(This article is adapted from my series GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD, #3 Alice’s Tiny Doors. Also #2 Let Me In! I was going to add more….Okay, there are TONS of stuff about layout in that series, check it out! All the information that can apply to open studios AND show booths.)
Before I forget, an excellent book by Paco Underhill, WHY WE BUY: The Science of Shopping is a game-changer. Underhill actually watched people shopping, caught moments when people stopped, turned around, put an item down, you name it. And then they figured out WHY those people didn’t/wouldn’t make that purchase. It’s an easy read, it’s a quick read, and it’s worth its weight in gold. Grab a copy asap!
Back to open studio stuff. When setting up or adapting your work space for visitors, make sure it is a) safe; b) accessible; and c) accommodating. And by ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’, consider not only the obvious dangers, but what triggers the unconscious human behaviors that are meant to keep us safe, but may disrupt our visitors’ looking/shopping.
- Keep your floor safe for visitors.
- If you have rugs, check that there are no curled-up edges or corners people might trip on.
- Don’t let electrical cords trip people. If some have to cross a visitor’s path, check out covers for those cords. They still have a trip factor, but they’re easier to see, won’t pull down whatever the cord is attached to if someone DOES trip (as a trippy cord might), and flatter covers will obviously work better than ones that are high highly-“domed” or angled.
- Unplug any power equipment you use that could be dangerous for visitors: saws, sanders, buffers, etc. Most people wouldn’t dream of deliberately turning them on, but I learned my lesson after an absent-minded visitor turned on my Foredam buffer out of curiosity. (No one was hurt, thank goodness!) If you have tools, chemicals, etc. that are sharp/dangerous, but you are okay with people seeing them, just put them out of reach, especially if children are present.
- Watch for slippery places: Spilled drinks, grease, etc. Be ready to clean them up quickly if they occur.
- See #3.2 below about what can escape our notice if we’re not paying attention, or if a visitor is deeply absorbed with looking at our work.
- Do a safety check. Remember that lights get hot (although with new LED lighting, this is less of a danger nowadays.) Make sure any halogen lighting you use will not make any contact with fabrics, flammables, nor customers.
- Don’t put your artwork, or anything not important to your display, on the floor except that rug, for many reasons:
- What you put on the floor looks like you don’t treasure it.
- People’s feet stick out from their bodies. That’s why our kitchens have toe-kicks. Anything below waist-level might not ‘register’ in our brains, which is why we often trip or hit a table with splayed-legs. (I’m CONSTANTLY hitting my knees walking around our bed, because the footboard is too low to “register” in my unconscious brain, even though I walk around that bed EVERY SINGLE DAY.) And if people are deeply engaged with our work, they may not notice something that sticks out.
- People hate, hate, HATE bending over to look at something. And many people are at that age when even if we CAN squat down, we have to think really hard about getting back up.
- Be aware of tight spaces and dead-ends in your studio layout. This is really trickly, but once you watch people avoiding certain areas of your studio, it gets easier to catch. People unconsciously avoid areas they may feel ‘trapped’ in. They may avoid a dark section, again unconsciously. (This is why an unlit studio with dramatic lighting for your artwork is not a good idea.) Apparently this is a wonderful way for a gallery to showcase a painting that a customer is very interested in, but for general display, bad lighting and dark places will not serve your visitors.
- Beware the Butt Brush! Narrow spaces and aisles can create what Underhill refers to as “The Butt Brush”. This happens when aisles are too narrow and someone brushes someone else from behind as they attempt to pass buy. The reaction of the brushed person is profound and extreme–they immediately stop shopping. It is an especially powerful reaction in women. So by all means, if you want women to stop looking at your work and walk away, make sure they are getting brushed and bumped from behind as people scootch by. (I’ve experienced this myself and it is deeply instinctual.)
- How to avoid the “bull in the china shop” scenario. Avoid any display or setup in your space that could be unstable, fragile, easily knocked over, etc. If people touch a pair of earrings and the display stand falls over, it will freak them out. If they lean on a jewelry case and it rocks, it will freak them out. If a branch holding Christmas ornaments is sticking out and snags their shirt as they walk by, it freaks them out. Especially if it causes damage.
- Guide people subtly with your display layout, and use visual cues to move them through your space. Arrange your work so that one display leads to the next. Signage, dashes of color in a neutral display, lighting, work angled in interesting ways–all of these are so much more conducive to shopping than narrow paths and rigid layouts. (More on display in the next article!)
- Make it clear what’s for sale, and what isn’t. (You can check out GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product for more details.) Short story: This is harder to do in a studio, because it’s not like a booth or shop that’s dedicated to selling. It’s also our workspace, our creative space, our inspirational place. It holds our supplies, our tools, our work-in-progress, the bowls of fruit and china we stage to create a still life, etc. I make little signs out of pieces of matboard that say, “For Display Only” on any items that aren’t for sale. NFS for “Not For Sale” works, too. Not everything has to be priced, of course, but price tags do help letting visitors know what’s definitely for sale.
I’m gonna give you a break and stop here. We never get it all right the first time, but use every opportunity to take note of where trouble spots (and troubling spots) are as people move around your space.
Did I miss something? Send your questions, if you have one, someone else needs to know, too!
Stay tuned for my next article on setting up our art display! Arrange Your Art There are some pros and cons to the traditional thinking about this, you get to choose which one resonates with YOU.