Art Fair Insiders

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

Who are your customers? And who are YOU, for THEM?

Recently, on a private Facebook artist group, an artist asked for advice on dealing with a challenging customer on a custom order.  (The details aren't important here, and I don't have permission to share them, anyway.) 

I read the comments already posted.  Some were helpful, some (a bit snarky) maybe not so much.  And I was about to weigh in with my own two cents, and then I remembered a quote (from Albert Einstein, I think), along the lines of: "To solve a problem, don't engage in the level of thinking that created the problem in the first place."  

And that got me thinking about a "bigger picture": about our relationship to our customers and them to us...and I remembered a conversation led by a master wedding and portrait photographer in a seminar I attended, one that I first heard many years ago. It had to do with "A", "B" and "C" Customers.

I don't know if the seminar leader invented this set of distinctions.  Maybe Bruce Baker talks about this topic in his sales tape series; I have no idea and if he does, by all means go there and listen!  But  I found it a useful way to look at my customers and my relationship with them, and my perceived value ("what am I worth to my customers?  And what are they worth to me?")  so  I thought it worth sharing in this forum.  

You may or may not agree with the categorizations for each "customer type."  If so, heeding Einstein's maxim, change 'em to suit your business and your values.  

You may think the exercise is deeply flawed, or has no value to you.  That's fine.  If so, heeding Einstein's maxim, say "thank you for sharing" and move on.  Please resist the temptation to nit-pick the details in the comment thread.  

So, with all that said, the conversation went something like this: 

A Customers: 
1.Spend money with you, respect you, have integrity in how they operate (keep their word, keep their deadlines) . 
2, Are "champions" for your work and reputation, and refer you to their friends, who may also buy from you. 
3. You feel like a professional when dealing with them, and that owning your work makes a difference in their lives. 

These are the customers that make your face light up when you see them coming to your booth.  

B Customers:

Spend money with you, but not consistently. Sometimes, but not always, fulfill 1, 2, or 3. (Your "bread and butter" customers.) 

C Customers:

1. Spend money with you, but make you work for it in ways that are occasionally aggravating and/or demeaning. Don't seem to understand or value your work.

2. Complain and criticize; may return items while they're doing it. Ask for excessive discounts or to not pay sales tax.

3. When working with them, you feel unappreciated, or that you're "doing it for the money", and that your work makes little or no difference in their lives. 

4. When they leave your booth, you're exhausted.  And more often then not, you're glad to see 'em go. 


The point isn't that we all should strive to work with only A customers (although that's one option!).  Or that we should never work with C's (although that's another).  The point is: know who you're willing to work with, and know who is standing in front of you. What behaviors or comments would you use to place a customer in one category or another? 


And here's a useful "bonus challenge" worth engaging in: For BONUS POINTS: Assess you and your business in the same manner.  Asked another way: "Who are YOU, for your customers???" 

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Comment by Wallace Fuller on July 29, 2016 at 2:15pm

One of the best replies that I have heard used for the I NEVER PAY RETAIL customer was to ask them where the nearest KMart or Walmart was located. When the customer gave them a quizzical look was to say I thought that was where you shopped.   

Comment by David S. Hoornstra on July 15, 2016 at 5:53pm

I've never had anyone say "I never pay retail" but the whole point of an art fair is that we are NOT retail. Nor wholesale. We're better than either. GOOD line "make the price easy to understand."

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on July 10, 2016 at 10:38am

I like Geoff's post, BUT I LOVE GREG LITTLE'S! WOOHOO!

Comment by Christina L. Towell on July 8, 2016 at 8:38am

Fabulous topic and subsequent discussion, Geoff.  Two of my favorite quotes are "You get what you pay for" and "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public".  Thanks for getting this started...

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on July 3, 2016 at 11:33pm

Chris, what a great line.  It is true, you can find some very cheap art and it most likely art most people don't want.  So, you might as well buy a piece you will enjoy looking at.  Otherwise, the new owner will be selling it for a quarter at their next garage sale.

Comment by Chris Gug on July 2, 2016 at 9:23pm

Re: "I never pay retail price for art", I always reply (with an admittedly cocky attitude), "well then you're buying art that no one wants - but everyone wants mine, so I make the price easy to understand on the tag".  Sometimes they stomp away, sometimes they buy it.  Last week, it changed the guy trying to get a $350 piece for $250, into paying full price for two pieces totaling $2100.  And he got exactly the art he wanted - I think this will be his favorite art purchase of all time, because of the value he sees in it, and me. 

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 1, 2016 at 3:27pm

Luckily, Geoff, it seems to me that most people at art fairs are if not A's, B's. There is only a certain neighborhood in Florida where there were plentiful C's. (e. g., "Dear, I NEVER pay retail.") I've used this line: "They are not for everyone," but not its secondary clause, "but I sell a lot of these at every show". Makes a big difference.

Comment by Judy Jones on July 1, 2016 at 11:56am

Geoff, (and anyone else on this site) please call me Judy. I've got to change that profile sign up! Judith is my formal name, it throws me every time unless I'm signing papers!

Comment by Geoff Coe on July 1, 2016 at 11:39am

You're welcome, Judith! I sell to the "C" customers too and yes they sometimes convert to Bs...once in a great while I've even gotten a referral from one. :-)  Good to know Bruce covers that topic.

Comment by Judy Jones on July 1, 2016 at 11:34am

Great characterizations, Geoff. Fortunately I haven't had too many C customers over the years. For those people who walk into your booth and complain about pricing, quiz you on everything possible, and generally have a negative attitude, my husband loves the Bruce Baker quote, "They are not for everyone, but I sell a lot of these at every show". He says it usually turns them into a positive customer buying before they walk out of the booth. It is always good to think about the people who are buying from us. They all have a perspective from which they come and it is our job to try to pay attention to the cues they give that help us figure that out. It is not always easy to walk in their shoes but paying attention to what they say and how they react to your work can be very helpful. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

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