Art fairs were once revolutionary. Dozens of artists selling their relatively affordable work to the public under one roof. Today, the art fair is one of the most traditional ways of selling art. In our recent post on the 5 Main Options to Sell Your Art, we noted that art fairs provide you with an easy way to get in front of new potential customers quickly, as well as validate that your art will sell to complete strangers. But, as a result of the exploding online art market, there are also growing negatives to art fairs. They take a significant amount of time to travel to, not to mention the time you’ll spend setting up and tearing down.
You need physical inventory to populate your booth – something that isn’t an issue when selling online. And finally, you’re putting your work in front of strangers that will have a huge variety of tastes and interests when it comes to buying art. Because of this, art fair audiences will generally be poorly qualified to buy your art – only a few attendees will likely be in your target audience, and that means sales are tough to come by.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make the most of art shows that will help you not only avoid some of these negatives, but come away from the show with a win – even if you don’t sell a single piece, let’s get into 11 of our favorite tips for a successful art show!
1. Come prepared with the right equipment
Once you’ve been accepted into an art show, do a little bit of research to make sure you’ll meet the requirements for showcasing your work at the event. For outdoor events, that’ll typically mean having a tent with certain features, the most common of which include: Walls, to create obvious partitions between display spaces
Weights, to safely secure the tent from gusts of wind, White fabric, for when the event requires it. Not all events will require all of these features. Some festivals may not care whether your tent is white. But to ensure you have access to the most fairs possible, we recommend picking up a tent that fits ALL of these possibly specifications.
You can occasionally find good deals on used tents on Craigslist and eBay, or pick one up new at your local home improvement store (i.e.: Home Depot) or even on Amazon for fast shipping. For indoor events, you may be required to bring a table cloth to protect the floor of the event space. Inside your display space, we recommend hanging your art against a black background. This will make your work pop out as much as possible. Finally, be sure to have relevant documents on-hand i.e.: license, insurance, and sales tax ID.
2. Use the Fishbowl Technique to Collect Leads
Making sales isn’t the only way to “win” at an art show. The vast majority of your eventual customers will not make a purchase during the first interaction they have with you. If 100 people stop by your booth at a show, and only 5 make a purchase, a key question to ask yourself is: what can I do to turn those other 95 people into a win? The answer is the Fishbowl Technique.You’ve probably seen this strategy in the past – “drop your business card in the bowl for a chance to win a free print”.
Or perhaps you’ve seen it as a newsletter sign-up list. What you want here is email addresses. Most of your future customers are just going to need time to get to know you and your work better before they’re willing to make a purchase. You want to be able to reach them and show them more of what you do. We call this Romance Marketing. If you get half of those 95 non-buyers to leave their email address, you’ve got nearly 50 new contacts to your list to market to! That is a valuable win, and it didn’t involve selling art on the spot.
3. Email your new leads after the show
This is when the Fishbowl Technique becomes especially powerful. Don’t just let those new email addresses sit on your list until you send your next email a week or two down the line. Reach out to them immediately with a greeting and/or an offer while they still remember who you are.
4. Accept credit cards
Improving your sales is all about removing friction – those pesky pain points that stop potential patrons from completing a sale. Minimizing friction at your booth is as simple as providing your visitors with as many options as possible, and these next two tips deal with that.
Accepting credit cards has become a nearly universal expectation – subsequently, only accepting cash will severely limit your income potential from art fairs.We recommend picking up a Square Card Reader – it is probably the easiest and most common way to accept credit cards from your mobile device or tablet, and it is FREE. Their fees are currently 2.75% per swiped transaction and 3.5% + 15 cents for manually-entered transactions.
5. Offer drop shipping
Drop shipping is important to offer because it solves a few key pain points in the art fair process. You don’t have to estimate how many prints you’ll sell. Just bring and hang a single print of each of the pieces you want to sell. Or, bring a small allotment of prints of your best sellers if you still want to have a few prints on-location as a back-up. Your customers don’t have to carry their purchase around with them for the rest of the day. This one is big. Many art show visitors, especially outdoor fairs, are just passing through – they’re browsers. If one of them happens to make an emotional connection with your work on the spot, you’ll greatly improve your chances at closing the sale if you’re able to say “No worries, I’ll set up an order on my tablet here and the print will be delivered to your house for free in a few days.” You get their email address. This is a critical step in turning your first time buyers into repeat buyers. With this technique, you can sell anytime, anywhere.
We interviewed fine artist Bill Stidham on this episode of the Art Marketing Podcast on how he’s set up shop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and drop ships his work to American tourists that come into his gallery. When the customer gets home from their vacation, the print is there waiting for them. Plus, through the Art Storefronts’ “wholesale purchasing” feature, he isn’t charged a transaction fee. All together, it’s an easy way to streamline your shipping processes and add some sophistication to your business that’ll set you apart from the competition.
6. Bring a tablet to show off the user experience you offer on your Online Art Gallery.
Without a proper art gallery website, your success at art fairs will be limited to the fair itself. Running your own art gallery, online, is the key to building your audience and customer base from all of those interactions you have at the show. With a properly optimized art gallery website you’re able to offer a compelling buying experience that your booth visitors will actually want to use when they get home. Use a tablet to show them your Wall Preview Tool, your Live Framing Tool, and even up-sell them on a multi-panel art wall.
7. Be approachable!
Next time you walk through an art show, take notice of the other artists. How many are attentive and engaging with browsers? How many are sitting on a stool looking bored? Art is sold when the buyer feels an emotional connection with your subject matter, and being an approachable and personable advocate of your art can go long way in creating that.
8. Practice your elevator pitch
This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. Part of being personable is knowing how to answer those dreaded questions, “What kind of art do you make? What inspires you? How would you describe your work?”
These are tough questions to answer, but you have a huge advantage in knowing that they are coming. Spend some time thinking about how to answer these challenging questions ahead of time so that you don’t miss out on the opportunity to make a connection with a booth visitor that’s expressing some interest in what you do.
9. Properly label all of your artwork
Once again the name of the game is reducing friction – making it easy to buy from you. One way to do that is to be proactive about answering questions browsers may have.
- “What size is this print exactly?”
- ”How much does this one cost?”
- ”Does this one have a title?”
- ”What is this landscape piece based on?”
These are all questions that you can and should answer via an information tag on each and every piece you display.
10. Offer a range of price points
You’ll often come across a buyer that falls in love with your style, but either can’t afford or isn’t willing to buy a full print just yet. Getting a large sale becomes exponentially easier if you get them to take a chance on you with a smaller sale.
What lower price point items are you offering? Calendars are king in this space, so we built an interactive art calendar product type right into our software, but other popular items include coasters, postcards, and coffee table art books.
11. Do something live at your booth to attract attention
Take your booth to the next level by working on your art in front of an audience. Showing the process behind the art is one of the best reasons to be posting Instagram Stories regularly, and a live painting demonstration is an even better version of that idea. By humanizing the art right in front of their eyes, you’re making it easier than ever for passersby to become new fans of your work.