Art festival season has officially begun!
The good part: You finally get to meet your customers face-to-face!
The bad part: You have to deal with customers face-to-face.
Whether you are a seasoned festival artist, or are headed to your first craft show, there are questions that customers are guaranteed to ask and will likely trip you up if you haven’t planned how to respond. After 5 years of selling at art festivals and talking to other artists, here are my best ways to deal with those tricky questions.
“How long did this take to make?”
I know, you’re breaking out in a nervous sweat wondering if this person is going to recalculate your pricing based on minimum wage and the time you give. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Many customers ask this question simply as a conversation starter and don’t realize the weight this question can hold. Here are some ways to answer:
Talk about the general steps it takes to make your product. Listing out the steps can better represent the effort it takes to make art. I might only spend X amount of active time on a mug, but making pottery is a long process. I have to throw the mug, let it dry to leather hard (1-3 days), trim the foot, carve the design, attach the handle, let it dry to bone dry (up to a week), bisque fire (a firing that takes 8 hours and requires over 12 hours to cool,) glaze, and finally glaze fire (a firing that takes 16 hours and requires over 16 hours to cool.) My hands might only be on a mug for X minutes or hours, but it can take up to two weeks to finish a mug! If your list of steps feels a little short, try these other responses.
Talk about your design process. When did you first come up with this idea? How long did it take to develop? Did you have to redesign the product? Talk about the changes you made and why you found those changes to be an improvement.
Talk about your education. Even if you are self taught, how long have you been practicing your craft? Say, “ I could never have made this when I first started, but after X years of working, I’ve gotten pretty fast at it.”
“How did you make that?”
It might feel like a customer is asking for step-by-step instructions to duplicate your art at home, but this question is really just the simplest way to express curiosity. You can answer this similarly to the last question:
Again, talk about your design process or the general steps you take to make your product. For example, an embroidery artist might say, “I start by drawing my design with pencil on the fabric. Then I pick out my color scheme and buy the thread that I need. I stretch the fabric in the hoop and use various stitching techniques to make the design.Then I have to knot off the thread in the back and cut loose strings.” The artist has talked about their process without giving a pattern for someone to copy.
“I’ve always wanted to try [your craft]” or “[Your craft] looks like so much fun!”
You worked hard to become a professional at your art, and now it feels like this person thinks it is easy. Don’t get defensive, try these answers:
Give an anecdote about when you first started. I always like to tell people about my first wheel-throwing class and how we spent the first 4 weeks making cylinders. You were not allowed to move on to anything else until you could make 4 identical 6-inch cylinders. This story proves that pottery takes dedication, and is a lot harder than it looks.
Offer suggestions of local places to take classes. This person probably won’t ever become your competition and you look like an expert in the field, so there is no harm in offering a little advice.
Do you offer your own workshops? This is a great opportunity to talk yourself up!
“Can I get a discount?” or “Why is this so expensive?”
You’re probably undercharging for your work already, so don’t haggle on your prices! Here are some responses:
Offer a payment plan. Instead of just saying no to a discount, this option might get you a sale you would otherwise lose. If someone really loves your piece, they might jump at this opportunity. Require a deposit on site (at least 25%) and then get contact information to send invoices for a few months until the item is paid in full. Only give the product to the customer once it is paid in full.
Pick your battles. You can usually tell by the person’s tone of voice if they simply want to complain and probably won’t value your work at any price, or if they would be open to some education. If it is the latter, talk about all the time spent learning your craft, the materials you buy (you do not need to tell them the exact numbers), and all the business side of things that people tend to forget. Other times it’s best to just ignore the comment (like if it wasn’t actually directed at you, but to a friend.) Don’t say, “Well, X number of people don’t feel that way.” You’re not winning an argument with a statement like that.
Let the customer know that you sell online and that the product will be available when they have the money to purchase. (Remember tone is important here - you don’t want to come off as rude.) Only use this method if the customer seems interested in your work, but is upset that they can’t afford it (and so it must be “expensive”), not if the person simply does not value your work.
“Can I pay cash to skip the sales tax?”
No. This is illegal. Don’t do it. It’s your choice to absorb sales tax into your listed price, but make sure you increase prices to account for this expense.
“This is so ugly” or “Who would like this” or “My kid could make this”
These aren’t questions, but you still might hear them. Insults hurt, but here is where you need to put on your customer service hat and bite your tongue. Usually this comment is being said to a friend in the booth, and the person isn’t even thinking of the fact that you, the artist, are sitting right in front of them. It is not your place to jump into the conversation to defend yourself. You might come off as rude and other potential customers in the booth might be turned off by your tone and leave. Now, if the insult is being said directly to you, put a positive spin on the exchange by taking the opportunity to talk about your inspiration and why your work looks the way it does.
“Hey, [friend’s name], will you make this for me?” or “I’m gonna make this at home.”
This is another time that it is best to bite your tongue. Again, the customer is probably talking to their friend and not to you, so your attempt to educate against the wrongs of copying will likely not be well received. If you are worried about copying, make sure you have visible “no photos” signs near your work. Even if someone does try to copy your work, it will never be like yours.
Here are some ways to put your best foot forward at all times.
Accept Compliments Graciously
It can be frustrating when every person at your booth says “This is so cute!” or “You have beautiful work!” and none of them make a purchase. However, you should understand that festivals are a form of free entertainment, and not every person is in a place to buy. A customer has no way of knowing that you’re having a bad sales day, and you shouldn’t make it obvious by responding poorly to a compliment. Instead, say “thank you” and offer them a business card or your show schedule so they can find your work when they are ready to buy.
Say “Thank you”
Even if a customer doesn’t buy anything, thank them for stopping by or for checking out your work. Leaving a friendly final impression might inspire them to reach for a business card on their way out, or even to loop back around before they leave the festival.
Don’t Use Passive Behavior
Don’t sit at your booth reading a book or scrolling through your phone. This makes you look uninterested, uninviting, and unprofessional. It’s ok to bring some in-progress product to work on at your table. In fact, it might even spark conversations about your work. However, don’t be so involved in your work that you don’t look up to greet customers.
Avoid Eating Messy Food
I know all the food trucks at the festival are tempting, but it’s probably not the best to have BBQ sauce all over your face from that pulled pork sandwich when a customer walks into your booth. Pack small snacks that are easy to pop in your mouth during those brief moments your booth is empty. If you want to indulge on festival food, make sure you have someone to cover your booth while you chow down away from potential customers. And make sure you have mints for afterwards.
Don’t Pack-up Early
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. By agreeing to vend at a festival, you become a representative of that festival and it is your duty to be professional even if the last hour, or even the whole show, has been slow. What message are you sending to the customers who maybe work weekends and just got out of work with a half hour left of the show? They were so excited to see all the artists, and now all they see is a bunch of half-empty tables and boxes. I’ve been known to take down a few of my more expensive and fragile pieces that require more delicate wrapping when there is fifteen minutes to go. Maybe I’ll collect my display rings from the ring dishes, take the spoons from my spoon rests, and consolidate my business cards into one pile. But I do all of this from behind my table so it isn’t obvious that I am calling it quits, and a customer would never look at my table and know I am packing up. A last-minute customer should never feel like they are disturbing you by wanting to look at your product. If a show ends at 4:00 pm, you should not be loading your boxes onto your handcart and rolling away at 4:00 pm. You should be actively displaying through 4:00 pm. I know show days are long days, but you agreed to this commitment, so follow through.
I hope you found this post helpful!
Which response or tip had you never though of before? What other questions or encounters are a struggle for you? Let me know, because I would love to help!