Booth signage fills an important role in your sales process. When people are shopping, they want you to be aware they are there, and to acknowledge them. But then they want to be left alone to shop.
When they are ready to be sold to, they let you know by asking a question. That’s their signal that you can start selling.
Bruce Baker describes this little dance of engagement perfectly. His take on how to be a good dance partner is itself is worth the entire cost of the CD or seminar. You must leave people alone to shop until they are ready. Otherwise, you will simply come across as a pushy salesperson rather than an artist who has something lovely to sell.
Often this “signal to talk” starts with a question about the work itself. If you are busy with another customer, a sign can keep them engaged until you can speak to them yourself. Or the question can be about something in the sign itself.
A customer looking at your work and reading your signs is deeply engaged in your work. It’s like a double whammy.
WHAT SHOULD A SIGN SAY?
Price is the first and most obvious choice, especially if you have something small or delicate or a jillion of something and can’t individually price them. Also, pricing can give you a chance to talk about the piece. “$350” is one sign choice. “An original award-winning design by Lori–Handknit cardigan made with handspun merino and silk yarn $350” is another.
The most attention-getting is “New!” Part of our hard-wired genetic heritage is a love of novelty. We love “new”! Your regular customers love to check out your new work. Your new customers like to see that you’re keeping your designs fresh.
My favorite sign is my artist statement. It gives people people a chance to look past the work to the first story behind it–the story about what it is and why I make it.
Tell the story behind a certain pattern or piece–how you came to make it, or who or what inspired you to design it, why it’s special. Tell about a new technique you’re using.
One last reason to use a sign: When you simply can’t stand to explain something one more time. If you’ve explained something a billion times, and just can’t bear to say it again, put it on a sign for people to read. Or print up a little card to give to people.
I never thought I would tire of telling people how I make polymer clay look like ivory. But one day in my booth, four people in a row asked me that exact same question. They were each simply engaged in looking at my work, and none of them heard the others asking.
Having to repeat it four times in four minutes was crazy-making. I almost said to the fourth person, “Weren’t you listening?!!” as if she were my teenager.
I call it the Salad Dressing Principle. When I was a waitress in my dad’s restaurant, I would get a group of people ordering. And every single person would ask what kind of salad dressing we had. No one listened to the choices until it was their turn to order. Thank God we only had three choices. (We were a very informal restaurant and this was 40 years ago.) French, thousand island, vinegar and oil. But if there were six people at the table, I would have to recite those damn salad dressings at least six times. More, if someone interrupted to say, “I’ve changed my mind. Can I have the vinegar and oil, too?”
I know it’s human nature–I do it, too! But it IS annoying. And annoyed is not how you want to feel when you are talking to potential collectors about your work.
I suddenly remembered that my gift enclosure cards had a little explanation about my faux ivory. The next person that asked, I whipped out the card and said, “Here’s a little card I wrote that explains that for you. And you can keep that!” Whew!
SIGN DO’S AND DON’TS
Please, please, please check the spelling on any signs you put in your booth. Unless your “persona” is the quaint little backwoods craftsperson with no “larnin'”. Even that wears thin.
Signs are supposed to communicate with your customer when they aren’t ready, or can’t, talk to YOU. Poor spelling and bad grammar get in the way of that.
There’s an old story about a business owner who deliberately misspells a word on a sign outside his store. People passing by stop in to tell him–and he ends up selling stuff to them. I don’t buy that. (ha! Pun intended.)
I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything to a person who talks to me only to tell me I’ve made a mistake. I think that’s because it’s in the same category as the people who compliment your work, then leave. They may like your work, but not enough to buy it. Paying you a compliment is literally that–they “pay” you with a compliment and then they feel comfortable about moving on to the next booth.
In the same way, people who point out a mistake in your set-up or signage (“You forgot to price this!”) feel they have “paid” you by “helping”, too. And then they are free to leave.
So unless you actually are able to turn such exchanges into real sales, skip the sly spelling errors.
BIG FONT. BIG, BIG FONT
As we age, our eyes don’t focus as easily. Small type and sans serif type get harder to read. Even if you think you are only marketing to young indie girls, their grandmothers may be shopping for a teen granddaughter. Use big fonts for your signage.
POINTS OFF FOR BAD PENMANSHIP
If you have lovely handwriting, by all means, handwrite your signs. If not, don’t. If you really don’t have a computer and printer handy, buy a set of alphabet rubber stamps. It can be charming. Really!
With signs, as with many things in life, you can have too much of a good thing.
The worst sign I ever saw was at a prestigious fine craft show. It was a sheet of paper with narrow margins, covered with a full page of unbroken type. No paragraphs, no breaks. The font was small–less than 12 pts. The writing was convoluted and rambling.
It was a big show, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work, and though I was younger, I still had trouble reading that sign. I tried to read it four times and kept losing my place. I finally gave up.
Then I was embarrassed that I couldn’t READ it, so I left the booth.
You can also have too many signs.
I tend to oversign–I make up signs for EVERYTHING. Then take them out while setting up my booth.
In this photo of my booth at the 2006 League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, you can see the one big sign I used. This had the entire article featuring my work that appeared in the April 2006 issue of AmericanStyle magazine. I have smaller signs that aren’t as visible in the photo. Normally I’d also have at least my artist statement up, too. But with such a big sign, with so much information, I didn’t want to add a lot more verbiage in the booth.
(see link above for bigger picture)
You should have just enough signage to enhance your WORK. Otherwise, you have the effect of some sort of crafter’s Galactic Encyclopedia in your booth. Educational, perhaps. But not lucrative.
WHAT’S MY SIGN STYLE?
Just like your display and booth style, keep your sign style aligned with your design style. My! Alliteration at work. If your work is whimsical, get playful. If your work is formal, avoid the cutesy.
And just like your other booth features, avoid going overboard. We can often get caught up in creating a total booth environment. Everything becomes part of the “show”. A fellow artist’s husband calls this phenomenon “The Lorna Show”. IF THIS WORKS FOR YOU–if your total environment actually produces sales–then keep it.
But watch out for the edutainment factor at shows. People are increasingly seeing craft shows as educational and entertaining–but not necessarily places for serious shopping. We want to make it enjoyable for our customers, but we want them to B*U*Y, too. Otherwise, we can’t afford to keep coming.
If you see that people come in for “The (your name here) Show” and then, fully entertained, feel free to leave without buying something, trim it down.
Because, as I’ve said in every other essay on booth design, it’s gotta be about the WORK. It’s gotta be about selling the work. Your booth either supports sales of your work, or distracts from selling your work.
Find the balance point, and work it.