Q: Going to a trade show or a wholesalers’ show is great for networking, but you are on display alongside a lot of other colleagues (read that as competitors). How can you make sure your booth gets the most traffic, and especially traffic that means sales and orders? It’s nice to get compliments about nice work, but orders are even better!
— Katherine, via e-mail
A: You’re right: Compliments are great for the ego bank but don’t help the bottom line of the bank account. One obvious way to make sure your booth gets attention is for you to be in it and attentive to the buyers in the aisles. No books, electronics, crossword puzzles, no hiding in the corner, and save the networking with other craftspeople for after hours. Remember, wholesale buyers are working and need to buy stock for their shops. This isn’t about casual recreational shopping; it’s about getting their job done in the most pleasant and efficient way.
Let’s assume you have designed a booth that will attract the attention of the buyers. You’ve used color and images and your work is displayed in a manner that tells its story, letting the buyer see how they would do the same. Be certain that all your color choices are represented and that you have one of each piece on display. Have everything marked with wholesale prices and the multiples that must be purchased. Have your minimum order and other pertinent terms clearly posted. I always appreciated finding a price list that I could have in hand as I shopped. This means you won’t be distracted by having to say these things again and again.
Your place is front and center. Your main goal is to make buying from you simple, efficient, and pleasant. Place yourself where you can greet everyone who passes with a smile and an invitation to come in and consider your line. They clearly have an interest in handmade items or they wouldn’t be shopping this market in the first place. Some buyers see what they want, come in, and are ready to write an order. On the other hand, many will want help and need to be sold. This is where your pride in and your knowledge of your work kick in. Talk about how it’s made and why. Explain the features and benefits of owning particular pieces. Share the personal stories that make your work real and that they will be able to use with their customers to sell your work. Inquire about their shop and customers and use this information to explain how your work would fit their mix.
By all means, avoid any questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and never ask, “Can I help you?” Just do it! Most important, don’t forget to ask them if they are ready to place an order. I believe one of the reasons people don’t buy things is because no one asks them to. This is how to use those compliments—they are your openers for selling something.
Donald Clark is the author of Making a Living in Crafts and was a partner in Ferrin Gallery for 25 years. In addition to writing, he is currently a consultant to artists, a personal property appraiser, and a collection manager. He also continues to create his constructions that have been shown extensively and collected internationally.