A problem shopper is a problem for EVERYBODY. And it isn’t about you.
This weekend I went thrifting. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s hitting as many thrift shops as I can before my husband wants the car back. (We are managing with one car since we’ve moved to California, and so far we’ve also managed to actually stay married.)
Some people would never consider shopping at a thrift store, and some people can’t afford to shop anywhere else. In between are those of us who love the thrill of the chase, and the lure of the bargain. It’s hit-or-miss, of course, especially if you are looking for a specific item. But if you have an open mind and a small budget, it’s almost as much fun as a yard sale or a flea market, and there’s usually air conditioning, too.
So far, I’ve become (in)famous with a small group of photographers, who gave a workshop on how to photograph your own artwork. They highly recommended a tripod. I used to have one in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut during the Big Move. Now I realized it’s critical to getting a crisp, clear image.
So on our lunch break, I ran out to a nearby thrift shop—and found a very nice tripod for under $10. (Actually, I found TWO, and bought them both for $13, total.)
The facilitators (mostly men) were gob-smacked. And very impressed! “We never thought of that!” they exclaimed. “And you just went out and did it and came back with TRIPODS!” (I AM good at thrifting. I has skills, people.)
So there I am at Salvation Army, in the mood for t-shirts and open to the idea of great pair of new dress pants, with the original sales tag, for $6, when I hear an angry voice at the cash register.
A large, older man is venting his frustration at the elderly woman at the counter.
“I HOPE WHOEVER DECIDED TO SORT YOUR SHIRTS BY COLOR INSTEAD OF SIZE HAS BEEN FIRED, AND IF THEY HASN’T BEEN, THEY SHOULD BE!” He boomed. “IN FACT, THEY SHOULD BE SHOT!”
He continued, “I don’t want a RED shirt, I want a LARGE shirt! And I shouldn’t have to check out every shirt on the rack to find one!”
The clerk looked nervous, but calmly apologized. She said their policy was not to sort clothing by size. “WELL, THEN, YOU SHOULD ALL BE SHOT!” he yelled. A few more similar remarks, and he finally left the building, fuming that his perfect shopping experience had been spoiled.
When I was ready to check out, I spoke to the clerk, telling her she had my sympathy. And that I love when items are sorted by color, because I was looking for specific colors and it saved ME a lot of time to find what I was looking for. She was relieved. We chatted cheerfully, and I left with my new purchases.
Does this man have a point? Of course he does! If he really doesn’t care what color his shirt is, it can be frustrating to have to look at every shirt to find his size. He wants to go to one spot, find all the shirts that meet his criteria, and get outta there.
Except…..There are plenty of places you can do that. In fact, EVERYWHERE else. If you still can’t afford the big bucks, you can try Kmart, Walmart, Costco, or some of the other thrift shops in the area.
So is he justified to have this attitude towards the one place he chose to shop that day? Not really. And you want to suggest a change in a productive way, why would you go off on a person (who probably was a volunteer) at the one thrift shop that doesn’t do things “your way”?
Because you can.
Because you feel entitled. “This is what I want, and I expect to get it, cheap! Now!” And the thrift store is not accommodating you.
Because you are frustrated you are big, and the world isn’t accommodating you. Because you don’t want to spend money (why else would you be in a thrift shop?) but you want a great selection, and you also don’t want to spend a lot of time. (Remember the three kinds of printing available—good, fast, or cheap? And you can get any two, but rarely three? That applies to shopping, too.)
Because you are a big, loud, angry man, and the clerk is petite, and elderly, and frightened, you can blow your stack and since it looks like there’s nobody around who’s going to stop you, you can get away with it. She’s a captive audience—she can’t walk away, she has to mind the store. And you’re the “customer”, and she has to listen.
Sometimes, that’s the damaged, angry, entitled person who comes into your creative space, and trashes you, your work, your display, your aesthetic, and in the process, maybe your soul.
It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your work. It isn’t about your color choices, your prices, your artist statement.
It’s all about them, and you are simply available. You can’t leave your space, and they are the customer.
As I write this, I’m trying to think if ANY of the truly difficult people I’ve encountered while selling my work…the REALLY rude, patronizing, insulting, angry people….have actually bought a piece of my work.
And the answer, I realize, is no. They have not.
They aren’t really my customers at all. Just people taking advantage of the fact that I’ve (figuratively) invited them into my space, and I can’t leave. I am their captive audience, they figure, and they are entitled to your attention, and your hope, and your dreams.
If any of you are still harboring thoughts about people/family/customers saying hurtful things, about whether there is a grain of truth in their statements, about how to defend yourself, here is the living, walking, shouting truth:
There is no way to make this person happy. And you don’t even have to try.
All you have to do is smile, apologize, walk him out, maybe even point him in another direction…(another thrift shop? Another studio/booth/gallery? An artist you personally dislike? OOPS DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD???) and count your blessings.
Because these are not the droids you’re looking for.
Because YOU made all this wonderful, wonderful work. The making of it brought you happiness. Putting it out into the world built your courage.
Your TRUE customers–the people who love it, and the people who buy it, will be happy, too.
And all it took was for you to stay in your happy place and move the unhappy baby…er…person…out of your space. And for your real customers to cross your path today. Or maybe tomorrow. Soon!
Oh, and you have some pretty good responses and answers to their comments and questions. But we’ve got you covered there, too.
You’ve got this!
(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.
Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!
We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.
Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”
Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”
True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”
The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.
And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.
Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”
So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?
First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.
Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”
And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”
So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.
If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.
And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.
You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”
Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!
Here’s what’s worked for me:
First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”
(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)
In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.
I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)
The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)
At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)
Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.
Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.
Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)
Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.
Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?
Because that isn’t really what people are asking.
Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…
I have a vision.
I have a story.
I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.
I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.
My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?
The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.
After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?
So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?
What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?
What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?
What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?
Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.
Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.
Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.
Find a way to welcome these younger visitors to your work, your vision, and the world of art. It pays off for everyone.
I had an open studio last weekend, a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.
I spent the week before clearing clutter, arranging and pricing new work,dusting (I decided to call it ‘patina’ instead), in preparation. True to form, I was also making new work up to the day before. I get my best ideas with the pressure of a deadline!
There are two things I did/didn’t do that may astound you.
I DON’T offer refreshments for visitors in this studio.
I DO provide small gifts for children, and encourage them to touch my work.
You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine. The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holy, one artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.
I quit offering food in my show booth because I don’t need it anymore. It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping the wife’s purchases. But now, instead, when I greet visitors, I tell them it’s okay to touch the work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else.
So why do I welcome kids in my art space?
Because it is an act of generosity, compassion, good will, and education. And it’s the best gift I can offer visitors, especially those who are new to my work.
First, welcoming kids means you are also welcoming their parents, or grandparents. Few places accomodate kids. Find a way to do that, and you’ll earn the undying gratitude of their accompanying grown-ups.
Second, being open to kids lets the grown-ups actually shop. If not today, then when the kids are older.
Third, the peace of mind you create in your space expands to all your booth/studio visitors. When others hear you giving permission to engage, they relax, too.
Finally, the education bit. Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.
I cannot tell you how many creative people tell me that “people don’t appreciate fine art/fine craft” anymore. Or how “schools don’t teach that appreciation to young people anymore.”
I’m baffled by this. When did regularpeople ever appreciate fine craft or art?? I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.
When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing and paper mache and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations, there was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teacher simply didn’t have the time for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (She was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year.) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go. I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as “home ec” and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.
We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade and fine art. People can easily find craft and art online. It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.
So who will teach the art-makers of the future? Who will share the vision, and encourage the connection for the collectors and admirers of tomorrow?
When we engage people with our work, we share something powerful. Inspiration, artistic vision, professional goals, our process, our materials (and why we choose them) are ways to educate (gently), connect (authentically), and encourage our audience to buy and collect handmade. People are genuinely hungry for this.
I get that not all work is touchable, or safe for young ones to handle. I’m fortunate that my artifacts are sturdy. In fact, their touchability is a strong selling point, too. But we’re creative people. We should be able to come up with ideas that work.
I have several. I keep a box of shiny, pretty beads on hand. I’ll ask young ones to pick one, and then offer to make a necklace for them, using inexpensive cording and slip knots.
I keep some samples of animal artifacts on hand, too. I’ll ask a youngster if they’d like to hold a bear or a horse (or a bird or a fish). They’re so unnerved, they’re usually speechless, but also intrigued! I let them hold the animal while their parents look around, and retrieve it when they leave. Parents are so grateful!
I freely hand out business cards with images of my work on them, or old show postcards. Again, a well-appreciated gift, and also a reminder of their visit to my space.
Touch is such a compelling instinct for all humans, not just young ones. So much so that Bruce Baker, noted speaker on professional development skills for artists, advises, if your work is too delicate to touch) having a sample of your work on hand that is touchable, even for grown-ups: A sample of the handmade paper you work with for people to stroke, or a piece of the roving you turn into handspun yarn. For fine 2D art, perhaps a scrap of paper with a bright daub of paint on it, or the experimental work you made to figure out color mixes, cut up into pieces for them use as a book mark.
Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block.
At the very least, try business cards featuring images of your work. Moo is an online printing company that offers small business cards. They cost more than other brands (watch for their sales!), but you can customize them to the point where you can order 100 cards with 100 different images of your work. So cool to say to a child, “Would you like a picture of a bunny, or a bird?”!
It’s worth brainstorming about how other art and craft media could be presented in small samples or even inexpensive “gifts” to kids. I’d love to hear your current strategies, ideas, and suggestions in the comment section!
P.S. I can’t seem to post images in the comments section, but I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth! Send your pics, and I’ll add them!
My nephew is getting married today in Chicago. He’s the first grandchild in our family, and the first one to get married, too. I wanted to be there.
(This is a long shaggy dog story about poor customer service, so if you’re not in the mood, just scroll down to the last few paragraphs.)
So I spent hours researching flight schedules and ticket prices. Found a great deal on Spirit, non-stop (bonus!) and acceptable times. (We live two hours from various airports, so 6 a.m. flights are not an option….)
I made my sisters & sisters-in-law (old and new) jewelry two days before. I went over my wardrobe the night before. I packed my bags, got a good night’s sleep, and printed out my boarding pass.
In hindsight, maybe I should have foreseen where this was all heading when I realized I had to pay an extra $70 to carry on ONE bag ($35 each way.) And to ensure an aisle seat (knee surgery last month, remember?), I had to pay an extra $20. So the “bargain fare” was beginning to look less and less like a bargain.
Oh, well. It was worth it, right?
We left for the airport with my husband in good time to catch my flight.
My husband dropped me off at the terminal for Spirit, and that’s where the real fun began.
I had a mental hiccup–do you have to check in if you already have your boarding pass? I asked one of the “line helpers” at a neighboring airline.
“You with United? No? You have to go over there for Spirit.” I told him it was a pretty generic question, but he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t “his” customer, so he just insisted I go somewhere else. Of course, I realized after one quick look at the ticket kiosk that I was all set. As I walked away, he followed me, saying repeatedly, “Miss! Did you get the answer to your question? Can I help you?” Well, thank you for the help–NOT.
I went through one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen, with a nervous gentleman behind who kept trying to nudge me forward or snake around me. He finally succeeded in doing so, only to be pulled from the line to be searched. HA!
I found my gate and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.
Finally, one of the other passengers went up to ask what was going on. Guess what? Our flight was cancelled. When were they going to announce it? In a little while. Why? There was bad weather in Chicago (which I found out later was not so bad and didn’t last long.) Our flight was not delayed, or rescheduled. Just cancelled. There would be no rebookings til the next day, in the afternoon. AFTER the wedding.
A bunch of us tried to find a new flight, but it was difficult. I realized I’d be arriving very late, if at all, and exhausted (still recovering from surgery, not much stamina.) I decided to just get a refund and go home. I’m glad I did, because I saw the other passenger two hours later, still trying to rebook her flight with another airline, with no success.
I called the hotel to cancel my reservation–I only had a couple hours before a penalty fee would kick in. I was put on hold several times. The agent asked for my confirmation code eight times. (No exaggeration.) She kept asking when I would be arriving. I kept reminding her I was cancelling. She kept putting me on hold to “check with a supervisor.” After being kept on hold for 10 minutes, I hung up and used my smartphone to cancel the reservation on their website. It took me one minute.
I decided to have lunch while waiting for Jon to come pick me up. I went to the only restaurant outside the secured area. I asked the man at the cash register if it was self-serve or table service. (It looked like both, and I wanted to be served.) “We have table service,” he said. “Sit anywhere!” I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. After fifteen minutes, (and after several larger groups were seated after me, and waited on before me), I decided to just get a salad to go and eat it in the hallway. I picked a packaged salad and waited at the cash register. And waited. And waited. Near me were a group of waiters chatting. I waited about five minutes, then turned and walked out. As I walked out, one of them ran after me, saying, “Miss, can I help you? Miss! Did you want something??”
I got a quick sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts. (I was desperate.) Jon soon arrived, and we started home.
We decided to stop in Jaffrey and eat at a very nice inn. It was lovely. We sat on the screened-in porch and watched the world go by.
After a few minutes, I left to go use the restroom. Jon said it was kind of hidden, and to just ask one of the staff. After wandering through a few rooms, I saw a waiters station with three staff members talking. I waited til I caught the eye of one of the waiters and said, “Can you tell me where the restroom is?”
And he said, “Yes.”
I waited. He waited. I waited. He waited.
I know he thought he was being funny. I know he didn’t know I’d already had a 10 hour day full of waiting, disappointment, rude and pompous air terminal employees, and a long, hot drive still ahead of us. I know it was a joke.
Unfortunately, I was in no mood.
I turned around and walked out.
Of course, he came chasing after me. “It was a joke, I’m so sorry, the restroom is right there!”
We finished our meal, paid and left.
On the way home, I thought about the day’s events.
I wanted to be at that wedding. I tried hard to be at that wedding.
It’s nobody’s fault that I can’t be there, but it’s certainly not mine. All day long, I dealt with people who were paid to serve me, paid to assist me, paid to give me excellent customer service.
Very, very few of them did.
At one of the fanciest restaurants in the region, I was humiliated. I just wanted to know where I could pee. I politely asked a paid employee for assistance. All he had to do was point and say, “Right there” and I would have been content. Instead, at the end of a very long, exhausting day, I was made the butt of his little joke.
In fact, the best customer service I received that day was from the two cheerful, accommodating women at Dunkin’ Donuts. They were making minimum wage, and they barely spoke English. But that didn’t stop them from making sure my coffee was exactly the way I wanted it. (And yes, I gave them a big tip.)
So here’s the customer service point:
Whenever I write or talk about giving great customer service at a show, in your booth, when I write about how to answer customers’ questions about your work or your product, there’s always someone who insists that a funny, snappy answer is a good thing. When you ask, “How long did it take you to make this?” they respond, “It took me 30 years to make that!” I am here to tell you, it’s not funny to the person who asked you a question.
As a person who was exhausted, in need, and paying a lot of money to have a nice dinner, I just did not appreciate the “joke”.
In fact, I contend it’s not “a joke” nor “funny” to the person who’s at your mercy. It’s condescending at best, and passive-aggressive at worst.
Please. Don’t do this to your customers.
The best service I received that day was from a woman at Dunkin’ Donuts who barely spoke English. She simply kept asking if my order was “okay?” until I said yes. She put more cream in my coffee, gave me more napkins for my sandwich, till I was “okay!” Taking care of me wasn’t “beneath her”. She didn’t even need to smile or crack jokes. She simply took her job seriously, and I am grateful.
All the customer service advice in the world comes down to this, and it’s really very simple.
Treat your customers as treasured guests (until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt they don’t deserve it, and even them, simply move them on.) Okay, maybe they are stupid. But more likely, they are confused, overwhelmed or exhausted.
If you want your customers to become owners, treat them with courtesy. With kindness. With respect.
That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?
Here’s a link to the column I wrote for the art marketing blog at Fine Art Views:
I hope it helps you with your next studio housekeeping chore!