This series includes weekly tips on hand-selling homemade work without losing your soul or compromising your integrity. See the original introductory post here, tip #2 here, tip #3 here, tip #4 here and tip #5 here.
Tip #6: Stand up! Or if you must sit, get a stool that’s high off the ground. Or else at least sit up straight and act interested. There are exceptions to the rule of standing, but the general idea – stay available and on the same level your customers are on, physically (without being intimidating), is what you want to keep in mind.
Not everyone will tell you to stay standing in your booth. Some will even suggest you are intimidating if you do so. I have to respectfully disagree. If you do not have the foggiest notion on how to engage with people, standing is a bad idea. If all you do is hover in the background with your hands behind your back, eagerly awaiting your next customer, standing is a bad idea. Of course you don’t want to come off as too eager or intimidating.
But too many artists take this as a welcome invitation to sit and disengage, hide in a corner. I find that if I stay standing as much as possible, but don’t hover, I’m at my most available when natural conversation with customers takes place. I think it’s best to stay active, dust or rearrange or sort things behind my small “desk,” so that when conversation starts, I can easily part with what I’m doing, but I’m not dragging myself out of some dormant and checked-out position to engage with people. If you sit during an entire show, when the inevitable happens and you need to stand to help a customer, it comes across as way more confrontational and intimidating than a gentle setting down of the product you were rearranging. The act of moving from sitting to standing is like making a big announcement: “Okay, now we’re serious, you’ve disrupted me enough to make me stand, you better buy something!” It’s subconsciously an intimidating gesture to someone who is leisurely shopping and doesn’t want to be pressured into buying anything but still wants artists available to chat with them about their work.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t stand during entire shows, but I try to stand a lot. And when I am sitting when a customer comes in my booth, I’m sitting and doing something active, but that lets me still be available (see tip 5). I also try to subtly stand up to start to rearrange or dust or whatever, rather than stand to engage. Does that make sense? If I find that I’m sitting when it would be better to stand, I stand and start rearranging or doing something booth-related before I engage in sales. Then when I do engage in sales, I’m not doubling the interaction so that it seems confrontational rather than engaging.
Some artists who have limited abilities buy tall stools. This is a great idea. You can stay active while sitting, but when you go to stand it’s not quite the production that it is if you are sitting low and raising to full height. You are already at full height, so it’s just a small move to stand. If you do have the ability to stand though, don’t use the tall stool as an excuse to sit and disengage. Stay lively and active, as much as possible while sitting. Don’t resort to reading or staring off into space, arms folded.
I did two of the biggest craft shows I’ve participated in while I was pregnant, and while I stood a lot, it obviously wasn’t practical for my health for me to stand the entire time. So I kept the basic ideas in mind, sitting up straight, not hovering, but staying available. I sewed more covers during those shows. I found that it was actually more effort to stay interesting-looking and not bored while sitting, but it was possible.
There are a few definite exceptions to the standing rule. One is if your booth space is extremely limited (like only one table or something like that). Standing in such a small space I think is too intimidating. I tend to sit in extremely small spaces and find other ways to stay active. I also think that if your product is fine art or really large and you have a limited amount of product in your booth (large paintings for example, or giant metal sculptures or something), if you stand the whole time you are just going to look too eager. There’s not enough for you to do naturally to make standing a good idea. Buy a tall stool in that case and brainstorm ways to make yourself busy but still available. For book artists, this usually shouldn’t be a problem.
Standing or staying up tall (like on a tall stool) is preferable because you are at eye level with your customers. You can engage them more naturally and you signal that you are available and lively. You can engage people while sitting low, but I think it’s far easier to be effective if you stand, which is why I recommend doing so as often as possible during a craft show, particularly if the show is busy. But don’t take my advice point blank and word-for-word. Apply it to your own situation and see how it works.