Boost Your Sales with Effective Signs

by Bruce Baker

Courtesy of Handmade Business

There are few things that you can do in your booth or store to boost your sales more than effective pricing techniques. Here, I will explore ways that you can put signage to work for you and your craft business.

When most people think of ''signage,'' they think of their trade sign. This branding statement is very important--often telling people who you are, where you are from and the name of your brand. Still, I've seen many artists at shows without even this basic branding requirement. I've evaluated many booths at shows where the artist has not realized the importance of a trade sign and therefore does not have one. Sometimes people tell me they have a sign but they did not bring it, as it is too hard to hang. Your trade sign is a visual statement about your business. It must match the work that is for sale in your booth. If you make upscale work, your trade sign cannot be a banner that looks like it belongs in a fudge booth at the county fair! The merchandising must always match the merchandise, and your trade sign needs to be as finely crafted as your art. A trade sign prominently displayed on the back rear wall of your booth will pay for itself quickly. It is the most likely way that customers will recognize you the next time they see you at a show. Don't let this valuable sales tool go to waste.

Beyond trade signs, there are other signs that you can put to use. When used in retailing, signs are often referred to as ''silent salesmen.'' Small signs placed by your work can tell the story of what you make, or suggest the benefit of your products. They send nonthreatening, pressure-free messages to your customers. If the signs are effective, buyers won't miss the message. When the signs work, there is no doubt that your sales will increase. So what makes a sign effective?

Signs that appeal to the senses and involve the customers in noticing or experiencing an item are key--to make customers literally see, touch, smell, hear or taste (when appropriate) an object. Many times it is the sign that gets them to stop and take notice, and then to interact with the product. This is the key! To convince passersby to look more closely, or better yet to pick it up! Once a customer holds something in their hands, they are four times more likely to buy it.

Effective signs are often statements of the obvious.

Here is an example:
Moreno Wool Blankets
The softest blankets you will ever feel!

When a customer reads this, their first reaction is to touch the blanket. Soon they realize that they are the softest they have ever felt. The sign has made the customer feel differently about the product. I was talking about this topic to a group of farmers market venders in Oregon a few years back. An herb grower took my advice and used this sign:
Basil $1.95
Smell it!

With this sign, he was able to more than double his weekly basil sales. It is so simple, yet so effective! It may be a statement of the obvious to the farmer who picks the basil, but to the customer, the smell of fresh basil can be irresistible! The sign tells the customer what to do and many will respond. Whenever you get customers to use their senses, your sales will go up.

Beyond involving the senses with your signage (and this is where I would start if this merchandising technique is new to you), humor can also be very effective. If you can make a customer laugh or find joy in your space, your sales will go up. Everyone needs to laugh more these days, and if you bring a smile to someone's face, a sale is more likely.

In my wife's store, she had a basket full of beanbag dogs in four or five of the most common breeds. She put a sign over the basket that read:
Pound Puppies
To good homes only!

She also had a sign for some handcrafted mugs:
Handmade Mugs
Isn't it nice to drink your morning coffee from a handmade mug?

It was unbelievable how these simple signs increased the sales of these items! Signs can tell a story; one of the main stories you want to tell your customers is how what you make will benefit them or change their lives. Everything has a story, and we often forget the importance of that.

You can also make customers think about their needs through a sign: ''Soothing Hand Cream for January Hands!'' A sign like this will make those Northern dwellers think ahead. It would be an effective sign for display from October through the December holidays. From February through September, the sign could read: ''For Gardening Hands!'' In both cases, the sign provides a benefit for those who suffer from cracked hands in the winter or the summer. It makes them think about their needs. Without the sign, it is unlikely that a customer would be thinking about how sore their hands get in winter. The sign also makes them take a closer look, and it is often the sign that gets the customer to ask you a question.

This is huge! If a sign will get a customer to talk to you or probe deeper about your creations, it is giving you permission to talk to them. Now is when the sale begins. When a customer asks you a question, you can begin to sell your products to them.

I am sure some of you reading this and saying, ''But I'm an artist! I don't make hand cream or sell basil.'' It doesn't matter what you make--signage will work for you. If you make large garden sculptures, for example, consider this sign that I recently saw at a show:

''ART for Your Yard''

If the sculpture is large and upscale, this sign might be more effective:

''A Focal Point in Your Outdoor Sanctuary''

One of the beauties of signs as silent salesmen is that you can experiment. They don't have to be fancy. They can be handwritten if you have good calligraphy skills or printed from a computer. Either way, signs get noticed.
Here are a few rules:
1 Keep it brief! The tendency is to say too much. A few well-chosen words are all that it takes to do the job. Customers will read sound bites, but if you use too many words, it turns into information overload--few will
take the time to read long sentences. Get directly to the point of what you want them to notice, and remember, the more it tweaks their senses, the better your chances of a sale.
2 Keep it neat! As I said before, signs don't have to be fancy, but they do need to be neat and tidy. I have seen signs with bad handwriting and signs that are soiled or bent. Mounting paper signs on heavy poster
board or boxboard is a good way to keep them flat, and then they can be displayed on a stand in your booth.
3 Don't overdo signage. From time to time, I see retail stores that have gone completely overboard with signs. This creates visual chaos and distracts from the products. Conversely, a few well-placed signs will
work like magic to increase your sales. In the typical ten by ten booth, you could use six to eight brief and discrete signs to grab your customers' attention and tell them what they need to know about your products.
4 No article on signage would be complete without a discussion of price tags or signs that indicate what an item costs. I get so many questions about price tags in my workshops: ''Should I show my prices?''
''How should I price my items?'' I have learned over the years that pricing is not one size fits all. Pricing and if those prices should be visible depends on the item.

Here is what I have learned: All items should be priced at a show. If the show is retail, the prices should be retail and, conversely, if the show is wholesale, the price should be wholesale (cost). To expect customers to do the math of dividing a retail price by a percentage is not a good way to go. And now, the bigger question is should those prices be visible to the customers.

My feeling is the higher the price, the less likely it is that you want to show that price front and center. It is particularly true in the mid to low end that unpriced work doesn't sell as well as work that has visible prices.

Often, during the years I had a store, there would be something really cool that just wasn't selling. Upon closer examination, I tended to notice that the item had no price tag on it. I would then put a price on it and sell the item in the next day or two.

Pricing of objects is necessary, as customers often won't take the time to ask, ''How much is this?'' You can get a lot of mileage with pottery (for example) if you say (or better yet have a small sign that says),'' All the pieces are priced on the bottom.'' That way, in order for a customer to see the price, they have to pick it up. This can be a big benefit to you, as now they have a personal connection with the object. They are then free to make observations about how it feels in their hands and are more likely to make a purchase.

Prices on high-end items do not need to be visible, but the price should still be marked somewhere on the object. Customers may feel like you are making up prices as you go if you don't have a price somewhere on the item. I have actually had the experience of asking an artist how much something was, he gave me a price, I came back later and asked again and the price had gone up by $60.00.That was a real turnoff and seemed very unprofessional.

In the case of jewelry, all pieces should be priced, but the prices should not show if the jewelry is upscale. You might put a sign in your case that says, ''Earrings starting at $195.'' This gives the customer a starting point. When they look into a case, they have no idea if what they are looking at costs $45 or $4,500. It is intimidating to ask the cost, and most will simply look and leave. If you do not give your customers price starting points, you are missing a valuable signage technique.

Two-dimensional art is best priced on the side (or on the back if it is a print).You want the customer to fall in love with the image before they are confronted by the price. I would never recommend having customers go to a price list like they do in so many galleries. This is not seamless shopping, and who wants to keep going back to a price list to look up the cost of a particular piece?

To help, here are some price tag rules:

1 Make sure your price tags are discrete and look professional. Your price tags need to be as creative as your work. I have seen artists who stamp their prices in a fired-clay cube to display along with their pottery,
or write on smooth polished river stones with colored pencils. Shells or other natural elements can also work as price tags. I once saw a weaver who priced her very blue oceanic-painted silk scarves by writing the price on a small scallop shell and then tying one to each scarf with silk thread.
2 Be proud of your price and make your pricing method as creative as your work.
3 The price tags need to be in scale with the work and not distract from the object. So often I see jewelry priced with huge, out-of-scale tags. This looks really sloppy and unprofessional. There are many different
types and sizes of tags available at any office supply, including a bunch that will work with most types of jewelry. If the tags end up getting in the way of your jewelry, consider carding items like necklaces and earrings.

Experiment with signage and pricing in your booth. If what you are using doesn't work, change it until it does. Chart your sales when you put out an effective sign and I am sure you will agree that things sell better with tidy, professional signage.