The show’s a little
slow--sales aren’t where
they should be. Your work is good, and the prices fair, so what’s
missing? A decision.
If you decide that this isn’t your show, and go check
out your opinion with other artists, you are making a move in the wrong
direction. If you decide to duck behind your booth to work on some
projects so you can at least make some money at this dog of a show, you
are making another mistake.
When sales aren’t rolling in, there are at least five
things you can do to make a difference. They don’t cost you any money,
don’t need a lot of preparation time, and you can see the results
1. Eye Contact Starts a Sale
Make eye contact with the people walking by. Eye contact
is the fastest way to establish a relationship that leads to sales.
Don’t look at hairdos, skirt lengths or shoes. Look people in the eye.
You don’t need to stare, but make sure you get good eye contact—that
people are looking back at your face. That’s eye contact, and it begins
a relationship. What comes next comes naturally.
2. Smile. Welcome People to Your Booth
It doesn’t have to be a big, toothy grin. A regular
smile is best. If you think “smile” at the same time, you will smile
with your eyes as well. Watch for a reaction—a recognition, a return
smile, a hesitation in walking. That’s the person to focus on.
3. Be First to Start a Conversation
Nod to them, or if they are close enough, say “Hi.”
Asking a brief question is better, it helps slow them down. “Having a
good time?” or “Is it still raining?” [or windy, sunny, snowing,
depending on conditions] gives the person a reason to respond that is
not too committal. If the weather is bad, thank them for coming out in
If the person looks away, walks away or immediately
speaks to someone with them, your chances of making contact diminish.
If the show is crowded or the aisles are narrow, smile at the next
person. You are not looking for a life-long commitment, this is an
attempt at contact. With a little luck, a person you speak to will slow
down and step into your booth. This is just the beginning, you aren’t
There are many ways to strike up a conversation, the one
that feels most comfortable is the one you are most likely to make
successful. Many artists feel uncomfortable qualifying clients
immediately. You don’t have to ask, “Are you shopping for yourself or
someone else? Are you looking for a gift? or What are you looking for?”
While those questions can lead to a sale, many people are at shows
simply to look at things and don’t have an answer to those questions.
You can scare them off before you’ve said much.
True, if a person is not interested in your work, you
don’t have a big chance of selling them anything, but someone who has
stepped into your booth needs a few seconds to adjust to seeing your
work. Let them have that time.
4. Talk About What You Know—Your Work
Matthew Naftzger, owner of Works of Man, and a jeweler
who works in various metals, says, “I like to talk about my work. It’s
easy for me to be enthusiastic, and it helps them concentrate on the
pieces in front of them.” Matt lets people look over his work, and if
he notices interest in one piece, he’ll say something about how he made
the piece or the metals used. If the person nods and doesn’t say
anything, Matt gives it another chance.
“I might say something about the shape of the piece; or
what inspired its creation,” he says, “but if I don’t get a response,
I’ll let it go. Conversation is a two-way effort.” Matt will let
someone who shows no interest look in silence. Some people simply take
more time to understand what they are looking at.
Jenna Pynn, owner of Calico & Old Lace, who makes
clothing, embellished with free-form figurative quilting, says, “It
takes a while for people to see that the quilting on the vest looks
like running horses or like a Japanese crane. I get better reactions if
people find it for themselves, so being quiet is a way of
communicating.” Jenna also knows that one person in the booth looking
at your work often attracts others. “I’m not quick to chase out someone
who’s not buying if she’s attracting more people into the booth. Much
of my work is custom, so it’s important for people to have time to look
and think things through before they try anything on.”
Once there are people in the booth, it’s time for the
5. Qualify Your Client
“Qualifying” means separating the browsers from the
buyers and helping the buyers through the choosing and paying process,
while keeping an eye on the browsers, but not engaging them further
until the sales process is complete.
Jenna says, “It’s great to chat with people, have them
try things on and tell me about their likes and dislikes. If it leads
to a sale, it’s even better.” So what to do when a client is clearly
‘just looking?’ If you have time, and no one else is in the booth, you
can certainly give them some attention.
“But if I have a sale working and someone who is just
looking wants to chat, I’ll keep my answers short and friendly but keep
a lot of eye contact going with the customer,” says Jenna.
Matt has a similar reaction. “If one person is just
browsing and another person is ready to make a purchase, the customer
gets most of my attention.” Sometimes the person making a sale will
inspire the person browsing to follow suit. Sometimes the browser will
leave. Instead of feeling guilty that the browser left, recognize that
it was not a sale and be glad you didn’t lose the buyer’s interest.
If a browser is more demanding of attention, it’s fine
to say, “I’ll be right back to you as soon as I finish helping this
customer.” When a browser has been chatty and getting a lot of your
attention, you’ll feel guilty paying attention to another client, but a
buyer gets more attention than someone who is just looking.
That doesn’t mean you get to be rude, but it does mean
that you get to interrupt your conversation, cut into the browser’s
long story, or say, “I’ll answer that in a second, just let me help
While anyone can be a potential buyer, a browser who
walks away is not costing you a sale. If you are polite, but turn your
attention to a buyer, the browser will frequently wander off in search
of another conversation. That’s great for both you and the browser.
There are a few actions that keep people who may want to
stop at your booth right on walking. Be careful to avoid actions that
don’t invite people into your booth.
Too Busy to Sell
If a show is slow, it is tempting to spend your time
chatting with other artists. But you won’t sell a thing if you aren’t
in your booth, so stick around and start making eye contact.
Beware, too, of fellow artists who are in a bad mood and
come into your booth to bad mouth the show, promoter, or attendees.
People who are browsing have great hearing, and when they hear
something negative, they will leave your booth. Even if your fellow
artist is talking about another show, the casual observer doesn’t know.
Negative words cause negative reactions.
Make a rule of “no negative energy in my
booth,” and fellow artists will not feel personally insulted.
Stand Up and Sell
Studies have shown that if you are busy in your
booth—dusting, labeling, arranging inventory—you have a better chance
of someone coming into your booth. But, there are different ways to be
Eating scares people off. They don’t want to interrupt
you. Sure, you have to eat, but keep it simple. If you have help with
you, each of you should leave the booth to eat. If you are alone, eat
things that aren’t messy and don’t require a lot of work. You can take
a bite of a sandwich and arrange your inventory. Don’t hurry and take
huge bites. Small bites are better for your health, and if someone one
comes in, you can indicate you will be with them shortly—then chew and
swallow without choking.
And of course, no reading or becoming so absorbed in
some activity that you don’t notice people who do come in. Anyone can
be a client, and there is no reason that the clients shouldn’t come
into your booth to shop instead of passing you by.
Smile and start selling. It works!
(c) 2007 All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is an
artist and a certified creativity coach. She can be reached at QuinnCreative.com