Improve Your Sales Skills at Retail Fairs

“May I help you?”

“No thanks, I’m just looking.”

That’s the drill, right? If this is your opening line when a shopper walks in to your booth, it’s time to change your strategy.


Craft Fair


Many artists have little or no idea how to really interact with retail customers. Art school never taught these skills, and it’s not always intuitive. Many times, the artist gets tongue-tied at fairs and festivals, or ends up hiding behind a book instead.

Despite what you may have heard (or what you believe), art does not sell itself. Gallery owners and their staff know this well. They make it a priority to know how to talk with shoppers, and you can learn these skills as well.

To be a good salesperson of your art, you need to be able to speak about it. Your work is a visual presentation, and you deliver the spoken one. You must be able to sell your work, not just showing it. When a customer walks into your space, it is your opportunity to make a connection. When you use authentic and conversational language to engage and relate to them, you start that connection.

When someone buys your art, they are buying a piece of your creative spirit. This means that they need to understand what you do, and why it matters. Give them a bit of compelling information about your work or your technique to draw them in, but also give them space to see your work without crowding them or jumping in too aggressively.

Any question that shoppers ask is a great starting place to move forward with the sale. Even if you have more than one person in your booth, take that as an opportunity to speak about your work, drawing in others who are browsing.

For example, “This stoneware casserole has been fired to high temperatures in the kiln, which makes it ovenproof. You can cook a meal in the casserole and take it right to the table for a beautiful presentation. That makes it very convenient when you are giving a dinner party.”

This statement shares a benefit to the customer of owning your work – convenience and great table presentation. Since customers care deeply how their purchases affect them, it’s important to stay focused on their needs. At the same time, understand and be able to convey the added value of your work. It’s handmade, it may consist of upcycled materials, or be locally made. It may have a whole set of tableware to match. It could be a fabulous wedding gift, and so on.

During the conversation with your customer, if at all possible, place the item in their hand. Touch increases the chance for a sale exponentially. Let them feel the weight, texture and quality of your work. Handing them the piece also conveys a sense of ownership. And if you are selling jewelry, clothing or accessories, encourage them to try on the item they are considering.

Meanwhile, respond to any questions in a positive and helpful way. There are no stupid questions, no matter how many times you have heard them. If a customer wants to know more, that is a green light for you to continue with the sale and could very well lead to your wrapping up their purchase.

When the sale is made, make sure that your package includes information about your work, and how to contact you in the future. And, get their information as well. Ask if you can stay in touch with them about new art you are creating, and put them on your email marketing list. Customers who have already bought from you are much easier to sell a second time.


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  1. This is so true. I know when I’m shopping at an art fair, I walk right by the tents with people on their phone or reading a book. If they aren’t excited enough about their work to be up front and want to share it with me, I figure, it just must not be that great. Also sometimes when I’m on the fence about purchasing, if the artist continues to tell me positive things about their work, they usually have a sale.

    • You are so right – that’s human nature! Reading a book or playing with a phone at a fair often has to do with a lack of confidence on the part of the artist, and that doesn’t play well when speaking with customers, either.

  2. This is a great article. Do you have suggestions for artists selling work that does not have a practice use (dishes, jewelry etc)? I’m a photographer, many people look at artwork that hangs on the wall (photography, paintings) as luxury or unnecessary items, so I’m looking for selling techniques for this kind of work.

    • What in your photography taps into something that your customers care about? What is the story that goes with each? As you speak to your customer, share that information. And, know your benefits: Do your photos work perfectly as a grouping? Are they modular and can be hung several ways? 2D artists as well as 3D can relate to their customers, tying in an emotional connection to your work and tapping into what people value. Ask them questions, find out what people love about your work. Then, create a narrative about those things that reach out to others.

  3. I make and sell custom furniture and it is always beneficial for potential customers to touch , feel , and sit upon pieces that I take to shows. it doesn’t work every time but it breaks the ice and allows the conversation to begin

  4. I’m a people person so for me to these kind of events is so fun! I never sit, always stand and during slow periods I straighten out products, stock more in empty spaces etc. I greet everyone that come by with a smile and a hello, as they are looking at my items I let them know if they have any question feel free to ask.

    I have a bowl of nice imported hard candies, my biz cards are placed in there also and set out for them to take plus a guest book for them to sign. In my guestbook I ask for their e-mail, and ask the question what did they like about my booth? Are there any subjects you would like to see me create? This opens wonderful ideas for me, as 1 customer wrote she loved Mozart and would love to see a purse with that design. So I got a future sale from her as I made her one.

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