Let’s face it, so many artists and craftspeople get it all wrong! They sit there and wonder why no one is beating a path to their door. I thought it was time to list a few essentials every trader should know. So if you are a newbie or want a refresher, these are 5 top tips for selling in art fairs.
Let’s get stuck right in.
(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)
Engage and be Approachable in Art Fairs and sell more
This should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I see sellers commit the sin of ignoring their own customers all the time. Anybody would think they didn’t want to be there!
You can’t sell effectively unless you are attentive, approachable, and engaging. Without exception.
People need to know that you are present and ready to step forward when they catch your eye. I prefer to stand, not sit, it keeps me more alert and able to instantly attend.
I keep one step back until the time is right. I don’t want to invade their space I want them to relax and feel comfortable. In other words, I’m not going to hover. No one wants to feel as if they are being observed, or heaven forbid, followed.
Sometimes I’ll browse my iPad, or I’ll busy myself, but I’m conscious of everything around me and I keep myself available at all times.
Too many sellers hideaway, if not literally then behind sunglasses or a book. They don’t smile, and they ignore their customers entirely.
There is nothing wrong with chatting to friends or other market traders as long as you aren’t afraid to break off at a moment’s notice. Don’t lose a sale because you want to hear the end of a mate’s story.
Always Be Casual in Art Fairs and Soft Sell
Your aim as a salesperson is to find the sweet point between being too laid-back and too pushy.
I like to call it ‘attentive indifference’
Don’t be too laid-back
Too many artists wait passively for someone to insist on buying their stuff. Worst of all, they sit there reading a magazine and ignore them altogether.
Experience teaches you to see the difference between people who are browsing. and not really that interested, and others who are more intrigued. It’s in your interest to engage with the people who appear interested, with casual chit-chat, and break the ice in a natural way.
Don’t sit there and wait for someone to start speaking to you. If someone has been browsing for a while, ask a question. It doesn’t have to be anything clever or witty, a simple question will do. Something like, ‘Are you looking for a present for someone?’.
You might comment on the weather or suggest they read your bio. The objective is to break the silence and make contact. Be proactive and not reactive. Certainly not passive.
Don’t be too Pushy
This post will guide you: Write an Artist About Me Page: A Great Bio in 4 Easy Steps
The flip side of being laid-back is being over eager. Your customers will run a mile. No one wants to be pounced upon and bombarded with pointless crap. No one cares about your art unless they care about you and being pushy will push them away.
Being over-keen sends out the wrong signal. It comes across as desperate and people pick up on that message quickly.
These are hacks you must know: How to Sell More Art: 10 Selling Tips For Artists
Give people some space to appreciate what’s in front of them. Don’t predate, this is not a trap that you’ve set for the unwary. A customer is paying you the compliment of enjoying your artwork and they should be viewed that way.
Someone who enjoys your company will return for more and spread the word on your behalf.
Telling Stories and Making Conversation is The Art of Selling
If someone takes an interest in your artwork, give them a reason to buy it. Some people want to buy from you but they need an excuse. That’s where selling comes in.
It’s the people who need a gentle nudge to buy your art that makes all the difference to your profit at the end of the day.
Learn to Tell a Story
The balance can be tipped in your favor with something as simple as giving a backstory to a picture. People love it.
In my case, as a wildlife artist, I can tell my customer about going on a safari to see the wild animal I used as my subject. Now instead of being just a pleasant picture, it takes on a romance. All manner of images spring to mind of faraway lands and exotic adventures.
They got to meet and chat to the guy that traveled there, captured the moment, made the drawing, and offered it for sale. Now they’ve got a story to tell back home. It’s far more authentic and interesting than having just another picture.
I’ve got interesting stories attached to most of my pictures and over time, I’ve built up a repertoire of sound bites that introduce each image to a customer. I know where I was, why I was there, and what I set out to achieve.
Don’t just take my word for it, Sun Yi says the same sort of thing. Find him on Domestika (affiliate) and write a Bio people want to read.
I keep my stories short and snappy and throw in the nuggets to invite a response.
I want my customer to say something like ‘I’ve always dreamed of going there’ that kind of thing. I’m simply feeding them with teasers to invite some interaction.
I trade in a touristy area and many of my customers are day-trippers from out of town or on holiday from overseas. They are looking for experiences to remember and to talk about with their friends. I provide one of those experiences. I’m a local artist who travels the world. it’s a memory.
You might argue that I’m just selling souvenirs and maybe that’s true. I don’t care. Buying a memory is as good a reason as any to buy anything. I created something unique, I found the animal, took the photos, planned the drawing, drew it, printed and sold it. What’s not to like?
Let’s suppose someone is looking for a gift. I can ask them who’s it for. The answer can narrow things down.
Let’s use an example. Let’s say someone is looking for a gift for a wedding anniversary. In that case, I can ask how many years have they been married. then follow it up by saying, ‘did you know the first anniversary is paper?’ or ‘The 25th? how about this in a silver frame?’ Do you get the picture? no pun intended.
I’ll often ask where a person is from, that’s a very easy opening line. Foreign visitors will be happy to chat with a local and talk about home, especially if you’ve been there yourself. If the shopper is obviously a countryman I might ask ‘Are you local?’ It’s the same question framed in another way, but it may start a chat.
It’s amazing how many times a casual conversation leads to something we have in common. It can be very enjoyable, so much so, that the customer ends up buying as a result. It’s like a reward for time well spent. If I’d never talked I would never have gotten the sale.
Any touchpoint that allows us to share a thought, an experience, or even a gag, will be enough to justify buying the picture. It’s that important.
If nothing else, a good conversation passes the time. Why not chat? you never know who you will meet. In that sense, every day is different. Don’t just sit there and wait for something to happen.
Make it happen.
Price to Entice and Advertise a Bargain
Advertise your best bargain. You should never be afraid of your prices.
If you’re too embarrassed to advertise your prices, don’t be surprised when people are too embarrassed to ask. Don’t alienate people. If your prices are hidden it implies you must be hiding something. That’s not good psychology.
No one wants to ask a price and be humiliated because they can’t afford it. It’s demeaning.
Advertise a genuine offer and be proud of it. The bulk of my prints sell for a set price regardless of the image size. It’s simple. I don’t haggle but I do discount using a tiered offer.
For example, I might sell my prints for a flat $10 each, or 2 for $15.
I can put up a large $10 sign to get noticed but end up with a $15 sale and make a higher profit.
This will help: How to Negotiate the Price of Your Art Prints and Make Money
Get another perspective and see what Katy has to say. Find her on Domestika
I wrote about Domestika, read about it here: Is Domestika Worth It? The Pros and Cons for Artists and Designers
And these too:
- Is Selling Art Online Worth It? Can You Make Money?
- Is Print on Demand Worth it? The Pros and Cons of a POD Business
- Is Skillshare Worth It? The Pros and Cons for Artists and Designers
- Is Udemy Worth it? Pros and Cons For Artists and Designers
- Is Redbubble Worth it? Pros and Cons For Artists
I can, and do, carry more expensive prints which are sold separately. I use my cheaper prints as a prop to introduce my more expensive ones. These are not labeled, I tell the customer the price.
I seldom try to sell any originals at my stand but I do use them as a price comparison. When asked I will give an average price. Let’s say I want about $800 for an original, most casual shopper’s gulp. Fair enough.
But now they know how much some people pay for the originals my signed $10 print is suddenly a more attractive bargain. Especially when they can hardly tell the difference.
That reminds me of the chap who bought one of my original drawings for his wife and when I delivered it, he asked me how he could tell if it was the original. That threw me for a moment. Then I said ‘If you can rub it out, it’s the original, if you can’t I’ll give you your money back!’
Personally, I don’t change the prices according to the venue. I don’t feel comfortable charging more money to certain groups. My prices are fair and reasonable but it’s a personal choice.
When people ask me why some prints cost more than others and I have a ready answer. I point out that the cheaper ones are open editions (or unlimited) and the more expensive ones are limited editions. As there are only a few available they cost more.
It’s clear and there’s nothing to hide
This might be of interest: What Are Limited Edition Prints? 12 Things You’ve Got to Know
Accept Cards and Keep a Cash Float
In this day and age, there’s no excuse not to take credit cards. It’s easier now than it’s ever been. All you need is a handheld card reader and a smartphone or a tablet and you are set to go.
It’s very simple, there are a number of companies out there, I use PayPal Here because I bought my reader a few years ago when they were still a novelty. I thought the Paypal logo would reassure my customers. That’s all changed now and you can get cheaper rates elsewhere.
Some of my colleagues have bought a Sumup (UK) that doesn’t need a smartphone.
The readers take all the major credit and debit cards. The money goes into your account and the customer is sent an e-receipt if they request one. They even do ‘tap and go’ now. As long as you have Wi-Fi or a Hotspot you’re in business.
I pay 2.7% commission to Paypal. I know other companies charge less but I’m too lazy to change.
Credit card sales are fast becoming the new norm and you will lose custom by insisting on cash. Factor in the commission and adjust your prices accordingly. It feels wrong to have a middle man taking a cut of a simple exchange of cash but that said when real cash doesn’t change hands people tend to spend more. You win in that sense.
And don’t rely on the proximity of nearby cash machines as an excuse not to invest in a card reader. They aren’t expensive.
Maybe 9 out of 10 customers will be happy to go to the hole in the wall and return but one will not. Don’t lose sales for the sake of a reader, it will pay for itself in no time.
Please Remember: Promises mean nothing. As soon as someone leaves your stand you are risking an aborted sale.
Some people, of course, still want to use cash and I’m certainly going to oblige them. I always have a large cash float with me. I know after all these years that I need plenty of change.
I want a seamless sale and to look and feel professional. I am always prepared.
Many artists and traders overlook this one basic fact:
Most sales are made on impulse.
An interruption to the transaction can quickly kill the sale.
Frictionless transactions must be your priority. Know where everything is, be comfortable with your routine. If you haven’t got a portable printer for receipts, have a receipt book to hand just in case the customer requests it.
I will even accept foreign cash if I have no alternative. It doesn’t make sense to lose any money changing it at a bank so I will keep it until someone comes along who’ll change it for me. Most people are happy to oblige.
Knowing how people behave is so important for success. That’s why Shannon teaches you about the importance of the follow-up. I can vouch for that. Shannon’s class is on Skillshare
Selling in Art Fairs: Final Thoughts
To recap. The 5 tips for selling in art fairs are:
- Be Approachable and Engage
- Be Casual i.e. Attentive Indifference
- Make Conversation and Tell Back-Stories
- Price to Entice
- Take Cards and have enough Change
The art of selling in art fairs is a simple one. It’s not about being smart or cunning. It’s about integrity, good humor, and keeping promises. It’s about being friendly and well-mannered. And when people like you, they will like your art.
If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit:
- Pentel Mechanical Pencils 0.3mm
- Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
- Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper
- Jakar Battery Eraser
- Tombo Mono Eraser Pen
- Faber Castell Putty Eraser
- Blu Tack
- French Box Easel
These tips are just a snapshot. If you want a complete guide to selling art for a living, I cover everything you need to know. Take a look!
If you found this article useful you might enjoy these:
- What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart
- Can You Copy Art and Sell a Painting of a Painting? I Found Out
- What Kind of Art Sells Best? All The Secrets Revealed
- How to Sell Art Prints on Etsy: Mega Selling Guide
- 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)
- How to Name Your Art and Make More Sales – Copy This!
- How to Make Prints of Your Art – Printing Art Explained in Detail
Plus find an ONLINE COURSE that suits you.
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