Last week I waxed lyrical about how important it is to get out of your office, choosing fairs and events as my case study for how a bit of face to face customer interaction can dramatically grow your business. I covered the story of my own development in this area, how to pick the right events for you and my tips for visual merchandising when you're first starting out, which is all well and good, but how about actually plucking up the courage to speak to your customers?
The most toe curling aspect of setting up shop at fairs and events for me was the thought of having to communicate with the general public. The thought used to bring me out in a fear stricken cold sweat. Getting over social anxiety is a whole different blog post, but I don't know many creatives who are natural salespeople, whether you're the shy and retiring type or not. However there are some simple tips and tricks you can employ to work that room and use the opportunity to the best of your ability.
Firstly, it's a common knowledge that people don't like feeling like they are being sold to. There's a time and a place for pushy, over enthusiastic, obviously commission driven sales tactics and independent fairs and events aren't one of them! Especially with gigs that have a vintage and handmade feel, your customer is choosing to shop at these events above the high street because they want to support local talent, know the origin of their purchases and have a more laid back shopping atmosphere. So ensure that you're creating the perfect balance between friendly and available to chat if required, but not shoving literature down their throats or word vomiting all over them.
If possible, be behind or alongside your stall. You'll usually have a table or a small space so ensure you're not physically blocking your beautiful wares by plonking your butt down in the middle of it! It's also usually quite a small, intimate environment so taking yourself a slight step back from it will stop it being too intense for everyone involved.
When a customer approaches your stand, don't jump down their throat with "Hi can I help you?" Even if they do need help 99% of the time you've lost of customer because this very easy, natural feeling greeting can also come across as pushy. It sounds simple, but the best way to vocally engage your customer is to be available for eye contact if they want it, and if they make it, smile and say a simple 'Hello'. That's it. Just Hello. But don't bury your nose back in your book. Keep smiling, keep eye contact and your body language friendly and approachable, and if they need something, or are even vaguely interested, suddenly they'll feel at ease to be able to seek out your help or offer a starting point to a conversation. The key here is to making the customer feel like they're the one that's in control here, even if you have just employed a sneaky little trick to get them to feel this way! Some people will simply say 'hi' or smile back at you and move on, but that's fine - they probably weren't your customer anyway. I learnt this technique at a masterclass by Alf Dunbar, who teaches customer service to the employees of some of the most powerful brands in the world. As an aside, his twitter is also full of great customer service mantras.
While all of these tips should help improve your sales, don't get disheartened if you're not meeting your sales targets for the event, especially when you're first starting out. Try to see through the cold hard cash and beyond! Even now I tend to treat fairs and events more as a marketing and networking occasion than a direct sales opportunity. I genuinely feel that making worthwhile connections pays off more in the long run than selling a couple of pocket money products on the day. I've met so many future collaborators, stockists and made wonderful friends and peers through fellow traders at fairs and events. While it can be incredibly daunting to approach people, try and get around the room or hall just before the crowds come and at the very least say hello and grab a business card so you can connect later. I liken networking to a muscle - the more you use it, the easier it becomes next time you have to jump in there. Getting out from behind your stall and chatting to people can be the most enriching and fulfilling part of it.