HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #15: What’s Old is New Again

From the beginning to today, my little horses have evolved in many ways. I love them all!

In my last post, I shared how simply rearranging our work can result in visitors/customers “seeing” a work they haven’t seen before.

There’s another side to “old work”, though, that I share with you today:

Your old work still has value.

Here’s the long story:

My artifacts have evolved over the years, changing for the better (I hope!) in every stage. I loved each “stage” for what it was.

But when I look back at those earlier pieces, I feel embarrassed. How could I have thought these were the best I could do?? Should I just get rid of them all? Discount them and move them on?

I hate discounting my own work, as it implies it does not have the same value it had originally. It could make buyers feel if they wait long enough, the price could come down.

Now, of course, I realize that as my prices have risen over the years, even when selling it for the same original price, it will look like a bargain.

Here’s how I found my own truth: From a friend who set me straight.

When I complained that I wasn’t wild about my old work, and felt a little guilty selling it as it felt “less than”, they asked,

“Did you love it when you made it?”

Yes.

“Did people love your old work when it was new?”

Yes.

“Then there will be people who will love it now, too.”

Bam! Mic drop. Clarity restored. (Thank you, Ruth Parent, my good friend!)

I now keep all my old bits to use in newer work. They are stored in a printer’s type tray chest, restored by my son years ago. Visitors are encouraged to open drawers and explore during my studio events.

And by holding on to all my older artifacts, I’ve discovered another insight along the way:

It’s my “relatively-old” work that annoys me, seeing in the moment, now, what I could have done better.

And my “really old” work that I love even more!

I love the fearless outlook on my art career I had then. I had a fabulous photographer, too, who always made my work look incredible. (Thank you and good wishes to you, Jeff Baird, in the Great Beyond. I will miss you and your talents forever.) I sometimes wish I could recapture that old aesthetic, but it’s hard. I am here in the now, right where I belong.

As artists, we fall into the myth that we get better and better at what we do in our making career. Well, we do get better…usually. (Maybe). But it doesn’t mean our work is worth more, will sell more/faster, will be seen as ‘better’. Skills matter, of course. But my own personal lifetime collections of other people’s work, I simply buy what I love, not what’s new, better, etc.

It’s about what speaks to ME.

There are buyers who will appreciate our growing skill level, and our newest work, of course.

Remember, though, there will be plenty of people who have our older work, and still treasure it. And people who will love our old stuff now, too.

So instead of beating yourself up over “old work”, instead of hiding it, put it out there! Especially if your new work is all out in galleries right now.

Tell the story about who you were then, and where you were in your life.

Someone may consider it the perfect piece, for themselves.

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #14: The Need for New. (NOT)

I’ve already made display changes, the result of a major project that took up a lotta space in my studio last year! And that’s a good thing.

 

Short story: Rearrange your work and your studio from time to time.

I told you I wasn’t done with this series!

In a Zoom meeting recently, another artist said they were freaking out a little about not having a lot of new work to exhibit for an upcoming open studio event.

I told them not to worry, and shared my favorite story about that:

I was (still am!) a juried and tenured member of a well-known, highly-respected art organization back in New Hampshire, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. For years, I participated in their annual fair, a ten-day show at a ski resort.

Landscapes change all the time in this area, and I never knew which tent, large or small, near the entrance or far away, or what place on the mountain, I would be assigned to. We had the option to request our favorite spot, but different factors prevailed, so we never knew for sure where we’d end up.

So every year, I was in a different tent, with a different terrain, and different neighbors. The hard part was, I never knew if my booth would be on a slant (ski resort!), in the front or back of a tent, etc. That was the downside.

The upside was, I learned over time what worked best for me and my multi-media work. And hidden gift: I often had to improvise how to set up and arrange my art display. (With jewelry, wall hangings, shrines and sculpture, I had to use walls, pedestals, and display cases.)

Why was this a hidden gift? My display never looked the same way, year to year. So every time someone entered my booth, it was “new” to them.

The proof this works?

I juried into the League with my fiber collage/free-style quilting work in the spring of 1997, I think. I brought one of my handmade artifacts, a horse, with me so they could examine my “buttons” and embellishments more closely.

The jury process took about 10 minutes (woot!) as I waited outside the jury room, and when I was asked back inside, not only had I been accepted, they encouraged me to come back to the next jury session in the fall. Because they all agreed that I should make jewelry with that horse. (I did, and I got in with jewelry, too.) (Thank you, jury team!)

About ten years in, one of my repeat customers/visitors came into my booth and exclaimed, “Wow! You’re making fiber work now! Fabulous!”

Er….as I said, I’d been exhibiting my fiber work for almost a decade! But my jewelry had caught their eye at first, and when they came into my booth, year after year, that is what they paid attention to.

Until that year, for that customer, when something was different–and the fiber work caught their eye.

It could have been a more colorful piece. Or the way the lighting was set up. Or it was hanging above something else that caught their attention. Or…who knows??

The point is, we think we see “everything” when we walk into a space, a booth, a store, etc. But we don’t. We see what catches our eye, and may follow a “narrow” visual path from one item to the next.

In fact, when a customer tells me they’re ready to buy something, but can’t make up their mind which something to buy, I ask them what was the first thing they saw, or touched, in my booth. They point to a piece. I tell them they should consider that piece. They protest that it was a random piece they “just happpened to see”.

I tell them this: Every single person who was intrigued enough to come into my booth, was attracted by something different. 

No two people were drawn in by the same item. 

Which means something signaled to the brain, “Whoa, let’s take a closer look at that!”

Yes, I have a major piece of work at the back of my booth, and at my booth entrance. Standard booth/show set-up procedure. But even so, what pulled people in, and what kept them engaged, was something that appealed to them.

So if you’re worried that you don’t have enough new work in your studio, consider this simple solution: Rearrange your work. If you’ve arranged your work by medium, try to arrange them by color, or theme, or style. Shift groupings around. Bring out older work. (Many customers love our older work! I have a story about that, too.) (Of course.)

It can be harder in our studio/workspace, because it has to actually work as our workspace. But consider small changes that can be easily restored after the open studio event. (I’m thinking I need to do this myself, so thank you, Katie Kruzic for sharing your worries this week!)

You may be surprised who may be excited about a “new piece” you’ve had on display for years.

 

 

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 4: More Papas, Fewer Babies

Don’t let your cheaper work devalue your finest work. More papas, few babies.

Fourth in a series on how to think about your true collectors.

I have a friend who’s been in the fine craft biz for over twenty years. He’s in the very best shows. He’s an astute businessman as well as a talented artist. The first time he came to my open studio, he shared an insight I’d never considered before:

Offering too much lower-priced work to attract a wider audience can actually diminish your value for serious collectors.

Human nature being what it is, people won’t think your cheaper work is “a bargain”. They’ll perceive your higher end work as “overpriced.”

I favor the papa/mama/babies model in my display. I show one high-end piece—my biggest and best work of the year. That’s the ‘papa’ piece. I’ll add in three to five mid-range pieces—things that echo the same spirit and flavor but in the $150-$500 range. These are the ‘mama’ pieces. Then I fill in with a large selection of items under $150, down to $25. These are the ‘babies’.

The theory is that the ‘papa’ piece is the attention-getting show-stopper. It rarely sells, but acts as a major draw. Well-heeled and confident collectors will then readily purchase the ‘mama’ pieces. People with smaller budgets, or who are unsure of their choices, will load up on the smaller ‘baby’ pieces.

It works pretty well in stores and galleries, where stores have to appeal to a wide range of customers and sizes of pocketbooks. But is it the right model for an open studio, or a booth at a show? What are the pros and cons?

My friend believes that mixing our high-end and our low-end work sends a bad message to our serious collectors. It signals confusion on the part of the artist, a lack of focus and intent.

Someone who’s thinking about buying a $5,000 or $10,000 piece from you does not want to see a $50 pair of earrings next to that piece. Their thinking? “Why should I invest five figures in you, when I can have a piece of you for $50?” Or worse….”If this piece is only $50, then that $5,000 piece must be overpriced!”

Eliminate the ‘babies’?? It’s a hard concept to embrace when times are tough. Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat. It’s tempting to stay with the safer strategy of ‘something for everyone’.

But building a business model that relies on the sale of lots of $50 has its drawbacks, too.

The biggest drawback? It’s soul-numbing.

This is not conjecture. I’ve been there. You focus totally on what sells. It becomes all about the “small”: Small in price, small in stature, small in risk.

Soon you feel your creative self and artistic vision getting small, too.

I’ve been there–and I never want to go back.

So….How to proceed?

Offer fewer ‘babies’.

In an open studio recently, I simply didn’t have time to set out lots of lower-priced work. The ‘mamas’ took the place of the ‘babies’.

I sold more ‘mamas’ than ever!

So my advice to you: Consider your venues, and these economic times.

In the past, I could easily do the ‘all papa’ strategy at the tried-and-true big shows in my industry. The shows had the great reputation and reliable attendance, and targeted the right demographic, for those big, wonderful works. Money flowed more freely and people loved the attention that came from their spectacular purchases.

Things are different now. Show attendance is down. People hesitate to flaunt their money when their friends are hurting. They’re cautious about what they invest in.

The internet has changed things: Buyers are more comfortable buying on the internet now. It’s secure and the selection is limitless. It’s also more discreet. No need to reveal just how much money they spent on that new piece of art.

When money is tight and sales are slow, maintain your confidence in your work. Focus on keeping your technique sharp. Be patient. You still need face time with collectors to build a relationship. But also give them more opportunities online to buy.

If you love your lower-end pieces, that’s okay. I love mine, too! Instead of mooshing them in with your finer work, try this: Separate the lines and market them differently.

Or try using a different venue for them. I have one line of jewelry that’s decidedly out-of-sync with my “ancient art” aesthetic. I now market that under a totally different business name.

In the end, we all have to ask ourselves: What is the highest and best use of our time and talent?

I still keep a few smaller, less expensive items available. But I’ve slowly raised the bar by raising the prices on them. I’m asking my collectors for a bigger commitment to own one of my pieces. I’d rather sell one $250 item than ten $25 items. I focus on making those more expensive pieces even more special–more one-of-a-kind, more daring, more unusual.

Interestingly, when I look back at my sales over the last 15 years, I’m not selling more items. I’m selling more expensive items. The demand has remained constant but there’s less resistance to my prices. My friends who assist me in my booth say this all the time. I worry about charging too much. “Luann!” they exclaim. “People know your work is worth it!”

The energy is better, too. People don’t buy my work because ‘it’s a deal’. They buy it because they love it and they see it as worthy of owning.

By valuing my time and my skill, I’ve encouraged others to have respect for my work.

Remember: When we have an open studio, or a solo show, or a booth at a fair, our audience is self-selected; that works in our favor!

A store or gallery has to appeal to anyone who walks by. They don’t care which artist’s work sells, as long as the customer buys something.

As an artist, I have a style, an aesthetic and a story that connects people to my work. If the buyer wants to buy my work, I have more leverage.

Is the just papas, a few mamas, no babies approach for everyone? Of course not. Have I embraced it 100%? Nope. But I’m inching my way there.

And let me be clear: This is me in my “business hat” talking.

I’d never disdain someone who loved my work but cannot afford a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to invest. I love my ‘smaller’ collectors. I’m just as grateful for them as I am for my ‘bigger’ collectors.

My prices aren’t arbitrary. I’m confident they reflect the skill, time and passion necessary to create each piece. In fact, many collectors start small and then move on to more expensive pieces.

I would never twist a collector’s arm to buy more than they are comfortable with. I’m honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on my work. I love it when customers come back the year after they invest in a major piece and tell me how much joy it’s giving them.

Ask your true collectors to step up to the plate and commit to you. The worst they can say is ‘no’.

And it’s simply wonderful when they say ‘yes’.

Respect Your Collectors Part 4
by Luann Udell originally published on the Fine Art Views website on January 10, 2011.)

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

TRUNK SHOW

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!

Trunk display for my trunk show!
Trunk display for my trunk show!

NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??

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.

VACATION MODE–OFF! Sunburn, Island Dogs and Fire Safety

We’re back from our very first Caribbean family vacation. We spent a week on the Turks and Caicos islands. And yes, it’s as beautiful as it looks in the pictures.

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.

Jewelry Display #5: Organic Design

By “organic”, I don’t mean your jewelry display has to be crunchy-granola, or even of natural materials. What I mean is, choose display that supports the style of your jewelry. Or choose display that falls away so completely, only your jewelry is noticeable.

Avoid display that overwhelms your jewelry. You’ll know this is happening when people try to buy your display fixtures! They really can’t tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

When this happens, some craftspeople bemoan how stupid their customers are. But that’s not the case.

If your customers really can’t tell, then you have confused them. It’s your job to make the distinction clear, not their job to stand in your booth and wonder if you make and sell earrings, or if you make and sell very cool earring holders.

Avoid display that takes your work down a notch in materials or quality. Display that looks cheap will not reflect well on your hard work and creativity. You can make great display with inexpensive materials , but be sure it looks classy !

Notice when your display materials is working against your story or aesthetic. When I first started out, I used more wood fixtures for display–until people began asking me if I were making my artifacts out of wood.

Now, this is not to denigrate wood carvers, but “wood” does not normally translate into “ancient artifacts”. (Yes, people have been carving wood for ages, but it doesn’t usually last 15,000 except under unusual conditions.

If I wanted people to think I was using fossil ivory or bone or antler, then I needed to eliminate a possible comparison to wood. That’s why I’ll occasionally include deer antlers in my display. Not too much–just enough to suggest animal material rather than plant material. Something that could have endured over thousands of years instead of only hundreds.

“Organic” can actually be “techno”, if that’s your jewelry style, if the display seems like a natural extension of your work. The danger here is going too far with it.

At a major trade show, I saw a new exhibitor with extraordinary handmade cases. Made with ordinary metal hardware combined in a highly creative way, they were absolutely stunning.

They were so stunning that, though people flocked in from the aisles for a closer look, the cases actually overwhelmed her jewelry. Her jewelry was okay, but not nearly as “cutting edge” as her cases. In fact, in comparison to her cases, I was mildly disappointed in her jewelry designs. I don’t think I would have felt this way if her cases hadn’t been so wonderful.

As I looked, I heard her answer another viewer for probably the hundredth time about how she made her cases, and no, the cases were not for sale, and no, she was not taking orders for the cases, she made jewelry.

Of course, if you find yourself in this situation, maybe you could seriously consider a new career in making cases!

The concept of “organic display” is why the typical jewelry store displays like these and these don’t usually work so well with handmade jewelry.

What do they look like? They look like displays you’d see in commercial jewelry stores (where, unless it’s artisan-owned, much of the jewelry is ready-made) and department stores.

They are not usually associated with unusual, handcrafted or unique jewelry. They don’t accentuate what’s wonderful about your work. They just look too ordinary. And yet they can be so obtrusive, they won’t “disappear” and let your work shine.

They’re not totally useless–I like to include a few of these “traditional” pieces in my display, just to mix it up a bit.

You can do the experiment for yourself: The next time you set up your jewelry for your booth, take a few pictures from different angles. Preferably from where a potential customer would walk down the aisle and first see your booth.

If all you see are rows and rows of identical standard units*, ask yourself if this is really the best way for folks to understand what is wonderful about your work.

*(With apologies to the perfectly-nice people who make this jewelry for resale. It probably works for them and their market. But hopefully our market is different.)

Remember, especially when times are hard, people still love to shop. But they also try to avoid temptation. It’s so easy to run through a show and quickly eliminate an ordinary-looking booth by dismissing it as “just another jewelry booth.” I’ve done it.

Let your display stand out enough to pull them in.

But then let your work do the shining.

JEWELRY DISPLAY #3: How Sweet It Is…

Candy, that is.  And today’s display idea is a candy dish from a dollar store.

I think this cost me about $6 or $7. I’ve started seeing similar items elsewhere, too, so keep lookout if you think it might work for you.

Here’s what it could look like as jewelry display. (I know, I know, my photography is awful. That’s why I’m a fiber artist, dude!)

Actually this was a real rush set-up, just to give you a way to look at “ordinary items” with an eye for display. What I like about this candy dish thingie is a) it breaks down into parts, so it’s easy to transport; b) it has different levels; and c) it was cheap!

To make it lighter/easier to pack or ship, you could look for baskets to substitute for the dishes.

Utilizing different eye levels in your display is a quick and easy way to add interest and movement.

Bruce Baker, noted speaker on selling and marketing craft, commented on artists and display years ago. He said, “Artists tend to line everything up–paintings, jewerly, pots. It’s so boring!” I thought it was an odd thing to say at the time. Aren’t artists creative?? Don’t we like wild and crazy??

But I started looking at booths and displays more closely, and he’s right. We may be wild/crazy/reckless/ambitious/outre/color-outside-the-lines with our art. But we tend to be very rigid and linear in our display.

Vary the levels a little, set some things off-kilter, work with small groupings and assemblages. See for yourself if it helps generate more interest in your display.

JEWELRY DISPLAY #2: Mix It Up!

I found a cool item this weekend at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s a black metal tree for hanging jewelry called (appropriately enough) “Hannah jewelry tree.”

Since this is an item that’s made with jewelry display in mind, it doesn’t take any tweeking to use with your wares. It could work with a lot of different design styles. It could probably be painted if you wanted a different look. Maybe it would even work for displaying ornaments.

It does have drawbacks. It would be a bear to pack if you have “away” shows. (If you intend to do that, hang on the the box and packing materials it comes in.)

It doesn’t hold a ton of pieces, either. That can work to your advantage, though, since most craftspeople, especially jewelry people, usually have too much stuff.

Another reason not to go overboard with this display is that reaching into its branches could be intimidating to your customers. Jewelry, especially fashion jewelry, usually sells better when people can touch it and pick it up to look at it easily. People hesitate to touch displays that look tricky to navigate, or tippy. (No one likes being “the oaf” in a booth….!!)

I still thought it was interesting enough to snag a couple and do the experiment. Here’s an impromptu shot of a mix of displays to show you how different ones can work together.

I actually saw a variation on this tree recently, at a Marshall’s store. The base was a large, polished “bole” of wood, and the tree was more….tree-ish. More leaves and such. Heavier, too. And more expensive! I think the BB&B version is nicer because it’s simpler and lends itself more to display.

I’ll share more unusual items for jewelry display soon. If you’re the kind of person who likes to “read ahead, you can see the rest of the images in this series at Flickr. How do I know that’s you? Because that’s what I always do!

JEWELRY DISPLAY #1: Thinking Outside the Box

When it comes to displaying your handcrafted jewelry, you have a lot of choices. There are tons of commercially-made products available to you. The choices can be overwhelming.

They range in price from the incredibly cheap to the ridiculously expensive. (By the way, those inexpensive stands are cute, but not very stable. If you use them, you might want to attach them to a larger base of some kind.)

You can find displays made of white leather, black steel, wood and plastic. You can find display stands with feathers, glitter, sequins and in twelve colors. You can find styles like contemporary, country, funky, whimsical, Victorian, romantic, techno, whatever your little heart desires.

There’s a fine line between displaying your work creatively without overpowering the work. I’ve seen displays so elaborate, it was hard to tell what was being sold–the jewelry or the display.

But simple, repetitive display can be boring. I’ve seen displays so monotonous I didn’t even want to stop to look them. One awful example is a common one: Row upon row of white necklace bust stands lined up in a straight line, every one holding a single necklace, each necklace the exact length and design.

It’s mind-numbing to see these “jewelry soldiers on parade”. And yet it’s possibly the single most common jewelry display I see at craft fairs.

One problem with jewelry is, if you display it on an upright display (like the white necklace busts) so people can see it from the aisles, it’s hard for people to actually look at the work easily. You have to sort of bend over to get it back at eye level.

If you display it at a good viewing level, and laid flat (on velvet pads, for example), it’s easier for people to look at. But it’s hard to catch the attention of people out in the aisle. They may not even be able to tell what you’re selling. (Good over-sized photos/posters of your work on your walls can help overcome this.)

Even if you find the perfect commercial display product, if it’s too popular, your display ends up looking like everyone else’s.

I’d like to show you some ways to mix up your display, using commercial and non-commercial display products. Some weren’t even meant to display jewelry at all.

Excuse the not-ready-for-prime-time photography and set-ups. I just wanted to give you some quick examples of non-traditional display pieces and ways to mix and match components without your display looking all over the map.

This vertical necklace stand by Vilmain is one of my favorite display units. It’s upright, stable and holds several necklaces. It’s relatively flat for easy packing and shipping to shows outside your area. It’s pretty sturdy–no fussy little parts to break off or get bent. The black painted steel is neutral, and allows your jewelry to take center stage. It could work with many different styles, including contemporary, funky, elegant, or whatever-style-you’d-call-my-work. (I’ve been told it’s “post-modern”, which sounds ever-so-cool, but I’m still not sure what that actually means…)

The next image shows my Ancient Bull Pendant necklace on a similar stand. It’s the same material and color as the Vilmain stand, and does a decent job showcasing my bigger, bolder designs.

But this second jewelry stand isn’t a necklace display at all. In fact, it’s something I purchased at T.J. Maxx. It originally held two pieces of shaped glass, which sort of formed a vase. I would take a picture of it in it’s original state, but I’ve ditched the glass already. Hey, I found something very similar here. I just love that Google “image” feature….

I guess they weren’t too popular, because they were marked down to less than $10. A month later, I found the same item at Marshalls’ and they had been marked down, too. I bought about four of them, and use them interspersed with other display pieces.

I’m off to pick up the images for my new Etsy shop. I’ll pick up this thread tomorrow with more tips and examples of how to mix up your jewelry display.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #22: Say Something!

Here’s something else that drove me nuts at the show:

Vendors just don’t know what to do or say when someone is in their booth or looking at their work.

You see something that catches your eye and approach the booth. The person usually says hello. Then….silence.

You are aware of their gaze upon you as you browse. You can almost feel it. You can almost hear it: “Please, please, please, please by something!!!”

It is simply excruciating to shop when someone is staring at you, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to buy something. I feel like a mouse being watched by a very hungry cat.

At one small show I attended, the traffic was so slow, I could feel an entire roomful of craftspeople staring at me as I made the rounds of their tables. I almost fled.

The opposite is also irritating. The person starts asking silly questions: “How are you?” “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Are you enjoying the show?”

I’m such a crab. I hate questions like this when I’m trying to look at stuff. It’s like we’re both evading what’s really going on–“I’m shopping here!”–and pretending we’re actually making small talk at a party.

Or the vendor starts answering questions you haven’t even asked yet. You may be mildly interested in the product and you are instantly subjected to a full-fledged sales pitch.

People with this approach are caught in the same kind of thinking as “too much stuff”–trying to make something for everyone. In this case, they’re providing too much verbiage, hoping something they say will convince you to buy.

But the connection has to come first, not the reasons to buy.

You need to find a happy medium between babbling and stony silence.

I think this is also why I hate the standard craft fair “booth” set-up–the craftsperson sets up a standard table (that’s the perfect height for eating but a dismal height for shopping) and plunks themselves into a chair behind it. Both seller and buyer feel trapped into unnatural roles. And the model feels too much like a flea market. (Though, I bet with a little finesse, you would even buy more at a flea market if sellers were more savvy.)

Please, please, go buy Bruce Baker’s CD series on how to sell your work. He has such excellent insights into the sales process, the dynamic, the give-and-take you can learn with a little practice.

I’m not perfect at it. I still stumble and find myself caught short. I can’t close every sale easily.

But at least I’m not staring at people as they browse my booth as if they were my last meal.

Until your CD arrives, here are some tips:

1) Greet your customers after they settle into your booth–not as they’re walking in. Let them get their bearings first. You don’t greet guests to your home as they’re getting out of their car. You let them finish that argument with their spouse, gather their stuff, straighten their clothing, check their mirror for spinach in their teeth, and get to the front door. Then you greet them and bid them welcome. They need that little moment to change gears. Let customers have that tiny moment, too.
2) Say something neutral that doesn’t require a yes-or-no answer. What does every seller say? “Can I help you?” And what does every customer say? “No thanks, just looking.” Ow! You just gave your customer a chance to say no.

Try this instead: “IF I can help you, just let me know.” Or, “I’m just sorting some items, I’m right here if you have any questions.” And my favorite: “It’s okay to touch!”

3) Be busy. (But not too busy) Be occupied. (But not preoccupied.) Pretend you are a store manager of a little store. Arrange things, straighten things, restock, re-ticket, dust, wipe glass, any busy little task that seems appropriate to your role. Something you can drop immediately the second your customer indicates they need you.

Although Bruce cautions against out-and-out demonstrating, I’ve seen craftspeople working on little projects with good success. The key word here is “little”. As long as it’s not so involved that it looks like you’re actually demonstrating, it can be a good ice-breaker. And it lets customers browse in peace til they’re ready to have you talk to them.

My friend Carrie the hat lady knits hats while she walks around the booth. (Which is cool because women used to knit as they walked and herded sheep.) Or she works on embroidering a hat, with a pretty container of colorful yarns prominently displayed. What’s brilliant is that people can then choose the exact colors of yarn they’d like their hat embroidered with. (Actually, Carrie stumbled on this ploy by accident. She’d sold out of embroidered hats before she even got to this show, and was trying to catch up.)

Don’t be so engaged that people feel they are interrupting you if they have a question. Reading, talking on a cell phone, talking to fellow craftspeople, all make the customer feel intrusive. Your customers should never feel second-best! Be available the instant they need you.

4) So many craftspeople tell me everything they want me to know about their product–before I’ve even decided if I like it. I hate that. I’m standing there thinking, “Yuck!” and they’re talking a mile a minute. Now I really don’t like it. I just want to get out of your booth.

And don’t start talking as soon as they touch something or pick it up. A vendor did this recently. Every time I picked something up to look at it more closely, he started “selling” it. All that happened was I put my hands in my pockets and quit picking things up, so he would stop talking at me. (Please note the “talking at me” part.)

When I ask you about your work, go to town! Once I’ve indicated that I’m interested by talking to YOU, that’s your signal to start selling.

Let’s all vow to make shopping fun for our customers again!

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #20: When to Break the Rules

I’m back from the Westport Creative Arts Festival. It was a beautifully run show, well-managed and supported by the Westport Young Women’s League. They did everything right! Unfortunately, attendance was down, down, down and although I didn’t crash and burn, I did not do well enough to return.

It did give me a chance to see all kinds of booth set-ups, though. I’m here to report that sometimes it’s good to break the rules of good booth design.

One of my favorite booths was Riverstone Jewelry.
It was one that broke several “rules”, to great effect.

The tables were low and deep. There was barely enough room for more than three or four people to browse at a time. There was a lot of work on display.

But it worked.

I’ve been thinking why, and here is my theory:

She created an atmosphere of a true “trunk show”. It felt like she had just returned from a buying trip, set up her well-worn traveling cases in an exotic but peaceful tent in a bazaar, and invited you in to see her new wares.

The backdrops were simple, neutral-colored (sort of beige) but layered–some sort of matchstick blinds over similar-colored material (linen??), very “Thai” or “Bali” looking.

The cases seemed to be old wood cases or boxes, with the jewelry lined up attractively. The items that were laid out in great numbers still worked, too. Bracelets were aligned in rows, but each one was different. Your eye could quickly take in the one or two that jumped out at you, according to your taste. I don’t think they were displayed on black, either, although I now can’t recall the color. More neutral, I think.

And the reason I say “looked” and “seemed” is, all I could really focus on was the jewelry. Everything else was warm and attractive and blended into the theme, then fell away so you only saw the jewelry.

I overheard a little of her sales approach. She told a woman how, in the villages where she buys the components, a shaman consults with you when you are ailing.

Once the source of your ills is determined, special healing amulets are prescribed. You go to a amulet “pharmacy” and purchase the right amulets. The amulets are then made into jewelry for you to wear.

The entire effect was that you were participating in such a healing process. And, as we all feel the need for such care from time to time, it was a compelling notion. People were scouring for just the right piece for healing.

People felt justified in buying more jewelry–“It’s therapeutic!”

And because the experience also felt “exotic” and “traveling to faraway places” and “marketplace”, people seemed to tolerate the crowding better. It was part of the total adventure.

Perfect booth!

So why doesn’t this table set-up work for every booth?

Because here it recreated a specific atmosphere–exotic locale/shaman healing/ancient wisdom/community.

When misused, the recreated atmosphere is “yard sale.”

I also recant (a little) on the booth lighting thing. Sometimes the worst way to light a booth is what works best under the circumstances.

It is really hard to light a booth on 400 watts of electricity! I don’t know how you do it if the fair doesn’t provide any electricity. (There are batteries available for outdoor shows, but most indoor shows don’t allow them.)

My booth was way too dark. Of course, part of my problem is trying to display three different lines that demand three different display modes–2-D (walls), sculptures (shelves/table top) and jewelry (cases).

Under these circumstances, the best-lit booths were indeed the ones that had a rack of track lighting across the top front bar of the booth. Yes, when I turned around, I was blinded by the lights. But if I didn’t have jewelry, too, I would seriously consider doing that just to get enough light into my booth quickly and easily.

The one exception was a guy across from me who had the more-successful light set-up–track lighting on all three sides of his booth, with the track set up about a foot or two away from each wall (my recommended solution.)

But when I counted the lights, I saw he also had at least 9 lamps, and another bar of 4 lamps. Either he was using lower watt lamps or he simply ignored the 400 watt limit. I did find some on-line sources for low watt MR16 halogen bulbs so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I will consider these bulbs the next time I have limited electricity.

So remember, there are many good rules to making a great booth. But some rules are made to be broken.

The trick is to know when and how to break them and why.

p.s. Low voltage does not equal low wattage. Low voltage lamps are not the same as low wattage bulbs.

Some craftspeople (and I used to be one of them) think if we are using low-voltage lighting, we can use twice the number of lamps/bulbs in our booth. “I can buy 400 watts, and have 800 watts’ worth of low-voltage lamps in my booth!” we exclaim happily.

NOT.

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.”

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD Addendum

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.

booth photo

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!

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #17: Party Time!

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.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #15: Booth Confession

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.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #14: Food Fight!

Another small topic in the “Good Booths Gone Bad” series, but one I’ve also given a lot of thought to. Artists often supply candy or munchies for their customers. Today I’ll share my experiences with having food for customers.

I’ve run the gamut with the food thing, and I’m currently down to nothing. No food in the booth. And I have different feelings on food treats at retail shows and wholesale shows.

Here are some of the good stories about food in the booth:

Offering treats to your customers is a nice gesture and can break the ice. In his seminars and CDs about selling, Bruce Baker describes how this helps create an air of hospitality in your booth, by “taking care of your customers.”

This really can be a powerful thing in your booth.

My friend Mark Rosenbaum, glass blower extraordinare from New Orleans, brings homemade pralines to his wholesale shows for his customers and his fellow exhibitors. It’s southern hospitality at its finest–and Mark is originally from Connecticut. As a nice side effect, Mark’s pralines create quite a buzz at the show. Buyers see you with a praline and exclaim, “Oh, I have to get down to Mark’s booth for mine!”

Here’s another great example: At one wholesale show, a buyer burst into my booth. He was obviously exhausted and agitated. He’d had a long, hard, frustrating day.

He’d just flown in from the other coast, his plane had been delayed, he’d been up since the wee hours, and he’d missed a couple of meals. Before I even gave him a chance to look at my work, I offered him a clementine and a chair. He took a seat gratefully, ate several clementines and almonds, and told me about his day. It was a wild one!

We had a pleasant chat, and he left with a “be back” tomorrow. I didn’t really think I’d see him again. It had been a slow show, and we hadn’t even talked about my work or his store.

But he came back the next day to thank me for simply taking care of him. He couldn’t believe I’d put selling on hold and just treated him like a fellow human being. He ended up placing a big order. A REALLY big order!

Other ways food can work in positive ways:

Food treats can provide a welcome distraction to children, giving Mom a few minutes to actually look at your wares.

It can also break the ice with a difficult visitor–say, the bored husband who is doing all the shlepping and none of the actual buying.

Now for the downside of offering food in your booth.

Figuring out what to offer is mind-boggling.

And lately, I’m finding that food, like demonstrating, can attract non-customers to your booth.

Let’s start with food choices.

First, anything you offer should either be individually wrapped, in small packets or naturally “wrapped”–like oranges. Otherwise, you have health issues with people eating things that other people’s hands have touched.

This isn’t too hard, though it can be tricky finding anything other than candy that’s packaged this way. Health food stores and the organic sections in supermarkets are great places to look for healthy snacks. Halloween is a great time to look for individually wrapped treats! Stock up for your winter shows then. Lunch box snacks are also a good alternative, like individual boxes of raisins and such.

Now you have a wrapper to dispose of. This can be another nice little touch–“Here, let me throw that away for you!” But still, it’s just more about the food.

Then there’s the issue of food allergies and sensitivities. These are becoming much more common, especially with children. No peanuts! Or anything that touched peanuts. Or anything that looks like it might know a peanut. I’m jesting a little, but I know that peanut allergies are serious business.

Chocolate is off-putting to people watching their weight. (Also the age-old debate: Dark, milk or white?) It’s also messy in really hot weather. Sugar in any form is a no-no with diabetics (and with our aging demographic, including moi, adult-onset diabetes is an issue. People are really trying to watch their sugar intake.)

Very small children can’t have hard candies, so whatever you provide, you may end up with small lollipops for them.

Cheap, out-of-date, bargain basement candy can be like wilted, bedraggled flowers–yuck!

If treats are chewy, they can’t be too chewy–watch those fillings! If they are hard, they can’t be too hard–jaw breakers have limited appeal to middle-aged people. If they are salty, they can’t be too salty–now I need a drink of water!

Clementines are healthy and juicy, but also messy. You not only have lots of pieces of rind to dispose of, you have a customer with sticky fingers. (I had a packet of baby wipes handy for the guy at my wholesale show.) And even though clementines are small, sometimes people just don’t want to eat a whole one.

Werther’s butterscotches were the perfect choice for many years–individually wrapped, quality candy, a flavor almost everyone likes. People loved them! But the last few years, hardly anyone took them. Again, too many people watching their sugar intake.

You think I’m being fussy about this? A few years ago at a wholesale show, a buyer actually complained to me that too many artists at the show were offering chocolate as a treat! (To his defense, he was trying to watch his weight….) So many of us were providing food that we were overfeeding our buyers.

Here’s the next to last item to chew on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Snacks at retail shows can attract people who have no intention of shopping in your booth.

I’ve had people cruising by in the aisle dart over to my booth to snag a handful of candy as they pass by. They often don’t even look at me as they snag a handful of candy. It feels weird–like I’ve paid $1,100 to be at the show so I can assuage their hunger pangs.

I’ve had the kids of fellow exhibitors discover my “candy stash” and help themselves liberally at every opportunity–until I gently pointed out that the candy was for my customers. (To give them credit, they cut it out once I mentioned that. They aren’t bad, just young.)

And as for distracting children for their parents’ sake, we’ve seen that people with kids are rarely actually shopping. We’ve noticed over the years that people who are taking care of other people are usually at the show for the edutainment factor. I don’t begrudge them this. I’m glad they’re there, exposing their kids and companions to the beauty of handmade craft.

But amusing their kids so they can shop is more a function of me being a sympathetic mom than actually thinking a purchase is going to come of it.

I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted and soulless about selling. I don’t expect everyone in my booth to buy something. I love schmoozing with people and I love taking care of people in my booth.

But I’m also there to make a living selling my work. I’m not there to feed or entertain the general public endlessly. When I started to feel like the kind lady at the office who always has a bowl of candy on her desk, who realizes people are simply standing around eating her candy, I knew it was time to do something else.

Now I’m more likely to simply share MY food with customers who really need it.

I tend to bring the same kinds of food anyway–things that are small and bite-sized, easy to munch on between busy times. Things that are as healthy as I can manage at a show. Things that are comfort food.

And the notion of sharing MY food is even more powerful than that bowl of candy. If a customer really looks hot and tired, it’s nice to say, “Hey, I was just going to have a clementine–would you like a few sections?” Or “I packed an extra packet of raisins–have some!”

It also says I see them as an individual who may be tired or hungry, and not just as a customer. It actually makes me feel more kind than just having a bowl of candy out.

My last and biggest reason for not having candy in the booth?

I EAT IT!!

So again, food for thought. (Sorry! Sorry!!!) If none of this resonates with you, then do what’s working for you.

But if you find yourself nodding your head to any of this, then don’t feel guilty about pulling the food treats. Think of other ways to engage and take care of your customers.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #12: Drama Queen Flowers

I can’t think of big huge categories to talk about anymore. Let’s talk about flowers in your booth.

WHAT BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS!

I am so conflicted about flowers. I love them. They add a festive note to your booth, to be sure.

But they can be a huge distraction, too.

Some common mistakes with flowers:

1) Common flowers. Some flowers just scream “grocery store purchase!” Skip the mums.

2) Fake flowers. We’re trying to sell art here. Or fine craft. Or at the very least, handmade stuff. What do plastic flowers say??!!

3) The wrong color flowers. Make sure they fit in with your color scheme. It’s amazing, but an “off” color in your arrangement can really grab the eye in a not-good way. (Yes, I have made this mistake.)

4) Overkill. Too many flowers. It looks like you’re actually selling flowers. Or the flowers overwhelm the vase they’re in. Potters do this sometimes–the flowers are more attractive than the pots. (This is not a slight to potters, just that they’ve picked flowers that are not fitting in with their work.)

5) Underkill. (I know, there’s no such word, but I couldn’t resist.) Scraggly, ungenerous displays spread too thinly throughout your booth. Potters do this all the time, too. They show dozens and dozens of vases, and want to show that the pieces are, indeed, vases. So they take one or two nice bouquets and break them apart, sticking a few stems in each vase.

The look is one of a person who collects so many vases, they no longer have enough money to spend on flowers to put in them.

6) Too, too beautiful. This is the worst thing. You have only a single beautiful display of flowers, and you don’t sell vases, you are just decorating your booth.

The problem here is, the flowers are the most eye-catching thing about your booth.

Some people think this is a way of pulling people into your booth. Yes, it works. The catch is, WHO are you pulling into your booth?

People who love flowers, that’s who.

One year I spent big money to have a local artist make me a gorgeous arrangement for my booth. The colors were great, it looked great in my booth. And I got lots of people coming in, asking me all kinds of questions.

About the flowers.

They’d ask if I’d grown the flowers. When I said no, they asked who did. I told them about the fabulous flower person in my home town. They’d ask about the flowers (miniature gladiolas.) Where did I get them? Did I have a garden? They’d tell me about their gardens and gladiolas.

Which led to long, involved conversations with people who actually had very little interest in my work.

If I were a gardener who was selling flowers, it would have been great. But I’m not.

By the second day, I got it. I took the lovely flowers home to grace my home. I substituted a plain vase of dried reeds. You can see this vase in the back left hand corner of my booth here.

It was just as good a “prop” for my little environmental display in that corner, but it did NOT distract from the art anymore.

Even if you are at a wholesale show, where presumably buyers are a little more focused, an incredible display of flowers can be a huge distraction.

I saw one jeweler at a high-end show who had the most fantastic display of orchids. As I walked by her booth (we were on the same aisle), those orchids caught my eye every single time. I kept going into her booth to look at her work–and all I could look at was the damn orchids. It was like an enchantment.

Lose the drama queen flowers.

And just in case you think I’m exaggerating….

Two years ago, AmericanStyle magazine did a huge article on me and my studio. Page after glorious page of images of my work, my worktable, the artwork in my home. Lots of pictures of me, me at work, me next to a fabulous wall hanging.

The photo shoot, which you can read about here was a day-long affair. The photographer brought two bunches of tulips from a flower shop in his neighborhood. They were the only tulips he could find in Boston, and because they were not fresh, they were cheap. We used them in several shots–in my studio, in my home–switching the vases around, etc.

I cleaned my house for weeks. My studio looked fabulous! You could see the floor!! There were no shoes or dirty laundry piles in my home. We looked civilized! Or at least like we had no kids or pets. My artwork looked incredible!

I have a jillion copies of the article, and I show it proudly to anyone who visits my studio. I even made a poster out of it.

And there’s always someone who says, “Where did you get those lovely tulips?!”

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product

Have you ever walked by a booth and couldn’t quite tell what they were selling?

Worse, maybe the booth was full of people, which intrigued you. But the booth was so full, you couldn’t get in. And you couldn’t see the product for the crowd. “I’ll come back,” you may have thought.

But with no visual clue to even remind you later, you probably didn’t.

This is the booth with the Mystery Product.

When your work is very small (like jewelry) or your display or display fixtures are as visually domineering as your product (you make picture frames but not the images you display them with, for example) or if your booth is constantly full of people blocking the view from the aisle, it’s important to signal to people outside your booth exactly what it is you’re selling.

I struggle with this constantly. My wall hangings are vibrant and easy to see. But it’s not always obvious what makes them special–the fine detail, the embellishments, the incredible stitching and layering of fabric.

Also, it’s not immediately obvious I also sell jewelry. This is because I love to display my jewelry on tall stands and cases, with the pieces laid on paper backgrounds or display bean bags, as if you were looking down on a museum display.

But this means no one can actually see my jewelry until they come into my booth.

So how do I let people know?

Big, big pictures.

I started using large-format photos as posters early on, and it has helped hugely. My photographer has a huge printer capable of printing out big images of my work. But places like Kinko’s and Staples can do this quite easily, and cheaply, too.

If you don’t have such a resource near you, try on-line vendors. There are a lot of them nowadays! I just googled “poster from photo” and found services starting at under $20 for a 24″x36″ print.

You can use inexpensive and lightweight poster frames to finish off your print. I had my first few professionally framed in black metal frames, the kinds where you buy two sets of two “sides” and screw them together. What are those called???

Your photographer or a graphic arts service can also print out your poster text–it’s good to at least have your name on it–but in a pinch, you can even just print out one huge word at a time on your home computer. (I vacillate between “Luann Udell” and stuff like “Luann Udell fiber and polymer” or “Luann Udell Mixed Media”.)

If you are neat about it, you can just cut and paste the individual words onto your poster since one word printed in a GIANT FONT will obviously fill an entire sheet of paper. (The original cut-and-paste function, pre-computer!) From six feet away, it will look all of a piece.

One or two posters, hung just high enough to be visible over a crowd, will be easily seen from the aisle.

And now everyone will know what you sell.

Many people use one of their jury shots–a straight-on shot of a single item, on a neutral background. But you can get creative here.

An environmental shot shows something in an appropriate environment. This is great for stuff that doesn’t have an immediately discernible scale or purpose, like, say, a floor cloth. It could be a card, a place mat, a rug…. But do a shot of a big floor cloth on a floor in a room, and it instantly reads as “Floor cloth! In YOUR home! Making YOUR home look as great as THIS!”

A model photo of someone wearing your clothing or jewelry is compelling. One big mistake, though, is focusing on the model over the work. Avoid having the model actually looking into the camera, or even looking out. Make sure any lighting highlights the WORK, not the model. Leaf through fashion magazines. Pay attention to what compositions let you focus on the jewelry or clothing, and which are the ones where you find yourself staring at the person wearing them. Avoid shots like the latter.

Detail shots show a small part of your work. Sometimes it’s obvious what you’re selling (clocks!) but what’s charming about them is small (hand painted flowers!) Here’s where the opposite image can help–a beautiful detail shot or close-up. My photographer has a signature photo style–he will intentionally have the image bleed off the edges. Oh! That sounds terrible! I mean he will show the image partly out of the frame. It gets you “closer” to the product, allowing for more detail, but you can still tell what the item is.

One of the most intriguing posters I ever saw was in the booth of an artist who did simple, enigmatic wooden folk dolls. The image was a small grouping of them, but only from the shoulders up. I borrowed this idea for one of my best known images. You can see it here on the far right of the banner: My home page It’s still one of my favorites, too.

In fact, some people use an actual banner in their booth instead of just a single poster or two. I have one, with my name and some images of tiny details of my work. I had a local graphic arts service design A Sign Stop (their site loads slowly in this preview pop-op, try opening in another tabe or window for best results) and I think they did a beautiful job. But I think my posters look more “upscale” and my banner looks more “craft show”. “Banner” just doesn’t say “art gallery”. That’s just IMHO, though. I do use my banner at shows, but above my sales station now.

Lately I’m experimenting with more “vertical” ways of displaying my jewelry. I’m actually thinking of going back to those plain black velvet upright displays. I think a few of them might help signal that there are cool little wearables somewhere in there….

But for now, a couple of great posters–one showing a beautiful detail of my wall hangings, another featuring a glamor shot of my daughter wearing a stunning necklace–will tell the story for me.

For good images of detail shots, do check out the banner on my home page once more: Banner on my home page You will see close-ups of my fiber work, jewelry and sculptures. If you explore the site, you’ll find many other images that would work well as posters. You’ll see examples of plain jury shots and detail shots in the jewelry section, an environmental shot with detail shots on the wall hangings page. I’ve posted the model shot of my daughter before, but here it is again: Robin looking gorgeous

I hope it inspires you to get creative with your own ideas.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #8: What’s For Sale??

Let’s talk a little about display today. What is the best way to display your work to its best advantage?

I always secretly envy 2-D people. They basically need a few walls to hang up paintings or prints. Their main worry is, “Is that frame straight?”

On the other hand, it’s hard for a 2-D artist to stand out in a sea of similar set-ups.

On the other other hand, it ends up being about the art. Period.

And when all is said and done, that’s the way it should be.

I’m not advocating bare booths–far from it! But if I had to pick the biggest mistake I see with highly-creative display, it’s when artists get confused about exactly what it is they’re selling.

If someone picks up a piece of your display and asks how much it is, that’s your cue:  You are letting your display interfere with selling your art.

This is a delicate balance, because display fixtures are, indeed, a way to create a look and a mood in your booth. Bruce Baker talks a lot about making your display style fit your style of art.

CHEAP VS. EXPENSIVE DISCONNECT

If you make spare, elegant gold and diamond jewelry, these will not look good displayed in cheap, rickety cases or on pine display fixtures. I don’t think elegant silk clothes and shawls look good on that white grid paneling I often see at shows–the elegance just doesn’t go with that Toys-R-Us display mode.

But beyond the “disconnect” of displaying expensive work on cheap-looking fixtures, the other rules go out the door.

MATCH THEME WITH STYLE

If your work is whimsical, it can be good to have your whole booth and display fixtures reflect that. If your work is traditional, ditto.

OR MIX IT UP

There is also surprise and pleasure in contrast. Ironically, sometimes whimsical work does good in a plain and simple display. My richly textured and colorful jewelry looks really good displayed on sleek, contemporary-style black steel display stands. The black disappears, the colors pop–all you see is the work.

I’m not sure the opposite is true–when we have elaborate and “frilly” display with strong, contemporary work. Probably because the “frilly” is what gets attention, and the artwork loses.

Which brings us to the title point:

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

We can get carried away with carrying that theme of congruency too far.

I have a habit of creating beautiful vignettes in my studio and booth. I set up little rocks and stones and shells around my sea-themed jewelry. I look for colored papers and bean bags for my brighter jewelry. I look for creative odds and ends to hold earrings, necklaces, bracelets.

But you know you’re in trouble when your customer can’t tell exactly what it is you’re selling.

They pick up a pretty rock and say, “How much is this?” Or they carefully take the earrings off that cool note card holder and try to buy the holder. They see a coaster under a pin and say, “I’ve been looking for a set of those! I’ll take them all!”

Catalog companies have this happen all the time. Look at catalogs sometime, and examine the props. You’ll find that almost all of them are either for sale as product–or are obviously not for sale. That’s because the last thing that company needs is a jillion phone calls from customers who want to buy that widget on the mantelpiece that isn’t for sale.

I’m always looking for display props and fixtures wherever I go. I get all excited–“I could use this wood artist model hand to hold bracelets!” But if I get too many questions like, “Did you make this?“, out it goes.

It’s like the essay on the “beautiful booth” phenomenon. You want your booth interesting enough to grab people’s interest (if you have trouble doing it with your work because it’s small or detailed or subtle or whatever.) But once they’re in your booth, it has to be about the work.

Same with your display. It should complement–and compliment–your work enough. But the minute it begins to overshadow your work, cut it out.

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #0.1 Just Do It!

I’m hearing a lot of angst and guilt from folks who are reading this series. People who are ashamed of their booths, or realize they’re making some of the mistakes I’m describing.

Don’t be.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Your first booth will not be perfect.

Alas, neither will your second, third, nor probably even your fourth booth.

And for those of you who are bugging me to post pics of my booth, well, I will as soon as I figure out how to post images to this blog, or to Flicker. But I can almost guarantee you will look at it and go, “What’s the big deal?? I thought she’d have a perfect booth!!

Nope. I have a booth-in-progress that’s doing pretty well for selling my work.

It keeps getting better and better. But every time I change something, I create a whole nother set of problems to solve.

It never ends.

Nor should it–because my goal isn’t to have a perfect booth.  My goal is to have a booth that’s good enough so I can leave it alone for a couple of years.

So my advice to you whether you are trying to put together your very first booth, or fine-tuning your 20th booth, is this:

Start where you are.

Just do it.

Make it a little better as you can.  As you can afford it, as you can find the time, as you think of it.

And look, look, look at other booths. Note what you like, and what’s working. But also note if you are paying too much attention to a beautiful booth.

Because you’re not here on this planet to make a beautiful booth.  You are here to make beautiful art.

In the end, your booth is like the rest of your marketing tools.  it’s just another way to present–and more importantly, SELL–your art.

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