One of the hardest things about being a small business owner is that no one hands you a manual when you go into business for yourself - which means most of the lessons are learned by on-the-job training, and trial & error!
This was the case when I started selling at craft shows and in-person events some years ago. I didn't know what to expect entirely, and also, I didn't quite know the best approach to interacting with potential customers. Should I engage with them, or would that feel too pushy? Should I let them browse undisturbed, or would that seem too cold? The answer for me, as is the case in some many situations, was somewhere in the middle.
Now, with some years and quite a few in-person shows under my belt, I wanted to share 3 quick tips that I always remind myself of when I'm selling in person, and my hope is that you may find these useful, too!
1. Visual Interest
When you walk into almost any store, one thing you may not even notice is actually one of the things that any good retailer invests tons of time and money into: merchandising! Merchandising is often a form of visual storytelling (think of clothes displayed together as an outfit on a mannequin or furniture arranged on display in an aesthetically pleasing way) so that products are presented in a way that makes it compelling for a customer to shop.
While visual storytelling may be alot to accomplish in the small space of a craft show setup, one thing I always strive to do is make my table visually interesting in a number of ways so that it is likely to draw people over.
Merchandising is a great non-verbal sales tool, so if you are uneasy about trying to sell to people directly by speaking to them, a well set up table can do lots of the work for you just by creating a compelling sales pitch visually.
Some of the ways I create visual interest include:
- bold colors, or compelling color stories (color combinations)
- varying display heights, using display blocks, risers, and racks
- clustering related products together/nearby each other as collections
These are just a few ways to create visual interest, but there are many more you can think of. The best thing to do is to take a thoughtful approach, and step back from time to time to see if it looks good to you. Most importantly, don't be afraid to move things around throughout the course of a show if the layout isn't working or, even better, if you're selling things and need to readjust to keep the display impactful!
2. Greet Everyone
This one I'd say is a highly personal decision, however I have found this this not only feels right to me, but also that it's a great way to connect with potential customers. I don't do anything crazy - I just say hello as people approach and walk by. Some people may not respond, but other times I have found this this has opened the door to having great conversations with shoppers.
One thing I always keep in mind is that much of what I make and sell, shoppers could find similar things at big box stores and other retailers. An important strategic advantage that I (or any other handmade seller has) is that the shopper has the chance to personally connect with the craftsperson who made the items in front of them. This is a perfect opportunity to answer questions, talk about my process, and what inspires me. In this way, I think that shoppers are investing in me just as much as the items they may potentially buy from my table. What an advantage that is over a big-box retailer, and what a compliment to me if that shopper does decide to buy something.
All of that is a long way of saying that a simple "hello" can easily evolve into a great moment to have an authentic moment of connection with a potential customer, and ultimately quality interactions are a great basis to build sales and repeat, happy customers!
3. Clear Pricing
Thinking about when I am shopping, whether it be in a store or at a craft show, one thing that makes me uncomfortable is having to ask how much something costs and I feel like I am probably not alone in feeling this way.
I have a suspicion that some vendors may leave things unpriced as a way to force interaction from a shopper, but I think this can easily backfire if the shopper decides to just walk away altogether. I also suspect that some vendors may not want to go through the time and trouble to mark items or make price lists given that our time as small business owners is already spread thin as it is.
While I can understand the theories behind not pricing items, it is a strategy that I don't think is right for my business. A piece of feedback I have had customers tell me is that when they have to ask a vendor for prices, they wonder if the vendor is making the prices up on the spot or changing them from shopper to shopper. That's certainly not an ideal customer experience! I have personally for that clearly pricing my items has not only been well received by potential customers, but it also helps me during chaotic sales days as it is one less piece of information I need to hold in my brain. Clear pricing helps me deliver a smoother transaction for my customers, and that's a benefit that both me AND my customers can appreciate!
These are just a few!
There are so many learnings that I try to routinely remind myself of any time I am selling in person, and I am constantly trying to educate myself as I continue on my small business journey. Most importantly, every business owner has to take the steps that feel right and authentic to them. So, while these tips have certainly helped me, it's always your choice to pick pieces that work for you and leave behind whatever doesn't. I hope my experiences inspire you on your own small business journey, and be sure to let me know if you'd like to see more posts like this one.
Cover photo by Micheile Henderson.