What NOT To Say to Vendors

L Peacock

We've all had awkward moments with customer service. Walking through the mall and avoiding eye contact with the well-dressed, mousse-haired man trying to sell you lotion, hair straighteners, a ride on the motorized elephant. Fixing your gaze straight towards the food court while hastily seeking an exit in your peripheral vision along the way. "Who's your cell phone carrier?" "Do you like your bath tub?" "Hey I like your hair." (Don't lie to me!) 

Nobody likes to experience this, especially when they walk into a fair that they may have paid money to attend. When wading through the pop up tents and tables on your way to the main stage at the fall festival, you're likely to encounter tens, maybe even hundreds of crafters and vendors who are eagerly awaiting your attention. You probably don't have time for them all - we know that! 

The most important thing to remember is: Although we sell things, we are customers, too. We love connecting with people who are passionate about our craft, or even different crafts. Most of us don't want to intimidate with pushy sales pitches or over-complicated reasoning as to why our products are a necessity. 

I personally suffer from a moderate amount of social anxiety. If these situations make you nervous and you are wondering how you can possibly avoid the Foot-In-Mouth that will plague you for weeks after the event, read on: 

1. "I don't need / like / want that." 
As a soapmaker and creator of bath treats, my table is passed by every show by at least one person who looks at my bath bombs, then at me, and states, "I don't take baths," before sauntering off. We, crafters, understand that our products aren't for everybody. We don't need an excuse from every person as to why they are or aren't buying our product. I personally find that my sales are less than 5% of the approximate head count. That means that for every 20 or more people who walk through, only one will make a purchase. This number varies greatly among events, especially considering what the event is for. Is it a strictly vendor show and people are only there to shop? Or is it a music festival and people are there to see a different act? 
What to do instead: Simply have a look and walk off. Even if you were just looking to be polite and you weren't interested in purchasing anything today at all. It's not impolite. You and I will both see PLENTY of people that day. Save both of our vocal cords and be on your merry way. A smile and nod is great, but don't strain yourself if that's not really your thing. 

2. "Can you teach me?"
Um, no, actually. I cannot. A great many crafters are doing this as their side job. Would we love to create as a full time gig? Sure! But the truth is that most of us must tend to 40+ hour a week jobs and families. On top of that, we have spent years honing our skills, failing, experimenting and repeating in order to create the products that we have. It's expensive and grueling. Unless someone markets themselves as a mentor or guru, they are likely not in the mood to fork over all their ancient secrets. 
What to do instead: On the other hand, vendor shows can be a great way to connect and network with people who are already in the field which you may aspire to join. You might instead ask, "Do you offer any workshops?" Or, "Do you have any online tutorials?" Or perhaps, "Do you know of any resources that would be helpful to someone who would like to start XYZ?" 

3. "This would be better if... [blah blah blah]."
Okay, thanks. If you are at a craft fair, especially a bigger one that isn't based in a church basement or fire hall, chances are that it's not their first rodeo. And chances are also high that they were selling on their own before they started doing mobile shows. And chances are ALSO high that they were crafting long before they started selling their items. We work hard at marketing our own business. We create the items that we have because we love them. Even for Direct Sales companies who don't craft their products - they spend lots of time and money honing their collection and designing the perfect array of items for display. These are our babies. Do we enjoy getting suggestions from random people about how to better our products or business? Sure! In fact, we need honest critique in order to prime our target demographics most efficiently. But there are tactful ways to do this. 
What to do instead: If you have an honest suggestion that you think will help someone make more money or get more attention, then by all means, share it with us. Just please don't come at us in a high and mighty "better than you" way, just because I make handcrafted eyeshadow and you worked at a store that sold makeup. You might ask, "Do you ever offer [xyz]?" Or if there's something specific that you would really like, you could always ask, "Do you take commissions / custom orders?" 

4. "That's too expensive." 
Luckily, I haven't personally experienced this one, yet, but all my products are under $20. I HAVE, however, had representatives from a certain "cheap bling" company come over, touching my jewelry and asking how much it is and comparing it to their own (don't do this either). This will mostly apply to crafters who create bigger or more intricate / time-consuming pieces, and Direct Sales companies that tend to hover around a higher price bracket. We know not everyone has the spare change to afford luxury purchases, even if you are browsing a fair which contains mostly luxury items. Everyone is allowed to look! Like Lois said on Malcolm In The Middle, "If we only looked at stuff we could afford, all we'd ever see is crap." Not only that, but most of US can't afford luxury purchases because we dump ever cent of disposable income into our passion and craft. We are in the boat with you! Please respect the fact that most of us have thought long and hard about how much to charge - we want people to be able to afford our products! Most crafters are making a marginal profit after the cost of materials, setting up our business, display, etc. Many of us don't even pay ourselves for our time. Think about these facts before criticizing the price tag. 
What to do instead: In the same vein, some of us might have a little bit of wiggle room. SOME vendors may be willing or able to haggle some in order to make the sale, or even just to recover table fee, depending on how slow the foot traffic may be. You could ask, "Do you have any special offers for today?" Or, "Do you ever offer discounts on orders of multiple items?" I once expressed to a vendor that I loved their product, but it was a bit out of my price range. I asked if they were willing to trade! I do see some occasional trades at vendor shows, especially around the holiday time. Just remember that you aren't at the flea market, but if you ASK NICELY, the worst answer that you will get is usually, "Sorry, no." 

What are some cringe-worthy questions that you have been asked as a vendor? Is there something you would like to know as a customer? Are you an aspiring crafter or vendor who is wondering how to connect with possible future colleagues at events? Leave a comment below! Let's chat about it.

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