Festival in the Park, Part Two: Color Comments

"Blue Leaf Clock" 12"x12" wood base with leaf-embossed polymer clay face. Hand tinted paper leaves decoupaged on acrylic washed wood base. $125

"Oh! Such beautiful colors!" "I love the colors you use." "Wow, those colors are neat!" "Beautiful work. Love your colors."

I hear comments like this every time I display my work. Using the Bruce Baker model, I try not to just say thank you. So, I've had to develop a range of replies. My responses include: "I do love color...what's your favorite?" to "Thanks, I try to make beautiful things people will like," to "Do you have a favorite piece?" But, when it's very clear the person is using the color comment as an exit line to "escape" from my booth, I do just say thank you. Bruce is right sometimes: when you engage people in conversation after they've given a compliment, it will occasionally result in a sale. In my own experience, telling the story of how I created a piece will usually interest people, but it won't always make a sale.

So, what's behind the color comment? In some cases, I can tell it means: "Wow, there's NO way all that color will fit into my decor." For those 'beige is best' people, it's what they think is a polite, complimentary exit line. For others, it means: "Tell me more about how you designed this." I love talking to these people; they're genuinely interested in my work, and do want to hear my "story".

Every time I'm at a show, I realize just how difficult it can be to close a sale. As artists, we often think our work should speak for itself, and we shouldn't have to convince people to buy it. I confess to believing this too, to some extent. I don't try to convince or persuade, I try to show why my work resonates with the person I'm speaking to, who's already shown interest in it. Because, when all is said and done, if the work doesn't move you, it's not right for you, and I frankly don't want you to buy it. When someone is drawn to pieces which resonate; I try to support her reasons to make it hers. Picking up cues from what she mentions, or what she's wearing (since what you like in clothing often mirrors your home decor taste), I can often 'close the deal' in a way that's comfortable for both of us. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a great salesperson, but I do feel I can connect with customers or potential customers who truly appreciate my work.

Festival in the Park and Art and Soul of South End in Charlotte were my best shows by far this year. I hope my work will be accepted for inclusion in both again next year. Until then, my focus will be to find similar art-based shows where people interested in hand crafted work come to buy.

Next: Part Three: Meeting Artists


Lori said…
Hi Michelle,
What an interesting and informative post. I've never heard an artist speak in such detail about marketing.

As a customer and an art-lover who has attended festivals in a number of cities, I hope you don't mind if I share a few of my own observations.

First, I think you are an excellent salesperson. Friendly and engaging. Informative and knowledgeable. And most important as far as I'm concerned, not too pushy.

By nature, I'm something of a "muller." I seldom make quick, spontaneous decisions about anything. Also, I typically limit my festival purchases to one or two pieces. The first time I saw your work, my eye was immediately drawn to it. But rather than go on impulse, I wanted to check out the art work of some of the other vendors first.

Of course, I ended up coming back to your booth and making a purchase. But what helped is that you didn't attempt to verbally strong-arm or coerce me into making a quick decision, which oddly enough, some salespeople seem to feel is a great tactic.

The last thing I want is to feel like I was "talked into" buying something, I really didn't want. So, in my book, you get extra brownie points for steering clear of such actions. I think, as far as sales are concerned, having work that speaks for itself, making potential customers feel comfortable and having an eye for relationship building are all extremely imporant.

Didn't mean to be so long-winded. Believe it or not, I could go on, but I'll spare you (smile).
Thanks for your comments, Lori. It's extremely rare for an artist to receive this kind of feedback on the purchase of her work. I'm glad you pointed out that I wasn't "too pushy"; often there's a fine line between giving information about a piece and seeming to "push" the customer into buying it.
I also appreciated hearing that your eye was immediately drawn to the display, and that you had the impulse to purchse--that's something I've worked on (the display part) a great deal this year. We all have experienced that almost undeniable impulse to buy (often things we "shouldn't"), and in the case of my work, I hope it doesn't fall into the "shouldn't" category! When I see someone wavering, I will usually offer some information, answer questions, then just step back. The ultimate decision doesn't rest with me, and I understand that.
I want people to have learned a bit about me, and about the piece they've bought, to be pleased with their purchase, and to look back on the experience as an enjoyable one.
Sounds like I succeeded in your case (but I think I already knew that!)
Thanks again for sharing.