Pictures from Senegal

Tuesday, June 21

Display Tactics

Back at Jazz Fest, because this story is so grand I split it into two…

I tried spend as little time as possible at our artisans unfathomably full booth in the middle of seller’s alley for more than one reason; it was incredibly hot, there was zero space, and I didn’t to become a selling crutch to Demba. Still attempting to get solid work done, I passed the mornings of Jazz Fest sitting at a local gallery, Galerie Arte, owned by a European woman selling high quality product. The product available was art from all over West Africa, and only the highest of quality… we were lucky to be there.

The Burkina Faso volunteer I mentioned before had chosen to extend in order to work with West African Trade Hub, an organization specializing in West African products (art and other) for trade throughout the region and, if possible, the world. Through her volunteer “job” at this organization and her connection at Peace Corps she was able to arrange a test run selling Peace Corps artisan product through the gallery. If it went well, we all hoped the owner would chose to sell product both in Saint Louis and the Dakar gallery full time- a huge step for our artisans!

PC Jewlery Display at the Gallery
We were given use of the courtyard, a table, and a few chairs to make a display. PC paraphernalia with Kennedy’s smiling visage was brought up from Dakar to promote our volunteering spirit. We used the wood and basket products to display jewelry, leather, and collaboration handbags. The goal was a simple, beautiful display designed to serve as both a selling point and an educational model for our Senegalese colleagues.

Mme Ly, Pouncing on PCVs
Later in the morning, we pulled the artisans from the booth a few at a time and to view and discuss the gallery. Whilst walking there, Demba and I talked about an overcrowded booth that made me uncomfortable. It would take time to search through the pile to find something I might be interested in buying. In the mean time, the seller would pounce. He or she would harass me about pricing, buying, and insignificant details such as whether the item fit or was relevant to my life. For me, the pressure of that warrants no more than the passing glance at the booth. But the point I chose to expand on was not the mannerisms of the seller (as Demba has already learned these lessons) but yet another impression the piles of product leave me with:

Wooden Bowls from Djouribel
Me: “I would never go into that booth; all that stuff piled high makes me think it’s cheap and comes from China. That’s not art. I’m discouraged from even going near it.”
The PC display, pared down!
Demba: “Yeah, but the Senegalese people love it. See all of them in that pile of shoes?”
Me: “What does this tell you?”
Demba: “The Senegalese people are very different from Americans and other tourists in how they like to shop.”
Me: “Yes, and who are your clients?”
Demba: “Non-Senegalese tourists… but there aren’t any here.”

We’d reached a sort of ah-hah moment, but also the pinnacle of our problem. My initial impression of the Jazz Festival was a popular tourist attraction to Europeans. From years past we had heard about the local artisans that line the streets, creating a fair-like atmosphere, selling their handicrafts. And that’s why we invested in a booth, spent months planning and producing stock, and dragged ourselves hours away from home to be there: the chance to sell our amazing goods to passing tourists. But sadly that just wasn’t the case.

A Small Bracelet
Instead, anyone with something to sell and the cash to pay for a stand was welcome to give it a go. As a result, the vast majority of “exhibitors” were those who’d bought mass quantities of goods just off the shipping containers in Dakar from other third world producing countries. And the people interested in that type of product were young school girls… so they constituted the vast majority of passersby to the Peace Corps artisan booth. That’s not our market; we were up a creek without a paddle. Unfortunately this left our artisans feeling justified in their decision to ignore our display tactic recommendations and march full speed ahead with the explosion method.

Baskets spilled out of the booth
and landed on the roof!
Demba and I arrived at the gallery, a bit crestfallen with regards to our expected sales, to start a conversation intended to reinforce the concept of simple display tactics. See? This is how a carved wooden table sits by itself allowing a customer to focus solely on that item, the carvings, and how great they are. Or that one has small wood pieces demonstrating color options and a catalog of products. Here there are only 4 scarves on a rack and all of them are different!

Our Burkina Faso volunteer then explained the mental game behind one-at-a-time: if there’s only one, I think it’s unique. If I’m on the fence about buying it I now have to consider that it is the only one available and I need to make a decision to buy it now as opposed to walking away, thinking about it, and coming back to the possibility that someone else has already purchased my treasure. Because it is unique and displayed simply yet beautifully I believe that it has an inherently higher value, and I am therefore will to pay more for it. Demba caught on.

Later, we walked the gallery together and discussed presentation, new product ideas, and what makes this or that piece higher in quality. The talk went really well. My hope is that although sales from the event we overestimated, the overall result was an enormous gain in display tactic knowledge, yet another form of Marketing!

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