Prepping for a Tradeshow: Sales Techniques
By Marlene Richey
So you have the perfect booth design. Your business policies are well-defined and printed out. You know why you’re attending a tradeshow and who your ideal customer is. Now you just have to find a way to grab show attendees’ attention and keep it. Sounds easy, right? For artists and makers, it can be difficult to put on a salesperson’s hat. But it’s crucial to a successful show.
You have about four seconds to make a good impression. And you need to make an impact without being overwhelming. So start to think about how you like to be treated when you’re shopping at a store, a show or a gallery. Then put those methods into practice in your own booth.
The No. 1 rule of selling in any venue is “know your product!” And know the objections a person/store is going to raise about it. Have answers on hand for the most common questions or objections you receive. Some of these might include:
Is this your best price?
What are your best pieces?
What is the sell-through on this piece?
Last thing I need is another pair of earrings.
This work is too contemporary for our gallery.
Put together your own list of commonly raised objections such as these, and write out your responses. Thinking these through ahead of time will help you feel prepared.
- Project energy and enthusiasm, and avoid using negatives. Instead, talk about everything in a positive manner.
- Do you know anyone who’s good at sales? It doesn’t matter if they’re in a creative field or not. Talk to people who are great salespeople to get their secrets.
- People want permission to buy something. Give it to them.
- Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Be aware of what people in your booth are looking at. Notice what they touch. Usually they go back to a piece they really like. Is there eye contact?
- The “story” makes the sale. Tell potential customers about the piece, the stone, the inspiration, the artist (yourself), anything you can share.
- Buying is a spontaneous act and everything has to feel right. You can’t leave the customer alone because they’ll feel like they’re not getting service. On the other hand, you can’t pressure or hover over them. Finding this balance can be challenging for someone who’s new to sales. Here are a few tips that may help:
- Acknowledge someone’s presence, even if you’re busy with someone else.
- Make a quick comment that has nothing to do with your product. Comment on the jewelry they are wearing or the color of their shirt, ask where they’re from—anything!
- Give a quick introduction to your work.
- Step back but WATCH.
- Clean your counter, dust, straighten out. Stay busy doing nothing.
- Put a piece in their hand. They’re four times as likely to buy.
- If they speak, they are giving you permission to speak to them.
- Don’t say “thank you” unless someone has given you money or an order.
- Don’t discount, except under very special circumstances.
- Don’t read or talk on the phone.
- Eye contact is key. Make sure you make it with everyone who walks into your booth.
- Nod your head.
- Include all the people who are in a group in the buying experience, especially sulky teenagers. They can ruin a sale … or make it!
- “I’ll be back” means you didn’t give the customer enough information. “Allow me to tell you more about this piece.” (This doesn’t apply as much at wholesale shows.)
- I keep my postcards at a show behind the counter because people come by and just grab them. Hand them one if they are particularly interested in something.
- And finally: read, re-read and devour Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling. It is fabulous.
This concludes my four-part series on prepping for tradeshow season. You can read the previous articles in the series—which cover everything from designing your booth to developing your tradeshow business policies—in the RioPro Newsletter links at the bottom of this page. Have a trade show question that didn’t get answered? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marlene Richey owned and ran an award-winning jewelry design firm with little prior business experience. During her 40 years in the jewelry world, Marlene has run a wholesale business and a retail gallery, participated in hundreds of craft and trade shows, and traveled across America selling jewelry to small galleries and major retail chains. She has served on the boards of SNAG, CJDG, Maine Craft Association, Metalwerx and WJA. Marlene consults with artists, teaches workshops and was professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maine College of Art. She writes articles for jewelry and craft publications and wrote an award-winning book, Profiting by Design.
Jeweler Julie Clawson models a Celtic-inspired sterling necklace and stone-set hollowform sterling ring.
Profile: Geek Chic—Shieldmaiden Designs
Julie Clawson serves pop culture with wit and soul in Shieldmaiden Designs.
Julie works in her converted garage studio.
Julie Clawson is a relative newcomer to jewelry-making, but she’s already finding her niche in wonderfully weird Austin, Texas. Under the banner of Shieldmaiden Designs, this self-proclaimed “geek” uses a small arsenal of techniques and materials to explore the “intersection of spirituality and pop culture”—concepts that, at first blush, seem worlds apart.
At one end, her regular Shieldmaiden pieces are inspired by nature and mythology. You’ll see earrings emblazoned with ancient Celtic patterns, cast pendants that look like delicate lace and natural cabochons in contemporary abstract shapes. At the other end, Julie’s Storied Lives Collection offers steampunk confections sprinkled with Star Wars, Dr. Who and Super Mario references.
Julie produces a sizable range of designs, many of them unique. But the thread tying them all together is an insatiable curiosity for acquiring new skills, such as lost-wax casting, hollow forming, and stone shaping and setting. While some geeks collect action figures or comic books, it’s clear that this fangirl is obsessed with jewelry-making techniques.
Julie uses a flex shaft to enhance the finish on a piece of sterling silver.
When did you first start making jewelry?
It was my love for stones that got me into jewelry. Ever since I was a child I have collected beautiful stones, but it has only been in the last four years that I have really delved into the properties and symbolism of stones and crystals. My earliest attempts at jewelry were to dabble in beading and wire wrapping simply to make jewelry with the stones I wanted, but I quickly learned that that was not my skill set.
Yet you have quite a few jewelry-making tricks up your sleeve. How did you learn them?
My boyfriend, Ben, was getting into sand-casting with pewter and encouraged me to try making jewelry using that method. There were a few somewhat useable pieces that came from our attempts, but most were disasters. What we learned, though, was that we both had a lot to learn about the properties of metal and the casting process. We started reading books and watching YouTube videos, but it was when I signed him up for a lost wax casting class at Creative Side Jewelry Academy for his birthday that things really changed. He returned from that weekend class and insisted that I sign up for a class as well. So, I took an Intro to Argentium® class and was immediately hooked. I started taking whatever classes I could, learning how to carve and cast and solder and set stones. I got to learn from the amazing instructors at Creative Side, as well as from visiting masters like Kate Wolf and Michael Boyd.
A collection of mixed-metal pendant necklaces and earrings; some are set with hand-shaped jasper cabochons.
After Ben and I bought a house together, we decided to set up a studio in the garage so I could devote time to practicing skills and start making jewelry myself. We slowly started finding pieces of equipment on Ebay and Craigslist (and Rio Grande!) and over the course of a year had built a functioning studio where we could fabricate and cast pieces and do lapidary work. I had worked as a freelance writer but had shifted to being a full-time mom to our (combined!) five kids. With the studio in the garage, I could work on making jewelry while they played outside and still have the creative outlet I need. I spent time discovering my style, made a lot of mistakes, and found myself creating pieces inspired by earth and nature that incorporated stones and gems.
Tell us a little more about your Storied Lives Collection.
While my Shieldmaiden line consists of more artistic higher-end pieces that are inspired by nature and the resonance that we have with it, my Storied Lives collection is where I get to dabble in whimsy. The name, Storied Lives, was inspired by a quote from the show “Doctor Who”—“We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one.” I believe that the stories we love shape our lives. From the tales we heard as children to the books and films we are drawn to as adults, these stories show us glimpses of who we are and how we belong in the world. My Storied Lives line is inspired by these stories that have shaped our lives—from Harry Potter and Shakespeare to mythology and comic books and more. This line includes both uniquely artistic and simple everyday pieces that give me opportunity to indulge my geeky side as an artist.
A "flower of life" patterned round pendant on silver chain
You’ve had a pretty packed schedule of not only art markets and jewelry shows, but Celtic fairs and sci-fi conventions. What’s it like being a jeweler at a comic con?
I am a complete geek, and attending comic cons (in full cosplay of course) is nothing new to me. Much of my writing career focused on the intersection of spirituality and pop culture, so I’ve spoken at cons before and loved being able to participate in the con as more than just an observer. So, I thought it would be fun to showcase my Storied Life line at local Austin cons. I’ve found it to be a bit of a mixed response. There are a lot of cheap mass-produced goods for sale at cons, which is all a lot of fans want or can afford. But others are drawn to handmade artistic jewelry. They want to express their fandom in more refined and creative ways, and so they seek out unique pieces. I enjoy providing that niche in that world. While selling at comic cons is not one of my primary focuses, it is indulgently fun to create unique pieces of geekery, to have a fantastic vantage point to observe the incredible costumes people create, and to interact with the fans and celebrities who stop to look at my jewelry.
There aren’t many pre-faceted gems in your collection—it looks like you source unique raw stones and shape them yourself. Can you talk about that?
A contemporary sterling pendant set with hand-shaped desert jasper
I discovered as a writer that when I write, I never start at the beginning and make my way through the chapter or article in a linear fashion. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Instead I start with an idea or a story and write the rest of the piece around it. I work the same way with jewelry design. I start with a core aspect of the piece (usually the stone) and use that as the inspiration to build the piece around it. While I do some work with faceted and calibrated stones, I much prefer irregular shaped stones that preserve the dynamic essence of the rock that then inspires my design. To that end, I love the ability to take raw stone and, instead of imposing a prescribed shape upon it, let it tell its story and become its own thing.
So, I collect raw stones that I am drawn to at shows, or garage sales, or as I am out hiking in Texas and New Mexico (where it is legal to collect of course!). I am slowly building up a supply of stones that I have shaped myself. I still purchase cabs from others when something catches my eye, especially where there are stories behind them. For instance, whenever I am visiting my parents in Taos, New Mexico, I try to get a few cabs from Maria, a Native American woman who lives on the Taos Pueblo and shapes stones to help support her grandchildren.
Julie has a soft spot for steampunk, an aesthetic that blends science fiction with 19th-century technology.
Do you have a tool that you just can’t live without?
Beyond the basic tools of the trade (like my torch), the tool that I am most appreciative of is my GRS Benchmate. I was born missing my left arm below the elbow, so all the work I do I have to do with just my one hand. For almost everything, I’ve found ways to hack tools and techniques to make it work for me, but for the basic ability to hold a piece steady and still as I work on it, the GRS has become my second steady hand. I’ve heard rumors of prosthetic limbs that one can attach a vise or hammer to, which would be fun to try, but the GRS serves my needs well.
The RioPro newsletter you’re appearing in is all about tradeshows and business practices for jewelers at tradeshows. Do you have any tradeshow advice you’d like to share?
More advice that I need to keep giving myself—I am very introverted and can easily retreat into my own world of creating. As other introverts know, breaking out of that shell to initiate interaction with others at shows can be difficult, as it is not something we do naturally. But it is in the conversations and the asking of questions that I learn so much. Engagement beyond the perfunctory business exchange lets me hear their stories, their struggles, and their tips and tricks. That is where learning and growth take place.
You can see more of Julie’s work at shieldmaidendesigns.com.