Art Fair Insiders

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

There have been numerous discussions on here, wherein artists complain about "salesmanship" type talk. Or having to speak with the prospective customers.

Some have claimed the "work must speak for itself"... Wrong!

We are in competition out there. Not just other artists but big box stores, galleries, buy/sell, cheap imports, the internet and low quality suppliers. As well as other forms of pleasure and reward the potential customer can acquire.

Too many do not understand that we are selling ourselves.  People do not come to an Art Fair to buy the items cheaper, than they can in a big store.  While some are collectors or seek the truly different creation from a talented artist, they can get that at a gallery. Instead, most want to meet the artist. When they purchase, they are buying a part of the artist. If you can't sell them on yourself, you likely wont have good sales. If only an artist, then just supply the galleries and let them do the selling. However if you want to succeed at the Art Fairs, then learn to speak with the prospect, using the correct verbiage / speech,  mannerisms, presentation, psychology and guidance that will result in sales. 

Some might claim they make sales without talking to the customer. well, perhaps they made a certain amount of sales with that method. However they absolutely would have made far more sales by applying the correct sales techniques and speaking with the customer.

Are you a completely self taught artist? In learning your art craft, have you never taken advice, researched techniques, studied, had classes? Of course you did. Well perhaps understanding why that was necessary will get some to understand they should do such with their salesmanship also.

Some comment they "can't stand sales speech". Those complainers are only recognizing poorly chosen sales speech. All of us have purchased things we do not need due to good sales techniques.  All can be sold. So increase your market share. Raise your sales results. Increase that bottom line. Learn how to be a salesperson... it's part of the job.

For those offended by the non-neutral terminology - I was not about to write "salespersonship" :-)

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I would add the thought that when we exhibit at a show, we represent not only ourselves and our work, but also the show as a whole. My wife and I also attend art and craft shows and we get to see  those shows the way the other  show goers do.  When we see an exhibitor making no attempt to hide boredom, or one who is bent over his/her phone or iPad, showing no interest in those people in front of the booth, it leaves a  bad impression.  And if you are not even in your booth, that is even worse. I make it a point to  stay alert to those passing my booth, as hard as it can be after several hours. A friendly "Hello" or  Good Morning" to those  folks strolling by takes no great effort, and can pay  off in  good will and sometimes even sales. After all, if it is a large show, and there are lots of attendees, it is easy   for people to miss your booth in the stream of traffic, or if their eye has been caught by a booth  across from you. My favorite example of a "ghost" exhibitor was a ceramic artist at a Smithsonian  Craft Show  I did a few years ago.   The second day, as I passed the booth, I heard a noise from the rear of the booth and I realized that the exhibitor had set up a small hidey hole  with drape in a far corner, and was  hiding out there. Over a period of 4 days, I never once laid eyes on the exhibitor.  Did her stuff sell itself?

I agree with giving a hello/good morning with a quick smile to those passing by.  Who knows, maybe hey are making a quick run to the restroom and will make their way back to your booth.  That smile and greeting may be the only one they get!

I have also gone into booths with the artist there with head buried in a book or eyes glued to the phone.  I will give them enough time to greet me.  This type usually does not.  There are some occasions where I saw things I was really interested in buying buy I chose not to due to their lack of interest in their customer—-ME.  Most of the time in this situation in walk out without even any acknowledgement, not even a head nod.  That is sad.  I figure these are the one complaining about NO sales the whole weekend.

My favorite "ghost exhibitor" was a painter at Elk Camp (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation) gathering at the Reno Hilton.  A woman painter across the aisle from us asked if we would watch her booth one morning while she took a break. No Problem, but she was gone the rest of the day. We passed her downstairs when we went home at 5:00pm and she was busy playing the slots. 

There are, of course, days when you are more"on" than others.  But I always found it helpful to at least talk with my customers rather than sit on my butt in the back of the booth.  More enjoyable for them and for me.  Often I'd find that when I engaged one customer (I sold clothing) people would drop in to see what was going on.  One person's buying would spur another person to at least try on and possibly buy.  And I enjoyed my customers.  Many of them became show friends and would stop by to say hello when I was in the area. And I tried to reflect the pleasure a customer would find in discovering something special that made her look good.  Many of my customers hugged me when we were finished.  Wouldn't appeal to everyone,but I considered it a high compliment.

and I own one of Sandra's lovely jackets. It has an Asian look. My son's in-laws are Taiwanese and the lining in the jacket is an Asian print. His mother-in-law read it to me one day and it says "long life and good health." Thanks, Sandy. Always a pleasure to have you check in here and thank you for your beautiful work.

So Larry- what do you recommend reading/doing to get better at selling/closing the sale? I stand 90% of the time at shows I do. If I'm not standing and greeting my customers, my husband is while I stretch my back. I acknowledge them when they come in but don't lead a conversation until they begin asking questions or seem puzzled over something. I try not to just watch them but keep a corner eye open for when they need me.

My BIG problem is closing a sale. I'm a glass jewelry artist. I'll have a customer eye buy a piece for minutes then try it on knowing they really want it. They look at themselves in the mirror, talk to their show companion about the piece, deliberate but after minutes put it back. I know they really want it because I can see the want in their eyes but they just don't commit. I will generally tell them if the piece looks good with their skin or hair coloring or maybe the size of the piece works well for them. I may give a quick synopsis of the process to make that particular piece. How do I learn to close the sale? I've never been good at small talk either.

Easiest way to learn... have a father like I had. A great salesman, nurtured me in it since youth. I was pitching at fairs when I was 9 years old.  Formal training later but what he taught me was the best.

Ok, not born into it... learn to listen carefully. It seems you are reading them very well. You are attentive to their mannerisms, body language, eye contact, and expressions. At what point do you attempt to close? Do you try an "assumed consent close"? This is where you do NOT ask them to buy. It is already known (assumed) they will purchase. You merely go through the steps of completing the sale. Have you tried just picking up the bag to place it in for them? If the piece is not in their hands, then just pick it up, place it in the bag and let them hold it. If it is in their hands, just casually hand them the bag while you get your card reader out. They already have the piece in their possession. How about asking "does your card have a chip or just a stripe?" "Which card will you be using?" As you hold the bag... "instead of bagging it...WOW, it looks so good on you, I'm sure you would rather wear it home." There are many different words you can say. Depending on what they say and do, as well as what type of close you are using. Notice the choices I gave are "yes" or "yes". None are yes or no. In this type of close you are not asking them to buy. They are buying, if not they must tell you they are not. Then they will give you their objection. LISTEN to the objection. Is it valid? Can it be overcome IN THEIR EYES. if it is not valid, seek the hidden objection. Did they seem very intent on the piece? A great desire? Perhaps you want to format a needs based approach. 

I almost never ask someone to buy. However I make sales :-) no one ever feels i have given a sales pitch. No canned patter.


I love doing art shows. But no one can continue doing art shows unless they make sales.

Alisa, it sounds you are doing all the right things. But one thing I respectfully disagree with Larry about, is asking for the sale. I love Larry, he is a great artist, and a great person (gotta be with a name the same as mine), but I always ask for the sale.

The underlying message is to “just be yourself”.

I don’t have a verbatim sales pitch, but I think the success of my sales are the greeting, the middle, and the closing. And I keep these three things in mind when I greet every customer.

My greeting changes depending on whether my tent is full of patrons, or just one person. But the secret is to acknowledge every person and make them feel welcomed. Have you ever gone through a grocery store line and the cashier didn’t say “thank you”. The infuriates me every time I give someone my money and they don’t even say thank you. Everyone likes to feel they are the only person that counts at that very moment.

The middle part is spontaneous. There are a million things to converse about. Where are they from, is this your first time here, the weather, their dog, or how about this one…your art. Ask them if they have any questions. I don’t start to tell them about me, or how my art is made unless they ask. Some people just don’t care. One thing my father taught me is: never give your opinion, and eliminate the word “I” from your vocabulary. For example, I would never say something like, “I like sunshine”, because the customer may hate sunshine and be offended, or something as bad as, “I like large pieces because they show more detail”. The patron may only be looking for small pieces, and now he/she is offended again. And if you never the say word “I” during a conversation, and replace it with the word “you”, think how much better our conversations would go. Try it at home with your friends and relatives. Instead of saying “I went shopping today”, try saying “tell me what you did today”.

And lastly, closing the sale. Even though I’ve had some people come up to me and say I want to buy this, you usually have to ask them if they want to buy it. Experience has a lot to do with it  within this area. You will learn to read people. It could be through the conversation itself , their body language, their attitude, their expression, or something else. Or possibly when a husband and wife are looking at one another, they may need a few moments to themselves so they both can justify the purchase. Give them some private time and then come back and say something like “ready”.  If they say no, they will usually give you an objection. You will have to decide if it’s a real objection, or just a smoke screen. If you determine it’s a real objection, you can try to overcome it without sounding desperate. Let’s use the example “can’t afford it right now”. But, depending on your situation, you can try to overcome this objection.  You could say “do you have a budget for a quality piece of wall art”. You try to keep the conversation light and non-pressuring. You’ll learn when people are wanting and ready to buy, but sometimes they may just need a little push. Tip: Sometimes a husband and wife are looking at your piece together, but the wife is asking all the questions, and appears to be the one that wants to buy it. Don’t focus solely on the wife, because the husband may be the decision maker and ultimately the purchaser. Keep your focus equally on both the husband and wife.

As I said earlier, I always ask for the sale. I may just say,,, ready,,, or nod my head in an affirmative manner,,, do you want me to package that up for you,,, or as the other Larry said, are you going to put that on your credit card.

I think Larry and I are saying the same thing, whereas he says don’t ask for the sale, contrary to I keep reminding myself during our conversation to , “ask for the sale” with a potential buyer so I don’t let them walk away without asking for the sale. The worst they can do is walk away, which is what they were going to do anyway.  

In summary, make sure everyone feels welcomed that comes into your tent, say hello, good morning, or whatever you want, just be cool, calm, and non-threatening. Don’t be like a salamander on a fly. Answer any questions they may have, and talk to them like you do to your mom/dad, or brother/sister. And when the time is right, ask them if they are ready to take it home with them.

Larry - Great name also :-)
We are both referring to the same concepts. My statement about "...ask someone to buy." did not mean I don't try to get them to buy. It was more exact. I don't ask "do you want to buy it?" The reason being they might say "no".
An example. Trying to set up a sales call at your home:
"Can I come over and see you? = Wrong.
"Is tomorrow at 6:00 or Wednesday at 7:00 better for you? = Right.
On eis seeking permission. Which might be answered with yes or no. We want yes.
Therefore the second gives them a choice of Yes - A or Yes - B. Either is a yes.
So I have not asked them to buy.
I have asked which one(s) they are buying.
with an "assumed consent" close, we might not even give a choice of which to purchase. It might merely be Which credit card... bagged or loose...the large or the small... etc. If a choice is given, it is yes or yes.
I just had one this weekend, at a show. A husband and wife. She wanted it, he did not. He was on the fence. I spoke a little bit with the wife. I had been holding the framed piece in my hands. I then asked him to hold it, for a minute. I grabbed the pouch for it. Then had him hold it higher so I could slide the pouch under it, while letting him keep holding it. I then took out my card reader. He took out his CC and the sale was completed. I knew she was going to take it. I knew he was going to take it. I just had to allow them to facilitate it.

In the above scenario, this was the effective approach. In others it might not be.
Learning to read the customer takes a lot of experience and insight.
I have NEVER had a customer dispute a charge, request a return, or say they changed their mind, after the sale.

Yep Larry,

We are on the same page. I guess po-ta-toe  or pa-ta-toe.

I just like to keep the "ask for the sale" in the back of mind when I'm talking to someone. Kick me in the butt, but I've had one customer walk away while I was day dreaming one time and forgot to ask for the sale. I don't make that mistake again.

And you're right, I don't say "do you want to buy this now", its more "cash or credit".   :)


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