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?

No….and yes.

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.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

6 thoughts on “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #5: Don’t Touch!”

  1. Letting children be able to handle things is a good idea. Me personally, I have butterfingers. My hands always seem to shake more when I’m looking at an item of great cost or that has a sign nearby along the lines of “You break it, you buy it!” or “Watch your kids.” I have been lucky so far as to never break anything, but those people looking at me ever so cautiously as I examine an item I may purchase makes me not want to buy. The nicer the people are at the booth, the harder I find (and many people feel this way too) it is to walk away without buying something. It’s as though I owe them something for their hospitality.


  2. Last week at the Fair, Luann, we were startled by one booth with little yellow signs all over: “do not touch artwork.” It was very offputting. The work was delicate and cloth and I could see where grimy finger would be a serious concern. But you are so right, the little (yelling) signs distracted from the work and made me not want to stay and make a connection. (Oh, and “all over” is just my reaction. There were only a couple but they were yellow and red in a booth with mostly earth tones. They yelled.)I came home with one of your pieces. After I had put it back down, you encouraged me to “put it on again.” As a long time reader of your blog, I had come to the show with the intent of going home with “a Luann Udell” but your sales skills certainly made it easy.


  3. Beth, I’m delighted and honored you are now a collector of my work. Thank you!
    My sales skill is simply a function of me striving to be totally in tune with why I make my art–and allowing you to form a very personal connection with it. I really try to be honest and grounded with my work, especially in my booth. I’m glad you felt that, too.


  4. Thank you for sharing this Luann. I am going to make an effort to come up with some handmade paper/pressed flower art creations that are more “touchable”. I for one am one of those people who absolutely can’t resist a touch (even as I’m telling my children not to touch – isn’t that terrible!)


  5. I work in textile, the ultimate in touchable…when I sell hand dyed cloth, I put a sign up saying, please touch. Some people read it as ‘don’t touch’, so when I tell them it’s okay to stroke the fabric, they giggle…
    Really, though, I’m disappointed if people don’t want to touch my work; touch is part of its meaning.


  6. This is SO important! And being respectful of children can result in sales. When I am working a show as a vendor, I almost always have one or more of my kids with me to help (they are BIG helpers). They like to take turns wandering around to see what else is there, and believe me, if another vendor is rude to them or ignores them, it definitely impacts whether or not I even bother to visit the booth, much less make a purchase. The ones who engage with the kids and treat them like people are likely to inspire the kids to want something MORE from their booth, and I like to buy them a little something as a thank you for being such a great help. (The last show we did together, they each got a lovely handcrafted bracelet, because the artist was so sweet to them, AND did beautiful work.)


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