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10 Tips on Selling At Art Fairs

April 8, 2011 Business, Negotiating & Sales 20 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

by Drake Fleege

I have been considering selling prints at art fairs, and am wondering if making both a financial and time commitment to this venue would provide a good income stream.

The one variable that is most difficult to quantify is the potential sales that might be generated from each show.

Though my research is still a work-in-progress, I am having difficulty finding a justifiable first year return on the initial investment.

Here is my market research thus far.

Preliminary Initial 1st Year Investment Budget

Flourish Trimline 10×10                                           $ 845.00

Three Panel mesh set                                                     640.00

Great Weights                                                                      80.00

Initial Inventory (15 prints)                                  3,000.00

Booth space fee (6 shows)                                            900.00

Lodging (6 shows, 1 nite/show)                                 360.00

Meals ($30 per show, 6 shows)                                  180.00

Mileage (IRS rate, 6 shows, 200 mi each)             600.00

Preliminary Initial 1st Year Investment          $6,605.00

Booth display

With most art fairs held outside, wind, dust, direct sunlight, rain and mist, are all weather events to be considered.   An enclosed booth provides the needed protection and print display area not afforded with simply a solitary table.  Of equal importance, if the booth area does not provide an attractive appearance, the people will just walk on by.  For budgetary purposes, I selected the Trimline 10×10 model from the Flourish Company, along with its Three Panel mesh set to mount the prints and Great Weights for shows that do not allow staking into the ground.

Payment Acceptance

With my on-line print sales, PayPal handles everything.  Currently I am not set up for on-site acceptance of credit cards. I have yet to research the solution or its costs.

Inventory

Walking through different art shows I try to determine what might sell at each show.   In some shows, the artwork is local (especially true in the tourist areas).  Other shows appear to be far less tied to a geographic region.    For each show, my inventory would consist of a minimum 15 prints of various sizes, none less than 16 by 20.  For budgetary evaluation, I am using an average print product price of $200.  (This is not the selling price.  Without giving away exactly what I would be promoting, this is a good average budgetary figure for the way I would have the item printed and mounted.  Your figures may easily be different).

Entrance/Booth Fees

Each show typically has an entrance or booth space fee.  In my analysis thus far, I have found shows that charge $150.00 for two days to one that is $825.00 for five days.  For my evaluation, I am using a general figure of $150.00 per show, and assuming I would do six two-day shows in the summer.  (I have yet to determine which shows those might be).  The number of shows would increase, but for the purpose of this evaluation, I have placed a lower limit.

Lodging & Transportation

Unless the shows are within a reasonable driving distance to my home, there would be the additional expense of lodging.  For my evaluation, I am assuming all six shows are within 200 miles round-trip of my home, requiring one night lodging, meals and mileage.  I have used a flat rate of $60/night lodging, IRS mileage rate and daily meal rate of $15/day.  As the distance and overnights increased, so would the budget.

Evening Storage

Each night the prints would have to be removed and stored. This will require a container of some type.  Initially cardboard boxes would suffice, therefore no budget cost at this time.  It is assuming no additional cost for security.

Insurance and Sellers Permit

Often required, I have not included either for this exercise as I already have each.

My time at the show

For this exercise, I am not putting this item in the budget, though there is value and a cost associated.  It is important to consider your time and fixed expenses to determine accurately your print pricing structure.  I will be including both in my final evaluation.

Pricing Prints

As I have walked through different art shows, I find print pricing to run the gamut and agree that the higher pricing is completely justified.  With the cost of the show, transportation, amortized investment of the booth, inventory, insurance, and now also your time for two full days, selling a print for a few dollars over its raw cost will never provide a justifiable return on your investment.  Can the show support the higher pricing?   As part of my evaluation of a potential show, I walk through looking to see how many photographers are selling prints in the higher figures versus how many are on the extreme low side.  A show becomes a strong potential candidate if there are more on the upper pricing spectrum, at or higher than where I would be pricing my prints.

Preliminary Evaluation

With an optimistically low first year initial investment of $6,605.00, I would have to sell quite a few prints to cover all costs. Assuming all 15 sold at an average price of $450.00, (two prints per show, with a couple selling three) I would have all budgeted expenses covered.  However, this would not be a break-even situation, and this is not where I would be pricing my prints.  In my evaluation, I am planning a higher average selling price.  Without sales history, I would only be speculating on sales greater than 15 prints per fair season.   More print sales at a higher average selling price are required to cover other business expenses, time, and to have semblance of making money.

Since I would be seeking a greater ROI,   I have yet to make the investment of anything other than my time to research this project.  If you have made the financial investment with positive results, selling prints at art fairs, congratulations.  Please feel free to point out where my assumptions are in error.

To Learn More

Want to learn more about selling at art fairs and festivals?   The following sites provide valuable information from people who have worked the festivals and art fairs.

Read Photographer Mike Albin’s site  http://www.mikealbin.com/ and go to ‘Show Reviews’  Mike has attended many shows and festivals through the years and provides valuable insight in his show reviews.  Also, look in the “links” section for additional material and marketing articles.

Shutterbug magazine, in May 2003 ran a story titled “Selling Photography at Art Shows” It is re-published at the following web address, http://artshowphoto.com/pages/artshowphotography.htm

Flourish Company – In addition to selling show displays, canopies, etc., they also provide valuable show tips. http://www.flourish.com/index.html)  Once at their site, go to the “Ordering and More” tab, then look in the “Communities” section.

You find out more about Drake Fleege at his website: Powder Hill Photography.

If you have any experience selling at art fairs, please share your advice and experiences by leaving a comment.

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Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. Doug Otto says:

    For online payments, especially if you don’t do it very often, check out Squareup.com.

    I’ve also setup a private webpage for myself with a PayPal shopping cart and a sales tax rate based on the location of the show. Using a smartphone or a laptop with an aircard you can have customers enter their information and checkout using their card.

    Cheers

  2. dj says:

    Wouldn’t you be able to deduct the costs of the tent and side and weights etc, travel,lodging as a cost of doing business?

    Seems like you want you apples to pay for your oranges?

    If I start a landscaping business can’t I deduct the costs of my lawn mower and fuel etc?

  3. Jay Ryser says:

    I was also going to suggest Square – https://squareup.com/ – as a payment option

  4. I have sold at art & craft fairs of and on over several years. The only multiple day ones I have done were within commuting distance and indoors so lodging and overnight security were not an issue however if you were doing a fair in a more upscale area your lodging could easily go much higher than the $60 you are talking about budgeting. You do not need to spend $845 on your 10′x10′ shelter. I’ve seen those same shelters in BJ’s Wholesale and Walmart for around $200. Likewise on the 3 panel mesh display. I built my own display for around $80 and it has the advantage of being different. When you are in a row of look alike booths different is good. It draws people in. Outside I use a 12×12 canopy that is arched so I can set up in a 10×10 space if necessary and the unusual design pulls people in. Your printing costs are high but then I print all my own work up to 12″x18″ and that constitutes the bulk of my inventory. My prices are higher than most around here (I’m also better he says modestly) but still relatively low compared to big city fairs. I don’t do those. The return on fairs varies a lot. I’ve almost always gotten back my fair fee plus other direct expenses. I’ve rarely taken in over a few hundred dollars (good around here, NY – North of the Adirondacks). We don’t have a lot of big spenders in this area. Squareup is a way to take credit and debit cards through your smartphone. INTUIT has a similar one called GoPayment..

    My advice: Be creative with your booth & display both to save money and attract more attention. Get one of the smartphone credit/debit card readers and have the payments go to your Paypal account.. Start with fairs that don’t require overnight travel or are in places where you can stay with friends. By all means do it. Fairs aren’t necessarily big money makers but you get to see people’s reactions to your work. Be friendly and prepared to discuss your work on whatever level the potential buyer is interested (where was this taken/what equipment do you use/what are you trying to say/etc.). Smiles and a good attitude go a long way.

  5. Drake Fleege says:

    Thank you both for your comments.

    Doug – great input. I’ve put that in my folder as one issue resolved.

    DJ – You are correct, expenses as listed above can be deducted. One has to have and spend money first, and then see the loss in the investment to have the deduction. If, over the season, there are very little sales (which is part of the equation that can not be readily quantified), the situation lost money. The initial $6K (using the budget above) would have been spent with little return. Could that money have been better spent on something else that would provide a higher return on investment? That’s the magical question. Thanks for your comments.

  6. Drake Fleege says:

    James & Jay – just read your note, thanks for the comments. Both good feedback.

    James – I agree the equipment could be obtained less expensively. I like to use higher numbers in my budgeting as its been my experience, something will be higher than I projected somewhere within the budget. Glad to hear fairs are successful for you. Might be back in touch down the road if I do go this route. Thanks

  7. Jim Boland says:

    I have sold at arts and craft fairs for over a year now. i started with an EZ Up 10X10 tent. I made my own side walls using pressure treated lattice. Recently I purchased the side walls from The Flourish Company and they are so much better. They are lighter, easier to carry,easier to install, and much more attractive. I wish I had found them sooner. I also recently started using Intuit Go Payment with my smart phone to take credit cards. Once you get your account set up, the process on the phone is a snap. The transaction deposits your money directly into your bank account.

  8. Mike Moats says:

    Hey Drake, I’ve been in the art show biz for five years now. Last year I did about 25 shows and over the years I’ve gotten to know many of the photographers that make their living from the shows, and it can be very good financially if you have top notch images and you run it right. You will have a tough time making money if you only plan to show 15 images. You also need to offer some small prints in the 8X10 range. In this economy you need some items under $20. You won’t sell many of the framed art on the walls, those mainly drive the sales of the prints, which will be the bulk of your sales. In the 8X10s I offer 350 different images. Even with that many choices people look and can’t find one they like. In the larger 18X24 I carry 80-90 different images. The gallery wraps on the walls I have at least 20 or more hanging for a 10X10 booth. Again in this economy price does matter, and if you price yourself to high, you will make very little sales, and pricing for prints at the shows has dropped dramatically in the last few years. I carry $10,000 of inventory when I go to a show. This is work that is in the booth and also backup inventory behind the booth. For sales a low end show for me takes in $2,000 and most shows are in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, with a few going up to $8,000. You have to find and apply to the best shows or your wasting your time, there are show running all year long somewhere in the country, if you want to travel. I do know some photographers that will average in the $5,000 to $10,000 per show, and these are the ones that have the best images and have been in the biz for 20 years or more, and have figured out what sells and what doesn’t, and at what price range.. You will pick images that you will think will sell, and you may find what you think will sell, doesn’t. It takes years to figured it out. I also stopped matting my print and now just add a white border around the image in the print, and just use a piece of corrugated cardboard as a backing and slip this in a clear bag. It keeps the cost of materials and labor down. You won’t have to worry about pulling your artwork out of the booth at night. Photography has no value to a thief, only the jewelers have to pull their inventory. In the five years doing shows, I have never had anyone steal from my booth. You will also have to print your own if you plan to make money. I have a 24″ Epson printer that prints for a $1.00 a square foot on matte papers. So a 24X36 inch print cost $6.00 where if you have it printed by a company, that print can run $40 – $60 dollars, so tough to make money if you have to buy your prints. If you think you are going to start up on a shoestring budget and make money, it will be tough, like I said the ones that are doing well run the business side well. You have to hook up with framing wholesalers to get the materials at cost. You have the right idea for buying a good tent. I’ve seen way to many of those cheap EZ-Up tents destroyed in high winds, and if you do enough shows you will run into bad storms that will tear up booths that are not of the higher quality. I had a very bad season last year with storms, and lots of EZ-UPs were destroyed. In the art show biz they are refereed to as EZ-Ups and EZ-Downs. The tops also leak after a while, I’ve seen many times artist show up to their booth after a heavy rain storm overnight to find lots of water damage to their artwork. Good luck if you give it a go. Look at what is being offered at the shows and be real honest with yourself whether your work is good enough to match with the competition, or you may be in for a bumpy ride and lot’s of money and time wasted.

  9. Drake Fleege says:

    Jim & Mike
    Thank you both for the great input. You’ve confirmed my research to go with Flourish Co tents. Appreciate the input on how to handle credit cards as well.

    Jim – thanks for the great detailed insight into your success, and identifying other potential pitfalls and financial issues. Your success is what I’d love to duplicate. Thanks for the insight about the 8×10′s and the fact the larger prints drive the sales. I’ll be rethinking the inventory part. You guessed it, at the present time I have an outside printer do all my printing, both gallery wrap and lustre prints. They do such a great job, I’ve thus far stayed away from printing, though there is a cost. You’ve given me added info and items for further consideration. Thank you.

  10. Les Voorhis says:

    Drake,

    I have answers to all of your questions as I have made my living (or a major portion there of) doing art shows for the past 17 years. I have done over 100 shows and have made all of the mistakes possible (it seems) and made many right decisions. There is more to this topic than can be listed here and I would be more than happy to talk with you over the phone if you wish but there are many people (like Mike Moats and myself) who either make all of their living or a major portion of it by doing shows. However, this is a business and MUST be done right to be profitable.

    One tip I will add…I saw one of the posters recommend a $200 EZ UP style canopy to get you started and I could not disagree with this more. Ez Up is also easy down and not even in the same class as the Flourish for stability and protection of artwork. If you value your art, do not go this route. Buy a Flourish Trimline and if you decide not to do shows, you can sell it for nearly what you have in it. They do not come up for sale used very often, and when they do they are snatched up FAST.

    I see many potential problem points in the tidbits you listed above and the wheel has been invented and I will be happy to help you carve it to fit your needs. I also own a wholesale framing, matting and printing business designed specifially to help artists develop a product line and provide them with cost effective frames, prints and products that sell. We also have a mentoring / consulting service to help you avoid many of the stumbling blocks encountered with getting started in doing shows. As mentioned above, I have been doing shows for 17 years and my father for more than 30 years. We have made ALL the mistakes :-) and made some right decisions too! :-) I will be happy to help if I can.

  11. Drake Fleege says:

    Mike & Lee – thank you both for the great input and insight.
    Lee – thanks for the offer to talk more on the phone. I’ll be in contact.
    Have a great week.

  12. David Jones says:

    Great advice, where can I get the clear plastic bags?
    Thanks
    Dave

  13. [...] Photographer – The Business of Outdoor and Nature Photography (Especially see 10 Tips on Selling At Art Fairs as the season is soon [...]

  14. Drake Fleege says:

    David,
    Thanks for the note. I had the same question, and Les Voorhis recommended Clear Bags (http://www.clearbags.com/) I have only viewed their web site thus far. Les has high recommendations for them.

    Have fun
    Drake

  15. Matt says:

    Enjoyed the advice from the veterans. Thank you!

    To you, may I ask if you have formulas you use for pricing your work that you will sell personally at art shows?

    For example, prints are “X” $\square inch?
    or
    I mark my prints up X% and my framing up X% over cost

    Your input would be very much appreciated…and I will take into account that you’ve made a name for yourself over the years.

    Oh, I would also be interested in how you sign your prints. Can I assume you sign on the image (in ink), then under the image (in ink too?)..hand writing in “x of xxx”, the title, then your signature again…all in the white just below the image? I hate my handwriting and will probably scrap out some prints doing this…

    Thanks again,
    Matt

  16. DJ says:

    To Mike-

    “You will also have to print your own if you plan to make money. I have a 24″ Epson printer that prints for a $1.00 a square foot on matte papers.”

    How does one calculate this cost? Printer costs/Ink Cost.

    Thanks DJ

  17. Mike Moats says:

    Hey DJ, the calculation came from the Epson Dealer I bought the printer from using their matte papers.

  18. DJ says:

    Thanks Mike-
    DJ

  19. [...] Related Posts: Book Review – Marketing Fine Art Photography, 10 Tips on Selling At Art Fairs [...]

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