Yamaguchi Art and Craft Fair

I learned an important lesson this last weekend.

There are a couple of things that immediately raise my antennas. Japanese people that say something roughly the same as ‘Is that so’. I have found the real meaning can be a number of things. I don’t understand a thing you are saying or I am busy, bored, distracted and want the conversation to end.

Another thing that gets my attention is  people who are extremely polite in their initial greetings. That happened this weekend when I arrived at the Yamaguchi Art and Craft Fair to set up my booth. The guy setting up the booth on my immediate left was very polite, making sure not to set any bad vibrations in motion.  He then proceeded, from the opening bell straight through to beyond the closing bell two days later, to sell nonstop. A true professional. Customer after customer patiently lined up, in the rain on the second day, to buy, to bring their friends to buy like they did  last year, to get a tune up on their purchase from last year, etc. Around this man we all sat. This is not to say I didn’t sell or that the folks around him didn’t sell. After the fiasco at Nagahama selling even one thing was nice. No, what I want to say is this man was the consummate professional. He sold something people wanted. He personalized it with engraving their name for free. He talked to the children. Asked them which wooden whistle they liked. Checked the size of their hands. Assumed, correctly it would appear, they will come back next year to purchase a whistle the next size up as they grow. Taught the 2 year old children how to make a shrill sound with their starter whistle. Patiently answered the parents questions. The parents were happy to spend money at his booth. After the final bell sounded marking the end of the art fair played his magical tune two more times to make enough to cover the cost of his hotel for one more night as the sound  around him was of frantic packing in order to get home by everyone else.

Now it might be easy  to sound like sour grapes??. He was only selling whistles, I sell Objet d’ art, etc, ad nauseam. From my perspective it was much more. This man had cracked the code. He has been making whistles from branches for 10 years. This is how he supports his family and himself. He doesn’t sleep in his car like some of the craft folks. He doesn’t take 21 hours spaced out over three days to drive from Tokyo and then complain about the people who have come to see what is on display or predict the rain will keep sales down. He gets a hotel room so he will be able to play his song that attracted so many people to his booth. He only sells whistles. Three or four sizes. His prices range from 1,000 yen for the smallest one to 2,800 yen for the largest, it being just about the right size for a fifth grade elementary school student on up to adult. I contrast him with an instrument seller just down the lane, about 30 feet away. If you went into that much more elaborate booth there were whistles amongst the drums and thirty other different types of things. Mr. Whistle’s booth? Whistles. Played beautifully.

I take from this man a lot. My goal in going to these fairs is mainly to get exposure to the gallery owners that come through. At Yamaguchi I met a woman that runs a gallery in Shunan city. So for me mission accomplished it would seem. It wasn’t until I was half way done with packing that I realized what I had just seen. Me, with one foot out the door, the other only half present.

Maybe I am susceptible to these kinds of musings. I believe if one takes whatever it is that they do and push it till it becomes an art form one can excel. There are different definitions of what to excel is. The one I like to avoid is the one that looks at those that do it differently than I as somehow sold out. I will have to look at what I bring to these craft shows. Both in my mind and in my boxes. It is a challenge to make something that I want to make that is something someone will want to buy. Maybe that isn’t the challenge. Maybe the challenge is to give service at the level, for a reasonable price, people want. Maybe it is to break through the things I find easier to make excuses for, such as not always wanting to talk to those that come to look at my work.


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2 Responses to “Yamaguchi Art and Craft Fair”

  1. Hamanako Art and Craft Fair 2009 « Togeii’s Weblog Says:

    […] wrote about a whistle maker here and how he has figured out some golden truth about fairs. He was at Hamanako doing his thing so I […]

  2. Arts and craft fair marketing, or, what’s with the whistle man. « Togeii's Weblog Says:

    […] and craft fair marketing, or, what’s with the whistle man. By togeii I wrote about him before. I learned more this weekend. Not enough to teach, but enough to keep me occupied for a […]

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