Show Artist Stories

The woman in the booth seemed fascinated with a bracelet I’d made. It was made of tiny silver rings and lapis beads. She has spent a lot of time trying it on, checking her wrist in the mirror, playing with it. So her question surprised me.
“Do you have any barrettes?” she asked.
“No,” I said, wondering why she would ask, as every single thing in the booth was jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, then added, “I do only jewelry.”
“I love this look, but I want it as a barrette,” she said.
“A silver and lapis barrette that size would be quite heavy, but I could do it as a custom piece,” I said, always willing to please.
“Well, but if you designed barrettes, you’d get a lot more sales,” she said.
She handed me the bracelet, “Call me if you start doing barrettes,” she said, signing the guestbook. Then she left.
As the afternoon wore on, she returned with a friend. Both of them looked at the bracelet, tried it on, discussed it, and both assured me that I would make more sales if I added barrettes, made in the style of my jewelry, to the mix.
“I’d buy a bunch,” one said.
“So would I, great gifts,” said the other.

On the way home, I wondered about the women. Maybe there was something to it—make something less expensive that had jewelry appeal. I purchased some barrette blanks–the part that hold onto the hair, and began to build designs on top of them. It took longer than I wanted, meaning there was a wafer-thin profit, but they looked nice.

At the next show, I grouped them all together with a sign identifying them.
“Why would you sell barrettes?” one woman said, “with hairstyles so short?”
“These are kind of expensive for just wearing in your hair,” said another, “Now if you had them on plastic combs instead of metal clasps, I’d buy a bunch.”
“They look valuable, and I am always losing my barrettes,” said a third.
“I can buy barrettes a lot cheaper at Wal-Mart,” said the fourth, “I like the kind held in place by elastic. Now if you had those, I’d buy a bunch.”

It was another lesson in marketing. Yes, you should listen to what your clients want or need. But listening to client suggestions isn’t always good information. Often, what you are hearing is an excuse not to make a purchase. Many visitors want to spend time trying on jewelry, but then feel obligated in some way. Turning the tables, and making a lack of selection or precise product choice the artist’s fault is a great way to leave the booth without guilt. I’d rather they say, “I’m just browsing,” but that’s not my decision.
What is my decision is what to add to the product line. And I made a mistake thinking that what I was hearing was brand extension, when what I was hearing was, “I’m not buying today, I’m trying on.”

Fast forward 10 years. I’ve moved away from jewelry making and am designing and producing cards and stand-up collages. A woman is looking at a card on which I have a money-plant seed pod. She looks at it closely and says, “This pod doesn’t have the seeds in it anymore. The seeds make it look so pretty. Do you have any cards showing the seeds?”
“Sure don’t,” I say, knowing the next sentence.
“I’d like this card a lot better if it had the seeds showing. If it had that, I’d buy several boxes,” she said.
“Maybe next time I design a card. . .” I say vaguely, watching her leave, happy I’ve learned to listen to the meaning, not just the words.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, journal-writing teacher, and writer. She owns QuinnCreative.

9 thoughts on “Show Artist Stories

  1. Deb–Now THERE’s and idea! I used to say that I could have a huge pile of money if I would just say to clients, “OK, you can blame everything on me, but you have to pay me for it.”
    Letting people complain about “if only” sounds like another good way.

  2. When I worked as the director of membership for a small town Chamber of Commerce, I got to hear from just about everyone in town that they’d really like this better, or they’d join this group, or they’d sign up for this event “if only…” Well if wishes were fishes we could all have fry as a friend of mine likes to say. However, I did discover one thing that somehow pleases everyone. And that’s the chance to b. . .h and moan and generally complain about stuff. Think how wonderful we make folks feel when they tell us how we’d be so much better, successful, smarter, etc. “if only.” Now, if only we could charge for this wonderful service!

  3. Mari—My therapeutic reaction is to smack people with a frozen trout. Really annoying people get a mackerel. I got tired of schlepping a cooler full of frozen fish to shows. Never use your sketchbook, it could damage the pages.

  4. Gosh, your response is a lot better than mine was- bashing people over the head with my sketchbook was therapeutic, though. For me. For them, not so much.

  5. Mari–Exactly so. I used to “explain” a lot until I realized the explanation was needless. The last several times when someone said, “I can make that myself,” or, even better, “My daughter learned papermaking in Girl Scouts, she could make one just like that,” I smile and say, “What a great resource for you!” and let it go. Saves me a lot of anxiety, too.

  6. Quinn~ I used to hear a similar thing a lot when I was making woodcrafts: “I can make this myself”…I always wanted to say, “well, maybe you can, but will you? Will you buy the necessary equipment, spend hours drawing designs, spend even more hours cutting, sanding, staining, etc, etc?” But you are right, I wasn’t hearing what was actually being said, which was, “I like that, but I’m not going to buy it.” It’s a lesson we can apply everywhere: Hear what’s being meant, not what’s being said. Thanks, Quinn.

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