August 3, 2017

Asking Artists: Art Show Tips

The old adage, "Practice makes perfect" applies to many situations, including kicking butt at art events. I asked some seasoned local artists what they recommend to help others find success. Check out these great nuggets of wisdom for making sales, connecting with customers and furthering your creative business! Thank you to all of the greats who contributed!

Morgan McBride of Muggs Studio

  • My absolute best advice is to bring a professional attitude ... fellow artists and the folks setting up and running the event (often volunteers) are our coworkers, and hopefully our friends. Be patient when the schedule is off ... help a struggling neighbor unload their car instead of comment or squabble about that being the place/time you were to unload. If business is slow, network with other artists instead of complain (They could turn out to be your best customer!).
  • The second price of advice I have is to make friends with some veteran artists in your medium and ask them if they can share a list of supplies with you that they make sure to pack for each show. Then make yourself a little pack that is stocked with all these odds and ends (scissors, clear/duct tape, order pad, portable phone battery charger, etc). I have gladly given mine out many times, and I am always adding to it when I meet someone clever enough to remember the thing I never knew I needed.

Josh Dossett aka Muddy Josh

  • Make your best work, bring your best "self" and surround yourself with people like you. The Law of Attraction is absolutely at play in markets and customers not only want to buy a great product, they want to help you succeed!

Linda Wandt, Oil Painter

  • My advice for art show success would be in presentation - of your booth, and of yourself. Put some thought into your booth design. Mine is still not the best it could be, it's evolving constantly, and I have new ideas for it pretty often. Just think about the best way to showcase your work and make it look good. Nothing should look sloppy or cobbled together, and you want the space to feel inviting.

Eya Claire Floyd, Painter

  • My general philosophy is to make shopping as easy as possible for the customer - especially the shy customer. Use countertop height tables so shoppers don't have to bend over ... I also highly recommend designing your booth so people don't have to walk into your space or feel like they have to talk to you. That means, tables facing out and positioned towards the edge of your booth with your chair and personal belongings behind the tables. Unless it's hot outside and shoppers need the shade in order to be comfortable, keep them out of your tent! The less people have to commit to being in your space, the more willing they will be to stop and look.  Put your tables closer to the edge of the booth so people can be walking by, see something eye-catching (like your show piece) and then stop to look without ever having to decide to walk into your space or talk to you.
  • Have price points for every budget - $5, $10, $20, $30-$60, and $100 or above, depending on your audience. Have one expensive show piece that stops traffic. Something that can be seen from far away. (Your general decor can be used for the same purpose, as long as it draws people in.)
  • Artfully ignore the shy [shoppers] by having a project to work on while you sit there, and engage the chatty folks with friendly banter when you get the signal. I let my signage and product sell itself. That way I can genuinely enjoy chatting with the people who want to chat or happily work on whatever project I have going without bothering the introverts. Having visible price tags/signs helps people know in an instant if they want to keep shopping.  
  • Oh, and if you can, always have a sale bin!  Who doesn't love a sale?

Carianne Schulte of By Carianne

  • In my experience the best thing I can do is create a space that people want to come into and to enjoy myself by just genuinely engaging with everyone coming through to look at my work. It's not necessarily about the sale, but about the connection.

Liz Potter of Bolsa Bonita

  • This seems like an obvious one, but it's so important: smile, be polite, don't be aggressive, let the shopper feel welcome not pressured. If you're down to your last dollar and bills are due, do NOT let that energy seep out into your interactions with potential customers, they feel it and it makes them uncomfortable ... customer service is a huge part of selling in person. If you can't do it, get someone else to do it for you or learn a few simple ways engage without feeling nervous. 
  • Grow a thick skin while you're at it because in addition to the lovely people who will be complimentary, there will be those who will feel the need to openly pass judgment on your work. I happen to have a true enthusiasm for what I do so it's easy for me to talk about my work in a way that's more about what inspires me, or the process, rather than a sales pitch. Engaging on a level that's friendly and conversational has always worked well for me and has led to some very valuable connections. Sometimes my "hello" is met with, "I'm just looking!", which lets me know to cool it until the person chooses to engage with me again... Remain open and friendly, even to those who may be off-putting at first encounter because you never know.
  • Not every show is great, but there is something to learn from every experience. I look at shows in a big picture, not just the bottom line in sales. Did I receive some good advertising just by being involved? Did I meet anyone who may order online eventually? Often yes- sometimes a slow show will be frustrating for the immediate sales (or lack of), but I'll get an online order afterwards due to the exposure I received being in the show or market. 
  • Think of all shows as a way to meet a new audience or reinforce the audience you have. Another way I try to put a positive spin on a bad show is if I was able to experiment with a display, which always helps me at a future show. I'm constantly working on ways to make a booth look inviting, but also be functional to shop. 
  • It's hard work so you better really love what you do! The business of selling handmade work takes great tenacity. If you get discouraged easily, it can be a rough ride.