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Craft Show Etiquette and the Lack Thereof!

So now you’re a vendor at a Craft / Art Show. Awesome! You’re all set up and selling your Handmade products. If you’re at a show with us, we’d love to say Hello!

Now comes the interesting part.

Depending on what it is that you sell, you’ll find there are behaviors exhibited by a large majority of shoppers that are going to be unique to your product. For the Velvet Zebra, we sell Chainmaille in various forms – Jewelry, Hauberks (clothing) Art and Accessories. If you’re not familiar, Chainmaille is very tactile, so we expect and encourage people to touch or pick up whatever it is they’re looking at. Our Hauberks are either on a dress form ‘model’ or hanging from our booth on plastic torsos, very visible and easily accessed by curious hands. We situate them carefully in order to catch people’s eye from a distance and lure them to our booth.

We welcome touching (except by children with obviously sticky fingers). A large portion of our shoppers will start out just looking, as if they’re afraid to pick something up. When we notice that, we encourage them to “feel free to try anything on, we do have a mirror” which is always followed by their surprise and delight at how light-weight our products are, and just how much they can’t STOP touching them. If they seem hesitant, or reply with a “just looking”, we remind them it doesnt cost a thing to try something on.

Those are normal behaviors common to any Vendor.

But then there are other, more interesting things we get to witness on a regular basis.

There’s one we call, the POKER.

A Poker is a shopper who enters our booth in apparent “just browsing” mode and with one finger, literally takes a POKE at a necklace. Not a touch, to see what it’s made of, or an idle, disinterested feel-up, but a POKE delivered with enough force to push that necklace about two inches. They won’t pick it up, use more than one finger, or even look at you, they just came to Poke. They’ll go down the line, resting-bitch-face firmly in place, and just Poke at everything before giving a sniff and wandering to the next booth.

Then there’s the PLOPPER.

Ploppers find a piece that catches their eye – – they’ll pick up that beautifully displayed necklace, examine it closely, maybe even show it to a companion or make a comment about how lovely it is, then they’ll PLOP it back down in a heap and move on. Sometimes right out of your booth, but other times straight over to your next carefully and artfully draped piece so they can pick that one up, give it a feel, maybe even perform the strike-a-pose try-on, only to then Plop that piece back down in another heap, often on a completely different table.

The FEELERS are fun to watch.

A Feeler has touched one of the Hauberks and were surprised by how it felt – to the point of being unable to stop feeling it. They will pet it, caress it, put both of their hands under the bottom edge and bounce it up and down. If we’re doing our job, we can use that surprise to bring them further inside, where they discover our jewelry is equally light and fun to touch. Often they’ll then discover one of our Art Panels that they can also caress and fondle as if it were a fur pelt. Hey, we get it, this stuff DOES feel amazing!

The ARNOLDS are common to every seller.

An Arnold is someone who has spent a little time in your booth, or even a lot of time in your booth, then says “I’ll be back” before leaving. Sometimes it’s “your work is beautiful, I’ll be back” or any variation of “we just got here, we’ll be back.” Will they? Probably not. Some will. Some of them were genuinely impressed but want to see all the other booths before they decide who is going to get their money. It’s like being on Shark Tank and wanting to hear all of the offers before making a decision. If you hear “I need to go get cash, I’ll be back” you should follow up with “we take all forms of plastic, even Apple Pay.” If they really were interested and only thought they needed cash to buy, you’ll likely make a sale. If they were just being polite and seriously want to leave your booth without embarassing themselves, they’ll have another come-back to counter you. Let them go with a smile. They really only said that because they felt like they had to say something.

The UNIFORMED are also not exclusive.

The Uninformed are innocent. They’re shoppers who don’t know that they’re visiting a Handmade Only Art or Craft Show. They don’t realize that in order for you to be a vendor there, you had to hand-create everything you are selling. These people – – polite and well meaning – – will ask you “Did you make all of this?” And when you reply “Yes, I (we) did” will often react with surprise, sometimes admiration, occasionally disbelief. After you’ve done this a while, and you’ve heard that question thousands of times, you’ll start to think they should know better – – they should realize this is a Handmade Craft Show and everyone participating had to create what they’re selling.

Calm down, and remind yourself that while you’ve hear this a thousand times, each person asking you has only done it once.

The PRIVILEGED are annoying.

These people have nothing to do with shopping, they’re not attending your Craft Show, they’re not visiting your booth or even looking where they’re going. They are unique to an outdoor show. The Privileged either didn’t realize this show was taking place, or Just. Don’t. Care. They’re walking where they want to walk regardless of what’s in their way. These people will come up from behind – if your walls are up – walk through your vendor space, then your booth, simply because it is the shortest distance between where they are and where they want to be. They won’t settle for walking between booths, if there is space, and they certainly can’t be bothered walking five or ten more feet to a designated entryway. Nope. You are merely In Their Way, and they’re coming through. At an outdoor show, you have to be a tad more vigilant with your own security. People coming up from behind, through the space you have designated as your packaging / bagging / wrapping / personal area can be very unnerving. Especially if you have a cash box or a cell phone secured back there.

There are a few tricks we’ve learned over the years, like piling empty Tupperware containers to form a wall just high enough for a Privileged not to want to step over. Placing our chairs firmly against the legs of the canopy adds another of barricade. If you’ve procured a space behind your booth for sitting, consider an outdoor seating umbrella – they form a little cubby for you to sit in, secure some of your kit, and you can even bungee them to the legs of your canopy, forming a tiny but mighty force field of security that really irritates the Privileged. Lowering your sidewalls halfway down can also deter them from cutting through.

If they come up behind you and demand loudly that they want ‘through’, politely direct them to the nearest designated entrance. They will sometimes complain that you’re in their way, that you don’t belong there, etc. Don’t let it get ugly, for your own safety and that of anyone shopping your booth at the time.

We also recommend not using a cash box. Keep your money on your person. Fanny packs are weird, sure, but they do make some pretty fancy and very attractive newer versions and alternatives that can blend right in with your outfit. Or you can even have a pocketed apron custom printed with your logo. Just be safe.

If you think spending 2-3 days at an Art Show is going to equal a lot of sitting-on-your-ass-eating-snickerdoodles, you’re wrong. You’ll get in your steps every time a Poker or a Plopper leaves your booth, having to go reset everything they Poked, Plopped, or Felt-Up back where it belongs quickly before more shoppers come in. Even a well-meaning Feeler can disrupt your set up.

And these are adults. The kids are another story.

If we could offer up one tiny piece of advice to your Parents out there it would be this: Please stop telling your kids to “Touch with your eyes”. All they hear is the action word TOUCH. And it isn’t their fault, they’re larva, still learning the rules of polite society that some adults never master.

We do not stop children from touching our products – they can’t hurt them – but kids don’t just touch, they PICK (lifting the pieces up and down partially with two fingers, up and down, up and down, while staring at you as if daring you to tell them to stop it). Kids POKE, too, like a lot of the adults – but they Poke Every-Single-Item.

It’s only made more annoying by the parents repeating over and over in futility “Touch with your eyes.”

It’s best not to say anything, just smile and endure – but do keep a politely watchful eye on the little buggers, some of them aren’t above depositing a booger on your display or table cover. If this outdoor show has large rocks, like in a city park, or a statue or a plaque of any kind, it’s going to get played on / with / around. If your booth is anywhere near one of these attractions you’re going to experience some stress. Kids can’t resist those things. They’ll climb the rocks, hang off the statues, jump up and down on the plaques. You’ll spend a few hours in fear of them killing themselves, or falling right into your canopy leg, before you realize they’re not your children. Hopefully whatever they’re playing with isn’t going to block the entrance to your booth. If it does, have a discussion with the organizer and see if they can move you, or adjust the line-up of booths a little better.

Again, it’s not all children, but therer are always a handful at every show.

You’ll start to think it’s only happening to you, or that you’re the only vendor there who has to constantly get up and reset your products in their proper place after a booth visit by a Poker, Plopper or Picker, but trust us, it’s happening to everyone.

Think your potential shoppers are the only ones who get weird? Nope.

Your Booth Space is all the space you get. That 10 x 10 section has got to house You, anyone working with You, your Displays, all of your Product, and your kit (supplies, chairs, lunch). It’s considered rude, and against the rules, to ooze our and put some of your products out in front, outside your booth. That’s where customers walk. That’s where the Fire Marshal says people have to be able to run if the zombies come. That’s just good manners.

That’s also a rule one or two other vendors will ignore. Just remember Karma is a bitch, so you don’t have to be.

Now that said, if you’re at an Outdoor show, with plenty of space between vendors, and you have ALL agreed to spread out a tad – that’s fine. Either the rules allow it, or everyone around you has agreed to it. It does make life easier, but don’t count on that happening.

At an Indoor show, you can forget it. All of you are packed inside a limited space, and your alloted area has likely been taped off to indicate where your space ends and your neighbor’s begins. Respect that, or be prepared for a very uncomfortable show and a lot of angry elbowing and evil-eye contact. That’s where your floor length table covers come in handy for hiding a lot of what you don’t need to use. This is also where verticle display space will be your friend. A corner booth space may help you out, but they are usually more expensive. Just be careful not to box yourself in or those infrequent but needed trips to the restroom are going to be more adventure than you wanted.

Most indoor venues that last more than a single day will offer a few amenities – like a booth sitter if you need to use the restroom, or coffee/tea that will be brought around at very irregular intervals and never when you want it. In the summer, an outdoor show might offer free water to help setting up your booth/unloading your car. If you are doing a show alone, don’t be afraid to ask a fellow vendor for a hand – there’s always going to be someone there willing to help.

And if you love to people-watch, a Craft or Art Show is pure entertainment gold!

Check out our next Article: Craft Show Realities – the Stuff no one Tells you About.

We’d love to chat about your experiences, advice, or questions – please feel free to leave a comment.

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