Monday, July 18, 2011

What is the rudest thing you have ever said to a "Customer"?

I really enjoy my time at the Art shows. Over the couple of seasons, I met so many amazing people, both vendors, buyers and visitors. It is great to see how far customer knowledge has come about not only buying locally made and grown quality goods, or re-using materials, but also, about the power to diversify your community by supporting small businesses; or understanding the quality and aspiration differences between the mass-produced and one-of-a-kind, and voting with your choice....
However, it takes all kinds, and this post is dedicated to ... the other kind...

Confused, source Pickable

Once in a blue moon along comes a “Customer”, who possesses entirely different set of values, preferences and, all together, resides in a different reality, than you do. Most of the time we pamper and toy with them, just as if they were our real customers... Some of them eventually turn out to become real customers, while the others – fall into these categories...

I think we all met:

The Guy, Who Won’t Leave... There’s the guy, usually moderate-to-very geeky, standing at your booth, or table, for no apparent reason, blocking the way for real shoppers to get in; isn’t even looking at what you’re selling, yet asking endless questions about your life (potentially leading to a gem, such as “so, are you single now?”). If someone wants to ‘meet people’ direct interactions are far better than online chats, profile postings and pokes -- but, guys, a busy art show is NOT the time to meet women. We are here to actually sell our wares...

The challenge: as much we want to get rid of the bugger as soon as feasible, he actually has done nothing wrong – besides, maybe standing in a way of real shoppers getting to your goodies... Also, considering how hard the society has made it for people to meet one another (please, bring back the Sunday Church dance!), at least some of us are manning up to engage in a real human interaction. Also, who knows, maybe we will all miss these guys when they’re extinct? I try to be as gentle as possible, when it comes to ending this; one thing that worked for me, is to make up a story, into which I can incorporate the magic words “me and my husband”... Usually, after a good half an hour, venturing outside my booth, I spot the same guy doing the same drill at a booth of another female vendor...

The Salesperson... Someone marches into your space – you’ve probably never met them before, yet, they’re a little too friendly and direct for anyone, who does not know you. They immediately introduce themselves, and now you know, that not only they are NOT your customer, but at the moment they are trying to make you – theirs... That’s right, in your booth, dedicated to the art or trade show, on your time, set aside to interact with buyers and customers, here they are, trying to sell you something... Out of all the times I have been approached by a salesperson during a trade-show, only twice have I actually considered getting back to them... I never did get back to them, in the end.

The challenge: unless they are selling a service you have been trying to locate for months, at a price you have been trying to negotiate for months, or came with a months worth of recommendations from a very trusted source, this may not be the best time for sales pitches... The part, I consider pesky, is that to take part at a trade show, I had to get juried, prepare and display my product, arrange a booth and pay a fee... The reasons why artists go through this much effort, is to put the word out there, showcase their products to the industry, sell and make a living. Whilst the salesperson, just barged in, on , perhaps, a discounted ticket, did not put in nearly as much effort into promoting their business, the way we do; and now is trying to cash-in on a budget pitch, taking up our time away and draining our much needed energy. I learned to be direct (but not too stark, as, who knows, they may purchase something down the road, to make up for their mis-judgement), explain that I have no need for their service at the time and respectfully take their business card. Unless I have a strong intention to work with them in the future, they will most likely end up marked as ‘spam’... For me, an e-mail with specifics, not pitches, goes a far longer way, than a pushy come-on at a wrong time...

The Queen (or King) of All Excuses... Whilst I fully understand, that dropping a few bucks on a leather bag may be a multi-day decision; or a wish-list item, rather than a spontaneous buy; I do not need to hear of all the gory details, as to why you can’t make such a purchase. I understand. Really. And, even more so, I am aware of the fact that we need to keep an eye on our spending, cos, believe it or not, I do the same! As a “Customer”, you do not need to pick through all my products, touch them all, try them all on, and each time come up with some straight-faced excuse, why you are not going to buy it. First bag is too small, and you really love big ones; then the second one is too big, and you are looking for a lightweight one; then you really hate zippers, as they are hard to get into on the go, but then you really like this bag, only you wish it had a zipper... And on goes the caravan...

The challenge: this is not a person, who means wrong. They just can’t admit your wares are out of their budget. Yet, them going through all your stock and vocalizing their ‘reasons’ for not purchasing, can influence other customers too. I crossed into the “rude zone”, when I leaned into one of my “Queens” face, and suggested she came back to see me in three weeks, as by then I will be at a different event, different area and time; and she may find something then. I firmly positioned myself between her and the table with my bags. Time to move on. And later, just like the geeky guy asking a lot of questions, this type of “Customer” is usually spotted repeating their drill with some other show vendor. Oh, well.

The Relic Hunter... That is someone, whose attire and appearance is still very true to one of the decades of the past. Not in a good way – we’re talking head to toe Seventies or Eighties, sometimes both. And usually they are looking for a very specific item – an item they bought during one of those decades they’re wearing. Since then the original item is long gone, but they are determined to find an exact replacement of it, and.... for exact same price from twenty years ago. This “Customer” seems to be blissfully oblivious how much the gas, food, rent, resources – everything – has gone up in cost since then, and therefore handmade goods did as well.

The challenge: This “Customer” will come to you with a very specific request. If you are creating custom items, it may seem like a legitimate inquiry... You will get a great description of details, materials wanted, colour, size – everything, without confusion. And then you will be asked about how much it would cost to fill this order. After hearing your estimate, the “Customer” will look baffled – and then you will hear the story about a company that has been around for decades, made that item they just described, and this “Customer” has been their greatest supporter. Unfortunately, the item got worn out very recently, and now an exact replacement of it will fulfill this “Customer’s” quest for happiness... The price the “Customer” suggests paying you for re-creating this item, equals about half of what your estimate was, because that's what is cost back in the decade of it's origin....  I suggested that they kept looking and trying their luck... among other options, - in China.

The Undercover Scout... – Someone approaches your booth quietly, and appears to be very interested in every piece of your work... After you greet them, they start willingly talking... They ask you if you design and make your items yourself. They want to know if you went to art school to learn your craft. Then they ask you what equipment you use to work, how much it cost you and if you bought it within the country, if you used a dealer to get it, or if you bought it on-line. Then they ask you, if there is a way to buy your patterns. Naturally, you ask them, if they are making anything too, or are interested in starting. They say, that their family member is – and that they just need to figure things out first.

The challenge: I genuinely love when people get creative and decide they want to spend their time building original stuff. So, I will express my joy and wish them luck. Only, though, a couple of times my encouragement unleashed a waterfall of questions and requests... This “Customer” immediately started going down a long list of questions, asked me to send them an e-mail listing my suppliers, membership requirements, equipment and material sourcing pages and stores, hardware types and how to install it, sewing needles and dealers... And, if it is hard to get into art shows, and which art shows can I recommend them to sell their wares at in the future; and if I can recommend anyone who can sew leather for hire?... How about myself? They also asked me for my phone number, so they can call me if they need more information. And, if I am sure I do not want to sell my patterns to them. I had to speak in a "very convincing tone", and say, that nobody has given this information to me when I was starting out, and I found it all in the vast space of the Web, reading tutorials, watching videos and scouring local listings. They should do the same. One can’t even think of having a creative business, unless they overcome the initial challenge of the set-up.

The Corporate Prisoner...   It took me a few days to find an accurate name for this "Customer"... It also took me a few days to figure them out... A man came around my booth once, and by his accent, looks and clothes, I could tell he has recently relocated from one of the countries, where most of the workforce is not compensated adequately. He studied one of my recycled jean bags very closely: the stitching, the design, all of it. Then he asked me how much it was. I reported, "Sixty dollars!". The man raised his head rapidly and gazed at my face with disbelief. Then he laughed, and asked again, as though I was joking "Sixty?!"..

The challenge: in most cases, one of the rudest thing to say to an artist, is that their work is not worth what they're asking for it. However, this is different, as I am sure, for most workers, who make averages of $8/ day in their home country, it is hard to wrap their heads around Western salaries and prices of goods. In some ways it was an eye-opening moment for me too, as I realized that the people, labouring away in the factory cities of the world, making all sorts of every day items, have little idea, how much the stuff they're producing, is be sold for in the West. Also, such concepts, as handmade, excellent quality, one-of-a-kind or eco-concious, do not raise the cognitive value of goods in their minds, till  much furhter down the road of adjustment to the Western culture. However, they have no difficulty expresing their opinions about Indie pricing, despite their lack of understanding of Indie business. Even though I explained tht I make the bags myself, the man was still shaking his head and laughing with disbelief, after hearing my $60 call for the bag. At that time, unfortunately, it felt insulting for me, and I wish I had just a few moments to analyze his point of view and experiences, to understand him better. Maybe, also give him an introductory lecture on Canadian economics... Instead, I delivered the single rudest thing I had said to any "Customer" - I asked him, if he suggests I hire HIM to produce the bags at a really cheap cost form me, so I can sell them cheap... He had another moment of nervous laughter, and finally walked away. I realized once again, that the big corporations, outsorcing their production to other parts of the world, have slurred people's understanding of their work value. I do hope this man, and many others, like him, find jobs and industries, that will compensate them fairly for their work.

So, it does take all kinds - I am sure I only tapped into a small handful of everyone's favourite "Customers". 

I would like to hear from other Indie Artists, and anyone, dealing with people in their everyday world; how do you contain good nature during challenging situations?

Posted by Jolanta

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