I have a theory about holiday shows. Feel free to chime in below and comment.

Most craft shows are held just before the holidays. The theory is, everyone is out Christmas shopping.

Of course, as a veteran and consummate shopper, I will share something you probably already know:

Many of those gifts I buy are never gonna be given away. They’re for me!

I’ll find something wonderful and affordable and exclaim, “Oh, these would be perfect for Ruth/Sue/Carol/Mom!” Then I buy five. That fifth one is for me, because it’s perfect for me, too.

If it’s not affordable, I might still buy it anyway, under the guise that it’s still a cool gift for that perfect someone.

And sometimes, those gifts are for me, too.

I used to think I was a pretty selfish shopper, secretly buying all those things that never made it to their intended recipient. (They got a gift, don’t get me wrong. Bear with me here.)

Now I know that if I’m rationalizing my purchases this way, millions are doing it. It’s not about being selfish. It’s about how we justify the purchases we make.

So here’s my theory:

If your work is really new to a customer–you’re new to a show, they aren’t familiar with your work….

and it’s really different/unusual/unique–they like it, but they aren’t sure someone else will…

and it’s “strong”–a bold color, has a “heavy” theme, has a powerful message, is something very personal….

and it’s not seen as highly affordable…

Then it’s hard for someone to justify buying it over the holidays as a gift for someone else.

It’s too obvious to the customer that they really want to buy it for themselves. And that can be a high wall for them to climb over during the holiday season, when so much money has to be spent on gifts for others.

Here’s the pattern I’ve noticed at the few retail shows I’ve done:

Mostly, I noticed people bought for themselves. (The show is in August. Some people claim they’re Christmas shopping, but there’s plenty of leeway for simply buying for themselves, too.)

The next year, they often come in and buy a piece “for a very special friend”.

Then they come back and buy more for themselves, and for many friends! (Or they bring their friends, which is even nicer.)

They agonized over their first gifty-buying decision. “I love your work! And I think my friend would, too. But I’m just not sure….”

The next year, they come back exclaiming, “My wife/friend/daughter LOVED it!  I’m buying more!”

There are several things you can do to overcome this “powerful gift” obstacle.

  • Offer to exchange the piece for another if it does not suit. This only works if you have a catalog, website, or some other way of offering another choice to the end user.
  • Be prepared to reassure them why their friend will love your work. And it isn’t because you think it’s fabulous. One strategy is to ask your customer why she thinks it’s fabulous. Then ask, “Is your friend the kind of person who will love those aspects of my work, too?”
  • If you’re making that connection with the customer in your booth, but they are worried they won’t be able to make that same connection with their friend, then you need to build that story into your product. Story cards/gift enclosure cards, hang tags, care instruction tags are all vehicles for carrying your story when the actual product cannot.
  • I think the key word is “new”. People who love your work may have to get used to seeing it before they feel it would be a great gift for others. I do better at shows where I have tenure, some sort of “repeat presence”.
  • But they shouldn’t see it too often, either! When it’s easily available, then people either a) get used to seeing it and figure they’ll pick up a piece some other time. Or b) everyone who wants one, buys one–and then my market is saturated for a year or so. My work does best in an area when it’s only available a few times a year, OR when there’s a high turnover in the customer base–a tourist area, a high-traffic area, etc.

My last suggestion, of course, would be: Don’t do holiday shows!! Try shows when people can more easily justify buying for themselves.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

5 thoughts on “SELLING AT HOLIDAY SHOWS: My Gift Shopping Theory”

  1. I’ve always said “art doesn’t make a good gift”.

    My work is new, unusual, and “strong” (bright colors, bold shapes). I’ve avoided holiday shows for exactly the reasons you list. I didn’t think it was a good fit.

    But, a highly successful artist told me people DO buy original art after Thanksgiving. For themselves or as gifts? I’m not sure.

    So I might try a holiday show next year. Maybe offering easy exchanges/refunds will help.

    Barbara J Carter


  2. Spike, I love that line! Thanks for sharing it. I’m going to try it at my next (holiday) show.

    Barbara, thanks for your observations. I’m guessing that the key to the “after Thanksgiving art buying” is the phrase “highly successful artist”–someone who’s already well-known, with established reputation and value. The recipient may not like it, but they’ll know the giver has good taste–also a big factor in gift-giving!


  3. My theory on the post-Thanksgiving purchases of original art: people will buy what they love in anticipation of holiday entertaining. It’s pleasant to display beautiful things at home for the enjoyment of friends and family.

    Art does make a good gift – but only when the recipient has admired the artist’s work or a particular piece. Too often we buy gifts that we would love to have, without thinking deeply about what the other person would enjoy, which might be something rather different.

    I enjoy your blog very much.


  4. When I go to craft shows looking for Christmas presents for others I don’t usually buy for myself. I am there to buy Christmas presents. But, if it is something I like for me I say so and I buy for me. If money and time are an issue, I’ll take the artists card and buy it later. I am fortunate enough to know the people I buy for well enough to know whether they will love a piece or not.


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