Today’s Bad Booth topic is a difficult one. Some of you will not even want to consider it, and perhaps some of you can’t. I simply ask you to think about it, because the results are so profound.
Allowing people to touch your work is powerful.
Allowing children to touch your work will move mountains.
Bruce Baker talks about the increase sales you will experience if people can touch your work. His arguments are compelling–people rarely buy something they HAVEN’T touched first, in some way. Catalogs and web shopping sites use compelling descriptions and beautiful images to allow you to “cyber-touch” the items. Think Sundance Catalog.
Even if you have work that is too delicate to touch, he has a few suggestions on how to do that. For example, if you make items of handmade paper, you could have samples, or even business cards, made of the same paper for people to touch.
This gets hard for people who make delicate or expensive items. If you make expensive jewelry, you can’t display it easily or safely outside a case, especially at most shows.
But you should be willing and able to whip out that diamond bracelet instantly, not even waiting til people ask. When you hear that little, “oooooh..!” sound people make when something catches their eye, that’s your cue. Get it out and into their hands.
Because giving people–especially children–permission to touch something is so empowering for your customers, I urge you to find some way to make that happen.
I am fortunate the material I work with is strong and durable. When people come in my booth, I “let them land”, as Bruce says. I give them a moment to take a breath, look around, and see if the work is something they’re interested in.
The minute I see something engage their interest, I say, “It’s okay to touch!”
You cannot believe the response.
There is a look of disbelief and astonishment. And then, most people LAUGH.
It’s a laugh of relief. (Especially since most people have sneaked in a little touch already.) And they always say, “Thank you!” Many comment that they rarely hear artists say that.
They relax. And they start shopping in earnest.
We are humans. We explore our world through all our senses. But the way we really get to discover our environment is with our hands, through touching.
We stroke velvet, we touch polished wood surfaces, we pick up sparkley things. We pick up objects to feel their heft, to judge what their made of. We shake things to see if they rattle, or jostle them to hear them jangle.
It puts me in mind of our hunter-gatherer ancestors on the great plains. We pick through the roots and grubs and berries, and eventually someone (a woman, I bet) picks up a pretty pebble instead, and says, “Hey, nice rock!” (This is also my theory about why women love beads so much.)
It is such compelling behavior that when people are in situations where they know they shouldn’t touch, they actually put their hands behind their back. Or hug themselves to contain their hands. Or put their hands in their pockets. They are physically restraining themselves from touching, because “don’t touch” goes against our very nature.
So we understand why we should find a way for our customers to touch. But why kids? Does that garner us more sales?
My daughter often assists me at shows, and she’s a damn good observer of human nature. She’s noted that people with children in tow at shows, especially young children, are rarely actually shopping. They are simply out and about with kids. Even if they want to shop, the kids usually don’t let them anyway.
So why should we care if children can touch, if it isn’t even going to result in a sale?
Because showing people that you understand the behavior creates a loving environment in your booth.
And kids are the ones who are constantly being yelled at for touching.
Sometimes I think our culture is a little too hard on kids. It’s easy to see the ways we pander too much to kids. But often we expect kids to be little adults–and they’re not. They are little people, though. As Oprah says, little people without as much life experience as grown-ups.
The “don’t touch” rule is especially hard on them. It’s like telling them “don’t look!” or “don’t listen!”
So I find ways to let them touch.
Depending on their age, I just ask if they’d like to hold a horse (I keep a little hand-held sculpture handy for this). Or tell them if they are gentle, they may touch my artwork. Or if they are respectful of my work, they may touch it.
The atmosphere in my booth instantly relaxes and mellows.
The parents are relieved and grateful their kids aren’t going to get into trouble.
I get to tell the kids a little bit about my work.
Other customers in the booth–who are shopping–enjoy the vibe, too. Nobody likes misbehaving children. But no one likes to listen to someone yelling, either.
And the other customers get to listen to what I have to say about my work without talking to me directly until they’re ready. Often, after the family leaves, other customers comment on how kind I’ve been.
But I get rewarded in other ways, too. I get the funny stories. Last week at the Fair, I asked a very young child if he would like to hold one of my horses. He gazed at me solemnly with huge eyes, then softly asked, “Does he make a noise?”
I’ve come to realize that, if you look around my booth, every single artifact, every single horse, bear, stone, bone, shell, artifact (except for the ones that got big and became sculptures) can fit in your hand.
And this, I think, is no coincidence. I think from the very beginning,I knew how important it would be for my audience to touch, and hold, my work.