There’s nothing like a face-to-face with potential customers at art fairs, which have become increasingly popular in recent years (see Should I go to an art fair). These are the perfect venues for you to get tens of thousands of viewings in a matter of days, and chat up hundreds of potential buyers, gallery owners and agents. But you need to do more than just rent a booth and set up shop. You have to engage potential customers… In other words, you have to work the crowd.
Fairgoers are looking for a warm welcome and some pleasant banter. They feel more comfortable at fairs than in a gallery setting; they feel they can approach any booth and ask whatever they want. That is why you have to be involved, excited and prepared to answer lots and lots of questions.
Fairgoers will buy your art or strike a deal to represent you only if you engage them and seduce them. One of the worst things you can do is to sit in the booth with your head buried in a book. Nobody will talk to you if you look like you are bored. Also remember that it is not just about making sales. One of the main reasons to exhibit at art fairs is to interact with other galleries and to network with colleagues. Knowing what other artists and dealers are up to not only contributes to your knowledge of the art world, but cultivating a relationship with fellow artists and gallery owners can ultimately lead to representation, joint exhibitions and more.
So how do you actually engage potential customers? You have to tread a fine line between ignoring them and harassing them. You don’t want to come off like a car salesman, but on the flip side you cannot be a wallflower at an art fair.
Here are some things to consider:
- Talk to fairgoers, do not lecture them. Smile at everyone passing your booth, but do not drag them into your booth and monopolize their time. Wait for them to approach you or just say hello and make a casual comment to strike up conversation. Make them feel they are in control, do not let them feel intimidated.
- Make eye contact with fairgoers and watch for body language. While talking to a potential customer, notice if their body is turning away from your booth – that’s a strong indication they are done. Don’t try to hold them beyond their interest peak – if you’re not pushy, and they liked you, there’s a good chance they’ll come back.
- Tell your story. Potential customers love to hear an anecdote, or the story behind you and your art, to get a little bit of insight into the artwork.
- Be available. Make sure not to smother your potential customers, but be careful not to ignore them either. Just because they don’t buy something at that moment doesn’t mean they may not do so in the future. Make sure not only to be available to talk, but also have business cards at hand, which can work for you long after the fair is over.