by Kate Schwab.
It happens, invariably, at least once a day, every day I attend a show.
Some parent has left a young child unattended in a public place, and we, the vendors, it seems, are expected to play babysitters. Thoughtfully, said parents have usually ensured that their free-roaming youngsters have no spending money, either, certainly not more than a dime or two, so we find ourselves bracing for a onslaught of hot, tired, bored children scampering around our booths, grabbing trinkets in their sticky fingers and singing the same old chorus: “What do you have for free?”
I Hate That Question, But I Love Children
I keep lots of kid-friendly things and offer tons of kid-oriented activities in my booths. We have a grand old time with the kids we call customers. But I absolutely hate this question, and this phrasing in particular. First, it’s not a polite request. “May I have this, please?” is a polite request. I can work with that. “What do you have for free?” assumes a position of entitlement, like it’s supposed to be my job to provide something for nothing, just because you want it.
Second, well, again, it’s just plain rude, like the child has decided that the manners one adopts in other public spaces suddenly do not apply. Do grocers and convenience store clerks and restaurateurs have to deal with this attitude? No, of course not, the family goes in with the expectation of paying for services rendered. But stick a bunch of artists in a barn or on a lawn and oh no. Different story. These people you don’t have to pay, and you can harass them all day, grab their things and make as big a mess as you like. Or so far too many parents have begun permitting their children to think.
The True Cost
Nine times out of ten, when you attend a fair or craft show or other major community event, every one of those vendors you see has paid an entry fee to be there. We have our materials and inventory. Advertising and photography costs. Packaging. Fuel. Meals. If we want ten minutes to grab a snack or use the restroom, you can probably add a long-suffering relative who also needs to be fed, or a young paid assistant.
Many of us have probably worked late the last several evenings to prepare, gotten up before the roosters to get set up, driven hours out of our way, even taken time off from a day job. So when you dump your children on us without at least doing them, and us, the courtesy of feeding them lunch and instilling some basic manners first, it’s a huge distraction that gets in the way of our trying to assist paying customers. To be perfectly honest, it’s one we don’t need.
Avoid the Entitlement Trap
There is no working with an entitlement attitude, because it is never satisfied. Try it. If you provide free candy or pencils or stickers or bookmarks or water or anything else, the entitled response is not “thank you”; it’s “I don’t like this color/kind/design. What else do you have?” And once you start to feed that nasty attitude, it grows. If a neighboring vendor falls into this trap, it makes it that much worse for the rest of us.
I have found two methods that seem to work for me. One is to have one, and only one, free item, usually candies like my signature butter mints. I reserve the free things as a little surprise gift for paying customers. The other option is to ensure that I have nothing “free” in my booth, except for promotional literature, but a variety of items priced at or below fifty cents.
In that case, I can respond to demands for “free” by saying something like, “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for free, but I can give you this for ten cents.” Then it’s up to the child to decide whether or not to make that investment, or try his luck elsewhere.
Now vendors, I’m not saying you shouldn’t give things away to promote your business, or ever allow an unattended child into your booth. Not at all.
And entitlement behavior certainly is not limited to children who need to be taught better. But it’s worth considering how much grief you really want to take, because I can guarantee that the people who belittle your offerings and harass you for free stuff are not going to be your paying customers, no matter how nice you may be to them.
How do you deal with bad attitudes and demands for freebies?
The Desiderio Gallery