Category Archives: Marketing

“It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over” – A Lesson in Patience

Yogi Berra said it best…“It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over”
Empty booth at

Empty booth at last weekend’s show

This past weekend I attended the American Art Marketing – Wadsworth Museum Show in Connecticut.  This was the first year for this craft show, so I expected the attendance to be low, and it was very light in attendance. Most of the exhibitors around me had light sales, and some of the exhibitors did not even make their booth fee and expenses! Luckily, I had made my booth fee and expenses, with a slight profit.

The show was over at 5 PM on Sunday, and so at 4 PM, since traffic was light, I started to put some of my pens away. Just as I was starting to pack up, 3 different customers came into the booth. Those three customers purchased nine of my higher priced pens and took my so-so weekend to a **WOW** weekend, just like that!
So, the moral of the story is never give up until the final second of a show – you never know who will show up and make your day!
BTW, we are taking orders for the lever action pens, (which did very well at the show – sold all of them that I had (6). Please call us, and we will take your name and order and when they come in we will ship them to you!
Barry’s Tip:
When I sell a higher priced pen at a show, I make sure that it has fresh ink in the pen. This has come to light because a customer called, and complained that his pens were running out of ink fast.  When we researched this we found that they had purchased the pen kits over two years ago and they were putting the old ink into the pens and selling them.  If I have a pen that has not sold in a while, I always put a fresh refill into the pen.  In a pinch, if I am out of town at a show, I will go to Office Max, Staples or any other stationary store and get some fresh refills to put into my pens.  This is the least expense part of the pen but if it does not write properly it will cost you  a sale!
Good selling – Barry

Watch Out For Fraud!

scam-alertA lot of my customers make money from their pens either full or part time. Sometimes we see a large order come in, and get so excited about it. But please look much closer before you start to fill the order.

I have had four of these types of proposals (two from Germany, one each from Finland & Spain) the last few days, so I thought I would pass this along to you as a public service announcement.
The latest scam is for a “buyer” from “overseas” to place a large order by credit card (which is stolen) for your pens or your supplies, and then ask you to use their shipper! This is the red flag!  They will tell you to include the shipping in with the order, and usually tell you that his shipper will avoid all the “customs hassles” etc. That is why he uses their shipper,  to avoid all the trouble and waiting time for UPS or USPS, and that is why it costs so much more.
The buyer will also tell you that his shipper will only accept Western Union as payment so you will have to go to the Western Union Office and wire the money for the shipping because you already got your money through the credit card (which is stolen).  This is a clever scam, because by the time you send the money to Western Union they have already closed the account and cashed the Western Union Check and you are left holding a bad credit card order.
So, the bottom line  for me is that I do not accept ANY foreign orders unless they pay with PayPal, and ship with UPS or USPS – No Exceptions!

Do any of you have your own tips for dealing with international orders?

Marketing Your Work?

wideangle-saleswoman2This is “Black Friday Weekend” and like a lot of you, my wife and I went shopping. The first store we went into we were “mugged” by a sales associate the second we crossed into their space by asking “can we help you” or “can I help you find something?” Our first instinct is to say “No, we are just looking!” Most people will agree that this is what we say, and hope the sales associate does not follow you around trying to point out different items.

Now take this micro look of our day and relate this experience to your booth or space at a show. How do you interact with your potential customers? Do you pounce on them like a cat, or give them some space to take in your work and ask questions?

Over the past 40 plus years of selling in many different venues, the common thread among all of them has been sincerity, honesty and the ability to have whatever the item was that was being sold relate to the individual who was purchasing your item. The best way to do this was not to “feature dump” on them. What I mean by a feature dump is telling them all the nice features about your product. The best way to sell them your product is having them relate to your product and you do that by telling them a “story” about it!

I have found that by just showing a nice looking pen to a potential customer they say “they are beautiful” but when I start to tell them about how it was made, where the wood came from, the process in making the pen, all the steps including showing them and letting them feel a 12,000 grit piece of sandpaper, gets them involved in the sale and then they are a part of that sale. Sure the pen has to be made well and look good, but I can tell you that over the years I have sold some very ugly pens that my wife has said would never sell, but yet they still do because of the way they were presented to the customer by involving them in the sale!

Just two weeks go at Paradise City Arts Festival I told a story of how I obtained some “Holy Land” Olivewood and the customer could not wait to tell another friend of hers the “story” of the pen! 20 minutes later her friend came back and bought another pen made from the “Holy Land” Olivewood because she was involved in the story! This technique works better than just telling the customer the pen is gold plated or made from wood. Get excited about your product them the story of how it was made, where the wood or acrylic came from. A buzz word that I use a lot is reclaimed wood or recycled material – you are being eco-friendly, and that is always good.

So, tell a story about your work don’t always just “feature” dump on them and expect your customer to buy it because you told them everything about it – get them involved in the process and watch your sales go up!

How have the craft shows been for you?

Let's Discuss!We just completed back to back shows at Paradise City Art Festival & Morristown Crafts Marketplace.  Both of these shows are upscale Art & Craft Shows with the booth fees in excess of $700. I was speaking with many of the artisans at these shows to see how they felt about sales & attendance. I did not get answers to any of my questions, instead it  just raised a few more.  From my experience at these shows, they have been trending down slightly for the shows that I have attended for several straight years.
Have you seen the same trend?

What is the definition of a  bad show for you?
If you have a bad show, and everyone’s definition of a bad show will differ, but mine is a reduction in sales from the previous show by more than 15%. That is what I consider to be a bad show.  I am not complaining, because some of the venders did not even make their booth fee and travel expenses back – now that is a really bad show!
No matter what the reason,  if you have a “bad” show then you have to really take a global look at some of the reasons and not simply say “the other venders did not do well so I am okay.”  This is like he old adage “misery loves company” I never want to have that attitude!  Honestly, I don’t care how the other venders did, I want to do better!  I take a look back at the show and try to evaluate what I  think went wrong. Do you do the same?

Did the promoters not get the crowds there? 
For example, the other night at our show there were only 790 people that came through the door! That simply is not enough people!
Were your prices too high?
I have seen some pen makers charge $200 for a Baron made with a very nice burl – but $200?  I sell them for around $100  depending on the material.  That is what my market will bear – is your market the same?

Did you have something different that no one else has?

Did you have some different items that would attract a crowd?
One such item that I sell a LOT of is the old style pepper grinders (PSI204) made with the color blocks – I sold 10 of them last weekend for $65 a piece!  Everyone that went by my booth loved them.

Are you seeing a trend for your sales going up or down?

Traffic is lower, but are they buying?

What do you think are the reasons? Economic, saturated market, too much competition?

I would love to hear some feedback from other turners who attend shows. What’s it been like in your area?

Use the comments section below to chime in. I’d love to discuss it with you so we can help each other do better!

Marketing Your Work – Part 1

By Barry Gross / Arizona Silhouette  ©2014

How do you get started in selling your pens?

Barry's personal Cast Resin Clock Parts pen

Barry’s personal Cast Resin Clock Parts pen

The first step is to carry your OWN pen! This may sound silly but I cannot tell you how many pen turners do not advertise their own work by showing off a pen they have made! How do you expect to sell something if you do not have an example of your craftsmanship? Whenever I sign anything or write anything down I always use a pen that I made. By me using my own pen, it will lead a person to ask about the pen I am using, and if they don’t ask, I make sure that I show it to them and tell them about it. Be proud of your creations – show your work to anyone and everyone, and make sure they know that you made that pen. Hand someone your business card – always have them available to hand out!

The internet and bookstores are loaded with books and articles on how to market and sell your creations. (This very brief introduction is by no means going to give you all the answers to success. Please consider subscribing to my blog. I will be posting more marketing articles and tips in the future)

Finding a market for your work…

I was a sales manager with over 30 years experience training sales representatives on how to “sell,” the first objective for any good sales representative is to listen. We have two ears and one mouth, so why do we talk twice as much as we listen?
Listen to what your customer is telling you.

Every market is different, what sells in New England may not sell well in Texas, and conversely, what sells in California may not sell in Minnesota! So, take a moment and conduct your own market research. Visit local galleries, attend craft fairs and join a local woodturning club for ideas on what may sell in a particular area.

EMT Star of Life Laser Inlay Pen

Getting Established –

A fast way to establish yourself is to offer your work for local fundraising. The local ambulance squad was having a fundraiser and I offered to split the proceeds of the sales of my pens as a donation to the ambulance squad. This accomplished three things. First, it was good to give to the ambulance squad. Second, it established my work in the area and exposed me to many people. And third, as a result, many other orders were taken for special pens to be delivered at a later time.

Part 2 will be published early next week. Please subscribe to my blog so that you don’t miss any future articles – click here to subscribe

Frustrated in Paradise!

It never ceases to amaze me!

An Artisan will  take the time to submit great photos of their work, prepare their items for sale, drive to the show and meticulously set up their booth.  The show opens, and what do they do?  They sit in a chair on the outside of their booth reading a book!  This drives me crazy!!  Potential customers walk into their booth and they do not greet them, they just keep reading  their book until they make the first move to ask YOU a question!  It sounds crazy, but I see this all the time – why just this past weekend at the Paradise City Arts Festival in  Northampton, MA I saw 3 vendors sitting on the outside of their booths reading a book.  I asked one vender why they don’t engage their customers and they said they don’t want to be too pushy – they would rather have the customer ask questions first!  If you do not engage your potential customers they will be just that – potentials and not sales!
And for heavens’ sake they need to put the cell phone away! They are probably thinking “Oh, I am just going to take a quick look”, and before they know it they are texting their  friend or family member and their potential customer just walked back out of their booth!

Please take a minute and to review these points – they may seem like common sense but I can assure you other vendors do not do all of them – don’t you be the lazy one!

  • When greeting your customer, stand up to greet them – don’t sit in a chair like you are too lazy to stand!
  • Greet your customer with some kind words, a smile – make eye contact with them!
  • Ask them if you can help them.  If they say no, then back off, but stay close to show them something else.
  • Show them how your product works – explain how you made it – the more you can get them interested, the better the chance for a sale.
  • Put the pen in their hand and have them write with it!
  • Have good writing paper on hand for them to try out their new pen.
  • If you have any fountain pens make sure you have some bottled ink to try the fountain pen (and make sure you have something to clean the nib afterwards in case they did not buy it)
  • Ask for the sale – would you prefer the refill to have blue or black ink?  You are allowed to ask for the sale – after all that is why you are there!
  • I also have gift boxes right there as they are checking out and I ask them if they need a gift box.

Finally be courteous at all times and they will have a pleasant buying experience and I tell them to recommend me to all their friends who want a “Fine Writing Instrument!
Happy Selling – Barry

See Us at the Mid-Atlantic Penturners Gathering 2014 (MAPG)

We’re heading down to Richmond, Virginia for the

Mid-Atlantic Penturners Gathering 2014

Friday, May 2, 2014  &  Saturday, May 3, 2014
We will have two FREE days of hands-on demonstrations, pen galleries, pen supply vendors, and networking with talented pen makers, turners, and hobby connoisseurs from International Association of Penturners.

The festivities start tonight at 7:15:
Show and Tell – introduce your pens and pen products (instant gallery)
Group Panel Discussion – “Marketing your Pens”

Barry Gross – “A Pen from Start to Finish”
Bruce Robbins & Brett Ransom – “Making and Anodizing an Aluminum Pen”
Eric Rasmussen – “Photographing a Pen”
Fred Wissen – “Clear Casting”
Keith Henning – “Polymer Clay Pens”
Rick Crook – “Celtic Knots”

Woodcraft of Richmond
9862 West Broad Street
Glen Allen, VA 23060

Marketing Your Pens

Pic-1This is the first in a series of ongoing articles to help you make the most of your pen turning business, or to help you get started making a little money with your hobby.  Click any photo to open a larger version.

It is SHOW SEASON, and time to start making pens and selling them. As an instructor and author of several turning books, one question I hear repeatedly is “How do you get started, and where is the best place to sell the pens that I have created?” My first response is why do you want to sell it? Is it to make money, satisfy an egotistical need to be a world renowned pen maker or is it because you have made so many pens that all your friends, family and neighbors have one and they are telling you “Why don’t you sell these?”

These next few paragraphs are by no means going to give you the silver bullet, step-by-step, key to success, however, I will try and offer some pointers on displaying and selling your work.

My first rule of marketing is to be proud of your creation!

Make sure you have one of your own pens in your pocket! Show your pens to everyone, and let everyone know you that you made that pen and people will always say “Really – you made that?” I can not tell you how many pens I have sold by just letting people know that the pen they are holding (which I conveniently placed in their hand) was created by me. Just recently (last week) a salesman from a re-bath company came to my house to sell my wife and me a new bathroom. When he left, he had an abalone shell pen in his pocket that he purchased for his wife for $150.00. He would have not known that I made pens unless I told him. It is a very simple sales technique that you can do too.

My second rule of marketing is to figure out WHO will buy your pens and more importantly, for the price you want to charge them. Herein lies the dilemma, where do you start? Think of what you are making, are you making high end fountain pens with gold nibs that sell for $300 or are you making a slimline pens selling for $25? There is nothing worse than making a lot of high end product and trying to sell them at a local firehouse, or church craft sale.

First, do your homework; no one said this was going to be easy.
In order for you to be successful, you will have to know your market. Attend a few craft shows and see what the average item costs. Are there vendors selling their products for hundreds of dollars? If so, are they selling them, or are they just sitting there looking great, but no one is buying them? Will you be the only vendor there selling pens? If not, go snoop around their booth and see what the response is to their work and what prices they are charging.

After you have done your homework, and found the right venue for your work, how will it be displayed? Will you need a pop up tent for your work? (Pic-1) Most shows require you have a 10′ x 10′ tent that has sides (if raining) and any tables must be draped. This is part of your start-up costs, and something you will use at every sale.
Pic-2How will you display your work? Will you just put it in a case and open it on the table? (Pic-2)

This is not the best way to display your work.

Click the photo to open a larger version.

Pic-3I prefer to put them on some sort of risers as shown (Pic-3). Also note that each pen is in a box, perfect for gift giving and each pen has a “romance card”, or description of what the pen is made from.

Click the photo to open a larger version.

Pic-4For my more expensive pens, I put them under a glass case. (Pic-4) This does two things: first, it tells your customers right away that these are the “better, more expensive pens” and secondly, it draws them in closer so you can then hand them a pen of your choosing, and now they have your pen in their hand already. They can feel the quality, and you tell them all about the pen, how it was made, what material you used and any other pertinent information drawing them into the conversation and making them take ownership of the pen!

Click the photo to open a larger version.

Then have them write with the pen – make sure that you have a good quality paper for them to try your pen. I usually upgrade the refill to a Parker ink gel and that way the pen writes really smooth. Once they have written with your pen and like it, ask them if they would like that in a gift box? This is your “upsell” to get a little more profit from a new customer. Be sure you have a selection of pen pouches, boxes or cases that can fit the buyer’s price range.

And just like that you sold your pen – nice sale!

Happy Turning!