Pop The Top On Sales!

Whenever I go to a show and look down a street that’s lined with hundreds of exhibitors or maybe some park crammed completely full, it’s interesting to note that although there are a lot of people with similar items… one or two of those people will always be the “shining stars” when it comes to selling.  What makes that difference?  Of course there are a lot of variables, but one variable that stands out above the others is usually the ability to encourage shoppers to buy from them rather than the competition.  How do we accomplish that?  Read on… the answer may help you produce more sales at every event you participate in.

It helps to realize that most people purchase items from people they like.  Other factors can play a critical role… and we’ll discuss those soon… but first and foremost the customer has to like you and what he sees before he’ll give much consideration to purchasing.  To put this in perspective, think for a moment about things you purchase for yourself.  If you were to walk into a store where the clerk was foul mouthed and hadn’t bathed for a week , would you purchase anything you didn’t absolutely need?  Chances are you wouldn’t… and if you could get a similar product somewhere else you’d probably go there even if it were inconvenient!  I’m not suggesting you have to be quite this obvious to drive customers from your booth, but even little things can turn a customer off and send him down the road to the next exhibitor.  Here are a few things you can do to help put more money in your pocket

1.  Make Sure You Look Your Best.  Always make sure your personal appearance is neat and tidy.  This doesn’t mean you have to dress like you just walked out of the pages of “Gentleman’s Quarterly” or “Vanity Fair,” but it does mean that your clothing should be free of stains and grease marks.  Your hair should be arranged in an attractive manner, and if you wear cologne, make sure it’s some middle of the road type of scent that is not overbearing or obnoxious.  Although to some people smoking is not a habit… it’s a lifestyle they can’t live without… try living without it for a few hours during the show and I’ll bet it makes a difference in your sales.  If you like to have an alcoholic drink or two during a show (provided it’s permitted) make sure to have some mints of some other way to cover the odor because although some people could care less, others would be very turned off by the scent.  Because all of us have to deal with the reality of setup and tear-down at shows,  which may mean leaving home many hours before an event, it may be smart to bring along a change of clothing, a toothbrush and an electric razor so you can do some last minute “touch ups” before the buying crowd starts to arrive.  You’ll never please everyone with your personal appearance, but you should try to strike some happy medium so that you’ll be acceptable to the vast majority of customers. 

2.  Make sure your display looks attractive and uncluttered.  I know I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this.  After all, we try to stuff a whole lot of merchandise into a very small area with next to no time to do it.  And, to make matters worse, a lot of times we have to park so far away that running out to re-stock can be next to impossible especially if you’re at the show by yourself and the customers are coming in by the bus loads.  Unfortunately this whole issue may not be a problem if you aren’t selling… so at this point let’s worry first about selling enough merchandise to have to worry about re-stocking!  That begins by making sure you booth’s appearance it pleasant enough to make the customer comfortable about buying.  Make sure to bring along some tarps or other coverings for your under stock.  Sometimes you can actually disguise the under stock as part of your display by using the covered boxes as a podium for certain pieces of work.  I saw a jeweler at a show one time who wheeled in these tall, skinny boxes containing all his work that then opened up to become the walls of his booth.  At the end of the show he just simply folded everything up again and in about 10 minutes his walls became his containers again and he was packed up ready to go home just a few minutes later.  Now not all of us are lucky enough to have something that packs as easily as jewelry, but if we use a little bit of our creativity to consider the display alternatives the results can be impressive!  

Part of the planning for the show begins at home.  Make sure the canopy top is clean and the legs are free of rust.  If the top needs cleaning, many of the fabric type tops can be washed with Woolite in a large washer at a laundry mat.  The plasticized tops can be washed at home with a variety of cleaners recommended by the manufacturer.  No matter which type canopy top you have they can all be cleaned!  Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations… I wouldn’t want to be responsible for suggesting something that would destroy your top!  The canopy legs can be cleaned too if they’ve become rusty.  A quick trip to your local automotive supply shop will allow you to see a wide variety of rust removing agents and protective products to prevent the rust from coming back too soon.  I know it’s a pain in the neck to clean these things, but the appearance of your canopy says a lot about the way you look at an event and that determines a lot about the amount of product you sell.  I’ve noticed that some of the newer frames are now powder coated rather than bare metal… this is a great idea and looks good too!  Commercial powder coating is available for your old frame too and surprisingly it’s not too terribly expensive in most cases.  If your frame is galvanized don’t try painting it because paint will not adhere to a galvanized surface. 

While we’re on the subject of display, make sure that there is no trash hanging around the booth.  Little pieces of paper from your packaging… that wrapper from the breakfast sandwich you had this morning… the can from your soda you just finished… may not seem like much, but all this can really be an eyesore for the customer.  You wouldn’t want to purchase anything from a store that had trash lying around and neither do your prospective customers!  Once you’re set up and periodically throughout the day take an objective look at your booth as a customer would and make sure it meets with the standards you would set if you were to do business there.

3.  Watch What You Say.  I know that I’m usually one of the first people I know to put my foot in my mouth with comments I might make… but even I’ll have to admit that generally it’s not the best idea.  Make sure you give careful consideration to the things you say at a show.  You may think that what you’re saying is funny or you simply intend to entertain the customers a bit but the perception may be quite different on the receiving end of your comments.  Unfortunately in the 30 seconds or so that we get to know a customer we have no idea what kind of life experiences they may have had.  Maybe they we teased by siblings for being a bit chubby when they were young… maybe a parent had a particular health problem… it’s possible their political or moral beliefs differ substantially from yours.  It’s hard to tell what may “turn off” the customer but one thing is for sure, the “turn off” usually means no sale!

4.  Keep The Customer’s Interest.  Make certain your work is arranged in such a way as to keep the prospective customer’s interest.  By keeping the interest level high, we slow the customer down and this is extremely important if we intend to covert this person from a prospect to a customer.  Although most people at a show certainly don’t buy on price alone… otherwise they’d be shopping in Big Lots or Wal-Mart, price will get their attention.  That’s why we always try to have something in the front of our booth… right at eye level… that’s an extremely good value AND something that is very moderately priced.  Another idea is to have a “grab bag” of things in the front of the booth.  Something the customer has to sort through to get the goody they want.  This not only slows the customer down so they can notice other things in the booth,  it also creates activity in the front of your booth and that usually makes other shoppers curious about what’s going on in there.  Shoppers are kind of like mosquitoes around a light… the more you have, the more you get!  I’ve often noticed that when I walk throughout a show and stop in someone’s booth to talk for a moment they almost always get busy right away even if the rest of the day was very slow.  At first I thought I was just a good omen!  And of course I like to constantly promote that idea… but the reality is that the shoppers don’t know why I’m standing there… they only know that there must be something they’re missing out on and all of a sudden the booth is full of inquisitive customers.  Because people are naturally competitive, the quantity of inquisitive people produces a “sense of urgency” to buy before the other guy does and the result… great sales!

5.  Instill The Urge To Purchase Now!  That “sense of urgency” we just created a moment ago is also an essential part of selling.  What it means, is that you’ve provided the customer some reason to act immediately.  Whether this reason is actual, perceived, or just an excuse you’ve provided the customer to buy now is not nearly as important as the fact that you’ve provided it.  If a shopper doesn’t feel this need, chances are he or she will not buy.  As a sales person part of your job is to remind the customer of these things.  Christmas is a good example.  Since presents are expected of everyone and it occurs on a specific date, Christmas is a great “sense of urgency” generator and explains why fall sales are usually so good.  All the other holiday’s were no doubt created by someone in marketing to stimulate sales as well.  Stop by a Hallmark store sometime and look over all the different “holidays” they’ve created.  I think they have a card for just about any day of the week and for every purpose known to man.  It’s worthwhile to acquaint yourself with all these days because you may be able to use some of them to push a customer into a sale.  Along those same lines, don’t forget to remind shoppers of birthdays, anniversaries and so on.

Another “sense of urgency” generator we have as exhibitors is the unique nature of our work.  Many times it’s impossible to create two pieces exactly alike.  They may be similar in some cases, but since virtually everything is made “one up,” the chances of getting identical pieces is remote.  Make sure to bring this point up to the customer because if they like what they see, this may be the only chance they’ll ever have to purchase this particular piece.

The mobile nature of shows can also work in your favor.  Over the years I’ve found that selling right here in our home town is not usually as successful as selling somewhere a bit further away.  At home a lot of the people are under the impression they can just “stop by” and purchase from us anytime so they want to spend their money with people they’ll probably never see again or may only see occasionally.  Now of course this isn’t true… we’re not going to set up our display for one or two people (although you’d be surprised at the number of people that expect us to).  Truth has nothing to do with perception in this case and the bottom line is that even when we’re close to home I never try to make a big deal of it.  If asked a direct question about our location I’ll naturally tell the customer but I also make sure they understand that we don’t have a retail location and the only place we sell is at the shows.  Sometimes this works, but a lot of times they’ll say “do you have a card, I’ll give you a call.”  The end result is no sale.  If possible use your “out of town” status to your advantage and give people the impression that they must purchase today if they want what you have.  Although a few of them may call you later, the statistics are against you in virtually every case.

6.  Make Sure The Customers Can Find You.  I know many times I’ve offered to follow customers around to make sure they didn’t spend their money foolishly at someone else’s exhibit but that doesn’t usually work!  Statistically not many people will actually return to your booth, a few of them will and so rather than following customers around a show, it’s better to look around and make note of a few landmarks that will make it easy to find your booth.  Try to come up with something that is easy to remember and visually very apparent.  You may be right in front of a well known local business or right across from the town’s clock tower or just around the corner from the newspaper stand.  If you look you’ll probably find something easy for customers to remember.  Sometimes shows will provide a map for customers to follow.  If they do, ask for several extra copies and with a yellow highlighter you can create custom maps right to your booth!  Not only that, but later in the day the show sponsors usually run out of these maps and you can be a real hero to someone who doesn’t have one!

7. Make It Easy For The Customer To Pay.  Car dealers and real estate agents have this one down to a science.  And in this particularly competitive market today we’re seeing them pull out all the stops!  Low interest financing… no down payments… subsidized options… you name it and they have it!  Unfortunately most of us don’t have he capital and resources of GM or US Homes, but we do have tools we can use.  Cash is usually the preferred way to do business at a show because it’s a definite indicator of a final sales.  And to make this easier for the customer some shows actually set up ATM’s at the event.  If they do… GREAT!, But if they don’t as is the case most of the time, take a little time to walk around the town and find out where they are… that way you can direct the customers to them.  You’ll be surprised at how many locals have no idea where a convenient ATM is let alone customers from out of town. 

Another good business tactic is to actually have a business account set up so you can take checks written to your business name rather than to your personal name.  Not only does this help when it comes time to sort our your taxes, but it lends credibility to your business in the eyes of the customer and suppliers.  Many banks offer a “DBA” (doing business as) account for small businesses that offer terms similar to a personal account rather than a full blown business account with tons of fees.  Shop around a bit and you’ll probably find one.

If you can afford to take credit cards, do it!  If you sell only low ticket items under $50.00 or so this may be an expensive solution.  But it also gives you more ability to raise your prices a bit to cover the extra expense.  Credit card companies have done a wonderful job of marketing and people will almost always spend more money and pay higher prices when they aren’t parting with cash!  When you think about it logically this makes no sense at all because not only are the customers paying more and spending more, they have to pay interest on it too!  But here’s another area when truth and perception have nothing to do with reality so take advantage of the situation and make some more money.

If you don’t want to or can’t take credit cards and you’ve made the judgement call that the customer appears to be honest, you may want to allow them to make payments directly to you.  This is especially advantageous if you sell higher ticket items like an expensive piece of furniture some jewelry or maybe a painting.  A $600.00 dollar piece is a lot more affordable in four $150.00 payments rather than the full purchase price today.  Another advantage is that it gives you income over the next few months.  If you get enough of these types of purchases going, the monthly income can be impressive.  Although in my experience most people who enter into this kind of agreement are honest and do pay as agreed, a few will no doubt stiff you.  Try to come up with some sort of simple contract that you have the customer sign so they feel obligated to pay and of course you have some sort of proof they actually own you the money.  Collections can be difficult and you may not really want to be bothered with them so always make sure the amount you collect up front is enough to cover all your costs so that even if you loose the profit you’ve at least collected the cost.  A simple computer program like Intuit’s “Quick Books” makes setting up billing a real snap.  Don’t ignore this technique… countless galleries and other distributors of artwork have driven up prices substantially and made fortunes by taking payments… you can too!

Another technique you can use particularly with fine art is leasing your work.  Many times a business may not want the permanency of a “collection,” but does want the ambiance that original work can provide.  Here is an excellent opportunity for you to make money on your work and still retain ownership!  Thousands of businesses lease machines, cars, computers, plants and just about everything else you can think of… why not decor too!  Not only does it allow them to decorate with good taste, it allows them to do it at a fraction of the cost and once they get tired of the look…. it’s easy to change!  Best of all once they get sick of the look you’ve provided you get the piece back in your hands ready to lease to someone else or to sell outright!  You can also offer a buyout price at the end of the lease if the company decides to keep the work.  Here again you’ll need to create a contract with the customer establishing terms, ownership and who’s responsible for the work while it’s out of your possession etc… and you’ll have to set up a billing system… but the potential profit is outstanding and it could be yours!

“Popping The Top” on sales does usually require taking a real objective look at what you’re doing now and possibly making some changes.  And… I’d caution you NOT to change those things that do work for you and you’re happy with.  BUT, if you want to increase your sales or give them an extra little push, then give some thought to some of the suggestions I’ve made.  It may require a little thinking “outside of the box.”  But a wise salesman once told me… “If you want things to continue the way they are, keep doing the things your doing now… If you want things to change, it’s up to you to make the change” they choice is yours.  Chances are if you were completely happy with your sales you would have never read this far in this article and with a new season right on the horizon along with all the big economic changes that have taken place recently, this is a great time to giving some serious thought to your future plans!  Why not “Pop The Top” on sales this coming year!