Caitie Sellers in her booth at the ACC Baltimore 2016. Photo B. Martin for crafthaus.

Continued from previous post (5) Preparations and Day of Set-Up - Laura’s viewpoint

Crafthaus: Let's talk about customers for a bit. Can you describe the typical customer who comes to the show?
Laura Jaklitsch: I would say that around age 40 would be the younger customer attending, it goes up from there. Most of the visitors are usually fairly well-engaged in the craft world, especially those that come on the first retail day, Friday. They're coming to this show because they are excited about craft. We get more of the general public on Saturday and Sunday, and they don't necessarily have that same level of engagement with craft. It’s mostly women who attend, some couples, maybe a few men shopping for themselves too.

Crafthaus: How would you respond to a comment often made that craft show audiences skew older and that there is not enough effort being made to bring in a younger crowd?
Laura Jaklitsch: I think it is certainly important to reach out and think 10, 20 years down the line about who will be buying our work. I am just not sure that everyone in the younger age group is ready to buy today. Younger people may have been a little halted by the economy, they are not in that place where they feel comfortable buying. The other thing is, I am not sure if younger people would necessarily come to a craft show of this caliber? If they do, I wonder if there are ways to reach them, maybe through the internet? It's definitely something that needs to be brainstormed, but the younger audience just doesn't have the money or the financial stability to buy our work yet. If they are buying, they are buying mostly home goods, things for their apartments.

The other issue is trying to get them interested in our craft in the sense that they see it as contemporary and not kind of this old-fashioned thing. ACC Baltimore is not the same show as Renegade. Renegade has a younger audience because of the much lower price points and lower quality standards for the work they show. I think there definitely needs to be some more outreach to get younger folks in, but if they come, would they buy?

Crafthaus: The ACC has a newly-designed Hip Pop program that offers smaller, pop-up style booths for younger artists and their, hopefully, easier to afford work. It will be interesting to see how effective that approach is with a younger audience. It sounds like a good idea to me, what do you think?

Laura Jaklitsch: I agree, it is a good idea.

Biba Schutz in her booth at ACC Baltimore 2016. Photo B. Martin for crafthaus.

Crafthaus: Back to your customers. Have you had experience with customers who came to your booth and who were, shall we say, "difficult"? Did you have bad experiences with customers?
Laura Jaklitsch: Occasionally, yes, that happens. But you are dealing with the public so you have to expect it. Honestly, in my other jobs in a luxury retail environment or as a barista, my retail stories from those places are crazy [laughs]. Don’t get me wrong, most people are great to deal with. I do have some people being critical, which I don't necessarily view as being “difficult.” They're giving me their opinion and I take value in that, but occasionally people are just straight up rude and that can be pretty hard to handle. If it's really bothering me, I ask myself, "Okay, how about eating? Do I need a break, do I need to take a walk?" You know, sometimes you just need to walk things off if something is really bothering you.

Crafthaus: Have you ever undergone any kind of sales training?
Laura Jaklitsch: Not really. I did some of my own reading about sales and business. Coming from art school I didn't really get that in my education. I did a lot of open-studio events previously and that's a great way to learn if you've never talked to anyone about your work and you're nervous. Open studios are pretty low-stakes and you're going to deal with people who've often never dealt with art before, it’s a good training ground. It desensitizes you to a lot of things, and it also just gets you comfortable talking about your work.

I try to offer good customer service and if someone loves a piece they want it. I don't like trying to talk people into something that they don't want because I don't want them to later regret making this purchase. I want them to be excited about the piece, love the piece, and have a positive interaction with it.

Crafthaus: Is sales technique also something that you can talk to your ACC show buddy about?
Laura Jaklitsch: You definitely could. For me, it was more the logistical side I had questions with, but I am sure, I could have talked to my buddy about any other aspect of the show as well.

Segment of Tara Locklear's booth at the ACC Baltimore 2016. Photo B. Martin for crafthaus.

Crafthaus: When you are in your booth and have a person who seems to be interested in a piece, what's a good opening statement to approach someone who is on the fence and needs a nudge?
Laura Jaklitsch: Well, in that case, I'd probably just pull out the piece from the case and hand it to them so they can take a look directly. Or I'll just ask them, "Is there's anything you want to take a look at?" I also start off by greeting everybody who comes into my booth. I smile and say, "Hello." I think that’s very important. Some people want to be talked to and some people don't want to be talked to. I try to feel that out. If they just want to look, I let them look and try to bring things out and hand it to them if I sense interest. I found that people are curious about my materials, so that's always been a good entry point for me.

Crafthaus: That's a good, non-threatening approach. How do you keep the conversation moving along? I think that’s difficult for a lot of us artists. It’s a special skill to be able to know when to approach and when to back off. How do you navigate that?

Laura Jaklitsch: That is something I am still learning. I have only been doing shows for a year so far and I don't have that kind of “crazy sense” that some people have that they just instinctively know what that customer wants. I try to give everyone the same attention and see how they respond. If they're uncomfortable and don't want to talk, I back off. If they want more interaction, letting them handle the piece is the biggest thing at that point, because they need to be allowed to touch it and try it on.
So, I try to get them to at least to try it on and see how it works for them. Usually, if they like the piece from there, that's great. If they have an objection, then I try to find something that can fix that – "Oh, I don't know about this shape. Do you have something else?" Usually, they'll tell me what they want done differently. My customers seem to know pretty much what they want. If I don't have what they want, I can make it for them.

Crafthaus: How many people can you deal with at any given time and still keep the overview of what's going on in your booth? That has to be hard if you don't have any help?
Laura Jaklitsch: It's very hard. I can usually deal with two people at once, but when it starts getting to three or four people it’s getting more and more difficult to keep track and giving everyone the attention they deserve. I hope that no customer feels as if I am neglecting them.When someone is buying, it seems to make other people want to buy things too, so at that moment it can be quite challenging because you are dealing with a lot of very excited people and you want to keep everyone happy.

Let's Make Pavillon (segment) at ACC Baltimore 2016. Photo B. Martin for crafthaus

Crafthaus: Has anything ever been stolen from your display?
Laura Jaklitsch: I personally have not had anything stolen, knock on wood, but I know artists who that happened to. It seems to be a crime of opportunity a lot of times. Thieves will get you when you are busy and if it is something that they can reach very easily.... I know someone even had something stolen once during the wholesale portion of the Baltimore show. That woman pretended to be a buyer and took a piece when the artists were distracted. So, I think it's really good to be vigilant. If someone makes you really uncomfortable, you don't have to pull your work out and show it to them. It's unfortunately the cost of doing business. And that goes not just for the show itself, you want to watch out when you are outside of the show too. Thieves know you might have stuff with you so just walk with other people, don't leave late at night by yourself carrying a bunch of valuables. Use common sense.

Crafthaus: Here's an idea, you might actually be able to take on a trainee yourself. There are people who are looking at this as an opportunity to learn, and they might be interested to be taken on for a day or so, just to get their feet wet. This could be a win-win for all. They get incredible insight and you get some help.
Laura Jaklitsch: I like that idea a lot. So: If there is anyone out there reading this who would like to give me some of their time helping out in my booth in exchange for getting first-hand insight into the show, please be in touch! [laughs.]

Meghan Patrice Riley's booth at the ACC Baltimore 2016. Photo B. Martin for crafthaus

Crafthaus: How streamlined is your checkout process? You have to be efficient because the next customer may already be waiting. How do you do handle people when there’s a lot going on at once?
Laura Jaklitsch: All my the boxes and packing materials are right there with me where I need them. Sometimes people don’t even need my box, they wear the work right then and there and that's fabulous, I love that. I wrap it up as nicely as I can and hand the item to them and I say thank you! The square process is very fast and the actual transaction process is super quick. Most people understand that they're going to have to wait until you're done with someone else, I honestly never had a problem. You just have to keep calm. I think sometimes I do get a little flustered when there’s a lot going on, but I’m trying not to show it.

Crafthaus: What part of working a craft show do you personally enjoy the most and what part do you dislike?
Laura Jaklitsch: The part I enjoy the most is meeting my customers and getting direct feedback from them. I also enjoy meeting other exhibitors. Showing my jewelry at the ACC Baltimore is an accomplishment too. The part that's really hard is the getting-there and all the logistics. I've got to ship all these heavy things and when I'm carrying my boxes in from the curb it can be frustrating. I am trying to get into the mindset of thinking this is going to get done, it doesn't matter how, it's going to get done'. The logistics part, where you need actual muscle, I could live without that. But it's just part of doing these shows.

Crafthaus: From what you've experienced, what do you think are common misconceptions people have when it comes to meeting an artist at a craft show?
Laura Jaklitsch: They often don't understand that I've made all the work myself. People can be confused about the materials I use. You would think that people know that there are a lot of different materials out there which artists work with nowadays, but apparently that’s not the case. I also think there's an assumption that we're either starving artists or that we must be making a killing. We're not making a killing. Sometimes people ask me if I have a day job and I don’t have that either. People don't understand the realities of being a self-supporting artist and all that behind- the-scenes type of work that goes into making our art. For instance, I try to make almost all my findings myself, which is not something the general public necessarily understands or appreciates.

Crafthaus: What's your favorite story about something that happened to you at one of these shows?
Laura Jaklitsch: This one is recent: A man and his wife came up to my booth and the guy was looking at my work intently. He finally looked up to me and said, ''Don't take this the wrong way. I hate looking at jewelry, but I like looking at yours."

Kirsten Denbow in her booth at the ACC Baltimore 2016. Photo B. Martin for crafthaus.

Crafthaus: If you could give three suggestions to a newly participating artists, what would they be?

Laura Jaklitsch: Bring food, get a good night’s sleep and number three: completely go for it. Go all out, don't scrape by and just do the minimum. This is a big show and I think it's worth participating. If you're wondering if you should spend the next hundred dollars on something that's going to make your booth pop, do it!

Crafthaus: How about three suggestions for first-time visitors?
Laura Jaklitsch: Wear comfortable shoes, because you're going to do a lot of walking. Figure out where you want to go, look at your map, make sure you get to your highlights, and bring some water - definitely bring water.

Crafthaus: Last question: if you had three wishes, what would you like the ACC to provide you with or do for you that they don't already do?
Laura Jaklitsch: I think my number one wish would be that the isles were carpeted, I know it's very expensive and I know that it's a lot of square footage, but our customers are often elderly and a lot of them have mobility issues. It would be more comfortable for them and look nicer too. Secondly, I did a show where the organizers provided an artist lounge with food, that was great. And lastly, continue to think about outreach to younger customers in ways that would make sense for all.

I don't think the ACC is really lacking in any of these areas. I think they're doing the best they can with what they have in the current state of the craft world. I don’t have any pointed criticism or complaints at all. Truly, most of what I focus on is what I can do myself to improve my own work and my own sales. There are successful artists out there who are doing it all really, really well. They've cultivated their businesses and relationships over a long period of time.


Crafthaus: Thank you, Laura, for your wonderful insights. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

Laura Jaklitsch: You are welcome.


After the Baltimore show was over, Laura emailed crafthaus the following message as a concluding thought:

On Sunday I ended up having a pretty good day, so when I tally everything up including wholesale orders, I ended up making back my expenses. I did get many things out of the show that are harder to put a dollar value on; mentorship from experienced exhibitors, the chance to show galleries and curators my work in person, increased visibility for my work, a larger mailing list, and the chance to get together with my colleagues from around the country and "talk shop".   I also feel energized about my work with clear goals for the year.  

I think I would amend my three wishes - instead of an exhibitors lounge I would wish for a smaller show.  The entrances were switched again so that I ended up with a lot of tired customers, and the feeling I got from many exhibitors was that there was just too much jewelry. I am not convinced there is a enough of a buying public to support 650 exhibitors.  Although I would like to say that this is not just an ACC Baltimore issue - many of the shows have more exhibitors than the local buying public can support.  

If I get into the show next year I will do it again, and I would probably tweak some of my display for the show.  I am considering going down to only 1 or 2 cases for larger work because although it makes me very uncomfortable to have my work out of cases, a large part of my work is the tactile experience.  Also because of the size of the show, many people just look from the aisle so I would have a more vertical display.  

For exhibitors wanting to get into shows I would stress that this should be just one part of your revenue earning strategy.  Most people will not do well enough to support themselves solely on income earned from shows, especially within the first 3-5 years.  There are a few exceptions but this is the reality and it may not be the greatest thing to say publicly but I think it's important for people to understand so they can adjust their expectations and plan for it financially.  This is also why I think that programs like Hip Pop are great. They give exhibitors a chance to try out the show, find out who their customers are, and strategize their full booth with a lighter financial burden.

- Laura Jaklitsch, March 2016

The third segment of the crafthaus series will highlight yet another perspective, the ACC show director's point of view. Melanie Little offers an in-depth look at the Baltimore craft show describing what it takes to put up a major art event that brings in twenty thousand visitors for the retail portion alone.

(7) About Melanie Little (Show Director,) ACC shows, and Hip Pop booths - Melanie's viewpoint

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Replies to This Discussion

this is a great series, thank you Laura for taking the time to share this along with your honesty. 

Being a customer in Laura's booth sounds like such a joy! I like the idea of giving everyone the same kind greeting/attention and then reading them from there. All of this has been very informative. Thank you, Brigitte, for your awesome interviewing, and Laura for your candor!


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