A New Shop in Town - Competition or Complement?

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

There's a new shop in my part of town, but only about half of their inventory is handmade, while mine is all handmade in America. Should I be concerned that they will become competition or might their presence attract more buyers? I'm not sure if I should stay in this part of town or move to a new up-and-coming area. - John Gilman, Richmond, Va.
You ask advice about two really important concerns that confront every retailer: competition and location. As I see it, although they are related, it's a distant relationship. A very wise man once said to me, ''They [the competition] don't steal our business, we give it to them.''

Another sage piece of advice came from a woman who owned a dress shop. When confronted with the fact that another shop was moving onto her block, she said, ''Bring them on--when a woman wants a black dress, she'll go where she has the most choices. I'll just make sure I have the best black dress.''

Get the message? Welcome a business that will bring more traffic to your area, but make sure you position yourself as the best source for handmade, well-designed items.

Retail guru Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing continues to emphasize the shopper's interest in having every shopping trip be an experience. It is our job to provide that experience. Further, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II, authors of Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, drive home the point that shoppers are seeking the authentic experience. And what is more authentic than purchasing a handmade item from the owner of the gallery?

Now how do you make this happen in your own shop? First, be aware that shopping in a craft gallery is already more authentic than most other shops, but let's look at ways to strengthen that perception. Begin by sending a note to your artists, asking each of them to provide you with a card about their process and the care for their items (be sure to tell them why you're asking). One of these can go in the bag or box each time that artist's work is sold.

Window displays also help to bring people in--make sure yours are perfect and present products in a way that is irresistible. If you're not comfortable doing this, hire someone to do it for you. There might be a local artist with a flare for display who could create unusual, traffic-stopping windows. Or have mini shows in your window, inviting area artists to display in the window for a month.

Learn as much as you can about the work you sell, including the life of the artists, why they do what they do and how they do it. Make yourself aware of all the features and benefits of each item you sell and be sure your staff knows this also. Spend some time with your staff talking about how to present and sell any new items when you bring them into the gallery.

There's another old saying, this one regarding real estate: the three important considerations are location, location, location. So now the questions start to roll. How long has your store been where it is now? What's wrong with this location--is it more than the new neighbor? What are the demographics of your customer base? Who would you like to add to this base? Where do these new folks shop? Is the new up-and-coming area being marketed in a way that would attract your customer base and bring you new customers? Is it convenient for your existing customers or would you be starting all over? How will the costs for the new lease and any retrofitting you'll need to do compare to staying put and allocating that money to promotion of your current site? Sorry to turn this into a ''Just Ask'' for you, but you'll find it helpful to work through these points as you decide what to do next.

How Long Should it Take to Make a Sale?

I'll be exhibiting at my first retail show soon, and was wondering how long I can expect to talk to someone before a sale is made? Should I devote hours to someone on the off chance that they may buy or move on to the next sale? From my experience at wholesale shows, my leather handbags seem to draw multiple people into my booth--how do I know who to focus on? - Kathy Robertson, Jacksonville, Fla.
This is all about the art of the schmooze and is less of an issue at wholesale shows where the buyers are at work and have a job to do. They are purchasing items that will be sold to other people. Customers at retail shows are there because they like to look around and shopping is fun. Items they purchase are for their own use or will be a gift.

It's important to greet everyone who enters your booth. Be sure to ask if they know your work and if they are looking for anything in particular. Point out some interesting or new items and suggest they look through the booth. Assure them that you are there to answer questions and help them with their purchases.

For some people, choosing an item and making a purchase is enough fun. For others, engaging the craftspeople in conversation about how the work is made is the real draw. A clue to where the conversation is going may be the chatty person's stories of when they were a craftsperson, or stories about all the artists they have met.

Managing the overly talkative, time-consuming visitor is always tricky, since they may become a customer. The arrival of another person in your booth is the perfect way to gracefully and tactfully end the conversation. As you excuse yourself, you might suggest the first visitor look around the booth and see if there is something they would like for their home or as a gift. If, after you take care of the second visitor, your first visitor is still there, approach again and ask if there is something they'd like to purchase. If they're not moving toward being a customer, it's probably time to grab the duster and get busy straightening up your booth.

Deciding to Return to an Unsuccessful Show

I recently exhibited at a wholesale show that wasn't very good to me--should I pull out of next year's event? One of my booth neighbors suggested that my garden art might be seen by repeat buyers and I could still make a sale then. Does this happen or should I consider finding a new show? - August Hamilton, via e-mail
Why wasn't the show good for you? Was it a good show for the majority of the exhibitors? If not, this may not be your problem but rather a problem with this show and a reflection of the times we're living through. If other people did well, think about why you didn't.

The first consideration is whether this is the right show for your work; each show has a different character and appeals to folks looking for particular items. Further, each show is known for the price points of the work the exhibitors bring. Was your work too expensive or too inexpensive? Your garden items need to be portable enough so the buyers can get them home.

You also have to consider the location of the show. Garden items are harder to sell in urban areas and tend to work best in suburban areas that are home to people with outside space and the discretionary income needed to fill it with beautiful objects. It might not be best to try to sell garden items in vacation areas, unless the items are quite small. People on vacation don't want to fill the car with extra stuff and may in fact not want to think of their garden at all.

If your thoughts about the issues I have raised don't make it clear that this show is a total mistake, you might be wise to go back again. Your neighbors were right; people sometimes need to see the work more than once. This is particularly true if they are considering a major purchase. I would also suggest you find any garden shows that may be happening in your area. These could range from the biggies that are staged indoors and usually happen in the spring, to smaller events sponsored by various local groups. I think showing at a flower show is smart because it puts your work before a preselected audience that is interested in gardening.