GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #22: Say Something!

Here’s something else that drove me nuts at the show:

Vendors just don’t know what to do or say when someone is in their booth or looking at their work.

You see something that catches your eye and approach the booth. The person usually says hello. Then….silence.

You are aware of their gaze upon you as you browse. You can almost feel it. You can almost hear it: “Please, please, please, please by something!!!”

It is simply excruciating to shop when someone is staring at you, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to buy something. I feel like a mouse being watched by a very hungry cat.

At one small show I attended, the traffic was so slow, I could feel an entire roomful of craftspeople staring at me as I made the rounds of their tables. I almost fled.

The opposite is also irritating. The person starts asking silly questions: “How are you?” “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Are you enjoying the show?”

I’m such a crab. I hate questions like this when I’m trying to look at stuff. It’s like we’re both evading what’s really going on–“I’m shopping here!”–and pretending we’re actually making small talk at a party.

Or the vendor starts answering questions you haven’t even asked yet. You may be mildly interested in the product and you are instantly subjected to a full-fledged sales pitch.

People with this approach are caught in the same kind of thinking as “too much stuff”–trying to make something for everyone. In this case, they’re providing too much verbiage, hoping something they say will convince you to buy.

But the connection has to come first, not the reasons to buy.

You need to find a happy medium between babbling and stony silence.

I think this is also why I hate the standard craft fair “booth” set-up–the craftsperson sets up a standard table (that’s the perfect height for eating but a dismal height for shopping) and plunks themselves into a chair behind it. Both seller and buyer feel trapped into unnatural roles. And the model feels too much like a flea market. (Though, I bet with a little finesse, you would even buy more at a flea market if sellers were more savvy.)

Please, please, go buy Bruce Baker’s CD series on how to sell your work. He has such excellent insights into the sales process, the dynamic, the give-and-take you can learn with a little practice.

I’m not perfect at it. I still stumble and find myself caught short. I can’t close every sale easily.

But at least I’m not staring at people as they browse my booth as if they were my last meal.

Until your CD arrives, here are some tips:

1) Greet your customers after they settle into your booth–not as they’re walking in. Let them get their bearings first. You don’t greet guests to your home as they’re getting out of their car. You let them finish that argument with their spouse, gather their stuff, straighten their clothing, check their mirror for spinach in their teeth, and get to the front door. Then you greet them and bid them welcome. They need that little moment to change gears. Let customers have that tiny moment, too.
2) Say something neutral that doesn’t require a yes-or-no answer. What does every seller say? “Can I help you?” And what does every customer say? “No thanks, just looking.” Ow! You just gave your customer a chance to say no.

Try this instead: “IF I can help you, just let me know.” Or, “I’m just sorting some items, I’m right here if you have any questions.” And my favorite: “It’s okay to touch!”

3) Be busy. (But not too busy) Be occupied. (But not preoccupied.) Pretend you are a store manager of a little store. Arrange things, straighten things, restock, re-ticket, dust, wipe glass, any busy little task that seems appropriate to your role. Something you can drop immediately the second your customer indicates they need you.

Although Bruce cautions against out-and-out demonstrating, I’ve seen craftspeople working on little projects with good success. The key word here is “little”. As long as it’s not so involved that it looks like you’re actually demonstrating, it can be a good ice-breaker. And it lets customers browse in peace til they’re ready to have you talk to them.

My friend Carrie the hat lady knits hats while she walks around the booth. (Which is cool because women used to knit as they walked and herded sheep.) Or she works on embroidering a hat, with a pretty container of colorful yarns prominently displayed. What’s brilliant is that people can then choose the exact colors of yarn they’d like their hat embroidered with. (Actually, Carrie stumbled on this ploy by accident. She’d sold out of embroidered hats before she even got to this show, and was trying to catch up.)

Don’t be so engaged that people feel they are interrupting you if they have a question. Reading, talking on a cell phone, talking to fellow craftspeople, all make the customer feel intrusive. Your customers should never feel second-best! Be available the instant they need you.

4) So many craftspeople tell me everything they want me to know about their product–before I’ve even decided if I like it. I hate that. I’m standing there thinking, “Yuck!” and they’re talking a mile a minute. Now I really don’t like it. I just want to get out of your booth.

And don’t start talking as soon as they touch something or pick it up. A vendor did this recently. Every time I picked something up to look at it more closely, he started “selling” it. All that happened was I put my hands in my pockets and quit picking things up, so he would stop talking at me. (Please note the “talking at me” part.)

When I ask you about your work, go to town! Once I’ve indicated that I’m interested by talking to YOU, that’s your signal to start selling.

Let’s all vow to make shopping fun for our customers again!

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #21: Give Me Space!

I had another chance to walk a craft fair recently. I was actively shopping at this one, or trying to. Once again, I was thwarted by my fellow craftspeople.

Here’s another tip from a crabby shopper:

Leave yourself room to conduct business.

Please… Give your customers room to write a check.

I watched a young woman with a very nice product make a sale to an eager customer. Her table was so full of product there was absolutely no room for the buyer to write a check. (And although the product was lovely, the display was not as appealing as it could have been.)

At one point, the craftsperson actually pointed to a towering display of boxes with product stacked on it and said, “Here, you can write there.” The customer tried to write a check above shoulder height, on the display. The tower wobbled slightly. I could hardly watch.

If your customer has to drop all her packages, including her purse, to write a check with her checkbook balanced on her thigh, then you have just made them jump through incredible hoops simply to buy something from you.

This phenomena isn’t just an issue of limited space. I’ve seen people with very large, complicated booths who still don’t leave twelve square inches of space for people to set down a purse and pull out their wallet.

At the very least, provide people with a clipboard to write a check or sign a credit card slip.

At best, leave a bit of space for you to wrap up that sale.

You may be thinking, “Hey, I made the sale. What do I care what happens after that?!”

Well, halfway through the show, they might think, “Hey… Those would make a great gift for Aunt Sue and Jolene! I should go back and grab a couple more….”

Do you want them to then think, “It would only take a few minutes, I already know what I want.”

Or for them to think, “Oh, geez, no, I can’t bear to go through THAT again!”

Make it easy for them to buy. And make it easy for them to come back and buy MORE.


Today at climbing I was too pooped to accomplish much on the more difficult walls. I did too much in tae kwon do last night.

That’s when Lin suggested I climb the “easy” wall instead.

It’s just another part of training, she said. When you get stuck, persevere. But it’s also okay to take a step back, and go back to what you know.

It made sense. I work just as hard on the “easy” wall, and I can get up and down it quickly, many times. So that’s what I did.

It felt pretty good.  I got a good workout.  It felt like I was keeping my hand in. And it built my confidence back up, too.

Come to think of it, we do this in martial arts.   We always go back to the basics.  There’s always room for improvement.  But it also lets your mind relax and go through the familiar moves.

It’s like meditating.

I worked with a new TKD student last night. We did the first kata over and over again. (It’s all she knows right now.) Nervously, she said, “Aren’t you bored? Do you want to do a different form?”

“Nope,” I replied. “I like this form. I could do it a thousand times and still find ways to improve it. And it centers me.”

It occurs to me that maybe that’s what all these smaller shows this season were about–doing the “easy climb”. Getting ready for these shows had its own challenges: How to simplify my booth so I could get everything in one car load. How to streamline my set-up to accomplish in four hours what normally takes two days.

But everything else was a return to familiar territory. After the last eight years spent doing major shows and wholesale shows, doing website overhauls and contemplating a new PR campaign,it actually felt kinda good to do something I already know how to do.

Try it the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with all your new challenges.

Simply go back to what you already know. Warm up, take it on, succeed.

And see if you’re invigorated to take on that “harder climb” again.


It’s a dreary time of year and a typical Thanksgiving in the northeast: The leaves are mostly stripped from the trees, the sky is gray and overcast, and there is a promise of rain–or worse, snow–in the air.

Not good for Seasonal Affective Disorder types like my husband. He’s back from an exhausting trip to Ireland (where, unfortunately, Dublin was also gray and overcast and slightly damp.) Jet-lag, SAD, middle age–a deadly combination.

Over coffee this morning we talked about our life together, our careers, our avocation and what our next steps might be.

It could feel like the November of our lives, too. Unsure if we’ve made the right choices along the way. Wistful about things we could have done better. Uncertainty about what the future holds. Painfully aware that there is much less future to ponder than when we were 25.

And yet….and yet….

I feel so thankful.

I think we have made good choices. We made the best ones we knew how, at least.

Who can live on “coulda, shoulda” for very long? It only drives you crazy. The path you choose, once chosen, is the only one that exists. All others fade away.

Except that every day, you get to choose again.

Years ago, Jon chose to work at Byte magazine. It became a springboard for so much in his life. It gave him credentials, exposure, experiences. Friendships. Opportunities.  For this next step, he chose to work for Microsoft.  Where will that decision lead him?  It looks a little clearer today, thank goodness!

I chose to follow my heart and become an artist. It, too, has given me the same. Not as much money as Jon, for sure. But then, that too was a choice.

We chose Keene. It’s been a very nice place to live and raise a family. A lifestyle choice not many can have. But a choice that Jon, through his work, hopes to make more available to others.

We chose each other. A bit of luck in that, I know. But also a choice I never regret. Well. Hardly ever. (Just joking, sweetie. I have not forgotten the floor thing.)

This gray Thanksgiving day seems a little brighter as I realize how grateful I am for this freedom of choice.

We are even free to make bad choices. How amazing is that?!

I am determined today to make only fun choices. Dark meat or white? Red wine or white? CSI or House on the Tivo?

My prayer for you this Thanksgiving Day:

May you always know the power of your choices.

May you always rejoice that you have them.

May they always bring you a little bit closer to your heart’s desire.


How do you determine if you’ve had a good show?

Is it just about the money?

Years ago, when I started doing shows, the director of a big show said to me thoughtfully, “You are someone who measures your success in many ways besides just money.”

She’s right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Money is important. Critical. And I love money as much as the next person.

Money gives you access to certain kinds of choices in life. Money isn’t everything, but it can be a nice thing. A very nice thing….

But some success is not about money.

For me, there other ways to determine a “good show.”
Here are some ways I measure my success:

Did I make enough money? (and enough money to do WHAT?)

I do want sales at a show. I want good sales. No–make that great sales. I want people to see my work as desirable and valuable. I want them to feel that exchanging their precious time they’ve spent working and being paid, is worth my precious time and creativity. That transaction–trading time/resources for time/resources, using money as a measuring stick–is what selling is all about.What’s it worth to you?

So the money is important, because when I come home from a show, I can measure how important my work was to the audience at that show. And that measure helps me determine whether that show is a good venue for my work or not.

I felt frustrated while I was there. To be told your work is powerful, incredible, even more beautiful and compelling “in person” is very cool. But as I walked by the beamers and Lexi in the parking lot to the hall every morning, I found it hard to believe people really couldn’t afford $55 for a pair of my earrings.

I think something else is holding people back from buying my work. I haven’t figured out what that is yet. Wrong show? (It was a hugely respected and recommended show. What happened??) Wrong time? (I think people need to buy my work for themselves first. Then come back another year to buy it as presents for others.) Wrong coast? (Go west, girl….) I dunno.

So here’s the pattern of my life right now: These new shows provide me enough money to recoup my investment, pay down my business debt a little–but not enough to lock me into doing that show again. Just enough money to keep me going, not enough to keep me going down this particular path.

I feel gently shepherded into figuring out a different way to do this. Maybe more shows is not that way.

Who did I meet? What did people say?

I met a woman with Native American heritage on both sides of her family, who fell in love with my work. She said it reminded her of her culture in spirit, but definitely did not trespass on it. Definitely something different going on! That’s important for me to know.

And she said, “When I look at these pieces, I feel such peace. They are peaceful works.” When she said this, a thrill went through my heart. I can sense another “new story” coming through….

I met Loretta Lam, a polymer clay artist and faithful reader. She also said something I needed to hear. I’d told her I worry that when people see how crabby and un-hero-like I am in real life, they’ll quit reading my blog. “…you should rest easy. You are exactly like your writing. Charming, funny, real. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to release your inner self to cyberspace….” Thank you, Loretta!

I also met jewelry designer Jill Schwartz who is as delightful as her jewelry. I can’t get into her site, but here is a picture of some of her designs. One of the few things I bought at the show was a pair of her new earrings.

What did I learn?

Craftspeople are amazing people.

I’m humbled by how brave and hardworking these people are. They slog these booths and boxes of product from show to show, in old vans and funky trucks, like large wheeled turtles, constantly on the move looking for a good show. It’s getting harder, and yet they don’t give up. They talk constantly, sharing suggestions (“That might be a good show for you!”), experiences and resources.

It is such hard work, and fired by such incredible passion underneath. From the silliest sachet to the most beautiful silver jewelry, from recycled sail cloth bags to handmade Santas, every single vendor believes in their product and loves their work.

I am humbled by their determination. I am proud to be part of such a community.

I’m also blown away by how much they want me to figure this out. They genuinely respect my work and what I’m trying to do, and they want me to succeed. I feel like the hero in a storybook, battling my demons and monsters, and they cheer me on. Not all of their suggestions are on target. In fact, some of their suggestions are downright odd. But I’m always deeply moved by their good intentions.

People have incredible things to say about my work.

And the things they say inspire me to keep on doing it.

I need this feedback loop from my audience, even if shows are not the most lucrative way to get it. As soon as I find another way of connecting–web sales, more gallery representation, public speaking, writing a book–the show mode will fade away.

One artist said, “I checked out the artist list before the show to check out my ‘competition.’ Yours was the only work I found utterly intriguing–I had to come down and see it in person!” When I asked her whether it measured up, she said thoughtfully, “It’s even more amazing, though different. Polymer doesn’t translate well to photography. Your work is beautiful on-line, but it has a more academic nature there–like real museum-quality artifacts. In person, it’s still beautiful and has quality–but it’s also…..accessible. Richer. Warmer. More human. Even playful. Yet even more powerful…”


What is my next step?

It’s time to do that PR thing, targeting a western audience and an audience that can be inspired and motivated by my journey. Part of their support will always be collecting my art.

But there will be ways to get my work out there, too–speaking engagements? A book? I think I have another book in me, but not a craft book. It might indeed be a book on booth design. Or another kind of book altogether. Perhaps something to encourage people to start their own artistic journeys.

Blogging has been excellent preparation for that–daily practice, working through what I have to offer and what I want to say.

Anything else?

Oh, and I also learned I can put up a booth in four hours. And break down in two. I would have said that was utterly impossible six months ago. That was important for me to learn. Already, as I face the challenges of my next show and setting up yet a different booth (6’x15′??!!) I feel myself feeling relaxed instead of panicked. Challenged instead of overwhelmed.

So was it a good show?

I know what I think. What do you think?

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #20: When to Break the Rules

I’m back from the Westport Creative Arts Festival. It was a beautifully run show, well-managed and supported by the Westport Young Women’s League. They did everything right! Unfortunately, attendance was down, down, down and although I didn’t crash and burn, I did not do well enough to return.

It did give me a chance to see all kinds of booth set-ups, though. I’m here to report that sometimes it’s good to break the rules of good booth design.

One of my favorite booths was Riverstone Jewelry.
It was one that broke several “rules”, to great effect.

The tables were low and deep. There was barely enough room for more than three or four people to browse at a time. There was a lot of work on display.

But it worked.

I’ve been thinking why, and here is my theory:

She created an atmosphere of a true “trunk show”. It felt like she had just returned from a buying trip, set up her well-worn traveling cases in an exotic but peaceful tent in a bazaar, and invited you in to see her new wares.

The backdrops were simple, neutral-colored (sort of beige) but layered–some sort of matchstick blinds over similar-colored material (linen??), very “Thai” or “Bali” looking.

The cases seemed to be old wood cases or boxes, with the jewelry lined up attractively. The items that were laid out in great numbers still worked, too. Bracelets were aligned in rows, but each one was different. Your eye could quickly take in the one or two that jumped out at you, according to your taste. I don’t think they were displayed on black, either, although I now can’t recall the color. More neutral, I think.

And the reason I say “looked” and “seemed” is, all I could really focus on was the jewelry. Everything else was warm and attractive and blended into the theme, then fell away so you only saw the jewelry.

I overheard a little of her sales approach. She told a woman how, in the villages where she buys the components, a shaman consults with you when you are ailing.

Once the source of your ills is determined, special healing amulets are prescribed. You go to a amulet “pharmacy” and purchase the right amulets. The amulets are then made into jewelry for you to wear.

The entire effect was that you were participating in such a healing process. And, as we all feel the need for such care from time to time, it was a compelling notion. People were scouring for just the right piece for healing.

People felt justified in buying more jewelry–“It’s therapeutic!”

And because the experience also felt “exotic” and “traveling to faraway places” and “marketplace”, people seemed to tolerate the crowding better. It was part of the total adventure.

Perfect booth!

So why doesn’t this table set-up work for every booth?

Because here it recreated a specific atmosphere–exotic locale/shaman healing/ancient wisdom/community.

When misused, the recreated atmosphere is “yard sale.”

I also recant (a little) on the booth lighting thing. Sometimes the worst way to light a booth is what works best under the circumstances.

It is really hard to light a booth on 400 watts of electricity! I don’t know how you do it if the fair doesn’t provide any electricity. (There are batteries available for outdoor shows, but most indoor shows don’t allow them.)

My booth was way too dark. Of course, part of my problem is trying to display three different lines that demand three different display modes–2-D (walls), sculptures (shelves/table top) and jewelry (cases).

Under these circumstances, the best-lit booths were indeed the ones that had a rack of track lighting across the top front bar of the booth. Yes, when I turned around, I was blinded by the lights. But if I didn’t have jewelry, too, I would seriously consider doing that just to get enough light into my booth quickly and easily.

The one exception was a guy across from me who had the more-successful light set-up–track lighting on all three sides of his booth, with the track set up about a foot or two away from each wall (my recommended solution.)

But when I counted the lights, I saw he also had at least 9 lamps, and another bar of 4 lamps. Either he was using lower watt lamps or he simply ignored the 400 watt limit. I did find some on-line sources for low watt MR16 halogen bulbs so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I will consider these bulbs the next time I have limited electricity.

So remember, there are many good rules to making a great booth. But some rules are made to be broken.

The trick is to know when and how to break them and why.

p.s. Low voltage does not equal low wattage. Low voltage lamps are not the same as low wattage bulbs.

Some craftspeople (and I used to be one of them) think if we are using low-voltage lighting, we can use twice the number of lamps/bulbs in our booth. “I can buy 400 watts, and have 800 watts’ worth of low-voltage lamps in my booth!” we exclaim happily.


A common mistake we make is thinking low-voltage lamps use less energy. They do–but not in how much power you’re drawing. The BULBS use less energy, and last longer–and is safer to work with. That’s why low-voltage light systems are increasingly being used in outdoor residential lighting.

Think of electricity as a stream of water, like a hose, coming in your booth. If the nozzle has a wide-spread setting, the stream/current is wide, the power is diffused. If the setting is narrow, the water comes out harder and more powerfully.

But the amount of water coming through is the same.

To figure out how much wattage you’re using at a show, you still have to add the total wattage of your light bulbs. If you have bought 400 watts of power,the total wattage of your bulbs should not exceed 400.

My electrician tried to explain about dividing the total number of watts into the total number of volts in the system for figuring out the actual “draw” on the system, but he lost me several times along the way. When I repeated the above to him, he said, “Yeah, just stick with that.”


Today is the day! Robin and I leave for Westport, Connecticut to do the Westport Creative Arts Festival.

I’ve been squishing my booth down to something that will fit in my car–a 2003 Subaru Forester, so that is no mean feat.

Everything is stacked up in my studio. It looks fairly compact–only four small Rubbermaid containers, my Dynamic Display cases, an armful of wall hangings and oh, yeah, my soft puzzle mat floor from Alessco. I really like these mats because there are no strips to put on the outside to get a smooth border. They have sections with built-in smooth sides and corners.

My friend Carrie Cahill-Mulligan, who recommended this show to me, does a better job of talking about the Festival than I could today. So meet Carrie, see her exquisitely beautiful hats (I own one!), and learn more about the Festival here.

I’m glad I read her blog about it, because I didn’t know there was a special breakfast preview on Saturday morning. Who’s bringing the donuts??

I woke up this morning and my first thought was, “I wonder what I’m forgetting?” I always forget something. Sometimes it’s something critical, sometimes it’s just annoying. The great thing is, I’ll always find out. Because at some point during set-up, we will say, “Where is the x widget??” and I will slap my forehead and exclaim, “I forgot to pack it!”

I just checked my list again. Oh, yeah, the step stool!

My very first article for the now-defunct CraftsBusiness magazine told how I prepared and packed compulsively for the Boston Gift Show as part of a group booth with the League of NH Craftsmen.

I not only packed back-ups to everything, I packed back-ups for my back-up. I got to the show, set up my section of the booth with no mishap, and congratulated myself on a job well done.

Then my husband called to tell me I’d left my suitcase in the living room.

It’s always somethin’….

P.S. Actually, I’m almost at the point where I’m looking forward to the show. I hope if you are near Westport, CT this weekend, you will mosey on over to Staples High School and drop by Booth 163. We’ll be there! I have even more new jewelry and I still have a selection of small wall hangings left.

P.P.S. Go ahead. Ask us what we forgot.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD#19 Chosing Fewer Choices

Let’s go back over the issue of having too much stuff in our booths. I have two anecdotes that I hope will encourage you to pare down your offerings.

A few years ago, I browsed another jewelry artist’s case. Barbara Sperling does polymer clay canework, which means once she makes a cane design, she can take dozens and dozens of slices from it to make jewelry. (Barbara also happens to be one of the nicest and most professional craftspeople in the industry, so if you see her at a craft fair, BUY HER STUFF!)

I tend to be one of those people who looks for the “perfect one” whenever I have a pile of things to look at. I love to paw through baskets of earrings and piles of bracelets looking for “just the right one.” Oddly, usually I can’t find the one I’m looking for. (More on that below.)

Barbara was a step ahead of a shopper like me.

She had limited the choices in her display severely.

Instead of displaying every single piece she’d made, she’d set up a square panel of black velvet, perhaps 2-4 to a case, with only one or two samples of each design for each jewelry item. For example, in her Great Blue Heron design (my favorite!) she had ONE fancy pendant necklace, ONE simple pendant necklace, TWO pairs of earrings (one large, one small) and a pin.

It was not “sparse”. There was still plenty of jewelry to look at.

But it was focused.

My attention was caught. I zoomed in on the earrings, and I quickly selected a pair.

As I did, two thoughts went through my brain.

1) “Wow! She only has two pairs of heron earrings left. I better snag a pair before she sells them to someone else!!”

2) “I like THIS pair best!”

After I’d paid for my purchase and was on my way back to my booth, I remembered something, and turned back…

Just in time to see Barbara quickly replacing the earrings I’d just bought with another pair!

She had tons of those heron earrings, all subtly different. She had them stashed away behind the counter, ready to quickly replenish any stock as it sold.

She could have put out dozens of heron earrings, and saved herself the trouble.

But choosing from dozens would have been overwhelmed me. Flooded me. Left me unable to choose.

In fact, for some people, this feeling is so uncomfortable they will not stay in a booth that has too much stuff–especially if it’s a lot of similar stuff.

So our first corollary is:

Choosing from many is hard. Choosing “the best of two or three” is easy.

My second anecdote is simply an observation I’ve made from watching people browse my booth. I especially noticed this when I did a 600 square foot sales/demo booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair three years ago. I had over 30 feet of “aisle footage”, and that’s a long time for people to be walking by your booth.

I had several jewelry and sculpture displays along the walkway, and several places people could enter the booth. (ALWAYS leave plenty of space for people to come in and mill around.) As people strolled by, something would catches their eye.

Intrigued, they’d step up for a closer look. Then they’d come in and start browsing in earnest. Finally, they’d decide they were seriously looking for “their piece.”

Now, some knew what that was. But others had a harder time.

When the people having a harder time were ready for help–when they indicated they LOVED the work, wanted to purchase something, but they couldn’t make up their mind–I’d ask them a very simple question:

“What was the first piece you touched when you came in my booth?”

People, I swear to you….99 times out of 100, that is the piece they end up buying.

One woman protested, “But I literally just put out my hand and touched it. I didn’t really even look at it!”

But in the end, it was still the necklace she chose to buy, after insisting at looking at dozens and dozens of similar pieces.  (I know, because I pulled each and every one of those pieces.)

Here’s my theory:

Our heart knows which item speaks to us.

Sometimes it’s even the first piece that catches our eye. (Our brains are actually super-processors of date. We’re hard-wired to notice the cheetah’s outline amidst the leaves in the forest jungle. We really can pick out that lovely turquoise-accented necklace from a myriad of pale blue ones….)

Our heart gives a little leap and says, “That’s the one!” Our hand goes out to the item, and we touch it (or wish we could, if it’s under glass or signs say “please don’t touch.”)

Then our busy brains kick in. “Wait, there might be something better!” it cajoles. “Let’s go look at everything so we’re sure we’re getting the nicest one!”

Or we agonize about whether it will go with our clothes. Or if it’s too fancy to wear for every day. Or if it’s too different than the kind of thing we usually buy.

We are afraid of making the wrong choice. And so we choose nothing.

That’s when your customer says those dreaded words: “I’ll be back.”

You’ve lost them. Only one in a hundred people will work their way back to you. There’s just too much going on at a good show, too many other wonderful distractions.

Our jobs as sellers is to encourage people to trust their heart. To trust the choice that comes from their unconscious yearnings.

Because that is the choice that will stay with them, and give them the most joy in the years ahead.

I now do this myself when I shop. Sometimes I’m wrong, but not as often as you might think. And it frees me up to do more shopping in more booths, too!

So try acting on this corollary:

You touch it, it owns YOU!

Be gentle, be subtle, and don’t force it.

See if it doesn’t help those indecisive customers get to their happy place faster.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #18: Intervention

A reader just posted a plea for help on booth layout.

He set up a U-shaped booth at a recent show. Unfortunately, if a peek at the small sample of goods displayed at the top of the “U” didn’t capture people’s interest, they walked on.

He’s now thinking of a table across the front of the booth with “bits of this and that”, samples of everything he does. He’s dreading another booth redesign.

Okay, Tom, put down the pen and step away from the graph paper.

It’s time to look at how people act in your booth before we decide whether a different layout would work better.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with either layout, properly done. But the same things can go wrong with both.

In a nutshell, I would take a good look at three things in a booth redesign:

Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?
Can your customers shop without pressure?
Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?

Twenty (or so) Questions time!

Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?

Could shoppers easily get into your booth?

Sometimes a U-shaped layout creates a bottle-neck at the front of the booth, especially if the display tables are too deep. Many craftspeople use those low, wide tables that are almost 3 feet deep. Place these around the perimeter of the booth, and you may end up with a central space only four feet wide. Not enough room for customers to move in! See this essay in the series for information on the butt brush phenomenon.

Did the front tables force people to stand out in the aisle? There are a lot of distractions out there! I would pull the tables at the legs of the “U” in a little, so people come into the booth a little.

Do you have enough signage to engage people as they look at your work? Are the prices clearly displayed so they have an idea if they can afford it?

Can your customers shop without pressure?

Where were you standing in the booth? And what were you doing?

Were you standing in the middle of the booth, staring out at the aisle? This always looks like the artist is guarding the booth. Not good vibes for shopping!

Were you standing someplace where you could watch your browsers constantly? I hate that! Every single guy did this to me at a recent craft fair I visited. I felt like a rabbit in a beagle’s doghouse. Not Snoopy’s doghouse, either.

Guys tend to stand with arms folded. Or with hands in pockets. Both tend to signal “I’m bored!” Women shoppers know this stance well. It is the “bored husband” stance. And we don’t like it. It takes away the fun of shopping. Ouch!

Where you leaping (figuratively) on people as soon as they came into the booth, forcing conversation on them before they could even start browsing?

Or (just as bad) totally ignoring them?

One of the most effective sales tips Bruce Baker has to offer is how to look busy in your booth doing business-appropriate activities.Try doing something a shopkeeper (because that’s what you are at a show) would be doing–dusting, pricing, arranging, restocking, etc. Simply let people know you are available for help IF they need you.

Then people can relax–and SHOP.

(See this collection of essays on booth behavior for more information.

Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?

What did you display look like? Tell me you didn’t have EVERYTHING YOU MAKE laid out evenly on tables that were waist-high. (Actually, I hope you DID because you can easily fix that for next time!)

If the dichroic glass jewelry wasn’t pulling people in at that show, could you have switched something more enticing out there on those front aisle tables?

Can people easily see what you make? If it’s tiny, and only displayed on tables, try a large-format photo/poster of your work–a beautiful jury shot, an image of a model wearing the work, an environmental shot of the product in an appropriate setting.

This gets that information (“This is what I make”) to potential customers even across the aisle. (This also helps if you are thronged with buyers, and other browsers can’t even see into your booth.) (BTW, that is such a good problem to have, isn’t it?)

Now, about the idea of putting a table across the front of the booth….Here’s a fun exercise. Go to Flickr and search for “craft fair booth”. You will find hundreds of booths with that table-across-the-front-of-the-booth layout you’re thinking of trying.

Here’s what I noticed in almost every single image:

) The tables are invariably those standard folding tables everyone uses at craft shows. They are TOO LOW and TOO DEEP.

Even if a customer sees something they like at the back of the table, if they can’t reach it, they will not try to pick it up.

Go look at a fancy jewelry store in your home town. Note the height of the actual display surface of their cases. It’s higher than your dining room table, right?

) Every single seller is committing the #1 energy drainer in a show booth.

In almost every photo, the seller is SITTING DOWN.

It reminds me of seeing friends at a restaurant. One of you is sitting down, looking up (hungry!), and the other is standing there, looking down (suddenly aware of how hungry the diner must be.) The energy is weird.

Worse, the vendors are sitting down facing directly into the aisle. Every single customer has to endure the pressure of eyes upon them as they shop. (You can almost here their thoughts of “please please please buy something!!!”) It’s awful.

Raise your tables. If you must sit, get a higher chair, so you and the customer are on the same eye level.

And sit angled, and be busy, so people can approach your display and browse without feeling your watchful eyes on them.

) The tables are flush with the aisle.

There is no place where people can “get off the aisle”. They are standing in the aisle, open to every distraction of every booth around you. They are being jostled by the crowd behind them.

Get them IN your booth. Create an environment that engages them.

) There is always TOO MUCH STUFF.

And there is either NO display–just a jillion items laid out on the table.

Or there is TOO MUCH DISPLAY–so many cute baskets, fancy displays, patterned tablecloths, stacked boxes, etc., etc., etc., you can hardly tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

All those subtle variations in your designs that are so obvious to you, the myriad color choices, are not obvious to your customer. It just looks like too much stuff.

Or even worse, it is all different. It looks like the artist has NO FOCUS.

The eye cannot settle. The customer cannot find that one special thing that might call to them.

They move on.

I started to link some of these issues to the appropriate essay in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series. But there were too many! I think if you have time to search the “category” box on my site for “booth design”, you will find almost all of these topics addressed more fully.

I want to say again, all of us make mistakes. My booth tends to be visually dense (a euphemism) and I struggle with this all the time. In fact, having only a three-hour set-up time at my next show is forcing me to streamline my offerings.

But I have managed to create a total environment, which helps. IF the work interests a customer, there is plenty to keep her engaged and entertained.

Until she finds that perfect piece she simply must have.

Don’t give up, Tom. You are doing the right thing–seeing what’s not working, and thinking about doing something different. Just focus on WHY it’s not working, and I believe you will come up with a way to do it better.


Awhile back I read Bill O’Hanlon’s book Do One Thing Different. I tried the technique a few times and wrote about it here.

It’s a nice technique, and an easy way to shake up your world in a tiny way that can get you surprisingly big results.

But sometimes I do too much of a good thing.

Now, lately my friends and associates have heard me frantically planning for my upcoming retail craft show in Westport Connecticut, the prestigious Westport Creative Arts Festival.

It’s going to be the first time I do an out-of-state retail craft show I have to drive to; the first time I can take only one carload’s worth of my work and booth; and (the scariest thing) the first time I have only a few hours of set-up time.

It’s that last one that’s the worst. Every single show I’ve done for the past 8 years, I’ve had a full two days of set-up.

This time I will have three hours.

It’s really thrown me for a loop. Man, to hear me fuss and whine about it, you’d think I was dealing with some life-or-death situation.

It’s not, of course, and I know that. But my brain does not seem to know that.

I wake up at 3 a.m., thinking, “I can’t get all my Propanels in the car! What will I do for walls?!” The next night I wake up at 4 a.m., thinking, “How will I get set up in only THREE HOURS?!” The third night, I wake up at 5 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. I worry about how to improve the layout of my booth, and how to update my jewelry display.

The next night I can’t sleep at all, worrying that no one will buy my work.

I agonize about how to simplify my set-up. I run new booth configurations through my head. I make mental lists of new things I could try display-wise. I worry about getting lost in Connecticut. (It looks so much bigger than New Hampshire on the map….) I worry about falling asleep while driving down (I do that a lot.)

What fun!

Anyway, for some reason, the mental clouds parted and the sun broke through yesterday. I had a brainstorm. An inspiration.

It’s just another show.

Another huge revelation: I’m trying to change too many things at once.

I only have to do ONE thing different: Simplify the booth.

This is not the time for working out a new booth configuration. This is not the time for working out new displays (except the simplest kind.)

As difficult as it seems at 3 a.m., I’m sure I can find Connecticut. Just head south! Mapquest will help me find Westport. Other people have found it. I can, too.

My daughter is going with me. Although she is still an exciting and entertaining driver to ride with (she’s only had her license about six months), she does not get drowsy while driving. As long as I can stay awake long enough to navigate for her, she will do fine.

So if you find yourself in a frenzy about something in your art or your biz this season, learn from my mistake.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t reinvent your booth, your business, your life in one fell swoop.

Work on ONE THING.

And put a good map in the car.


The decision to allow some of our pets into my working studio space has always had its ups and downs. You may remember my “bad bunny” essays from my old blog such as Devil Bunny, where I share how Bunster and Bubble have “tasted” everything in my studio from my new rubber floor mats to my new MD Propanels. (Debbie at MD Propanels kindly sent me a replacement patch for the carpet section Bunster had chewed with a cartoon bunny drawing and a caption that said “Yummm!”)

In hindsight, I would have read up more on rabbits and done more preventative maintenance. I would have raised ALL my extension cords (including my power cable to my computer, sewing machine and telephone.) I would have invested in metal gym locker baskets and old metal tool boxes and containers sooner. (Bunnies can chew through wood but not metal….yet!)

But even so, I would not change anything for the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of them.

Yesterday I set up the refreshment table for my open studio. I’m keeping it oh-so-simple this year. I’ve learned that most people are serious about looking around and shopping, and that my family ends up eating most of the leftover food. I have hot mulled cider, those highly-addictive honey wheat pretzel sticks and gingersnaps.

After I set out the gingersnaps, I folded up the plastic liner bag with the remaining cookies, closed the box top, stuck it in a grocery bag with the second box, and tucked them under a drawer next to my desk. I ran into the house to get ready.

When I came out, I could see Bunster’s tail sticking out from under my desk. It’s twitching happily. And a suspicious munching sound…. What the heck was she eating??

She had a) pulled the entire grocery bag under the desk; b) pulled out the open box of cookies; c) opened it; d) pulled out the folded liner bag (“to preserve freshness!”) and e) opened it; f) removed one cookie and was g) contentedly munching it under my desk.

Now, I’ve read on many occasions that animals like rats, birds, rabbits, while not quite as “smart” (as WE judge “smart”) as cats and dogs and dolphins, DO have the emotional intelligence of a 2-year-old or 3-year-old child.

And I remember when I was three, I became obsessed with brown sugar. I craved it. I would beg my mother for it. Hmmmm….does that explain my maple syrup jones?

One day, I figured out how to get up on the kitchen counter and snag the whole box of brown sugar. I hunkered down under the dining room table (which had two fold-down “leaves” that I thought hid me completely from view.)

These were the days before “resealable inner bags”, so brown sugar used to get pretty stale and hard if you didn’t use it up fast. I had a spoon and was diligently scrapping rock hard brown sugar, eating literally a few grains of sweetness at a time.

Scritch, scritch, scritch!

I remember squatting under that table, digging into that box of brown sugar with a spoon, and looking through the table legs at my mother’s feet. I remember her saying, “Come out of there RIGHT NOW!! What are you eating?!”

And I clearly remember thinking, “I can’t see her, so she can’t see ME!”

And also thinking, “I don’t care if I get in trouble, this brown sugar is GOOD!”

So today, I thank Mark Rosenbaum for all those yummy pralines he brings us at the Buyers Market of American Craft show in Philly all these years.

I thank Bunster for all the life lessons she’s taught or illustrated for me along the way (see Stormy Weather) and think of my friend Lee, whom I have not seen in many months and who I hear is not doing well.

And I thank Bunster for the laugh, and the walk down memory lane.


I haven’t written in a few days. I will now admit why.

I have been consumed with jealousy.

There. I said it. I’m not proud. But there it is.

I’m once again in the middle of scraping out my studio, getting ready for my Open Studio this weekend. I’m on the League of NH Craftsmen’s Open Studio Tour this weekend. As usual, I am behind. As usual, I’m in a mild panic about it. Which, as usual, is a gross understatement. Does anyone else ever wake up at 4 a.m. convinced they will be utterly humiliated by the general public’s lack of enthusiasm about their studio??

One of my cleaning “issues” is I tend to hang on to magazines indefinitely. I have hundreds of them. And I don’t know why, but I’ve picked up about half a dozen this week that have articles about the amazing work of other polymer clay artists.

I went surfing while enjoying a cup of coffee the other morning, and came across an artist whose work just stopped me in my tracks. No, I’m not revealing the artist. I may be sick with jealousy, but I’m not masochistic! It’s work I could envision myself doing, if I hadn’t headed down the path I’m on now.

So I’ve been writhing in spiritual discomfort all week, trying to remember my own wise words from another blog entry I wrote about professional jealousy here and here but it’s not helping.

Here’s why (and this sucks, too):

No matter how many times you “fix” a “problem”, it doesn’t simply stay “fixed”.

I can intellectually understand what envy/jealousy does and does not do for me. But when it hits, I have to work my way through it all over again.

So what’s different this time?

This time, I realize it’s my own self-doubt and insecurities–fueled by a few of those “nibbles” from other artists I talked about in my Mean People Suck #2 entry–that are holding me back.

Here’s the rub. I’m “odd” in the polymer clay world because I don’t use a lot of color in my polymer clay work.

For almost every polymer clay artist out there who is big, or going to be big, it’s about color. Technique, skill, composition, etc.–yes, those, too. But mostly it is about COLOR. Even the artist whose work intrigued me actually makes work in the same vein I do–except it’s colorful.

My artifacts are…well, bone-colored. Ivory. Even the new finish is soapstone, in beautiful but subtle, soft tones of gray, gray-green and black.

I rely on other elements for color and texture–beads, fabric, thread.

In fact, in a sense, most of my work is about collecting and assembling other objects to create a piece–antique and vintage beads, old buttons, recycled fabrics, beaver-chewed sticks.

If I can’t find frayed or distressed fabric, I distress it myself. I twist it, fray it, burn it, paint it, overdye it, even rub dirt in it, to get it to look the way I want. If I can’t find the right kind of button, then I make one out of polymer clay. But I usually have one that’s “right”, and use it as a mold to make more.

In fact, I only started making my own artifacts because I couldn’t find artifacts that “worked” in my assemblages. I experimented for ages to get just the right look, size, feel. They still continue to evolve.

The artifacts took on a life and purpose of their own, and a powerful one. This summer, a customer came to my booth to rave about a horse sculpture she’d bought the year before. “I have to confess”, she said, “I only bought him at the time because I thought he’d look so great with the little wall hanging I’d bought the year before. I mean, I thought he was cool and all, but I saw him as a ‘supporting player'”

But now, a year later, she comes to my booth to tell me he has a power and mystery all his own. “He’s really grown on me, and now I think he’s the most incredible piece of art in my home,” she said. “I absolutely love him!”

So obviously something powerful and fresh is happening with my work, whether I’m even aware of it anymore or not.

So where do I go with all this jealousy and lack of color thing?

Here’s my thoughts today–or rationale, if you really think all polymer clay artists should be about color/change/innovation/novelty and I’m simply missing the boat:

My work may never be in those upper echelons of the polymer clay world. I may feel a pang now and then about not being there. But that wasn’t ever really my goal or my vision–to be a famous polymer clay artist. It would have been nice. But that wasn’t on my road map.

I wanted to tell a story about how I felt about a certain cave in France. Why it moved me so. Why it made me cry.

As I told that story, something happened. As I became more thoughtful about what I was doing, and thinking about why I was doing it, I found I was telling my story.

Making art became a way of sneaking up on baring my soul and sharing it with a larger world.

I think my artifacts have stayed simple and neutral in color for a very good reason.

It helps me focus on that story.

I don’t want to get all caught up in the newest techniques and tools–unless they really help me tell that story better. I don’t want to be cutting edge–because then it becomes all about being cutting edge.

Just as I don’t need colored paper and glitter pens to write a good essay, I don’t need the colors to do what I do best.

All I need to do is stay connected to the story that feels true to ME.

I think I can come down from the ledge now. But if you see me up there again in the next few days, please don’t tell me that pink is the new black.


I’m trying to get ready for my upcoming Open Studio and I am awash in packing peanuts.

I just received three big boxes of display stuff from another artist. BIG boxes. And all of them were filled with packing peanuts.

I hate packing peanuts. I hate opening a box and having them fall out all over my studio. I hate trying to pick them up as they either slide under furniture, stick to everything in sight, or fall back out of the garbage bag I’m trying to scoop them into.

No matter how carefully I proceed, I know I’m going to spend a chunk of time re-scooping, re-sweeping, and re-picking. Because everyone knows you’re gonna handle each individual packing peanut about three times before you can get it disposed of.

I do love how lightweight they are when I’m packing an order. But I shudder at provoking the same exasperated response in MY customer who opens up MY box of product….

So here’s my big packing peanuts tip to anyone who would like to recycle and reuse the damn things in a way that won’t pass forward the same frustration and inconvenience as well:

Grab some of those plastic grocery store shopping bags, the ones you bring home dozens of every time you go grocery shopping. Actually, this is also a great way to use up some of those bags, too. TWO recycling tips with one post!

(Please don’t tell me to use paper bags. We just end up with hundreds of paper bags, too. Yes, someday we will be organized to use the reusable shopping bags. When we are also organized enough to a) buy toilet paper the first trip to the grocery store; b) buy toilet paper the second trip to the grocery store; and c) don’t have to buy four different kinds of cereal for each member of the family….)

Okay, seriously, pour some of the packing peanuts into each bag, about half full, and tie the bag shut in a knot.

You can now stuff these floppy bags inside your shipping container to cushion and protect your product.

When your customer unpacks the box, instead of a bajillion packing peanuts flying everywhere, they can now simply remove the bags of peanuts.

They can also easily reuse them or recycle them as they see fit.

And no one need ever appear in public again with little white pieces of foam stuck in their hair….

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