A reader left a question for me on this series:

“Would 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…”

Actually, you don’t need to boot these people out.

Use them!

How you deal with kids signals other potential customers how you will deal with them if they do something stupid. (Accidentally, we hope!)

A little patience, and some little tricks along the way, will go a long way to creating a relaxed atmosphere in your booth.

Use these moments to educate the kids about your work. They’ll either be enchanted, and you can work you sales pitch gently into the talk.

OR they’ll get bored, because now it sounds like school, and they’ll lose interest, moving on to the next exciting booth to manhandle.

Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.

Trust me. One of the most important things I learned from Bruce Baker is that what people overhear you telling another customer is perceived as being the truth. Use this opportunity to tell everyone in your booth about your work. (Er…but not loud enough that people two booths over can hear you….)

I know there are some children who don’t behave well. But I’ve only had a very few incidents where the child was actually destructive or totally disrespectful.

For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:

Keep a “special skein” available behind the counter for kids to touch, maybe even a few samples of roving–something you won’t care about if it gets messed up. Come on, we ALL have those dud projects hanging around somewhere. Now you can put it to perfect use!

I keep a package of baby wipes handy. When a child starts pick something up, I quickly say, “Here, let me help you.”

I ask in a friendly way, “I have a special yarn for kids to touch. Are your hands clean?” They usually get a little settled here. You’re starting to act like a teacher or a parent. They usually nod solemnly. “I say let me feel your hands.” You can tell instantly if a kid’s hands are clean! If they are, give them the sample skeins. If not, hand them a wipe.

I say, “It’s okay to touch my work, as long as you treat it gently and with respect. I’ve worked really really hard to get it to look just right.”

They usually respond with another solemn nod.

Then, depending on the age of the child, I talk a little bit about the horse. I point out all the tiny layers that make it look like ivory. I point out all the little details that make it special. If they are pre-teens or older, I talk about how four teenage boys discovered the first, and most beautiful Ice Age cave art in the world. They are enchanted that someone their age did something so incredible.

Okay, Alta Mira in Spain was discovered first, but no one knew what it really was until after Lascaux.

As I point out each detail, the parents start looking, too. And so do other customers. Everyone starts to really see the work. Sometimes I even see other customers finally reach out to touch a piece they’ve been looking at.

This permission to handle your work with care and with clean hands and under your supervision helps to create an air of respect for your work. The dynamic changes. Instead of “play time!”, you’ve created a teachable moment.

Use this moment to talk about your work with love and pride, and I think you’ll find that most kids will respond to that. And their parents will be grateful.

Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve found over the years that the parents rarely buy anything. You’ve provided that edutainment (education + entertainment) that Bruce Baker talks about so often.

View this as your contribution to fostering appreciation for the arts and crafts for a future generation.

Actually, sometimes parents do buy your work, if the child gets attached to your product and your work isn’t outrageously expensive. They buy it as a souvenir of the experience you’ve provided, or to foster a budding interest in the child. I have had parents buy $50 and $75 items because their child was so fascinated with it. (And sometimes those are the most difficult kids, because their parents do like to indulge their kids.) Don’t be too hard on them. We all know how tough it is to be a good parent, even the best parents have their bad moments.

You can adapt this script to work with other products as well. I keep a couple artifacts behind the counter, or pick up something sturdy like one of my netsuke animal artifacts. It’s neat to have two, because then the child can choose which one to hold, which adds to the fun (and helps capture their interest.) This also helps if there is more than one child, because then everyone can hold one. Fun for all!

If your work is just too delicate or fragile for such handling, have a sample of the materials you use, or one of your tools, or again, a cast-off piece that you don’t care about. You can actually use this approach for adults, too.

Treating children with respect and genuine warmth pays off in other ways, too. A regular customer brought his son in last year. The boy had visited every booth in the fair, looking for that special something to spend his money on. His father said, “When we finished, he didn’t even want to look again–he came right back here to buy this!”

He pointed to a small wall hanging for $350. That boy had saved a lotta money!

I was honored a child would be so enchanted with my work, he would actually buy such a fabulous piece.

And I was doubly glad that I deal with kids the way I do!

Here’s another reason–a BIG one–why you don’t really want to get these people to leave:

Human beings are born yearning to touch things.

Touch is how we explore our world, and we rejoice in the experience.

“Feel how soft this sweater is!” we exclaim as we shop. “No, not this scarf, it’s too scratchy.” “These pears are too firm, but those pears are just right!”

We constantly talk about how things feel: “Oh, this puppy’s fur is so fluffy!” “I love to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and feel the wind in my hair, and play tag with the waves.” “I can’t stand wearing that shirt because the tag is scratchy!” “I love it when my kids hug me.”

When we tell children not to touch, we are asking them to go against their very nature. Our very nature. When you see people enter your booth with their hands behind their back, it’s because the temptation to touch is so strong (and they know they “shouldn’t”) they have to physically hold themselves back.

I’m lucky to use a material that’s sturdy and durable. I know not all artists have that luxury. But when I tell people that it’s okay to touch my work, and to feel free to pick up a piece to look more closely, their relief–and joy–are palpable.

It creates an incredible feeling of participation and delight in my booth.

Try to find ways to let people touch something in your booth. Your customers will be happy, your visitors will be charmed, and you will feel better all around.

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.

8 thoughts on “GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #10: Don’t!!”

  1. Wow! Thank you so much for responding so quickly to my concerns… I know I don’t want to come across as intimidating, because the ONLY way people will buy expensive yarns and shawls is if they can touch them, handle them, and experience how much nicer handspun yarns are than what they’re using to seeing in the mass market. But I also don’t want to have my hard work ruined by thoughtless handling (I’ve heard a few horror stories from quilters posting on a craft forum I’m on…).

    I really appreciate your good advice. Sounds like a sensitive and brilliant approach to the problem! And I even have a small skein left over from a dark-brown ram lamb fittingly named “Bosco”… maybe I could say, “Did you know there are *chocolate* sheep?” 😉 Thank you so much! I read your blog a lot, and just recommended you to my new booth partner, but I’ve never posted a comment to you before. Glad I did!


  2. Luann, this post was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Validation and dignity are a gift that we can choose to give to the world – or to withhold. When you validate a child, you build up the whole world. Thank you for the encouragement!


  3. This is a really lovely post. It reignited in me a more profound and gentle respect for children and their parents with regard to my work.
    Thankyou. I really enjoyed reading it.


  4. RK, thank YOU for the great topic suggestion. I’m delighted it resonates with you. And the chocolate sheep sounds PERFECT!! You go, grrl!

    Beth, I am SO GLAD you loved this post. Reading the comments I get from you and other readers is a huge reward for my writing. Thank you for letting me know how this one affected you.


  5. When my girls were little, I taught them to touch with “one finger”. You’re right that the urge to touch is almost irresistible, and better to teach kids to indulge with care and attention than to try to suppress it. Kids who learn “don’t touch!” are more likely to try to sneak a quick grab when a parent isn’t looking and break something.

    You have a couple of other good points, too, about how talking about the work can inspire. My girls would ask how something was made, and are both now avid experimenters with all kinds of art. We spent a lot of time going to Art in the Park type events, often speaking with the artists, and always found that people would come into the booths and look around, drawn in by the lively conversation. At least twice, my older daughter made suggestions that the artist wrote down to try later, after learning how a piece was made – and she was so little! Inspiration can come from anywhere.


  6. Good suggestions, Alison. Thank you for sharing them.

    It’s TOUGH when kids come in and act up or out. But I really try to find the upside and go from there.

    And I’m almost always either happier or richer for it.


  7. You are so right! We love telling kids all about our work and the adults always get hooked in and listen. The kids get focused and learn something neat and the parents appreciate the added depth it puts to an art fair experience for their children. We make art glass and people are always hesitant to touch it so I put out signs that say PLEASE TOUCH! The people come in and are shocked because their minds always stick the word DON’T into my signs! I now have signs that say PLEASE PICK UP AND TOUCH THE GLASS. If they hold it they are so much more likely to buy it. We put out about 100 pieces of glass at a fair and folks who come in the booth always want to know the process of creating it and we always love to share it, this keeps our booth loaded with people lingering and visiting.
    Thank you for your blog I learn so much from it!!!!


  8. Hi Diane,
    I had to laugh at your observations about the “Please Touch!” sign. That’s my experience exactly! People are so used to being told they can’t touch, that’s what they see in the sign… I think that’s sad, and I’m delighted you are doing your bit to counteract that in your booth.
    When we can recognize, tolerate and truly respect our common human nature, when we make room for it in our “perfect booth”, then we can create opportunities for people to REALLY connect–physically AND emotionally and spiritually–with our work.


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