Sunday, July 15, 2007

Marketing and Salesmanship: The evolution of my approach

I just finished up a 4 day show, and it was a great success. I'll talk about my experiences there in a few days, but for now I want to talk about something thats fresh on my mind: marketing my work, and actually taking on the role of salesman. Over the last 8 shows (since my first show ever in June 2006) I've noticed how some changes to my selling style have impacted the results of my business.

Interacting with I started out
I'm on my second year of shows...5 shows last year, and 3 so far this year. At my first show, I was standing in the booth or right at the front, because being new, I hadn't thought to construct a doorway to a back or side space. So I stood the only place I could. I talked to a lot of people that came in and greeted everyone.

After talking to other artists at my first couple shows, and observing what other photographers tend to do, I started changing my approach. First, I added my little doorway so I could sit behind my booth. Second, as I noticed MANY artists seemed to take a hands-off approach, often even sitting in chairs on the opposite side of the street from their booth, I really started to believe I had the technique all wrong. So I too started to take a more hands off approach, and really only engaging in conversation whenever initiated by the patron.

I followed that model for several shows and saw my sales drop each time. While I realize there are other factors to that (some I can identify and others I can't), I can't help but feel that my change in sales technique in some way (even if only to a small degree) contributed to that decline.

Going contrary to common practices

In most businesses, there are set of common practice...things that pioneers over the years have figured out worked well, and thus became adopted by most everyone one. However, throughout my life I've talked to many very successful people that have become successful simply because they bucked the trend. They had the audacity to throw knowledge out the window that had come to be commonly accepted as correct. I've been wondering if this hands off sales approach I've seen so many artists taking was actually the wrong thing to do.

I just finished a 4 day show last night, and I really tried to get out there and talk a lot more. It ended up being my most successful show so far. Again, I realize there were a lot of factors involved, including the length of the show and the high traffic level compared to other shows, but like before, I can't help but feel my sales technique was a contributing factor.

How I interacted with people

My general approach was to sit as little as possible...stand in doorway in the back corner of the booth. As soon as someone makes eye contact, say "hello" or "how are you doing" or something equally greeting.

After looking around at all the photos on the wall, or after finishing looking through the print bin, before they could even begin to attempt exiting the booth (basically...when I suspected they were just about to exit) I would ask if they had any questions about any of my work....where it was taken, or whatever. Even though all of my photos had name tags labeled with the location, it seemed so many people (even many that looked at the tags) didn't realize where the photo was from, and often that got a response of "oh my gosh..that came from THERE? I LOVE that place" and conversation ensued.

If people looked through a bin (and whether or not I had already greeted them) and seemed to stop on some image for several seconds, or if they pulled it out and held it up, or went to flip it over to read the information on the back, I always stepped in and said "that was taken at so and so" and if I had any sort of quick story to go with it, I immediately volunteered it. I did this even though they could have quickly figured out the answer on their own from the back of the print. From that brief interaction, I could usually very quickly realize whether it was the type of person that enjoyed personal contact or wanted to just browse in peace. If they wanted peace, I just stepped back and let them finish uninterrupted. But if they seemed to enjoy my interjection, I then stayed right there and told them the location of any photo that they spent more than a second or two looking at. If they continued looking at the same photo, I often elaborated on it, telling something of my experience there, or how the scenery has changed since I took the photo, or how much I like the surrounding area.

If a pair/group of people were browsing through the bins and seemed to be discussing suitability of photos (as in "no....thats really not the right color") or anything that suggested they might have something in mind, I always asked "do you have any questions about the photos, or is there a particular type of subject you're looking for today" and very often that would lead somewhere. The downside of this is that if they are looking for something particular and you say you don't have it, they often stop looking and leave. It's always possible that something they weren't looking for could have caught their interest, and that you actually just sabotaged a sale, but I suppose that works both ways.

Likewise, if a pair or group were debating the subject matter, I tried to join in the conversation, to tell them where it was, what angle it from, etc.

In summary, I used any slight opportunity I could to inject myself in the conversation (or start a conversation where none existed). If they seemed receptive, I expanded on it as best as I could. I was always passionate about what I said. I never let on that they were the 237th person I had given that exact same explanation to that day.

The results of those interactions

There were several instances where I remain convinced that the sole reason a person purchased something was because I had spent so much time with them and/or because I really created some sort of personal connection to the photo (even if they had never been there in their life...perhaps they had turned my story into some grandiose mental image). Sometimes that sale was only a $5 greeting card, but $5 for 15 minutes when I had nothing better to do (plus possible enjoyable conversation that came out of it) is a welcome sale.

There was actually 1 instance where a lady really appeared to like 1 of my greeting cards, looked at the price, and sort of made a "you have to be kidding me" face and put the card back. I then walked over and started up a conversation with her about that one card, asking her if she had ever been there, and then asked about her experience, shared mine, and went back and forth telling each other about places we didn't know about in that location. She was initially too appalled at the price to buy even 1, but ended up buying 5 card from that location.

Why does this interaction work

Part of that, I think, can be attributed to people not realizing just what goes into the work. I think we've all had those people who come by and say (and I quote a patron from this most recent show) "all he did was stick a picture on a card and he wants $5?".

I am amazed by the number of people that show surprise when I inform them that I in fact took all of these photographs myself. I sometimes wonder if these people initially think I'm just buying stock photography off of, printing it up at the drug store, matting it up, and then having the nerve to charge exorbitant prices for my $1.50 investment. Perhaps they've just become so jaded by all the cheap buy-sell "artists" at festivals that they assume everyone is doing the same.

My top end product right now is a bit pricey compared to a lot of other items in my booth (though still cheap by many other artist's standards). I've had a number of people express near outrage at the price. But as soon as I explained the work that went into it, how all the decorative matting details were hand cut, the high quality of the materials used, etc, suddenly many of them changed their tune and even wished they could afford one for themselves. I honestly expect there were still going to be a handful of people that maintained their stance with a mocking "still, that IS a lot of money" response, but not once did I get that response.

When they realize just what goes into it, most people are understanding of the price, and some of those people are suddenly receptive to a purchase. Whether its because they suddenly value it more, or they realize the uniqueness, or perhaps they appreciate and want to support a true artist, I can't say. All I know is that it works.

Did I forget to mention...

I'm terribly shy and introverted, horrible at marketing, horrible at understanding how people think, and just all around not a very good people person. If I can do this, I have to think that anyone (or at least those with enough guts to sign up for a show in the first place) can do this too. here to read more!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Company Comparison: Frame USA vs Frame Destination

Following up on my last post comparing Crescent and Bainbridge, this time I'd like to present a comparison of another pair of companies I dealt while choosing new materials for this years product line. In choosing frames, I looked at a number of options, but based on a number of factors (price, style, flexibility, etc) I narrowed my choice down to 2 frame suppliers: and

Frame USA

Frame USA offered a large variety of frames in a number of colors, and they also offer samples for $1 each. Unfortunately, they only offer straight samples, not corner samples, but I figured I'll take what I can get.

After picking out about 30 different samples I wanted, I called their 1-800 number as directed on the website. However, I was told that for a sample order that large I would have to send them the list via email. She gave me the email address and I hung up. However, when I went to order, it turns out she gave me an invalid email address (strike 1). No problem, I just went and got the email address from the website and emailed off my order.

The next day I received a call to confirm my order and get payment information. However, I was informed that 3 of the samples I had ordered were not in stock (strike 2), but I could order 4x6 frame shells for just a tiny bit more. I decided I'd replace 2 of the samples with 4x6s but that the 3rd sample was similar enough to another that I'd just forget about it.

Now came the matter of payment. On the website it specified that sample orders shipped for $2.95 per order. However, it turns out the shipping cost would be more than that. When I inquired I was told that the $2.95 is only for a small order, and that 30 samples would cost more (strike 3). However, I wasn't given a specific amount and was told I'd be emailed with the exact amount when the order was ready to ship and had been weighed. I said ok, and also suggested they clarified the policy about this on their website (which, 2.5 months later, they never did).

I was also told I'd receive a separate email with a confirmation of my order. Well, guess what: I never got a confirmation of my order (strike 4), nor did I get an email confirmation of shipping cost (strike 5). Later on, I eventually figured out the shipping charge was almost $10!

Now, I'm a pretty reasonable and easy going guy, and I didn't really let the previous problems get to me too much. They were a bit troubling, but I wasn't going to make a big deal about it.

About a week later, I finally received my package. I opened it up and started looking through the samples, and this is were I really started to get upset. First off, when I read over their website, the website said "Real Wood: Unless noted, all of our wood frames are made from REAL, solid wood." However, what I received was almost entirely compressed particleboard (strike 6). In reviewing their website, I will take partial blame for this mistake. They did denote on all the pages a little BonanzaWood icon, however I must have overlooked it. I definitely read all the text, though, and the text said nothing about it.

To examine this detail a little further, when a company says "all of our products are X unless otherwise specified", I believe that should mean the majority of products are X, and the few exceptions are noted. However, now knowing what to look for and re-reviewing their website, I realized that with very few exceptions, almost their entire product line is bonanza wood. That certainly doesn't fit my expectation of "all...unless other wise specified". I felt very misled.

Now, back to my order. As I started going through the items, I realized that my two 4x6 shells and one of my samples was missing(strike 7). I called them up and complained, and they said they'd look into the matter and get back with me.

Two days later, and I had received no call (strike 8). I called them up again, this time, for the first time I was irate with them. I was told that the order was already being processed and that they'd ship the two 4x6 shells out the next day. But wait a minute. He didn't even seem to know I was missing the 1 sample (strike 9...good thing this isn't baseball...that's an entire inning). When I angrily questioned him he said they could make sure that gets shipped too. I inquired as to why exactly there were unaware of it, even though I already made it clear in the earlier call that it was missing. I never got an actual answer for that.

However, with that out of the way, I tried to patiently wait for the remainder of my order to arrive. Several days later, it finally did. I opened up the box and discovered two 4x6 shells....and that's it. For the second time, one of my sample was missing (strike 10). I angrily called them up again and they promised to get it out to me. Sure enough, a few days later I received an envelope with my last sample...and a sucker (is that supposed to make up for everything that went wrong?).

By now, I felt like this had been a waste of time and money. The products weren't what I wanted, and even so I didn't feel like I could trust them to be a reliable supplier for me.

Frame Destination

At the same time I did all of the above, I simultaneously pursued the matter with another vendor. Frame Destination is a vendor I've dealt with several times previously (mostly for clear bags for my prints). They've always had great prices and been very responsive. They carried a very basic lineup of Nielsen wood frames...a couple sets in 7 colors each.

I picked out the set I liked best and inquired about obtaining samples. I was told I could have straight samples for free, but if I wanted corner it would be $10 including shipping for as many samples as I wanted. I though that was great. Corner samples are so much more useful, so I gladly opted for them. I told them I had to order some other items from them and I could just pay for it with the rest of the order, so they instructed me to put the request into the special instructions. I also asked about getting samples of their 4 different acrylics and they said that would be not problem either...just put it in the special instructions.

After placing the order, I received a call (the next day, I think) saying that my main order would ship right away, and that the samples would ship out in a couple days (since the corners required assembly). However, the $10 included shipping so there would be no additional charge to ship separately, and this way I'd get the rest of my order more quickly.

When I received my order, it was exactly what I wanted. The samples were solid wood, and beautifully stained. The acrylic samples were full 8x10 samples ( I was expecting just a small 2x2 sample or something).

Making a Decision (and an order)

Not that it really needs to be said, but I was completely underwhelmed by the service I received from FrameUSA. On the other hand, Frame Destination provided the same sort outstanding service I've come to expect from them.

When I went to place an order, I obviously chose Frame Destination. I ordered three 16x20s and three 24x36s, all of them with museum grade anti glare/anti UV acrylic. As I needed my order soon (by middle of the following week, and this was on a Wednesday) I paid for 2 day shipping and asked to be notified if they were not able to to ship it by Friday. By Monday I had heard nothing back (usually I get a tracking number), so I was a bit worried and decided to give them a call. It turns out the lady that handles those notifications was on vacation when the order shipped. She looked up the tracking number and informed me that it had actually shipped on Thursday and was in fact already on the FedEx truck for delivery. I received it a few hours later.

The product was exactly what I requested and was packaged very carefully so that it was well protected. I was thoroughly satisfied with my order. Those frames are now being hung in my booth and are already getting very positive feedback.

If you need frames, clear bags, matboard, or just about anything else framing related, I'd highly recommend giving Frame Destination consideration. here to read more!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Company Comparison: Crescent vs. Bainbridge

As I wrote about several weeks ago, one of the things I was trying to do was change some of my matting. In trying to evaluate the different matbaord options available and choose a color, my ideal plan was to obtain corner samples of the Crescent RagMat, Michael Graves, and Moorman Suede series. However, there in lies a problem.


In looking around, very few places sell matboard corner samples. Of those that do, many don't do it for the RagMat series, many more don't have the Moorman Suede series, and nobody that I could find carried the the Michael Graves line. Furthermore, one seller that I've been dealing with for a while has had a message on their website for a long time stating that they couldn't get the samples from Crescent. That message went away for a short time, and now it's back stating that crescent isn't providing their distributors with corner samples and that they needed to be contacted directly.

I figured dealing with them directly shouldn't be a problem. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. First I called their phone number. The only option I came up with was to leave a phone message and they said a local rep would contact me back in 24 hours. Well, 48 hours later (96 hours counting the weekend) and I hadn't received a response back. This time, I decided to email them and make the same request. A day and a half later and I still hadn't received a response.

At this point, I was getting a little bit fed up, so I posted on the ArtShowPhoto message board asking if anyone knew how to contact Crescent and explained my problem. Well, it may have just been coincidence, or maybe not, but a mere 10 minutes later I finally received a call from a crescent representative.

I explained that I was looking for corner samples for a few different lines of matbaord. Unfortunately, the rep informed me that Crescent did not have samples for the Michael Graves line and wouldn't have them until later in the summer. However, she informed me that she could send me a specifier sheet for those mats. I accepted the offer and asked if I could also get corner samples for the other mats I was interested in. She said she could do that.

Well, it was more than 2 weeks before I received my samples in the mail. When I received them, I was a bit disappointed. I received no corner samples...only specifier sheets. And I didn't even receive all of them (nothing for the Moorman line). For the most part, the specifier sheets did at least have actual mat samples glued to the page, so what you saw was the actual material (color, texture, and all). However, for the Michael Graves collection, it was just printed on the page. In addition, I believe the printing is not very accurate. I've seen a few of the Michael Graves mats before and was quite impressed. However, what I saw in front of me wasn't the least bit impressive.

So what I receieved was some samples that were good and some that I believe weren't very accurate, and none of which I could actually use like corner samples to see how it looked on a print. In summary, what I received is only slightly better than nothing.

At this point, I'm very disappointed with the lackluster support I've received from Crescent. Either they aren't very interested in promoting their products, or they just don't care about smaller customers like me. I could accept the latter...many big businesses don't want to deal with small customers. However, by failing to provide even their distributors with the necessary corner samples, they've left me no real good options here.


At this point, I decided to give up on Crescent and give Bainbridge a see if maybe THEY want my business. After my last experience, I was expecting another nightmare. However, I was very happy to be proven wrong.

Upon phoning their toll free number, I was presented with a very simple menu selection. I only had to make one menu choice and was put on hold. Within 30 seconds I was speaking to a real person. I asked her how I could go about obtaining the corner samples. She told me that they supplied them for free, that I only had to pay for shipping, and that they'd be shipped in 3 or 4 business days. She took a credit card, and I was off the phone in less than 5 minutes. Shipping cost ended up being something in the area of $20-$25 for around 300 different corner samples.

In less than 2 weeks, the samples arrived. I had everything I had asked for

To sum it all up:

Crescent: Left voice mail, waited, sent email, waited, finally got a response, made my request, waited 2+ weeks, didn't receive what I asked for.

Bainbridge: Got a real person in less than 60 second, made my request, waited less then 2 weeks, and received exactly what I requested

Needless to say, I'll now using Bainbridge matboard instead of Crescent.

On a final personal note, I really hate when companies do this sort of stupid thing. I'm a bit sorry to say it, but I've been using Crescent all along and the thought of switching to another company never even entered my mind for a second. Through sheer stupidity, the company has driven away an unquestioningly faithful customer and sent them straight into the arms of their biggest competitor. here to read more!