If you have been consistently reading this blog, you will find that I’m really big on quality customer service and on high quality handcrafted products. Click to read my blogs posts on sales assistants and selling handcrafted work.
The season of craft fairs is upon us in the UAE and it is an opportune time to re-iterate some advice of selling one’s beautiful works of art at such fairs. I have gleaned them from my own experiences of selling my handcrocheted jewelry at various fairs and exhibitions in town.
Last week’s blog post didn’t happen, because of an unplanned visit to Oman. The glorious break gave me more insight to the fact that I could still write a ‘hospitality and customer services’ based post but using the various insights that I got from the Omani culture.
1- Smile warmly – it increases your face value
From the immigration official to the shopping assistant, the Omanis know how to welcome people with a genuine smile. I must admit, I was really taken aback with their nature but I felt welcomed and accepted.
I couldn’t help but recall an interview I did with an international management consultant who is a keen traveler and a lover for all things Arabian. In the interview, published in the Gulf News Friday Magazine, Dr Marcel Mulley shared with me about his lovely experience with Omani hospitality (refer to the section of the interview marked ‘Me and Arab hospitality).
For all handcrafted vendors, ensure that you exude a aura of being genuinely welcoming when customers visit your stand. It’s not about just selling your lovely pieces of work (though that is one of the reasons you are there), but in times of recession, building relationships are as important. Learn from the Omanis when it comes to smiling and being welcome and you won’t go wrong.
2- Speak the language of your customers
There I was waiting at the Intercontinental Muscat’s concierge when I heard a smattering of German. In the beginning I thought it was just a group of Germans speaking to each other. But I soon realised that the German couple were speaking in German to an Omani national who appeared to understand what was said in the foreign language and respond as well. It’s one thing for the Omani people to speak English, but German (or any other foreign language for that matter)?
Just yesterday I was reading world renowned blogger Chris Brogan’s post about using language to sync with people. If your customers need you to explain something about your work (for example, “Is this lapiz lazuli or sodalite and what grade is it?”, go the extra mile and explain to them the way they may understand. While I mean that you need to speak the language of your customers in a metaphorical sense, sometimes it helps to actually speak their language if you know it. Whenever tourists visit my stall, I will use basic French, German, Arabic, Hindi or Urdu to tell them what the item costs. I have found that speaking in the language of your prospective customer quite beneficial. Use languages either literally or metaphorically to break the ice and soon you will be chatting away with new found friends.
3- Practise your art or craft regularly and know it well
Here I was at the Al Bustan Palace Intercontinental Muscat sipping at my Bombay masala chai when I heard the husky notes from the harp churning out one of Dussek’s sonatas. I half expected a foreign lady to be harping away, but imagine my surprise when an Omani by the name of Badr plucking away at the strings. Not only did he play well, he looked pretty confident too. My Bombay chai was soon forgotten as I did a mini-video and captured the harpist who, I felt, was the embodiment of someone who had perfected his art.
Whatever your art or craft is, ensure that you are working at it every single day. When I started making jewelry I used simple methods of stringing and weaving before I got interested in more complex methods such as crocheting, precious metal clay and wire work. I find that there is always something new to learn, the latest being my interest in steampunk jewelry and metal stamping. Nowadays I apply the same rule for writing. I’ve been writing since I was a child, progressing from little quotes, to poetry, to fiction, non fiction, medical copy writing into e-journalism and blogging. Someday, all this may lead to film direction/production, but it didn’t happen overnight – it has been a 30 year long journey.
If you are a new vendor, fresh from the first bloom of making your own art work, do not expect the whole world to buy your products the first day that you showcase your work. Ask any of the artisans that I’ve interviewed or mentioned on this blog, they will say the same thing, “Practice (and patience) makes perfect.” With perfection comes confidence and the knowledge of who you are as a person. Customers are more likely to buy from you when you are in this frame of mind and it could end in positive word of mouth marketing.
4- Have a sweet sense of humour
The last evening in Oman, we decided to partake in the buffet dinner at the Musandam Café, the Intercontinental Muscat. For some reason, I couldn’t figure out where the dessert area was (perhaps the fresh sea breeze had gotten to me), and I was still on the starters (a typical jewelry maker, I like to ensure I have all the tools with me before I start to work on a piece). So there I was plumping up my plate with hummous, chicken salad and other expected buffet niceties and still not happy that I couldn’t see the dessert area.
I asked the head waiter, “Where is the dessert area? I can’t see it!”
The head waiter, a young Omani guy with the usual smile that I’ve so gotten used to as part of Omani hospitality, replied, “But, Madam you cannot have dessert till you have finished your main course.”
I got a bit worried that dessert was not included in the buffet cost, which came across as strange to me. “Is that so?” I asked in bewilderment at the strange state of affairs. I did have a sweet tooth and the spicy lamb kebabs were no substitute.
The head waiter smiled when he saw bewilderment written over my face and said, “Madam, don’t worry, here it is,” and he pointed out the dim lit dessert area chock-a-block with chocolate pudding, chocolate mousse and other sweet delights.
That mini-incident had me in good mood for the rest of the meal, save for my tongue that was attacked by the spicy lamb kebabs.
Bottom line is, don’t take yourself so seriously. Be light hearted and in a good mood, even if the craft fair doesn’t seem to go well for you. Conjure up stories about your work, or break a stressful moment with a light hearted joke. Yes, a good sense of humour helps, keeping in mind that the same style of humour may not go down with different nationalities, so take precaution. You may go home without a Dirham fil or a penny for the English (it has happened to me many times, but that’s life), but at least you are not returning home stressed out!
5- Become the ultimate attraction zone
One of the things that I’ve noticed when I’ve travelled is the taxi drivers in Manama (Bahrain), Penang (Malaysia) and Chiang Mai (Thailand). Not only do they speak fluent English, they also are quite friendly and chat to you about interesting local news. Making easy conversation is a natural for these chaps.
I did not have the chance to use an Oman taxi but the point is that apart from your obvious talent in a particular art or craft, if you are also courteous, hard working, dedicated in addition to all the other plus points we’ve discussed above, you become the attraction zone. I am someone who likes my jewelry line to speak for itself, but I realised over time that having genuine qualities of a true craftsman is solid golden statement and witness to your work.