Apr 19 2017
My niece is applying to her first art/craft show this summer and her mom asked if I had any advice or tips for her. I sat down and this is what vomited out of my brain. I thought I’d post it here too for anyone who’d like to read it. Please note that I am not the most experienced show goer out there, in fact, I keep a light schedule compared to many artists. I think these tips are helpful though so here goes.
https://www.facebook.com/artfairinsiders/ – love this site for seeing if a show has good reviews
http://bermangraphics.com/contents.htm – fantastic wise advice for jury photos and booth shots as well as general show advice
http://www.artsbusinessinstitute.org – lots of good advice, geared directly to working artists
The quality of shows is directly related to the quality of the customers. A cheap $25 show at a school raffle or a church bazaar is going to have people who may spend $25. (If you make 1000 $5 earrings, this show may be a big hit for you.) A high quality Art in the Park juried show that costs $500 will (hopefully) have customers ready to spend $500+. Your results may (and will) vary, but you have a much better shot at making money at a quality show than at a cheap one. I’ve been in some very expensive shows that were absolute duds. Look for reviews of the shows you’re interested in, and make your decisions based on that. If it’s been a dud for several years, then maybe skip it. You never know though — I had a GREAT show that my neighbor sold next to nothing, so sadly, it’s very fickle. But quality shows do beget quality buyers.
It’s helpful to have a wide range of prices. A showcase piece at $1200 makes your $400 piece look enticing in comparison. And you never know. Someone may walk up and must have that $1200 piece, and hand that card over without a blink. Definitely do have a good amount of “bread and butter” pieces. Earrings are generally the bread and butter for jewelers, prints for artists. They love that $1200 piece, but feel good about walking away with their $35 purchase. And after looking at the $1200 piece, $35 suddenly doesn’t seem so much!
Make a checklist of what you need and put EVERYTHING on it and check it off as you pack. Then modify it at the show — some things you may find you need that weren’t on the list, some things you brought that you may not need. There’s lots of check lists out there, but you may not need what’s on them. Your list will become more specific to you as time goes on. Kleenex, wet wipes, and a flat screwdriver are essentials on my list, but they may not be on yours.
Square is fantastic, the fee is kind of low, and you can just get the free reader to start off with rather than the new ‘stick your whole card in’ $50 version. It sucks to only take cash. Get Square.
Make sure you’re charging the correct sales tax, and send in your sales taxes right away. This is a rule I break every show, and it sucks. If it’s confusing trying to fill out the form, just call the number on the tax form and talk it through with a person. They usually very helpful and don’t make you feel like a dumb dumb. They know if they help you, they’ll get their money!
I also like to just keep a notebook where I’ll jot down the sales throughout the day. It’s handy to know what is selling, and it’s invaluable the next year when you’re debating whether to apply to that show again. Memories are fuzzy. Write it DOWN.
Be nice to your neighbors. You’ll see them again. And they are INVALUABLE! Especially for a novice. Show folks start to feel like family after a while, even the ones you’ve never met. They share the same experiences of you, they’ve been through what you’re going through, most are ready to help. They’ll watch your booth for you while you go pee or grab a sandwich, so make sure you offer to do the same. Especially if you have someone near you who is alone – extend the offer at the beginning. If the show is slow, talk to them. They’re a fount of knowledge, and when you run into them at the next show, it’s like seeing an old friend.
Practice your set up at home. This one really sucks. God knows I don’t want to look at that tent when I’m home, but it’s worth it. You have time to arrange things, work out any problems, get some good pictures for your booth photo. Any experience taking your tent up/down will help when it’s show day.
It’s hard to hear “don’t be nervous” and actually not be nervous. I still get nervous before my first show of the year and it sucks. After sitting in a booth for an hour or two with no customers the nervousness wears off real fast.
This is just me, but don’t drink at the show (unless maybe it’s a 2 day show and it’s day one!) Lots of shows have food trucks which may include wine/beer. It’s tempting to go get yourself a glass of something, but alcohol in your system when you’re trying to break down and get out of there is just not helpful. You get overheated more quickly, your head will ache, your ankles swell, you’ll mess up the order of doing stuff (I drive a Prius, so putting everything in the car in the correct order is a must to Tetris everything in there perfectly) and overall, you’ll just regret doing it. If it’s day one, and you just have to zip up your tent at the end of the day, that’s fine, but otherwise, save the drinks for when you’re home and the car is unpacked. Manual labor is never made easier with alcohol. It’s still manual labor, and now you’re really hot and have a headache. Not fun.
Tall director’s chairs are fantastic. Having someone pop up out of a low chair when you walk into the booth is kind of off-putting. Like those greeters at clothing stores in the mall who hound you when you first step in. A high chair you can kind of slide off of gently to standing when needed. Plus I think they’re more comfortable. Much better for your back, which matters when you’re sitting all day long.
Start a mailing list at the show. A piece of paper on a hard surface or clipboard is all you need.
Be prepared with answers if someone isn’t sure but may want to buy later. What will you do if you hand out a card and someone emails you a week after the show wanting to buy that piece after all? Have an answer if someone asks. Always try to close the sale though – create a sense of urgency.
“Well, this one is a one of a kind, so it may not be available.”
“I only have 5 prints of this one.” etc.
“I do have a website but this piece I just made this month, so it’s not on there.”
Along with that, customers saying they’ll swing back later usually never do. NEVER EVER HOLD ANYTHING for someone saying they’ll come back for it later. If they really want you to hold it for them, they can pay for it FIRST.
“Oh, I just love this piece. I left my wallet in the car though, I swore I wouldn’t buy anything! Can you hold it for me while I go get it?”
“I’m sorry but I don’t hold anything, as a rule. I used to, but I’m afraid I just get too many people who don’t come back. If you hurry there and back, I’m sure it will still be here though.”
Prepare yourself for the litany of dumb, and sometimes outright offensive comments you will hear at shows.
“Did you paint/draw/make all this yourself?” (No sh*t, Sherlock.)
“My brother makes those I’ll just ask him to make me one.” (Oh really? That may be so, but I doubt it will be the same quality as mine)
“Wow, is it really $XXX?” (LE SIGH.)
If someone is fiddling about the price, (“I could get a nice XX at IKEA/WALMART/AMAZON!”) — just know they are not your target audience. Your target is someone who appreciates art, the time, talent and workmanship that goes into it, and doesn’t mind spending money on it. However, educating the WalMart masses is something all artists can take a little stab at every time they hear these degrading price-gouging comments. Think of replies before hand, and try not to be confrontational. You may think that they are trying to offend you, but honestly, the many times I’ve heard this, most people really don’t realize they are sticking their foot into their mouth when they say stupid stuff.
“Then why don’t you go get one there!” — nope, bite your tongue!
“Maybe you’d feel better shopping at WalMart!” – no no no no.
“You do realize that that was probably made by a sweatshop in China, right?” – actually, this one, when phrased differently could be used efficiently.
Keep the antagonistic one liners to yourself. A confrontation with someone strolling the show will be retold to their friends, and THEY will paint themselves as the protagonist, not you. The “moral” to their story will likely end up as those fussy artists who think they’re entitled to being rude just because they can wield a paintbrush or a silversmithing torch. This hurts not just you, but all artists.
People make these dumb comments because they are ignorant of the time, workmanship, education that one puts themselves through to product their art. It’s our job to EDUCATE, not denigrate.
“Oh, Ikea does have those nice Audrey Hepburn prints. And I love some the abstracts! You realize of course, there’s probably millions of those hanging in homes across the world, whereas this original took me X hours, and has a limited print run of XXX. See how that color just hits the light just so to make it glow? It took me a month to mix up just the right color I saw in my head to make it like that. It was a great moment when I finally figured out just the right blah blah blah blah…”
It’s hard to shift gears in someone’s head like this (and your own head, moving from offended to educate-mode can be difficult). Time and experience helps, but try not to let yourself get angry at the dumb shit people say. Don’t get mad at them. Educate them. If you can shift their thoughts of “I can get this cheaper at….” then you’ve helped change their perspective of the value of handcrafted art as well, which can then be BUILT ON by the NEXT artist they come across. When ALL artists educate the masses, it helps all artists as well.
If you CAN’T think of any way to turn the negative comment around… just say,
“It’s not for everyone.”
I love this phrase – and it’s true. Your work may not be for the person in front of you. Or, it might make them yearn to be a part of this elite exciting inner circle. It takes the pressure off of everyone, really, allows them to acknowledge that yes, this isn’t for them, and it allows you to still be gracious in the face of rudeness. Try not to say it in a snooty way
When you are selling, you are really selling yourself. Your story. Your experiences. Tell them what you were thinking when you thought of making it. Tell them how you were feeling, or how it came out of a trip you took to the city, or how your cat kept bugging you the whole time you were painting it, or how the solder just wouldn’t flow on the original design you had, but thank god because what you came up with as a cold connection turned out so much better. Anything that makes that piece personal. They’ve come into your booth because something drew them in. Engage. Tell them a story. Tell them something they can relate to their friends when they show that piece off.
“Isn’t it gorgeous? You wouldn’t believe it, the artist was actually on a road trip with her family and was sketching ideas in her sketchbook while they drove, and just when the sun was setting she saw…”
“Can you believe how gorgeous? The artist works right out of her basement in the rocky mountains!”
“Beautiful right? I got it from a student in art school, her parents wanted her to be a lawyer, but she’s going her own path!”
Tell a story. You are selling a part of your experience.
Bruce Baker has a set of CDs that are geared to help artists sell, as well as booth display and I think pricing (it’s been a while since I listened to them. Time for a refresher!) Lots of artists aren’t good at selling. But it’s a skill that anyone can learn. His website is down (at the time of this writing), but do a search for them and nab them if you can find them. If you can find a workshop he’s teaching, that would be an excellent reason to spend the money and go!
When the show is over, think about questions you were asked that you weren’t sure how to answer, or think you answered badly. Work out a better answer for next time. Think about how you could steer them toward your story, or create a sense of urgency to purchase now, or how to respond to a customer who needs education about art buying. Quick answers aren’t always the best answers, so take the time to think how you could respond better next time.
Never talk bad about customers. Even to your neighbors. They can hear you. Booth walls are thin. If it’s a slow show, never tell them.
“How is the show going for you?”
“Oh it’s fantastic, the day is so beautiful and I get to meet such interesting people! I’m new at this, so it’s a great experience for me!”
Always be enthusiastic and upbeat even if you’re in the hole $500. Feeling sorry for the artist never got anyone many sales. Success begets success.
In addition to that, a busy booth will attract more customers. It’s happened to me — you get 2-3 people in a booth and people wandering by want to come over and see what the hubbub is about. One person decides to buy something and then other people are suddenly in the buying mood. It’s fantastic when it happens. For my jewelry, it’s often a group of women who are shopping together, and suddenly decide they are all worth it! “I’m getting these earrings!” “Oh you should, you’re worth it!”
In addition, if you try to stay busy instead of just sitting on your butt with your nose in a book, it can also attract folks over, and make them feel like you won’t pounce on them. BUSY BUSY BUSY. I have a hard time with this one, there’s only so much arranging and rearranging I can do, but give it a try.
You’re stuck there, so enjoy it. Don’t keep your head stuck in your phone/tablet. Bring a craft that can keep you from going crazy with boredom, but also won’t make customers think, “Oh I don’t want to disturb her.” YOU WANT TO BE DISTURBED! Make sure no one feels like they’re disturbing you. I like to ..*gasp*.. make jewelry at shows! Haha. But sometimes I’m even sick of that, so I will also crochet.
Hope these tips help out newbies! Feel free to add any additional in the comments, or ask questions and I will try to help.