by Pete Mosley
Published: March 2012
Every now and then something happens that fires me up and makes me want to write about it. This year I visited Origin – well known, prestigious, well attended – and an expensive commitment for the makers who were lucky enough to secure a place there. The trouble was, I came away feeling that I’d had a mixed experience – there were some real stars who made the most of the opportunity, and some who fell short of the mark – some through naivety or lack of experience, and some who simply seemed to take their eye off the ball.
It wasn’t just my experience at Origin though; – I saw the same things happening at other major events the previous year, and at a crafts fair at Nottingham Contemporary during the summer.
I suppose when it came down to it I found myself getting alternately very pleased and very annoyed with the presence and response of stall holders. I’m a natural observer – I can’t help but notice stuff. So I thought it would be good to set down the things that I feel differentiate between those who use fairs and events to best advantage, and those who don’t. Here goes.
Clean vs. Cluttered
How your stall is set out is absolutely critical. Things need space around them in order to be seen. Too much on display can be as big a turnoff as too little. I have to say, a lot of people err on the side of trying to cram too much in, especially when you have such a tiny and expensive space to begin with.
When you next go to a show as an observer, rather than as an exhibitor, make a mental note of the stalls that really stick in your mind (in a good way!) and make you want to hover around and have really good look. It is often to do with how people have deployed their stock within the space using layers, shelves and hanging items to allow you to scan their work without having to crowd in to see stuff. We’ve all been to shows where you can’t see anything on a stall because everything rapidly becomes obscured as soon as more than two people stop to have a look.
And remember – what’s around your feet and behind and under your stall is more obvious than you think – try and keep your floor space as clear and tidy as everything else.
If there’s anything you need to keep in boxes or stored out of sight, try and arrange matters so that you can retrieve things without turning your back on the customer – or worse still having to bend over and present your posterior whilst rummaging in a box. It’s a bit undignified.
Well placed lighting can transform a stall completely. There are now so many really clever and inexpensive lighting solutions available, that it seems daft not to make the investment. Get a selection of lights so you can respond flexibly to any given situation. We’re not talking Blackpool Illuminations, either – too much lighting can destroy the effect you set out to achieve. Next time you see a stand that really attracts you, make a mental note of how the lighting has been used to draw you in and focus your attention.
Fiddling and Tidying
It’s only natural to be nervy - after all it is both you and your work that are on show. But nerves make us do funny things – fiddling, tidying, re-arranging, disappearing to the toilet, getting another glass of water, grinning inanely at people. You know what I mean – we all have different nervous tics.
But the nerves, if they are obvious, transmit to your audience. Find your inner Zen, still your racing mind, be still – externally at least. Get yourself sorted and take a few deep breaths before opening time so you can maintain calm and order with the minimum of effort.
Permission to look
There are many ways to encourage your customer to take a closer look. Some obvious and some subtle. I think the first thing is to avoid signs that say – ‘do not touch’ ....’all breakages must be paid for’...’no photography’. Psychologically, they all mean the same thing to the observer. Don’t bother looking. Move along now, nothing for you here. I’m a big fan of anti-copying. I get really fed up with people who plagiarise. But having A4 signs saying ‘no photography’ in florescent yellow pinned up between your beautiful exhibits does nothing for the aesthetic of your stall.
If possible, have things that people can touch and handle. If you see someone getting a camera out, a light touch on the forearm accompanied by a quiet, “no photography allowed, I’m afraid – why don’t you take a postcard” keeps your stall friendly and could open a useful conversation. Not everyone that takes a photo wants to steal your ideas. They may simply want an ‘aide memoire’.
There’s another good reason to find out why people want a photo – especially if they are using a mobile phone. It can help them check out a buying decision with a friend or partner. Texting a photo (with permission) has helped me make a great buying decision now and again.
Is this seduction – or speed dating?
There’s two ways to look at a selling event – the sales you make and the relationships that get started. A single sale is just that. A relationship can be for life. You have to make a clear choice about what your strategy for the event is. Are you just there to sell stuff, or to do that and make a lot of new and fruitful relationships into the bargain? If you make a new friend with each sale, and then stay in touch, you’ll get repeat business. If you don’t make a sale, but people show an interest – make friends anyway – ask them if you can have a business card or email address – then follow it up later.
At some shows I visited, less than 50% of stallholders had a visitor’s book prominently placed to collect emails and addresses. Missed opportunities galore.
What I also really like to see are nicely presented books with press cuttings, magazine articles, award certificates, photos of past work, and the like. It encourages people to spend time and ask questions.
What to say?
By far the best way to open a conversation with a visitor is to ask a question that shows an interest. Where have you travelled from today? Did you come to this show last year? That’s a really nice bag – where did you get it? Dale Carnegie has not yet met his match in this respect – his advice in respect of winning friends and influencing people, is to first and foremost show an interest in the other person. If you remember that the other person may be a bit shy, or a bit tongue tied themselves or don’t want to ask about your work for fear of making an idiot of themselves, life becomes a lot easier. If you take responsibility for breaking the ice, they will then feel much more comfortable about showing the nature of their interest in you and your work.
‘Can I help you?’ or ‘would you like to know more about my work’ are OK, but not quite as seductive as the former approach.
Hanging out with your mates
Sometimes when you go to a show, you meet lots of fellow stallholders that you haven’t seen for a while. If your stall gets quiet, the temptation to go and talk to a mate can get quite strong. And it’s absolutely guaranteed that while you are off having a natter. Someone will come back looking to buy the thing they were looking at half an hour ago. Leaving your stall is a risky strategy. Provision yourself well – with food and water, arrange the social time for later, and arrange cover for your stall if you need to leave it.
Smile – you’re on centre stage.
Presence, attention and body language all count. The more relaxed and open you seem, the more relaxed people will be about approaching you, talking to you and ultimately, buying from you.