Eighth in a series about getting difficult out of your booth at an art fair or craft show.

A reader wrote to ask:

“Any plans to do a post about the customer who, once she’s bought from you, now thinks she’s your friend? I had this happen once, at a 5-day show (where she bought on day 2, and returned on 3 and 4 to talk endlessly). I was as polite as I could be when I wasn’t trying to duck so she wouldn’t see me (!). That mixture of being grateful she’d bought a piece and annoyed that she kept showing up was difficult to juggle.”

Michelle, your wish is granted!

Hmmmm, that’s a good one–the customer who feels they’ve bought your friendship….

As annoying as that was, it sounds like you handled it well. You dealt with her as politely as you could, and disappeared as you were able.

Here are some thoughts to help you decide which course of action feels right for you.

Remember, a small part of our biz is going to be a form of social work. Some people are lonely or have very poor social skills, or they’re lonely because they poor social skills. For them, this IS how they make friends and interact in society. They do things that give them an excuse to talk to people. It can be hugely annoying, but a little patience and compassion can go a along way–if you aren’t busy with other customers, and if you have the patience for it.

This sounds like a person who has trouble respecting the boundaries of others. Your booth is like a little store with a new friend in it, and she wants to come and visit every chance she gets. The bad news is, this person may be oblivious–it will take more than a gentle hint or two to move her on. The good news is, she’s probably used to blunt tactics, because she probably does this all the time.

Sometimes the only way to deal with a boundary issue is to name it and say it. “I’m delighted you like my work so much. I’m honored you’ve supported me by buying a piece. But I really have to focus on making the most of this opportunity to sell my work at this show. It’s been lovely talking to you. But I hope you’ll understand that I need to get back to work here.”

If this speech is too hard, start shorter and brisker: “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I need to run–thanks for stopping by!”

Then run.

If she still keeps showing up, repeat. Be consistent. Friendly but firm. It may take a few turns, because people who are oblivious to the fact that they’re being noodges tend to be oblivious to all but the most blatant management.

Of course, this is hard for people like me who have trouble setting boundaries. Just look on it as good practice.

Another tactic: This is another example of a “free milk” person–they want your interest and friendship. The difference is, they feel they have paid for it, though by now you’re feeling they got the better end of the deal.

You could try offering them something more “free”–like offering to put them on your list for open studio events. That could reassure them that you won’t forget them. (As Bruce Baker quips, “How could I ever forget you??!!”)

If there’s no one in your booth and you are dying slowly, you can always try to interest her in another artist at the show. Pass it off as customer service: “You know, as I listen to you, I realize there’s another artist at the show you’d really love. I think her work is perfect for you. It will really resonate with everything you’ve been through. Let me take you over to her booth and introduce you.”

Do it–and RUN. Then she can have TWO new friends!

Finally, there’s the strategy of pushing this to the limit and using this to your advantage.

It’s drastic. But I’ve found that people who are locked in their heads like this usually make it all about ‘them’. Make it about you.

If there’s no one in your booth, I’d use the opportunity to keep selling to her. Keep circling the conversation back to your work. She might be persuaded to buy another piece.

At the very least, as other people enter your booth, they’ll be able to hear you talk without having to deal with you directly. A lot of people who browse will do just that–listen intently to what you say to another customer as they shop uninterrupted. It’s an effective selling technique.

Be sure to stop occasionally as new people come in and acknowledge them by greeting them. Casually say, “If you have any questions, just let me know” or “If you’d like to try something on, the mirror is right here.” That lets other customers know you’re paying attention.

At the slightest hint someone needs your help, smoothly interrupt the talker to say, “Excuse me just a moment.” and move to assist the other person.

If it’s just you and her, and she won’t buy anything else, then….Talk away to your heart’s content. Just make sure it’s all about you. Sometimes the only way to shoo a bore away is to be a bigger bore.

Did I just say that??!!

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 “GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #8: Your New Best Friend”

  1. Good topic! On the extreme end of this spectrum is the truly boundary-less person and those folks need to be approached (and avoided if possible!) with caution.

    Remember the movie “Single White Female?” Need I say more?



  2. “A small part of our biz is going to be a form of social work.” Never a truer word was spoken!

    Luann, I am so enjoying this whole series! And this post really made me laugh.

    I just spent the entire morning re-reading your blog. I’m doing my first Art show booth in April…just to give it a try. Soon I’ll have stories of my own!

    Thanks for all the tips!


  3. This is a fantastic series. I often tell people about my “sitting duck” stories, because you really do feel like a sitting duck in a booth, especially on less than stellar business days. I have become a master at pretending to be interested while praying someone else comes in the booth so I can direct my attention elsewhere!!


  4. Thanks for using my topic, Luann! Another great post in the series.

    The end of my story is that at the show I did a combination of listening, talking about my own work (when I could get a word in edgewise), and promising to keep her on my mailing list (which I have, of course). And, as it turns out, she only wanted to be heard at the show. It wasn’t a lifelong friendship after all: when I shipped her the piece she’d bought, I wrote a note saying how much of a pleasure it had been to meet her, etc. and I asked her to send me an email to let me know it had arrived….after all that, and how close we’d been over those treasured 4 days….I never heard from her!


  5. I think it helps so much to realize we are not alone in dealing with odd things at the show!

    Kesha, good luck with your show! Let me know if any of these essays help, too.

    Nancy, oh pleeeeeze tell us what to do with the true psychotics??

    Giesla, thanks for reading, and pass it on to others if you feel it helped you. :^)

    Michelle, isn’t it great how a little distance in time can solve the weirdest situation?


  6. Lu:

    Dealing with psychotics in a professional setting is easy for me; in real life, not so much.

    But I love this one – I worked in a variety of retail stores during grad school. In a very high-end home accessories shop, a woman would come in and buy a kaleiediscope (sp? We had a large collection of beautiful ones). Then she would return it and buy another one. She went through most of our stock before our manager told her we couldn’t let her do it any more. Of course we dubbed her, “Kaleidscope Krazy,” and often speculated about what she did with them!


  7. Nancy, that’s a good story! Personally, I suspect her of trotting them out at parties, inferring to her guests that she had an entire collection (instead of just one at a time…!) Kaleidoscopes (yeah, I had to look that up!) have a passionate and loyal collector base. They’re not just for kids anymore!

    Pyropagan, I hope you never have to use my advice, too. But these tips actually work in many social situations, including parties. ESPECIALLY with the “Eeyores”! :^)


  8. Could you discuss one other group of people that one sometimes needs to get out of the booth — the people with kids who think everything in your booth is something neat to play with?
    OR the adults who think your booth is a cool place to let the kids handle everything? Especially with sticky, gooey fingers? I’m a spinner/weaver, and trying to figure out how to say nicely, “Only with clean hands, please…” Dirty sticky yarn doesn’t sell well…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s