Art Fair Insiders

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

Here are a few things I learned at my 1st outdoor show (2nd show overall). Ypsifest in Ypsilanti, MI.

1) If you're going to pay extra for electricity make sure the event can actually provide it.

I paid $50 extra to have electricity to run my fan, laptop and a couple lights. I get to the location and they had me plug into another vendor's generator. I think next year I'll just split the cost of gas with the other vendor.

2) Know your audience's pricing expectations. My first day I made $4.50. Second day I lowered my prices and brought in over $300 with only slightly more traffic coming through. I still made a profit.

There was a spray paint artist across the way that I spoke with regularly throughout the weekend. He was selling piece that he painted on site for $20. On the first day I commented that he should be charging at least $30. He told me that he'd tried that before at similar shows and his sale plummeted. Apparently $20 is the sweet spot for that kind of event. I couldn't really argue, because he was selling pieces non-stop all weekend. I don't think he even stopped to eat on Saturday. He said he can charge $50 at bigger events like Art Prize in Grand Rapids and people won't blink an eye at that and he'll be selling stuff faster than he can paint it for 3 weeks straight.

3) I really need a van. Transporting everything stuffed into 2 cars is annoying.

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Good job, Matt. Thanks for this report. What is really working for you is your flexibility and eagerness to learn the things that will make this better for you. Each show should show progress. Even in the "golden days" of art fairs when we started out figuring out how to turn a profit was a continual challenge, and I'll never forget the first time we had a $1000 show (gross), in the first year when we did only six shows, and especially when we had our first $1000 day -- Ann Arbor, that was in our third year!

We didn't get a van until the car broke down. A nice thing about having a dedicated vehicle is you don't have to unload and load again with each show. Seeing how many people use this site to sell tents, you'd think more would have vehicles for sale. And before you ask: my preference -- Ford Econoline 150 or 250, sliding side door.

Congrats on finishing your first shows! You will continue to learns lots and have a stronger opinions of how to maneuver through this profession to profitability. Based on your comments, I would caution you to going out and making a big purchase such as a van for as tempting as it may seem. Continue to turn a profit from the shows and reinvest that $ on more inventory, better booth, better shows. Until you can generate consistent profits that pays your investment back and leaves you a little extra should you think about putting out hundreds per month on a vehicle. Go until it becomes unbearable.

My first show I made $300+ in 4 sweltering days using a borrowed nissan pathfinder. I thought that was successful. After upgrading to a used Ford Expedition and new trailer, I bought a $35K+ sprinter van.  Even though all the shows were resulting in 4-5 figures, within 5 years I was in $75K of credit card debt because I kept buying things I thought I needed. Fortunately I was able to pay that off in a short time, partially by selling off the sprinter van. So my point is, focus on the part of the business you do well, let the sales dictate what you should purchase and when. Good luck!

Thanks

I wasn't planning on buy a van any time soon. I already have two car payments as it is. A van would just make things easier, and I was mostly just venting my frustration.

We probably won't be buying anything new for the booth until we're turning a comfortable profit.

We currently have:

13 - 2'x7' Black wire grid panels
2 - 6'W x4'H accordion style velcro panels
4 - 75"x75" black tablecloths we're hanging behind the grids
1 - 2.5' x 6' folding table with a black tablecloth that goes to the floor
1 - 2' x 4' folding table with a black tablecloth that goes to the floor
1 - 10'x10' ABC Canopy White tent with walls

I think that should cover us for most shows. 

I'm also learning a few things about how to lay out the booth so that it's not only comfortable for us, but also highlights our product.

Things at our first show got a little awkward because my wife and I both like to sit down, but there really isn't room for 2 chairs in a gallery style setup that doesn't put one of us in the way of the customers or put us in a position that might prevent or discourage people from entering the booth.

I fixed this problem during this second show by shifting the entire booth about 3' forward, essentially making the booth 10' x 7'. That way I was able to move a second chair behind all of our product and out of sight along with all of our misc stuff like snacks, bags, extra inventory etc. I've attached a pic of the general layout and a photo of the actual booth (which I've since adjusted slightly). I'm currently working on a version for a 10' x 20' indoor space.

10ft x 10ft booth layout 

10' x 10' Booth

I'm in my second year of outdoor showing, and still trying to figure out pricing.  Been told by other artists that my prices are "too low".  Yet if people aren't buying at that low price, not sure I can justify raising them!  I hit upon one show this year where I thought I did pretty well - for me, at least - so it is about finding your market.  But more and more, I think people come to art shows just for entertainment, and they don't intend to spend very much, especially on traditional 2-D art.

I agree with the others on the expenses.  I bought a decent, but lower cost original E-Z up tent.  I would really love to have a nicer tent, but my sales don't justify it yet.  Same with traveling.  Right now, I only do shows within my own home state, most that I can drive to within two hours.  Just can't justify the costs of hotels, etc.  Luckily, I can fit everything I need for a show into my Honda CR-V.  It's pretty tight, but it makes it.  And if I add more, I still have the roof racks available, lol.

Sonja,

We're also sticking to local shows. At least until get a better read on what people are willing to pay for. I was pretty surprised at this past show at which prints people were buying. There were a couple that I knew would be popular, but there were also a few that I had considered not offering at all.

(Matt, hope you don't mind that I uploaded your images to your post. For the future, it is easy to do, consult the FAQs at the top of the page in Getting Started.)

No problem, I prefer having them in the post I did them as attachments because it looked like most people did it that way

Yes, Matt, I’ve had that same experience! Sold an original painting this summer that I wasn’t even going to put out. I have one particular print that I just sells over and over! Listen to comments as people pass by and see which prints they comment on. Even if they don’t buy, it’s the one that caught their attention and will help draw them into your booth.
One of the things I’ve learned about pricing is if you price your items too low people won’t buy because they equate quality with price. If you go too high you won’t sell, but don’t be afraid to raise your prices incriminatory until you find your sweet spot.

Good point about prices. Several years ago I did a podcast with Barney Davey, who has been involved in the marketing and sales for some very big events, including Artexpo in NYC. He's got some excellent suggestions on pricing. You can listen to it here:   https://www.blogtalkradio.com/artfairs/2012/09/13/pricing-marketing...

Matt, I agree with all the advice given already.  I would advise you to wait as long as possible on purchasing a dedicated art show vehicle. Even then, look for one gently used, possibly someone who is having to retire suddenly for example.  Major depreciation has taken place already.  As much as you can, try to start stashing some cash back for the large scale purchases like a new to you vehicle and trailer.

When I started out we got 3 adults and all my stuff for a booth in a GMC Acadia.  Wow, that does seem like a long ago memory to me now.  Then when we outgrew the Acadia, we used dh's truck that had a camper shell already on it.  Then we moved to our Suburban, pulling a single axle cargo trailer.  I think it's 12x6, with enough height to for dh to stand up and he is 5' 11".  It was a progression.

We first looked at 2nd hand trailers but could not find any that were in good condition within a reasonable distance to go pick it up.  Dh started looking at new ones.  We ended up buying locally at a trailer retailer.  He found some that were similar but cheaper at out of town/state dealerships.  However, by the time we took time to drive several hours one way and possibly have to spend the night due to distance, it was not less expensive.

Dh did all the rigging with shelves, straps, etc.  He is handy and got it customized for us at a much lower cost than having the manufacturer do it.

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