How to sell your work at illustration fairs

Ahead of our Illustration Summer Fair, our Visitor Services Manager shares her tips for illustrators selling their work at fairs...

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  • Holly Burrows
  • Events, Feature

Looking to maximise the cash you make next time you're touting your artworks to the general public? Holly Burrows, responsible for stocking the House of Illustration shop and making it look tip-top, shares her advice for illustrators... 

Make sure you have an inventory of all of the stock you’ve taken and a way of keeping tally of what you’ve sold – doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a piece of paper and pencil will do it, but you don’t want to be writing down a list of stock on the day. It’s likely you’ll get interrupted and have other things to worry about!

Bring a tin or bag full of useful items such as pens, pencils, paper, tape, string, a calculator, portable phone charger, snacks, scissors, price labels…

Make your prices clear. Make sure all of your items are either individually priced or that you have signage that is easy to see, read, and understand. If people don’t know how much something costs they won’t buy it – lots of people won’t bother to ask, especially if it’s busy and you’re talking to someone else.

Be aware of how quickly or slowly your items are selling. Are lots of people picking up the same thing and then putting it down again when they see the price? There’s nothing wrong with changing your pricing if you think you’ve got it wrong. Equally if someone is saying ‘wow that’s a bargain’ and filling their suitcase then you may need to consider charging more!

Be cash friendly. Most people at fairs will be prepared to pay in cash, so bear this in mind when pricing. If you don’t want lots of float to carry around with you, make the prices simple. Round numbers are best as people are likely to pay with £10, £20 or £5 notes. Plus if you’re not a mathematical genius, trying to add complex figures in your head is distressing at the best of times so make it easy on both yourself and the customer! (And don’t forget to sort the float out…)

If you have a lot of more expensive items do consider purchasing a card reader . People are unlikely to carry around large amounts of cash with them (the VISA crisis is a case in point!) so if they can just tap their card on a reader that’s definitely the most attractive option. You can get a card reader which connects to your Paypal account and another option is iZettle. These have improved hugely just in the last year or so and look far more professional and user-friendly than they used to be. You can use them in combination with your phone or a tablet.

Think about your audience. What type of person is likely to be visiting the Fair? It can be good to have a range of items at different price points so that there’s something for everyone. A lot of people will buy gifts at fairs as well as items for themselves.

Bear current trends in mind... Everyone had been buying adult colouring books featuring every conceivable subject but this is a trend that has definitely slowed down. You might not want to slavishly follow trends but it’s good to bear in mind, and great if you have some old stock of, for example, Llamas that no-one was interested in five years ago but which people can’t get enough of now! Notice also trends in colours, the seasons, special events – you won’t have missed the fact that everyone was trying to sell wedding themed items not so long ago.

…but don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. You can always mix up some ‘safe’ items that you’re pretty certain will sell with things that might be a bit more different and daring. Perhaps you do something that is unique and different – that’s good! Once a trend takes hold, professional buyers will start looking for the next new best thing and that could be what you do.

Learn to read people. Get to know the body language of someone who is most definitely ‘just browsing’ and who will leave as soon as you start trying to engage with them from the person who is ‘just browsing’ but might be tempted to buy if nudged in the right direction.

You don’t need to hard-sell. Don’t go all The Apprentice and start talking at someone in an annoying way. Tell people the stories behind the items – what is it made from? Where is it from and how do you make it? What was your inspiration behind creating that image? It’s a far nicer way of engaging with someone than shouting ‘BUY THIS NOW’ in their faces.

Always smile, be polite and be friendly. Accept that some people might say annoying things like ‘I could make that’ or ‘I’ve seen something like that on Amazon, I’ll buy it when I get home’.

Make sure you have business cards or free postcards with your contact details on for people to take away. People do hold on to them and you may well make some sales that way after the fair has finished. Plus you never know who is standing in front of you. It could be an incredibly well-connected and wealthy person about to give you your big break!

Make a note of comments that you hear people making about your work. If lots of people are saying ‘I like the purple one best’ then that’s something to note. If you’ve done lots of fairs and are finding people like different things to usual, consider how the visitor profile differs from previous fairs.

Dress appropriately! Is your fair in the summer or winter? Some people bring bits of carpet to stand on because it’s warmer than standing on cold, hard surfaces in winter and will also save your feet from aching.

How much to bring to sell is a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question and is something you’ll get better at with experience when you do more fairs and learn how quickly your items sell.

Generally speaking though, the answer is probably ‘not as much as you think’. I used to take suitcases, rucksacks and tote bags full of things that might not even get put out on the table! After I had done a few fairs, I managed to condense it all into one suitcase.

…and make it look great! Your displays should be eye-catching. Think about how your stand looks to the viewer – can they see everything? Are you showing items to their best advantage? Could you bring some lighting to highlight items? Think about positioning things on different levels too – you don’t need to spend a lot of money on display stands. A lot of professional retailers buy all of their display items from Ebay or charity shops.

The Illustration Summer Fair takes place on Saturday 30 June from 11am-5pm. Find out more.