Friday night Debi and I loaded up the trailer and two minivans and drove out to Milford to set up for The Crooked Stick’s first craft show. For two hours we hauled everything I had in my inventory into the high school gymnasium and set it up. Which is when I remembered something I didn’t know I had forgotten – carrying stuff sucks. We had a wimpy dolly, but what could have been 6 trips on a Home Depot lumber cart was probably 30 trips. And not short trips. But whatever. Sore arms were just part of the cocktail of sensations and emotions that evening. I was excited.
That excitement faded when I woke up the next morning to what has become normal Michigan weather: claustrophobicly low clouds and rain. So after an early morning scramble to make some behind the scenes display hardware and a short drive to Milford, I was in my booth with wet socks and a lot of items to price. But no worries: 10 minutes before the opening bell I had two sales under my belt and my stand was ready to go.
Mostly. The display looked great. But… well… there was one thing I hadn’t thought of. Me. Where the heck was I supposed to go? And later, when Debi got there, the problem got worse. Where the heck was I supposed to put two people.
I shoe-horned a folding chair into the back corner of the booth. Seemed like a good idea at the time. You know, kind of out of the way. Let people look at my stuff for awhile before engaging with me . Right? WRONG!!! Four women in a row started to walk into my stand, caught sight of me and turned on their heal and went away. Hello’s and Good Mornings ignored. And that’s when I realized...I was the creepy dude in the corner. I got out of the corner.
But that just left me with the same problem. Where do I go. I milled around a bit like the new kid in school trying to decide where to sit at lunch. But after drifting around stupidly for awhile I tried the corner again. I thought I would try something I've seen other booth owners do - act busy. My plan was to work in a notebook and try to look busy. Maybe that would be less intimidating. Give newcomers a welcoming but distracted smile. A quick "good morning". Maybe a "let me know if I can answer any questions", Then eyes down; pen scribbling.
It might have been marginally better. I'm not sure. I was distracted. Some people walked in, but there was still this weird personal space bubble around me that people seemed to bounce off of. I could have marked it's boundaries on the floor. It wasn't subtle.
So, I tried putting Debi in the chair. I thought maybe an extroverted woman in the corner would be less creepy.
Meanwhile, I wandered off to look at other vendors to see how they solved the riddle of the creepy dude in the corner. What I found was that the personal space bubble exists for everyone. Pretty women, handsome men, cute old people...no-one was exempt.
BUT a few things did help. The hands down MOST inviting booths were those where the vendor was busy with another customer. People would sneak in without hesitation. Personal space bubble compressed down to frat party level. Another thing that compressed the bubble was some kind of barrier between the customer and the vendor. A table. A counter. A cage. It was weird. But again it wasn't subtle. If the vendor was alone and you could see his feet, there was 5 feet of open floor space in front of him.
Back at my booth Debi was having the same experience. Creepy dude in the corner. Eventually we slid some stuff around and found a workable spot on the outside of the booth. They could see me and I could talk to them without them bouncing off my personal space bubble before they made it 3 feet into my booth. I got up and walked in to talk a lot. It wasn't great, but it was too late to change the floor plan…and at least people weren’t running away anymore.
Now to design a better layout…and a rickshaw to carry all of my stuff.