Concrete advice on how to get more done in a hurry, with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek, published Thursday in the Fine Art Views newsletter.
I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.
A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?
Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.
But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000” up to “over $1,000,000”.
The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.
Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.
But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.
And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….
Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.
The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.
Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.
I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!
My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.
If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.
Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.
When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.
And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.
I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.
P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.
My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.
Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.
We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.
Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.
Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.
People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.
And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.
Candy, that is. And today’s display idea is a candy dish from a dollar store.
I think this cost me about $6 or $7. I’ve started seeing similar items elsewhere, too, so keep lookout if you think it might work for you.
Here’s what it could look like as jewelry display. (I know, I know, my photography is awful. That’s why I’m a fiber artist, dude!)
Actually this was a real rush set-up, just to give you a way to look at “ordinary items” with an eye for display. What I like about this candy dish thingie is a) it breaks down into parts, so it’s easy to transport; b) it has different levels; and c) it was cheap!
To make it lighter/easier to pack or ship, you could look for baskets to substitute for the dishes.
Utilizing different eye levels in your display is a quick and easy way to add interest and movement.
Bruce Baker, noted speaker on selling and marketing craft, commented on artists and display years ago. He said, “Artists tend to line everything up–paintings, jewerly, pots. It’s so boring!” I thought it was an odd thing to say at the time. Aren’t artists creative?? Don’t we like wild and crazy??
But I started looking at booths and displays more closely, and he’s right. We may be wild/crazy/reckless/ambitious/outre/color-outside-the-lines with our art. But we tend to be very rigid and linear in our display.
Vary the levels a little, set some things off-kilter, work with small groupings and assemblages. See for yourself if it helps generate more interest in your display.
I found a cool item this weekend at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s a black metal tree for hanging jewelry called (appropriately enough) “Hannah jewelry tree.”
Since this is an item that’s made with jewelry display in mind, it doesn’t take any tweeking to use with your wares. It could work with a lot of different design styles. It could probably be painted if you wanted a different look. Maybe it would even work for displaying ornaments.
It does have drawbacks. It would be a bear to pack if you have “away” shows. (If you intend to do that, hang on the the box and packing materials it comes in.)
It doesn’t hold a ton of pieces, either. That can work to your advantage, though, since most craftspeople, especially jewelry people, usually have too much stuff.
Another reason not to go overboard with this display is that reaching into its branches could be intimidating to your customers. Jewelry, especially fashion jewelry, usually sells better when people can touch it and pick it up to look at it easily. People hesitate to touch displays that look tricky to navigate, or tippy. (No one likes being “the oaf” in a booth….!!)
I still thought it was interesting enough to snag a couple and do the experiment. Here’s an impromptu shot of a mix of displays to show you how different ones can work together.
I actually saw a variation on this tree recently, at a Marshall’s store. The base was a large, polished “bole” of wood, and the tree was more….tree-ish. More leaves and such. Heavier, too. And more expensive! I think the BB&B version is nicer because it’s simpler and lends itself more to display.
I’ll share more unusual items for jewelry display soon. If you’re the kind of person who likes to “read ahead, you can see the rest of the images in this series at Flickr. How do I know that’s you? Because that’s what I always do!
When it comes to displaying your handcrafted jewelry, you have a lot of choices. There are tons of commercially-made products available to you. The choices can be overwhelming.
They range in price from the incredibly cheap to the ridiculously expensive. (By the way, those inexpensive stands are cute, but not very stable. If you use them, you might want to attach them to a larger base of some kind.)
You can find displays made of white leather, black steel, wood and plastic. You can find display stands with feathers, glitter, sequins and in twelve colors. You can find styles like contemporary, country, funky, whimsical, Victorian, romantic, techno, whatever your little heart desires.
There’s a fine line between displaying your work creatively without overpowering the work. I’ve seen displays so elaborate, it was hard to tell what was being sold–the jewelry or the display.
But simple, repetitive display can be boring. I’ve seen displays so monotonous I didn’t even want to stop to look them. One awful example is a common one: Row upon row of white necklace bust stands lined up in a straight line, every one holding a single necklace, each necklace the exact length and design.
It’s mind-numbing to see these “jewelry soldiers on parade”. And yet it’s possibly the single most common jewelry display I see at craft fairs.
One problem with jewelry is, if you display it on an upright display (like the white necklace busts) so people can see it from the aisles, it’s hard for people to actually look at the work easily. You have to sort of bend over to get it back at eye level.
If you display it at a good viewing level, and laid flat (on velvet pads, for example), it’s easier for people to look at. But it’s hard to catch the attention of people out in the aisle. They may not even be able to tell what you’re selling. (Good over-sized photos/posters of your work on your walls can help overcome this.)
Even if you find the perfect commercial display product, if it’s too popular, your display ends up looking like everyone else’s.
I’d like to show you some ways to mix up your display, using commercial and non-commercial display products. Some weren’t even meant to display jewelry at all.
Excuse the not-ready-for-prime-time photography and set-ups. I just wanted to give you some quick examples of non-traditional display pieces and ways to mix and match components without your display looking all over the map.
This vertical necklace stand by Vilmain is one of my favorite display units. It’s upright, stable and holds several necklaces. It’s relatively flat for easy packing and shipping to shows outside your area. It’s pretty sturdy–no fussy little parts to break off or get bent. The black painted steel is neutral, and allows your jewelry to take center stage. It could work with many different styles, including contemporary, funky, elegant, or whatever-style-you’d-call-my-work. (I’ve been told it’s “post-modern”, which sounds ever-so-cool, but I’m still not sure what that actually means…)
The next image shows my Ancient Bull Pendant necklace on a similar stand. It’s the same material and color as the Vilmain stand, and does a decent job showcasing my bigger, bolder designs.
But this second jewelry stand isn’t a necklace display at all. In fact, it’s something I purchased at T.J. Maxx. It originally held two pieces of shaped glass, which sort of formed a vase.
I would take a picture of it in it’s original state, but I’ve ditched the glass already. Hey, I found something very similar here. I just love that Google “image” feature….
I guess they weren’t too popular, because they were marked down to less than $10. A month later, I found the same item at Marshalls’ and they had been marked down, too. I bought about four of them, and use them interspersed with other display pieces.
I’m off to pick up the images for my new Etsy shop. I’ll pick up this thread tomorrow with more tips and examples of how to mix up your jewelry display.
Folks, there will be typos…
In the February 2008 issue, Bruce shows the actual evolution of a typical craft show booth, from those typical craft table displays and blank walls to a sleek booth that really highlights the work.
I’ve sat through a lot of BB seminars, and I’ve seen a lot of his examples of “beautiful booths” and “creative display” in his presentation. I thought I was breaking form by being a “plain vanilla” girl when it comes to booth display.
So I’m delighted to see the points I made in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series echoed and put so succinctly…
“Beautiful” and creative” should NOT apply to your booth at the expense of your WORK. (sorry for all the drama bold & such, but this is a message I want to keep driving home.)
Now, there are still a few things I’d change in the booth. But it’s still a much stronger presentation than the earlier versions, and this article shows that clearly.
I think you can buy single issues from TCR if you don’t already subscribe.
p.s. Hey, if you look on that table of contents page again, you’ll see my latest artcile for TCR, too. (Not a blatant plug, but geez, a girl’s gotta earn a living…)
Sometimes perfecting the best booth you have isn’t good enough. Sometimes having the best booth, period, isn’t good enough.
What I mean by the first statement is, sometimes we get stuck trying to perfect something that isn’t the best solution in the first place.
Take my search for the “perfect track lighting.” I constantly worked, reworked and replaced my track lighting for my booth. I experimented with light bars, cross bars, looked for more reliable systems and flexible lamps.
I finally got to the point where I realized I hate track lighting. It’s just not the best solution for my booth. The last two shows, I didn’t use any track lighting at all–just gooseneck clamp-on halogen lamps. They are easier for me to ship/pack/set-up and have fewer things to go wrong (fewer electronic connections, for one thing!)
Or my search for the “perfect table display”. My very first booth set-ups included those dreaded folding tables I’ve been harping on throughout this series. I experimented with different drapes and decorations. I tried to make them taller. Then bought narrower tables–before realizing I was never going to get them into my little car. And I was never going to get the professional-looking display I needed with them. I invested in Dynamic Display cases, sometimes augmented with Abstracta, and never looked back.
Then there was my search for the “perfect pipe-and-drape walls”. I struggled with various fabric walls–purchased pipe-and-drape, making my own drapes, adding various shades and blinds to make them stiffer and more stable for displaying my wall hangings. The happiest day of my life was the first day I set up my new Propanel walls.
So sometimes you have to persevere to find the right working version of something for you. But sometimes you just have to start over with something totally different.
Then again, sometimes even that perfect booth isn’t enough.
In 2007, I did two wholesale shows with my “perfect booth.” Okay, I know it’s still not perfect in many ways, but it was beautiful and got rave reviews. The display fell away, the work stood out, and was well received.
But I had the right work at the wrong show. Or the wrong work at the right show, if you want to look at it that way. I had de-emphasized my jewelry to promote my fiber work. It didn’t work.
You can have the best booth in the whole world. But if you have not targeted the right market for your work, you will not do well.
If you don’t do a preshow mailing to your audience, they won’t know you’re there.
If your work is high-end, and the show is low- to mid-end, they will not buy.
If your work is contemporary, and the show is country/folk, they will not buy.
If you specialize in Christmas decor and it’s a retail show in spring, you probably will not do well.
If your work is a little pricey and unusual and not a gift product, you may not do well at Christmas shows.
So what’s a craftsperson to do?
Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Get better.
No one said it would be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!
You keep doing it because you believe in your work, and you believe there are people out there who will love it as much as you do.
You try this, you experiment with that, you tweak this and you replace that. You work hard to get into that dream show, that perfect show for your work. And a few years later, you struggle to find the courage to leave that “perfect show” that is no longer the best marketing strategy for your work.
There is no “finish line” you cross where you finally realize you’ve made it. There is no final formula for success.
There is only another exciting challenge ahead of you.
The downside? It can be exhausting.
The upside? It’s good for you! Aimee Lee Ball writes about “THE NEW & IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM” in the January 2008 issue of OPRAH magazine. Research shows that the brain grows more neurons when challenged. By struggling to figure this stuff out, we get smarter, and more competent.
So don’t despair if it all seems like too much sometimes. Remember–this is IQ training for your LIFE.
I’m going to pick on jewelry booths today, partly because there are so many of them at shows. And because it’s just a good example of what’s wrong with so many of these shows.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are perfectly happy with your work and your shows, don’t read any further. It will just annoy you. If you are having the degree of success you want, don’t change anything! It’s working for you, and you don’t need my opinions on what you’re doing.
But if you feel like you’re struggling and can’t figure out how to get ahead, it may be time for you to hear this:
How much dichroic glass does the world need?
I’ve visited a lot of smaller shows in my area this season. And at every single one, there are at least two, three, sometimes four craftspeople working with dichroic glass jewelry.
Is there anyone who isn’t working in dichroic glass?
More importantly, is there anyone doing something different with it?
Of the last two to three dozen dichroic glass jewelry booths I’ve visited, I saw one person–ONE–who was doing something a little different. That person had made round beads. And that was only featured in a handful of designs. (Actually, I’m not even sure you can form dichroic glass into round beads. She may have been using purchased beads that just resembled dichroic glass….?)
Dichroic glass is popular because it’s colorful and bright. It’s also chunky and clunky. I have a feeling you can now also buy it at craft stores like Michael’s.
That means you’ve either got to be absolutely brilliant at working with it….
…or it’s time to move on to something else.
Another overused jewelry category is necklaces made with beads anyone can get. The pattern is something like “Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, etc.” Sometimes someone goes out on a limb and uses two Bali bead spacers. Or two different colors of stone beads.
Dichroic glass, semi-precious stone beads, Swarovski crystals, Czech glass beads (or worse, cheap Indian glass beads)… Whatever. These ready-made materials are easily available, and they have saturated the jewelry market. In the end, it’s hard to come up with anything really different, innovative or unusual.
This kind of jewelry-making is called “bead stringing.” And the word “bead stringer” has become an insult among jewelry designers. I couldn’t see why until I started visiting websites and perusing craft fairs again, and browsing on-line handcrafted jewelry sites.
It’s because that’s ALL that’s out there.
I know it’s how we all get started. I know, I know, I know. I did the same thing when I first started out.
But it seems like in the last ten or twelve years since I started, everyone and their sister is now making jewelry. Access to supplies and resources is easier than ever. Anyone can make it–and does, it seems. If a ten-year-old can do it as well as you (and yes, at an Arts Business Institute seminar, I once mentored a ten-year-old who made jewelry almost as well as anything I’ve seen so far) then that says something.
And a ten-year-old may outsell you with the same work, as you’ll see below.
When everybody is doing the same thing, then it becomes all about
and d) story.
You can compete with your pricing. But you must understand that when it comes to price, there is no bottom. There are stores importing huge amounts of sterling silver and semi-precious stone jewelry from India, China, Indonesia and you cannot underprice them. I’ve seen sterling silver rings with semi-precious stone cabochons for under $4.00 at gift stores. I’m sure they are not very fine rings. But they looked okay, and if your work’s only competitive edge is price, then your customer will choose that $4 ring over your $12 ring.
You may be happy with your sales at your smaller craft shows offering low prices. But you will not be able to grow your business much past a small local market. You will only attract bargain-hunters. And you will not be able to wholesale to stores and galleries.
Presentation helps! The only booth with semi-precious stone beads and silver jewelry I even paused at had decent presentation and display–coordinated colors in table cloths and drapes, nice banners, beautiful display. And she had slightly more original designs.
But in the end, it was all still so much like everything else out there. And I passed.
Salesmanship helps. Knowing how to act when customers stop to browse will go a long way to closing a sale, and we’ve seen how very simple questions and statements can give your customers the emotional space to do just that.
The last thing that can help set your work apart is story. Being able to share with your audience why you do this is a huge edge. (Please, not because you love it. Frankly, why should I care?? When an artist says, “I just love color!”, I have to bite my tongue to respond with, “So who doesn’t love color??!”)
And here’s where than ten-year-old is going to beat you out. Is there anything cuter than a 10-year-old with the entrepeneurial spirit? If her work is just as good as yours, or even almost as good as yours, I’m going to buy her work to encourage her to follow her dreams. Or make enough money for her to go to summer camp.
Once again: If you are in this to make a little money at Christmas and to have a little fun, then ignore everything I’ve said in this post. As I said, we all have to start somewhere. I’d hate for you to see the kind of work I started with!
But if you have bigger dreams in your heart, then start thinking ahead. Use the money you make from these shows to take classes, to gain more skills, to expand your techniques, to buy better materials and tools.
That’s what I did.
When your season slows, take time to look into your heart and explore what you really want to come of all this hard work and perseverance.
That’s what I did.
Make sure you have a good product that’s different, high quality, that you absolutely love to make.
That’s what I did.
Because when you find your audience, you’re going to be with this product a long, long time.
Make sure it’s something you can live with, something you can be proud of making for years to come.
Make sure it’s the very best you can do. And take every opportunity to make it even better.
Here’s something else that drove me nuts at the show:
Vendors just don’t know what to do or say when someone is in their booth or looking at their work.
You see something that catches your eye and approach the booth. The person usually says hello. Then….silence.
You are aware of their gaze upon you as you browse. You can almost feel it. You can almost hear it: “Please, please, please, please by something!!!”
It is simply excruciating to shop when someone is staring at you, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to buy something. I feel like a mouse being watched by a very hungry cat.
At one small show I attended, the traffic was so slow, I could feel an entire roomful of craftspeople staring at me as I made the rounds of their tables. I almost fled.
The opposite is also irritating. The person starts asking silly questions: “How are you?” “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Are you enjoying the show?”
I’m such a crab. I hate questions like this when I’m trying to look at stuff. It’s like we’re both evading what’s really going on–“I’m shopping here!”–and pretending we’re actually making small talk at a party.
Or the vendor starts answering questions you haven’t even asked yet. You may be mildly interested in the product and you are instantly subjected to a full-fledged sales pitch.
People with this approach are caught in the same kind of thinking as “too much stuff”–trying to make something for everyone. In this case, they’re providing too much verbiage, hoping something they say will convince you to buy.
But the connection has to come first, not the reasons to buy.
You need to find a happy medium between babbling and stony silence.
I think this is also why I hate the standard craft fair “booth” set-up–the craftsperson sets up a standard table (that’s the perfect height for eating but a dismal height for shopping) and plunks themselves into a chair behind it. Both seller and buyer feel trapped into unnatural roles. And the model feels too much like a flea market. (Though, I bet with a little finesse, you would even buy more at a flea market if sellers were more savvy.)
Please, please, go buy Bruce Baker’s CD series on how to sell your work. He has such excellent insights into the sales process, the dynamic, the give-and-take you can learn with a little practice.
I’m not perfect at it. I still stumble and find myself caught short. I can’t close every sale easily.
But at least I’m not staring at people as they browse my booth as if they were my last meal.
Until your CD arrives, here are some tips:
1) Greet your customers after they settle into your booth–not as they’re walking in. Let them get their bearings first. You don’t greet guests to your home as they’re getting out of their car. You let them finish that argument with their spouse, gather their stuff, straighten their clothing, check their mirror for spinach in their teeth, and get to the front door. Then you greet them and bid them welcome. They need that little moment to change gears. Let customers have that tiny moment, too.
2) Say something neutral that doesn’t require a yes-or-no answer. What does every seller say? “Can I help you?” And what does every customer say? “No thanks, just looking.” Ow! You just gave your customer a chance to say no.
Try this instead: “IF I can help you, just let me know.” Or, “I’m just sorting some items, I’m right here if you have any questions.” And my favorite: “It’s okay to touch!”
3) Be busy. (But not too busy) Be occupied. (But not preoccupied.) Pretend you are a store manager of a little store. Arrange things, straighten things, restock, re-ticket, dust, wipe glass, any busy little task that seems appropriate to your role. Something you can drop immediately the second your customer indicates they need you.
Although Bruce cautions against out-and-out demonstrating, I’ve seen craftspeople working on little projects with good success. The key word here is “little”. As long as it’s not so involved that it looks like you’re actually demonstrating, it can be a good ice-breaker. And it lets customers browse in peace til they’re ready to have you talk to them.
My friend Carrie the hat lady knits hats while she walks around the booth. (Which is cool because women used to knit as they walked and herded sheep.) Or she works on embroidering a hat, with a pretty container of colorful yarns prominently displayed. What’s brilliant is that people can then choose the exact colors of yarn they’d like their hat embroidered with. (Actually, Carrie stumbled on this ploy by accident. She’d sold out of embroidered hats before she even got to this show, and was trying to catch up.)
Don’t be so engaged that people feel they are interrupting you if they have a question. Reading, talking on a cell phone, talking to fellow craftspeople, all make the customer feel intrusive. Your customers should never feel second-best! Be available the instant they need you.
4) So many craftspeople tell me everything they want me to know about their product–before I’ve even decided if I like it. I hate that. I’m standing there thinking, “Yuck!” and they’re talking a mile a minute. Now I really don’t like it. I just want to get out of your booth.
And don’t start talking as soon as they touch something or pick it up. A vendor did this recently. Every time I picked something up to look at it more closely, he started “selling” it. All that happened was I put my hands in my pockets and quit picking things up, so he would stop talking at me. (Please note the “talking at me” part.)
When I ask you about your work, go to town! Once I’ve indicated that I’m interested by talking to YOU, that’s your signal to start selling.
Let’s all vow to make shopping fun for our customers again!
I had another chance to walk a craft fair recently. I was actively shopping at this one, or trying to. Once again, I was thwarted by my fellow craftspeople.
Here’s another tip from a crabby shopper:
Leave yourself room to conduct business.
Please… Give your customers room to write a check.
I watched a young woman with a very nice product make a sale to an eager customer. Her table was so full of product there was absolutely no room for the buyer to write a check. (And although the product was lovely, the display was not as appealing as it could have been.)
At one point, the craftsperson actually pointed to a towering display of boxes with product stacked on it and said, “Here, you can write there.” The customer tried to write a check above shoulder height, on the display. The tower wobbled slightly. I could hardly watch.
If your customer has to drop all her packages, including her purse, to write a check with her checkbook balanced on her thigh, then you have just made them jump through incredible hoops simply to buy something from you.
This phenomena isn’t just an issue of limited space. I’ve seen people with very large, complicated booths who still don’t leave twelve square inches of space for people to set down a purse and pull out their wallet.
At the very least, provide people with a clipboard to write a check or sign a credit card slip.
At best, leave a bit of space for you to wrap up that sale.
You may be thinking, “Hey, I made the sale. What do I care what happens after that?!”
Well, halfway through the show, they might think, “Hey… Those would make a great gift for Aunt Sue and Jolene! I should go back and grab a couple more….”
Do you want them to then think, “It would only take a few minutes, I already know what I want.”
Or for them to think, “Oh, geez, no, I can’t bear to go through THAT again!”
Make it easy for them to buy. And make it easy for them to come back and buy MORE.
I’m back from the Westport Creative Arts Festival. It was a beautifully run show, well-managed and supported by the Westport Young Women’s League. They did everything right! Unfortunately, attendance was down, down, down and although I didn’t crash and burn, I did not do well enough to return.
It did give me a chance to see all kinds of booth set-ups, though. I’m here to report that sometimes it’s good to break the rules of good booth design.
One of my favorite booths was Riverstone Jewelry.
It was one that broke several “rules”, to great effect.
The tables were low and deep. There was barely enough room for more than three or four people to browse at a time. There was a lot of work on display.
But it worked.
I’ve been thinking why, and here is my theory:
She created an atmosphere of a true “trunk show”. It felt like she had just returned from a buying trip, set up her well-worn traveling cases in an exotic but peaceful tent in a bazaar, and invited you in to see her new wares.
The backdrops were simple, neutral-colored (sort of beige) but layered–some sort of matchstick blinds over similar-colored material (linen??), very “Thai” or “Bali” looking.
The cases seemed to be old wood cases or boxes, with the jewelry lined up attractively. The items that were laid out in great numbers still worked, too. Bracelets were aligned in rows, but each one was different. Your eye could quickly take in the one or two that jumped out at you, according to your taste. I don’t think they were displayed on black, either, although I now can’t recall the color. More neutral, I think.
And the reason I say “looked” and “seemed” is, all I could really focus on was the jewelry. Everything else was warm and attractive and blended into the theme, then fell away so you only saw the jewelry.
I overheard a little of her sales approach. She told a woman how, in the villages where she buys the components, a shaman consults with you when you are ailing.
Once the source of your ills is determined, special healing amulets are prescribed. You go to a amulet “pharmacy” and purchase the right amulets. The amulets are then made into jewelry for you to wear.
The entire effect was that you were participating in such a healing process. And, as we all feel the need for such care from time to time, it was a compelling notion. People were scouring for just the right piece for healing.
People felt justified in buying more jewelry–“It’s therapeutic!”
And because the experience also felt “exotic” and “traveling to faraway places” and “marketplace”, people seemed to tolerate the crowding better. It was part of the total adventure.
So why doesn’t this table set-up work for every booth?
Because here it recreated a specific atmosphere–exotic locale/shaman healing/ancient wisdom/community.
When misused, the recreated atmosphere is “yard sale.”
I also recant (a little) on the booth lighting thing. Sometimes the worst way to light a booth is what works best under the circumstances.
It is really hard to light a booth on 400 watts of electricity! I don’t know how you do it if the fair doesn’t provide any electricity. (There are batteries available for outdoor shows, but most indoor shows don’t allow them.)
My booth was way too dark. Of course, part of my problem is trying to display three different lines that demand three different display modes–2-D (walls), sculptures (shelves/table top) and jewelry (cases).
Under these circumstances, the best-lit booths were indeed the ones that had a rack of track lighting across the top front bar of the booth. Yes, when I turned around, I was blinded by the lights. But if I didn’t have jewelry, too, I would seriously consider doing that just to get enough light into my booth quickly and easily.
The one exception was a guy across from me who had the more-successful light set-up–track lighting on all three sides of his booth, with the track set up about a foot or two away from each wall (my recommended solution.)
But when I counted the lights, I saw he also had at least 9 lamps, and another bar of 4 lamps. Either he was using lower watt lamps or he simply ignored the 400 watt limit. I did find some on-line sources for low watt MR16 halogen bulbs so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I will consider these bulbs the next time I have limited electricity.
So remember, there are many good rules to making a great booth. But some rules are made to be broken.
The trick is to know when and how to break them and why.
p.s. Low voltage does not equal low wattage. Low voltage lamps are not the same as low wattage bulbs.
Some craftspeople (and I used to be one of them) think if we are using low-voltage lighting, we can use twice the number of lamps/bulbs in our booth. “I can buy 400 watts, and have 800 watts’ worth of low-voltage lamps in my booth!” we exclaim happily.
A common mistake we make is thinking low-voltage lamps use less energy. They do–but not in how much power you’re drawing. The BULBS use less energy, and last longer–and is safer to work with. That’s why low-voltage light systems are increasingly being used in outdoor residential lighting.
Think of electricity as a stream of water, like a hose, coming in your booth. If the nozzle has a wide-spread setting, the stream/current is wide, the power is diffused. If the setting is narrow, the water comes out harder and more powerfully.
But the amount of water coming through is the same.
To figure out how much wattage you’re using at a show, you still have to add the total wattage of your light bulbs. If you have bought 400 watts of power,the total wattage of your bulbs should not exceed 400.
My electrician tried to explain about dividing the total number of watts into the total number of volts in the system for figuring out the actual “draw” on the system, but he lost me several times along the way. When I repeated the above to him, he said, “Yeah, just stick with that.”
Let’s go back over the issue of having too much stuff in our booths. I have two anecdotes that I hope will encourage you to pare down your offerings.
A few years ago, I browsed another jewelry artist’s case. Barbara Sperling does polymer clay canework, which means once she makes a cane design, she can take dozens and dozens of slices from it to make jewelry. (Barbara also happens to be one of the nicest and most professional craftspeople in the industry, so if you see her at a craft fair, BUY HER STUFF!)
I tend to be one of those people who looks for the “perfect one” whenever I have a pile of things to look at. I love to paw through baskets of earrings and piles of bracelets looking for “just the right one.” Oddly, usually I can’t find the one I’m looking for. (More on that below.)
Barbara was a step ahead of a shopper like me.
She had limited the choices in her display severely.
Instead of displaying every single piece she’d made, she’d set up a square panel of black velvet, perhaps 2-4 to a case, with only one or two samples of each design for each jewelry item. For example, in her Great Blue Heron design (my favorite!) she had ONE fancy pendant necklace, ONE simple pendant necklace, TWO pairs of earrings (one large, one small) and a pin.
It was not “sparse”. There was still plenty of jewelry to look at.
But it was focused.
My attention was caught. I zoomed in on the earrings, and I quickly selected a pair.
As I did, two thoughts went through my brain.
1) “Wow! She only has two pairs of heron earrings left. I better snag a pair before she sells them to someone else!!”
2) “I like THIS pair best!”
After I’d paid for my purchase and was on my way back to my booth, I remembered something, and turned back…
Just in time to see Barbara quickly replacing the earrings I’d just bought with another pair!
She had tons of those heron earrings, all subtly different. She had them stashed away behind the counter, ready to quickly replenish any stock as it sold.
She could have put out dozens of heron earrings, and saved herself the trouble.
But choosing from dozens would have been overwhelmed me. Flooded me. Left me unable to choose.
In fact, for some people, this feeling is so uncomfortable they will not stay in a booth that has too much stuff–especially if it’s a lot of similar stuff.
So our first corollary is:
Choosing from many is hard. Choosing “the best of two or three” is easy.
My second anecdote is simply an observation I’ve made from watching people browse my booth. I especially noticed this when I did a 600 square foot sales/demo booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair three years ago. I had over 30 feet of “aisle footage”, and that’s a long time for people to be walking by your booth.
I had several jewelry and sculpture displays along the walkway, and several places people could enter the booth. (ALWAYS leave plenty of space for people to come in and mill around.) As people strolled by, something would catches their eye.
Intrigued, they’d step up for a closer look. Then they’d come in and start browsing in earnest. Finally, they’d decide they were seriously looking for “their piece.”
Now, some knew what that was. But others had a harder time.
When the people having a harder time were ready for help–when they indicated they LOVED the work, wanted to purchase something, but they couldn’t make up their mind–I’d ask them a very simple question:
“What was the first piece you touched when you came in my booth?”
People, I swear to you….99 times out of 100, that is the piece they end up buying.
One woman protested, “But I literally just put out my hand and touched it. I didn’t really even look at it!”
But in the end, it was still the necklace she chose to buy, after insisting at looking at dozens and dozens of similar pieces. (I know, because I pulled each and every one of those pieces.)
Here’s my theory:
Our heart knows which item speaks to us.
Sometimes it’s even the first piece that catches our eye. (Our brains are actually super-processors of date. We’re hard-wired to notice the cheetah’s outline amidst the leaves in the forest jungle. We really can pick out that lovely turquoise-accented necklace from a myriad of pale blue ones….)
Our heart gives a little leap and says, “That’s the one!” Our hand goes out to the item, and we touch it (or wish we could, if it’s under glass or signs say “please don’t touch.”)
Then our busy brains kick in. “Wait, there might be something better!” it cajoles. “Let’s go look at everything so we’re sure we’re getting the nicest one!”
Or we agonize about whether it will go with our clothes. Or if it’s too fancy to wear for every day. Or if it’s too different than the kind of thing we usually buy.
We are afraid of making the wrong choice. And so we choose nothing.
That’s when your customer says those dreaded words: “I’ll be back.”
You’ve lost them. Only one in a hundred people will work their way back to you. There’s just too much going on at a good show, too many other wonderful distractions.
Our jobs as sellers is to encourage people to trust their heart. To trust the choice that comes from their unconscious yearnings.
Because that is the choice that will stay with them, and give them the most joy in the years ahead.
I now do this myself when I shop. Sometimes I’m wrong, but not as often as you might think. And it frees me up to do more shopping in more booths, too!
So try acting on this corollary:
You touch it, it owns YOU!
Be gentle, be subtle, and don’t force it.
See if it doesn’t help those indecisive customers get to their happy place faster.
A reader just posted a plea for help on booth layout.
He set up a U-shaped booth at a recent show. Unfortunately, if a peek at the small sample of goods displayed at the top of the “U” didn’t capture people’s interest, they walked on.
He’s now thinking of a table across the front of the booth with “bits of this and that”, samples of everything he does. He’s dreading another booth redesign.
Okay, Tom, put down the pen and step away from the graph paper.
It’s time to look at how people act in your booth before we decide whether a different layout would work better.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with either layout, properly done. But the same things can go wrong with both.
In a nutshell, I would take a good look at three things in a booth redesign:
Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?
Can your customers shop without pressure?
Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?
Twenty (or so) Questions time!
Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?
Could shoppers easily get into your booth?
Sometimes a U-shaped layout creates a bottle-neck at the front of the booth, especially if the display tables are too deep. Many craftspeople use those low, wide tables that are almost 3 feet deep. Place these around the perimeter of the booth, and you may end up with a central space only four feet wide. Not enough room for customers to move in! See this essay in the series for information on the butt brush phenomenon.
Did the front tables force people to stand out in the aisle? There are a lot of distractions out there! I would pull the tables at the legs of the “U” in a little, so people come into the booth a little.
Do you have enough signage to engage people as they look at your work? Are the prices clearly displayed so they have an idea if they can afford it?
Can your customers shop without pressure?
Where were you standing in the booth? And what were you doing?
Were you standing in the middle of the booth, staring out at the aisle? This always looks like the artist is guarding the booth. Not good vibes for shopping!
Were you standing someplace where you could watch your browsers constantly? I hate that! Every single guy did this to me at a recent craft fair I visited. I felt like a rabbit in a beagle’s doghouse. Not Snoopy’s doghouse, either.
Guys tend to stand with arms folded. Or with hands in pockets. Both tend to signal “I’m bored!” Women shoppers know this stance well. It is the “bored husband” stance. And we don’t like it. It takes away the fun of shopping. Ouch!
Where you leaping (figuratively) on people as soon as they came into the booth, forcing conversation on them before they could even start browsing?
Or (just as bad) totally ignoring them?
One of the most effective sales tips Bruce Baker has to offer is how to look busy in your booth doing business-appropriate activities.Try doing something a shopkeeper (because that’s what you are at a show) would be doing–dusting, pricing, arranging, restocking, etc. Simply let people know you are available for help IF they need you.
Then people can relax–and SHOP.
(See this collection of essays on booth behavior for more information.
Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?
What did you display look like? Tell me you didn’t have EVERYTHING YOU MAKE laid out evenly on tables that were waist-high. (Actually, I hope you DID because you can easily fix that for next time!)
If the dichroic glass jewelry wasn’t pulling people in at that show, could you have switched something more enticing out there on those front aisle tables?
Can people easily see what you make? If it’s tiny, and only displayed on tables, try a large-format photo/poster of your work–a beautiful jury shot, an image of a model wearing the work, an environmental shot of the product in an appropriate setting.
This gets that information (“This is what I make”) to potential customers even across the aisle. (This also helps if you are thronged with buyers, and other browsers can’t even see into your booth.) (BTW, that is such a good problem to have, isn’t it?)
Now, about the idea of putting a table across the front of the booth….Here’s a fun exercise. Go to Flickr and search for “craft fair booth”. You will find hundreds of booths with that table-across-the-front-of-the-booth layout you’re thinking of trying.
Here’s what I noticed in almost every single image:
) The tables are invariably those standard folding tables everyone uses at craft shows. They are TOO LOW and TOO DEEP.
Even if a customer sees something they like at the back of the table, if they can’t reach it, they will not try to pick it up.
Go look at a fancy jewelry store in your home town. Note the height of the actual display surface of their cases. It’s higher than your dining room table, right?
) Every single seller is committing the #1 energy drainer in a show booth.
In almost every photo, the seller is SITTING DOWN.
It reminds me of seeing friends at a restaurant. One of you is sitting down, looking up (hungry!), and the other is standing there, looking down (suddenly aware of how hungry the diner must be.) The energy is weird.
Worse, the vendors are sitting down facing directly into the aisle. Every single customer has to endure the pressure of eyes upon them as they shop. (You can almost here their thoughts of “please please please buy something!!!”) It’s awful.
Raise your tables. If you must sit, get a higher chair, so you and the customer are on the same eye level.
And sit angled, and be busy, so people can approach your display and browse without feeling your watchful eyes on them.
) The tables are flush with the aisle.
There is no place where people can “get off the aisle”. They are standing in the aisle, open to every distraction of every booth around you. They are being jostled by the crowd behind them.
Get them IN your booth. Create an environment that engages them.
) There is always TOO MUCH STUFF.
And there is either NO display–just a jillion items laid out on the table.
Or there is TOO MUCH DISPLAY–so many cute baskets, fancy displays, patterned tablecloths, stacked boxes, etc., etc., etc., you can hardly tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.
All those subtle variations in your designs that are so obvious to you, the myriad color choices, are not obvious to your customer. It just looks like too much stuff.
Or even worse, it is all different. It looks like the artist has NO FOCUS.
The eye cannot settle. The customer cannot find that one special thing that might call to them.
They move on.
I started to link some of these issues to the appropriate essay in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series. But there were too many! I think if you have time to search the “category” box on my site for “booth design”, you will find almost all of these topics addressed more fully.
I want to say again, all of us make mistakes. My booth tends to be visually dense (a euphemism) and I struggle with this all the time. In fact, having only a three-hour set-up time at my next show is forcing me to streamline my offerings.
But I have managed to create a total environment, which helps. IF the work interests a customer, there is plenty to keep her engaged and entertained.
Until she finds that perfect piece she simply must have.
Don’t give up, Tom. You are doing the right thing–seeing what’s not working, and thinking about doing something different. Just focus on WHY it’s not working, and I believe you will come up with a way to do it better.
I’ve gone back and put in a photo of my booth from last year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair in the appropriate essays on booth design.
No pointing fingers. I’ve already fixed the lights. And I’m already making changes for my smaller retail fairs this winter.
P.S. This is my booth shot for applying to juried shows. That’s why there is no signage that shows my name. Normally you’d see my name plastered all over this booth!
One of the most difficult concepts to absorb about booths is where we (the seller) should be and what we should be doing.
Again, building on Bruce Baker’s advice, I’ve come up with a great metaphor that may help you think about this more effectively.
We know we shouldn’t “hide” in the booth. For one thing, it feels weird, and for another, it is weird. Bruce suggests getting right out in the aisle. But why is it okay to stand in the aisle, and not sit in the aisle? (I mean, sit in a chair on the aisle, not sit in the middle of the aisle…. Oh, you know what I mean!)
We know we should “look busy”–but busy doing what? Bruce suggests “appropriate store behavior”–dusting, tagging–but why is that okay and talking on your cell phone not okay?
I think about this a lot, and I think I have a metaphor that will help you get a handle on this. Please don’t take it too literally. It’s just meant to give you a framework for how this works.
Pretend you have been invited to a party to someone’s house you don’t know very well. They are said to be a consummate hostess. You’re looking forward to an enjoyable evening.
You show up promptly at 8:00 p.m. You’re not sure it’s the right house–the number is correct, but no porch lights are on, no other cars are around. There is no indications the owner is expecting you. Maybe you’re too early??
You ring the doorbell.
No one answers. Hmmmmmm….. Are you sure you have the right house? Yep. You ring again. Still no answer.
Then you notice a little sign on the door that says, “I’m upstairs, just come in!” So you go in the house, but you feel a little awkward.
The hostess is nowhere to be found. Now that makes you both nervous and intrigued. You get to look around the house for a bit–it’s fun to snoop a little!–but it also feels weird to be in someone’s house with them not there.
You find their book collection, note some good titles, pick up one to read, when suddenly, out of nowhere, the hostess pops out! You gasp, either in fright, or in embarrassment to have been caught going through her books….
So there’s why you should not hide in your booth.
Now let’s rewind the tape and go back to the door. This time when you ring, the door is opened. But the hostess mutters, “Oh, it’s you” and walks away. You are a little dismayed (“Hmmm, is there something in my teeth??”) but you follow her in. She seems disgruntled about something and ignores you. You’re not sure what to do, so you start making small talk about her home. You notice a photo on the fridge, and, thinking it might be a picture of her kids, ask her a question about them. She rolls her eyes, heaves a sigh, and says, “What a stupid question! Do I look old enough to kids?? Those are my NIECES!!”
See? There was the stupid question we talked about last week. How do you feel now? Not good? I didn’t think so.
YOU are trying to be nice and make conversation, and SHE is determined you are being a jerk. Not appropriate party/booth behavior, either.
Let’s rewind once more. You’re back at the door and see the same note. You let yourself in. This time the hostess is not disgruntled. But she’s busy. She’s on the phone with someone. She nods at you as you come in, but she stays on the phone–for another fifteen minutes.
Don’t you feel special?
Was that an appropriate way for your hostess to behave? Nah. Don’t do it in your booth, either.
Rewind again. Door, note, come in. She greets you, and she’s still busy. She’s in a little side room, sewing curtains. And doesn’t stop–she’s just got so many curtains to sew. Make yourself at home! There’s beer in the fridge, she says.
Does this kind of “busy” seem appropriate for a hostess? Probably not. More on “appropriate” busy later.
Rewind one last time. Door, note, come in, some other guests are there, she’s not busy. In fact, you are the object of her affection. She can’t leave you alone! Wherever you go, whatever you look at, whatever you pick up, she chats away. “Oh, I see you like carrots! Have you always liked carrots? Those are good carrots, aren’t they? I picked them myself! I made the dip, too! It’s a great recipe–in fact, I made the recipe! In fact, I grew the dill in the recipe, too! Isn’t it great dill? Why don’t you try this cheese spread? Guess what–I made that, too!”
How do you like that cheese dip? Does the whole situation feel a little, well, labored? Do you feel a little hounded? Do you wish she would just go away and leave you alone?
So how do you think your booth visitors feel when you “share” everything about your art before they even ask?
We have most of the inappropriate party/booth behaviors. Now…how would you like this party scene to go? What could the hostess do better to make you feel “just right”?
Rewind one last time (I promise!)
You arrive at the house. The lights are on, there is a welcome mat at the door, a pot of flowers on the steps, and a little sign that says, “Welcome, guests! Come right in!” But before you even have to grab the door handle, there’s the hostess meeting you at the door.
“Hey, you must be Donna’s friend! I’m so glad you could come! I’m Jill, and this is my home. Welcome!”
She brings you inside and says, “I have a few things I have to finish in the kitchen. Just relax and make yourself at home here in the living room. Would you like white wine or red? Red? Coming right up!”
She hands you a glass of red wine and settles you in. “Back in a few minutes! If you need anything, I’m right here in the kitchen–just holler!” she says cheerfully.
Sipping your wine, you look around you and take in the surroundings. Such beautiful things! So much to look at! You roam around the living room, looking at her eclectic art collection, the lovely paintings on the wall, the comfy furniture, the handmade rugs on the floor. The rugs especially are outstanding. Wow, did she make them?
Soon, you wander into the kitchen where she’s busily….
….cutting up carrot sticks, making dip, pulling out more wineglasses. Doing all those little tasks that you do to get ready for a party. Oh, it smells good in the kitchen!
“What’s that lovely smell? Is it sauteed garlic?” you ask.
“Oh, you’re right! That’s the secret ingredient in my my special handmade carrot dip–sauteed garlic, with a little curry powder thrown in. Isn’t it wonderful? Here, have a taste!” She hands you a carrot with a dollop of dip, you taste–and you are suddenly in love with this carrot dip. You must have more!
“Did you make all those wonderful things in your living room, too?” you ask, wanting to get to know this amazing and talented person better.
“Why, yes, I made some of the things. What caught your eye?” she says. You ask about the paintings and the rugs. She explains that the paintings are by a friend, but yes, she did indeed weave all the rugs on the floor.
She tells you the wonderful story of her aunt who was also a weaver, and how when she was a little girl, she used to go to her aunt’s house and help her set up her loom, and how much she loved the yarns, and how sometimes she got to help dye the yarns….
She takes you back into the living room and shows you one of the rugs, the one that caught your eye first. She shows you the beautiful finishing details, points out the interesting interplay of colors, and tells you about the quality of the wool yarns she selected specially for this rug. She tells you that a rug of this quality is heirloom quality–with the right care, it will last for generations. “This rug will be around for our children’s children’s children to enjoy,” she says.
And before you know it, you are wishing you could have one of those handwoven rugs for your home, too. You know if you had one, you could capture a little bit of the warmth, and exuberance, and passion and artistry of this woman in your own life.
You beg her to make a rug for you, too. Better yet, will she sell this one? Because you know it is the perfect rug for YOU.
Whew! Sorry, I got carried away there.
But I hope this little exercise has helped you understand better the booth behaviors that are appropriate for you.
Be the party. Not the pooper.
I’m doing my first SMALL retail craft show in ten years in November.
It’s the first out-of-state show I have to drive to, with only a few hours’ set-up. (I usually ship my booth, or have two days’ set-up time.)
I can only take about 25% of my regular set-up, and I can’t even get most of my walls in my car. The most electricity available will only be enough to light my cases, not my walls.
I’ll only be taking jewelry cases and a few propanels, and a couple of lights. I’ll be using the show pipe-and-drapes.
It will be a very “watered down” booth. It feels like I’m taking a huge step backwards in my booth set-up.
I’m terrified everyone who’s been reading my series will come in and take a look and say, “THIS is the person who’s been telling US how to make a great booth?!”
So if you visit the Westport Creative Arts Festival on November 17 and 18, please come see me.
And please be kind.
Another small topic in the “Good Booths Gone Bad” series, but one I’ve also given a lot of thought to. Artists often supply candy or munchies for their customers. Today I’ll share my experiences with having food for customers.
I’ve run the gamut with the food thing, and I’m currently down to nothing. No food in the booth. And I have different feelings on food treats at retail shows and wholesale shows.
Here are some of the good stories about food in the booth:
Offering treats to your customers is a nice gesture and can break the ice. In his seminars and CDs about selling, Bruce Baker describes how this helps create an air of hospitality in your booth, by “taking care of your customers.”
This really can be a powerful thing in your booth.
My friend Mark Rosenbaum, glass blower extraordinare from New Orleans, brings homemade pralines to his wholesale shows for his customers and his fellow exhibitors. It’s southern hospitality at its finest–and Mark is originally from Connecticut. As a nice side effect, Mark’s pralines create quite a buzz at the show. Buyers see you with a praline and exclaim, “Oh, I have to get down to Mark’s booth for mine!”
Here’s another great example: At one wholesale show, a buyer burst into my booth. He was obviously exhausted and agitated. He’d had a long, hard, frustrating day.
He’d just flown in from the other coast, his plane had been delayed, he’d been up since the wee hours, and he’d missed a couple of meals. Before I even gave him a chance to look at my work, I offered him a clementine and a chair. He took a seat gratefully, ate several clementines and almonds, and told me about his day. It was a wild one!
We had a pleasant chat, and he left with a “be back” tomorrow. I didn’t really think I’d see him again. It had been a slow show, and we hadn’t even talked about my work or his store.
But he came back the next day to thank me for simply taking care of him. He couldn’t believe I’d put selling on hold and just treated him like a fellow human being. He ended up placing a big order. A REALLY big order!
Other ways food can work in positive ways:
Food treats can provide a welcome distraction to children, giving Mom a few minutes to actually look at your wares.
It can also break the ice with a difficult visitor–say, the bored husband who is doing all the shlepping and none of the actual buying.
Now for the downside of offering food in your booth.
Figuring out what to offer is mind-boggling.
And lately, I’m finding that food, like demonstrating, can attract non-customers to your booth.
Let’s start with food choices.
First, anything you offer should either be individually wrapped, in small packets or naturally “wrapped”–like oranges. Otherwise, you have health issues with people eating things that other people’s hands have touched.
This isn’t too hard, though it can be tricky finding anything other than candy that’s packaged this way. Health food stores and the organic sections in supermarkets are great places to look for healthy snacks. Halloween is a great time to look for individually wrapped treats! Stock up for your winter shows then. Lunch box snacks are also a good alternative, like individual boxes of raisins and such.
Now you have a wrapper to dispose of. This can be another nice little touch–“Here, let me throw that away for you!” But still, it’s just more about the food.
Then there’s the issue of food allergies and sensitivities. These are becoming much more common, especially with children. No peanuts! Or anything that touched peanuts. Or anything that looks like it might know a peanut. I’m jesting a little, but I know that peanut allergies are serious business.
Chocolate is off-putting to people watching their weight. (Also the age-old debate: Dark, milk or white?) It’s also messy in really hot weather. Sugar in any form is a no-no with diabetics (and with our aging demographic, including moi, adult-onset diabetes is an issue. People are really trying to watch their sugar intake.)
Very small children can’t have hard candies, so whatever you provide, you may end up with small lollipops for them.
Cheap, out-of-date, bargain basement candy can be like wilted, bedraggled flowers–yuck!
If treats are chewy, they can’t be too chewy–watch those fillings! If they are hard, they can’t be too hard–jaw breakers have limited appeal to middle-aged people. If they are salty, they can’t be too salty–now I need a drink of water!
Clementines are healthy and juicy, but also messy. You not only have lots of pieces of rind to dispose of, you have a customer with sticky fingers. (I had a packet of baby wipes handy for the guy at my wholesale show.) And even though clementines are small, sometimes people just don’t want to eat a whole one.
Werther’s butterscotches were the perfect choice for many years–individually wrapped, quality candy, a flavor almost everyone likes. People loved them! But the last few years, hardly anyone took them. Again, too many people watching their sugar intake.
You think I’m being fussy about this? A few years ago at a wholesale show, a buyer actually complained to me that too many artists at the show were offering chocolate as a treat! (To his defense, he was trying to watch his weight….) So many of us were providing food that we were overfeeding our buyers.
Here’s the next to last item to chew on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Snacks at retail shows can attract people who have no intention of shopping in your booth.
I’ve had people cruising by in the aisle dart over to my booth to snag a handful of candy as they pass by. They often don’t even look at me as they snag a handful of candy. It feels weird–like I’ve paid $1,100 to be at the show so I can assuage their hunger pangs.
I’ve had the kids of fellow exhibitors discover my “candy stash” and help themselves liberally at every opportunity–until I gently pointed out that the candy was for my customers. (To give them credit, they cut it out once I mentioned that. They aren’t bad, just young.)
And as for distracting children for their parents’ sake, we’ve seen that people with kids are rarely actually shopping. We’ve noticed over the years that people who are taking care of other people are usually at the show for the edutainment factor. I don’t begrudge them this. I’m glad they’re there, exposing their kids and companions to the beauty of handmade craft.
But amusing their kids so they can shop is more a function of me being a sympathetic mom than actually thinking a purchase is going to come of it.
I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted and soulless about selling. I don’t expect everyone in my booth to buy something. I love schmoozing with people and I love taking care of people in my booth.
But I’m also there to make a living selling my work. I’m not there to feed or entertain the general public endlessly. When I started to feel like the kind lady at the office who always has a bowl of candy on her desk, who realizes people are simply standing around eating her candy, I knew it was time to do something else.
Now I’m more likely to simply share MY food with customers who really need it.
I tend to bring the same kinds of food anyway–things that are small and bite-sized, easy to munch on between busy times. Things that are as healthy as I can manage at a show. Things that are comfort food.
And the notion of sharing MY food is even more powerful than that bowl of candy. If a customer really looks hot and tired, it’s nice to say, “Hey, I was just going to have a clementine–would you like a few sections?” Or “I packed an extra packet of raisins–have some!”
It also says I see them as an individual who may be tired or hungry, and not just as a customer. It actually makes me feel more kind than just having a bowl of candy out.
My last and biggest reason for not having candy in the booth?
I EAT IT!!
So again, food for thought. (Sorry! Sorry!!!) If none of this resonates with you, then do what’s working for you.
But if you find yourself nodding your head to any of this, then don’t feel guilty about pulling the food treats. Think of other ways to engage and take care of your customers.
Today’s topic isn’t a no-no in the sense that it will reduce sales. It’s a no-no regarding your professionalism, and consideration for your fellow craftspeople.
Stay in your booth.
You have signed a contract for the use of a 10’x10′ space (or however big a space you paid for.) It’s amazing how many people interpret that to mean “….and whatever else I can get away with.”
It’s 10’x10′. Period. Your booth must fit inside this space. Most commercial booth set-ups are actually a smidgen less than 10’x10′ for this reason.
That means if you construct your own booth, any bolts, bracing, floor plates, light bars, etc. must fit inside your own space–and NOT stick out into your neighbor’s.
There’s sometimes a little leeway in the airspace–IF you check first. Even then, you must be thoughtful of what is going to cause problems and what will be okay. A banner above your booth may be fine. A banner that hangs over into the aisle and gently whaps people passing by in the face is not.
Although sometimes shows set height limits for booths, these are often ignored by craftspeople. Sometimes I’m the shortest booth in my row. This usually isn’t a problem, if the backs of the booths towering above me aren’t too ugly. Most of people’s attention does stop at the top of my walls and lights.
Once, though, an artist with a very tall booth behind me got the bright idea to use the BACK of their booth as exhibit space. They put artwork up. (Yes, I know my noun/pronouns don’t match up. I’m going so far to protect their identify, I’m not even mentioning their gender!)
My first clue something was wrong was when a gentleman in my booth looked up, pointed to his wife at something above him–and both of them abruptly left. It happened a few more times. I stepped out from behind my counter–and saw several pieces of artwork displayed prominently above my booth wall.
Not nice. I complained to the show management, and the offending work was taken down.
In fact, this is a good guide for judging if you have crossed the line or not. When someone is in my booth, nothing in your booth should attract them out of it–except, of course, the “regular” view they would have of your booth across the way.
This guideline explains why music could be considered the same kind of infringement, and why some shows ban music being played in your booth.
In a way, it’s too bad–I would love to create a total environment for my booth using music, as I do in my open studio events. But the reality is, it’s hard to do that without at least 3-5 other exhibitors also being able to hear your music (your neighbors and abutters, front and back.) If customers love your music, they will be pulled from your neighbors’ booths into yours. And if they hate your music, you will drive everyone’s customers away.
And if you don’t think that’s a big deal, wait until it happens to you. At another show, someone rows and rows away from me began playing a guitar–and customers streamed from booths all around to go see what was happening.
Also, think how it would sound if everyone played music–even soft music–in their booth. Can you say cacophony? (I can say it, but I couldn’t spell it. I had to look it up.)
Another common “trespassing” offense is exhibitors who use the aisles to display work. If the work is on your booth walls, that’s usually okay. But if you put a rack of clothing out in the aisle, that is usually verboten (or should be.)
Not only does are you taking up more floor space than you paid for, but you are actually affecting the traffic flow of customers in the aisle. People are either slightly blocked by the rack–and pause to look, or even decide to go into the booth. Or worse, they swerve around it–and the swerve can actually move them totally past the entrance to YOUR booth (if you have the misfortune to be next to this craftsperson.)
Even sitting on a chair in front of your booth has this effect. In fact, it can be worse. I’ve stood at the end of a row of booths and watched people apparently swerve nonchalantly around a seated artist.
I say “apparently” because several things are actually going on. They are not only avoiding the artist’s physical space, but his emotional space. When you walk around someone, you tend to avoid eye contact–like maneuvering down a crowded sidewalk. It’s the way we peacefully navigate in crowded spaces. We avert our eyes slightly, murmur an apology if necessary–“…’scuse me, pardon me”–and move on.
Except when people avoid eye contact, they tend to look away–and miss looking at the booth next to that artist’s booth. Ta da! Your six seconds of opportunity to visually attract people into your booth is gone. Six seconds or LESS, because that’s how much time it takes to walk past a booth.
The rack people usually know exactly what they are doing. In fact, at one show I did, the person (not coincidentally, a buy-sell guy) asked to put a rack in my booth and offered me $10 for every garment I sold. (I thought it was odd at the time–I was very green–and said no. Now I know how totally bozo that request was!)
Although usually high-end shows, don’t allow racks in the aisle, the first artist to ever block entrance to my booth was a very famous artist, who does all the top shows. The rack actually extended several feet across my booth. (**fume**) This person ought to have known better.
Show management is usually good about trying to keep the aisles clear, for fire safety rules if nothing else. If you’ve asked the person nicely to move the rack, and get no response, show management will handle that one for you.
The chair people….I dunno, I don’t have a great solution for that one. Except to ask nicely if they would move to the other side of their booth, away from your side. I’ve done this before, and it works reasonably well. At outdoor shows, it’s possible to sit outside the aisle, and then everyone is happy (and the aisles are clear.) Again, sometimes show rules come right out and say “no chairs in the aisles”, and again, they will handle this if asked.
Another way you should stay in your booth is vocally. When you are talking to your customers, it’s easy to get excited. And some of us do get a little exuberant–and loud. Please, please, lower your voice. Do try to remember that this really isn’t fair to your neighbors who are also trying to talk about their work. It’s a small space–even if you want to talk to one person so that the person browsing in the other corner can hear you, it doesn’t take much volume in a 10’x10′ space. If people three booths down can hear everything you’re saying, you are being too loud.
One artist near me was so exuberant one year, customers came while they were away from the booth–and I could do their pitch for them perfectly. (Okay, that should NOT be read as encouragement to bellow. I’m not going to do that for you if you keep it up.)
Another way to stay in the booth is to keep your bad mood and complaints to yourself. Let me say that again, in big, bold letters:
KEEP YOUR BAD MOOD AND COMPLAINTS TO YOURSELF.
I am astonished at artists who rant at the drop of a hat, especially during a fair. It’s bad enough to have to be around people like this in any circumstances. Set-up and breakdown are stressful enough. We all have our moments, of course. But someone who is unhappy and determined that everyone else needs to know that, is a total downer.
It’s hard enough to listen to this before and after a show. But during a show, it’s criminal. Nothing breaks a happy fair shopping mode than listening to someone else complain.
If you are a show complainer, you may think your fellow artisans are admiring you for your amazing insights and cutting words. They aren’t. They are sitting there wishing, hoping, praying that you will suddenly be struck down with laryngitis. Or worse.
Because you are bringing everybody down, down, down. And “down” people do not buy stuff.
Save it for later. Save it for drinks with friends. Organize a meeting and get your complaints in a row. Hey, bring some solutions, too! Those are always helpful.
If you must complain, do it Q-U-I-E-T-L-Y, so the only shopping mood destroyed is the one in your own booth. Please, please, please, don’t muck up ours.
Which brings me to the last “stay in your booth”, which is simply, “stay in your booth”.
I’m so guilty of this. I’m so used to the flexibility of my life, being able to move in and out of my studio at will. Staying in my booth all day, every minute, especially at my nine day retail show, is really, really hard.
But it never fails. The minute I leave, someone who came in especially to see me invariably drops in. And I’m not there. “Where were you??!!” hisses my daughter when I come wandering back.
It’s so hard. There are so many temptations, so many lovely things to look at, so many delightful fellow craftspeople to catch up with. I love schmoozing with people, and many are folks I only see at shows.
But try to remember why you are here. This is your big chance to see your customers, those wonderful people who think your work is marvelous, and prove it by buying it. Customers are the people who make it possible for you to even make this work, by providing you with income so you can stay home and make it. Customers are the people who come back in with stories of how your work has made them happy, beautified their home, enriched their lives. They are the ones who bring you photos of your work on their mantelpiece, and bring their friends in to meet you.
This is their time.
I’m really trying to make time for fellow craftspeople after the show, getting together for dinner, etc. It’s hard–they are so interesting!–but it has to be done.
Of course, we could always solve this problem the obvious way–and simply go to a show occasionally as a customer!
Make the most of your show hours. And be a good booth neighbor.
Stay in your booth.
I can’t think of big huge categories to talk about anymore. Let’s talk about flowers in your booth.
WHAT BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS!
I am so conflicted about flowers. I love them. They add a festive note to your booth, to be sure.
But they can be a huge distraction, too.
Some common mistakes with flowers:
1) Common flowers. Some flowers just scream “grocery store purchase!” Skip the mums.
2) Fake flowers. We’re trying to sell art here. Or fine craft. Or at the very least, handmade stuff. What do plastic flowers say??!!
3) The wrong color flowers. Make sure they fit in with your color scheme. It’s amazing, but an “off” color in your arrangement can really grab the eye in a not-good way. (Yes, I have made this mistake.)
4) Overkill. Too many flowers. It looks like you’re actually selling flowers. Or the flowers overwhelm the vase they’re in. Potters do this sometimes–the flowers are more attractive than the pots. (This is not a slight to potters, just that they’ve picked flowers that are not fitting in with their work.)
5) Underkill. (I know, there’s no such word, but I couldn’t resist.) Scraggly, ungenerous displays spread too thinly throughout your booth. Potters do this all the time, too. They show dozens and dozens of vases, and want to show that the pieces are, indeed, vases. So they take one or two nice bouquets and break them apart, sticking a few stems in each vase.
The look is one of a person who collects so many vases, they no longer have enough money to spend on flowers to put in them.
6) Too, too beautiful. This is the worst thing. You have only a single beautiful display of flowers, and you don’t sell vases, you are just decorating your booth.
The problem here is, the flowers are the most eye-catching thing about your booth.
Some people think this is a way of pulling people into your booth. Yes, it works. The catch is, WHO are you pulling into your booth?
People who love flowers, that’s who.
One year I spent big money to have a local artist make me a gorgeous arrangement for my booth. The colors were great, it looked great in my booth. And I got lots of people coming in, asking me all kinds of questions.
About the flowers.
They’d ask if I’d grown the flowers. When I said no, they asked who did. I told them about the fabulous flower person in my home town. They’d ask about the flowers (miniature gladiolas.) Where did I get them? Did I have a garden? They’d tell me about their gardens and gladiolas.
Which led to long, involved conversations with people who actually had very little interest in my work.
If I were a gardener who was selling flowers, it would have been great. But I’m not.
By the second day, I got it. I took the lovely flowers home to grace my home. I substituted a plain vase of dried reeds. You can see this vase in the back left hand corner of my booth here.
It was just as good a “prop” for my little environmental display in that corner, but it did NOT distract from the art anymore.
Even if you are at a wholesale show, where presumably buyers are a little more focused, an incredible display of flowers can be a huge distraction.
I saw one jeweler at a high-end show who had the most fantastic display of orchids. As I walked by her booth (we were on the same aisle), those orchids caught my eye every single time. I kept going into her booth to look at her work–and all I could look at was the damn orchids. It was like an enchantment.
Lose the drama queen flowers.
And just in case you think I’m exaggerating….
Two years ago, AmericanStyle magazine did a huge article on me and my studio. Page after glorious page of images of my work, my worktable, the artwork in my home. Lots of pictures of me, me at work, me next to a fabulous wall hanging.
The photo shoot, which you can read about here was a day-long affair. The photographer brought two bunches of tulips from a flower shop in his neighborhood. They were the only tulips he could find in Boston, and because they were not fresh, they were cheap. We used them in several shots–in my studio, in my home–switching the vases around, etc.
I cleaned my house for weeks. My studio looked fabulous! You could see the floor!! There were no shoes or dirty laundry piles in my home. We looked civilized! Or at least like we had no kids or pets. My artwork looked incredible!
I have a jillion copies of the article, and I show it proudly to anyone who visits my studio. I even made a poster out of it.
And there’s always someone who says, “Where did you get those lovely tulips?!”