I’d never done a trunk show before. You know me–that was all the excuse I needed to over-think and over-prepare!
But I think it was a successful event. You can see the photos of my set-up here.
Here are some of the things I considered as I pulled my display together:
1) A trunk show means you bring EVERYTHING.
But it can’t look like everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink, either. I still wanted a cohesive display. So I set out several “series” of jewelry and grouped them accordingly. I had plenty more samples in reserve.
2) It should look different than a craft show booth.
My artist-of-the-month display looks a lot like my fine craft booth. It’s a formal display, an in-depth look at my work in a museum-like setting.
But I wanted my trunk show to look like just that–like I’d traveled to the show, bringing a personal collection of items for my customers’ enjoyment. I even asked for a few chairs, so that people could sit and talk as I worked.
3) It should still be obvious what you’re selling.
One of the drawbacks of a totally creative display is, sometimes you can’t tell what people are selling. How many times have you walked by a booth at a show filled with wonderful props and eclectic display–only to wonder what the heck they’re selling??!! (Hint: If people keep trying to buy your display pieces, those display pieces are TOO interesting!)
I got around this by sticking to the vintage suitcases as my only “prop”. The rest of the display featured traditional black steel jewelry display pieces–earring holders, necklace holders, etc.
I also confined my larger, bolder, more elaborate pieces to the suitcase display. The smaller, simpler pieces went on the traditional display fixtures, where they were able to be seen more easily.
People did ask about the suitcases, but they also stuck around longer to enjoy the entire show. Because the pieces were simply “laid out”–not elaborately draped and swagged–the message was still clear: “It’s okay to touch!”
4) Give people a reason to hang out.
At a craft show, there may be thousands of people coming with the intent to see as much as they can. If they like my work and my booth, they enter. Then they are in “my world”.
It can be harder when you’re simply a display in a store. Right next to your table are examples of a dozen other artists’ work!
I decided to do make up some simple necklaces featuring my artifacts and torch work with sterling silver wire. This gave even casual observers an excuse to hang out, watch and ask questions.
5) It’s only your time. Have fun!
To quote Greg Brown, “Time ain’t money when all ya got is time.” (From “Just a Bum”
Yes, my time is valuable, but it wasn’t like I was paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be there at the gallery that day. It was a nice, relaxed opportunity to introduce new people to my work.
So by keeping my expectations low, my presentation skills high, by keeping myself busy even during slow times (but totally available during busy times) I ended up having a great time, acceptable sales and met some amazing new collectors of my work!
I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.
A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?
Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.
But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000” up to “over $1,000,000”.
The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.
Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.
But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.
And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….
Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.
The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.
Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.
I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!
My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.
If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.
Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.
When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.
And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.
I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.
P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.
My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.
Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.
We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.
Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.
Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.
People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.
And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.
I’m all set up for the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair–our 75th!! (yay!!!) It’s going smoothly so far, which I hope means I’ve finally experienced enough booth emergencies in my life to be ready for anything.
I broke down and invested in MD Propanels a few years ago, and though I’ve managed to have some “emergencies” with them, too, they have still made my show life infinitely easier.
Now they’ve added a cool new add-on called Quick Shelves which I highly recommend.
Why, can’t you already order Propanels with shelves, you may ask? Yes! But you have to specially order which panels you want made with the slots inside for the shelves and shelf brackets. And if you are like me, plan and plan as you might, you can never actually tell exactly where you want the damn shelves to go. So you set up your booth and either a) lose track of which panels have the slotted things in them and get them in the wrong place, or b) keep track of them and get them in the right place, but change your mind.
With the Quick Shelf, you can either mount the shelf as you put up a panel (any panel); or you can set up your booth, decide where you want the shelves, and go back and put the shelf in. (My method, of course!) (Are you surprised??)
I’m not sure how much weight they’re rated for. But when they’re installed, any weight pushes the bracket more firmly into the wall. So I believe they’re pretty sturdy.
I think they’re great, and I think you will, too!
Not affiliated with MD Propanel, just another happy customer.
Folks, there will be typos…
In the February 2008 issue, Bruce shows the actual evolution of a typical craft show booth, from those typical craft table displays and blank walls to a sleek booth that really highlights the work.
I’ve sat through a lot of BB seminars, and I’ve seen a lot of his examples of “beautiful booths” and “creative display” in his presentation. I thought I was breaking form by being a “plain vanilla” girl when it comes to booth display.
So I’m delighted to see the points I made in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series echoed and put so succinctly…
“Beautiful” and creative” should NOT apply to your booth at the expense of your WORK. (sorry for all the drama bold & such, but this is a message I want to keep driving home.)
Now, there are still a few things I’d change in the booth. But it’s still a much stronger presentation than the earlier versions, and this article shows that clearly.
I think you can buy single issues from TCR if you don’t already subscribe.
p.s. Hey, if you look on that table of contents page again, you’ll see my latest artcile for TCR, too. (Not a blatant plug, but geez, a girl’s gotta earn a living…)
Sometimes perfecting the best booth you have isn’t good enough. Sometimes having the best booth, period, isn’t good enough.
What I mean by the first statement is, sometimes we get stuck trying to perfect something that isn’t the best solution in the first place.
Take my search for the “perfect track lighting.” I constantly worked, reworked and replaced my track lighting for my booth. I experimented with light bars, cross bars, looked for more reliable systems and flexible lamps.
I finally got to the point where I realized I hate track lighting. It’s just not the best solution for my booth. The last two shows, I didn’t use any track lighting at all–just gooseneck clamp-on halogen lamps. They are easier for me to ship/pack/set-up and have fewer things to go wrong (fewer electronic connections, for one thing!)
Or my search for the “perfect table display”. My very first booth set-ups included those dreaded folding tables I’ve been harping on throughout this series. I experimented with different drapes and decorations. I tried to make them taller. Then bought narrower tables–before realizing I was never going to get them into my little car. And I was never going to get the professional-looking display I needed with them. I invested in Dynamic Display cases, sometimes augmented with Abstracta, and never looked back.
Then there was my search for the “perfect pipe-and-drape walls”. I struggled with various fabric walls–purchased pipe-and-drape, making my own drapes, adding various shades and blinds to make them stiffer and more stable for displaying my wall hangings. The happiest day of my life was the first day I set up my new Propanel walls.
So sometimes you have to persevere to find the right working version of something for you. But sometimes you just have to start over with something totally different.
Then again, sometimes even that perfect booth isn’t enough.
In 2007, I did two wholesale shows with my “perfect booth.” Okay, I know it’s still not perfect in many ways, but it was beautiful and got rave reviews. The display fell away, the work stood out, and was well received.
But I had the right work at the wrong show. Or the wrong work at the right show, if you want to look at it that way. I had de-emphasized my jewelry to promote my fiber work. It didn’t work.
You can have the best booth in the whole world. But if you have not targeted the right market for your work, you will not do well.
If you don’t do a preshow mailing to your audience, they won’t know you’re there.
If your work is high-end, and the show is low- to mid-end, they will not buy.
If your work is contemporary, and the show is country/folk, they will not buy.
If you specialize in Christmas decor and it’s a retail show in spring, you probably will not do well.
If your work is a little pricey and unusual and not a gift product, you may not do well at Christmas shows.
So what’s a craftsperson to do?
Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Get better.
No one said it would be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!
You keep doing it because you believe in your work, and you believe there are people out there who will love it as much as you do.
You try this, you experiment with that, you tweak this and you replace that. You work hard to get into that dream show, that perfect show for your work. And a few years later, you struggle to find the courage to leave that “perfect show” that is no longer the best marketing strategy for your work.
There is no “finish line” you cross where you finally realize you’ve made it. There is no final formula for success.
There is only another exciting challenge ahead of you.
The downside? It can be exhausting.
The upside? It’s good for you! Aimee Lee Ball writes about “THE NEW & IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM” in the January 2008 issue of OPRAH magazine. Research shows that the brain grows more neurons when challenged. By struggling to figure this stuff out, we get smarter, and more competent.
So don’t despair if it all seems like too much sometimes. Remember–this is IQ training for your LIFE.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Just for fun, I googled “best booth award” and clicked “image”. I found this collection of award-winning booths. Best Booth Award Winners
Not what I expected, but interesting and informative!
Better yet, google Craft Show Booth and you see more useful examples.
In fact, browse through these images. See which booths attract you and which ones leave you thinking, “hmmmmm……no.”
A lot of these awards are for trade show booths–way, way out of most budgets and not conducive to selling crafts. BUT some of the design principles should be the same, no matter what we’re selling!
Let me know if you find some great booths. We’ll all go take a look at ’em!
I’ve gone back and put in a photo of my booth from last year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair in the appropriate essays on booth design.
No pointing fingers. I’ve already fixed the lights. And I’m already making changes for my smaller retail fairs this winter.
P.S. This is my booth shot for applying to juried shows. That’s why there is no signage that shows my name. Normally you’d see my name plastered all over this booth!
One of the most difficult concepts to absorb about booths is where we (the seller) should be and what we should be doing.
Again, building on Bruce Baker’s advice, I’ve come up with a great metaphor that may help you think about this more effectively.
We know we shouldn’t “hide” in the booth. For one thing, it feels weird, and for another, it is weird. Bruce suggests getting right out in the aisle. But why is it okay to stand in the aisle, and not sit in the aisle? (I mean, sit in a chair on the aisle, not sit in the middle of the aisle…. Oh, you know what I mean!)
We know we should “look busy”–but busy doing what? Bruce suggests “appropriate store behavior”–dusting, tagging–but why is that okay and talking on your cell phone not okay?
I think about this a lot, and I think I have a metaphor that will help you get a handle on this. Please don’t take it too literally. It’s just meant to give you a framework for how this works.
Pretend you have been invited to a party to someone’s house you don’t know very well. They are said to be a consummate hostess. You’re looking forward to an enjoyable evening.
You show up promptly at 8:00 p.m. You’re not sure it’s the right house–the number is correct, but no porch lights are on, no other cars are around. There is no indications the owner is expecting you. Maybe you’re too early??
You ring the doorbell.
No one answers. Hmmmmmm….. Are you sure you have the right house? Yep. You ring again. Still no answer.
Then you notice a little sign on the door that says, “I’m upstairs, just come in!” So you go in the house, but you feel a little awkward.
The hostess is nowhere to be found. Now that makes you both nervous and intrigued. You get to look around the house for a bit–it’s fun to snoop a little!–but it also feels weird to be in someone’s house with them not there.
You find their book collection, note some good titles, pick up one to read, when suddenly, out of nowhere, the hostess pops out! You gasp, either in fright, or in embarrassment to have been caught going through her books….
So there’s why you should not hide in your booth.
Now let’s rewind the tape and go back to the door. This time when you ring, the door is opened. But the hostess mutters, “Oh, it’s you” and walks away. You are a little dismayed (“Hmmm, is there something in my teeth??”) but you follow her in. She seems disgruntled about something and ignores you. You’re not sure what to do, so you start making small talk about her home. You notice a photo on the fridge, and, thinking it might be a picture of her kids, ask her a question about them. She rolls her eyes, heaves a sigh, and says, “What a stupid question! Do I look old enough to kids?? Those are my NIECES!!”
See? There was the stupid question we talked about last week. How do you feel now? Not good? I didn’t think so.
YOU are trying to be nice and make conversation, and SHE is determined you are being a jerk. Not appropriate party/booth behavior, either.
Let’s rewind once more. You’re back at the door and see the same note. You let yourself in. This time the hostess is not disgruntled. But she’s busy. She’s on the phone with someone. She nods at you as you come in, but she stays on the phone–for another fifteen minutes.
Don’t you feel special?
Was that an appropriate way for your hostess to behave? Nah. Don’t do it in your booth, either.
Rewind again. Door, note, come in. She greets you, and she’s still busy. She’s in a little side room, sewing curtains. And doesn’t stop–she’s just got so many curtains to sew. Make yourself at home! There’s beer in the fridge, she says.
Does this kind of “busy” seem appropriate for a hostess? Probably not. More on “appropriate” busy later.
Rewind one last time. Door, note, come in, some other guests are there, she’s not busy. In fact, you are the object of her affection. She can’t leave you alone! Wherever you go, whatever you look at, whatever you pick up, she chats away. “Oh, I see you like carrots! Have you always liked carrots? Those are good carrots, aren’t they? I picked them myself! I made the dip, too! It’s a great recipe–in fact, I made the recipe! In fact, I grew the dill in the recipe, too! Isn’t it great dill? Why don’t you try this cheese spread? Guess what–I made that, too!”
How do you like that cheese dip? Does the whole situation feel a little, well, labored? Do you feel a little hounded? Do you wish she would just go away and leave you alone?
So how do you think your booth visitors feel when you “share” everything about your art before they even ask?
We have most of the inappropriate party/booth behaviors. Now…how would you like this party scene to go? What could the hostess do better to make you feel “just right”?
Rewind one last time (I promise!)
You arrive at the house. The lights are on, there is a welcome mat at the door, a pot of flowers on the steps, and a little sign that says, “Welcome, guests! Come right in!” But before you even have to grab the door handle, there’s the hostess meeting you at the door.
“Hey, you must be Donna’s friend! I’m so glad you could come! I’m Jill, and this is my home. Welcome!”
She brings you inside and says, “I have a few things I have to finish in the kitchen. Just relax and make yourself at home here in the living room. Would you like white wine or red? Red? Coming right up!”
She hands you a glass of red wine and settles you in. “Back in a few minutes! If you need anything, I’m right here in the kitchen–just holler!” she says cheerfully.
Sipping your wine, you look around you and take in the surroundings. Such beautiful things! So much to look at! You roam around the living room, looking at her eclectic art collection, the lovely paintings on the wall, the comfy furniture, the handmade rugs on the floor. The rugs especially are outstanding. Wow, did she make them?
Soon, you wander into the kitchen where she’s busily….
….cutting up carrot sticks, making dip, pulling out more wineglasses. Doing all those little tasks that you do to get ready for a party. Oh, it smells good in the kitchen!
“What’s that lovely smell? Is it sauteed garlic?” you ask.
“Oh, you’re right! That’s the secret ingredient in my my special handmade carrot dip–sauteed garlic, with a little curry powder thrown in. Isn’t it wonderful? Here, have a taste!” She hands you a carrot with a dollop of dip, you taste–and you are suddenly in love with this carrot dip. You must have more!
“Did you make all those wonderful things in your living room, too?” you ask, wanting to get to know this amazing and talented person better.
“Why, yes, I made some of the things. What caught your eye?” she says. You ask about the paintings and the rugs. She explains that the paintings are by a friend, but yes, she did indeed weave all the rugs on the floor.
She tells you the wonderful story of her aunt who was also a weaver, and how when she was a little girl, she used to go to her aunt’s house and help her set up her loom, and how much she loved the yarns, and how sometimes she got to help dye the yarns….
She takes you back into the living room and shows you one of the rugs, the one that caught your eye first. She shows you the beautiful finishing details, points out the interesting interplay of colors, and tells you about the quality of the wool yarns she selected specially for this rug. She tells you that a rug of this quality is heirloom quality–with the right care, it will last for generations. “This rug will be around for our children’s children’s children to enjoy,” she says.
And before you know it, you are wishing you could have one of those handwoven rugs for your home, too. You know if you had one, you could capture a little bit of the warmth, and exuberance, and passion and artistry of this woman in your own life.
You beg her to make a rug for you, too. Better yet, will she sell this one? Because you know it is the perfect rug for YOU.
Whew! Sorry, I got carried away there.
But I hope this little exercise has helped you understand better the booth behaviors that are appropriate for you.
Be the party. Not the pooper.
I did some market research this weekend, and threw in a little retail therapy to boot. I went shopping with a friend at a small local craft fair.
My friend is just starting out with a product she wants to make. I wanted her to walk the show with a different filter in mind–to look at how booths were set up, how product was displayed, and how people acted in their booths.
It was an eye-opener.
Afterwards we went out for coffee and discussed our experiences.
There were glaring omissions in the booth set-up, display, lighting areas.
But mostly, people had no idea how to sell their work.
I was surprised how little lighting was used. It made me realize that electricity is probably not even offered at most of the smaller fairs like this one. Someone had set up a couple of clamp-on lights, but they were the kind you use for task lighting at home. They were oversized, top-heavy, falling down into the display, and not putting out enough light to produce much effect. The hall was bright, so the lights would mostly have been for drama.
But it made me think how to use what electricity I’ll have at these smaller shows to the best effect.
I was also surprised how poorly delineated most of the booth spaces were. Some people were sharing booths, but many simply looked like they were sharing. That is, it was hard to tell where one booth left off and another vendor’s space started. It was embarrassing to ask a question of someone seated behind a table, and have them glare at me and say, “That’s not MY stuff, ask HIM!” with an angry nod to their more popular neighbor.
That made me realize that even a very modest “walling” of my booth will have a huge effect. The lack of a fully walled booth will not hurt me much at this kind of show. I’ll think of other ways to create a secluded environment in my space.
I don’t think any of the booths had any kind of flooring, and in this environment, that was not detrimental.
People seemed to have either too much display stuff, or too little. Too little–product simply laid out on a plain table top, like a flea market. Too much–we couldn’t tell what was product and what was display! As an example we didn’t actually see at the show, if I see ten different kinds of wooden drying racks with mittens pinned to them, I would like to know instantly if mittens are being sold, or drying racks. Or if you are actually selling the clips holding the mittens to the drying racks. Or you are selling a decorative item which consists of a faux drying rack with fake mittens…..
I noticed most booths had very little signage, or poorly utilized signage. One person had a tiny booth filled with her goods–too filled, as there was only room for one person at a time to actually be in the space. (And once you were in there, you were keenly aware of other people behind you waiting for you to leave so they could look, too.) No pricing anywhere. When I finally asked how much an item was, the artist pointed to a handwritten sign stuck off the the side with the price of everything in the booth carefully listed on it. Like I’m going to stand in the booth skimming the list looking for the item I’m thinking of with that crowd muttering behind me….
I realize I will be a totally new vendor at the smaller retail shows I’m doing, with a brand new audience. I must be sure everything is clearly priced, and that my signage quickly tells my story.
I saw the person who makes “a little bit of everything”, including some items that were obviously buy-sell–which inadvertently made me question everything else in her booth.
I realize that, though I have no idea which of my “lines” will appeal the most at my upcoming shows, it will still be better to streamline them into a few cohesive lines. Or to group things in a way that makes sense and hangs together, yet still offers enough variety and choice.
Most of the vendors would stare at us as we shopped. You could almost hear their thoughts over the din of the crowd: “Buy something buy something buy something oh please dear god BUY SOMETHING!!” The men were the worst–they would stand there either with their ams folded or their hands in their pockets, staring or talking nonstop.
But not saying the things that would encourage us to buy.
I started a little experiment. I actually started selling stuff for them.
“You have to try this cream!” I exclaimed to my friend. “I’ve been using it for years. It is absolutely the only thing I’ve found that works on my dry feet.” I went over the things I liked about it. I have to tell you, the packaging on this stuff looks like it was designed by the tractor company, John Deere. There is no schmoozing of the product in the packaging or anything. But I buy it because I know and like the vendor and because it works. Slowly, a small crowd formed around us. My friend was impressed with my testimonial, and bought some herself.
I met up with another friend the next day, and she said that show is typical of “shows in Keene.” In Keene, she says, “It’s all about price.” People in Keene just won’t spend money.Well, I have been in some homes in Keene over the years (!!!) and I’m here to tell you, people here have just as much money to spend, and inclination to do so, as people anywhere else.
We looked at some beautiful wood boxes, which my friend collects. She admired one square box that turned out to be a sort of night light or lantern. But not until she’d decided to buy it did the guy open it and show her there were multiple panels inside that allowed her to change the scene.
And she had nearly walked out of the show before I convinced her she really should go back to that guy’s booth and look again at his boxes. She almost never knew about those panels.
She almost bought nothing at all, thought she clearly loved the work.
Because I knew how much she wanted those bowls, I urged her to go back. And she ended up spending a nice chunk of change in that booth.
So what was missing for that guy to sell his bowls at that show? I’m sure the guy is convinced that people in Keene just won’t spend money on nice wood bowls.
In fact, my friend I was shopping with had plenty of money to spend, and wanted to do so. She collects wooden boxes, fercryinoutloud.
But she had talked herself out of buying one. She has “enough”, she “doesn’t need more”. Just what we all tell ourselves when confronted with something we love.
People, it’s not about the price.
I think if you have a remarkable product, and if you price it appropriately, and if you display it nicely, and are able to talk about it intelligently, you can sell it.
My friend needed to have that box pitched to her so she could give herself permission to buy it. She needed someone to tell her that it’s okay to collect boxes. It’s okay to love them. It’s okay to enjoy them. It’s okay to display them. It’s okay to show them to your friends! Heck, I didn’t even know she HAD any wood boxes. I’ve never seen them. (They’re all upstairs in the family’s private quarters, it turns out.)Let me pick on this wood box guy. Because he had a nice product at decent prices.
If I were him…..
Instead of displaying a ton of boxes and bowls on plain lattice shelving, I’d set aside at least one section of a wall for a few beautiful display shelves–NOT unfinished pine, which made the boxes look like cheap pine, too.
I’d put my best pieces here, including the lantern. I’d make it look like it was someone’s private collection of beautiful handmade wood bowls and boxes (which, just coincidentally, all happen to be made by “moi”.) Maybe two or three displays–one for a formal living room, one for a children’s room, or a kitchen.
I bet if he had, my friend would have started thinking, “Wow, that looks beautiful, having all the bowls displayed like that.” And then, “Hmmmm….maybe I could do that in our living room….and another display of my bowls in the kitchen…..?” “Oh, wouldn’t that lantern look nice in my daughter’s bedroom?!” And then…”I could do that, and I would have more display room to buy a few more bowls!”
I’d have a few–a very few–obviously decorative accents–perhaps a few small branches of fir branches, some candlesticks, perhaps a stack of lovely old, well-read children’s books on the “children’s” shelf. The lantern, I’d set up with a light inside, just as it would be used. (If there’s no electricity, I’d get a nine-volt battery and hook it up to a 4-watt light bulb for this purpose.)
I’d have a sign that said “Handcarved lantern–Four gifts in one!” and a little blurb with something like “Perfect gift for that special niece or nephew!” or “Great wedding gift!” or “A housewarming gift they’ll enjoy for years to come!” Maybe even “gift box available!”
I’d either make it very clear there are four panels that are interchangeable, AND they all store neatly inside the lantern when not in use. OR as soon as people seemed hooked on the lantern itself, I’d show them the extra panels. What a finale!
If people still weren’t sure, I’d tell them the story of how my kids always needed a nightlight because they were a little scared of the dark when they were small. But the nightlights were always on the floor in the outlets, and they weren’t very pretty. So I made one that could sit on their table by them at night. (“Oh, my child/niece/grandchild is afraid of the dark, too–this would be perfect!”)
Or if they don’t have little ones, I share the story of how I made one for our familiy for Christmas, but my wife loved it so much, I made a different panel that could be put in after Christmas, with a different theme–and realized we could now use it year-round. (“Hey, this would be one Christmas decoration I wouldn’t have to pack away every year!”)
And how I’d made one for each of our kids, so they’d always remember our Christmases together. (“Hey, I could get one for each of my kids!”
And every year, I’d offer another set of 2 to 4 new panels for people to come back and buy. Perhaps even a few limited editions. (“Get ’em now, because there’s only so many of these.”)
When someone new asks if they are good gifts, I’d be able to say, “Yes, not only do people come back to buy more panels every year, they buy MORE–because the people they gave them to like them so much!”
And I’d have a little gift enclosure card to go with each one, telling them about the little retired guy who used to make these for his grandkids and figured other people might like one for their grandkids, and now you can have one for your grandkids. Or sister, or niece, or friend. With a little contact info so they can order new panels from you, too.
Don’t you just want to run out and buy ten of these?!
And for heaven’s sake, I’m not going to tell you I’m going to be at another show in a week and you can get them from me then. And I’m not going to tell you I have a website, either, until AFTER you’ve purchased it. I want you to buy it NOW. I’ll tell you if you realize you could use more of these as gifts later, you can order more from my website.
To wrap this up, it’s all about how you act in your booth and how you talk about your booth that’s going to turn a show like this around.
Here are some things to think about for your next show:
Figure out a game plan for talking to people. There were people who totally ignored us when we came in the booth, and people who hung on us like lemurs.
Pay attention to business. There were vendors who stopped to take calls on their cell phones while we were waiting for our purchases to be wrapped.
It’s a short show–stay in your booth! Wives left husbands to mind the booth while they went to chat with other vendors–and their husbands knew absolutely nothing about the product.
Be of service to your customers, and help them S*H*O*P. There were vendors who watched as I struggled to look at an item with one hand while holding my purchases and struggling to maneuver with my aircast who never said, “Here, let me hold your packages for you a minute while you shop”, or “Let me help you get that down.”
Listen to your customers. One woman kept trying to sell my friend a doll’s nightgown for a 16″ doll after my friend said her daughter had a 10″ doll, and the vendor had already said she had nothing for a doll that size.
Don’t be afraid to let your customers know you love what you do. Tell us why you love it, and make us love it, too!
Get serious about selling. Your product is simply not going to sell itself, no matter how wonderful it is.
And it IS wonderful, isn’t it?
You know I want it.
Make me buy it!
Today’s essay isn’t actually about booth design (except for the unlocked case thing below.) It’s about booth behavior. But it’s actually just as important–maybe more important–than having the perfect booth set-up.
I’ve often called myself a poster child for Bruce Baker’s CDs on booth design and selling. I’ve learned so much from “the Master”, and still always find something new when I listen to him or his CDs.
He’s made me a keen observer, too. I now pay attention when a sales situation or a booth is annoying me. In turn, I try to ensure I don’t do it to MY customers.
So today I’m sharing a common mistake craftspeople make when customers enter your booth.
Leave them alone!
Quit being so damn friendly, especially when they first come in.
Give them a few minutes to get their bearings and see what you’re about.
And when you do talk, don’t ask them stupid questions.
People know how to shop. Assuming that they don’t is insulting.
A few days ago I drove two hours to Boson to attend a Rings & Things trunk show. This company is one of my personal favorites. They sell beads and jewelry findings, and they are one of my sources for antique trade beads. They aren’t always the least expensive, but their range of products and customer service often makes up for it. And their trunk shows are wonderful! Check out their trunk show schedule to find one near year.
On the way back, I stopped into a promising dealer antique store I’d seen on the way down. I walked in after driving for many hours, through rush hour traffic and without stopping to eat. I was wired, tired and hungry.
But ready to shop!
And was immediately bombarded with joviality and perkiness by the store owner.
The door hadn’t even shut behind me when the pounce happened. I say “pounce” because that’s just what it feels like when sellers start selling the second you appear.
JUST LET ME LOOK.
The nice lady in charge asked me how I was enjoying the beautiful day. (I wasn’t. I’d just spent four hours in my car with a cramped leg and two hours inside a hotel convention room shopping.) I murmered, “Fine, thank you.”
She said the store was filled with lovely things I was sure to love. (Please. Let ME be the judge of that.) I said something like, “How nice!”
She said she would be happy to show me anything I liked. She talked on about some other stuff–by that time I was blocking well. I put an attentive face on my focused inattention, something we all learned to do in fourth grade geography class. I kept saying, “Oh, how nice.” “Thank you.” “How nice.”
Now, imagine this little dance.
I’d been looking forward to visiting this shop all day, since I’d seen it passing by that morning. I start to look at something–and the manager tells me something, or asks another question. I have to stop looking and answer her question, or it would feel rude. I’m responding in a neutral voice, clearly indicating I’d rather be shopping. The questions are sort of mundane and predictable, but I feel forced to respond.
I look like a little sideways bobbing doll, turning to look, turning back to answer, taking a step or two away from her each time, hoping I’ll be out of talking range eventually. By the fifth comment/question, I can actually pretend I can’t hear her anymore–and I proceed to shop more attentively.
This poor woman! She thought she was being a good salesperson. She thought she was being gracious and welcoming. She thought she was “selling”.
She was actually keeping me from shopping.
I wanted to say, “Look, lady, I’ve been shopping since I was four years old. Over fifty years now! I don’t need your instruction or your encouragement. Just let me look!”
In short: “Leave me alone!”
DON’T JUST SAY YOU’RE GONNA HELP, BE READY TO HELP.
Now, ironically, ten minutes later, when I’d had a chance to look around and found something in a case, she was so deeply engaged in pleasant conversation with another customer about personal matters, I couldn’t get her attention. I stood patiently, waiting to catch her eye while she ignored me, finally resorting to saying, “Excuse me…..”
A MATTER OF TRUST.
And though the case was unlocked, when I finally got her attention, she insisted on opening it herself, and handing me the items–clearly signaling she did not trust me. She actually said,”You tell me what you want to look at and I will hand it to you.”
When I selected several pieces of jewelry to examine, she said brightly, “Well, it’s clear that you love vintage jewelry!” For some, that may have been another conversation opener. To me, as tired as I was, it was another “well, duh!” statement.
Later, I took an item up I knew to be an unmarked McCoy vintage pot. Unasked, she told me firmly that she’d originally thought it was a McCoy, but it wasn’t marked “McCoy”, so it wasn’t–showing me clearly that she was not very knowlegable about McCoy pottery.
So was I going to trust her judgment on another item she assured me was “genuine” something or other, but I suspected was not?
DON’T LIE TO ME.
When I went to pay, I pulled out my debit card–and was told that they didn’t accept credit cards or debit cards. (I’m sorry, in this day and age, that smacks of either a business running “under the table” as far as reporting earnings, or someone not very savvy about credit cards and how much they can increase your sales. I understand an emerging craftsperson perhaps not wanting to pay the extra percentage and fees….but a store??!!
Further proof of the of the lack of professionalism was the excuse that it was “impossible to split up the charge among the group dealers with credit cards”–something I know to be untrue, not only because I shop at group stores all the time with my debit card, but also because my daughter works for a group dealer antique shop.
IF YOU DON’T TRUST ME, THEN TAKE REASONABLE PRECAUTIONS.
The final indignity was being asked to put my phone number and drivers license number on the check. Myself.
Now, if someone is going to demand my drivers license for ID, then they can look at it to see if the photo matches me, and write down the number themselves to show they checked.
But not looking at it at all, and having me write down the number? Come on! If I were a dishonest person looking to rip you off, wouldn’t I also simply write down an incorrect ID number?
The exercise was pointless and mindless.
So she’s showing she doesn’t trust me, she doesn’t trust me, she doesn’t trust me, while gushing friendliness and “helpfulness”, all the while showing I shouldn’t trust her.
Here’s how put-off I was by the whole experience. There was one item I kind of wanted, but it was overpriced. Usually I would ask if the price were “firm”, a nice way to ask if there is a discount or bargaining room.
I didn’t even ask.
GOODBYE. I WON’T BE BACK.
At the end of the transaction, she offered me a chance to win a gift certificate that would have paid for the item, if I would sign up for the mailing list.
And I turned it down, because I didn’t want to hear from the store again!
Learn from this.
Let your customers shop.
Don’t ask stupid questions. Or at least limit yourself to only one! Trust me, people come in your booth because they can tell you are selling something. They want to decide if it’s something they’d like to buy. They already know how to look and how to shop.
Be available to help if you’re needed. (Bruce’s “trademark” sentence, “IF I can help you, just let me know” is perfect.)
If you don’t trust your customers, fine. I respect that. But handle that gracefully and discreetly. Don’t make it clear you don’t trust ME. I’d actually prefer a locked case that says they don’t trust anybody, rather than an unlocked case I’m not allowed to touch.
Don’t treat your customers like they’re stupid. It only reflects badly on YOU.
Am I being hard on this poor woman? Probably. After all, I did manage to find a couple of things I liked, and I persevered and actually bought them.
But do you want to put your customers through a gamut like this? Do you want to risk them running out of patience and moving on to another booth, with items just as lovely and enticing as yours?
A booth where they can shop, shop, shop to their heart’s content–and actually buy a lot of stuff?
I’m doing my first SMALL retail craft show in ten years in November.
It’s the first out-of-state show I have to drive to, with only a few hours’ set-up. (I usually ship my booth, or have two days’ set-up time.)
I can only take about 25% of my regular set-up, and I can’t even get most of my walls in my car. The most electricity available will only be enough to light my cases, not my walls.
I’ll only be taking jewelry cases and a few propanels, and a couple of lights. I’ll be using the show pipe-and-drapes.
It will be a very “watered down” booth. It feels like I’m taking a huge step backwards in my booth set-up.
I’m terrified everyone who’s been reading my series will come in and take a look and say, “THIS is the person who’s been telling US how to make a great booth?!”
So if you visit the Westport Creative Arts Festival on November 17 and 18, please come see me.
And please be kind.