People are Scary!

If you’re not very outgoing, then vending at an Art Show is either going to be hard for you to get through, or a learning experience and opportunity for growth.

Maybe you do these things with a partner, who is outgoing. That will help, but you really need to work on it. If only one of you is engaging the customers and the other one does nothing but stand there – that’s gonna seem creepy.


The Velvet Zebra is two women – sisters. One of us does do the most talking with customers because she started learning the craft and digested all of the facts and figures that people tend to ask. But the other overcame any shyness she started out with years ago, and has become perfectly comfortable talking to strangers and making sales.

In other words – people don’t scare us.

With that in mind – you’re going to hear a lot of interesting things from your customers, regardless of what you sell. Remember, the customer is always right, unless they’re physically accosting you or trying to damage your products. That’s not to say the cusstomer is always polite, or that the customer is always nice, or that the customer always has more than just two brain cells to rub together. They will say things, interesting things, and your best response is a smile.

And by interesting, we mean strange.

Years ago, we sold polished stones. Lapidary work is a hobby of ours – we collect, cut and polish agates, jaspers and beach stones. We would hear the most ‘interesting’ things as we sat, smiling at our customers.

Things like:

“These arent real though, are they?”

“Do you find the rocks in the ground already shiny like this?”

And our favorite: “Are they rocks, or stones?”

We’ve spent many an hour explaining how Geodes are formed. We’ve educated people on the difference between an Agate and a Jasper, how rocks are named and why – – when you spell Polish with a capital “P” you mean that the jasper is from Poland, not merely that it’s polished. We once spent thirty minutes trying to explain to a very nice but confused college student that crystals actually grow. He couldn’t grasp the idea that something without a circulatory system could possibly “grow”

We even had a gentleman – who very clearly did not want his daughter to come into our booth – grab her hand and say “It’s not rocks, it’s glass, they’re lying. Rocks can’t shine like that.”

And yes, we just smiled. One of us may have raised an eyebrow, but we said nothing out loud. Clearly he had no intention of looking, or buying, so we just let him go so that our real customers wouldn’t hear what we might have wanted to say.

The Chainmaille gets even more comments, the most common is “Oh, this is just chains, right? Look, they just put chains together.” Typically said by one shopper to her friend or spouse. If they’re polite, they’ll actually ask “Is this just chains?” To which we respond “Rings. They’re rings we’ve put together one at a time, which is why they look like chain.” Some of them believe it, some don’t, even when you demonstrate.

You can explain your products to your shoppers, but you can’t understand it form them.

It’s advisable, if at all possible, for you to demonstrate your creative process there in your booth. Depending on what you make, of course. We always have a piece of Chainmaille we’re working on that we can demo – just be prepared for a crowd to form and linger, watching you do what you do – it can be distracting. Usually they’re so fascinated they can’t stop watching or asking questions. It doesn’t always lead to a sale, but it does add credibility and draws more people into your booth.

We used to think we were the only ones getting strange questions, but if you take the time to listen to shoppers in your neighbor’s booths, you’ll hear a lot of similar questions and comments.

A photographer we know who often had a booth beside us would occasionally print on canvas, which made his photos appear as if they were painted. We listend to a customer argue with him as to whether or not his own photograph was in fact a photograph or a painting.

You’ll hear people say rude things about your product, out loud, knowing you can hear them. You’ll hear shoppers tell their friends – also quite loudly – that their twelve year old child knows how to make what you’re selling. Some of them, we kid you not, will show you an item that they made themselves and expect you to exclaim how incredible it is and that they should set up a booth right next to yours and start making their fortune.

We’re not sure what point they’re trying to make, just know that the best response is a smile, maybe a slight nod if you’re feeling generous. Never comment back or try to defend yourself. They’re not in your booth to buy from you, they’re in your booth to make a statement about themselves that even their companions probably don’t care to hear.

They’re not your customers, butthey are right there, in your booth. All you can do is smile, nod politely and let them have their moment. Your customer could be standing right behind them and they’ll hear whatever you say.

Think Facebook, only Face-to-Face.

How you interact will also determine whether or not a browser is willing to become a customer. Many of them are there alone, and they’re like frightened deer, moving quietly from one booth to the next. We have a rule of thumb as to how best to interact with the wide range of society you’re going to see.

When they first approach, look at them and smile. Offer up a polite Good Morning, or Afternoon, and let THEM decide what happens next. They might want to come in a browse, they might want to just glance and move on. You’ll find countless articles on the web about how to lure a customer in, how to “grab” them with your sales pitch, dazzle them with your polished bullshit and get them to buy something.

Go ahead, if that works for you. As shoppers, we hate that. As vendors, we don’t do that.

We suggest you read the room. Let the customer dictate how you interact. Some of them want to chat you up while they look around, some of them want you to leave them alone in case they want to exit without buying, some of them aren’t sure yet. If they actually enter your booth, but don’t make eye contact, let them browse. Don’t stare straight at them, give them space but remain available. If they pick up or touch your product, let them know they can try it on, or that it comes in other colors, whatever is appropriate to your product. If they’re a scared deer, that’s all the interaction they want from you. If they’re becoming curious and interested, they’ll take you up on the offer to try it on, or ask about another color.

Now you can really go ahead and interact. They’re interested, they’re brave enough to touch your product, so offer to answer any questions they have, offer up a mirror, tell them what other colors that item comes in and you have a hook in. This is the time to pitch, without chasing them away.

Aggressive sellers are annoying.

Passive buyers are potential.

Don’t screw the pooch.

If we’re giving you the impression everyone you meet is going to annoy you, that’s not the case. People in general are polite, will say nice things about your product and hopefully will even be so delighted as to make a purchase. People-watching is one of the great perks of being a vendor, and if you’re not afraid to make conversations with strangers, you’re likley to have a fun experience just being there.

It’s just that, after a few years, you’ll notice patterns. The most common thing you’ll hear is “Very pretty stuff” when a browser wanders through. Or “Do you make all of this?” And the familiar “I’ll be back, I just go here and I want to do the rounds.”

Our theory is that people feel it’s necessary to apologize, in a way, for not having bought anything. Only 5% of those who say they’ll be back actually come back. But 99% of those who DO come back make a purchase. 80% of people will say Thank You as they wander out of your booth without making a purchase. 10% won’t even acknowledge you exist, and be prepared for a solid 8% who are on their phones and never stop chatting with someone who isn’t there, even as they pick up and try on your products.

People will gather in your booth and start chatting with a friend they haven’t seen in months, completely ignoring you, your products and anyone else trying to get in.

People will enter your booth in the middle of a conversation that they don’t even pause as they touch your products, glance around, and exit.

People will enter your booth, look extremely interested in something, then suddenly be pulled out by a child or spouse or friend who wants to look at someone else’s booth.

And you’ll notice the Waves. No matter the venue or time of year, people come and go in Waves. There will be times when you are so busy you can’t eat or run to the restroom, and times when it’s so quiet you’ll wonder if it’s okay to slip underneath one of your tables and nap.

It’s never okay, but it’s tempting. Really tempting.

Seriously, we’ve been tempted.

We once saw a vendor who sold hammocks fall asleep in one of his hammocks and miss several opportunities to make sales because his customers were too embarrassed to try and wake him up!

When there are people in your booth, other people will suddenly want to see what all the excitement is about, so make sure you have enough open space for them. Nothing is more attractive to shoppers than something other shoppers are looking at.

Indoor or Outdoor, one thing is very important when setting up your booth – Prices. We’re not talking about what to charge, we’re talking about how to display them. Do not make your shopper have to ASK you about pricing.

For real, people. Whatever it is you’re selling, find a way to display the pricing clearly and up front. Whether that’s individual prices on items like we do, or signs that indicate prices for groups, like we also do – or a combination or variety – whatever it takes, don’t make your shoppers have to ask you what something costs. Chances are they won’t.

Chances are very good. Especially if you’re busy with someone else, and they’re just at the edge of your booth, looking at a piece, wondering if they should give it a closer look or try to get in and look at more. If they can’t find the price without having to ask you, they’ll probably assume it’s too high, or that they’ll have to wait in line just to find out, then you’ll see them change their minds, and nothing is more embarrassing to a shopper than giving the impression they can’t afford what you’re selling.

You have to think about your customer and how THEY feel. Most of them are “just browsing” and that’s just fine. Not everyone who walks into your booth is going to buy from you. In fact the majority of the people who walk into your booth aren’t going to buy from you, or anyone else. They’re really just wandering around, so let them. They want to look at pretty things without any pressure, and that includes seeing what your prices are.

If you’re using signs to show your prices, think about where you’re putting them. Look at your display from a visitor’s point of view – where is your eye going? Are you looking down to see products? Put the sign down there. Are you looking up? Put the prices up there. If your customer is browsing by looking down, they’re not going to look UP to see a sign. Even if it’s right there, they’re not going to notice it. You can put out more than one of the same sign if that helps.

Well displayed prices can turn a browser into a buyer. When you hide your prices – turning tags upside down, making them ask – what you’re actually doing is putting them on the spot. They might not want you to see them flip that price tag over, especially if they’re not going to pick that item up – it can embarras some people. Even if you think that is weird, you’re going to have to accept it in order to be successful at shows. You’re getting the entire spectrum of humanity at a Craft/Art show and you don’t want to cater to just the outwardly brave. The inwardly shy, the socially awkward, even the ones that don’t speak your language have money, too.

Need more tips, tricks, facts and advice? Check out our next Article: This Time, it’s Personal!

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

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