12 Tips for Retail Craft Sales

by Annie Strack

Courtesy of Handmade Business

It would be nice if we could just stay in our cozy studios and not have to work on sales and marketing chores. However, the necessity for income requires us to sell our products to someone, whether that sales process is wholesale or through direct retail. After creating a product and determining our markets, the next steps to selling our crafts are reaching customers and closing sales. Here are a few tips that can help you maximize your sales efforts and increase your business income.

1. Greet everyone. Your initial contact with the shopper is crucial to developing customer relations, so every person who enters your booth or gallery should be greeted with a smile and a warm welcome. Don't wait for customers to ask you for help; instead, engage them in friendly conversation by asking questions. By showing interest in them, you are demonstrating that you recognize and respect them, and it will be easier for you to smoothly steer their attention where you want it. If left alone or ignored, the customer may soon find their attention drifting to the exit.

2. Dress professionally. Successful photographer and art festival veteran Paul Grecian notes, "Casual can be fine, if the appearance is neat and clean. I don't wear sneakers at shows, or sweats. My feeling is that sales are about trust. When I buy something from someone who is well dressed, I know that they take what they do seriously and take pride in their work. It also tells me that they take the show seriously and respect the customer enough to present themselves well. It's all part of a bigger picture, of course, of a professional appearance. I also feel that dressing well helps build stronger and lasting relationships with buyers. Whether they buy from you at the current show or not, they will have left your booth with a positive impression of you and, hopefully, a business card. If you want customers who are professionals in their businesses, you need to dress like a professional in yours."

3. Present your work in a professional manner. "Presentation is everything. No banged-up frames, no torn print sleeves; everything neat and tidy," shares art show exhibitor Carol Hallock. "If the artist does not think their work is worthy of looking good, then that is conveyed to the buyer. Why should they buy it if the artist doesn't value their own work? Set up the space so that the customer doesn't feel threatened when he walks in. I always like to think about why someone didn't walk in when they were obviously interested, and I think in terms of what would I do or feel as a customer." Part of a professional display is making sure that the artwork is the primary focus in the space, and not extraneous d├ęcor. Walls and table covers should be a cohesive neutral color that complements the items being displayed without distraction, and signage should be professionally printed.

4. Don't hover. Being too pushy will antagonize a potential customer and put that person on the defensive. "I always have a laugh when I realize they think I might 'bite them,'" laughs Carol," so I take the 'bite' threat away and step out of the booth or be busy doing something when they come in." You need to be friendly and engage the customer, but don't shadow their every move, and don't wear out their patience with a longwinded narrative explaining every object in the gallery. Remember that everyone's favorite subject is themselves! Ask the customer questions that will engage and allow them to talk about themselves, and what they like, want, etc. Otherwise, you'll bore them and run them right off.

5. Be approachable. You never want to give the impression to potential customers that you're too busy for them, so don't eat, read, or use your phone while you are in your booth or showroom. Whenever you have a customer, that person should be your whole universe, and your attention should not be distracted elsewhere. If you're eating, reading, or checking your cell phone messages, you are giving your potential customers the impression that they are not important enough for you to bother with.

6. Provide a comfortable setting. Have a couple of chairs where the customer can sit down while you show them your work, or where they can relax and contemplate a purchase without leaving your retail space. Our products are luxury items, and shopping for them needs to be a pampered experience that reflects that indulgence. Have you ever noticed that high-end jewelry stores have seating, and that the sales staff presents the products and offer refreshments to clients in a relaxing atmosphere? Like fine jewelry, art is often considered an extravagance, and artists and galleries can benefit by modeling the shopping experience similarly. In a booth, the chairs can be a couple of folding chairs in the back, where a customer can sit while contemplating a purchase or perusing your portfolio.

7. Talk about your art or artists. Customers are more likely to purchase art after they've created a bond, or feel a relationship with it. Mixed media artist Robin Maria Pedrero uses "stories" to build relationships with her collectors." Somewhere in the timeline of a work of art there is an inspiration, process, technique, memory, or goal to share," said Robin. "Stories can be shared in various ways, like in a sentence or small paragraph displayed near the art to spark dialogue. Once a painting is viewed, it becomes personal, and each gathers up their own story and perceptions of the art. The viewer has become involved, and perhaps now the work that initially appealed to their aesthetics also shares a common ground within." Sharing background information also enables the customer to be more knowledgeable about the art, which helps them to feel that their judgment is validated. This increased feeling of empowerment helps make the purchasing decision easier for them.

8. Get the customer to feel "ownership." Physical contact with a piece can invoke a feeling of possession and increase a customer's desire to own it, so encourage the customer to touch the products. A customer who has developed an emotional attachment with an item will find it difficult to turn down, and the person is much more likely to make the purchase. "Getting the art into the patron's home is key," shares Jude Bischoff. One way to do this is to allow the customer to take items home on approval. Artwork is rarely returned, and a customer is more likely to purchase an item that they are just thinking about after they have the item installed in their home.

9. Maintain steady value. Although discounts can help a customer feel that they received a bargain, they are just as likely to backfire if a discount makes them question the actual worth of the item that they're thinking of buying. Artist Michelle Thibault shares, "Be confident about the value of your art, and don't lower your prices no matter what; it leaves a bad impression about the value of your art." Instead of dropping your prices, try to think of alternative ways that you can offer extra value to buyers. Simple things, such as free shipping or upgraded frames, might be little added cost to you, but may be a significant bonus to the customer.

10. Remove barriers to sales. There is really only one reason why a customer will not buy something that they really want: fear. They might be intimidated by the price, believing that it may be more than they feel they can spend, or they may be anxious that the item might not be worth what they paid. There are numerous ways you can help a customer overcome their fear of price, such as buyer incentives, credit plans, trade-up or trade-in offers, product warranties, and value comparisons. Some customers may be worried that they will later regret a purchase, and that fear of making a mistake keeps them from buying. A customer may love an item, but they might be scared to buy it, because they lack confidence in their decision. To help a customer overcome these anxieties, it's important to help them feel a sense of validation of their judgment, which can provide them with the unconscious sense of permission that they may need to justify the purchase.

Suzy and Greg Warden, Vermont Artisan Designs

11. Offer sales incentives. Besides being a successful artist, Jude Bischoff also has a background in sales and offers this helpful advice, "Hire and train sales people, not clerks. Pay commissions to motivate sales, and induce a personal service to the client. Listen to the client 80 percent of the time, ask questions 10 percent of the time, and sell and close with your other 10 percent." Additionally, you can implement a reward program for your existing customers by offering them incentives, such as small gifts or award points, for every new customer that they refer to you.
12. Demonstrate your creative process. People love to stop to watch live demonstrations of artists and crafters at work, and groups of interested viewers draw more attention to your products and induce sales. If your craft is one that you can't demonstrate in your booth or gallery, consider playing a slide show or video of your demonstration on a digital picture frame or portable DVD player in your booth or showroom. If you can't go to your galleries to demonstrate in person, consider using a video phone service, such as Skype, to broadcast live from your studio. Gallery visitors will enjoy watching your creative process, and the ability to interact with you will help them appreciate your products even more.

Perhaps the most important tip for maximizing your retail sales is to follow up. Remember that every person who shows interest in your work is a potential buyer, and every buyer is a potential collector. When you treat all your customers like collectors, your relationships with them will continue long after you've closed your first sale, and they will come back again and again to add your work to their collection.