in the biz who now have an iron-clad rule: They never–ever–hire friends to work for them anymore.

How can this happen? Why does a normal person who is nice enough to be your friend suddenly turn into the booth assistant from hell?

Reasons:

STRESS Shows are hard. No. Shows are really, really hard. It’s the work of getting enough product made to stock your booth. The weeks of preparation, making sure all your booth components are in place and in good working order. Making travel arrangements (and maybe family arrangements for your absence), and dealing the expense and stress of packing and loading and simply getting to the show. Set-up (ye gods, we could all write a book about the things that go wrong during set-up) and break-down. The weary drive home, the unpacking and trying to get back into your normal life–so you can do it all again for the next show.

In between is the part that is both wonderful and dismal, fun and agonizing–doing the show. Talking to enthralled customers about your work, and watching people walk by who couldn’t care less about your work. Making big sales and wondering if you are going to make booth expenses. Meeting other cool and interesting artists, and dealing with weird, psychotic fellow artists. It’s all there, it’s all happening at the show.

In short, S*H*O*W*S = S*T*R*E*S*S

And there’s your friend, a show virgin who just doesn’t get it. Who just doesn’t get any of it, at all. She doesn’t understand what you’ve already been through, or how critical the show’s success is to you, or how frantic you are underneath your smiling exterior. It all looks fun and glamorous to to her, and that’s what she’s expecting.

Or she’s under stress, too (see “their stuff” below). Or they worry they’re not going to do things right. Or they worry you’re going to do the crazy artist thing and yell at them.

So maybe you’re both stressed. whoo hoo.

UNCLEAR EXPECTATIONS Some people, despite your telling them the way it works, do not understand that being in a show is WORK. They don’t really understand it is a business situation, and that you have to generate sales to stay in business.

They arrive with a vague idea that it’s going to be a fun-filled day, full of chatter and fun food and wonderful sights to see.

They won’t understand why you interrupted their moving reenactment of the last awful days of their collapsed marriage just because a customer came into the booth.

They won’t understand why it wasn’t okay to just disappear for two hours at lunchtime because they felt like taking a walk.

They won’t understand why it’s really, really important to get ALL the numbers imprinted on a charge slip, including the card’s expiration date and the customer’s telephone number.

And because operating the credit card machine is just “too confusing”, they won’t understand why you can’t just do it, while they schmooze your customers.

And they won’t understand why you will have to tell them to shape up or ship out.

SHADOW ARTISTS We’ve covered this in previous chapters in this series, but it bears repeating. At a show, these SA’s are in your booth–a booth that is actually a tiny monument to your ambition and achievement.

They will be surrounded by your work. They will see and hear your fan base–your customers. They will have to listen to people rave about you with excitement and admiration. They will have to listen to you talk about your work with pride and confidence.

It will be too much for them.

It will simply be too painful, the cognitive dissonance too great, and they will resent it. For some people, seeing your success in pursuing your art, up close and personal, will be the final straw.

EGO Some people cannot handle being in a subordinate position in the friendship, even a temporary one as you booth assistant. They will refuse to follow your suggestions for selling. Or they will continue to push their craft over yours. They may resent having their time managed.

CHANGING ROLES We start a friendship with everyone’s roles firmly in place. And then the roles change.

Many relationships struggle with this transitions, not just friendships. Business partnerships. Mentor and student. Parent and child. Even marriages often topple under the stress of two people growing and changing apart.

Somehow, we don’t ever expect our friendships to fail from our changing roles. But they do.

One explanation: If you scratch the surface of the friendship, my humble experience has been it may have actually been based on one of these prototypes.

And like them, subject to the same sad conclusion when the roles change and the pressure to adapt rises.

THEIR STUFF Other people have their stuff–my catch-all term for emotional baggage, hard times, psychological upheaval, whatever.

They may have recently lost someone they loved, or even someone they hated. (The stress from either is great.) They are in a hard place for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

It’s going to spill over at some point. If you are near them when it happens, you are going to get scalded.

So what are the clues this beautiful friendship-cum-sales team is heading south?

They are resistant to your suggestions and training. I give out Bruce Baker’s sales training CD to new assistants before a show. One person said they were too experienced with sales to listen to it. I believed them. The first hour in the booth, it was painfully obvious their experience was not as good as they thought it was.

They forget who’s boss. They will show resentment when you ask them to do something they see as trivial or mundane or demeaning–running an errand, etc.

They will rearrange your display when you step out of the booth, and their feelings will be hurt if you are not happy with their efforts.

They may even decide not to show up at all, telling you that you don’t really need them–leaving you in the lurch and too late to make arrangements for other assistance.

They forget whose booth it is, and whose work they’re selling. I actually had one friend refuse to wear my jewelry in my booth. She wanted to wear her fashion accessories instead. Not wanting to push it, I let her–until the first customer noticed her work and asked her about it, and she happily started to tell them about her business.

They see the time with you in your booth as a social thing, a chance to catch up on all their life changes. This is so hard. Of course you want to hear all this stuff. But the show has to come first.

At a show you are working. The focus has to be on selling your work. And you can’t afford to deal with downer stuff. You must stay upbeat and positive.

Worse, your efforts to remind them of this will sound heartless and uncaring. It’s an impossible situation.

Now for the sad part.

In all my years of dealing with this, I have never found a good way to “fire” a friend.

I have yet to salvage one friendship from a “firing”.

And I have never felt good about what I had to do.

I’ve tried many different approaches.

I’ve tried heart-to-heart talks over dinner and drinks after the first day.

I’ve tried taking in all the responsibility for the misunderstanding (for which I was accused by the friend as “You’re treating me like a damn teenager!” I had to bite my tongue in order not to respond, “That is exactly how you’ve been acting the last 24 hours!!”)

I’ve tried to fudge it by saying I overestimated my needs, and don’t really need to tie up their time for the entire show, or even the entire day.

I’ve tried to be upfront and honest and calm. “Look, I know your life is your life–it’s not my place to expect you to put my needs above yours. I know if you are sick, you shouldn’t be expected to work. But you offered to help, and I told you my expectations, and you accepted them. And when you wait til five minutes before the show opens to call and say you won’t be coming in, that puts me in difficult position. I simply need more time than that to line up someone else to help.”

Nothing worked. Anger, resentment, recriminations follow, all falling on my head and making me feel even worse. The only thing left to do is say nothing more so as not to make it even worse.

When I asked my fellow artists how they handled it successfully, they confirmed a sad fact. No matter how you couch it, it’s going to suck big-time. And the only friendships that survived were the ones where the friend took it in stride and let it go. The friend has to decide it is not going to ruin the friendship.

One consolation for me was, I felt like I was choosing business over friendship. It is only with time and some emotional distance that I can see the storm clouds were often already on the horizons. The show only acting like a giant magnifying glass, focusing little heat rays on the issue and setting it on fire.

It’s also a part of doing business. Sometimes you have to fire someone, and they just aren’t going to like that or deal with it well. If it happens to be a friend, it’s just more gasoline on the fire. But there’s never a good way to fire someone. And there will never be a good way to fire a friend.

If it were a small show, where I only hoped to gross a few hundred bucks, I might feel that it’s not worth it to risk the friendship. You might choose to simply let it go, get through the day, and do things differently next time.

But at a big retail or wholesale show, where thousands of dollars and your professional reputation are at stake, you may have to act–unless you are independently wealthy, or just don’t need the money.

The only thing I can think of that might be worse is if this happens with a family member. And at least there is huge incentive for a family member to eventually come around. Although, come to think of it, there are a lot of divorced people who used to be in business with their ex-spouse…..

Think long and hard before asking–or allowing–a friend to work with you in your booth. And hope for the best. But be prepared for the worst.

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, envy, friendship, getting people OUT of your booth, jealousy, life, selling, shows

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #6: Bear Baiters and Goat Getters

Sixth in a series of people you want to move out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.

There is a reprehensible sport from ancient times known as bear baiting. Bears and other wild animals were teased and provoked into attacking and fighting other animals, for the enjoyment of spectators.

It’s hard to imagine, but we still have a civilized version of this sport today.

There are people among us who thrive on confronting and insulting other people for their own amusement and excitement.

The internet, with its potential for anonymous baiting and the virtue of distance from our targets, can encourage this type of behavior in modern times. On forums, we call it “flaming”.

Very occasionally, you may have the misfortune to find someone like this in your booth.

It may be fellow artist with a bone to pick with you (a real or imagined bone.)

It may be a customer who loves to “tease” you, perceiving you as a captive audience in your booth , making “funny” rude comments about your work

It may be as subtle as someone who, seemingly interested in your work, asks you questions–but then refutes or argues with every answer you give.

Why does this happen at shows? Because we’re seen as a captive audience and an easy target.

We may be perceived as a captive audience because

a) we obviously are “tied down” to our booth space during a show, and

b) we are taught “the customer is always right” even if the customer is being ridiculous.

Sometimes, c) because we are women and socialized to be more conciliatory, we are baited by people who know we won’t fight back (because that would be rude.)

And d), these people also sense we are trying desperately not to make a scene in front of other customers.

Whatever the situation, whatever the rationale in their mind, know that someone who pulls this stunt while you are conducting your business at a show doesn’t deserve an extra minute of your time and energy. Move them on!

A good analogy to keep in mind is treating your booth as your private home. Would you let just anyone into it because they showed up at your door? Would you let someone rude stay just because you were too polite to get them to leave? (And if the answer is “yes”, then sign up for an assertiveness training course immediately!!)

If it’s a fellow artist, you should know that in most shows, even small ones, in your contract there is an unspoken (or even stated) assumption that your booth is your space, for the duration of the show. You paid the booth fee, you’ve set up your display to do business there, and you have control over who is allowed in. Technically, you do not have to even allow other artists into your booths. This is especially true of wholesale shows. Artists who enter your booth without your permission or who refuse to leave when asked can get into a lot of trouble with show management.

If there are artists who stir up such bad vibes in your booth, make a point of cheerfully but pointedly drawing any conversations to an instant close the second a customer enters your booth. “It’s was nice of you to stop by, but I really have some things I need to work on right now.” Make a point of escorting them out to the aisle.

If there are no customers, you can still ask them to leave, or head them off before they even come in. “Hi! I really can’t stop to talk now–maybe later?” (Make sure “later” never comes….)

If they don’t take the hint, be polite but blunt: “I’m so sorry, but I cannot do this right now. It’s time for you to leave.”

If you maintain your composure and stay grounded and calm, even if there are customers in your booth, you will still come off okay.

But what if the baiter is a customer?

You still don’t have to put up with it. But sometimes, putting up with it can win friends and influence people.

The social dynamics of bullying and baiting are beyond me, and I don’t have answers. But I know when someone is being baited, it’s hard to watch. And harder to figure out what to do about it, especially if the person being baited is at least as competent or powerful as you. (And since we are the artist and the rightful “owner” of the booth, we are actually perceived as more powerful and competent than the person baiting us.) You desperately hope they will do something to defend themselves. But you are also hoping they don’t make the situation worse, too.

Your customers are watching and feeling the same way. So dealing with that customer’s behavior diplomatically will set your other customers at ease.

I had one customer bait me with the “asking questions/arguing with the answers” thing. It was hugely annoying. But I didn’t really get that he was doing that. I was just determined to turn him around with my sincerity and my passion for my work.

In my innocence, this turned out to be the perfect ploy. Every time he said something pissy about my motivations, I answered with genuine conviction about what I was doing. I was genuinely puzzled by his behavior, and kept my responses thoughtful and calm.

He just kept it up–til his wife came looking for him.

She instantly recognized what he was doing. (Evidently, this is what he did for fun at craft shows.) She said in an exasperated tone, “Oh for godsake, leave that poor artist alone! Why do you act this way?!”

She glared at him til he sheepishly hulked out of my booth, and then said to me, “I’m so sorry, he does this all the time!” Her voice drifted back to me as they walked down the aisle, “If you don’t quit treating people like that, I’m leaving you home next time!”

I admit I am such a small person, I found this extremely gratifying. But what gratified me even more was what happened next.

A browser nearby came in and said, “Wow! You really held your temper with that old coot! I’m impressed!” And promptly began shopping in my booth.

Then there’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way. I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends.

Well, there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”

But never in your business place. Never where you are trying to earn your living. NEVER in front of your customers.

I had a “friend” visit me at a show and act this way–it was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend. And I called him on his behavior on the spot. I said something like, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

It worked. He mumbled an apology, he made some effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

With a customer I don’t know, I would use the “innocently passionate” ploy I used with the first gentlemen. It seems to work really well! They will be baffled when they just can’t get a rise out of you.

And then there is the scenario that really happened to me this summer at a big show–another artist confronted me in my booth, screaming at me for some perceived insult and behaving in a threatening manner.

I still don’t feel like I handled this perfectly, though in hindsight, I didn’t handle it badly, either. It was fortunate that it was before show hours, so no customers were around. But unfortunately, I was alone in the tent and feared for my safety.

What I did right was I stayed reasonably calm. (In hindsight, I should have stayed even calmer.)

I tried to reason with the person (which does not work with a bully or baiter, so in hindsight, I should not have even engaged him at all.)

I asked him to step back–his face was three inches from mine–and he refused. (In hindsight, I should have stepped away and not stood my ground nor let him get that close to me, even if it meant me having to leave my booth.)

I asked him to leave, and he refused. (I’m wondering if, after he did leave, I should have called the security people.)

I honestly can’t remember how it ended, whether he finally stomped away or whether I finally fled to the fair office.

Although this person was clearly in the wrong and I still feel indignant about it, I should have recalled my Impact/Model Mugging training. I’ve taken workshops from this organization’s Boston chapter and I recommend them highly. What composure I maintained was due to those workshops.

The training teaches you to identify potentially dangerous situations, and helps you respond appropriately. In this case, staying calm and placating the person threatening (“I don’t want any trouble. We can talk about this later, but not now.”) But not actively engaging them or trying to reason with them. Keeping my distance (holding out my hands and saying, “Stay back!” firmly, moving away if he moved closer.) Leaving the scene as soon as I could get away (and reporting the incident to the fair office and security immediately, instead of staying in my booth.)

In this case, I felt conflicted as tent captain, feeling I was called upon to “stand my ground” and “deal with the person.” I was lucky, because I was wrong. And I won’t make that mistake again.

In the case where someone is behaving in a way that is threatening and frightening, your first priority is to protect yourself and get to a place of safety. Don’t try to salvage your dignity, do not respond in kind or in anger, do not turn your back on them.

This is an extreme example, and you may never encounter this. But having a strategy in mind goes a long way to preparing yourself in the event it does happen. And knowing you are prepared goes a long way to helping you stay calm and in the moment.

Why do some people do this?

Again, the question to ask is, what do they get from this? What is their pay-off?

It’s a game to see if they can get you to lose control. Then they can play innocent and leave you looking foolish. (“Hey, I was only joking, geez!”) It makes them feel powerful to be able to manipulate people’s emotions. Playing into their hands only encourages them.

And as artists, with our soul’s work out there for all to see and make fun of, we are vulnerable targets.

Just remember why we are targets.

Because as artists at a show or other public venues, we’re showing we have the guts and the determination to not only make our work, but to get it out there where the world can see it. Maybe for the world to buy it.

We take real risks, we take huge risks by investing in that show, by schlepping our work and our booth across the country, and offering it up for others to look at, to judge, and hopefully, to buy. Maybe some of us only make enough to make a car payment or two, but some of us help support our families with our work, put our kids through college, put a roof over our heads and food on the table.

We truly lay it on the line.

Who’s the brave person in this dynamic? Uh-huh. That’s you, baby.

And who’s the coward in this dynamic? Uh-huh. Not you.

Remember that when someone is trying to get your goat.

And remember this, too. A boss told me years ago, “If someone is out to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.” It was good advice 30 years ago, and it’s still good advice today.

And if you do find goat-getter is in your booth, get him outta there!

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GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #5: The Design Diva

Fifth in a series about how to get certain people out of your booth at art and craft shows.

This one is going to be odd, but if you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll be nodding your head. (Or holding it in your hands or tearing your hair out.)

It’s a special type of customer. The picky, picky customer. The contessa of custom work.

The Design Diva.

It’s the person who love, love, loves your work, and wants to own a piece. But nothing you have on hand really suits. It has to be a special piece. It has to be custom. It has to be….

Micromanaged to within an inch of its life.

If you aren’t careful, this faux customer will take up tons of your time and energy, designing that special piece–yet you will never close the sale.

Some custom work and special orders are easy. The customer wants this necklace, but in a longer length. Or this wall hanging, but a bit bigger to fit a special niche. Orders like these don’t require a lot of fussing.

Some custom orders are necessarily more involved. You’re going to be making something you’ve never done before–a brand new animal totem, or a piece larger than you ever attempted before. Some customers have never placed a custom order before, or they may not be familiar with you. Or it’s a lot more money than they are used to spending. More attention and hand-holding is necessary.

But there are some custom orders that are almost doomed to fail before they even start. It’s not you. It’s not the project.

It’s the Design Diva.

I’m talking about the faux customer who has you absolutely convinced that you have been commissioned to make a fabulous piece of art for them–who then drives you crazy with all the details they want to be in control of. The process drags on for months, long past the point where you can ever hope to profit from it.

Or they drop off the face of the earth after they leave your booth.

Or they cancel the order when you make your first follow-up call.

This customer actually envisions herself as the creative genius behind the work. She knows exactly how it will look, down to the precise size and shape and color.

You, with your technical skill and tools and materials, are simply the working stiff that will bring this imagined piece into the world.

IF the Design Diva actually ends up buying the work, it would be some solace. But sadly, most of these over-managed orders end up going nowhere.

The worst thing about these people is, they get your engine going about the big sale you are going to make. They can also suck up huge amounts of your time and your energy. You may not be able to take care of other would-be customers in your booth, trying to close this “big sale”.

We all go out window shopping, and it’s fine for customers to window shop in our booths. But this goes way, way beyond that.

Why would someone do this to an unsuspecting artist?

The question to ask is, what’s in it for them?

They get to play art patron. They get to be “Lady Bountiful” for a day. They get to have the undivided attention of a talented artist (you), eating out of their hand and hanging on every word about their artistic sensitivities, their lovely collection, their beautiful home.

It’s an exquisitely powerful position for someone to hold. And I suspect that some of these people are shadow artists, themselves.

Here are a few sad stories about Design Divas.

One customer approached me at a show for a three-piece wall hanging project. We worked out the idea. We talked for a long, long, time. I did not collect a deposit. She was so nice! I was thrilled to have such a big order to work on.

After the show, I sent her a design, fabric swatches and a proposal. When I didn’t hear from her, I called. That’s when I found out she’d found another option for that wall space from an artist in the next tent at the show. Thirty feet from my booth, she found a cheaper solution to her decorating dilemma.

She could have doubled back and tell me she’d changed her mind. She could have called. But she didn’t–because she had nothing invested in the process and nothing to lose. If I’d had a deposit, she would at least have called to make sure I didn’t cash the check.

Another buyer at a wholesale show came back to my booth three times to admire my work. He was a very pleasant gentleman, and eager to tell me about his fabulous multi-niched business. He placed a huge order for wall hangings, and wanted to buy a ton of jewelry, too.

But oddly, he could never find his wife to complete the order. After the show, when I called to confirm a ship date, I was told that though he was part-owner of the store, he was not the buyer. It sort of sounded like he did this a lot, too. Apparently, he enjoyed pretending he was. (At least he hadn’t ordered custom work.)

It’s actually a good strategy to get people talking about your work in their home or store.  The thing is, at some point, they have to commit to actually buying your work for it to actually be in their home or store.  Design Divas stretch out the talking, and never really get around to the buying.

Some hints that you are dealing with a design diva.

It’s not really about your art. It’s about their home. You hear more about the room it’s going into than anything else.

It’s not really about your work. It’s about the other stuff they have. You hear more about the other fabulous objets d’art the collector has already acquired than about yours.

It’s not really about you, the artist. It’s about them, the art patron. You hear more about the collector herself than you the artist. And why are they spending so much time talking about themselves, trying to impress you? Real collectors gather as much information about you, the artist, as they can. Because the stories about you are the ones they’re going to be sharing with their friends and guests when they come see your lovely work in the collector’s home.

Your artistic vision isn’t quite…quite. The way you do it isn’t quite good enough. There will be many, many changes and alterations along the way. The shade of rust you pick is a little off. It needs to be a wee bit bigger. Oh, and can you add some stuff over here?

It’s not really up to them. There is a mysterious husband who has to be consulted before anything is final, and he’ll probably say yes, but he never appears or can be contacted at the show. (Trust me, when he is finally found, the answer is always “no”…)

It just takes too long. Long after the order is recorded, the terms are discussed and it’s time for this customer to move on, they’re staying on way too long. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like they know they’ve got a big one on the line–you! And they’re having too much fun to let you go.

How can you protect yourself against these folks? It’s really hard, because they look so much like real customers. But here are some strategies:

Maintain control. For example, if you start to feel like you are simply a seamstress-for-hire instead of an artist, you can refuse to play the game. Put on your artist hat, and have confidence in your skills. “This sounds more like ‘work-for-hire’. Maybe you would be happier with a seamstress who can follow your exact specifications instead. Here’s the name of a good one near you.”

Get the OK from everyone involved. If they start deferring their final purchasing to some other person, stand down. You are either not dealing with the actual decision-maker, or the customer is starting to realize that significant “other” is probably going to say “no”–and that’s going to be embarrassing for everyone concerned. In fact, it’s so embarrassing, they won’t tell you that to your face. They’ll wait til you call for the next payment and tell you it’s all off. Get firm. Don’t go any further until you have the decision-maker in on the buy, too.

Put all your terms for custom/special orders in writing! Have your terms for custom work ready. And if you are not familiar with the customer,or you start getting those odd vibes, stick to your terms like glue. You can always relax your terms as you get buyer compliance.

Make it clear you charge a non-refundable design fee. Some people make it a percentage of the total order amount, others make it a flat fee–$50, $100, depending on how much work you anticipate putting into it.

Decide how many times you are willing to tweak the design to satisfy the customer. (Portrait painters have a hard time with this, especially when they are just starting out and their reputations aren’t “big enough” to command respect.) One or two tweaks should be all that is needed. More than that, accept the fact you will never come up with a design the customer will be happy with. You may want to charge for extra re-designs (beyond one or two) to discourage this.

Decide how much money you need as a deposit. 50% down, 50% at time of completion is an option.

At wholesale shows, many craftspeople simply refuse to take custom orders on new accounts. Changing a bead color here or there is one thing. Creating a whole new design you might not be able to sell anywhere else if the order falls through is another.

And remember…it’s okay to qualify your buyers–even retail buyers! Get references. Ask if they’ve commissioned work from artists before, and check them out. I did this at a new show for a custom order I took from a very nice couple. They actually offered the other artist’s name as a reference, and the artist gave them a rave review. (See how the buyers were trying to reassure me?) Everything went beautifully.Make them step up to the plate. If you feel like everything is sliding away, our first reaction is usually to work frantically harder to close the sale. But I’m learning to step back and think, “I think I need to see a commitment from you. Prove to me how badly you want my work!” Don’t draw up sketches or send swatches until you have money in hand.

Defer the big decision til after the show. This one is tricky, especially if you’re doing a show far from home. But if you’re getting that bad feeling about the whole transaction, and it’s a biggie, better to have it come apart later than to waste another precious minute of booth time. Arrange for the prospective customer to come for a studio visit. Or arrange for you about the project to consult in their home (paid, of course.)

Know when to fold. If you suspect you have a customer who will never be pleased, throw in the towel. Return as much of the deposit/payments as you can (keeping all the work you’ve already produced for them, of course) and refer them to someone else. (Preferably another artist you don’t like.)

Even with all these protections in place, however, all the person has to say is “My husband is a lawyer” (like one customer did) and you know this is a battle you are going to lose. Even if you are right, do you really have the time, the energy, the resources and the money to pursue this?

Truth be told, I still get tripped up by people like this. It’s impossible to close all the loopholes.

But f I can save you from one Design Diva, this column will not have been in vain.

Remember, your audience LOVES your work. They WANT to have it. They would not dream of jerking you around just to make themselves feel more important–because then you would never sell to them again.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, qualifying buyers, selling, shows, time management

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #4: He-e-e-ere’s Eeyore!

Fourth in a series of how to get certain people out of your booth at a craft show.

I know all my show buddies are going to laugh themselves to death at this one. Could it be because I tend to do this? oooooh nooooo…..

It’s the person who hangs out in your booth–often another artist–who is sad.

Sad ,sad, sad. And they are going to tell you about it. And nothing is going to stop them.

The show isn’t going well. The management is giving them a hard time. They forgot to pack enough light bulbs. They can’t find their favorite sweater. Their feet hurt. Their mother died. Their dog died. You get the idea.

The ones I hate the most have a wistful, sad, breathless little voice to go with the tale of woe.

This is not the person who, in the course of chatting or catching up, simply mentions the ups and downs in their life of the last few months. This is the person who goes on and on and on, without break, without end, without stopping to even inhale, it seems. A never ending tale of woe and grief.

In your booth.

At the show.

Your natural tendency is to try to cheer up this person. Don’t do it! Doesn’t work. Ain’t gonna happen. The person determined to hang out and complain in your booth has had years of practice doing this. It’s how they get what they need from people. You can’t change that in a few minutes.

Look, I whine. You whine. We all do a little whining. Shows are hard. Really, really hard! Set-up is brutal, and sometimes it’s just not a good show.

The thing is, there’s a time and a place for whining. During the show is not the time. And parking yourself in someone else’s booth is not the place. Parking yourself in someone else’s booth while there are customers around is inexcusable.

You, me, our fellow craftspoeple, have paid hundreds–no, thousands–of dollars to be at this show. The last thing I want, after creating an atmosphere of passion and excitement and happiness, is for a Gloomy Gus to take up residence in my booth.

Do you really have time for this? I don’t.

I’ve tried a few different diversions, with some success. If someone tries this during set-up, I let them go on for a few minutes. (Especially if they’re willing to listen to my tale of woe! You know I’m big on reciprocity.)

Then I interrupt with, “I am really sorry you are in such a hard place right now. Unfortunately, I have a small crisis going on here, and I simply have to take care it. Can we meet up later and have a cup of coffee?” (For bigger woes, a bottle of wine.)

This is especially good for someone you’d like to maintain relations with. You acknowledge their pain, but defer it to another time.

A tactic that’s been used effectively on moi goes something like this:

I’m hanging out in a friend’s booth, (never while a customer is there, thank goodness–I have SOME limits!) rambling on about how hard life is for me, when I notice that Bonnie or Mark or Amy is staring at me with huge, round, unblinking eyes and a trembling lower lip. When I wind down, they say in a soothing voice, “There, there, Eeyore!”

I know it’s time to stop. But I think this only works with people you love who are willing to take the hint.

I’m getting better. Sometimes I just catch myself doing it, clap my hands over my mouth, mumble, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” and flee. I try to buy them a beer after the show, too. Lots and lots of beer.

There are other people…oh, let’s just call them noodges! I don’t really care if I maintain relations with them. In fact, they probably aren’t your friend. You are simply a captive audience to them. You know who they are! It gets harder to move them on without getting rude. Still, if there are customers in the booth, it’s worth treating them nicely just so customers don’t see your dark side.

Other than shoo this person out of the booth with promises of calling them after the show (did you see that one coming?), I’m still looking for the perfect one-liner. I’m thinking it might run along these lines: “Listen, here’s the number of my therapist–she’s not cheap, but she’s really good! And she says I have to stop trying to help other people myself, or she’ll take me to court for practicing without a license.”

Oh, how about this one? “Hey, the liquor store just called for you; they want their ‘whine’ back!”

Just kidding on that one. Customers may laugh if you get sarcastic, but no one really feels comfortable with it. They fear that, if they slip up, they’ll be the one to feel your tongue-lashing next.

Seriously, get these people out of your booth before they bring you, and your customers, down, down, down. If they need a hug, give it to ‘em. But move them on.

And don’t be one, either.

Okay, so what if the sad person is a customer?

That’s a hard one. But here’s an insight: I treat them like the people who want something for free.

Because, in essence, that is what they want–your time, and your sympathy, during what is a work period for you.

Sometimes, like the free milk people, I give them something.

I keep the names of some self-help books I’ve enjoyed, and jot them down on one of my postcards. I refer them to my blog, if their issue is something I’ve dealt with there. I offer to put them in contact with people who have helped me with similar situations.

And often, I talk about how making my art has helped me. And how some people have actually bought my work to help themselves, as talismans to remind themselves how powerful they really are.

I hope I don’t sound like friends and customers can’t come and talk to me about the big stuff in my booth. Gosh, sometimes we bond so much, we all end up crying! That’s what art does sometimes–opens our hearts up and empties our tears, so something healing and restorative can begin.

But the thing is, in almost every case, these sad people are not really customers.

By that I mean, maybe they are at the show, and they are not artists. They look like shoppers.

But they rarely buy anything, they never bring their friends to buy, they never promote your work in any way. It’s always about them. They are simply looking for an ear, and they are very good at finding captive audiences.

Don’t let them trap you in your booth!

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