April 11, 2015 | Posted in CONVENTIONS, CRAFTING BUSINESS | By

The author doing her job in a convention dealer's room.

The author doing her job in a convention dealer’s room.

I have been a vendor at craft fairs and in the dealers’ halls at various conventions and events for over fifteen years. Overall, being a vendor has been a great experience. As an artist and jewelry designer, it has given me the chance to directly market and sell my merchandise, build a loyal clientele, and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing people excited about the items I’ve created. At the same time, I’ve also seen behavior by customers and attendees at such events that I can only describe as inconsiderate, rude, dismissive and sometimes outright destructive towards vendors and our work. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, unless the casual atmosphere of a craft fair or the crowded halls of a convention make shoppers behave differently than they would in a regular department store or an artist-oriented boutique.

To this end, here are a few things I’d like to ask customers and browsers at craft fairs, and in dealers halls, to remember. Just as it takes certain social skills and good etiquette to be successful in vending, having good social skills as a customer will make vendors happier to work with you – and perhaps even give you better deals on merchandise. So the next time you’re heading to a craft fair or dealers’ hall to shop, please keep these suggestions for courtesy in mind.

Allow Vendors to Set Up Completely Before Disturbing Them

It can be a lot of work setting up this display. Please let me do so in peace.

It can be a lot of work setting up this display. Please let me do so in peace.

Setting up for a craft show or in a dealers hall can be a lot of work for vendors and require considerable attention. Electrical wires may need to be run, displays assembled, items carefully presented, all in a limited period of time. Set-up is always the most hectic and demanding part of a show for myself as a vendor, so it can be extremely disruptive to have to try to deal with customers before I’m ready.

At closed events such as conventions, this is less likely to be an issue as security generally won’t allow customers inside until an event is open. But in open-air events set in public parks or sidewalks and streets, it can be hard to control crowds preemptively. In such cases, if you happen to be where an event is being set-up, please be courteous to the vendors and come back when the event is officially open to the public. Don’t bother the vendors while they’re trying to figure out how to best display their merchandise and making sure other such matters such as parking, meals, security and change are properly arranged.

Treat Vendors’ Merchandise with Care and Respect

Please come in and browse! But do treat the merchandise with care.

Please come in and browse! But do treat the merchandise with care.

Ask if you may pick something up or try on a piece of jewelry, clothing, or other such delicate items. Generally it’s expected you’ll want to handle things, but it’s always good courtesy to inquire first.

Don’t place your sweating, cold soda bottles or other drinks and food items on top of vendors’ tablecloths, display pieces and merchandise. Don’t place your heavy purses or other bags on top of fragile items such as artwork or jewelry. Try on jewelry carefully and over the vendor’s table if possible, and please don’t do the “ring shake” to test if a ring is the right size! I’ve had customers fling delicate amber and silver jewelry off their hands onto hard concrete or brick floors that way, and then refuse to pay after damaging the ring, saying it was “my fault” that I didn’t put a rug down on the ground in front of them. Don’t handle photographs, postcards or artwork with greasy fingers after finishing off a donut or hamburger.

Remember, these items are not yours until you’ve actually purchased them, and may be one-of-a-kinds which cannot simply be replaced or re-ordered if damaged through mishandling.

Remember That a Craft Fair is Not a Flea Market

Vendors at craft fairs generally put a great deal of time, effort and creativity into their work. Prices of their merchandise reflect a careful accounting of materials costs and labor hours, as well as the cost of renting space at the fair, which can be anywhere from $20 to $2,000 depending on event. So don’t hold up a $50 hand-crafted necklace and offer a vendor $5 for it and think you’re being clever or a smart shopper.

While a vendor may offer a reasonable discount if you are buying multiple items, or if sales have been slow and she has costs to recover, to expect to haggle off the bat is insulting and inappropriate at most craft fairs and similar shows. Haggling might be customary and expected in some cultures or when dealing with street vendors in certain countries, but not at most American craft fairs nor in convention dealers’ rooms.

Don’t Hold Personal Reunions and Lengthy Private Conversations in Front of a Vendor’s Table or Booth and Block Traffic.

Keep the traffic moving!

Keep the traffic moving!

Visibility and access are two critical factors in how well a vendor may do at a craft show or in a dealers’ hall. A vendor in a hall may only have a single 6-foot table along one crowded walkway with which to attract the attention of potential customers. During busy times those walkways can become incredibly crowded with people moving swiftly by, so a vendor may only have a very brief opportunity to be noticed and catch a browser’s eye.

As such, it is extremely, incredibly rude to “park” yourself in front of a vendor’s table or booth and block traffic to it when you have no intention of buying anything from them, nor any interest in their merchandise. Don’t stand there playing with your iPhone, or reading through a program book, because it seems like a “quiet spot” to “hang” for a while. Don’t pull a friend out of the passing traffic to have an extended conversation in front of a table about what your dinner plans are for the evening, or even what you’ve been up to in the past year since you last saw each other. If you’re waiting to get access to the next booth or table, don’t line up in front of the neighboring vendors’ tables; either come back later when they’re not as busy, or line up away from the tables.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t park your grandmother’s wheelchair in front of a table because it’s out of traffic’s way while you go off to shop somewhere else! (Yes, I’ve had that happen to me.)

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to try to politely get people to move on or move away when they were lingering 5, 10, or 15 minutes in front of my space aimlessly, clearly discouraging other people who were interested in my merchandise but couldn’t get access to it.

Please Control Your Children

A craft fair or dealers’ hall can be an exciting place for a young child, with all the people, colorful merchandise, and shiny objects surrounding them. However, before bringing your children to such an event, make sure you will be able to keep an eye on them, and don’t let them run around the event outside of your control or eyeshot. Let them know that it is not appropriate to pick up and handle items without asking first. If they see something they like, they should not grab it off a table and run off to show you or anyone else.

Also, don’t expect myself or any other vendor to “babysit” your child, leaving him or her parked in a stroller in front of my table or wandering around aimlessly around in my booth.

Don’t Insult a Vendor’s Merchandise Right in Front of Them

“This isn’t real turquoise. It looks like a fake to me.”

“Tiger’s eye and silver always look terrible together.”

“Obviously you only make jewelry for skinny/fat/rich people.”

“The color scheme in that painting is all wrong.”

I’ve heard all of these critiques, and then some, directed at my work through the years. Believe me, it doesn’t leave me in the mood to deal with someone as a customer even if he or she does find something they like. If you don’t appreciate a vendor’s work or merchandise, you don’t have to say so out loud – especially not while standing right in front of that vendor. We all have different tastes and styles.

Admittedly, some vendors have better quality merchandise than others, and those starting out in the trade may have much to learn yet about display, marketing, and presentation. But if you don’t like something, simply move on to the next table. Insulting a person’s work isn’t going to accomplish anything – and if you think it’s going to get you a discount on the merchandise you’ve just insulted, think again because it won’t!

Don’t Try to be a Know-It-All

I generally enjoy it when someone visits my table or booth and wants to talk about art, jewelry-making, or some other aspect of my craftwork. However, thoughtful conversation does not involve trying to show off to me or any other vendor how you know more about the subject than we do – especially when you don’t.

When the Show is Over, the Show is Over

Vendors often have a limited amount of time after the official closing hour to secure their merchandise for the night, or to pack up completely at the end of an event. Therefore, don’t show up five or ten minutes before closing time, ready only then to begin shopping. If the show is done for the day, please don’t hover, continuing to pick over vendors’ merchandise or trying on jewelry. The vendor is likely tired from working for a full day or weekend and eager to pack up, get some dinner, or collapse at home or in her hotel room.

And please, please do not start picking through the vendor’s already packed boxes, bins, or bagged merchandise! It’s not only rude but disruptive, as the vendor likely has a very particular system to make sure all merchandise is packed up efficiently and securely.

Remember: Hucksters are People, Too!

Even we have to take a lunch break sometimes...

Even we have to take a lunch break sometimes…

My last point is for customers to remember this: vendors are human beings like yourselves. They’re prone to good days and bad days, good moods and bad moods, and can make mistakes like anyone else.

Of course we’re there at an event to make money, but we’re not there to rip you off – at least, the honest vendors aren’t, and hopefully there are many more of us than the other way around. Vendors appreciate customers who seek out handmade, hard-crafted merchandise and want to make sure you are happy with your purchases.

So treat vendors well, and we’ll go out of our way to do the same for our you in return.

sockii is just your typical Jane-of-All-Trades who never has enough time in her day for all of her projects. She has written for many websites online including Squidoo, Zujava, Yahoo! Contributors Network, HubPages and Wizzley. She has been attending and vending at science fiction and media conventions for over 15 years, and for several years ran an art gallery and jewelry store in Philadelphia. Today she is happy to be living in South Jersey with her partner David and their 6 cats. Sockii is a member of several affiliate sales programs including Amazon Associates and Viglink. Products from these services may be advertised on her posts and pages to generate sales commissions.

1 Comment

  1. sandy
    April 11, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    Good article, Sockii. I love artists and vendors and they do deserve respect. I wonder if you’ve seen this article that Rice Freeman Zachery did about art show etiquette 101. You may find it interesting:

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