Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Don't drive your customers away

Crossed Wires features a brilliant post about the 9 Convention Customers Everyone Hates. These customer types aren't exclusive to conventions. I've met them over and over again at art shows, parades, festivals and any place I've sat behind a table selling handmade merchandise.

The companion piece to this is 9 Convention Vendors Everyone Hates. If you've ever been a vendor yourself, you may have felt the frustration of dealing with the Blob, whose wares spill out into neighboring booths and the public walkways. Or the "Handmade" Importer trying to pass off mass-produced goods as her own creations.

I highly recommend these two articles for anyone planning to sell at events. They'll not only help you avoid common pitfalls and deal with colorful characters, but you'll have a good laugh (if you don't mind a few expletives).

I'm not only a vendor, I'm a customer, too. So I also have my own list of peeves. Please don't be one of these ...

Vendors Who Drive Me Away (and Don't Get My $$$)

The Talker

This is the vendor equivalent of the Lingering Customer. Whether it's pets, kids, recent medical procedures, extensive knowledge of Renaissance fashion, the time you passed out drunk and woke up in the parking lot of a Waffle House, or a detailed opinion about the event's coordinator -- it's not what I want to hear while browsing your wares.

You might think you're being "friendly," but it's really TMI -- "Too Much Information" -- and it's not appropriate between buyers and sellers. Especially if it's a shaggy dog story and I am desperate to mosey on to the next stall.

Beware, The Talker doesn't morph into The Sob Story or The Hoverer. 

The Sob Story

This vendor just lost two jobs, a parent, an arm and a dog, all in the past month. They barely made it to the event, broke a portable table on the way in, and had half of their inventory stolen by their daughter's boyfriend. Now it's Sunday afternoon and they haven't made their booth fee, so it's time to play Guilt the Customer For a Buck.

Customers are more likely to spend money when they're having a good time. If you're in a really rough patch, take a breather, go outside, phone a friend. But a customer is not there to be your shoulder to cry on. And whining that you haven't sold anything isn't going to make me charitable -- it's going to make me wonder why and what's wrong with your merchandise.  

The Hoverer

Touching -- or even looking at -- any item on their display prompts a monologue from this vendor, explaining the materials, tools, time, skills, history, symbolism and price of the item in which you happened to appear interested.

It's nice to hear a vendor say, "Hello," and "How are you enjoying the event?" Also, "If you have any questions, let me know," or "I made everything myself," is acceptable. Even, "Would you like to try it on?" But save the encyclopedic backstory until the buyer has indicated more than a vague interest. And don't hover at their elbow, even if they are fiddling with everything and not putting it back where it goes. Wait until they walk at least two paces away before rushing in to "fix" it.

The Hard-Sell

This vendor insists you need their product no matter what you say. Example: I once attended a psychic fair and every table I passed, I was asked if I wanted to know about my future, job, lover, angels, aura, astrology sign, or dead relatives. Even if I did not stop at the table or so much as made eye contact.

When I said, "No, thank you," and walked away, I was treated to a pitch anyway. My insistence that no, I did not care about my astrology chart, or that I was not in pain and I did not need to cleanse my aura, thank you, fell on deaf ears. Not very psychic, were they?

"No," does not mean, "Please, talk me into it." And you should never, under any circumstances, touch a customer -- spray on perfume, put a clip in their hair, wrap a scarf around their necks, hold a shirt or jewelry up against them -- unless invited.

The Hunter

Which brings us to The Hunter. This sort of vendor accosts you in the middle of the dealer room, when you’re no where near their booth. They might even stalk you in another vendor's space, on the flimsiest of excuses. "I overheard you say that you saw a rainbow. Have you seen my crocheted left-handed rainbow nose pickers?" They will tell you everything you never wanted to know about their amazing product, and try to drag, lure and/or herd you to their table.

Or, perhaps, you drifted by their table but weren't suitably impressed (in their opinion) so they come after you as you walk away, plying you with pamphlets and business cards, as if to say, "Here, will you throw these away for me?" There's a fine line between eager-go-getter and crazy-psycho-hunter-vendor. Don't cross it.

The Hermit

The opposite of the Hunter, this seller is invisible, incognito, or completely ignores you, even when you are waving dollars in the air. You find yourself asking other vendors, "Do you know who runs this booth?" Or you decide to come back later... but the vendor never reappears.

Even worse, they're right in front of you, but they're reading, checking their messages, counting money, stacking boxes, talking to a friend, or whatever is apparently more important than selling their wares to you, even when you ask for help. "Excuse me? ... Excuse me? ... HELLO?"

The Over-priced Hipster

"Omigod I totally had this idea to cut out felt pieces and glue them to t-shirts and make owl shirts. With mustaches. And they're only $50 each because I have this really quirky whimsical retro boutique lounge themed logo that makes me look trendy and professional. My friend designed it for me. She's an art school drop out and owns an iPad."

Being an artist and crafter myself, I understand that there's a mark up above the cost of materials. Making something takes time, and (typically) talent. Handmade items cost more than mass-produced store goods. But, sorry, I'm not interested in buying your brass Lovecraft cthulhu steampunk squid octopus thing for $80, even if 40,000 other people are selling them for $80 on Etsy, too.

The Pig

A plate of half-eaten food is sitting in the middle of their table and filling it with the stench of stale onions. Their giant dripping slushy cups are looming over the merchandise -- or worse, on TOP of the merchandise. There's empty wrappers, boxes, cups and junk all over the booth space.

Hey, I know, vendors gotta eat, too. And many of them do not have an assistant to spell them while they go off to nab a nibble. This is where a good vendor coordinator should be available to give the vendor a break.

If you must eat while you sell, keep it off of the main merchandise table, and have some hand wipes or something to clean up before dealing with customers, please. If you're finished, throw the food and any other trash away -- far away -- in the appropriate receptacles.

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

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