Tuesday, July 24, 2012

get out of my booth.

It's Tuesday, and I'm finally recovered from my weekend selling at the Renegade Craft Fair.  Did I say selling? What I meant to say was showing, I was showing my work at the Renegade. It was, unfortunately, the most beautiful day of the year on Saturday. When you live in the Bay Area and you wake upon a Saturday morning and there is not a wisp,  not a trace of fog, you spend the day outside, not locked up in a giant box with a bunch of hipsters selling felted owl hats or meticulously crafted letterpress birthday cards that say, "I HATE you more every YEAR" or ceramic cupcake stands with a bird on it.  Put a bird on it, get it? Get it? I love that show, don't you?

Ha ha ha. Get out of my booth.

typical exit lines (click)
At the show, I was refining some of my theories regarding the nature of human behavior in a retail environment and, since I had time, taking notes. My theory says that 80% of show attendees are there only to look at all of the cute stuff,  get ideas for stuff they want to make themselves, find the very cheapest deal available, or take pictures. It's the other 20% I'm trying to suss out, and there are lots of clues.

There are the people who look for a bit and then ask for a card or if you have a studio. These are mostly the "inspire me" people who have no intention of dropping a dime, but they don't know how to get out of your booth gracefully, so they use that line as a way to make you think they will buy later.  Look, it's okay to just walk out of a booth and just say, "Thank you!" You don't have to pretend, I can see right through you when you give me that apologetic smile, and you are just making me pretend along with you, which annoys me after a while. Just. Get. Out. And you're welcome.

Worse than that are people who look around and then ask you what cone you fire to. This is code for, "I too am potter, therefore I can appreciate your hard work, but I am not buying, because I can go home and make this myself." No, you can't. But by all means, try.

When people walk in and start handling work, it's usually a good sign, but only when they combine it with some eye contact and/or conversation.  They are telling me they are willing to engage with me, they want to buy, they just need a little push in the form of a reason to buy, which I am happy to supply.  This, for me, is a fun interaction. You are allowed to stay in my booth.

It's the people who avoid eye contact and start handling work only to check on price who are hopeless cases. I know that most people want to spend $18 on just about anything made out of ceramic, and they cannot make sense of my prices. $44 for that? Holy shit, a bowl for $140? Are you serious, you want all that money for something that holds a cake? I can spend all afternoon reading the minds of people scrunching up their faces at the little white sticker on the bottom of everything. And you know what? That's why I put the sicker on the bottom of everything, so you have to pick it up to find out, and maybe that way you will learn something about pottery, and why it costs more than $18.  In the meantime, please run faster as you exit my booth.

I've already written about the people who wander around shows taking pictures without asking. When I see someone with no shopping bags in their hands and a giant camera around their neck, I know what is about to happen, and it's not a sale.  People with cameras at shows come in as the most clueless bunch I have ever encountered while selling. All take, no give with these people. Get out!

 Then, there are the customers I've come to know as "heavy petters."  For example, a sweet-looking young lady (SLYL) walks into my booth:
SLYL: "Oh my god, I love your work, I'm always looking at it on Etsy. It's so beautiful..."
BAJA (bitter and jaded artist, that's me): "Isn't it so much better to see it in real life?"
SLYL: "Totally... I have almost all of your work in my favorites."
BAJA: "Which is your very favorite?"
SLYL: "All of them..." (wistfully strokes a cupcake stand with a faraway look in her eye) "It's so beautiful... so perfect... I just love all of your colors... "
BAJA: "Picking out the glaze colors is my favorite part."
SLYL: "It's so unique...I just love it... you are sooooo talented...well... thank you!" (abruptly turns on heel and exits booth.)

An interaction like that I call "fake foreplay." A customer comes in, supposedly all hot and bothered for my work, fully engages me with heavy petting in the form of compliments, feels me up by touching a bunch of pieces, and just when I think we are about to get down, leaves. High and dry. Wait! Come back!  Here, take a card, take a picture, my studio is always open! I thought you loved me...


  1. Looks like people are all the same everywhere. I actually had someone tell me that I should make garden gnomes. Yuck!

  2. The proper response to that is, "Stop shoulding on me."

  3. eeeeck.All of that makes me cringe.alot.
    Thanks for reminding me that I will never have the patience or poker face for shows. : )

  4. You only missed one kind of art fair customer! The ones who walk into your booth, glance around and then proceed to have a half hour conversation with their friend standing so that no one else can see the work or get around them to do so.

  5. Oh no, I've written about them before, and all it takes is aggressively bumping into them "by accident." It usually only takes once, sometimes twice.

  6. I also hate the "I love your work, you really need to charge more..." and then THEY WALK OUT. Obviously my work is too expensive for them already.

  7. Anonymous12:44 PM

    The comment "how long did it take you to make this?" totally slays me (as the non-purchasing customer mentally tries to calculate your hourly wage). In this age of hipster DIY crafting, creating and selling thoughtful beautiful works such as yours, shows like Renegade are definitely a challenge.

  8. People NEVER tell me I should charge more, and if they did I would immediately say, "for you, I will!"

    The "how long did it take you to make this?" is always one of the most transparent and useless questions, and I never answer it.

  9. And here I am thinking of doing MORE shows next year! Yikes. What's wrong with me??

    1. The best answer to this question that I have used is "insert number of years as an artist". They usually leave then.

  10. LOved this more than ever... Totally get it... you,yes YOU, are an excellent writer... I read the whole thing aloud to my husband... and we lokked at each other in agreement while I laughed excitedly... We could totally take this on the road... or YOU should... Start at NCECA!!!! You could totally be the key note speaker!

  11. We have a retail gallery at our studio... inside a very quaint log cabin. We want to scream every time people walk in and the first words out of their mouth are "Your cabin is so charming, how old is it?, was it barn? or a house?".
    We want to say look at the pottery not the building... and those people rarely make a purchase.

    Sometimes we tell little lies about the cabin :-)
    Paying customers get the real story after I take their credit card.

  12. Totally get it and I only do a few local markets!! in a different country!

  13. I agree with Judi! Become hot on the speakers list at NCECA and get me over! Selling at fairs makes me want to secretly wear a "I hate other people " t-shirt under my clothes. "How long does it take you to make this" is one of my most asked questions. I think from now on I'll say "One Thousand Hours!"

  14. I've got a flip side story....I visited the table of a potter at a farmer's market. In this instance, the potter had a table full of mostly bowls and not much else. Problem is, I make better bowls and there was nothing special or unique about this potter's bowls.

    But I'm the kind of sucker where I probably will buy something anyway, if you take the time and talk with me. Except this person, then blew me off once it was known I was a potter and there wasn't really another customer there, other than one other potter

    Maybe also because I mentioned that I skip using copper glazes on the inside of my bowls, after she indicated she had some bowls that were not food safe due to the copper glaze she uses on them. I stayed nice and did my best to be non-judgmental, but I'm guessing she was already sensitized to other comments of "why would you use a non-food-safe glaze inside a bowl?" and then sell it with other "functional ware"

    Whitney....given how beautiful your work is, I'd have a damned of a time walking away without half your booth, LOL. I think you may just need a crowd that has money and is not too cheap to spend any of it. ;)

  15. Oh dear! People are SO annoying in just about any circumstance you give them the chance to be. For example, A Woman Who Should Know Better (AWWSKB)asks a librarian for a picture of a unicorn. Seriously? Or Parent Who Should Not Have Reproduced (PWSNHR) asks which DVD is the best for teaching their child how to READ? Um, it's called a book.

    I guess the point I'm trying to make is that in any profession you have your annoying people. That being said, I truly enjoyed reading your case study! I have a Bachelor's in anthropology as well, and I'm always analyzing social interactions such as these! They generally end with a quiet sob for the state of the human race...

  16. Judi, I will only take it on the road if you are my road manager.

    And Michele, I know what you mean about the same questions always being asked. I have some fake cupcakes I use for display and this weekend the question I got over and over was, "Is that real?" From a child I can understand and I love to tease them about it, from an adult it's just tiresome. If you have to ask, you know it's not real, and who cares anyway?

    Schnee, I too have had some strange interactions with other sellers and witnessed some very poor customer service and behavior. And Renegade is kind of a cheap crowd, but I don't mind making my money $40 at a time... as long as it's about 100 times... ; )

    And Evan, it's so true that no matter what you do, there is a "type" that you will run into all the time. You can let it make you batshit crazy and jaded, or you can try and stay in the now and maintain your compassion. Fortunately, I can still do both!

  17. There's a special place in Hell (or is it Purgatory?)for the talkers who say they'll be back.

  18. Craft fairs are kind of weird for customers too. I mean...okay, I honestly fall into so many of your categories. I'm a socially awkward hipster potter who goes to craft fairs more for inspiration (aka "to look at the pretties") than to buy things. I am perpetually broke, and have gotten addicted to not buying crap I don't need, but I still LOVE seeing the stuff people make.

    I usually feel uncomfortable talking to vendors because I probably am not buying stuff from them and don't want to waste their time, so I am totally guilty of going to booths and not saying anything as I paw all over their stuff.

    And I am also guilty of checking out the prices on everything, but I try not to make yucky faces! There is just no easy way to ask a vendor, "OMG, I love your stuff, I'd love to take something home from you...is there anything I can afford?" And that has absolutely nothing to do with me expecting their work to be cheap, or being annoyed when it isn't...and everything to do with me only having so much money to spend.

    When I vended at Renegade a few years ago, I totally saw sooooo many versions of me, and I was STILL annoyed with them even though I totally understood their behavior!

    But the people who KILLED me at Renegade--and are the primary reason I haven't tried to vend there again--are the T-SHIRT PEOPLE. There are always like 20 booths selling screenprinted American Apparel shirts for $25 each, PACKED with people. Packed. People raced by my booth to get to the t-shirt booths. They all appear to be making like a zillion dollars each. Everyone leaving is carrying a t-shirt. It's insane.

    And it totally killed my previous love of screenprinted t-shirts.

  19. Best blog post ever! Honest, raw and real.

  20. Why have it taken me so long to discover your fabulous blog!! You have hit the spot on every single type of customer one sees. I haven't cackled for a while, thank you! Put a bird on it.


  21. Lynae, as someone who has browsed a lot of shows I'm vending at, I agree that you never know what you are gong to get when you walk into a booth at a show with its variety and and vagaries of artists and customer service styles. It can certainly be awkward. It took me years to refine my game face and learn how to interact gracefully with customers. This is an art in itself!

    I don't mind if someone comes to me and tells me they have a limited budget and can I help them find something. You may not know it from this blog post, but I really do like helping people find something that works for them, and I enjoy the interaction, even if it doesn't always result in a sale. Talking to people who come in to the booth and don't buy anything is not a waste of time, in my opinion, as long as the conversation is not long-winded and distracts me from helping other people. I've had people tell me many times that they can't afford my work, but they love it, and will save up for something to buy in the future. There's nothing wrong with that!

    And I agree that there are far too many screen printed t-shirts at the renegade. Almost everyone I know has gotten stuck next to one and watched all weekend as thousands of dollars are spent.

  22. People, aren't they fabulous? You and I excluded, of course. There are two craft fairs in the Pittsburgh area which I have participated, one is gigantic and provides days of free entertainment and lots of fried food, oh yes and an artists market. It is an entertainment event. I've watched people walk out of the booth complaining about the cost of a $20 mug only to walk by later with $20 worth of fried broccoli on a stick.( I waved and signaled they had grease on thier chins.) The other show is a craft show, with a little bit of entertainment, one very good food vendor and lots of paying customers. So many people walked into my booth and said, "We save our money for this show. We think it's the best show in Pittsburgh." And yes, at that fabulous show, all the personalities you describe still show up. People are interesting creatures, I like to try to predict the personalities as they head my way. I only do one this one show because it leaves me feeling pretty happy about people in general. My favorite client story was the woman who wanted rubber sticky protectors on the bottom of a piece (which I was happy to provide.) and then proceeded to ask if I would give her the rest of the rubber dots for some "things she had at home." She was othe only paying customer I've wanted to say "GET. OUT. OF. MY. BOOTH." Thanks for a great commentary!!! Makes me look forward to the next show!! Hhahahahahahhaaaaa!!!

  23. OMG Whitney! Or that would be BAJA...sooo funny and sadly so true! I'm a fairly new potter with only one show under my belt...that being a shared table with our local guild. I have shown other artwork, however and yes..it's exactly as you say. I always hated when they'd stand there with a friend or relative and flip the piece over..turning it around and around and whispering to one another...knowing full well they were trying to figure out how to make it! Looking forward to my next sale this weekend...maybe I'll take notes and we can compare!


  25. Another thought...make t-shirts with a great drawing of a mug and underneath it say "I went to an art festival and all I got was this overpriced t-shirt with a mug on it." I'd trade you a mug for it!LOL!!

  26. ha ha ha. as someone who does 18 shows a year i totally get it. damn those t-shirts. i refuse to do any shows that are hip and cool. if i have to spend time talking to one more hipster who's wearing $400 shoes, $500 horn-rimmed glasses and holding the leash for their $2500 designer dog i will scream. especially when they tell me how much they love my handblown glass bead jewelry, and then say "is that really $55?"

  27. This post is spot on!
    Another question that plagues me is: 'where do you sell your work?' usually suggesting they have no intention of buying it here and now, at the show I've spent all this time and money preparing for.
    I also think it's hard to be a ceramic artist at shows where you have made and designed each item from scratch, where as the table across has merely put a bunch of beads from china on a necklace or screen-printed on a made in china t-shirt, calling it hand-made. Hand-made is such a nebulous term these days- not to say that I don't appreciate someone's creativity to put things together or to create a design for a t-shirt, it can just be frustrating in a way that craft shows end up elevating not so handmade work beside very handmade work.

  28. I have a variation of what dahlhaus posted: "Where are you going to be next?"
    I'm here with my work. You're here with (presumably) money. Why would you wait until my next show to buy something, is my next show going to be five miles closer to your home, so your poor car doesn't have to struggle under all the weight of the pottery you bought?
    That question makes no sense to me whatever.
    I think I'm going to start saying "This is my last show for this year!" and see what happens. I can always make up some story if I am seen later.

  29. Flump and Dalhaus, those are classic lines as well, and were part of the notes I was keeping under the heading, "the sale that died before it even took a breath." A variation on the two you mention is, "Do you have a studio?" presumably so the customer will come visit, and maybe, juuuuuust maybe, buy something.

    I had a situation at another show the week before where a woman came into my booth twice, picked out the piece she wanted, and after I was wrote the sale up and was waiting to get paid, started waffling between her piece and another piece that was similar. So we chat, I try to help her pick, and then she pulls out the,"Do you have a studio?" She then decides it would be better to come to my studio, which is 45 minutes away from where she lives, and decide on what she wants there. I couldn't fucking believe she killed the sale when it was already written up. It made no sense and I could not figure out why she suddenly decided to back out. I wanted to kick her. Hard. I very rarely say anyone who comes in y booth has wasted my time, and that was one of the rare customer who did!

  30. "oh, you're local so I can come buy from you anytime."

    Actually, not really since I have a small studio and don't have room for a dedicated retail space and I'd be pulling pots down off high shelves and out of boxes for you to see...

    But that's not the point. I don't get my feelings hurt over pottery. If you don't want to buy something today or ever, just smile and say thanks or whatever as you walk out of my space, and I'll smile and say "you're welcome, thank you." or whatever.

  31. "Do you have a website?" is the new "Do you have a card?". And you're absolutely correct -- It translates exactly to, "I've looked just long enough at your stuff that I now need a graceful way to escape your booth embarrassment-free. Especially since I noticed that you were looking at me."

    A good response is, "Why, of course I have a website. I built it and my Etsy site for the express purpose of guaranteeing that I will NEVER AGAIN sell to an impulse buyer..........the very kind of buyer upon whom I financially depended and built my pottery empire for the past thirty years."

    Oh. Sorry. Was I shouting bitterly?

    ...oh, and I love your blog. Do you have any books?

    ...I mean...

    I love your pottery, do you have anything else I could love and not buy?

    ...I mean...

    great teeth. Are those yours?

  32. As someone who has in the past done Art Shows as well as the Arts and Crafts events and now frequent art events as both a buyer and a looker I cannot understand doing them or even having a retail sales space if you really detest the public so much. Honestly, I enjoyed the interaction with those who were not buying as well as those who were.
    Not everyone who attends these things has the budget to buy all that they admire, I certainly do not. Not everyone is knowledgable about what goes into the making of a pot and their questions about it may just be honest attempts to learn something.

  33. I think all shows are a challenge, I always find a number of folks who don't buy on the day and then regret it only having to pay postage later...

  34. SLYL and BAJA - You CRACK ME UP!!! Sorry you didn't leave with a pocket stuffed with cash to go to the local pub! That is really the only answer after ANY show :)

  35. Barbara, when people ask, "Do you have a studio?" I always answer, "You mean for visiting?" and when they say "Yes," I always say, "I do, but it's only open by appointment." That discourages most people from the idea that they will drop in on me later. If people are very motivated to buy in my studio, it's okay, but it does interrupt my work day, so I want people to be committed to being buyers and not browsers if they want to come to my studio.

    It doesn't hurt my feelings at all if people don't want to buy at a show. My work IS expensive and it's not for everyone style-wise.

    When people make an excuse to me about why they are not buying, I think THEY think I need to hear an excuse to feel okay about them leaving, since they have a legit reason. It's just not the case. I find excuses annoying, and every seller I know finds excuses annoying, since there is an underlying expectation that we "accept" their reason. Fair-goers are obviously not obligated to buy a single item, but nor are sellers obligated to excuse them for it, that's not our role in this particular play. Buy or don't buy, that is up to the fair attendees, but don't pull me into your process unless you are looking for me to talk you out of it!

  36. So, I run (and show in) a craft fair, and I'd be pissed if you were one of my vendors snarking about their customer base. A. Yes, shows are weird for shoppers, too. We're used to impersonal mega-stores, not tiny super-intimate booths. B: Let people come in and take photos or ask about your work: you're right. They'll never copy it. Being less than customer-friendly is not helping you sell all that stuff you're worried about people knicking. C: I've found that if you at least fake it -- smile, stand, not make long lists of everything you hate about a show -- you'll do a looooot better. But you probably know that already.

    Sorry for my own snark. I've read your blog for a long time, and I often share your posts with other makers. This one just made me cringe, as a showrunner.

  37. Cat, I understand what you're saying. I would like to make the point that I'm writing about something on my mind in a way that amuses me, and something I know other vendors will get a deep belly laugh out of because they identify. I get that not all find me funny and take what I write very seriously. The title of the post alone should alert readers that I'm not serious, but I have to accept that it blew by some people.

    I have all kinds of issues with people: people at shows, people in the grocery store, people on the freeways, people with cameras, and I do my best to maintain myself and not become the type of person other people have issues with. Which means I try to be kind of considerate to all I encounter, even when they get on my nerves. I think MOST of us do that. I always do my best to give great customer service because I like people, and I like selling my work. I generally do pretty well at shows, sometimes less so, and if I'm not doing well it's usually because of things outside of my control. And if I'm at a slow show and I need to keep myself busy by writing down my observations, and composing snarky blog posts, and making lists of the things people say to me over and over again, nobody knows what I thinking but me. And my blog readers.

    If my post made you cringe, then I think it's a good opportunity for you as a show runner to think about how to make the show experience better for everyone-- attendees, vendors, etc. A little education on all sides, some thoughts on how to behave, expected courtesies (like ASKING to take pictures of work), etc. If you want input in a serious way and not a snarky way, then you know where I am!

  38. :) Good response.

    I did take to twitter and ask for vendors to tell me what they do to solve some of your problems, and got great answers. So all in all WAY TO GO! <3

  39. Most people at shows are very nice, I've had some great conversations with people that didn't buy anything. That's okay, it comes with the territory.
    Other people are out and out assh... um, timewasters. I'm not being nice to them no matter what, they're never going to buy anything anyway.
    Apparently Cat is suffering under the delusion that artists at a show are show employees. They aren't. They are customers.
    Also, how Cat can say that allowing people to take pictures without permission is okay is beyond me. No, the person taking the picture(s) may not copy the work; but how about the recipient of the picture(s) which may be in china, India, Mexico? Most shows we do have official show photogs, and they have shirts or credentials which identify them as such; anyone else must ask permission to take pictures; the promoters here recognize that theft occurs. Too bad for Cats artists that Cat doesn't seem to realize that.
    Whether you were serious or not Whitney, your post title rings true for many people

  40. Tire kickers are tiresome in all areas of retail.

  41. Laughing!! I've met all of these people. My favorites are at the local shows, when someone says,"Oh, we can just come to your studio!" Meaning, we don't have to buy from you here, we can buy from you anytime. I could never quite get the right wording to say, "No, you can't. There are rarely any pots at my studio because I sell them elsewhere. Like HERE."

    Actually I like talking to the potters. That is, if there's no one around who's actually going to BUY something, and there often isn't.

  42. Flump, I think you make an interesting point that vendors are NOT show employees, but customers of the people who are running the show. I have not ever stopped to consider that before.

    If I were writing etiquette guidelines for show attendees, which in my grandiose imagination would be distributed like little flyers along with show maps in every show across America, one guideline would be:

    --Photographers, please feel free to take pictures of artists work AFTER you have asked their permission!

    That continues to me one of my biggest gripes, that people think they can take an image of my work without asking if it's okay with me. Show runners should provide little tags that say "No photography without permission." Photography at shows was a strict no-no until every person in America came equipped with a high -res camera in their phone, now people feel free to take images of anything they want. Not one of these people stops to ask themselves how it feels to be on the other side of that. It feels intrusive and rude. Also, I think there is a tiny part of people that think that an image is almost as good as owning something, because I have noticed that people with cameras (almost) NEVER buy work.

  43. I agree with Judi...Whitney take this talk to NCECA. You know how to tell it(and sell it) girl.

  44. Love this post. I read it nodding in agreement all the way through.
    When I am asked how long it takes to do something, I generally reply, "All my life." It gets rid of the time wasters, but has also started some interesting conversations about life and it's influences.
    I found you via Hollis at Hatchville Pottery,

  45. These kinds of posts are always insightful, and have many times kept me from saying the wrong things to vendors or within ear reach,(and have stopped hubby from making the "you could make that" comments) that I never knew might be taken as offensive in the past. I'm an artist but I have never done shows. I'm more of a shopper, usually the one chatting up the artist, petting the items and leaving with a business card. I'm just more comfortable shopping online for some reason. When I've eyed that pretty I've saved in my favorites (sometimes for months or years) just waiting for the right time, or funds. Sitting comfortably in my pj's with coffee in hand. It's the same way with clothes for me, I find something online for a decent price but I'm not sure of the fit. I'll go into a store and try it on and shop for the same thing online (unless it's cheaper in the store which rarely happens).

    Now when it comes to the handmade world, I fall in love over and over on the internet. If I see it and the artist in person this usually finalizes my opinion of both in that brief encounter. Most often the art is as wonderful or better in person, so it comes down to the attitude of the artist.(More like a celebrity and I'm the wide eyed fan trying to contain myself) Many have lost a future sale because they can't be bothered to get off their chair, or they are complaining to someone about another customer so I can hear. I walked away once because of an especially boisterous political conversation the artist was having with a lingerer. I wanted to say "Hey, that was a much cuter piece before you got your politics all over it". But if it is a good experience, I save that card with a little savings envelope JUST for that piece or with a person in mind for holiday shopping, and do go to the website to see what else the artist offers.

  46. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Heard this all before. In my own booth...I enjoyed your rant.
    C'est la vie I suppose.

  47. This is all true! I've experienced every one of these people and I've only done one art fair. It's worse because my work isn't functional so I get..."so it's JUST decoration??"

  48. You are so right. I am so jealous of the t-shirt booths. I sometimes get potters in my booth. There are two kinds, if someone says cheerfully, I am a potter and I have the time, I love to talk to them, we can talk temperatures and glazes, joys and sorrows. I dont want to copy them and they dont want to copy me. We talk about selling tips. Then there is the potter that wants your glaze recipe and firing temperature. They want to copy... and like you said, good luck to them. I have my mini bin. Pots I can sell real cheap because I make them at fairs and shows. Sometimes people pick up 5 and ask if they buy five can they get them for half price. This bugs me. I tell them they are twice that price on my web site... It is all a game.

  49. I'm selling my product at a show right now and have to price match my competition. Another thing that is bugging me is browsers galore. I mean why come out here if you're not gonna buy? Local small business here, hello!