Adventures in Marketing

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Hanging out down on Jellybean Row

Write what you know, they say.

And for the last week, pretty much all I've known is my Jellybean Row business. I spent several days preparing for the Home Show at Mile One, then staffed the booth for three days straight.

And during that time, I've seen or heard precious little news. It's as if I disappeared into a tunnel for 72 hours. So indulge me, for the first time since March of 2007, whilst I write about a project of my own, and something not directly media-related.

Jellybean Row is a series of original images of our downtown heritage houses, rendered with sharp detail and bright colours, then printed and plaque mounted. You choose favorite houses from a series of 10, then hang them in your own combination. The houses are available in two sizes cute small and eye-popping large and have also been issued in a Christmas series.

I had some involvement in marketing campaigns when I worked in the agency world, and have extensive experience in marketing public relations. But there's nothing like launching a product of your own to make it clear how much you don't know about the business.

But I've muddled my way along, any missteps compensated for by the popularity of the product itself. I have learned that the Internet is a tremendously effective means to promote a product, but it takes an extra push to persuade people to click the add to cart' and proceed to checkout' buttons.

I have also learned that the product is see and sell'. It was a tremendous success at last year's Christmas at the Glacier event, where people could see it up close and hold it in their hands, while I explained how it worked. For this reason, I produced a brief video recently which is now viewable on the site (thanks to video shooter and editor Dave Hebbard and model Candice Udle).

My most important learning' has been the importance of trade shows, which is why I signed up this year for the Home Show. It has an estimated attendance of 30,000 people, and it felt like that many and more strolled past my booth.

After some time, I noticed patterns of behavior and eventually divided the guests into three categories.

There were those who glanced at the wares I had on display, showed no obvious interest and kept on walking. Which is fine no product can please everybody.

There were those who stopped, frowned and tried to figure out what they were looking at. This was not unexpected, since there was a lot of visual information to process at once. In such cases, I approached them and offered a quick explanation of how the product worked. About 70 per cent of these people loved it, once it came into focus for them.

Then there were those who stood transfixed, faces breaking into a jeezly big smile. These were the people who got it immediately. It was their enthusiasm that energized me during those long hours (30 in all) at that booth.

Of course, I knew a lot of the people who drifted by. At times, it was like a reunion. I reconnected with dozens of school classmates, old friends and business associates.

Then there were the people who thought they knew me, asked how I was and apologized for forgetting my name. Some were embarrassed, upon realizing that they didn't know me at all, but had recognized me from the handsome little mug shot on this page. I was only too happy to chat with them anyway.

Just as many people did know who I was, and approached me because they wanted to express their interest in the subject of local media. That was fun as well.

And, no, I didn't buy any vacuum cleaners during the show.

One elderly lady inspected the Jellybean Row pieces closely, then, with great emphasis on every word, made the following pronouncement:

"I have my own opinions about art. I like paintings that I can relate to, that remind me of where I come from. I am from around the bay, so I don't like these at all."

I was speechless for a moment, then smiled and thanked her for the feedback. Hey, at least she was honest.

Then there was the woman who wandered into my booth, clutching a baby who was red-faced and crying inconsolably. She looked a little exasperated, so I pointed to the chair at the side of the booth and invited her to sit down for a spell. She did, then discreetly opened her top and began breastfeeding. This didn't bother me at all. To those people who take issue with breastfeeding in public, I say: Build a bridge and get over it.

The most oft-asked question was Are you the artist?' or Who is the artist?' There are two actually Allison Earle and Lisa McKay (you can meet them on the web site). Some handyman types wanted to know who built the stand-up display that was my brother, Steve Meeker, who does excellent work. And maybe a dozen people expressed interest in the large, plastic storage bin that contained my inventory yes, the wheels are a great idea but it's not for sale! You can buy it at Kent.

A small group visited the booth, including a fellow with Down syndrome. His face split into a wide grin when he picked up the yellow house. I was touched by his reaction.

He asked how much it cost and when I told him, his caregiver said, 'Oh, he doesn't have that.' And they wandered off. But I knew he was disappointed and wanted him to own the piece. I went after them and quietly asked the caregiver what the fellow could afford I was willing to let it go for just a few bucks. He said, no, he didn't have that either, thanked me for the gesture and assured me that the man was fine.

Then they were gone. And I didn't feel right about it. At that point, I would have given it to him as a gift, and wanted to seek him out in the crowd to do so. However, I couldn't leave the booth unattended, and didn't want to intrude on what might have been a life skills lesson on the value of money.

So if his caregiver reads this, the offer stands. If it's okay with you, just send me a note and I will deliver that Cochrane Yellow at no charge. And no, it won't be a 'photo op'.

I'd just like to see that look on his face again.

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  • Mike
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Your column brings back memories of my having worked trade shows at different places around the world. I can support your comments about the types of people who pass the booth. Right on I say.

    The lady from around the Bay may just have done you a big favour. Expand your product line to include scenes we Bayment would have an interest in. Heaven knows there are enough of us in town.

    Nice touch adding the story of the child with the Down Syndrome. I know you didn't do it for any ulterior motive. By doing so you highlite what many business face on a daily basis. Extending goodwill to the worthy or the needy. Not always an easy decision to make. Great piece Geoff.