Monday, December 9, 2013

Pleasing People and Products

What a great season to be an artist. People are being so supportive of the Holiday Market, buying our sometimes pricey "stuff" and not even asking for discounts (mostly.) Customers probably don't know about all the rules and judgements we artistans like to joke about to balance the vulnerability we feel standing there among our products. One thing they must not know is that if they do or say something unusual to us, we will most certainly tell many people about it, as we use stories in our "spiel." I had a man saying "I would like them if the sayings weren't so stupid," to his companion within my hearing, so I engaged him, saying he needed the Curmudgeon hat, which didn't amuse him. I tried to explain that I was not offended, that I didn't expect everyone to like my work, and he proceeded to say that the saying were degrading, and I really wish I would have asked him which ones, but I was speechless at that, because I think I try really hard to keep things kind and funny and not insult people. He was probably blessed with a sour sense of humor or perhaps none. It made an excellent story for me, so I repeated it endlessly. This week I swear he came by and bought three hats. He did ask for a discount, and I did give him one (against my strong practice of saying that my prices are already low) and he wasn't happy at all but in my version of the story, he went home and his wife explained that he had to be more respectful of the artists even when he wanted to be a critic. I think (in my version of this story) that this was because I treated my work as art and spoke as an artist. Forget the fine lines drawn between art and craft, forget lots of things. I assured him he was entitled to his opinion and certainly not obligated to purchase my work, but I presented as a human being with a personality and the willingness to put it out there. So I think I gained his respect and he re-evaluated my work. So much for the fiction of the week.

We all have our retailing styles, and I make lots of the common mistakes listed by marketing experts, like cramming too many products and too much stock into my booth, and overwhelming shoppers with too many choices. I love the variety and want the consistency so that when someone wants a hat or shirt in their chosen color, I have it, and if they want ten of them, I can make it happen. This did benefit me this summer when a man from Norway wanted ten of the Stay Calm hats, and I was able to find ten in my stock. That was gratifying, since with my use of the bike and trailer, I have manicured my stock down to as fine a point as I can, so I won't haul too many surplus pounds with my 500-plus pound load.

The limits of the trailer are helpful, but at Holiday Market I don't have those limits and I need to work harder to just have less in my booth. It's a real problem for a recovering people-pleaser. I'm now hauling two Toyota-loads of tubs, or three bike loads, and that is really too much. That will be my task for this week, to lessen the load. My hope was that as things sold, the stock would thin, as I am not replacing some of my lines, the kids shirts and the men's longsleeves, and some of the women's styles, etc. It gets painful to me as the popular sizes and colors sell out, but it will be something to get used to. I will have to learn not to apologize too much, too.

All that is good change, as I want to learn better marketing, not my strongest suit. I noticed that another vendor had a pretty spare display, and when she sold one of the five choices of a particular item, she replaced the one, but didn't display every single one of them she had. Five was the right number for those. It occurs to me that if a customer sees one of the item they want, they will be way more motivated to purchase it than if they see three of them. They will be fairly sure they can still find it after going off to see what all the other choices in the show are, so they may never make it back, and I will still have three. So my work is clear.

I am good with signage, so I did a cute little good turn yesterday. I purchased some hot cider from the Lemonade Gourmet, and it was so delicious I immediately wanted more. I happened to see the owner in passing, and commented on the quality, and she told me it must have been the fresh ginger that made it so good. So I made her a little bright sign saying "with Fresh Ginger" and stuck it on her display (with her permission.) Not sure how she felt about it, but when I looked at it later in the day (and it was not a particularly busy day) she had posted a "sold out" sign. So maybe that was a really good deed. I hope so.

It is not always a good idea to sell out, of course, especially for a people-pleaser, but it did illustrate a good point: that customers want to know what makes our products special, better than ordinary. Anyone can make hot cider at home, and many are wary of buying some that might not be as healthy as what they want their kids to drink, but ginger is very popular for many health and foodie reasons, so let people know what you have! I use a lot of signs. Even then people still have to ask the prices occasionally, and that makes them less comfortable. I want my customers to have it easy.

So even though I am essentially still doing what I have been doing and my booth doesn't really present as new and exciting, I can still do little things to improve my sales and my retail life. Never too late to learn something.

As far as Jell-O Art goes, this is the time we gelatin artists and Jell-O Show participants begin to think about next year's theme and our next works of art. I saw on Facebook that artist and genius David Gibbs is making custom pieces, lampshades and presents for people, and decorations for his tree. He has been slightly whipping the Jell-O or whipping the hell out of it, not sure which, to make a dense pastel foam that he can paint with and easily shape.
I personally have zero desire to make Jell-O Art right now, with all the retailing, but I did decorate my booth with some of the Jell-O flowers this year, so if you want to see them, come by the Holiday Market and I will even model them for you. Right now, on with the day off.