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.