How to Sell to the 5 People You'll Meet at an Art Fair

Katie Carey | November 30, 2016 (Updated February 5, 2024)

Are your sales sometimes on the slow side, even when you’re getting a lot of foot traffic?

Here’s something to think about. A lot of the people who walked in and out of your booth may have been closer to purchasing something than you realized. For those customers, all it takes is some simple sales techniques to bump a would-be sale into a bonafide purchase. Here are five profiles of the types of people you’ll meet at an art fair, and how to approach them strategically.

The Bargain Hunter

They rushed the door on Black Friday and now they’re in your booth hunting for a deal. Don’t panic, here’s how to deal with a dealmaker:

One thing to remember about a bargain hunter is that if they’re negotiating with you, they’re interested in making a purchase. It sounds simple, but from a sales perspective, these folks already have a foot in the door. Don’t feel like you have to compromise because they have the upper hand as a consumer. You want to make a sale, they want to pay for your work and feel like they got a deal. You’re on fairly even terrain here.
Try saying things like, “I’ve come down a lot from the full price. There’s been a lot of interest in this piece and I want you to have it, but need it to sell it for a fair price.”
If you’re comfortable and willing to haggle, by all means, engage with them. In general, avoid marking things down by more than twenty-percent, especially early in the show. Make sure to know the cost and price breakdown of what you’re selling. What kind of wiggle room do you actually have to make up for materials and time? These numbers matter. You can easily create and maintain an inventory of this information using products like Artwork Archive.

If you’ve come down as low as possible and they’re still pushing, remind them about the workmanship nicely but firmly. “That's a really special piece and it took a lot of time. I can’t let it go for anything less.” Chances are if they’re really interested in the piece they’ll respect this ultimatum.

The Indecisive Shopper

This holiday shopper always leaves a huge pile of “maybes” in the dressing room. Now, they’ve allocated a whole section of your booth to items under consideration. They can’t make up their mind and after 20 minutes mention, “I’m going to walk around and circle back.” Given how indecisive they are, they may get bogged down at another booth and forget about yours entirely. Here’s what you do:

Weigh-in—let them know if a piece is your favorite or the handiwork is extra special. This input from the artist can be the push they need to decide that one piece stands out above the rest.

Offer to hold something. This does a few things to assuage their decision-anxiety. It forces them to make a decision about which products to hold and helps you gauge how serious they are. If they seem pretty committed to your work, you should set aside at most three items (unless they’ve expressed interest in buying more than one).

As you’re setting the products aside create a sense of urgency by saying, “There’s been a lot of interest in these so I’ll only be able to keep them back here for an hour or two. After that, I can’t promise it’ll be here.”

This informal agreement is also laying the groundwork for a future sale. They’ll be visiting a lot of booths and will better remember yours if you’re holding three pieces they agonized over. When the show is closing and they’re deciding between a cinnamon and cardamom candle, you want them to remember your booth!

The Artist Who Wants to Trade (or Who You Want to Trade With)

One of the most exciting parts of art fairs is that you can discover amazing art created by other participants. There’s a good chance those artists are scouting your booth also. When that's the case, trading can be a great option.

In these transactions, it's important to respect the work of others and feel that yours is appreciated too. If you’re approaching someone to ask them for a trade, let them know you’d also be happy to purchase the item. If someone wants to trade with you, don’t hesitate to say that you’d rather them buy something outright. After all, they understand your need to make an income off of your artwork firsthand, and it's alright to vocalize your need for this.

It can be hard to say no to trade when someone really digs your stuff and you just aren’t into what they’re making. Try to be sensitive, but direct, when doing this. The last thing you want is to let a great piece go in exchange for something you aren't crazy about.

The Superfan with a Tight Budget

This person LOVES your work. They’ve just spent the better part of an hour in your booth asking about the techniques and inspiration for every piece. Now, they reluctantly acknowledge that they don’t think they can afford anything.

You don’t need to slash prices to meet the needs of these extra-frugal customers. Instead, try to have a few items in your booth that are accessible at lower price points. Consider having a small section of your booth dedicated to less time-consuming pieces or experimental works. These introductory works might be an awesome acquisition for someone enthralled with your process as an artist.

Let them know that you’re excited about these lower-priced works. Just because something costs less doesn’t mean it isn’t a unique statement of your artistry. Remind them of this by saying something like, “A lot of these more affordable works use experimental techniques that I'm exploring right now. I love being able to take more risks with these and they often turn out especially interesting!”

Also, make sure to stay in touch. Exchange contact info and cards whenever possible. Be sure and ask them to sign up for your mailing list or like your Facebook page. This is a great way to stay in touch with your supporters. They might have a tight budget right now, but you want to be first on their list for when this changes!

Need ideas for your newsletter? Check out these exciting ways to jumpstart your newsletter and build a relationship with your fans.

The Person Who Wants a Custom Piece

They think your work is incredible, but that a more turquoise-heavy version of your latest creation would be a fabulous centerpiece for their living room. They’re willing to pay for this privilege and approach you with an offer.

If you’re going to do custom work, make sure to agree on a few things beforehand. First, you need a firm commitment that they will purchase the completed work. You don’t want to be stuck with hard-to-sell turquoise inventory if they bail.

Before accepting a commission you might need time to carefully consider the costs, time, and other details of the proposed project. Get their contact info and put together an agreement detailing their expectations of the piece and an agreed-upon price.  

Artwork Archive offers an easy-to-use invoicing system that can be tailored to these situations. Professional quality invoices help make sure you’re taken seriously and appear like the professional you are.
Before you commit to customizing something, make sure you have the time and interest. You don’t want to invest a lot of time creating something you aren’t invested in.  Only agree to create a piece when you’re excited about the final product.

Track upcoming shows and make sure your inventory is organized and ready to sell! Artwork Archive offers comprehensive tools to help professional artists excel.

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