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 A friend of mine sent the following dialog to me between her and a customer at the ACC show this year.  I thought she handled him very well and that this would be a good post for all of the subscribers to the Art Fair Insiders blog.
  "  I had one guy come in last year and wanted to know if he order in multiples, would I discount my prices.  I explained that they were wholesale prices and no I wouldn’t discount them any more.  He said he has 11 galleries, blah, blah, blah.  So he gave me a $500.00 order and wanted net 30.  I talked to the people on his reference sheet and gave him the net 30.  Then he paid with a cc.  Did not hear anything from him all year.  I had 2 other stores in my booth trying to place an order when he came in with his groupies.  He stood there explaining to one of them how he did not put my stuff in a prominent location in his store because I would not discount it and he thinks there is one piece left.  I handed him a new brochure and said ‘Hi, Robert’...then he started.  ‘All the artists that I buy from give me a discount, at least 20%’, I said ‘If you place a big enough order, I’d include a couple of extra pieces, but these are my wholesale prices’.  Then he said ‘I don’t want to intimidate you, but I traveled to China this year and eliminated the middle man on things that I buy’, took the calculator from my daughter who was trying to write an order, and started punching in numbers telling me how much money he was saving.  I said ‘Gee, Robert, I can’t compete with Chinese prices, I make all of this myself and I don’t have Children slaves working for me’.  He started telling me how he was happy to help those parents send their children to college and I said ‘Excuse me while I take care of my customers’........cheesh what a jerk." 

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Comment by bridget donahue on March 3, 2012 at 11:20pm

Too bad, I agree what a jerk. He didn't deserve to have her work.

I would have added one more thing; Really "Bobbie" if you are buying all of your merchandise in China then I don't think that your "retail store" is a real good fit for the caliber of my work, you obviously can't afford it anyway.

I bet that he sent what he did buy from her to china to be knock-off

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on March 4, 2012 at 11:30am

I wouldn't want my hard work displayed next to Chinese junk.  That man was trying to intimidate your friend and bully her into giving him the deal that he wanted.  I would rather give that deal to repeat customers.  I wouldn't do business with that guy.

Comment by Nancy Patek on March 4, 2012 at 12:16pm

I know it probably felt really good to tell that guy off. Everyone encounters several Roberts during their career. However "Taking the calculator out of her/his  daughter's hands while she was trying to write a sale", says so much about how badly this incident wad handled that I feel I have to put my two cents in here. First and foremost, discussions like this are the kind one handles in private. If your booth is empty, it is one thing to have a contentious discussion with a customer, but this is the type of thing that never, never, should be handled in the presence of another customer. It is not only unprofessional, but it sends that other customer away with a bad taste in their mouth. Second, "Taking the calculator out of the daughter's hand while she was trying to write a sale, was probably a great piece of showmanship, but frankly, all you did was slow down what was probably a busy shopping day for the customer who was actually trying to conduct business with you. We have both organized retail shows and sold retail and wholesale. The basic points you have are all valid. I am sure Robert is used to the breed of wholesale shows where, in an attempt to fill the show with reasonable quality exhibitors, the promoters comes right out and tells the potential vendor to discount by 10 or 20 % at the show. Of course these prople have room to take an additional 20 or 30%. When we sell wholesale  we cut our actual retail pricing by 50%, and run into the very same problem that you did with Robert. We have successfully sold these items at our retail price for years. We wholesale at a 50% discount. This allows the vendor to match our retail and sell the items at a comparable price to ours. As far as his bragging about going to China, the correct response would be to tell him if he has made the decision  to change to Chinese imports, he is shopping in the wrong booth at this show. His customer now has become accustomed to both the quality and pricing that comes with purchasing imported items. Placing them side by side with quality handcrafed product from the US, will  cheapen the preceived value of the handcrafted item, and lower what the customer will be willing to spend in the store as a whole.  I would guess that Robert carefully picks the "made in china" stickers off of the back of the imorted pieces, thereby confusing the issue with the customer. Why is this piece 85.00, while this one is 15.00? Oh wait, I know, he'll just charge 85.00 for the imports too, and have all of that mark-up money to pay for his next trip to china.

        By the way, when you are talking to a Robert, remember this interaction we had with a major reproducer/ importer of artwork of American design and outsourced to China. They were in the process of having to find a new factory to make one of their top sellers. They had received notice that they would  no longer be producing their product, because their order of 21,000 pieces was too small. Think Robert is ordering 21,000 pieces, or just trying to piss you off?

Comment by courtney gillen on March 4, 2012 at 12:21pm

This story is awful. This buyer was trying to intimidate the artist into a lower price. A $500 order for someone with "eleven galleries" is a pittance.  His behavior was awful and I would not want my work with some one who admits to going to China to eliminate the middle man -- US. I have been wholesaling for over 15 years,  the point of coming to BMAC or ACC is to have a unique product that is American made.  I have gotten emails from companies in China to not only manufacture my work but they have even offered to design it for me too.  If this man is having work knocked off in China there is also nothing stopping the Chinese company from selling these wares in the thousands to big box stores.

 The BMAC  ( I dont know about ACC ) works hard to keep these people out of the show, If this buyer were reported I am willing to bet he would not be allowed back at the Buyers Market.  It would be great to hear this story first hand and have the the man identified so we as artists could be on guard. If we dont do business with people like this then they cant take advantage of us.


Comment by bridget donahue on March 4, 2012 at 9:30pm

Bingo Courtney! You are absolutely right.

I was a buyer for a major retail store in  Mpls. MN before getting a buyout and returning to clay in the 80's ( I no, I'm dating myself). But, that is exactly what is going on. We would routinely send our top selling, high end designer ware to China to be knocked off for next years mid price ware.

Plain and simple why pay for R&D if you don't have to. Don't get me wrong. I think stealing ideas is stealing, that is one of the reasons I took the money and ran. But it is a whole new world out there and I don't think some people deserve back room respect.

I thought I should share this: 

I do a participatory demonstration at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. The short story is we make all of our own unglazed pots for people to glaze, and then we raku fire them and the customer can take them home in an hour. We sell our own work too.

Last year, 4 Chinese  people came into my booth. I have signs  with the symbol for no photography, very visible. One of the women had her cell phone hanging on her wrist taking images of our work as she walk through the booth.

They were clearly looking at the work not to buy it, but how it was made. I approached them to see if I could help. Only one person spoke English with many questions about the work. Finely they asked where I got this, who was my manufacture/supplier? I said we make it all by hand. They left.

There are many companies that import slip cast from China in the Charlotte area. I can only guess that they were there on business.

I'm Sorry I disagree with Nancy, The way I read it, Robert took the calculator out of the daughter's hand. And in this new economy as long as it doesn't turn really ugly, a little education is a good thing.

I think true patrons of the arts would have recognize "Bob" for what he was. And "Bob" did not deserve the respect of a discussion in the back room.

A simple "our prices are not negotiable, please leave". Not easy to say in the heat of the moment. I still wish I would have ask them to delete the images and leave. If it ever happens again I will, and I won't care who hears me.     

Comment by Judy Goodwin on March 5, 2012 at 12:53pm


  This situation happened at the ACC show.  I don't think he'd have the guts to show up at the BMAC show!  

Comment by Bill Coleman Entertainment on March 5, 2012 at 6:48pm

A few decades back, I was at a flea market where a persistent bargain hunter repeatedly demanded half off the stated price for an item. (glass as I recall).   After repeatedly stating the fixed price, the seller finally "relented", put the item in a paper sack, and broke it in half, stating that NOW it was worth the demanded price!

Comment by Ann Marie Crosmun on March 7, 2012 at 9:06am

I had a woman come into my booth, saying that she was a gallery owner, and she wanted to buy a necklace at half price---nothing else, just the one necklace. She got very belligerent about the price. I told her that this was the best price for that piece. She came in two more times, and I gave her the same price. The next time she came in (by that time I had had it with her attitude), I increased the price--told her that that was the best price for her (even tho the ticketed price was less). She stormed off. Then her husband came in, he bought the necklace at my price. The lesson learned here, never discount on a single piece, because once you do, they will always expect it (and they will tell their friends to haggle with you).

I have also made the mistake of not checking to see if a person is really a gallery owner. Years ago, I took a woman at her word when she said that she owned a gallery. She bought several dozen pairs of a certain earring (at wholesale cost). After the sale, I researched 'her gallery', and discovered that she was buying those earrings as gifts for her girlfriends-she did not own a gallery, nor was opening one. My loss. But, now I wait until I get home, research the client, then proceed.

Sometimes, I hate all of these life lessons that we have to learn ;-)  

Just don't tell me, what doesn't make the mortgage payment, will, at least, make us stronger...... 

Comment by Connie Mettler on March 7, 2012 at 10:35am

This is a great discussion. Many thanks to Judy Goodwin for starting it and also to everyone else, with all their expertise, who commented: Nancy, Courtney, Ann Marie, Bill Coleman and Bridget. All your experience is so helpful to the rest of us. I am so impressed with the quality of this interaction.

Comment by courtney gillen on March 7, 2012 at 3:08pm

 Wow this is great.

    Yes this happened at ACC, Judy maybe you should pass all this along to the person this actually happened to.  I personally recommend to that artist to consider doing BMAC, if they arent already.  Wendy Rosen is running for congress and has already been a strong lobbyist for American handmade. Is the American Craft Council doing that? From what I have seen in the past few years they are highlighting work from other countries. How does that help me?


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