Monday, November 21, 2011
In my journey through the world of handcrafting, one of my biggest dreads is becoming "that" seller. You know the one. You've met him or her at just about every flea market, craft show, yard sale, or church bazaar.
That seller sits in their booth, scowling at you as you walk past. When you walk up to their table because something catches your eye, their animosity for you rolls off them in waves. They hate you, and apparently, they hate your money, your relatives, your children (if you have them), and your little dog too. Polite questions on their products get you a terse, grunted answer, a sarcastic comment, or sometimes, just a forbidding look. If you *do* buy something from this seller, chances are good that their payment terms will be very restrictive. They'll have a minimum credit card limit that requires you to buy $15 when you only wanted something costing $5. They'll have a hand written sign in ALL CAPS with black marker so thick you can still smell the fumes if you get close enough. That sign will tell you in no uncertain terms that if you buy something from this seller, you're fortunate that they've decided to allow you to give them your money in exchange for goods. Sometimes, you feel like if they thought they could charge you just for breathing the air in their booth space, they'd do that too. Even if the thing you're buying is something you really, really want, and you can't get it easily anywhere else, you'd rather tear out your own fingernails than to deal with that seller again, because at the end of the transaction, even when you've gotten what you wanted, their attitude and hostility make you feel like crap. Who needs that, especially nowadays, when so many people are selling a little something on the side to make ends meet, and you can get almost anything your heart desires on the internet? Why would that seller continue to do something they clearly hate to do for people they hate to see?
There are a lot of answers to that question. Let's deal with two of the most common ones. One, it's probably that the seller has been doing this so long that they've lost their passion for what they're doing, but are too financially sunk into supplies, products and equipment to stop doing it. Two, and this one will probably upset some of you - that while you on your own as a person are lovely and lovable, "the public" all gathered under the roof of that show are flaming bunghole jerks. Some shoppers have no respect for the seller, and they make it obvious. Rude comments abound. Even the most forgiving, sweetest tempered seller wants to stick a knitting needle into the eye of the fifteenth person who complains that her 100% wool, hand knit and hand felted hat is too expensive compared to something from Wal-Mart, or the twentieth person who asks "Can't you go lower on the price?" or the first person who tries to cheat her. (Seriously, trying to cheat a seller is definitely needle-in-the-eye for the first offence.)
Okay, you say, those are both bad. But it's not that hard to do a show, right? You just get a table, put your stuff on it and sell, don't you? Not quite.
Attending a show as a vendor takes a strain on you, both physically and mentally. You're up WAY early before the show starts and either driving there to set up, or you've paid for a hotel for the night before so you can set up. Then there's finding the vendor parking, finding your assigned booth space, unloading, setting up the tent (for an outdoor show), the table, the chairs, the displays, the cabinets, the decorations, the cash register, securing your cash change box, making sure your credit card reader works, your phone is charged, and trying to find a willing neighbor to watch your booth on the rare cases you might want to eat or go to the rest room, if you're on your own.
Then, once you've done all that and you finally sit down, you must be pleasant, cheerful and a not too pushy but involved and engaging salesperson, sometimes to people who assume a "Good morning" is a hard sales pitch, sometimes to people who won't even acknowledge that you've just wished them a good morning or look at you. And you must do it over and over again all day, while listening to nasty comments about your pricing, your workmanship, your materials, your skill level, or the shopper's opinion of what you do compared to their grandmother, cousin, best friend's brother's sister's hairdresser. And when you're all done, you get to take everything back down again, pack it up and start over tomorrow, if it's a two or three day show. Oh, and for the ability to do all this, you've probably paid out anywhere from $50 to upwards of $600, depending on the show venue, not counting the additional jury fees, filing fees, mailing fees, licensing, gas to get to the show, hotel cost, food and incidentals.
If you're a handmade seller, let's also add in the insult to injury of getting to a craft show or art show to find out that the show organizers were more interested in booth fees than in promoting crafts or art, so you're competing with home party sellers and sellers one step up from the ones who approach you in a dark alley with a coat full of watches sure to turn your arm green as soon as you buy it.
It all takes a toll on your average seller. We feel it each time you walk by our table and won't look us in the eye, or when you ignore our greeting of "Good morning" because you think it's a sales pitch. Chances are, we're just wishing you a good morning because we'd like you to have a good morning. If you want to buy something from us eventually, that's great, but it's not required to return a courtesy. We hear every comment you make while standing at our table, even if we pretend we didn't and keep smiling. We try to not let you get to us when you've made a particularly nasty comment about our items on sale. But it does get to us, and slowly but surely, we become "that" seller if we're not careful about it.
It doesn't help either one of us. You don't want to buy something from someone who clearly has no liking or caring about you. I don't want to sell something feeling animosity toward you, or wishing you'd never walked up to my table or come to my Etsy shop.
I fully believe that it is not the customer's responsibility to ensure my success as a business. It is mine. I can do that by giving the best product I can at a price that is both market competitive and self sustaining, by providing courteous customer service, and by living up to the promises I make to my customers. But still, it's not your fault if you decide to spend your money elsewhere. It's your money, and it's your decision, and since I make that same decision as a customer of other businesses every day, I must respect it. I may be disappointed that you didn't buy from me, but it's my job to make my products so good, and so well made and so irresistible that you will WANT to buy from me first. If I didn't do that this time, well then, I want to leave you with the clear impression that you are always welcome to come back again and will receive pleasant, courteous treatment whether you buy something from me or not.
The fear of becoming "that" seller is the reason that Joey and I decided we would not attend more than two handmade shows this year, and as it turned out, we were only able to attend one, due to an unavoidable circumstance. I knew that if I continued the grueling show schedule we had last year, my transformation into "that" seller would be more likely than ever, and I do not want that. I freely and fully admit that I am snarky, often sarcastic, and tempermental, but I never want a customer to feel unwelcome. I haven't always succeeded in that, but I will always do my best.
It's a two-way street when it comes to buying and selling, especially in the handmade world.
As a customer, respect the seller's pricing. They're trying to stay in business. If you love their product, you'll WANT them to stay in business. Don't try to get something for nothing, if you want the business to survive. Be courteous, be polite, and be understanding if they say no, they really can't go any lower, or they can't stack coupons, or whathaveyou. Realize that you're maybe the twentieth person to ask that today, and it can be taken as an insult to the seller sometimes. We don't mean to be insulted, but it happens.
As a seller, realize that your customers are your biggest asset. They don't owe you their money just because you've set up a table/a website/an Etsy shop. They don't owe you anything. If they love your product and tell their friends about it, and you find out about it, be thankful. Tell them you're thankful. Be gracious. Be willing to go the extra mile, and do it with charm, humor and pleasant conversation. And most of all, don't be "that" seller.