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!

Author: Luann Udell

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

11 thoughts on “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #22: Say Something!”

  1. Hi Luann,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and especially enjoy your series about booths gone bad. I’m trying really hard to follow all tips you have so generously shared and I would love some advice if possible– I’m currently doing a show and my sales are awful-at this rate I wont’ even make my booth fee and it’s a 5 day show( I make jewelry using sterling, fuse and semi precious) and I’m not understanding why. People are touching my work, telling me it’s beautful, unique, etc etc. but they aren’t buying. (and then walking further down the isles, buying the rhinestone costume stuff and the svavorski crystal necklaces and christmas tree earrings) I would love to ask someone why they are not buying, (too pricey, maybe I’m hovering too much) etc, but I know I can’t do that. and of course, whenever one has a bad show, it’s hard not to take it personally. Any suggestions?


  2. Ask someone who is in a position to judge you – you might ask the crafter in the next booth – “Hi, I’m kinda new at this – can you think of anything that I can do better, next time?” At the few shows I’ve done, my neighbors have been SO helpful, with names of different shows that might fit me better, little tips about displaying. I’ve also learned a lot by how others work their booths – what works in their displays, what doesn’t, how the customer reacts to their pitch when they’re not looking, what they use to set up that works (it would have taken me much longer to think up a tool box until I saw one in use!)


  3. I will wait for the customer to adjust herself before my approach. Since my work is so different, folks will stand back and stare, then the glaze over happens and this is when I know to engage them.

    Engaging is so easy that other artists wonder why they didn’t think of it. When the customer walks in, one can ask their favorite color or are they looking for earrings or pendants? For me, it’s a 2-phase process with the initial question, “Are you a dog person or a cat person?” This allows them to get emotionally involved because they begin to reminisce about their favorite pet or the one that just broke their vase earlier that morning. At which point, I orientate them the areas specific to their interest and then back off.

    The second phase happens when they approach their section and tentatively look thru the prints and cards still not knowing what to make of it all. I’ll ask them if they’re familiar with CalligraphyPets or know the story behind how they got started. Every time I go thru the rhyming scheme, I generate a crowd- it’s a fantastic high. That’s when the viral effect begins to happen.

    If it’s a nice day (which I hope tomorrow is) I do very well at the show because I strive to be approachable without overbearing. Many cases, I become the bartender to the troubles of pet owners.


  4. Alison, unfortunately your lack of sales could be due to a LOT of things, and it’s hard to say exactly what without knowing more about a) your product, b) your audience or c) YOU! Sam has great advice–your fellow craftspeople could have good insights into what you are doing well and what you could do better.

    I don’t know what “fuse” is in your description, but I’ve noticed over the last few show seasons that so much of the jewelry offered looks very much alike. It can be hard to differentiate your work from others. And then it becomes all about the price.

    If your work is distinctive, then maybe it’s TOO unusual–and people aren’t sure what they’re looking at or whether it’s a good value.

    Your work may be too good for the show venue. If everyone around you is selling very low-end, DIY kinds of craft, then your work may stick out in a bad way–as in, “What the heck is SHE doing HERE with THAT work??”

    I think this, and the second reason is why I did poorly at my first few craft fairs. I would make just enough to keep me moving forward, but never enough to lock me into doing the cheaper, less creative work. I would only make one or two sales, but they would be my biggest, best items–sometimes something priced at $150! People–customers and fellow craftspeople–kept pulling me aside and saying, “You should be doing better shows! You’re work isn’t selling because it’s too good for a show like this. It doesn’t fit in. Don’t get discouraged!” I didn’t, and I persevered. My first “good” show was the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair!

    It could be your sales pitch, in which case Bruce’s CD will help enormously. Making sure you have the “rhythm” of the sales process down, that people perceive your prices as fair, and that you’ve communicated the story behind your work, go a long way to closing a sale.

    The last thought is this: Just because people say your work is beautiful doesn’t mean they really have any intention of buying it. I hear it all the time! Bruce comments that they simply may not be engaged enough to buy. In order to exit your booth gracefully, they “pay” you a compliment–“Beautiful work!”–and leave.


  5. CreativeGoddess, I love the cat person/dog person line. It’s not a yes-or-no question, almost everyone is one and/or the other, it connects your audience to your work, and helps you move right on to the sales process. Good stuff–thanks for sharing!!

    Be careful of asking if they know the story. Most people are going to answer “no”, and even though that gives you a chance to share it, it still injects “no” into the conversation. I tend to do this when explaining my process–I ask if they are familiar with polymer clay, and most people say “no”! I’ve switched that to asking if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword-making, and found that most people are! Then I can go right into the talk about how I make the ivory. You might consider a similar “leading question” like your cat person/dog person question that avoids that “no”.

    On the other hand, as I always say–if it’s working for you, don’t change it! :^)


  6. Good alternative, Luanne, I’ll have to remember that.

    Just had my annual show today at Boylan and it’s fun to watch the glaze-over turn into “Wow! I get it.” It’s amazing how people react, specially if they’re afraid to admit that they don’t ‘get it’ to ‘I wanna tell that story to my friend.'” They look at me and state, “I’ll be right back!” and drag a friend onto the lawn and exclaim, “Tell the story! Tell the story!!”

    To prevent the harsh no, I started today with the, “Are you familiar with the CalligraphyPets?” If not, “Let me introduce you to Bacchus… and his friends.” I’ve got postcards that I hand to them w/all 8 cats on it to move into story mode.

    Briefly, my story turns into poetry (I’m no poet) by telling them it started w/Bacchus (see About on my site for the origin) then his friends follow with a familiar meter, “Pouncer, Bouncer, Chaser, Lay; Beggeth, Purreth, and RunnethAway!”

    A brief pause allows them to understand I’m reinventing the Night Before Christmas -and everyone connects with that. Who doesn’t love the reindeer?

    At this point, I couldn’t change the story if I tried and the customer’s response tells me how I should proceed.

    Today I was exhilarated by several who’ve stalked me and watched my progression as an artist/designer, only to return to buy more product. I love getting the one-on-one feedback (it helps with future R&D) and the fact that they wanted to buy it.

    Today was a good day. Thanks for letting me share it.


  7. PS. Boylan is an arts and crafts neighborhood that holds the annual art walk where artists share the large verandas or the lawns. For several years of selling my work, not yet have I seen other artists get out of their chairs to engage their customers. It’s ashame, they always leave disappointed then look at me and say, “Well! You’ve certainly done well!”

    PPS. We don’t bring chairs.


  8. I sell hand wovens, but I bring my sock knitting along to pass the time. Some people assume the items are knitted (because I’m knitting, and I can say, yes, it’s confusing and be all smiley and charming), and I can explain about weaving vs. knitting. Some people are drawn to the pretty sock yarns, and I can explain how I design my own yarns (handpainted vs. handblended & handspun) for my scarves. A few people are beginning knitters and have knitting questions, so we chat about that. They don’t buy anything, but it’s fun to talk fiber.


  9. Thank you for all your advice! The fair is over, yeah! and I did ask fellow craft vendors for tips about my booth. They were very nice, and gave me lots of pointers, (I realize now how important good lighting is to selling jewelry indoors) ~~ and your comment below I think fits my situation too… for the sales I did make were easy and the customers raved about my pieces.

    “I would only make one or two sales, but they would be my biggest, best items–sometimes something priced at $150! People–customers and fellow craftspeople–kept pulling me aside and saying, “You should be doing better shows! You’re work isn’t selling because it’s too good for a show like this. It doesn’t fit in.”

    I also learned why crafters don’t like buy and sell shows (this show was a mix of both) — when you can buy glittering flashy costume jewelry for $8.00, the artisan stuff just doesn’t show up well against it.

    Really makes me appreciate the artisian craft fair i was in last summer.

    Thanks again for all the advice!


  10. Ellen, if the knitting is working for you, that’s great. But it sounds like it’s a bit of a “disconnect” for your potential customers. It MIGHT lead more conversation to your woven goods if you had something “woven-related” to work on instead. Could you do some hand-finishing of garments? Sew on buttons? Embroider one of your pieces? Do some handspinning?? Just a thought… :^)

    Alison, I’m so glad you got good feedback from your fellow artisans, and I’m glad my posts helped, too! Sounds like you’re already learning to discern which shows will be the best fit for your products.


  11. I have only just found your blog and your ‘booth’ posts struck a chord with me – I have just ordered the CD on your recommendation (and I’m in the UK!)

    I often find myself ‘kicking myself’ (as we say over here) as a customer walks away, feeling that I could just have closed that sale had I had the right ‘sales tool’, but my mind is racing thinking of all the things I could say without sounding too pushy and they are gone …. forever!

    The hardest thing is when one partner loves my work and is already taking it home in their head, while the other is refusing to speak. You can only say so much before you feel you are treading on rocky ground. A little joke sometimes works to break the ice – served with a big smile!

    I find internet selling with email communication a whole lot easier…….


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