Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

After reading several of the postings on this site, it seems that MANY offer customers to purchase by credit card. I can't yet afford the investment in the monthly fee and card machine because this is my first time, but will customers be turned away by cash only? There's an ATM literally just across the street.

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"Cash and checks only" happens when there is severe financial problems in the area and the people who attend have a specific budget they need to follow. Otherwise I've found that approximately 90% of sales come from credit cards. Nothing stimulates sales more than seeing that credit card sign in a booth and adding American Express to what you take increases sales of the higher dollar items because they tend to use corporate cards and can write it off as a business expense.

Larry Berman
Digital Jury Services
I can definitely see that as being true for the large indoor festivals or annual weekend festivals. However, I'm doing more of a weekly street fair with a few other local artists and craftspersons. Do you think credit cards are necessary for this venue?

And I definitely understand about writing things off on taxes for next year, however that doesn't help when the bank account NOW won't sufficiently cover the costs :) Maybe after the first festival I can purchase it though.

Taking credit cards doesn't have to be that expensive. One sale and you can make up for the cost. The advice I give to "newbies" is to talk with your bank. If you have a history with a bank, they can waive a lot of fees. I don't pay a monthly fee and my startup cost was half what their advertised rate was.

The larger the shows you do, the greater the percentage of credit card sales. There are several reasons behind that. One is insurance that what they bought is genuine and won't fall apart on the way home. Another is the reluctance to carry large amounts of cash, and the convenience of using a check card over a check book is another reason.

If you have friends that do take credit cards, try to get next to them. I'm not sure of the legality of it, but they may be able to take a purchase for you.
I've done shows for a few years and started taking credit cards and my sales have greatly increased. And at most show's ATM's were nearby, but people don't want to walk over to it. Also alot of people no longer carry checks, they have their debit card and most times as long as it has the visa logo on it you can run it as a credit card without needing the pin number. Last year I only did four shows, but the cost was well worth it.
Another option may be to use paypal. I've used it for years and am just now looking to switch to a swipe machine because having to get so much info to run the cards later is a pain, and the rates are not particularly great if you are doing alot of volume, but you can sign up and close the account from month to month (unless they changed their policy on that). The service is called Website Payments Pro, and it uses a virtual terminal, where you enter the card info, their billing address, and item cost via the web when you get home. Get a phone number or email from everyone! Sometimes people don't know their billing address and the cc companies can take up to 6 months to update accounts when people move. The service costs $30 a month, 30 cent transaction fee, and roughly 3.1-3.4% per sale. There is no discount for debit card transactions. The agreement lists a 2.9% fee, but that is the swiped rate, and none of yours will be since you are entering the info manually. You get all the security of paypal, but don't need to commit to a contract. Another one I've heard some people use who only do one or two shows a year is gopayments. I think this is the site for that:

Another nice thing is since you have to get their mailing address and optionally, their email, i just ask people if they want to be on my mailing list and most people say yes.
I did cash only at my first show a few weeks ago and lost a $65 sale because the customer didn't have the cash. That was a Saturday. By Monday I signed up for a credit card machine. I don't want to lose more sales like that.

Thanks for all the advice everyone! I think I'm going to sign up with Pro Pay and use the call-in option. Has anyone any experience with call-in authorization? Are customers ever confused why you have to call instead of swipe?
I used the knuckle-buster and cell phone credit card option for the first few years of doing shows. The first show I did required artists take credit cards, so I started right away. It was inexpensive and pretty easy. No one ever questioned why I called in the sales. There are a lot of not-so-high-tech artists out there, and people are very understanding. I have to admit I didn't like calling in front of people, though. It felt awkward, so unless it was a pretty high-ticket sale, I would wait until the customer left to call it in. Frequently I would offer to wrap their purchase while they continued shopping and call in before they came back, which worked sometimes, but a lot of people would wait to buy until they were ready to leave.

Last year I switched to a wireless terminal, and I love it. Most of my sales are high-ticket since I am a painter, so that relieved the awkwardness and I think made me look more professional. But if I had it to do again, I would do exactly what I did. The swiper machine is not cheap and I didn't buy it until I was sure I would be doing fairs seriously, and I had some money saved up.

BTW I got both types of service through Teamac, and they are just great to work with. They deal specifically with artists that do what we do.

Oh, one more thing: about 95% of my sales are credit card sales. I seriously don't know if I would sell anything if I didn't take them, and I'm not about to find out!

Good luck!

Arlissa Vaughn said:
Thanks for all the advice everyone! I think I'm going to sign up with Pro Pay and use the call-in option. Has anyone any experience with call-in authorization? Are customers ever confused why you have to call instead of swipe?
I've been using ProPay for a couple of years and love them! I have a knuckle buster which is fast becoming my enemy as I can write out a credit card form faster than that thing can swipe
I don't call in my charges until I'm home after the show and have never had a problem other than maybe forgetting to get someone's zip code with ProPay requires but I always get a phone number and have been able to call the customer, 'fess up to my error and get the needed information.

I agree with all those that have said even at the smallest shows, being able to take credit cards can and will increase your sales :-)

Good luck in your endeavors!

Lindsay who is dreaming about a wireless terminal!
I think alot of it depends on what your average sales are., if it is under $40 or so you can probably get away with cash only. Will you not accept checks? I have not had one bad check in 5 years.
I've been researching this topic myself recently, as I'm still prepping for my first fair, with this dilemma being my main one. I'm pretty sure I will need to take credit cards to make art fairs even worth it. With booth fees being in the hundreds, it's not worth it to sell little cheap things unless you're sure you can sell a butt load of those little things to recoop costs. Seems like it's more effective to think big.

My research so far has led me to the conclusion that most artists use Propay for its low yearly fees, though there are lots of incidental fees included that might make it a pain if you have issues imo. Another service I've been recommended to is Merchant Warehouse, who will let you waive a monthly fee if you aren't doing a show and who seem relatively low cost.

I'm personally going to start off using an Iphone and Merchant Warehouse's cell phone processing app till I can afford one of the wireless terminals.
We use a similar service to Merchant Warehouse and iPhone here in the UK - it works very well as long as you can get a signal. For smaller amounts, I tend to group them together and put them through at the end of the day but for larger paintings it's nice to know that the funds have been confirmed and cleared - we lost a $500 painting to a conman in the UK with a stolen credit card that we didn't confirm immediately - lesson learnt. We can also use it in the States by sending the info through the web so not expensive - and it looks impressive. Only drawback is that you still need to write out a Visa slip or receipt but I usually do this during the 45 seconds it takes for the authorisation to come through


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