I just returned from a weekend retreat at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee.
I attended a two day workshop presented by Bruce Baker the craft marketing guru whose columns I have read in The Crafts Report ever since my career as a professional craft artist began some time ago. I’m glad I went. Mr. Baker was informative, engaging and entertaining. Among the pages of notes I managed to take during the workshop sessions, the one concept that stood out more than any other was that we as craft artists need to tell our customers a story about our work. This little exchange of information will make the sale more personal and the memory of it long lasting. So when the piece is admired, the buyer can repeat the story, or if the piece is a gift then the giver can retell the story to the recipient. This is what makes the piece special to the buyer.
I thought about that for awhile, and I realized that I do tell stories about my work. I often tell my customers about the fibers woven into the scarf, the fibers’ origins and their sustainability. When customers are interested in my handbound books, I share with them how I use the blank journals. One of my handbound books has pages of recipes that have been handed down from generations. A lovely little coptic stitched journal has a more mundane task and acts as the keeper of my passwords to the various online sites I visit. My customers who don’t journal or sketch need to hear these stories to know that there are many ways to fill up the pages of a blank book.
My father in law, Lou was a great story teller and also used this technique with his customers. He had been the owner of several jewelry stores in Brooklyn. Against his better judgment, he gave his 21 year old son a sales clerk job in one of his stores. This is how I came to know the story, because as it turned out I married his son. On a particularly difficult day, a woman entered the store near closing time. She asked to look at bracelets. She tried one on, then another and yet another. A small pile of bracelets began to accumulate on the counter top. None of them seemed to suit her. Every one that she tried on was too big, too small, too gaudy, not her style, not the right kind of stone and so on. There didn’t seem to be one that agreed with her, but neither she nor my father in law were ready to give up. After nearly an hour of trying on bracelets, she put one on her wrist and turned it a bit and admired it from various angles. In the meantime, Lou had become exasperated and was about to end the transaction and close the shop for the day. The woman turned to him and said, “This one seems to fit better than the others, why is that?” Without skipping a beat, Lou replied, “Why, that one is circumcised.” Upon hearing that, my husband who was observing the entire exchange was ready to dive under the counter and become invisible. But he didn’t, because the next words he heard were “I’ll take it!”.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the content of the story is that we tell our customers. What does matter is that whatever we say should make them feel special. And that is the end of the story.