This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored 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.
Expecting customers to already know how to do business with you, is not good customer care.
I had an
interesting–no, make that incredibly frustrating–exchange with the post office awhile ago. It got me thinking about customer care.
We may have different ideas of what giving good customer care is, but we all recognize when we’re not getting it.
If you want to read the conversation, I put it at the end of the article. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my point:
Nobody knows your business like you do. Nobody knows better than you how you prefer people to order, pay or ask for more information. Nobody knows better than you what your return policy is.
Yep, nobody knows better than you–not even your customers.
Nor should you expect them to.
Expecting people to know the ins, outs and idiosyncracies of your biz, and treating them like they’re stupid when they don’t, is not good customer care.
We all have unique ways of running our business. We have our policies and procedures for handling orders, mistakes, returns, questions and repairs. We know our hours of operation, our location, our inventory. After all, we deal with our business every day.
But our customers don’t.
We should keep in mind that our customers deal with many, many other businesses, every day–not just ours.
They deal with schools, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, shoe stores, hair salons, pharmacies, baby sitters, auto dealers, telephone companies, banks and post offices. They order online from Amazon, Blockbuster, Borders, eBay and Medco.
Each of these businesses does things a little bit differently. Each asks its customers to interact with them slightly differently. Each one has their own hours of operation, procedures, policies, forms, payment methods.
As wonderful and distinctive as I’d like to think my biz is, to my customers–even my loyal, loving, regular customers–it’s just one more operation with its own hours, procedures, policies, etc., etc.
Very few people want to expend a lot of brain cells memorizing all the nuances of each business, especially if their interaction is infrequent. After all, how many insurance claims have you filed in your life? Should you be expected to know the name of the form, the supporting documents you need, and the deadline for filing it? Especially if the procedure was updated since you filed your last claim eight years ago?
Even “standard procedures”–say, writing a check for cash at the bank–is tricky if we only do it once every few years. Do you make it out to yourself, or to the bank or for “cash”? Which method do you have to endorse? Which method does the bank prefer??
If we work at a bank, it’s obvious. However, if we rarely even visit the inside of a bank anymore, it’s not so obvious.
Remember–We are just one more business our customers deal with. There’s nothing “more special” about us that would lead us to expect they should memorize how we want things done.
We may think our website is easy to navigate. We may think our return policy is hard to miss. We may think it’s obvious how to use our product. But maybe it’s not. Or maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle.
It’s even worse when policies are non-standard or downright odd. I bet we all know businesses that are closed Sundays and Mondays. Or Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open 4-7 on Tuesday, 12-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, closed Thursdays, and open Friday 10-3. Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only (but no phone number is given and they never answer the store phone.)
Am I really expected to remember that? Maybe for one biz. But for two? Six? Twenty???
Even something as supposedly stable as location can get dicey. Some businesses around here have moved three, four, even five times in the 20 years we’ve been here. Once I sent my husband on an errand I usually take care of. He called me fifteen minutes later–no store. Where the heck were they?, he wanted to know. He’d gone to their address from five years ago. It was already two addresses old.
It’s bad enough to assume people will remember all our quirky hours, or that we tend to move every three years. It’s bad enough to assume they know all the proper terminology, or are familiar with all the forms they need to do business with us
But it’s even worse to treat your customers like they’re stupid when they don’t know. (Hence my post office story.)
We can tell them, we can show them. Signage in your booth helps. (“We accept all major credit cards.”) But you’re still going to get asked, “Do you take credit cards?” After the fiftieth time you’re asked that, saying, “Read the sign!” is not good customer care. (Unless, of course, it’s the same customer asking fifty times. If that’s the case, I give you permission to say, “Hey, no, I don’t, but that artist (insert the name of your least favorite artist) over there takes credit cards.”) Saying cheerfully, “Yes, we do!” is smart.
Clear, accessible policies on your website helps. (“Custom orders are not returnable.”) Telling them helps. (“If this doesn’t work out for you, you can return this pin for exchange or credit towards another piece within 10 days.”) Putting it in writing helps. (“Items can be returned for exchange or credit ONLY with 10 days of purchase.” on your invoices.) Usually, terms such as your return policy must be posted visibly in your store/booth or printed on the receipt.
Clarity helps. Ensure your website is ridiculously easy to navigate. Redundancy helps. Make vital information incredibly easy to find, posting it in several places if necessary.
But most people (me included) simply let all your information leak into “overflow parking.” It’s human nature: Too. Much. Information. Making them feel stupid when they realize the bracelet is too hard to put on by themselves will put the kabosh on future sales. Offering them a different clasp when they complain, or offering the option of an exchange, will help.
Patience will go a long way when hiccups occur. Yes, some customers ramble and have to be gently reined in. But good listening skills, asking good questions, and simply being professional, courteous–and kind–will help you target what your customer needs from you.
And your customers will appreciate it.
In this case, I was out of the country for over a week, and it took me a couple of days to get through my mail. So almost 10 days had gone by before I found the a form notice that my mail carrier had attempted delivery of a registered item that needed my signature. It said the item was being held for me at the post office.
I know that some kinds of mail get returned if not claimed within a certain time, but I wasn’t sure if this would happen with my item.
Form in hand, I called the phone number for the post office on the form and spoke to an employee there.
The ensuing conversation read like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
PO: “Post Office.”
Me: “Hi, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and I got a notice that my carrier had tried to deliver registered package, but no one had been home to sign for it. It’s dated over a week ago, almost 10 days. Is it still at the Post Office, or had it been sent back to the sender?”
PO: “What’s the address?” (Spoiler: She probably should have asked if I had the form.)
I give it to her, she disappears, comes back on line.
PO: “There’s nothing there for that address. What’s your name?”
I tell her my name. (Spoiler: She probably should have said, “What’s the name of the addressee on your form?”) I start to ask if providing a tracking number would help, as there are a couple of numbers on the form, but she puts me on hold again before I can say anything more.
PO: “There’s nothing here under that name.” (silence)
Me: “Oh. Was it sent back already? Is there any way to track it? I have some…” (I was going to say “…numbers on this form” again but she says, “Hang on” and dashes off again.)
PO: “I’ve looked at all the packages and boxes, I looked in x, y, z places and it isn’t here.”
Me: “Oh, sorry, it says here that it’s a ‘large envelope, catalog or…”
PO (very exasperated): “Why didn’t you say so?? Hang on.” (Puts me on hold again, returns.) “Nope, nothing.”
Me: “Is there any way to track it? If I give you the number on the form…”
PO (interrupts): “You have a form?? Why didn’t you tell me that?!”
Me: “Well, I thought I did. Let me read you….”
PO (interrupting again): “Give me the number.”
Me: “Okay, there are several numbers on here, which one…”
PO (interrupting again, speaking louder and faster): “The (indistinct) number.”
Me: “The ‘what’ number?”
PO (angrily): “The (indistinct) number! On the back!”
Me: “Look, I can here you say ‘something number’ but I can’t hear what the ‘something’ is.” (silence)
Me (trying again): “I can’t tell which side of the form is the back or front, there are two numbers, one starts with…”
PO (interrupts again): “The (indistinct) number! On the BACK of the form!”
pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)
Me: “I can hear you say it’s a number and that it’s on the back. My confusion is it’s not very clear which is the front and which is the back of the form, and there are several strings of numbers. Is it the number starting with RF…”
PO (interrupts again): “No, no the number on the BACK!”
Me (cautiously): “Is it the bar code number?”
PO: “That’s not it! The BACK of the form!”
My tongue is now bloody from biting it so hard. I read her one of the other numbers, which thankfully is the right one. She puts me on hold again, and comes back.
PO: “Are you by any chance also known as ‘Durable Goods’?”
Me: “Yes, I….”
PO (interrupting): “Why didn’t you say so?? It’s right here. You can pick it up anytime.” (I refrain from telling her I answered every question she asked me, but she hasn’t answered any of mine yet.)
Me: “Well, actually, I’d like to have it….”
PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”
Me: “I’d rather….”
PO: “What else do you need??”
Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”
PO: “You have to sign the form to have it delivered.”
Me: “Yes, I understand, I can sign the form, I just didn’t know if it were still at the post office…”
PO (interrupting, angrily): “Yes, I SAID it’s RIGHT HERE, you can pick it up anytime. If you sign it, you won’t get it til Friday.”
Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”
PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”
At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.
PO: “Why? She’s not going to get that package to you any faster.”
Me: “Look, this is getting out of hand, I…” and she puts me on hold again.
Supervisor: “Your package is right here, you can pick it up anytime.”
Me: “I know that, I want to let you know how rude….”
Supervisor: “Hold on, the other phone’s ringing.” (puts me on hold) “Look, we’re pretty busy, you’re package is here and you can pick it up anytime.”
Me: “I know that, I’ve been treated very rudely by your employee. Don’t you care about that?”
Supervisor: “Well, I can’t help you with that. Goodbye.”(hangs up)
Now, I usually don’t engage in Post Office bashing. I think they move an incredible amount of mail at reasonable rates. And usually I am treated with courtesy in my interactions with them. Although I noticed the last time I was there that all the nice people have retired….
But if there were another option for mail service, I would have seriously considered it after this little incident.
All this, just because this person assumed I should know their procedures for registered mail. Which I get about once a year. And let me know how dumb she thought I was because I didn’t know.
If all queries are handled like mine was, I have my suspicions about why they’re so busy.
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…)
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
Booth signage fills an important role in your sales process. When people are shopping, they want you to be aware they are there, and to acknowledge them. But then they want to be left alone to shop.
When they are ready to be sold to, they let you know by asking a question. That’s their signal that you can start selling.
Bruce Baker describes this little dance of engagement perfectly. His take on how to be a good dance partner is itself is worth the entire cost of the CD or seminar. You must leave people alone to shop until they are ready. Otherwise, you will simply come across as a pushy salesperson rather than an artist who has something lovely to sell.
Often this “signal to talk” starts with a question about the work itself. If you are busy with another customer, a sign can keep them engaged until you can speak to them yourself. Or the question can be about something in the sign itself.
A customer looking at your work and reading your signs is deeply engaged in your work. It’s like a double whammy.
WHAT SHOULD A SIGN SAY?
Price is the first and most obvious choice, especially if you have something small or delicate or a jillion of something and can’t individually price them. Also, pricing can give you a chance to talk about the piece. “$350” is one sign choice. “An original award-winning design by Lori–Handknit cardigan made with handspun merino and silk yarn $350” is another.
The most attention-getting is “New!” Part of our hard-wired genetic heritage is a love of novelty. We love “new”! Your regular customers love to check out your new work. Your new customers like to see that you’re keeping your designs fresh.
My favorite sign is my artist statement. It gives people people a chance to look past the work to the first story behind it–the story about what it is and why I make it.
Tell the story behind a certain pattern or piece–how you came to make it, or who or what inspired you to design it, why it’s special. Tell about a new technique you’re using.
One last reason to use a sign: When you simply can’t stand to explain something one more time. If you’ve explained something a billion times, and just can’t bear to say it again, put it on a sign for people to read. Or print up a little card to give to people.
I never thought I would tire of telling people how I make polymer clay look like ivory. But one day in my booth, four people in a row asked me that exact same question. They were each simply engaged in looking at my work, and none of them heard the others asking.
Having to repeat it four times in four minutes was crazy-making. I almost said to the fourth person, “Weren’t you listening?!!” as if she were my teenager.
I call it the Salad Dressing Principle. When I was a waitress in my dad’s restaurant, I would get a group of people ordering. And every single person would ask what kind of salad dressing we had. No one listened to the choices until it was their turn to order. Thank God we only had three choices. (We were a very informal restaurant and this was 40 years ago.) French, thousand island, vinegar and oil. But if there were six people at the table, I would have to recite those damn salad dressings at least six times. More, if someone interrupted to say, “I’ve changed my mind. Can I have the vinegar and oil, too?”
I know it’s human nature–I do it, too! But it IS annoying. And annoyed is not how you want to feel when you are talking to potential collectors about your work.
I suddenly remembered that my gift enclosure cards had a little explanation about my faux ivory. The next person that asked, I whipped out the card and said, “Here’s a little card I wrote that explains that for you. And you can keep that!” Whew!
SIGN DO’S AND DON’TS
Please, please, please check the spelling on any signs you put in your booth. Unless your “persona” is the quaint little backwoods craftsperson with no “larnin'”. Even that wears thin.
Signs are supposed to communicate with your customer when they aren’t ready, or can’t, talk to YOU. Poor spelling and bad grammar get in the way of that.
There’s an old story about a business owner who deliberately misspells a word on a sign outside his store. People passing by stop in to tell him–and he ends up selling stuff to them. I don’t buy that. (ha! Pun intended.)
I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything to a person who talks to me only to tell me I’ve made a mistake. I think that’s because it’s in the same category as the people who compliment your work, then leave. They may like your work, but not enough to buy it. Paying you a compliment is literally that–they “pay” you with a compliment and then they feel comfortable about moving on to the next booth.
In the same way, people who point out a mistake in your set-up or signage (“You forgot to price this!”) feel they have “paid” you by “helping”, too. And then they are free to leave.
So unless you actually are able to turn such exchanges into real sales, skip the sly spelling errors.
BIG FONT. BIG, BIG FONT
As we age, our eyes don’t focus as easily. Small type and sans serif type get harder to read. Even if you think you are only marketing to young indie girls, their grandmothers may be shopping for a teen granddaughter. Use big fonts for your signage.
POINTS OFF FOR BAD PENMANSHIP
If you have lovely handwriting, by all means, handwrite your signs. If not, don’t. If you really don’t have a computer and printer handy, buy a set of alphabet rubber stamps. It can be charming. Really!
With signs, as with many things in life, you can have too much of a good thing.
The worst sign I ever saw was at a prestigious fine craft show. It was a sheet of paper with narrow margins, covered with a full page of unbroken type. No paragraphs, no breaks. The font was small–less than 12 pts. The writing was convoluted and rambling.
It was a big show, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work, and though I was younger, I still had trouble reading that sign. I tried to read it four times and kept losing my place. I finally gave up.
Then I was embarrassed that I couldn’t READ it, so I left the booth.
You can also have too many signs.
I tend to oversign–I make up signs for EVERYTHING. Then take them out while setting up my booth.
In this photo of my booth at the 2006 League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, you can see the one big sign I used. This had the entire article featuring my work that appeared in the April 2006 issue of AmericanStyle magazine. I have smaller signs that aren’t as visible in the photo. Normally I’d also have at least my artist statement up, too. But with such a big sign, with so much information, I didn’t want to add a lot more verbiage in the booth.
(see link above for bigger picture)
You should have just enough signage to enhance your WORK. Otherwise, you have the effect of some sort of crafter’s Galactic Encyclopedia in your booth. Educational, perhaps. But not lucrative.
WHAT’S MY SIGN STYLE?
Just like your display and booth style, keep your sign style aligned with your design style. My! Alliteration at work. If your work is whimsical, get playful. If your work is formal, avoid the cutesy.
And just like your other booth features, avoid going overboard. We can often get caught up in creating a total booth environment. Everything becomes part of the “show”. A fellow artist’s husband calls this phenomenon “The Lorna Show”. IF THIS WORKS FOR YOU–if your total environment actually produces sales–then keep it.
But watch out for the edutainment factor at shows. People are increasingly seeing craft shows as educational and entertaining–but not necessarily places for serious shopping. We want to make it enjoyable for our customers, but we want them to B*U*Y, too. Otherwise, we can’t afford to keep coming.
If you see that people come in for “The (your name here) Show” and then, fully entertained, feel free to leave without buying something, trim it down.
Because, as I’ve said in every other essay on booth design, it’s gotta be about the WORK. It’s gotta be about selling the work. Your booth either supports sales of your work, or distracts from selling your work.
Find the balance point, and work it.
Today’s Bad Booth topic is a difficult one. Some of you will not even want to consider it, and perhaps some of you can’t. I simply ask you to think about it, because the results are so profound.
Allowing people to touch your work is powerful.
Allowing children to touch your work will move mountains.
Bruce Baker talks about the increase sales you will experience if people can touch your work. His arguments are compelling–people rarely buy something they HAVEN’T touched first, in some way. Catalogs and web shopping sites use compelling descriptions and beautiful images to allow you to “cyber-touch” the items. Think Sundance Catalog.
Even if you have work that is too delicate to touch, he has a few suggestions on how to do that. For example, if you make items of handmade paper, you could have samples, or even business cards, made of the same paper for people to touch.
This gets hard for people who make delicate or expensive items. If you make expensive jewelry, you can’t display it easily or safely outside a case, especially at most shows.
But you should be willing and able to whip out that diamond bracelet instantly, not even waiting til people ask. When you hear that little, “oooooh..!” sound people make when something catches their eye, that’s your cue. Get it out and into their hands.
Because giving people–especially children–permission to touch something is so empowering for your customers, I urge you to find some way to make that happen.
I am fortunate the material I work with is strong and durable. When people come in my booth, I “let them land”, as Bruce says. I give them a moment to take a breath, look around, and see if the work is something they’re interested in.
The minute I see something engage their interest, I say, “It’s okay to touch!”
You cannot believe the response.
There is a look of disbelief and astonishment. And then, most people LAUGH.
It’s a laugh of relief. (Especially since most people have sneaked in a little touch already.) And they always say, “Thank you!” Many comment that they rarely hear artists say that.
They relax. And they start shopping in earnest.
We are humans. We explore our world through all our senses. But the way we really get to discover our environment is with our hands, through touching.
We stroke velvet, we touch polished wood surfaces, we pick up sparkley things. We pick up objects to feel their heft, to judge what their made of. We shake things to see if they rattle, or jostle them to hear them jangle.
It puts me in mind of our hunter-gatherer ancestors on the great plains. We pick through the roots and grubs and berries, and eventually someone (a woman, I bet) picks up a pretty pebble instead, and says, “Hey, nice rock!” (This is also my theory about why women love beads so much.)
It is such compelling behavior that when people are in situations where they know they shouldn’t touch, they actually put their hands behind their back. Or hug themselves to contain their hands. Or put their hands in their pockets. They are physically restraining themselves from touching, because “don’t touch” goes against our very nature.
So we understand why we should find a way for our customers to touch. But why kids? Does that garner us more sales?
My daughter often assists me at shows, and she’s a damn good observer of human nature. She’s noted that people with children in tow at shows, especially young children, are rarely actually shopping. They are simply out and about with kids. Even if they want to shop, the kids usually don’t let them anyway.
So why should we care if children can touch, if it isn’t even going to result in a sale?
Because showing people that you understand the behavior creates a loving environment in your booth.
And kids are the ones who are constantly being yelled at for touching.
Sometimes I think our culture is a little too hard on kids. It’s easy to see the ways we pander too much to kids. But often we expect kids to be little adults–and they’re not. They are little people, though. As Oprah says, little people without as much life experience as grown-ups.
The “don’t touch” rule is especially hard on them. It’s like telling them “don’t look!” or “don’t listen!”
So I find ways to let them touch.
Depending on their age, I just ask if they’d like to hold a horse (I keep a little hand-held sculpture handy for this). Or tell them if they are gentle, they may touch my artwork. Or if they are respectful of my work, they may touch it.
The atmosphere in my booth instantly relaxes and mellows.
The parents are relieved and grateful their kids aren’t going to get into trouble.
I get to tell the kids a little bit about my work.
Other customers in the booth–who are shopping–enjoy the vibe, too. Nobody likes misbehaving children. But no one likes to listen to someone yelling, either.
And the other customers get to listen to what I have to say about my work without talking to me directly until they’re ready. Often, after the family leaves, other customers comment on how kind I’ve been.
But I get rewarded in other ways, too. I get the funny stories. Last week at the Fair, I asked a very young child if he would like to hold one of my horses. He gazed at me solemnly with huge eyes, then softly asked, “Does he make a noise?”
I’ve come to realize that, if you look around my booth, every single artifact, every single horse, bear, stone, bone, shell, artifact (except for the ones that got big and became sculptures) can fit in your hand.
And this, I think, is no coincidence. I think from the very beginning,I knew how important it would be for my audience to touch, and hold, my work.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in booth design is the “Loaded Booth” look.
There are many variations on this theme. There is the “Something for Everyone” look. There is the “One in Every Color” look. There is the “I Can Make a Million of These (and I Have!)” look.
Unfortunately, the result is the same. It ends up looking like the “Artist with No Focus” look.
Believe me, I know what you’re trying to say: “I’m an artist, I am extremely creative, I have a million ideas, and I don’t want to color inside the lines!”
But the result is chaos and confusion.
There is work covering the entire walls of the booth. There are widgets right up to the top of the booth. There are widgets hanging ten inches off the ground. In fact, the walls are not enough. Sometimes the widgets are actually on the floor, leaning against the walls.
Every surface is covered with widgets and more widgets. “Maybe I can cram another one in here!” thinks the artist during set-up.
If the widgets are displayed in a basket, there aren’t merely a handful, or a even a basketful. The basket will be piled to overflowing. No one can actually look through them, either, without actually dumping the basket out in a pile and looking through them that way. Except the counter the basket is on is full, too.
If there is a print bin, it is jammed so full you can’t thumb through the stash. Or there are so many bins, you know it will take a huge chunk of time to go through them.
If there are little widgets on the wall, evenly spaced so as to maximize the display space, the eye has no resting place, no focal point. You simply stand and gaze around and around, looking, wishing desperately for something to jump out at you.
How do I know?
Because this is how I set up my first booth. And this is what a friend told me afterwards.
She had money. She was a shopaholic. She loved my work.
She wanted to buy something from me. She really wanted to buy something from me. She wanted to buy a lot of things from me.
But she has mild attention defiecit disorder, and was overwhelmed with all the choices. In fact, the “buzz” of my display made her anxious.
She ended up buying NOTHING.
We could blame it on her ADD, but the fact is, almost everyone feels this way when presented with too many choices.
Even those of us who adore the yard sale modality don’t expect to find this with art.
And even if we do, it doesn’t mean we have the time, energy or patience to dig through this at an art fair.
Now pretend you are at a big art fair. Or a huge wholesale show. Or a monstrous trade show. (Think of thousands of booths….)
We want to chose the best one of something. Or be able to quickly sort out what strikes our fancy, and eliminate that which doesn’t.
Too many choices makes it too hard for us to sort.
So limit people’s choices. As counterintuitive as this sounds, it works.
Don’t make them choose the best of fifty. Make them choose the best of seven. Or three. Or even two.
Don’t make them choose from 28 subjects. Let them choose from half a dozen. If they don’t see what they want, they can ask. And that gives you a chance to talk to them, too.
If you make something in lots of colors, only show a few. Or spread out the color choices among several styles. People will get that you can make it in purple. And if they like it, they’ll ask if you also make it in green. (That’s your cue to whip out your green one.)
Display fewer things, and be ready to restock an empty space quickly. In fact, sometimes that empty space is a good thing. I’ve had customers ask, “What was here??”, pointing to an empty place with a price tag. They’re curious what sold. They want to know what they’re missing. When you pull out another piece, they look at it closely. Maybe they should get one, too!
Signs can be a good way to get a customer’s overloaded brain to rest for a moment. Just keep them neat and simple and easy to read. You can hang your artist statement, or introduce a new series. You can describe a special feature about your widget, or tell a little story about a special piece.
Group your work in some way. This can be by subject, color, style or series. There are pros and cons for each way of organizing, but don’t worry about that right now. Just make some “white space” around your work.
In fact, think of how you feel when you pick up a magazine and browse through the articles.
How do you feel when you see page after page of tiny print, long paragraphs, long run-on sentences with convoluted syntax, no photos or images, and no captions?
Now think of an article with good column width, good margins, a comfortably-sized and easy-to-read font, subtitles, captions, highlights, etc. It’s easier to read, easier to jump in and sample a section, easier to find your place if you get distracted or have to put it down for a moment.
Make your booth easier to read. Make it easier to jump in and sample. Make it easier to navigate.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to prove you’re an artist. They’ll know.
I’m literally watching paint dry today. I’m finishing up the last of my teeny tiny wall hangings, a special series I’m doing for this year’s annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair.
For some reason, booths and booth design is on my mind today. A friend asked me to critique her new booth, which got me thinking about it. I also came across a blog of a new artist who did a major trade show for the first time. A picture of the booth was featured.
It was quickly obvious to me that several things were wrong with both booth layouts. They just didn’t look right. With my friend’s booth, I didn’t want to walk in. It didn’t feel right.
The more I thought about it, these two booth issues–not looking right and not feeling right–are the essence of bad booth design.
So over the next few days, in between my panic attacks and preparations for the Fair, I’ll share insights about what makes a bad booth.
Now, if you want a wonderful treatise on booths and booth design, run don’t walk to Bruce Baker’s website and order his CD on booth design. Actually, I can pretty much guarantee any CD you purchase from Bruce will help you tremendously, whether it’s his booth design CD, his one on selling your artwork, or the one on jury slides. Better yet, get yourself over to one of his seminars at the first opportunity. You will not regret it.
Bruce Baker, Guru of booth design
Another good book to read is Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy
Underhill’s consulting team actually watched people shopping, and discovered what makes them stop shopping.
I’ve learned a lot from Bruce and from Paco. (I’m not really on a first-name basis with Mr. Underhill, just striving for a friendly note here.) I do not intend to channel either of them. I encourage you strongly to invest in their products. Bruce’s CDs are a steal at less than $15 each when you buy all three, and Mr. Underhill’s book is not expensive, either.
My point is that you can start thinking differently about your booth set-up, using what you already know about shopping.
In fact, your first assignment is to go shopping. Yes! Right now! Stop everything and go out and buy something.
Just kidding. I mean the next time you have to go shopping, pay attention to what’s going on.
Hey, where did everybody go?! Get back here!
Pay attention to what compels you to pick something up and think about buying it, and what makes you put it down (besides that whopping price sticker, that is.)
Pay attention to what parts of the store and display you are drawn to, and what drives you away.
Pay attention to how you feel about the salespeople–what they say and do that keeps you shopping, and what makes you want to run out the door.
One thing leaped out at me in the new exhibitor’s comments. The artist said, “Hey, it’s about the work, right? If the work is GREAT, then nobody really cares about your display!”
That’s true….and not true.
It’s true that great work overcomes a lot.
And it’s true we are born to shop.
I think it’s part of our hunter-gatherer heritage. We love to look for the best little tidbits, the juiciest grub, the prettiest pebble, the biggest mammoth. Just substitute “perfectly marbled sirloin steak”, “coolest little pair of earrings” and “sexiest strap-back shoes” and you’ll find we have not come very far from our ancestral roots at all. (“Are you gonna eat that?”)
But I also I think when a buyer has hundreds, if not thousands of artists to choose from, then as they walk the aisles they are automatically looking for reasons to eliminate you from consideration.
They have to. They can’t look at 1,000 different things and choose the best. They have to cull out the things that are obviously not of interest, and only focus on the things that might be.
And somewhere in the middle is a whole bunch of stuff that might be worth considering…maybe…but maybe not….? Anything you do that gets you eliminated in that first few seconds means your wonderful work never made it into the final running.
I do this when I shop. For awhile, I was bored with most jewelry. It all looked alike to me. I’ve only got an hour or so to scout out an entire store. So to save time, I would skip past the entire jewelry section. Hard to believe, but there you are.
If you were a jewelry designer, how would you encourage me to stop?
We all do this as a way to organize the time we have to shop, or to stay in a budget (if only for a few hours!) “I have enough short-sleeved shirts, I’m only looking at dresses today.” Or, “I already have too many dishes, I don’t have room in my cupboards for more.” “I don’t really need any tomatoes today, I don’t care if they’re on sale.”
Our buyers do the same thing. They is us.
Stay tuned as I share some simple, common mistakes people make with their booths. You do it, I do it, we all do it. But we can turn it around.
No bad booth. Just booths that have temporarily lost their way….