Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Thoughts: Connecting With Customers During the Hectic Holiday Season

by Jennifer Roberts


If you are anything like me, you were not lined up outside a big box store hoping to get a great deal this morning. I am sure that there are wonderful deals out there to be had, but I can’t think of a single gadget or toy that I need badly enough to endure the long lines, cranky people, and seriously early (or late this year) hours. I’d rather snuggle with my puppies and drink some hot chocolate.

Once Black Friday is over, businesses start differentiating themselves by size, location, philosophy, you name it. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Green Tuesday . . . the list goes on. I often choose whether to shop somewhere because of who owns a business and how they run it, but lately, I have been a little annoyed with all of the various shopping days that have popped up.

Annoyed, that is, until I started thinking about the challenge we share with many of our customers – those metal clay artisans who sell their work. We all have to contend with Wal-Mart effect, or in the case of internet sales, the effect. Can the potential customer standing in your booth buy a piece of jewelry for their loved one for about 12 cents on Probably. But it won’t be handmade. It almost certainly won’t be American artisan made. And it likely won’t have a connection to the local community. It will be one of many thousands instead of a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Local artisans do have some advantages over the big guys – they can develop personal relationships with their customers that keep them coming back, they can create commissioned pieces, and they can change what they are producing in order to move with trends faster than any large operation.

The trick is, when the person standing in front of you picks up one of your pieces and says “I can buy this cheaper at Wal-Mart” you have to resist the urge to throw it at them. Don’t go negative. Instead, list all of the benefits of buying from you. The big picture pro’s are OK, like supporting local artists, but it is critical to lead with the benefits to the customer. For example, you may be willing to make minor repairs to jewelry for your customers. Being local, you will be around in the future when your customer is ready to add another piece to her collection. Your designs may also include local elements, like sea glass or Petoskey stones (my personal favorite). These kinds of elements create an emotional value that an on-line mass produced trinket just can’t compete with.

It also helps to think through the various categories your business falls into. For some, knowing that your work contains recycled silver is a good enough reason to choose your work over another. I’ve given some thought to which categories PMCC falls into:

Family owned and operated? Check.
Woman owned? Check.
Female CEO? Check.
Small business: Yep!
Dog friendly: There are days when the dogs in the office outnumber the people.
Cat friendly: Nah, but only because of allergies.
Recycles? Absolutely, whenever and wherever we can.
Brick and mortar location: Yes!
Fast Shipping? Most days it’s same-day.
Personalized Customer Service? It’s our number one goal.

You likely share many of these traits and you may also be part of local groups that your potential customers support. Thinking about these in advance can help you make a connection with a customer that makes your piece something they will value instead of just something they found for a song at a sale.

To some artists, this may sound too calculated or like too much work. Your work should speak for itself, right? Yes and no. Quality work and beautiful design stand on their own. But all other things being equal, if I have a choice between an artist with whom I have a relationship or whose practices and values I support, and one I don’t, that’s an easy choice for me.

So, good luck this holiday season. It can be a hectic time of year for artists running from one sale and exhibition to another. I hope you find new ways to connect with your customers, both because it can help close a sale and also because it can also be pretty wonderful.

And find time for some hot chocolate too!

Comments? Any good groups I missed that might help other artisans connect with their communities?

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