Lesson #5: Art Shows Aren’t Selling Art.

02 November

I am not normally this cynical sounding.  But in my experience…

Art shows are not in the business of selling art.   

What do I mean by this seemingly contradictory statement?  Of course an art show exists to sell art!  They have art, with price tags.

That’s what I thought, at first.

But after a few years of going to art fairs, craft fairs, maker fairs and comic conventions I noticed something about the inner workings of these events.

The organizers do not make a dime off what I sell.  

Instead they make their money off vendor fees (i.e. me) and/or ticket sales.

Why is that relevant?

There is no feedback loop for them.  

They have no idea how well their vendors do.  They pay attention mainly to attendance, especially if they are charging an entrance fee.

So of course they want a lot of people to attend.  Cool and interesting vendors attract people.  And they work hard to get the word out.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that.

But ultimately, they don’t know if the people they attract are there to look, or to buy.  

Selling is not their focus and they have no reward system (i.e. money) in place to measure if people buy.

As a vendor, this sucks.  It means hype and attendance alone are not a good judge of how lucrative an event will be.  I can’t make my decision based on what the organizers or their press says.

We learned this lesson the hard way.  Last year we sat at a show in a major city with 40,000 people attending and sold one quarter of what it cost to attend.  For a small business the few grand loss was a big hit.

After staring at people walking by we realized they were mostly buying branded merchandise, much of it under $20.  Our unique twinkling LED jewelry was way out of the price they had in mind walking in the front door.  They loved us, but adoration doesn’t pay for the table, hotel, or transportation.  It was brutal, and every vendor has been there at some point.

So how do artists determine what shows to go to if attendance isn’t enough?

Your best information on which shows to attend will come from other vendors and your own gut instinct.  Remember our last post?

Networking and stalking are your best friend.  

It doesn’t matter how amazing the organizers say this Con is, or how many thousands of people attend.  Check the show out first as part of the public and talk to vendors.  How happy do they look?

Notice what people are buying and its price.

Would your art be similar enough to appeal to them?

If people aren’t there to spend money, or they are buying wildly different items than yours, even the best salesperson won’t make a dime.  You can’t sell to everyone, and you shouldn’t try.  Your time and money are better spent elsewhere.

Unless you have excess money and time to waste.  HA.  Don’t we all.

This is NOT true of galleries, boutiques, consignment shops, etc.  

They ARE in the business of selling and take a percentage of the art price.  Often a very high one.

As a result they are selective about what art they show.  Space is at a premium in most shops and they know their customers best.  So another useful resource are the shop owners themselves.

Again, networking is your friend.

If they have similar items to yours, ask them where they found them.  Which shows they like to attend to find new pieces, what sells the best.  As with vendors, I have found many shop owners are happy to talk about their business.

And the piece you have all been waiting for, Lesson #6 Part 1:  The Dirty Secret of Pricing Art.

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