Tips to Learn How to Sell Art at Shows. Part One
Make sure you are not your own worst enemy shows when selling art at shows?
Here are some tips and observations from selling show space in fine art trade shows for nearly two decades. I attended hundreds of fine art and home furnishing shows. I sometimes miss the glory days of ArtExpo New York in the Jacob Javits Center or Decor Expo Atlanta in the Georgia World Congress Center.
While I exhibited at a few of them, primarily, I was there to mix and mingle with all my customers and as many other industry figures that I could encounter. At a typical show, I would visit the booths and showrooms of 100 -150 exhibitors. That’s a lot of shoe leather, talking, and observing. I did my best to take it all in and learn everything I saw.
Today, I pass along some of the collected wisdom, practical advice, and observations from decades of experience. Here is a mix of suggestions, no-nos, and opinions that I believe can help you succeed in selling art at shows. Some of this advice may seem rudimentary, but I include it nevertheless because I too often encountered examples of things that ought to be common sense.
Some shows give you pipe and drape, and you can rent walls. Others give you hard walls as part of the booth. Whatever you get, you have to make the best of it to make the best look to help you sell art at shows.
A quick aside on buying booth space:
Booth space is nearly always negotiable. Unless the promoter has a killer sold-out show, they have wiggle room. Whether it is on the the booth costs, associated costs such as drayage, or electrical, booth location, or promotional extras, you should work to make sure you get the best deal for you. You can drive a hard bargain without being a jerk. Learn to be insistent and persistent. The squeaky wheel does get the grease. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
You have just a few seconds to give an impression of your work and yourself. Your booth needs to look like you care about your work, and you came to do business and take the opportunity to be there seriously. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun time and be jovial. Just make sure your booth looks as professional as it can.
For many, the best thing you can do is set up the booth in advance at home, then give it the white glove look and make improvements. Don’t tell me you can’t do better. I refuse to accept that answer. Kick it up a notch or two.
The amount of stuff you have in your booth is critical. How many times have you seen a booth that looks like a poorly run flea market? You know, the kind that has stuff crammed into every space. You cannot impress potential buyers this way. If you wonder why you are not getting the best price for your work and this in any way resembles how you set up your booth, you have a partial answer.
The reverse problem is the booth looks empty. That begs the question of what’s going on here? Unless it is the last hours of a successful show and you are clearing inventory to avoid shipping it home, you want your booth to be well-stocked and organized. Give thought to how you present your work. Is there a flow to what the viewer is seeing? Or, are they finding a jumble of things that make it hard for them to connect with your work?
You have to keep thinking about your buyers. Put yourself in their shoes. They know nothing about you and are being bombarded with sensory overload. They see so much work in one place. All kinds of people wandering around. Often entertainment and music playing. You are attempting to break through the noise and clutter they are experiencing. Finding an eye-pleasing, well-organized space is almost like a respite from the chaos around them. Think of your booth as a resort. Make it an inviting place for shoppers.
Your ambiance will, of course, vary with the type of art you have, who you are, and what vibe you want to give. Selling serene landscapes is one environment; selling images of hot chicks on hot motorcycles is another. Cater to your crowd, but keep it classy and organized no matter the motif and message you are sending.
Cohesiveness & Clarity.
You may have the talent and interest to create art in a bunch of genres. While a blessing for the creative you, it is not a way to sell art at shows.
You went to the great expense of buying the booth space, creating the art to fill it, preparing for and traveling to the show, and more. Don’t blow it by setting a booth that looks like 12 different people made the art. Settle in on what are your best images within a genre and mine that mother lode. You can always come back another time or go to another show and display that polar opposite side of your creativity.
A word of caution here. I would sometimes sell ad space or show space to an artist or publisher, and when I first got to see their work, I was astounded. It was not why you might think. It was because all the work looked similar. I know I just told you to have cohesiveness and clarity. That does not mean loading your booth with 100 originals of the same subject or in the same palette.
In graphic design, white or negative space is critical. I mentioned how clutter is a show killer, so is a lack of access to a booth. One of the worst things you can do is put a table in the front of your booth. NEVER do that. It sends a strong visual message that you are attempting to create a barrier between the buyer and you.
You want an inviting environment as much as possible. Blocking the entry is a terrible idea. I realize a delicate balance between wanting to have enough product to display and keeping the amount of negative space to an appealing amount. I would tend to push it towards more space. Just a tad more than makes you comfortable is likely to have the exact opposite effect on potential buyers.
These are generalities because art sizes are all over the place, from tiny pieces of jewelry to massive pieces of chainsawed sculpture and everything in between. If you keep the perspective of your visitor’s enjoyment and visual pleasure, you will tend to make the right decision more often.
How you look affects your potential buyer’s assessment of you and your art. It also affects your self-confidence and esteem. You want to look professional. It sends a message to the buyer that you care about yourself and your art. You don’t have to dress to the nines. Some shows are outdoors in weather from hot and dry to wet and cold. You should be wearing attire appropriate for the venue. It should be comfortable to help you stay in the moment during those long show hours.
What you are wearing should be fresh, not wrinkled, old, or tattered. It’s all part of the same thing, which is the booth visitor experience. Within a few brief seconds, they are already making assumptions about you, your booth, and your art: your clothing and personal appearance art part of that quick assessment.
Besides wearing appropriate attire, you should make sure your appearance is as good as it can be. Your hair is neatly combed or brushed. You don’t have food sticking in your teeth. The whole idea is to look successful. Confidence begets confidence. People naturally gravitate to those who appear successful and confident. Whether you feel internal like you are confident is not the issue. It is about outwardly portraying confidence. Just showing high confidence helps you sell more art.
Have you become bitter, cynical, or lazy about putting out the effort to sell art at shows? Don’t feel alone; there are many people just like you. If this is you, and you know if it is, then you have to face the fact that your attitude feeds a vicious cycle.
I can tell you countless times when I saw someone in a booth, usually in the far corner or even behind the booth in a personal space, acting bored out of their skulls. Wow! That encouraged me to want to engage them. I would often come in with a chipper, cheerful attitude, hoping some of it would wear off on them. Sadly, it often had the opposite effect of making the sullen more sullen.
If your dog just died, or your spouse just ran off with your best friend, you have a legitimate reason for your gloomy outlook. Short of some personal disaster, you owe it to yourself to shake off the bad ‘tude and get with the program. Put it in perspective. You are only there at the show for few hours out of your life. You have made a significant investment in time, money, product, and effort to be there. Take some deep breaths. Listen to some happy music. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but feel sunny and optimistic when listening to Blue Sky by The Allman Brothers.
While you may not have control over the circumstances that have put you in a foul mood, you have complete control over how you choose to react to those circumstances. Your mind over matter power is off the charts. Learning how to put your negative feelings in check and work towards presenting a confident, if not happy demeanor, makes your art shine. It makes you more attractive. It will sell more art.
There is more to it.
As the subject line suggests, there are more parts to this saga on how to sell more art at shows. The next installment is below.
Tips to Learn How to Sell Art at Shows. Part Two
Top tips for selling more art at shows
Part One covered these topics:
- Booth Appearance.
- Inventory Management.
- Cohesiveness and Clarity.
- White Space.
- Your Appearance.
- Your Attitude.
Don’t Give Yourself a Pay Cut for Your Show Income.
Here’s the thing. You spend much time, money, and energy getting into a show, then setting it up and losing sales. When you don’t have a game plan for what to do once the show begins – and in pre-sale and setup – you are giving yourself a pay cut. Follow the advice here to give yourself a pay raise instead.
Once you pass the date to refund your deposit or payment in full, you are ALL IN. After that, I think what happens with many artists is one or both of these two things:
- They initially never knew what to do to make a show the best possible for themselves.
- They expend so much energy getting ready, getting to, and setting up that they are too fixed on doing the necessary things to make the show successful.
The goal is not to get into the show, get there and get set up. The goal is to go to the show and do three things:
- Sell as much art as humanly possible at the show.
- Meet as many potential art buyers as you can.
- Collect an email address from everyone who enters your booth. (If you don’t understand why you need email addresses, become an Art Marketing Toolkit Community member. We cover email marketing often and in-depth.
Advice for How to Sell More Art at Shows.
Before you read this information, it is a good suggestion to read, or to go back and re-read, the Part One post that details the points bulleted above. I urge you to review that information because if you are not doing it or doing it all wrong, you leave money on the table.
To my mind, you work too hard to be inflicting self-damage to your income. If you have participated in just one show, you know how much it takes to get everything done to get there and get set up in time for the show. Nevertheless, you have to leave yourself with enough energy, spirit, and smarts to make the show successful for you.
Are You Giving An Experience?
When show-goers make their effort to get themselves to a fine art show, they look for an experience. In some cases, the commotion and non-art-related things going on at a show can make it that much harder for you to compete with them. For instance, the atmosphere at the First Friday Artwalk events in downtown Phoenix makes it feel like you are at a raucous block party. People are there to see and be seen, and you are trying to compete with that sort of thing sometimes.
Other shows put the art first. They offer more decorum and respect for you as an artist and art exhibitor. Whatever the case, you need to be prepared to give those whose attention you draw an experience.
It doesn’t have to be over the top. Your art can be an experience if you display it well and make your booth visitors comfortable and welcome. If you can add a bit of excitement somehow, you are closer to winning the battle.
What Makes a Show Experience?
It could be a dramatic display of your masterpiece. Perhaps an overall booth design that is unique and inviting. Your imagination is all that limits what you can do to create an experience unforgettable for show attendees.
Start paying attention to other exhibitors. What’s going on in the ones that always seem crowded? How can you adapt what you see there to make your booth experience more happening?
Don’t be afraid to creatively borrow ideas from retail stores, websites, or other vendors. Use, modify and incorporate anything that arrests your attention wherever you find the inspiration. You don’t have to settle for being just another artist in a booth with art on display. Kickass! You got this!
Let the Experience Carryover.
I talk extensively about personal branding and self-promotion in the Art Marketing Toolkit presentations. Check it out; it would be excellent to have you in the community.
I’ve written before about how a great backstory will sell art and sell artists. All these things, show experience, personal branding, self-promotion, and backstories are part of a tapestry woven from the same threads.
I realize ideas like this are more challenging to do than saying and are, to some extent, over the top. However, do not let that deter you from working to put them into action. When it comes to the buying decision, how you present your art is as important as the art itself.
Buying Art Is Driven by Emotions.
A show experience pushes the emotional buttons of buyers. Logic justifies the purchase. Creating an experience puts you miles ahead of your also-ran show competitors. Moreover, if you weave that experience into your marketing outside of shows, you add incredible power to it.
My good friend, and co-presenter on our free, monthly Art2Market Sessions, Jason Horejs, is the owner of Xanadu Gallery. He will tell you he does not offer promotional material of any sort to gallery visitors. On the surface, this may sound contradictory to doing everything you can to make a sale.
Jason’s opinion and mine give expensive four-color brochures or even postcards, wasting both time and money. Instead of offering promo materials, Jason offers to email the prospect with detailed information about the artwork they have shown interest in.
The benefit is the prospect does not have to haul materials around the show with them. (How often at shows have you seen abandoned flyers, sell sheets, and brochures laying around or discarded? What a waste!)
Most importantly, the obtaining email address method gives Jason, and you, the opportunity and permission to send more marketing information regarding the prospect’s interest in your art.
The Importance of Collecting Email Addresses.
If you want to enjoy the most remarkable success selling your art, you have to work at it. These days, a primary and efficient way to sell art is to send a steady stream of focused emails to targeted prospects.
Selling art is the main reason for attending a show. In some cases, a secondary and nearly equally important purpose for exhibiting is to expose your art to potential buyers and capture their email addresses.
Email Marketing Rules.
A viable, responsive list of email subscribers is your most potent marketing tool. It gives you the ability to communicate directly with your top prospects. You do this without the distraction of other elements found in all social media and online galleries.
Eliminate Your Competition.
Your email eliminates all your competition. It offers a platform to state your case and display your art in the most favorable conditions without distractions from competitive messages and offers. When you understand this dynamic, you begin to grasp the power of email marketing.
Art Collectors Buy Art Online.
Observing the success of online art sites proves buyers use the Internet to find and purchase art. Instead of giving some other third party a cut of your sales, selling directly through your email marketing program puts you in control.
You cannot overstate the power of an email list that consists of opted-in addresses from those who willing to give you their email address. It offers more massive potential for sales for you than any other single thing you can do to sell art directly to buyers.
Sign Up Sheets Are Cumbersome and Old School.
An easy way to collect addresses for the show is to set up an iPad and let prospects subscribe on the spot. You can entice the deal for them in any number of ways. I cover many of them in my free, seven-part Email Marketing for Artists Series. CLICK HERE to register today.
Make it a point to collect as many email addresses as aggressively as you can. Don’t forget why you are at the show. It purely is to:
- Sell art.
- Show your art.
- Meet prospective buyers.
- Grow your email list.
During show hours, nothing else matters. You are only there for a few short hours; make them count!
You Are Not Following Up Enough with Your Clients
Jason Horejs recently penned a post titled; You Are Not Following Up Enough with Your Clients on RedDotBlog.com. Now, if you don’t collect email addresses, you don’t have to worry about this. By not collecting email addresses, you will have much more time to worry about why you are not selling enough art.
For the rest of us who actively collect email addresses, Jason’s message should open our eyes to lost opportunity. Just like having an also-ran booth setup, not sending to your list often enough is a sure way to cost you lost sales. This situation is especially true after a show. Get a series of indoctrination emails set up as a drip campaign to send to your prospects.
Use the Masterpiece Offer to Sell More Art at Shows.
Every artist should have at least one “Masterpiece.” A work that is often larger and, in general, just noticeably more magnificent than other works on display. If you don’t have one, get busy and make one. The only thing holding you back is you.
Your masterpiece helps you justify the prices of the other artworks you are showing. You always start by introducing your masterpiece to new visitors to your booth. Price it accordingly and proportionally greater than other works on display. This structure psychologically makes all your art more affordable. It automatically raises the top end of your price range.
How to Price Your Art to Make More Money
Read this How to Price Your Art to Make More Money post to learn how Australian artist Olivia Alexander used the “Masterpiece” suggestion and raised her prices, which led to her biggest single sale ever.
I suggest you work up an introductory speech for your “Masterpiece” pitch. Mine might go something like this,
“Let me show you my masterpiece. I am genuinely proud of it because of how it represents my work. The subject, color palette, and everything about it influence me considerably. I brought it to sell because I want to share my art with the world, but this is one artwork I will part with reluctantly.”
Silence Is Golden!
Then be quiet, let your prospective buyer soak in what you just said, view the work, and wait for them to reply or ask questions. Resist the urge to talk until your prospect speaks first. What they say will help you understand how to proceed with the sale immeasurably.
Planning for How to Sell More Art at Shows.
If you show up, set up, and then sit there with no plan to present your art and know what you will say and what questions you will ask your booth visitors, you are wasting precious opportunities.
Don’t Be An Amateur!
That’s what amateurs do — show up unrehearsed and unprepared. That sort of wishful thinking and acting is better buying lottery tickets. (In case you didn’t know, the odds of winning the lottery are about the same whether you buy a ticket or not.)
You want to elevate your game. You don’t have to act like the high-pressure jerks you encounter in some galleries. You just need to work on what will happen while you are in the booth with potential buyers. It’s all part of a grander scheme to make you more successful. Any practical tips or techniques you learn to use at shows will spill over into the other aspects of your career.
A Treasure Trove of How to Sell Art Information.
You can search this blog on the right sidebar for “how to sell art.” You will many posts dedicated to helping you present your work, start and keep a conversation going, guide a sale, and ask for the business. Here are some of the posts:
- How to Price Your Art to Make More Money
- How to Sell Your Art Using Buyer Social Styles
- Selling Art | Take the Lead | Close the Deal
- Four Tips on How to Sell Art to People Who Can Afford to Buy It
I have also written about this concept many times. You can neither assume the buyer knows what they want nor can you guess what they are willing to spend with you. It’s impossible. The only thing you can know for sure is if you make assumptions is you will lose. It is a zero-sum game.
When you have a buyer interested in your masterpiece, and some will if you show it to them, don’t stop there. Before you take the payment or during your presentation, learn to work in a BIG OFFER.
“You have made an excellent choice with this piece; it’s one of my favorites. Let me suggest a couple of companion pieces. These two smaller paintings complement the one you have selected. In the right setting, they together will make an impressive and dramatic presentation. You can use them to command attention and make them the centerpiece of nearly any design setting.”
Those are my words. Your job is to work on making a similar statement that comes from your genuine, authentic self.
My Guarantee on the Outcome of My Advice.
I guarantee these two things to you if you take my suggestion to offer big. The first is some buyers, to your eternal delight, will take your offer without quibbling or giving it much thought. The second is you won’t lose any sales from making a legitimate upsell offer. The worst that will happen is the buyer will decline to take your Big Offer. That’s all.