A reader left a question for me on this series:
“Would you discuss one other group of people that one sometimes needs to get out of the booth — the people with kids who think everything in your booth is something neat to play with?
OR the adults who think your booth is a cool place to let the kids handle everything? Especially with sticky, gooey fingers? I’m a spinner/weaver, and trying to figure out how to say nicely, “Only with clean hands, please…” Dirty sticky yarn doesn’t sell well…”
Actually, you don’t need to boot these people out.
How you deal with kids signals other potential customers how you will deal with them if they do something stupid. (Accidentally, we hope!)
A little patience, and some little tricks along the way, will go a long way to creating a relaxed atmosphere in your booth.
Use these moments to educate the kids about your work. They’ll either be enchanted, and you can work you sales pitch gently into the talk.
OR they’ll get bored, because now it sounds like school, and they’ll lose interest, moving on to the next exciting booth to manhandle.
Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.
Trust me. One of the most important things I learned from Bruce Baker is that what people overhear you telling another customer is perceived as being the truth. Use this opportunity to tell everyone in your booth about your work. (Er…but not loud enough that people two booths over can hear you….)
I know there are some children who don’t behave well. But I’ve only had a very few incidents where the child was actually destructive or totally disrespectful.
For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:
Keep a “special skein” available behind the counter for kids to touch, maybe even a few samples of roving–something you won’t care about if it gets messed up. Come on, we ALL have those dud projects hanging around somewhere. Now you can put it to perfect use!
I keep a package of baby wipes handy. When a child starts pick something up, I quickly say, “Here, let me help you.”
I ask in a friendly way, “I have a special yarn for kids to touch. Are your hands clean?” They usually get a little settled here. You’re starting to act like a teacher or a parent. They usually nod solemnly. “I say let me feel your hands.” You can tell instantly if a kid’s hands are clean! If they are, give them the sample skeins. If not, hand them a wipe.
I say, “It’s okay to touch my work, as long as you treat it gently and with respect. I’ve worked really really hard to get it to look just right.”
They usually respond with another solemn nod.
Then, depending on the age of the child, I talk a little bit about the horse. I point out all the tiny layers that make it look like ivory. I point out all the little details that make it special. If they are pre-teens or older, I talk about how four teenage boys discovered the first, and most beautiful Ice Age cave art in the world. They are enchanted that someone their age did something so incredible.
Okay, Alta Mira in Spain was discovered first, but no one knew what it really was until after Lascaux.
As I point out each detail, the parents start looking, too. And so do other customers. Everyone starts to really see the work. Sometimes I even see other customers finally reach out to touch a piece they’ve been looking at.
This permission to handle your work with care and with clean hands and under your supervision helps to create an air of respect for your work. The dynamic changes. Instead of “play time!”, you’ve created a teachable moment.
Use this moment to talk about your work with love and pride, and I think you’ll find that most kids will respond to that. And their parents will be grateful.
Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve found over the years that the parents rarely buy anything. You’ve provided that edutainment (education + entertainment) that Bruce Baker talks about so often.
View this as your contribution to fostering appreciation for the arts and crafts for a future generation.
Actually, sometimes parents do buy your work, if the child gets attached to your product and your work isn’t outrageously expensive. They buy it as a souvenir of the experience you’ve provided, or to foster a budding interest in the child. I have had parents buy $50 and $75 items because their child was so fascinated with it. (And sometimes those are the most difficult kids, because their parents do like to indulge their kids.) Don’t be too hard on them. We all know how tough it is to be a good parent, even the best parents have their bad moments.
You can adapt this script to work with other products as well. I keep a couple artifacts behind the counter, or pick up something sturdy like one of my netsuke animal artifacts. It’s neat to have two, because then the child can choose which one to hold, which adds to the fun (and helps capture their interest.) This also helps if there is more than one child, because then everyone can hold one. Fun for all!
If your work is just too delicate or fragile for such handling, have a sample of the materials you use, or one of your tools, or again, a cast-off piece that you don’t care about. You can actually use this approach for adults, too.
Treating children with respect and genuine warmth pays off in other ways, too. A regular customer brought his son in last year. The boy had visited every booth in the fair, looking for that special something to spend his money on. His father said, “When we finished, he didn’t even want to look again–he came right back here to buy this!”
He pointed to a small wall hanging for $350. That boy had saved a lotta money!
I was honored a child would be so enchanted with my work, he would actually buy such a fabulous piece.
And I was doubly glad that I deal with kids the way I do!
Here’s another reason–a BIG one–why you don’t really want to get these people to leave:
Human beings are born yearning to touch things.
Touch is how we explore our world, and we rejoice in the experience.
“Feel how soft this sweater is!” we exclaim as we shop. “No, not this scarf, it’s too scratchy.” “These pears are too firm, but those pears are just right!”
We constantly talk about how things feel: “Oh, this puppy’s fur is so fluffy!” “I love to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and feel the wind in my hair, and play tag with the waves.” “I can’t stand wearing that shirt because the tag is scratchy!” “I love it when my kids hug me.”
When we tell children not to touch, we are asking them to go against their very nature. Our very nature. When you see people enter your booth with their hands behind their back, it’s because the temptation to touch is so strong (and they know they “shouldn’t”) they have to physically hold themselves back.
I’m lucky to use a material that’s sturdy and durable. I know not all artists have that luxury. But when I tell people that it’s okay to touch my work, and to feel free to pick up a piece to look more closely, their relief–and joy–are palpable.
It creates an incredible feeling of participation and delight in my booth.
Try to find ways to let people touch something in your booth. Your customers will be happy, your visitors will be charmed, and you will feel better all around.