If you own your own gallery or store, there is nothing more exciting than show season! This is the time of year when the act of discovery, renewal of your commitment to your business, and your search for the special and the wonderful, really come into play.
Shows allow you the unique opportunity to see what artists have been conjuring since you saw them last, as you create a style, a product line-up, and a vision for your store in the hopes that what you have amassed as a “collection” flies off the shelves into the loving arms of your customers.
To Place an Order or Not to Place an Order
It seems that shop owners approach a show organized a variety of ways: Some arrive with tight “open to buy” computer printouts flying everywhere, some take a looser approach. There are even just-lookers, who gather brochures with the idea that they will consider what they have seen when they get back home.
I feel that buyers who make connections with the artists at a show and place orders at that time have some advantages over the “I’ll think about it” types, and this is why:
When you are attracted to the work in a booth and feel it will sell, meeting the maker and making a one-on-one connection complete with sharing names and a bit of conversation can often enhance the transaction. The person you are meeting is often the same person who answers the phone when you call to place a reorder down the road. Having met “Ann from Austin, Texas” at the last show is an important connection. Perhaps you’d like to try a large piece on consignment, offer to feature the work in a show at your store, reduce the minimum order or ask for exclusivity: your request is more likely to get a positive response if you are remembered.
Some Tips to Enhance Your Time on the Floor
–Try and walk down the aisle one way and then reverse direction in the same aisle: trust me, you won’t believe what you’ve missed.
–Never shop when you are too hungry or need coffee. Give yourself a 10-minute break: this is hard work!
–There are “show specials” of all kinds. Make sure you ask and take advantage of them.
–Attend a seminar. They can be eye opening and you can learn new things, or how to do old things in new ways!
–Be comfortable! Wear shoes and clothing that make sense and carry a bag that won’t hurt your shoulders when it gets heavy. Also: Nightly, sort catalogs and orders from the day before and leave them in your hotel room when you return to the show …paper is heavy.
–Get dates and hotel information for next year’s show while you’re at this year’s show: plan ahead!
–Do not miss the vendor section of a show. There you can see packaging and display companies (and much more) that can give you new ideas. You might change your signature tissue color to periwinkle and your ribbon color to scarlet!
If we could scientifically show what actually happens inside the brain of a buyer as he or she turns down an aisle and into a booth that attracts them, we’d all be rich and famous.
Sometimes we hop on the bandwagon of a trend or a color that we see is “big” and we go looking for products in that style (animal print lampshades, owl tea light holders, cupcake platters, felted birdhouses, for example). More often than not, we know our own market and our own customers, and between price and product, we want it.
This is where you have to trust your gut feelings. On the other hand…what about the lime green table runners with magenta seashells printed all over? They’re $40.00 but you have got to have them – even if you only sell one (or maybe two if you count yourself…). This is what makes it fun.
I would say that you should be allowed between 5 percent and 15 percent in out of your comfort zone “just really want it” purchases. I call this the “OPEN TO TRY!” policy and it’s often what makes your store’s product mix unique, and what keeps shopping fun and customers coming back.
Everything that is handmade in America has a story (pit-fired in the hills of Virginia, or woven on vintage looms in New Hampshire) and that story is usually told best by the maker.
The maker is standing in a booth at a show waiting to tell you the story so you and your staff know how to sell the work to your customer, who is so much more likely to connect with the object if he hears its story.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see the work and hear the magic from the makers at the next show you attend: it is always worth it!
Bruce Baker has taught more than 500 workshops throughout the United States and Canada on the subjects of Booth Construction, Marketing, Sales, Slide Presentations, Customer Service, Visual Merchandising, Trends that affect the Craft/Gift Business and Jewelry Display.
Bruce lives with his wife Nancie, in rural Middlebury, Vermont. They opened their first retail store, Sweet Cecily, in 1987. The store sells handcrafted items with a focus on folk art and is a favorite for tourists in the area and country wide in their online retail store.