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The Business of Selling Art

The Business of Selling Art

There are many venues to sell artwork, the gallery is just one space. Also consider including art fairs, marketplaces, and studios. These are the creative retail spaces where the business of art happens. With the art of the sale, especially for a luxury item like artwork, comes the necessity to have some basic customer service skills. The important takeaway of this blog post is to re-imagining the role of the artist, you, as a sales driver. As the leading sales associate for your own brand, it’s crucial that you understand the customer experience as it impacts your buyer’s retention, satisfaction, and sales. Below are three key points to consider, the art of service, the science of service, and some additional key points to consider once the sale has been made.

The Art of Service

Introductions: Exchanging names can be powerful, give your audience or potential buyer your name, and ask for theirs. Don’t wait for your audience to come up to you, you should approach and introduce. Consider making your own artist name tag so people can identify you at whatever creative retail space you use, especially if there are multiple artists or vendors in the same space. Simple contact and a warm welcome can make the not-so-frequent-gallery-goer feel comfortable.

Approach: Work the room, don’t linger close to friends and family all opening night, welcome the stranger who came to see you and your art.  Play the role of the host and invite leery guests into your space or show. Read their body language and approach with ease if they seem a little stand-off-ish. You can always begin to speak about the art they are looking at or approach by asking open-ended questions to start a conversation.

Treat Everyone Like the Press: You never know who is walking the room with you. That shy quiet person in the corner could be a big blogger or writer for a local paper or magazine, a local curator could be scoping out your work, or what about an art collector. You want to have the best impression you can give. Your brand and your work can’t speak for yourself. So bring out our personality and professionalism.

Behavior: I have been embarrassed by close people in my life during my openings. I have had to sometimes preface behavior or not invite people. Remember your opening, your night, your brand, and your relationship with the gallery and your audience. If someone is going to be a distraction have a conversation beforehand about appropriate behavior. Bringing your child along with you can sometimes be a necessity. But if he or she is having a meltdown and taking you away from the evening, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Also note your own behavior, having too many drinks can make you look less professional. Put your phone away too, unless you are in a situation where you can use your social media accounts to help bring in business when there is downtime. You are the key to the sale. Put your best foot forward literally, put on nice clothes, a big smile and bust out your best extrovert (if you are shy).

Storytelling: Selling is sometimes more about the story than the item or artwork. Be ready with the “story” of your art. What inspired you to make this, what’s the meaning or background behind each piece? These are basic questions, but sometimes the answers need some finesse and practice when answering. Your words can be key to the sale. Be sensitive to the customer but realize what’s driving their reason or draw to the work. Practice telling this story to a friend or family member if you need to. You want your art dialogue to sound natural.

The Customer is Always Right: Well we all know this isn’t true, especially if you have worked retail. But what we need to be saying is, we need to make it right for the customer. If something goes wrong, make it right.

Indecision: Don’t be discouraged by indecision. There are a few ways you can help ease a customer along with their decision. If it’s a larger or more expensive work and they haven’t made a decision yet, invite them to a special visit to your studio. Play host, have refreshments, and show them around your space and how you make the work. If the indecision is on a smaller work or item, offer to place the item on hold while they are thinking, walking the art fair, or mingling at the gallery. You can also hand them a business card and encourage them to think about the purchase and offer the means to get in contact when they change their mind. Indecision is not a no, it’s a window for a potential sale. Don’t lose the opportunity by being pushy, be patient instead.

The Science of Service

Prices: Put prices on things if you want to move products. If your customer needs to ask the price then it probably won’t sell. The buyer will assume the value is much lower or much higher than your price if you don’t label your work, therefore talking themselves out of the purchase before knowing the real price. If you are doing an event such as an art fair and have a complex setup, consider offering a price list that people can read if you don’t have the time or resources to individually price everything.

A variety of price points is key. With work starting at a dollar or two, you can make many small sales that add up very quickly. This is a low-risk investment for buyers. I have had children spend their allowance money on my art because they enjoy my work and that is a price point that they can afford. Your prices include and exclude certain buyers and demographics, consider how you can expand that range of affordability.

Omni Channel: When a customer asks, “Can I find your work online,” especially at an art fair or vendor-based event, they are really asking if they can purchase your work online. Omnichannel is your ability to sell both retail and direct (online) in a seamless fashion. It integrates multiple ways for customers to shop for the same product. This way if a customer liked a work of art at an art show, it would not be difficult to find and purchase online. This means getting an online storefront up and keeping it up to date. This is really important to consider as this is the way retail has adjusted over the past few years to continue to drive their sales.

E-Commerce: Just like being omnichannel you also need to be e-commerce friendly. Taking credit cards is almost expected at this point of retail. I have an entire post dedicated to this topic to help get started with e-commerce if you have not already begun this process.

Product Interaction: The longer the customer is interacting with the product the likelihood of purchase increases. Sixty percent of all retail apparel decisions are made in the fitting rooms because they’ve interacted with the product. So telling the story of the piece is one way of increasing interaction. If your work can be picked up or touched that increases the potential for sale. If your work can be tried on or is apparel or wearable art like jewelry that helps. Find ways to be interactive. One way I make my work interactive is I have hidden elements in the work and I challenge the viewer to find what I mention, sort of like eye spy.

Creative Display: Booth layout, product placement, and overall appearance affect purchasing decisions. This is called retail merchandising. How you layout your work on the wall and how you place your prints and merchandise on the table all affect how the customer touches, shops, and buys your product. Think about your setup from the view of the customer, can they see boxes and products stashed under your booth, are there display light cords tangled, does your table have paint splatters on it because you use it in the studio. Your display should demonstrate the perceived value of the product it’s selling. If you are selling high-dollar value art, then your booth, table, or display needs to visually appear to be of the same value. If your booth is a card table and oversized tablecloth, it’s time to invest or budget for a new display.

Once You Have Made the Sale

Congratulations on your sale! Remember it’s easier to keep a customer and have them return than to get a new customer. Going above and beyond is important when sealing the deal. Here are some ideas to continue your great customer service and really place the icing on the cake for their experience with your work.

Packaging: Once your work has sold, what do you have on hand to get the work home? Consider bubble wrap, boxes, bags, tissues, and other methods. Taking care to get the item home safely is important. Offer to carry out the piece to their car or if it’s very difficult to transport you can offer to deliver the work for them.

Gratitude: Always take a positive and grateful approach Even if it’s something simple like your credit card machine is taking a long time to connect to the WiFi. Approach the situation with, “Thank you for being so patient as this connects,” rather than apologizing for it taking so long.

Always thank your buyers for supporting your work. If it’s a big buy, feel free to hand write them a thank you letter that you can send by mail.

Extras: If you are able to throw in a few extras or freebies, it will make the experience that more special for the customer. Think about things like giving leftover exhibition catalogs that feature the work they purchased or perhaps throwing in a small print of another work they liked if they are spending the big bucks. Think about when someone buys multiples, what is your discount if someone buys 3 prints instead of one?


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