What to say to customers at craft fairs & how to sell without the hard sell
Using a set selling technique may seem overly rigid and formal and perhaps against the whole nature and informality of a craft fair, but if you can reach the right balance between a hard sell and hiding behind your stall, people will be more likely to buy from you – or at the least take a card and sign up for your mailing list. They’ll also remember you and your stall in a positive way, making them more likely to tell their friends about you.
In this post we share tips on how to engage visitors at craft fairs, give you ideas for conversation starters and show you how to sell without the ‘hard sell’.
Should you sit or stand?
The first thing to think about is where you’ll be at your stall – in front, to the side or behind it – and whether to sit or stand. The nature of your stall may dictate this to some extent but it’s a good idea to consider the body language signals you’re sending to people through your positioning. If you’re sitting down, especially if you’re head-down looking at your phone, customers might feel you’re not interested in them. In fact, lots of experienced market stallholders suggest never sitting down at all.
I always stand at fairs. I never lurk behind my stall reading a book or knitting. I feel that I am there to serve and customers should be made to feel welcome. – Aileen Clarke, Aileen Clarke Crafts
Love Your Local Market recommends standing up as much as possible: “I know that some people need chairs rather than standing for long hours, either in or outside and I am sympathetic to their needs but sitting in a chair when you are on a market to sell yourself and your products creates an immediate barrier between you and potential customers and gives off entirely the wrong image.”
I’m not sure I can last six hours without sitting down or eating! – Diane Burton Design
Standing up for long periods of time isn’t always easy, or possible, and there’s no point in being in pain or physically uncomfortable – at the very least this will make it harder for you to sell your work. Ideally you need to feel (and look!) relaxed, happy and confident in what you’re selling. So if you do need to sit down, that’s fine! Try look up as much as possible though, even when customers aren’t at your stall, as they may be eyeing it up from afar or as they walk past. Stand up when customers approach your stall if you can, and when you are sitting down don’t bury your head in your knitting, texting or scrolling through your social media feeds, or ignore the customer and continue talking to a friend.
At the last art fair I did, I took a high chair I could perch on. That worked really well – it looked like I was levitating! – Trudi Murray
When to talk and what to say
Being able to judge when to say hello, how much to talk and when to leave someone to browse in peace is something you’ll learn with experience. The more craft fairs you do, the easier this will get. This article on ‘how to look approachable’ has lots of great tips on how to draw people towards you and how to engage with them once they are there. If you’re a naturally confident person, you may find you actually need to tone it down a little so as not to frighten off potential customers from approaching your stall.
I always smile and say hello to anyone who so much as looks at my stall. Some people who may have been going to pass on actually come over and look closer because they see a friendly face. – Aileen Clarke from Aileen Clarke Crafts
Once someone is at your stall, they may want to ask you questions about yourself or about particular items. It’s great if they initiate the conversation because that gives you a starting point and shows you want they’re interested in. At other times it might well fall to you to open the conversation but try to take your cue from the customer. Are they paying particular attention to one piece, have they picked up one of your products – those are both opportunities to tell them a little bit more about your work. “I don’t over do the chit chat but if someone is paying particular attention to any one item I might tell them a little more about it, the thoughts behind the idea and the techniques used,” explains Aileen. “You can gauge how interested a person actually is, so it’s not always the case that a conversation will ensue.”
It can help to prepare a few icebreakers ahead of the craft fair, to enable you to begin actively selling your products in a natural conversation. Practise with a few of your products: place them on the table in front of you and think about what a buyer won’t know about it just from looking. Avoid stating what’s already visible and find details they can’t already see, like the materials and method used in making it, the type of stitching or where the fabric comes from, the feel of it, the weight or even the scent. Draw out any positives that add to its value such as its eco credentials or any magazines it’s been featured in. “I don’t try to sell my work to people,” continues Aileen.” I point out some aspects of particular pieces but you don’t want to come across as pushy or a know all. Just be friendly. If people like you and your stuff they will buy.”
Ideally you want the buyer to take hold of the item, so pick it up and offer it to them while you talk about it. Having the object for you to both focus on will help the natural flow of conversation and you’ll be able to judge whether a customer is interested or not from how they interact with it.
Engage one customer and more will come
Some stalls at craft fairs always seem to have crowds in front of them. Usually that’s because if a stall has a few people already looking at it, other visitors are more likely to be drawn in to see what’s got people flocking to this popular stall. It’s human nature not to want to want to miss out! It’s the same reason restaurants seat people in the window – if it looks busy that must mean lots of other people like it… or so the reasoning goes.
So if you can engage one customer who lingers for a while, you’re already one step closer to gaining a crowd. Once you’ve got those people there though, try to make them all feel valued: you don’t want to be so engaged in conversation with one person that you everyone else feels ignored. Eye contact goes a long way here, so even if you’re addressing one person, look around at the other people at your stall too so they feel acknowledged.
“But I’m a maker not a salesperson…”
Designers and makers often feel awkward about selling their work and are happier making things that promoting themselves. But you don’t have to be ‘salesy’ to sell.
I think buyers can spot a “sell sell sell ” person a mile off. I know I can and to be honest it’s very off putting. Even if the items they’re selling are outstanding, if they’re giving off the big sales pitch I’m afraid I walk past. I think getting the balance is key. Not only does my stock have to be appealing, but as a seller I have to be as well – Mary, Polka Dots and Posies.
Rather than thinking of it as a sales pitch, approach it as a conversation. Who would you rather buy from: the stallholder telling you “Here’s my product, buy it or at least take a card” or the stallholder who talks knowledgeably about their craft? Your knowledge as a maker is actually one of the best weapons in your amory, as it ranks as one of the key qualities of a good salesperson, alongside being passionate, trustworthy, honest, empathetic, and good at listening and understanding what might be holding a potential customer back from committing to a sale.
As a maker skilled in your craft, you already have ‘knowledgeable’ under your belt – after all no one knows your product better than you. So try not approach ‘selling’ as a cold caller, but as an artist offering an explanation of the thoughts and processes that have moulded your designs. Remember that one of the reasons people enjoy buying handmade at craft fairs is the experience of meeting the person who made it, and that, by engaging with customers, you are adding even more value to your products.
We can be our own worst enemies sometimes and imagine that no one would want to talk to us or that they just want to browse in silence. But the experience of visiting a craft fair is made richer by talking to people. You can spot the visitors who don’t want to engage in conversation so you let them browse in peace, but at least give people the opportunity to chat if they want to. It pays to take an interest in people and to be nice. – Aileen Clarke
Of course, selling is a lot easier if you’re more confident. Mary from Polka Dots and Posies puts her whole personality into her interactions with customers, selling herself as much as her products: “I’ve always found myself getting into many lovely conversations with potential customers, building up a relationship and rapport first, before the ‘big sell’. More often than not, people don’t leave the table without buying something. I was on the BBC last year appearing on the popular show, Bargain Hunt and this is always a good starting point when talking to customers.”
Not all of us are as confident as Mary but if you have confidence in your products that will show through when you’re talking to customers. However, if you’re really uncomfortable talking about yourself or your work and don’t know where to start, why not bring along a printed biography about yourself to display on your stand? That way customers can read more about you and your work, and you might find it easier to answer any questions they have based on what they’ve read than initiate the conversation.
Listen and show interest in your customer too!
As any experienced salesperson will tell you, it’s not all about yourself either: it’s as much about being able to listen and showing genuine interest in your customers. Try to find out a little bit more about them if it seems appropriate – do they make, have they tried your craft, is that a handmade necklace by so-and-so that they are wearing? If they’re leaning towards a product, is it for themselves or for a gift, do they have a particular place for it at home, would they like to see it in a different colourway. Ask questions and listen – never interrupt or talk over them. A little interest goes a long way.
Question – how do you close a sale?
Closing a sale is often perceived as the trickiest part of selling – when is it appropriate to talk about the money? Do you leave it until someone says: “Can I buy this please?” Or do you have a ‘bottom line’ for all the items of your stock so you are able to tempt them with an on-the-spot discount? We’d love to know your experiences with this aspect of a sale. Please share your hints and tips about selling and particularly ‘closing a sale’ by leaving a comment below.
This article is one of a series of articles from Folksy featuring tips and advice on how to sell at craft fairs – the images used are taken from items for sale at www.folksy.com Click images for more details. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea for a future article.
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Very good stuff, Hilary. Lots of sound advice – I shall try to put some of it into practice at my next fair!
Great post, I think its important to consider not just your own body language but that of your buyers too!
yes, I think it’s important to try and guage how the customer feels, so you can put them at their ease, but it’s not always easy to know what people are thinking – if only it were!
Thanks Hilary – this is all really useful stuff. I’m quite a shy person and find craft fairs quite stressful so I’ll try and put all the ideas mentioned in practise!
As a buyer at craft fairs I don’t want to have to listen to a crafter’s sales talk, so as a seller at craft fairs I try not to engage too much with people. I leave them in peace to browse after saying ‘Feel free to browse and try anything on, and I’m here if you need any help’. Some are then happy to converse while others stay stony silent. I have found in the past that I have spent 10-15 minutes telling someone about my items and not made a sale, while possibly missing the chance to talk to another potential buyer. I actually find that it makes no difference whether I talk to them or not when it comes to making a sale.
That’s interesting Amanda, and I agree that some buyers prefer to browse without feeling under pressure to comment on everything or engage in any way with the seller in case the seller tries to sell them something. Although I think that once you are talking to a customer you are able to explain further the features of a product – or possibly even find pieces for them based on what they’re telling you, so I think it’s more about when to back off rather than always holding back. If someone is browsing at your stall you could simply ask if they were looking for a gift for someone in particular – I’ve sold quite a few items this way as I’m able to explain to them about the ‘Kawaii’ aspect of my purses and that they aren’t just for little girls but teens and adults are really into them too – they’d have just walked away otherwise under the assumption they were too babyish. I’m also able to demonstrate by passing them a wristlet with a mobile phone in and show them all the extra features, pockets linings etc.
Although as you say some people seem to just pick things up and say – I’ll have this one with no selling needed at all (unless they were they the ones listening in when you were talking to another customer?!)
I’m with Amanda – as a buyer, I hate those people who pounce the minute you come within feet of their stall. I like to have a good look without anyone saying ‘Are you looking for anything special?’. As a seller, I smile, say hello, maybe comment on the weather, but other than that I leave it to the customer to indicate whether they want to chat.
I always stand up, and I take work with me which I can do at my stall. It brings people over, initiates conversation and leads to showing off other items on the stall. And it means I’m not wasting my time when it’s not busy.
I think you need to be a bit of a psychologist and try to read what your customer wants in terms of chat. I’ve no idea if I’m doing it right, I just do as I like to be done to!
Yes, I agree I think pouncing on people immediately is not good but if someone has been browsing for a little while – going back and forth over the pieces on your table or in the stall you can make the first move (so to speak!) without seeming overly desperate, just an icebreaker of some sort – otherwise they may just walk away with nothing – not even a card.
I’ve been reading this thread with interest. I’m just about to add a new blog post reporting on my experience this past weekend. I like to smile and say hello, too, to anyone who comes near my stall. And if it feels appropriate I just spontaneously involve myself in a conversation with them. I allow myself to be led by what they want. Customers do let you see if they are interested or not. As soon as they make a comment, you can step in and chat. One really useful one for me is to ask if they have any idea how silk painting is done and if they’d like me to share the process with them. Mostly they are delighted and off we go….
At the weekend I had an extra table and was demonstrating silk painting using the microwave. It was fun and there were many instances when I looked over and saw people digging money out of their purse for something they had chosen from my stand without me having said a word to them or been near them. I think engaging potential customers is a skill you further hone with every craft fair or show you do. It’s a bit like driving your car. At some point you realise you’ve become unconsciously competent.
The worst I have ever overheard was at a recent craft fair. When asked what a bracelet cost, the seller answered “erm…that one is, erm…five pounds, I think”. Gods sake lady, dont you know what your products cost?
The potential buyer said “Thats expensive”, to which she replied “Well, they take a really long time to make, it takes me ages”.
They were lovely items, but with that attitude she wont get very far !
Thanks for including my tuppence worth Hilary : ) It’s all about finding a balance between being open and friendly without being over exuberant. For those that are shy a simple smile and hello to your customers is a good start. I never buy from stall holders that simply ignore me. It has happened and I have been disappointed as their products have looked nice. Same goes for shops. I was in a beautiful shop on holiday and the lady behind the counter never looked up or even acknowledged us. Next time we visited that town I didn’t even bother going in the shop even though it sold lovely stuff.
I have run an experiment last 2 craft fairs and standing up not doing craft and smiling alot makes you much more money than sitting down doing craft!
Still loving the new style blog, really great! How do I get to write something???
I have done a couple of craft fairs in my local town at christmas time , with my parents, I stand at all times and look as though i could help at any moment, normally by giving a smile. As a buyer I like to look and not be disturbed but if I have a question I like to know that the seller is available to answer. I felt by standing by my work and smiling I was able to give the approachable look.
I think some of it is down to product too, nobody really needed to ask much about my jewellery, but my dad does wood turning, he had lots and lots of questions and he is very good at talking to people about his work.
[…] hints and tips on selling you can read the article here read the comments section too as there is some interesting back and forth amongst commentators as […]
totally agree about not sitting down with a book – and I’d advise against having a phone glued to your ear. I stood for ages once with money in my hand while the stallholder kept chatting on her phone – we made eye contact, but in the end I walked away without buying.
[…] find yourself with a growing amount of stock and designs, and a desire to get out there and start selling face to face! The feeling of making your first sale at a craft show, carefully wrapping the sold item and […]
This post is really interesting and i’ve read through everyones comments making sure i take note. I recently had a stall at my first craft fair and the whole time i was wondering what i should do. Should i try and chat, stand, sit, leave the customer alone. I wasnt sure, so i tried to noticed what others were doing and everyone selling was doing something different. As a buyer i like to be left alone and given the space to look at everything without the seller asking me if im ok or looking for something in particular but from reading everyones comments, i shouldnt base what i do as a seller on my own experience since everyone is different. some people like a chat and some dont. i think standing up and being there if the buyer needs to ask a question is good and maybe saying hello. I think i agree with Pretty Things Jewellery about making yourself available to chat if they want to.
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