by Carolyn Edlund
What is the value in getting in front of your customers in person?
You might prefer staying in the studio rather than meeting the public. Or maybe your gig is selling online, through your website, or a third party website. You might prefer to deal with galleries, or have sales reps or a business partner who can take care of the marketing and sales for you.
Although those methods can save time, travel and money, there is much to be said for coming face-to-face with the public once in a while. Whether that means you are exhibiting at a retail art show or craft fair, doing a trunk show, or making personal appearance, your retail customers can teach you quite a few things.
What they like. Getting honest feedback by putting yourself on the front lines is really valuable. Perhaps you will learn that your handmade earrings are a bit too heavy, your color scheme is off, or people don’t understand how to use your products. You can get a lot of good information by observing a fresh response to your work. As difficult as it may seem, it’s important to understand objections that customers have to buying from you. Then, you may be able to overcome those objections either before or during the sales process.
What’s out there? Check out your competition in real time. What are they offering, and how is their booth set up? How are they displaying their work and interacting with shoppers? Do they have great presentation or packaging? Expose yourself to some retail commerce to get ideas of how to improve your own collection and presentation.
Get suggestions. Business guru Harvey Mackay says that his customers give him his best ideas, and he’s got a good point. Talk to potential customers. They will tell you what they’re looking for, and they just might have a brilliant idea for you. How can you solve their problem, give them options, and offer something fresh and different? Listen and learn.
Meet your audience. Maybe you thought you knew who your target customer is – and maybe there are other markets out there you could appeal to also. Observe who is responding to your display. Would they use your products in ways that you didn’t expect? If so, you wouldn’t be the first artist to realize there are whole new markets open to you.
Experiment. Thinking of trying a new direction, or a radical shift in design? Test your new work out in the public arena. Are you “wowing” your audience, or maybe not so much? There is nothing like doing a little market research before gearing up into production.
Make connections. There are many people you can meet at a retail show. New customers, who may share their email addresses in the guest book you have in your booth. Wholesale buyers, who happen to be walking the show and express an interest in doing some business. Other artists, who can pass on information about opportunities, tips and ideas.
There is rarely any downside to getting out into the retail marketplace, at least on an occasional basis. You’ve got a lot to gain. Plus, a little cash in hand isn’t a bad thing either!