Last weekend, my boyfriend and I exhibited t-shirts at the Renegade Craft Fair. Renegade is your typical urban retail gathering. It's a large group of funky, clever crafters who range from very amateur to quite professional. We are not quitting our day jobs any time soon, but we sold shirts and made connections and boosted our brand awareness. It was a good two days.
For me, Renegade was especially interesting because as a shopper, I often wonder, "My god, what is this store thinking?" Now, in an unexpected turn of events, I had become the store. So here's what I was thinking.
Lesson 1: Don't stare at shoppers. Don't even look at them. Forget what you know about manners. Don't smile at anyone. It only freaks them out. Don't even make eye contact. At all. Resist the urge to watch the endless parade of fascinating people walking by your booth.
I noticed that when I would look at someone, the minute they saw me looking, they'd start backing away. Politeness is generally a good thing, but as a shopper, intense scrutiny (or even a casual glance) can be a huge buzzkill. I know that when I enter a boutique and I'm the only shopper, and the woman at the counter greets me in a warm and cheery way, I want to get the hell outta there. This effect is magnified in a small, intimate ten-by-six space. So I quickly learned to stop looking, stop smiling and stop freaking people out.
Lesson 2: Look busy. If you are not busy, become busy. Let your "work" consume you. Don't even look up when people approach, until you've given them at least ten seconds to become comfortable in your space. If you are busy, my theory goes, you don't need them. If they want your attention, they're going to have to work for it. It's like a new relationship. You've gotta play hard to get.
I noticed that when I would take up a meaningless task, like refolding all the shirts or reorganizing them into size order, more shoppers would walk up and start browsing. They'd feel more comfortable with that initial approach because they were entering a neutral zone. I wasn't watching over my territory, I wasn't handing them a business card or asking them what size they needed. I wasn't putting on any pressure, and they responded well to my aloofness. Counterintuitive, perhaps. But it worked.
Lesson 3: Fill the space with people. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. If your booth has no shoppers, and the booths around you do, people will quickly deduce that your booth has nothing going on. Especially in a transparent environment like a craft fair, with no storefronts or walls to disguise your relative crowdedness, you simply must have people around.
And friends will do just fine. During times when friends were visiting, they would stand right in front of our booth. Were they blocking the merchandise from public view? Sure they were. Was that okay? You bet. Even you yourself are better standing in front of your booth, than sitting behind it. There were times when my boyfriend would sit in the chair, and I would stand in front, just talking to him! And people would come.
The busiest times, of course, would begin when one person decided to make a purchase. As she made her way down the decision tree (size, color, graphics) other shoppers would gather. And if that first purchaser looked like a cool chick, you better believe that helped sales too.
Renegade taught me a lot about the subconscious elements of store choice. We notice scrutiny. We notice employee neediness. We notice other shoppers in a big way. So forget everything your mother taught you about manners. The best way to sell product is to ignore shoppers, look cool, and hang out with your friends.