This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
In Good Ways, and Bad, Unfortunately
It’s been awhile since I’ve visited small craft fairs, but the holiday season has brought them out in droves.
I got to visit a few lately, and I was surprised by what I found.
First, the good stuff: The stuff was good! I was surprised at the quality of the products offered, both in materials used, the finished product itself, and the skill involved to make them. Very important, and every exhibitor earned my respect here.
Sadly, there were so many little things that could have been done better.
Lack of pricing
I thought the prices were higher than I expected, but certainly fair (considering, again the quality of materials, the finished product, and the skills.) But so many people hadn’t priced their work!
I’m bad at this, too. The first day of major shows, I’m so involved with getting ready, getting organized, getting packed, getting set up, that I save pricing for last (especially for new work.)
But I usually manage to get at least 75% of my items priced, certainly enough for early shoppers to get an idea of my price range. (I keep pricing as I go, which allows me to stay “busy” but available to interested browsers.)
This is actually a way to get potential customers to talk to you! Price most of the work, (again, so they get a general idea) and leave a very few unpriced. Chances are, the person who inquires is interested in that specific piece. This gives you, the maker, a chance to talk a little about the work, opening the door to a bigger conversation.
But not pricing your work at all? Bad idea.
One person had one item marked, and they made no effort while I was there to price more. I loved the work, but I got tired of picking something up and asking, “How much is this one? How much is THIS one? What about THIS one?” over and over.
Although I liked the work, I gradually lost interest, and moved on.
Maybe they forgot their price tags. Otherwise, they could have made up a tag as I asked, handed it to me, and at least those items I asked about would be done.
One way to get around individually pricing is to group by price. Even a display with a sign that says, “Under $50” or “Under $200” at least establishes some guidelines about what to expect.
But in general, most people will not ask more than two or three times before giving up. Our human brains are already looking for reasons not to buy. Jason Horejs of Xanadu Gallery has written oodles about overcoming objections with prospective buyers, and having to ask over and over and over is a doozy. Don’t give people an excuse to walk away!
Too much information
When I asked about a piece, most people were very good about talking to me about it. But almost everybody took it too far.
A simple comment like, “What a beautiful sweater!” resulted in a monologue about the wool, the pattern, the struggles they had getting it right, where the pattern came from, etc. All good information, but not what I needed to know to decide to buy it.
Talking is better than not talking at all. But talking too much, especially about the wrong things, isn’t good, either. If I were visiting a friend and we ended up talking like this, it’s fine. But a customer?
A better way to engage a customer who’s intrigued by a baby sweater is to ask who the gift would be for. I would have replied, “For our first grandchild on the way!” That would have opened the door for a discussion on why purchase was so special, why this yarn was perfect for an infant, what made the style adaptable for a growing baby, perhaps even a special “gift for baby” card to be included with the purchase. Perhaps the maker started making baby sweaters for their own kids, and kept going, and how such presents are received (and appreciated!) by new parents.
In other words, this was an opportunity to tell a story that would appeal to me, the customer, rather than a story about the maker and their journey. There’s a time and a place for that. Just know when it’s the right time and place.
The best way to do this? Pay attention to the question the customer asked, and follow up by asking them related questions in return. For example: “What attracted you to this piece?” (I loved the colors.) “Yes, this is one of my most popular designs because it’s practical as well as pretty.” And then share what’s special about the yarn, the pattern, etc.
In this case, I bought the sweater anyway, because I knew this was one I’d never attempt to make, myself! Still, I walked away from it—twice!—before I realized that. And fortunately for the maker, I realized it before we left the fair!
Take credit cards!!!
I couldn’t believe how few vendors accepted credit cards.
Most of them said, “Well, if you pay by check or cash, I won’t have to charge you sales tax!” Okay….but I never carry my checkbook anymore, and I’d already spent all my cash at another booth. They would have been SOOL (S… out of luck) if my friend hadn’t lent me the money. (And if they had spent more money, they would have been out of cash, too.)
Yes, some rural areas have poor wifi connections. But the event actually did have a working wifi spot, and it was very close and accessible. Most people just didn’t have mobile credit card readers, or they don’t want to pay the extra fees. I can’t imagine how many sales they lost because of that.)
I know, I know. Socializing is half the fun of doing small shows. Actually, any show!
But during the show, stay near your space. I had to make repeated trips to a couple of booths because the makers were nowhere to be found. And this was when customers were starting to show up!
Fortunately, everyone seemed to know everyone (it was a long-established event), so when I’d ask someone nearby, “Is this your booth?” they usually knew the person and sometimes even went to find them.
But the third time I had to ask, I just let it go and moved on to the next booth.
A small event like this may be more of a lifestyle choice than a money-making event for the participants. I get it, I really do! But a better choice might be to meet up the next day, if there is one. During multiple-day events, makers usually have everything squared away by the second day, and there’s time before the event opens to hang out, yak, trade and barter. Or set up a meet-up after the show to talk about what went well and what could be better.
Business cards. Business cards. Business cards!!!!
Not one person had business cards.
I buy business cards by the hundreds, even thousands.
Mini-cards from Moo.com allow you to choose 100 different images per 100 cards! People LOVE them.
I carry them with me all the time. I lay out heaps in my studio. If I do a show, I bring tons.
They have all my contact info, my tag line, and an image of my work. In fact, my mini-Moo cards have dozens of different images, so people can choose one that speaks to them.
Images are important, and I know that from personal experience. At a major fine craft show on the east coast, before picture biz cards/postcards were a ‘thing’, I gathered cards from dozens of artisans whose work I loved. I wrote copious notes in my notebook about who they were and what they did.
This postcard template from Moo.com let me easily compile twelve different images that show the range of my work. People love these, too!
A week later, the only ones I could really remember were the ones with images on them. Lesson learned!
Sometimes people say, “I’ll just take one.” I’ll say, “Take as many as you’d like! They are for giving away. Give one to someone who owes you a birthday present. Give one to a friend you think would enjoy my work.” It works.
Over the decades, I’ve had customers who kept every postcard and every business card I’ve given/sent them. Some keep them on their fridge, or their workspace, or their office bulletin board. Other people see them, and inquire.
Some of those cards and postcards have brought in 100x the business of their actual cost. And until you move, they don’t go out of date!
Learn who your customers are, and keep them in the loop.
Not one maker asked me to join their email list. Not. One. Not even the people I actually bought from.
I assume they didn’t have one, didn’t want one, or didn’t feel they needed one.
Which is too bad, because I only heard about this event through a new friend, and probably wouldn’t have checked it out on my own. I hope I remember to look for it next year. But that’s a whole year away.
If you read Fine Art Views regularly, you know that FASO founder Clint Watson is adamant about the importance of your email newsletter. It is the easiest, most efficient, most affordable way to reach, grow, and maintain your audience.
I don’t mean to sound like a grinch. I truly enjoyed this little fair. The makers did good work, and they were all friendly and fun to be with. I simply want them to be successful with their creative ventures, and to bring joy to other folks as they did with me.
But through missing out on “the little things” (the ones I’m guessing they thought weren’t important enough to fuss about), they lost sales, lost bigger sales, and missed a chance for me to become a follower, and future customer.
A good example? What if I had left the fair without buying that beautiful baby sweater? I had no way of remembering the maker, I did not have a card/contact info for them, and since they hadn’t taken my email until I suggested they did, they would not have been able to thank me for coming to the fair—and remind me that the sweater was still available!
On the other hand, I’m grateful they gave me something to write about and share with you today!
- Price your work.
- Tailor your sales pitch to your individual potential customer. Tell them what they want to know.
- Make it easy for your customers to buy, and to buy more.
- Business cards!!!!!
- Stay in touch with your customers: Ask them to sign up for your email newsletter.
Trust me—it’s those little things that help your art biz grow big!