Yesterday I wrote about how the craft business requires forging a relationship among the maker, the buyer and the object.
Today's topic is more advisory (or possibly motherly, or possibly grouchy) in nature.
I teach a class called "the art of selling" where I really emphasize the basic need to be professional in one's dealings with potential wholesale buyers, retailers or show organizers. I spent a lot of time my first 18 months or so putting up with time-wasting visits, calls and emails from artisans whose work was all wrong for my market, but whose approach made it very awkward for me to express this. There was the woman who came in unannounced with very strangely decorated net covers for picnic food; when I rejected those, she proceeded to spread ugly beaded jewellery all over my counter, even though I had made it clear I couldn't consider taking any more jewellery at the time. I have since been compelled to post instructions for selling at Wise Daughters on my website. I figure if you haven't even bothered to go to my website yet, you're not ready to sell here. I do my homework to find out about the artists whose work I carry - they should do as much. At the very least, their emails should start, "Dear Mary", not "Hey there!"
There are sellers who are off-puttingly cocky (about which, more next paragraph), then those at the other end of the spectrum who meekly whisper something about how I probably won't want their stuff, but here it is... Selling isn't easy. It really is an art. You've got to find the right behaviour balance to connect with people without pushing them too far. And this harkens back, in a way, to my piece on youthful people, some of whom are not developing social skills at the rate polite society might hope. I want to tell them to stand up straight and look me in the eye, but we're supposed to be conducting business, so that seems inappropriate.
So, about the divas... all I can say is that there is nothing less attractive than arrogance. I guess I naively expect the world of hand-making to be full of warm, creative people who would rather eat a felting needle than stiff somebody else. Mostly this is true. But there is the odd one who has no compunction about hawking her wares a block away (fortunately my fellow small business people don't much go for this). Then there are a few people who will place the blame on poor sales squarely on my lack of marketing skills, display sense, or other failings of a vague nature. The problem with denying that there could be anything amiss with the product or its pricing, is that no learning can come of it. The best artists - and I have the pleasure of working with lots of them - ask for feedback, consider what's working and why, and make adjustments to give customers what they want. There is no point arguing that people should like something. It doesn't mean you have to sell out and make stuff you can't stand. But if you want to derive an income from your craft, you do have to come up with some bread-and-butter items that'll support the experimentation you really want to do.
Truer words were never spoke. We spend our whole lives pursuing, nurturing, screwing up, saving and abandoning relationships. It’s also all about the relationship in business. At least in my business.
I often tell artists that they need to relate to their customers; it’s mostly through their handmade object that this relationship takes place. A painting speaks to its observer; a piece of jewellery or clothing belongs on somebody’s body; an image or a texture or a scent evokes something personal and powerful. But the connection also happens through the stories of the object, its maker and its recipient. Maybe the maker’s practice harkens back to a tradition within the buyer’s family. Maybe she crafts in public and it becomes a social thing. Somehow the maker of the object creates something that fills a void, answers a need, resolves an issue, or satisfies a desire within the buyer. Nobody has to make or buy objects of beauty; they could choose pure function instead. But since the beginning of time, people have made their functional objects beautiful. They have added some of themselves into the creation of the most humble bowl or tunic. And now we can relate to them as a result.
It would behoove Rob Ford and Stephen Harper to remember that the great civilizations of the past aren’t remembered for the day-to-day machinations of their money-making operations. They are remembered, and understood, through their art.