“But the Customer Said They Would Be Back” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

“But the Customer Said They Would Be Back” and Other Things You’ll Hear at an Art Show

It’s that time of year for most of our readers. Art show season. Hang in there!  While I’m not participating in a show this holiday season, I have decades of experience selling my work at a variety of shows. I’ve recently attended some shows as a customer and it was eye opening to see the mistakes artists are making, I wanted to shout, “You’ve worked since April on your stock…get some lights, don’t look so grumpy!” but instead, I’m writing out some tips and hopefully some encouragement for artists out there in their booths and to those thinking of attending shows.

The first thing newbie’s should realize—shows are expensive. This is something I wish customers realized too. It’s not just the booth fee, it’s the cost of the booth, the cost to ship the booth and all of the handmade items, to find a place to stay and food on the road, insurance for the work, the booth, marketing materials and…. It’s like setting up a mini store.

Don’t be the invisible artist.  I can’t believe how many booths I’ve seen that are abandoned. Either the artist is actually not there, or they are chatting with a vendor down the row, or they are hidden behind their products, or booth walls, or low chairs. This boggles my mind. After working so hard to make things, and to pay to show and to haul it all and set up…artists are hiding.

And the opposite is also troublesome for me…I enjoy meeting the artists and having a little chit chat, but some artists seem to be trying so hard to sell and to convince you of their goods they spend the whole time I’m there keeping me in a long sales pitch that I don’t have a chance to divert my eyes and look at what they have.

As an artist selling work, I’m used to the customer questions that make you shake your head. For example…

“I’m a photographer and I always have to bite my tongue when someone asks so were you really there? I get this question on a weekly basis.”

“Everything is clearly marked…..lady kept asking how much over EVERYTHING……reminded her several times that the price is right there….next to her thumb of the piece she is holding etc……I finally stopped answering her…it got quiet for awhile as she went through every item THEN she starts asking again, as if the prices magically lowered, nope….got quiet again THEN she starts “ if I get these 3 can I get a deal?”

“First comment of the day, looking at a handmade rustic copper necklace.
“This is so cute, it’s one of those things that’s soo cute, but what do you do with it?”

Honestly, I have no advice on how to curb the questions, just to keep your cool. When I’m in a booth as a customer I often feel the need to defend the artist or the work so that they don’t have to.

When it comes to someone asking for a discount it’s best to explain your process and what’s involved. I have lost my cool at shows and have said things like, “It took me 30 years to learn how to make this, so $50 is a bargain”, or “How would you feel if your boss came to you and asked for a discount on what they are paying you since they regularly pay full price.”

If all else fails, there’s art show bingo.

I wish you great sales, shoes that don’t hurt and a booth with easy access to the washrooms.

Jeannette Froese LeBlanc lives in a little red school-house on the edge of a woods in rural Ontario, with her husband, children and a menagerie of pets.  She walks the fine line between making a life and making a living–trying to balance life as an artist, mother and earning a steady income.  Jeannette is a former infantry soldier and magazine publisher. She holds a Master’s degree in education as well as several bachelor’s degree’s in history and art.  When she is not teaching, Jeannette works in her home studio.