I did some market research this weekend, and threw in a little retail therapy to boot. I went shopping with a friend at a small local craft fair.
My friend is just starting out with a product she wants to make. I wanted her to walk the show with a different filter in mind–to look at how booths were set up, how product was displayed, and how people acted in their booths.
It was an eye-opener.
Afterwards we went out for coffee and discussed our experiences.
There were glaring omissions in the booth set-up, display, lighting areas.
But mostly, people had no idea how to sell their work.
I was surprised how little lighting was used. It made me realize that electricity is probably not even offered at most of the smaller fairs like this one. Someone had set up a couple of clamp-on lights, but they were the kind you use for task lighting at home. They were oversized, top-heavy, falling down into the display, and not putting out enough light to produce much effect. The hall was bright, so the lights would mostly have been for drama.
But it made me think how to use what electricity I’ll have at these smaller shows to the best effect.
I was also surprised how poorly delineated most of the booth spaces were. Some people were sharing booths, but many simply looked like they were sharing. That is, it was hard to tell where one booth left off and another vendor’s space started. It was embarrassing to ask a question of someone seated behind a table, and have them glare at me and say, “That’s not MY stuff, ask HIM!” with an angry nod to their more popular neighbor.
That made me realize that even a very modest “walling” of my booth will have a huge effect. The lack of a fully walled booth will not hurt me much at this kind of show. I’ll think of other ways to create a secluded environment in my space.
I don’t think any of the booths had any kind of flooring, and in this environment, that was not detrimental.
People seemed to have either too much display stuff, or too little. Too little–product simply laid out on a plain table top, like a flea market. Too much–we couldn’t tell what was product and what was display! As an example we didn’t actually see at the show, if I see ten different kinds of wooden drying racks with mittens pinned to them, I would like to know instantly if mittens are being sold, or drying racks. Or if you are actually selling the clips holding the mittens to the drying racks. Or you are selling a decorative item which consists of a faux drying rack with fake mittens…..
I noticed most booths had very little signage, or poorly utilized signage. One person had a tiny booth filled with her goods–too filled, as there was only room for one person at a time to actually be in the space. (And once you were in there, you were keenly aware of other people behind you waiting for you to leave so they could look, too.) No pricing anywhere. When I finally asked how much an item was, the artist pointed to a handwritten sign stuck off the the side with the price of everything in the booth carefully listed on it. Like I’m going to stand in the booth skimming the list looking for the item I’m thinking of with that crowd muttering behind me….
I realize I will be a totally new vendor at the smaller retail shows I’m doing, with a brand new audience. I must be sure everything is clearly priced, and that my signage quickly tells my story.
I saw the person who makes “a little bit of everything”, including some items that were obviously buy-sell–which inadvertently made me question everything else in her booth.
I realize that, though I have no idea which of my “lines” will appeal the most at my upcoming shows, it will still be better to streamline them into a few cohesive lines. Or to group things in a way that makes sense and hangs together, yet still offers enough variety and choice.
Most of the vendors would stare at us as we shopped. You could almost hear their thoughts over the din of the crowd: “Buy something buy something buy something oh please dear god BUY SOMETHING!!” The men were the worst–they would stand there either with their ams folded or their hands in their pockets, staring or talking nonstop.
But not saying the things that would encourage us to buy.
I started a little experiment. I actually started selling stuff for them.
“You have to try this cream!” I exclaimed to my friend. “I’ve been using it for years. It is absolutely the only thing I’ve found that works on my dry feet.” I went over the things I liked about it. I have to tell you, the packaging on this stuff looks like it was designed by the tractor company, John Deere. There is no schmoozing of the product in the packaging or anything. But I buy it because I know and like the vendor and because it works. Slowly, a small crowd formed around us. My friend was impressed with my testimonial, and bought some herself.
I met up with another friend the next day, and she said that show is typical of “shows in Keene.” In Keene, she says, “It’s all about price.” People in Keene just won’t spend money.Well, I have been in some homes in Keene over the years (!!!) and I’m here to tell you, people here have just as much money to spend, and inclination to do so, as people anywhere else.
We looked at some beautiful wood boxes, which my friend collects. She admired one square box that turned out to be a sort of night light or lantern. But not until she’d decided to buy it did the guy open it and show her there were multiple panels inside that allowed her to change the scene.
And she had nearly walked out of the show before I convinced her she really should go back to that guy’s booth and look again at his boxes. She almost never knew about those panels.
She almost bought nothing at all, thought she clearly loved the work.
Because I knew how much she wanted those bowls, I urged her to go back. And she ended up spending a nice chunk of change in that booth.
So what was missing for that guy to sell his bowls at that show? I’m sure the guy is convinced that people in Keene just won’t spend money on nice wood bowls.
In fact, my friend I was shopping with had plenty of money to spend, and wanted to do so. She collects wooden boxes, fercryinoutloud.
But she had talked herself out of buying one. She has “enough”, she “doesn’t need more”. Just what we all tell ourselves when confronted with something we love.
People, it’s not about the price.
I think if you have a remarkable product, and if you price it appropriately, and if you display it nicely, and are able to talk about it intelligently, you can sell it.
My friend needed to have that box pitched to her so she could give herself permission to buy it. She needed someone to tell her that it’s okay to collect boxes. It’s okay to love them. It’s okay to enjoy them. It’s okay to display them. It’s okay to show them to your friends! Heck, I didn’t even know she HAD any wood boxes. I’ve never seen them. (They’re all upstairs in the family’s private quarters, it turns out.)Let me pick on this wood box guy. Because he had a nice product at decent prices.
If I were him…..
Instead of displaying a ton of boxes and bowls on plain lattice shelving, I’d set aside at least one section of a wall for a few beautiful display shelves–NOT unfinished pine, which made the boxes look like cheap pine, too.
I’d put my best pieces here, including the lantern. I’d make it look like it was someone’s private collection of beautiful handmade wood bowls and boxes (which, just coincidentally, all happen to be made by “moi”.) Maybe two or three displays–one for a formal living room, one for a children’s room, or a kitchen.
I bet if he had, my friend would have started thinking, “Wow, that looks beautiful, having all the bowls displayed like that.” And then, “Hmmmm….maybe I could do that in our living room….and another display of my bowls in the kitchen…..?” “Oh, wouldn’t that lantern look nice in my daughter’s bedroom?!” And then…”I could do that, and I would have more display room to buy a few more bowls!”
I’d have a few–a very few–obviously decorative accents–perhaps a few small branches of fir branches, some candlesticks, perhaps a stack of lovely old, well-read children’s books on the “children’s” shelf. The lantern, I’d set up with a light inside, just as it would be used. (If there’s no electricity, I’d get a nine-volt battery and hook it up to a 4-watt light bulb for this purpose.)
I’d have a sign that said “Handcarved lantern–Four gifts in one!” and a little blurb with something like “Perfect gift for that special niece or nephew!” or “Great wedding gift!” or “A housewarming gift they’ll enjoy for years to come!” Maybe even “gift box available!”
I’d either make it very clear there are four panels that are interchangeable, AND they all store neatly inside the lantern when not in use. OR as soon as people seemed hooked on the lantern itself, I’d show them the extra panels. What a finale!
If people still weren’t sure, I’d tell them the story of how my kids always needed a nightlight because they were a little scared of the dark when they were small. But the nightlights were always on the floor in the outlets, and they weren’t very pretty. So I made one that could sit on their table by them at night. (“Oh, my child/niece/grandchild is afraid of the dark, too–this would be perfect!”)
Or if they don’t have little ones, I share the story of how I made one for our familiy for Christmas, but my wife loved it so much, I made a different panel that could be put in after Christmas, with a different theme–and realized we could now use it year-round. (“Hey, this would be one Christmas decoration I wouldn’t have to pack away every year!”)
And how I’d made one for each of our kids, so they’d always remember our Christmases together. (“Hey, I could get one for each of my kids!”
And every year, I’d offer another set of 2 to 4 new panels for people to come back and buy. Perhaps even a few limited editions. (“Get ’em now, because there’s only so many of these.”)
When someone new asks if they are good gifts, I’d be able to say, “Yes, not only do people come back to buy more panels every year, they buy MORE–because the people they gave them to like them so much!”
And I’d have a little gift enclosure card to go with each one, telling them about the little retired guy who used to make these for his grandkids and figured other people might like one for their grandkids, and now you can have one for your grandkids. Or sister, or niece, or friend. With a little contact info so they can order new panels from you, too.
Don’t you just want to run out and buy ten of these?!
And for heaven’s sake, I’m not going to tell you I’m going to be at another show in a week and you can get them from me then. And I’m not going to tell you I have a website, either, until AFTER you’ve purchased it. I want you to buy it NOW. I’ll tell you if you realize you could use more of these as gifts later, you can order more from my website.
To wrap this up, it’s all about how you act in your booth and how you talk about your booth that’s going to turn a show like this around.
Here are some things to think about for your next show:
Figure out a game plan for talking to people. There were people who totally ignored us when we came in the booth, and people who hung on us like lemurs.
Pay attention to business. There were vendors who stopped to take calls on their cell phones while we were waiting for our purchases to be wrapped.
It’s a short show–stay in your booth! Wives left husbands to mind the booth while they went to chat with other vendors–and their husbands knew absolutely nothing about the product.
Be of service to your customers, and help them S*H*O*P. There were vendors who watched as I struggled to look at an item with one hand while holding my purchases and struggling to maneuver with my aircast who never said, “Here, let me hold your packages for you a minute while you shop”, or “Let me help you get that down.”
Listen to your customers. One woman kept trying to sell my friend a doll’s nightgown for a 16″ doll after my friend said her daughter had a 10″ doll, and the vendor had already said she had nothing for a doll that size.
Don’t be afraid to let your customers know you love what you do. Tell us why you love it, and make us love it, too!
Get serious about selling. Your product is simply not going to sell itself, no matter how wonderful it is.
And it IS wonderful, isn’t it?
You know I want it.
Make me buy it!