GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #1: The “Free Milk” People

We spend so much time and energy trying to get people into our booth at a craft show, it seems totally counter-intuitive to think about how to get someone out.

Sad to say, there are such times–and such people. Sometimes you just have to pull the plug on someone who has overstayed their visit.

The first scenario? “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free?”

There are people who wants your work for free–or worse.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I can almost hear you exclaim. “Who goes to a craft show and expects you to give them your work?!”

Actually, it happens a lot.

Artists at a craft show are kind of a captive audience to this kind of person–we can’t escape our booth, and they know it.

How about the budding craftsperson who wants to know everything about what you do? Where you get your ideas? Where you get your supplies? Who you sell to? What shows you do? How you learned your techniques?

How about the person who only wants to know how you make your stuff, so they can make it, too? (Yes, I’ve actually had people sat this to me outright.) This can be someone who sees themselves as “crafty” and thinks it’s okay to “borrow” your ideas, your designs, your color schemes, etc. They may excuse themselves for many reasons: They don’t intend to sell it, they just want to make one for themselves. Or they do intend to sell it, but only in Connecticut, because you don’t do shows in Connecticut anyway, right?

As for requests to give away my work, I’ve actually had people hint I should lower my prices or give them a deal, or even give them a piece , because they like my work but they think it’s too expensive, or they simply can’t afford it.

Some people simply see everyone as a benign and generous source of all kinds of free information because of the altruistic nature of their calling–education, for one. I hate to malign an entire profession because of a few lazy apples but you need to know: There are a few teachers are so caught up in the nobleness of their education thing, they think the rest of us are happy to share our trade secrets so they (the teacher) can use your ideas and techniques for a class project. They will spend a huge amount of time talking to you, having you convinced you have a new major collector on your hand, only to say cheerfully at the end, “Well, this will make a great lesson plan! Do you have any brochures I can take with me?”

Before I caught on to this, I had one teacher, when I gave her a brochure (thinking she was a really interested customer), who actually said, “Oh, what you’ve written about the Lascaux cave is perfect. I don’t have to change a thing! I can just use this whole text in my lesson plan!” I asked her if she were going to attribute that content to me. She was totally confused. With a smile, I said, “Well, all this material is my original content, developed from my research and endless hours of writing and editing. And of course, it’s copyrighted material.” She stammered an unconvincing, “Of course….sure…” and exited the booth.

Other artists do this to us, too. I know we are all inspired and energized by the creativity of others. And I know there may be nothing truly new under the sun. But when an artist says to you, “I want to change to something easy and quick to do that I can make a lot of money at, and I think I could do what you’re doing. How do you get the horses to look like this?”, your bullshit detector should be going off like a fire alarm in a gunpowder factory.

And if someone steps into your booth with a camera and starts snapping away at your products, you need to find out immediately if they are simply an enthusiastic yet innocent and clueless admirer, or someone swiping your designs.

Before you say, “Surely you exaggerate…?” let me assure that these are all things that have actually happened to me. All the weird questions and statements are that have actually been said to me. These situations tends to happen more at retail shows. At wholesale shows, the buyers are usually pre-qualified. They are there for a purpose, to find products for their store. But this stuff can happen at wholesale shows, too.

What’s going on?

Some people see shows as entertainment or education. They don’t know, or they forget, or they overlook the fact that you have spent a heckuva lot of time, money and energy to be there. As generous as we’d like to be, we must also sell our work so we can afford to keep doing what we’re doing.

We cannot afford to overlook or ignore paying customers at the expense of someone who has no intention of paying for what we have to offer.

There is no right or wrong to all of this. Some people would not be bothered a jot by any of the situations I’ve described, while others would be even less tolerant than I am. It’s totally up to you how much time you want to give to someone, and what your comfort level is. If a show is slow, it’s certainly nice to at least look like you have customers and buyers in your booth.

But if you’ve hit your comfort level, or there are other people, potential paying customers in your booth you need to get to, then it’s time to move these “non-buying” people on.

Now first, how do we identify who is a potential customer who is simply interested in your work, from someone who is looking for the free milk?

And how to we participate in the simple act of sharing our expertise and experiences freely with others, without feeling taken advantage of by those few people that, well, take advantage?

To answer the first question:

People who are really interested in you and your work (and not just what you can do for them) ask you questions–and listen to the answers.

These people are genuinely interested in you and your work (whether or not they are ready, able or willing to buy it just yet.) They want to know more about you and the work.

People who are interested in only what you can do for them, ask questions–and then interrupt to tell you their answers, and their issues, and their work.

Or they argue with everything you say, but those people fall into the “energy vampire” category which we’ll cover later.

Or their questions have everything to do with the “how”, and very little to do with the “why”.

The answer to the second question is, know that you get to decide what you are going to give “free” to people that ask. You get to choose! You can share your time, your expertise, your advice. But it is up to you how much and how detailed.

And most importantly, when you share that. (Hint: After the show!!) (Yes, you are going to hear that over and over today.)

Some things and thoughts that have worked for me:

First, if there is anyone else in your booth who is acting more like a genuine customer, you on your party manners and excuse yourself: “Well, hey, it’s been really nice talking to you, but I have some things I need to get back to.” Move away, greet your other customers, and do your regular booth schtick–offer to answer questions for your new arrivals, adjust your display, keep busy.

If there are no other customers, you can choose how much–or how little–advice/time/information you give away.

For the customer who claims my work is too expensive, I’ll come right out and ask, “What is your budget?” I show them the less expensive work in that range. If I feel they are quibbling, or are being ridiculous (“Five dollars!”) I simply say, “I’m so glad you like my work, but it’s so labor intensive, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I sometimes even move them on to another artist’s booth with work in that price range.

If they insist they want expensive work, I tell them about my extremely cool layaway plan. They will either step up to the plate–cool! A new collector! Or they will realize you know the value of your work and that you’ve priced it fairly–and that you’re not going to be guilt-tripped into offering a discount.

BTW, if you are an artist who does offer discounts, and that works for you, be sure to ask them first what they are willing to pay. Otherwise, you get into this weird game of trying to guess the most they are willing to pay–you offer a discount and they get to say it’s still too high, and it goes downhill from there.. Get them to commit to an offer they will definitely accept first, then work up from there. OR offer them another piece in that price range.

I sometimes feel it’s justified to have people do some work if they want to learn everything I know. Consequently, I keep a few resources memorized to meet such requests.

For people who want to know where I get my supplies, I tell them to check out the advertisers in trade magazines like Bead and Button Magazine. Websites like Glass Attic are encyclopedic resources for videos, books and classes on polymer clay. You could have ready similar resources for your medium.

For people who are farther along than that, I keep a few good wholesale sources memorized to pass on to them. I have several with a range of wholesale requirements and corresponding price breaks, and the artist can figure out which ones suit where they are now in their career.

I keep the contact info for local teachers who teach classes in simple jewelry-making or introduction to polymer clay. If you teach yourself, offer your own workshops. After the show, of course. Put their name on a separate mailing list for classes.

For the people who insist I teach a class on how to make something that’s too personal, or one of my core products, I tell them that. Again, nicely. If they have a professional bone in their body, they’ll understand. If they don’t, I simply act like they do. I say something like, “You know how it is with art, some things are just too personal and totemic to share right away…”

I also refer people to my blog for information on how to get more publicity, how to decide whether to do wholesale shows, how to design a better booth, etc. Why should I stand in a booth at a show I’ve paid hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to be at, and talk at length, when they could simply read my blog?? If they say they don’t have time, well then, I don’t have time, either. If there are blogs out there you find useful, share them with these people.

For artists (especially ones new to wholesale) who want to know where I sell my work, I offer the name of a store or two I think would be a good fit for them. But I might also ask them for the name of a store, museum or other venue they’ve come across in their travels that would be a good fit for me.

If artists want more feedback on a show, say a wholesale show I’ve done, I can often refer them to specific essays I’ve written on my blog. Of course, the best advice I can give is for them to actually visit and walk the show themselves, so they can decide for themselves.

For the teachers looking for lesson plan material, offer to come in and do a project or artist presentation for their class. There is often a little money in the school budget for things like this, or sometimes grants are available from your craft guilds and state arts and crafts organizations. Of course, if you are willing to donate your time, that’s an option, too…after the show.

Last, I tell people I’m happy to talk with them–but not at the show.

I point out that my first goal at the show has to be to earn money so I can continue to make my beautiful work! They can call or e-mail me after the show. I smile, I stay happy, I maintain a positive atmosphere, I am polite–but I am also firm. Sometimes I have to say “after the show” quite a few times… but you’d be surprised how simply pointing this out to people can snap them out of this mindset.

Now, there are many people who do not actually buy my work, and I am happy to spend a lot of time with. But they have “paid” me in other ways–by collecting my work in the past, by introducing my work to others, by providing me with opportunities, speaking engagements, paid teaching gigs, publicity, or just plain ol’ support and encouragement.

There are many times people ask questions about my work, and I am not bothered or annoyed at all.

It’s not the action–it’s the intention. It’s when I feel the expectation that I am to give it away that I feel the burn.

Know when the intention is not serving you. Learn to recognize when the interaction is not balanced. Know that as long as you stay professional and courteous, it’s simply okay to say that enough is enough, and it’s time to move on.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

I was inspired by Donald Clark’s new column in The Crafts Report called “Just Ask”. Donald is a co-owner of Ferrin Gallery in Northampton, MA, and an author and artist in his own right. He gave a few suggestions for getting rid of a “talker” in your booth–the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

The advice was sound, but you could actually write a book about this topic. So I’ll share some suggestions and insights that have worked for me.

This will be in small doses over several days, as my ability to type is compromised. And I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to boot every non-customer out of your booth! Not every transaction is about money, not by a long shot.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. If they aren’t driving other customers out of your booth, they are practically driving you out of your booth.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.