Rude “Customers” Who Man-Handle Your Items

by April K.
(San Diego, California USA)

larimarIt is really important to me to ALWAYS be nothing but positive and enthusiastic in my booth at art shows… but I’m noticing an alarming trend – and wanted to know if anyone else out there has a good coping strategy they could share…

I just got done with a large show. I always attend shows with my husband, who is actively involved in selling our fine jewelry line (18K, 14K, sterling).

While I create all the items we sell, I focus on the beaded fashion jewelry – so we work a corner booth and each of us take a side.

I stepped away from the booth to get something to eat, and when I got back my sweet husband was steaming. Apparently, over on the beaded side of the booth, where things are in trays and on forms, rather than kept behind glass, a 20-something customer was picking up items and literally tossing them back down in a heap – so hard he was worried some of the glass beads would break.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened, even at high-end art shows. I’ve had “Customers” who yap on their cell phone, grab items off of T-Bars, forms or trays, and literally toss them down again. And it’s not just the young ones – grandmas do it to.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of customers are wonderful, and I just “put up” with the rest. But my husband was ready to tell this person to leave. None of the people who act this way have ever bought anything, and even if they did, they’re not the kind of people I want around my great customers – they ruin the buying experience.

So… I need advice. Any input on how you handle, or would handle, this situation would be appreciated. And an extra special shout-out thanks to Rena for providing such a great site!

April K


Ok, here’s the thing…
by: Cyndi L

…those of us who were brought up with “the customer is always right” as our mantra have to realize that it’s completely true. And then we have to realize that people like that are NOT our customer. If you can’t stand right on top of them and make it clear that the rough treatment is inappropriate, you’re well within your rights to ask them to leave. If they make a scene? Oh well.

rough customers
by: szarka

I have had the opportunity to ask many customers to be gentle over the years of doing shows. I lay my hand on top of the item they are rough with and with a big smile tell them its breakable and I can’t sell it if it is broken. Then I move my hand and turn away from them. That gives them an opportunity fo save face and does not allow a confrontation to ensue. Most often than not they then make a purchase.

Try to do it quick and matter of fact before you get worked up about it or they will sense your level of uncomfortableness and notice your smile as disingenuine.

Being direct and matter of fact
by: Anonymous

… with a smile on your face. Nothing drives home the point like the ‘you break it, you buy it’ notice. Just say it with a smile and direct eye contact so that they know you mean it. I have never had an adult handle things roughly, but there was this one woman who came through with her young son. While she was shopping, he was dropping … so I smiled and sang the mantra. His mom started paying attention immedialty when she realized that it might result in a forced purchase. 🙂

rough with your product
by: Anonymous

I have noticed a lot of folks are this way at seasonal jewellery sales.
I recently went through this with one customer who was doing just that. Picking up and dropping.
So I put my hands out and said ‘here give me the pieces and I’ll put them back for you so the display doesn’t get moved around. I would have for them to get broken. Several others there watched as this happened and I noticed immediately that folks were very gently putting things back the way there were.
I was neat to see but I was still miffed at this one woman. But the situation diffused itself in no time. I was quite surprised and had to make a call back to my husband about it.

Man-handling Merchandise
by: Anonymous

I fire glass and make jewelry, as well as other types of craft items. I, like other artists out there put a part of my soul into each thing I make. I had a woman start to rifle through a basket of earrings that I had made and then she started picking up other breakable items. I asked her if she needed assistance, and she acted as if she didn’t unerstand, and continued to man-handle my merchandise. I asked her to be more careful, and was ignored once again. Then she picked up a wooden box that I had made and broke it! I pointed to a sign that I had posted on the table that read “You break it- you buy it”. She started to walk away when I told her, “That will be $25 please”. I repeated the you break it you just bought it and was ignored. I followed her, warning other vendors NOT to let her handle anything, that she had just broken an item and was refusing to pay for it. I told security, and they did nothing! I know also, about shoppers with small children that like to see everything with their hands…I now post a sign in my booth which reads, “Parents who can’t control thier children will be spanked…and pay for damages-Management” Have had zero problems, and my sales happenned to be the best in a very long time!

Rude ‘customers??’
by: Anonymous

At a show, a young boy kept pulling jewelry to the edge of table. Of course, I was concerned that it would hit the floor and be broken. So as kindly as I could, I said, “oh, be careful, sweetheart. That will break if it falls on the floor”. The father announced that was why HE was there and the mother called me the “B-word”. Enough said.

Manhandled jewelry
by: Lara

Been there, done that. Put up a sign reading, “Unattended children will be rounded up and used as Christmas stocking stuffers.” Clever is good. What’s not so good is when the people showing up at your booth are just there to read the sign and giggle insanely, after other people told them to go check it out.

Kids and Dogs
by: Anonymous

I try to be polite when I have man handlers in my booth. However, one thing that I will not tolerate is small children who cannot behave appropriately. I have asked the parents to take their children outside of the booth when I see that they may be unable to stop touching everything. I don’t mind if I “lose” a customer here and there, especially if it saves me from a broken piece.

Another issue is people who bring their dogs into booths. One couple had a great dane who slobbered all over my tables.

What happened to common sense?

Every situation is different……
by: glassgoddess

My work is colorful and finely detailed so I do invite adults to pick up and get a closer look. Psychologically, people are more likely to buy something once it is is their hand.

It’s very common to see little ones takes fingers out of their mouths or even their nose and pick up jewelry! Yuck! So I use a line I have heard some moms use: “Sweetheart, I’m going to ask you to look with your eyes and not your hands.” I have even looked parents in the eye and sweetly said: I hope you don’t mind me reinforcing what I know you’re trying to teach them. It takes a lot of repetition to remind them, but in the end it’s always worth it.” Most parents are fine and even thank me. Some, however, are dense and think their kids should grab anything they can reach. Is it a generational issue? I don’t know, but I do know that this parent is NOT ever a customer, so if I’m polite, I don’t care if they like it or not.

If an adult is manhandling something, I will give them my attention, and say “let me tell you about that special piece…..” it stops them in their tracks. I never have things in baskets, it’s what sellers and stores do to get rid of things, and devalues what is in there. A basket almost tells the customer to rifle through. I display on trays or velvet covered boards, which, in itself, gives a feeling a “preciousness” Cheap foamboard from the dollar store covered with rich fabric sets the tone. I also use gold picture frames covering the cardboard inset with velvet. These don’t blow away!

For the extremely rude, we need to firmly and politely protect our work. We have a right to, since it is our property. I might say “you’re probably used to seeing cheap imported jewelry in stores, but this jewelry is hand made and original in design, all made by me. They are well made, but like fine china, need to be handled lovingly. You wouldn’t want to buy a piece you’ve scratched or chipped.”

Truly rude disrespectful people are not customers, and by politely asserting ourselves we will be less irritated. Controlling our emotions is important, if you want great sales. We need to get ’em out and enjoy the lovely people who are real customers and deserve our love!

children who manhandle
by: cara

Recently i had a child pick up a necklace, swing it around, drop it, and need I say more, it smashed on the floor. The mom walked away without offering to pay. When a child is grabbing at the jewelry I ususally try to distract them by asking their favorite color or favorite piece. I then pick it up and allow them to touch it gently while I hold it. Unfortunately this does not always work. Last week I had a child make a grab for the jewely and as I hurried over to gently stop him, the mom walked away with her friend mumbling that she guessed I had no grandchildren. People do not discipline their kids, and the kids are always right. That’s the way it is in our society.

For Kids Who Are “Man-Handlers” . . .
by: Rena

I always keep some sort of kid-friendly busy activity at my booth. Usually I have my two most successful ways of keeping kids happily occupied and out of my jewelry:

1) A treasure chest full of tumbled stones.

2) A trayful of “magic” magnetic hematite beads.

Kids love both of these things, and can spend long periods of time playing with them.

I found it’s much easier for me to have a busy activity that kids flock to than to have to deal with neglectful parents and undisciplined children.

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  • Roz Asquith says:

    I have a few “prop” items on my tables (an old CSA monoscope; opera glasses; old camera. I find the kids have more fun looking through these than playing with your jewellery. It also keeps kids out of mums hair for a few minutes to allow her to look at product in peace! I always offer to put things back for customers, so I know where they go and can keep a mental inventory if something is missing.

  • Rose Barden says:

    I find that children who pick up others items are a reflection of the parents, because monkey see, monkey do. I would place all of my items in glass cases, so that customers, if they are going to purchase will have to ask to see and item. Also there are people who come to those events, that are placed there to do just that (Sabotage your tables) and give others the impression that your items are not that good.

  • Linda Harrison says:

    I worked in retail for many years working for a corporation and “The customer is always right” is what we lived by. I think that saying really no longer applies when it comes to rude customers. I now work for myself selling my jewelry and although I still want to make that customer happy I no longer have to put up with rudeness. I don’t so much have adults manhandleing my jewelry as I do kids but what bothers me is that when I say to the child “sweetheart don’t play with that as I’m sure your mommy doesn’t want to pay for it if you break it” and the mother says nothing. Then if it continues I say to the mother “excuse me but I asked your child not to play with the jewelry. Could you please enforce that”, some have no problem. Others just huff and puff and leave. That’s ok, they were not a customer anyway. I am always polite but I work too hard making my jewelry for someone to manhandle it and break it. Good luck to all, this is a touchy subject.

  • zoraida says:

    I think Rena’s idea is perfect! I rarely do shows anymore and my jewelry is almost unbreakable, but I try to keep some inexpensive items around for kids to handle. Simple, super cheap things I could give away if necessary work well. These could be rocks, bookmarks, even colorful rubber bracelets. Kids love getting something and sometimes the parents actually understand the tactic and are grateful – sometimes. In any case, I would feel fine just removing any items from their reach if I had to till they leave.

  • One thing that has helped is to use bed risers to lift the tables high enough that little fingers can not reach the jewelry.

  • Michelle says:

    I have also used the phrase to children: “Look with your eyes and not your hands.” It has worked well. Having bed risers seems to help with the real little ones who want to look at pieces by putting them in their mouth. I did have one customer who was very gentle and very precise when he looked at every single piece I had out on one side. I realize, I think, that he had OCD and he just could not help touching each piece. As I said, he actually straightened out some of my pieces and they looked better than before he “looked”. Just another point of view.

  • Dita says:

    I think we have all experienced it who have done craft shows. Once a bunch of teen agers came with chocolate ice cream cone on their hands, dripping them on my white table cloth.

    Now i think I use all those tricks mentioned in the various comments here- raise the table high, keep kid friendly cheap buttons and beads, and come close to the customers who are man handling giving them extra attention. People actually like you to be a little far away( in my experience)

    For the ice cream dripping crowd I hand them some wet ones with “Do you need to clean up?” That worked some times – but there are people beyond.

  • Like Dita, I’ve had problems with my displays. I handmade matching slipcovers for all of my tables and have had red wine and coffee slopped on them without any apology. I do carry a stain stick to all shows now.

  • Nancy Bailey says:

    We have had similar experiences at shows, but with mostly children. What we do now is bring a bag of tumbled stones and hand one out to the kids (free) and that has worked really well. It makes both the kids and the parents happy.

  • Nancy says:

    Children of all sizes like to handle items with “bling and shine.” I have a group of bracelets made with memory wire and inexpensive beads that have “bling and shine” and are a wonderful distraction for little hands and busy fingers.
    If the child/children are handling pieces of jewelry roughly I will tell then it is not a toy then offer to show them something they can handle. Memory wire bracelets are not easy to break so they can check them out and try them on. Most are interested in the memory wire and how it works and they can try on more than one bracelet if they want to. I keep a mirror handy so they can see how they look wearing the bracelet. This distraction works well for most ages up to about 10.

  • Kayjay says:

    I have had all the same issues mentioned. An older rockhound friend told me that the secret is not to give children a tumbled stone to play with but to ask them to pick one out and tell them that if they are good and not touch anything while their parents are looking, then they can have the stone. Seems to be working better than I thought and no rude responses.

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