Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Craft Shows : 10 Dos and 10 Don'ts (or how not to upset or scare away your clients)

On August 30, my husband and I visited the 2014 Icheon Ceramic Festival, held in the city of Icheon, 50 km south of Seoul. Icheon is well-known for two things in Korea : its delicious shiny rice, and its ceramics!

I always enjoy visiting the Icheon Ceramic Festival (this year was our third visit), but this year I was browsing and shopping with a different point of view: a future seller's! (I will soon be participating in my very first Festival, and I am thrilled and terrorized to present my creations to the public.)

While visiting the dozens of booths of the Festival, I paid much attention to the displays, booth designs, dispositions of items, presentation tips and styles, vendors' attitude and demeanor, etc. I took notes and discuss extensively with my husband, and I came up with this non-exhaustive (and quite personal) list of Dos and Don'ts :

or how to seduce your clients

I noticed a few things that really appealed to me at the Icheon Ceramic Festival. Here are some of my remarks on booths and sellers who really got it (and from which I bought items!!)

1) Smiles and Greetings

One of the first thing I notice when I approach a booth is the vendor's demeanor: is he smiling? is she fixing her hair or make-up in the back of the booth? Is he sleeping? eating? playing games on his/her phone?

I am personally drown to smiley people, so I always appreciate a friendly vendor who takes the time to greet me and smile at me when I approach the table. 

2) Well-indicated prices

As a buyer, I enjoy seeing the prices clearly indicated on items for sale. It makes my life easier to be able to quickly see the price of an object, without having to ask the vendor for every single thing might interest me. Especially when the prices are not negotiable, why not indicating them clearly?

3) Appealing smells

I was impressed by certain booths that used freshly cut lumber for shelving and tables : the lovely pine smell was so nice! It was a very pleasant touch! 

I also appreciated the fact that some other vendors used subtle potpourri or scented candles in their booths.

Playing with contrast
can have a stunning effect.
4) Colors and Contrast

I realized that I was naturally attracted to booth that had colorful walls, or elements of decor hanging on the booth walls (curtains, strips of colorful fabric, paintings, posters, etc.) It created a coziness that was flattering to the whole ensemble.

I also noticed that some sellers really mastered the art of the contrasts, for example displaying their white dishes on a beautiful black velvety table cloth. It was visually stunning, and it really showed off and highlighted the items. 

Some shop owners "dressed up"
their booth lights. Brilliant!
5) Thoughtful lighting

The booths are standard : they all have the same white walls and the same drab light bulbs hanging from the same metal polls... I was pleased to see that some vendors covered their lights with lovely and warm lamp shades, that totally change the mood of the booth! Very clever! (and yes, I am stealing this idea for my own booth.... ;)

Some other vendors were also using candles and tea lights rather than the bright hanging lights; it created a beautifully warm and cozy atmosphere in their booth.

Putting items in context
is a great idea!
6) Items put in context

I like when vendors take the time to put their items "in context". For example, some sellers literally set up the table with utensils, fruit and nice linen napkins. Some other vendors had actual flowers in their vases, incense sticks in their holders and candles in their chandeliers. I like that!

It is nice to see how the items can be used, and it can also give us ideas! And there's also the benefit of learning discreetly what certain objects are for (sometimes it's not as evident as it seems!)

7) Careful packaging

This element comes after the purchase, but it still made an impression on me. Some vendors were very thoughtful in the packaging of their items, taking the time to wrap delicate objects in bubble wrap and then in gift wrap. I also like when vendors put their business card in the bag, without me having to ask.

8) Originality and Creativity

I am talking a lot about people's attitude, or the way they arrange their booths and displays, but I shouldn't forget to mention how important the product actually is! I am always so excited to find something new, original, and unusual! I am naturally attracted by bright colors and bold designs, and I surely appreciate the uniqueness of handmade and handcrafted items.

9) New Items

When I return to a Craft show or a Festival that I have visited in the past, I enjoy re-visiting booths and vendors I met the year before. What I like even more, is when they have something new to offer! If I am satisfied with a piece I previously bought from a vendor and they have new items for sale, I usually buy more from them! I am also very touched when some vendors remember me from a previous visit! That is very heartwarming.

10) Flexibility and thoughtfulness

Finally, another thing that really seduces me is when a vendor is flexible and accommodating. For example, a vendor once offered me to keep my purchase under the table inside his booth so I wouldn't have to carry the heavy item while I was browsing around. Or another seller kindly offered me a larger shopping bag in which I could carry all the tiny bags and packets I had in my hands.

This kindness and willingness to help is wonderful, and it gives me the desire to support and encourage these sellers, who make a special effort to make my life easier.

or how to scare away or frustrate your clients

We all have pet peeves... Well, here are mine, as a craft show buyer and visitor. Some of them might seem to obviously wrong that you might think I am making things up! (I am not...) These are all things that I have experience first-hand at the Festival, and that were very unappealing to me.

1) Ghost Vendor

It happened several times to me during the Festival that the booths were.... empty ! There was no one there to greet me, answer my questions, sell me anything, or simply make sure nobody ran away with half their stock! Really?

It might appear obvious, but having someone in your booth is a must.

2) The Prop

In the same vein as my pet peeve no.1, I also experienced encounters with the "booth prop", which is most likely the friend/husband/cousin of the artist who was asked to "just sit there"... The prop has no knowledge whatsoever, doesn't know the prices of items, or not even what the items actually are!

I understand that someone has the need to take a break sometime, and I do not expect an artist to be in his booth 24/7, but I think it'd be important to "brief" your assistant or helper, or provide him/her with a price list.

3) Am I disturbing you?

I am always sensitive to people's attitude and demeanor. I am easily turned off by a vendor who won't greet me, or won't even greet me back after I said "hello" to them! I have also experienced the vendor glued to his cell phone (who didn't even notice I was standing in front of the table), the vendor who won't look up from his newspaper, or... the napping vendor!

I don't know about you, but I would never buy something from someone who makes me feel like I'm disturbing them. 

Overloaded tables are
unattractive to me.
4) Clutter City

Some booths were SO full of items that I was afraid the tables would collapse! Who said "Less is More" again?

When a booth is overly packed with items, it is unappealing to me. I don't know where to look, and it makes me nervous because I am afraid to touch anything, or even come close to the table, as I might take down the whole display!

It feels unnecessary to me to display several copies of the same items (like a stack of 12 similar plates). Abundance seems to be diminishing the perceived value of the items, too.

5) Baby Don't You Lose my Number

I personally like to collect artists' business cards. I usually take notes on them (what I bought from this particular person, for example) and keep them in file.

It's nice when business cards are prettily displayed on the table, so I can just pick one. If not, I usually ask the vendor. But, how is it possible that a vendor has no business card?

It happened to me at the Festival : a lady (from whom I bought two items) had no business cards, and ended up writing her phone number on a piece of paper she tore from a memo pad. As we were there the second day of a 3-week event, I don't think she ran out of cards... How's that possible?

I won't lie; her tiny little piece of paper will most likely end up in the recycling bin.

6) How much?.... for Who?

As an expat in a foreign country, I often experience what I call the "waygook price" (waygook means foreigner in Korean); the prices increase magically when a non-Asian customer approaches the table! (This phenomenon is not unique to Korea, I have personally experienced it in all the Asian countries I have visited.)

At the Festival, I asked the vendor the price of a specific coffee mug I really liked (there were no price tags on any of his items) and he took an unbelievably long time to answer me! Was he looking for the right word in English? Actually, I believe that he was looking for the right price for a foreign visitor! In the end, I didn't buy the cup. I just felt that I couldn't trust this vendor.
Why do I have to get on my knees
to take a look at your items?

7) Down on my Knees

Another thing that was bothersome for me is when vendors displays their items on the floor! I don't find it very comfortable to crutch down on the ground to look at ceramics, especially if the space is crowded.

How to make your clients
feel unwelcome.
8) The "I-Don't-Care" Style

How appealing is this booth? Nothing on the walls, strikingly bright lights, wrinkled table clothes and plastic bins...

I did not even came close to this booth to look at the items for sale. The shop owner turning her back on us, in this unappealing booth... No, thank you.

As a shop keeper and an artist, showing that you care is the key to attract me.

9) I am talking to you... but only until someone better shows up

Another problem that we faced at the Festival, is the habit that certain vendors seem to have to literally "abandon" us in the middle of sentence to go attend someone else. It made me feel unimportant, and it was actually insulting.

I understand that it isn't easy to answer many people at once, but I think it's essential to take care of your customers and finish your verbal exchange or your transaction with them before assisting someone else.

10) Am I being followed?

Finally, another pet peeve is the vendor who literally follows you around in the booth, stands in your "bubble" and stares at you with insistence. Is he afraid I am going to steal something? It's very unsettling, and it usually makes me walk away from that booth very fast!

* * *

Food for Thought

The current list is focused on the vendors, rather than the buyers. While reading different articles and blog posts on Craft show preparation, I came across a very insightful text on buyers' attitude and behavior, titled "Etiquette for Shopping and Browsing Craft Fairs and Dealers Halls" :

What seduces you? frustrates you? makes you want to buy from a specific vendor? or makes you want to run away as fast as possible?....

Leave a comment below!


  1. Wonderful article, Natalie! You really must have taken a lot of notes at the show, you make so many great points!

    1. Thank you, Tara! It was a very interesting visit!! Of course I have to take into consideration the cultural aspect of things... I would be very curious to know if the same behaviors and habits can be observed in craft shows in North America!