Selling in Art Fairs (5 Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore)

5 selling tips for artists header image. Art display and one framed drawing on an easel

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.

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 hide-away, 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 mates 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.

Framed art example for sale art fairs A Red deer stag framed pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
‘Imperial Stag’ A drawing by Kevin Hayler

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 pro-active and not reactive. Certainly not passive.

Don’t be too Pushy

Further Reading: How to Write an Artist Bio That People Want to Read

The flip-side of 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.

Further Reading: Sell More Art – 9 Selling Skills For Artists (Are You Missing Sales?)

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 a 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.

Framed print example for selling at art fairs. Ring-tailed lemurs. A pencil drawing by Kevin hayler
‘Heads and Tails’ A drawing by Kevin Hayler

In my case, as a wildlife artist, I can tell my customer about going on 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.

Further Reading: How to Sell More Art Prints Using This Classic Retail Trick

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. 

White tiger swimming. A limited edition framed print by Kevin Hayler.
‘River Crossing’ A drawing by Kevin Hayler

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?

Make Conversation

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?’ The same question framed in another way but it may start a chat.

It’s amazing how many times a casual conversation leads onto something we have in common. It can be very enjoyable, so much so, 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 got 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.

Further Reading: How Do You Price Your Art? (And Increase Your Profits)

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 fixed 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.

Price tier graphic sign

I can put up a large $10 sign to get noticed but end up with $15 each sale.

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 shoppers gulp. Fair enough.

But now they know how much some people pay for the originals my signed $10 print is a 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 the others 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

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.

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.

What is Public Liability Insurance?

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.

Conclusion

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 found this article useful you might enjoy these:


Keep in Touch

* indicates required

PIN IT AND SAVE IT

5 Selling tips for Art Fairs. A beginners guide. For Pinterest Man browsing a portfolio of artwork