Art festivals are great events for getting your work directly in front of potential collectors. However. . . it’s also true that a quick booth visit doesn’t give your customers much time to interact with you and your work.
So, the more you can do to maximize your booth to make it a customer-friendly experience, the greater chance you have of selling your work and gaining new potential collectors. Here are a few tips that have worked well for me:
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1. Label your pieces clearly
The first two questions customers tend to ask when viewing your work often involve medium and price.
Putting labels on each piece that states the title, size, medium, and price will answer those questions before you even have a conversation with your customer, and lets them quickly decide if they’re interested in knowing more about your technique or purchasing your work. Remember, your booth is functioning partly as a store—you probably don’t like to ask what everything costs when you go shopping, and neither do your customers.
That said, if you’re lose a label or two throughout the day, don’t worry—having most of them labeled will still give your customer a good idea as to what painting medium you use most often and a general price range for your work.
2. Provide space to “take in” your work
Art collectors know that paintings look best when viewed from 5-10 feet back, so give your viewers room to walk around, take in each piece, and then stand back and look at it. Also try to make sure there is “breathing room” between your pieces—loading your booth up with too much art makes it difficult for some visitors to focus on the individual paintings.
When a visitor to my booth takes the time to step back and view a piece from a few angles, I know there’s a chance that person is visualizing how the piece would look on his or her own wall—this is one of the first steps that can eventually lead to a purchase.
3. Limit personal visitors and be approachable
I can honestly say I’ve never made a sale while I had personal visitors in my booth. It’s great to have friends and family stop by, but it can be intimidating for potential buyers to walk into your booth and see a group of people having a good time together—like walking into a party where everyone knows each other but you.
There’s also the issue of space—people visiting are taking up room, so share a quick few minutes with family or friends, then send them off with a hug so you can get back to work.
If you’ve got a helper, take turns being alone in the booth. If you and your helper are working together, be sure to greet visitors as they walk in and then physically separate yourself from your partner. Of course, make sure you identify yourself as the artist, so the customer feels comfortable approaching you with questions or conversation.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to smile! I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into an artist’s selling space and been scowled at—which led me to take a quick glance and leave. Even if you’re working on a demonstration piece, look up and acknowledge visitors, and consider setting your piece aside so you appear ready for conversation.
4. Allow viewers the chance to pick something up
This may sound like a scary proposition, and it won’t work if you’ve only got large pieces that shouldn’t be handled. . . but if possible, set out a table of small pieces that visitors can connect with through touch. This will give them a small taste of ownership.
I like to have a table with small framed pieces that can be handled, along with a table of packaged, unframed works that can be browsed. When a customer approaches the tables, I invite them to pick pieces up and handle them, and to browse through the unframed pieces.
Of course, if a customer expresses interest in a piece that’s hanging up, it doesn’t hurt to take the piece down and let that person hold it for a moment (provided you feel comfortable doing so).
5. Be intuitive with suggestions and information
Hard sales tactics may get you an occasional quick sale, but if you want someone to fall in love with a piece and buy it, being pushy isn’t going to win you long-term fans.
If someone shows interest in a piece, offer a few details about it—how you created it, what inspired it, or how other viewers have reacted to it. If someone mentions they’re from out of town, mention your shipping services or offer to package it up for the trip home.
Whenever possible, provide a display that details your technique, so customers feel knowledgeable about you as an artist. Also make sure to display your acceptable payment methods, and mention it if the subject of payment comes up. If the buyer wants to continue to shop after purchasing, offer to hold the purchased items until they’re ready to leave.
Basically, make it easy for your customers to feel comfortable buying from you (as opposed to pushed). If the buyer feels that the transaction was a pleasant experience, you’ve built a bridge toward future purchases from that same buyer.
. . . and here are a few “don’ts” as well
Don’t eat in front of customers if you can help it—it makes things awkward—and no matter how rough a day you’re having, refrain from complaining about your day. It also goes without saying that you should avoid arguing with your customers or making snippy remarks, even if you know you’re not going to be selling them anything.
Handle criticism as graciously as possible. It’s irritating when people display rude behavior in your booth, but adding to the bad atmosphere by being unpleasant back to them is going to make your booth an uncomfortable place for visitors, and that’s the last thing you want.
Instead, take the high road and stroll out of your booth along with those annoying visitors (don’t worry—they’ll follow you) getting all the bad energy out of the booth.
Lastly, take a break if you need it, and if possible wait until the event is over to blow off steam—remember that you are the most important representative of your art business, so do yourself justice and present your best image as a professional artist.
I hope these tips have helped! Good luck at your next art fair or exhibit!