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Art Fair Etiquette

My husband and I do art fairs together. After doing it for only a few years I have compiled a do’s and dont’s list..

I’ve participated in craft and art fairs, too.  Even coordinated a large one about 28 years ago.

1. If someone says hello as you are walking by and looking, acknowledge their hello.

While saying “hello” would be courteous, if I had to run a gauntlet through the booths of artists and owners all greeting me with an expectation that I return that greeting, I’ll probably stay home.   The booth owner/artist has a vested interest in greeting customers so as to provide a pleasant shopping experience in order to draw them in and increase sales.  Standing there like an alien is off putting and will not get you sales.

2. Compliment the artist. They worked very hard on their art and they are proud.

I’m sure they are proud of their work but if it is not worthy of compliments, none should be forthcoming.   Besides, the highest compliment is a sale.

3. Don’t tell the artist that you have a brother, sister, cousin who does the same thing. They might do something similar but it’s not the same.

Didn’t faze me a bit when people said that to me.  My reply?  A cheerful, “Great!   I hope you enjoy their stuff!”   And then I ignored them to focus on a new customer.

4. Don’t offer the artist suggestions on what they should do. If they wanted to do it, they would have.

5. If you break something you should pay for it, not just walk away.

This is true. But I would also suggest that valuable, breakable items be put in glass display cases or out of reach.  I still remember the inlaid wood and brass belt buckle artist at a D.C. show who got offended that people were picking up her buckles to examine them.  As soon as they put them down, she would pick the buckle up and wipe off the skin oils with growing angst at having to do it.  I had no interest thereafter in buying one as her disdain for her customers was palpable.

6. If it costs more than you expected simply put it down and walk away. Don’t grimace or comment on the price.

Bartering and haggling is part of the experience.  Bring it on, I say, because once they are engaged in a price battle, you know you have them on the hook.  The only question is whether you can seal the deal.   The problem with artists is they think their work is more valuable than it is.  It is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it and if you are not getting sales but are getting comments that the price is too high, then the price is too high. I’ve known any starving artists who would rather stick to their inflated prices than actually sell a piece and make some money.

7. Keep an eye on your kids. They could actually get hurt.

8. Don’t tell the artist that you saw something similar for cheaper.

Again, a cheerful, “Great!  I hope you enjoy it!”

{ 55 comments… add one }
  • Bint July 18, 2012, 5:16 am

    “My husband and I do art fairs together. After doing it for only a few years I have compiled a do’s and dont’s list..”

    Having read this list and the attitude emanating from it, my first ‘don’t’ was ‘don’t attend’. There are a couple of good etiquette points but most of this just sounds joyless and frankly entitled. No, thanks.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith July 18, 2012, 6:20 am

    Admin has a point. An Art Fair is not like a show. Set the scene by creating attractive displays and using all of your people skills to entice lookers, educate consumers about your product and its value, and be prepared to show favorable supporting data for pricing. (Did your product piece or line win a prize? Write up in a blog or newspaper? Pieces sold in recent years reselling for more than was paid? Appraisal? Photos of pieces in context as decor? Customer testimonials? Comparable product pricing higher? Quality of materials or processes used better than competitors and you can demonstrate it reliably?)

  • Peachykeen July 18, 2012, 7:36 am

    I’m doing a large show this weekend and have been selling at craft shows for many years. I’d like to add a few suggestions.
    Ask before you take photos of the items. Some artists don’t care; some do.
    Please remember to carry small bills to these venues. I have change but a hundred dollar bill may wipe me out.
    Watch the food and drink you or your kids are enjoying. Please don’t get that cotton candy on my items.
    Don’t come into the shade of my booth just so you can read the screen of your cell phone.
    I’m glad you’ve found your friends but please don’t stand where you’re blocking the front of a booth to catch up with them for half an hour.
    I love my customers and try to be friendly throughout a long, hot weekend but these are a few things that can make it difficult to smile.

  • Andie July 18, 2012, 8:50 am

    I will return a greeting, but I personally don’t like the hard sell. I went to the local comic-con last month and one of the artists followed up her greeting to my husband and I by begging us to buy her work! It was off-putting to say the least, especially since we really didn’t think much of her art. (We only paused in front of her table due to the crowd around us.)

    And as for point 2, come on! If your confidence in your work wilts from the lack of constant, positive reinforcement, then you’d better toughen up considerably before going into retail.

  • KMC July 18, 2012, 9:22 am

    I agree totally with the Admin on her commentary. I’m sure some of these things can get tiring after hearing them over and over, but that’s just the nature of the thing. Someone telling you that a relative does something similar or the same (and you don’t know – maybe it really IS the same), may just be trying to chat and relate to you.

    You’ll get a lot farther just being friendly to people than acting put off when they break one of your “don’t” items.

    I do agree with the OP’s numbers 5 and 7.

  • CaffeineKatie July 18, 2012, 9:27 am

    I just remember something my mom used to say–look with your eyes NOT with your hands. If you have no intention of purchasing anything, don’t handle it, pass it around, wave it over your head to call your friends, etc. etc. etc. , esp. if it’s a unique piece (and irreplaceable). I have a friend I go shopping/flea marketing/craft show hunting with; she does this all the time, and I see the dread in the booth-holders eyes. Otherwise, lots of good points on both sides.

  • SashatheBrit July 18, 2012, 9:37 am

    How about this tip: when you go to a restaurant during an art fair, please be courteous to your waitstaff and don’t stiff them on the tip, complaining you spent too much at the fair in order to pay properly. I’m working during the AA Art Fair this week and I know that business will be good but tips abysmal.

  • Katy July 18, 2012, 9:40 am

    It’s been a long time since I paid full price for a piece of art. A friend who made jewelry said she usually upped her price between 10 and 25% over what she expected to get for it so when she settled for her actual price point or even a little less she was happy and the customer was happy they feel that they got a deal, and occasionally she’d sell a piece at asking price and make some money. I thought haggling was just the name of the game at art fairs.

  • TylerBelle July 18, 2012, 9:50 am

    “Compliment the artist. They worked very hard on their art and they are proud.”

    I agree with the admin on this. If one likes it, great, but should there be an insincere “It’s nice,” if there’s no caring for it? Also there are the artists out for shock value. I remember years ago walking through an exhibit at my brother’s school campus and he showed us a piece which had caused some controversy. It was a negative piece, which the artist apparently meant it to be, focusing on Christian religion and being of the faith, I don’t think I could have anything complimentary to say.

    “Don’t offer the artist suggestions on what they should do. If they wanted to do it, they would have.”

    This may be irritating, but it also can depend on what is being suggested. Sometimes another perspective can be helpful in one’s ongoing projects. Otherwise, just grin and let them know this is mine and how I have done it, and if they prefer different, then go for it, and tell how much I’m looking forward to their finished work.

  • Library Diva July 18, 2012, 10:23 am

    I’m sure people at art fairs can be stunningly rude. I know I’ve experienced it simply walking around: people blocking traffic, shoving, etc. But from the tone of these suggestions, I wonder if maybe OP should take a break or find a different sort of venue for her work. They sort of contradict each other, too: on one hand, she wants her greeting returned every time, implying that she wants to build some sort of relationship with everyone in attendance. But at the same time, they’re not permitted to make offhand comments like “my sister does the same thing” or “have you ever considered making these in bronze?”
    Yes, I can see how they could be construed as offensive, and I can easily see how someone would be ready to lose it after hearing the same comments 50 times in one afternoon, but they’re probably not meant to hurt, the person is just trying to be friendly. I always view chatting with the vendors as part of the experience. Otherwise, why subject yourself to the crowds, why not just stay home and buy off Etsy or Artfire? Saying “I have a cousin who also does chainsaw sculpture” is probably just an attempt to connect, nothing more. And you can’t really say “I’m open to feedback but only if it’s positive” either. If you want the compliments, you have to take the criticism that may accompany it.
    I thought Peachykeen’s suggestions were really valuable. But I’d also add that even if an artist at a show does mind one taking photographs, it’s my understanding that they’re in a public place with no expectation of privacy, and have no legal right to demand people not do it.

  • Gloria Shiner July 18, 2012, 10:33 am

    I’m in agreement with many of admin’s responses, but I do take exception to the response to #6. Many people are just plain insulting in their comments about prices. I’ve heard comments that embarass me as a customer, let alone how it must make the seller feel! It’s the comments more than the request to offer less money. Saying “It’s more than I can afford to pay” is much more tactful that saying “It’s too expensive” or “It’s not worth that much”. Often the person making the statement is totally unaware of the cost of materials and offers well below that – insulting!

    Here’s a suggestion for vendors: if you are standing and talking to friends so that I can’t see your goods, I’m probably just going to move on to the next booth. I don’t know how many times this has happened, and the vendor is so wrapped up in the conversation it doesn’t even help for me to say “excuse me”.

    While I’m at it here’s another pet peeve of mine as a customer (any place, but especially at craft shows): badmouthing a previous customer. If you’ll say that, I wonder what you will say about me. Thanks, but no thanks; I’ll move on.

  • Lerah99 July 18, 2012, 10:35 am

    It is in the artist’s interest to either become a great sales person or hire a great sales person.

    My friend L sells better than anyone I know. She seems to have a 6ft radius, if anyone enters it they end up buying something. Because L is amazing at in person sales, she travels to several shows and conventions every year to sell merchandise for artists. It is worth it to the artists to pay her to sell their goods. (No, she is not a booth babe. She is a mother in her 40’s. But she has an amazing charasmatic skill when it comes to selling items.)

    Many artists just starting out can’t afford to hire a sales person for shows. That is fine. But it is then up to th artist to learn how to be truly great at connecting with customers and making sales. No need for smarmy gimmicks. Warmth, connection, and a positive outlook can do wonders.

    Just remember: while you are making the piece you are an artist.
    But while you are selling the piece you are a PR Rep, Marketing Rep, Sales Rep, and Customer Service Rep all rolled into one.

  • Nicole July 18, 2012, 10:39 am

    And I thought I was doing a kind thing when I explained that their work was lovely, but since my cousin makes the same thing I would not be purchasing so they could concentrate on more viable customers… Because I can get a beautiful item from my cousin should not make me barred from admiring your work!

    I don’t think I would like to buy from this person, they seem very unhappy with customers and seem to expect them to magically know how not to annoy them. Some of the basic common curtsy items – like not blocking a stall or not letting your kids or your food touch the items – are expected, but I don’t feel like I have to respond to every person that says hi if there is no eye contact and I’m not even sure if they are talking to me! If you dislike customer service – and this includes the bad and the good customers – them perhaps you ought to find a retailer to sell your items for you as you are obviously not suited for the sale portion of the job.

  • Kendra July 18, 2012, 10:40 am

    I love, love, love craft fairs. You can find things at a craft fair that you can’t find anywhere else. I love crafts, but am not “crafty” enough to make these things for myself, so I shop every craft fair, street fair, farmer’s market in my area. As a shopper, I wanted to address some of your list.

    1. If someone says hello as you are walking by and looking, acknowledge their hello.

    If I am walking by your booth in the concourse, and you say “Hi” I most likely didn’t hear you or didn’t know you were talking to me. If I don’t acknowledge your greeting, it is because I didn’t know you were talking to me. If I come into your booth to get a better look at your offerings, then I will greet you and most likely make a complimentary comment about your wares.

    3. Don’t tell the artist that you have a brother, sister, cousin who does the same thing. They might do something similar but it’s not the same.

    Personally, as a shopper, I use this if the booth owner is “pushy” and I am looking for a graceful way out. When I am shopping a craft fair, I rarely buy something I have just seen. I have a budget for when I go to a craft fair. If I spend all my budget in the first ten minutes, then see something perfect later on, I will overspend. I like to browse the fair first, see what is there, then come back for the things I really liked. I have had the experience where I’ve wandered into the booth to get a closer look and the proprietor won’t let me leave, or the proprietor is standing out in front of their booth engaging everyone who comes by, like those hand-cream and glasses cleaner guys. As a shopper, if I have to say “my sister does that”, unless you have something truly amazing that I can’t live without, I’m not coming anywhere near your booth again.

    4. Don’t offer the artist suggestions on what they should do. If they wanted to do it, they would have.

    I have done this. It has been along the lines of “I’m looking for X, this is really close, it would be perfect for me if it had Y, do you do custom work?” For example there is a local guy who throws the most beautiful stoneware. I end up buying from him every year. A few years ago, I was looking for a honey pot, and his were the prettiest, but they didn’t have feet. I really wanted to have a honey pot with feet. I asked him if he would be willing to put feet on a honey pot for me, and that I would happily pay him for the custom work. He said he would think about it. At the next craft fair, he had put feet on his honey pots. They became one of his best sellers. He actually had to save one out for me because he sold out of them by the afternoon of the first day. He started putting feet on some of his other wares, like his mixing bowl, and they fly out of the door. My point is, if you are open to suggestions, it can help your business. If a customer says “I would really like it if it had X” instead of saying “this is how I made it, if you don’t like it, tough” then you aren’t going to make a sale. Your customers aren’t telling you that you are doing it wrong, just what they are looking for. What you choose to do with this information, as the artist/owner, is entirely up to you.

    6. If it costs more than you expected simply put it down and walk away. Don’t grimace or comment on the price.

    As the admin said, haggling is part of the deal. When a customer comments on the price, it is an opening for you, the owner, to engage the customer and possible make a sale. Every potential customer that looks at your price, puts the item down and walks away, is a lost sale. I read somewhere a long time ago that when you are selling a product, that product is worth absolutely nothing sitting in your booth. It is only worth something if someone is willing to purchase it, and then it is only worth what that person is willing to buy it for. In my experience, as a craft fair customer, the booth owners who are willing to bargain are the ones who seem to thrive. They come back year after year and build a customer base of people who start looking for them each year to get more product. The booth owners who tend to be inflexible seem to fade away and disappear after a couple of years.
    OP, it seems to me that for a lot of your list, your customers are trying to tell you something. It sounds like they are trying to tell you that they like your products and would like to purchase them, but there are obstacles to doing that. They are asking you to help them overcome these obstacles. When I was in sales, I was told “every objection is an opportunity to make a sale”. HTH, OP, I wish you success and prosperity in your business.

  • Kovitlac July 18, 2012, 10:42 am

    I fail to see how there’s anything rude about saying, “Oh, my sister does the same thing!” They likely don’t mean the EXACT same thing, down to the artful green glaze on a hand-crafted pot. They’re saying that their mother/sister/aunt/etc does pottery, and it’s most likely just a friendly person trying to make conversation. I’m not saying that a seller needs to stand there and ask for their life story, or ignore any other potential customers, but to list it as some sort of offensive act is, well, silly.

    There’s a large art fair that takes place locally every year. I enjoy amateur photography, and although I do buy what I am able to afford, I use it as more of a learning opportunity. I visit every photography booth I can find, look through all their available art, and when the seller is not obviously busy, I ask them questions about their work. I don’t bring my own work to show, since this is obviously not about me. But I’m wondering if your Do and Don’t list would be opposed to what I’m doing, as well.

  • SJ July 18, 2012, 10:44 am

    I agree with Admin. These rules sound kind of arrogant, actually.

  • Princess_Fiona July 18, 2012, 10:54 am

    I agree with Admin and Bint, especially the “gauntlet” comment. I find it excruciatingly painful to walk a gauntlet of vendors all vying for my attention. They start up conversations because they expect such conversations to end in a sale, and the prospective customer feels ensnared and pressured right from the get-go.

    While I sympathize with people who want to make a living, I cannot afford to buy something from every vendor. Frankly, the gauntlet experience depresses me. I can’t enjoy art under those conditions.

  • Calliope July 18, 2012, 10:57 am

    I laughed out loud at Bint’s “don’t.”

    I really take issue with the idea that I should feel obligated to compliment an artist simply because he/she worked hard on something and is proud of it. Lots of mediocre artists work hard and feel proud of what they accomplish, but I don’t feel the need to shower them with praise for it. In fact, I feel that lots of artists and aspiring artists receive too much praise and too little criticism, and that hurts the arts as a whole. I’m not suggesting the OP is a mediocre artist, or that art fair customers should go around critiquing vendors’ work, but every artist should understand, at the very least, that her art is not universally appealing. I, like most people, reserve praise for work I feel deserves it.

  • Green123 July 18, 2012, 11:30 am

    I don’t think I’ll bother going to any art fairs. It sounds terribly snooty.

  • barb July 18, 2012, 11:35 am

    –Please take the lit cigar out of your mouth before leaning in for a close-up look at one of my quilts.

    Yes, this actually happened. No damage done except to my nerves.

    –If you must bring your dog, please keep it under control at all times. The dog is outside and may feel entitled to “lift its leg” on any landmark, such as my display.

  • Jays July 18, 2012, 12:18 pm

    I agree with others on most of these rules, but I’m very, very surprised about the comments on haggling. I’ve always considered that *quite* rude. As a friend who makes a certain type of hand-crafted item said to me once: You can’t haggle over your grocery bill, so why do people think it’s OK to do that with this kind of vendor? If the price is too much, vote with your feet.

  • badkitty July 18, 2012, 12:27 pm

    1) I agree that if someone says “hello” you should acknowledge it – you don’t need to respond verbally, as a smile and maybe some eye contact are sufficient for a sales environment (which an art fair is).

    2) My compliments mean something because I don’t hand them out insincerely. You are not entitled to them just because you worked really hard (I don’t even compliment my SON’S work unless I’m genuinely impressed).

    3) If you’ve actually got people telling you that someone is doing the exact same thing and you don’t like it, maybe you should be doing something unique. I might say to someone “oh, my friend makes dolls too” but I am unlikely to say “oh, my friend makes these dolls” unless she really does make those EXACT dolls. I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone in this, so if you’re hearing that someone else is doing the exact same thing, they probably are and you need to climb down off your high horse.

    4) If you’re getting a suggestion from a potential customer, THAT’S A POTENTIAL SALE. I’ve said this to artists, and if they actually go and make the thing then I buy it. I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t think it would be worth buying. Suggestions are a prelude to a commission. Try responding with, “do you really think someone would be interested in buying (thing)?” or, “I could absolutely do that, if I thought someone would purchase it… but my studio is already pretty cluttered”. This gives the potential buyer an opening to make and offer to purchase this thing. Voila, a sale!

    5) Correct. Now put up a sign, and stick to your policy. If you don’t react, people will assume that the thing they broke (and everything in your booth) is garbage anyway. That’s certainly not right, but some people were raised by delinquent wolves. Also, if you’re selling items that can’t stand up to lots of handling, don’t let people handle them; even if everyone’s careful, 50 people touching and picking up will weaken an object that was built to sit quietly and never be touched.

    6) I agree with admin. Now, some people will go around all day complaining that everything is too expensive, so you can let one or two comments slide… or, you can use them as openings to negotiate the price, or get some feedback on what the customer thinks this item is worth. Also, if the issue is that people don’t understand how much time goes into this item, or what the materials cost, you can politely educate them. “Well, I do make each one by hand, and they take around 17 hours each” or, “yes, it is a little more costly to use raw silk, but I haven’t found anything that will give the same texture and feel.”

    7) Agreed. Send the little imps right back to their parents, or escort them if you’re prepared to provide an explanation of their dangerous behavior (or need to charge them for broken merchandise)

    8) See #3 and #6. Ask them questions about it, if you’re interested in discovering who’s doing something similar for less. Or go with the admin’s suggestion and just let it go; so someone’s operating on a larger scale or with a slimmer profit margin – is that really a big deal?

    It’s not often I read a submission here and feel that the OP needs to be thoroughly reeducated, but this list, to me, reeks of entitlement and snarky superiority. If your creations are for your own enjoyment, don’t give them up; if you’re creating art to sell, then you’re manufacturing a product and can’t be looking down your nose at the poor schlubs who are needed to pay your bills.

  • josie July 18, 2012, 12:29 pm

    I’ve been a customer and I’ve been a vendor….many times each, so I have a few suggestions of my own. If the day is going slow, please don’t sit behind the table and go “this place is sooooo dead”…..um, hello, that really perks the place up. Please don’t be a vendor and be engrossed in a book or on your cell and be completely oblivious to people looking at your wares. And along the lines of “my sister does this”, if you are a looker, please don’t say “oh, Cindy just did this in Brownies”….I don’t think so. I love to go to shows and find creative, new things or things that I don’t have the patience or talents to make. I enjoy being a vendor and greeting people and seeing what items spark an interest in them. And yes, by all means, break that $100 bill before you decide to buy a $4 item.

  • DogLover July 18, 2012, 12:55 pm

    I develop software for a living. Actually to be accurate, I sell the software I develop for a living. I don’t expect anyone to compliment me on it or tell me how great it is. I routinely get customers telling me what is wrong with it or how I should improve it. I also am constantly under pressure to do things cheaper and lower costs.

    None of this offends me, it’s just business. Once you sell art, it’s no different than the business I am in. If you don’t like it, don’t sell it.

    I understand the “my relative does something just like this thing”. It’s the implication that any person off the street can do the same level of amazing work as the artist. I have a beautiful show dog who is one of the top dogs in the country and people tell me “oh, I have a mixed breed from a shelter who looks just like him”. I laugh and am not annoyed even though I know there is a world of difference. It’s simply showing the ignorance of the speaker about that topic (art, dogs, etc) rather than making a value judgement. OP should take it as such.

  • CoolSmithy July 18, 2012, 1:13 pm

    / The problem with artists is they think their work is more valuable than it is. It is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it/

    Really? You’re going to say this when artists as a whole are already a vastly underpaid and overpaid group? I mean, I guess design/illustration is a little different, but I’m sure crafters work hard, too, and they deserve to be compensated for their time, materials, AND their unique vision. You can’t say it’s only worth what people are willing to pay for it when frankly people DO NOT know what it’s worth in modern society.

  • CoolSmithy July 18, 2012, 1:13 pm

    *overworked, not overpaid

  • Calliope July 18, 2012, 1:34 pm

    You know, on further reflection, number 4 rubs me the wrong way, too:

    “Don’t offer the artist suggestions on what they should do. If they wanted to do it, they would have.”

    Surely it’s possible that there are ideas the artist hasn’t thought of. The arrogance here is really off-putting.

  • OP July 18, 2012, 1:38 pm

    Hello, OP here. I guess I should offer some clarification. If someone walks into our area I will say hello. I am not going for the hard sell I am just being polite. What I was talking about was the person who you greet and they just look at you and say nothing or simply walk away. I agree with the poster about looking with your hands. Our tent has a variety of items in many price ranges, but many items have a lot of work and time put into them. When someone picks up the lowest priced item and tries to haggle over two dollars it can be frustrating. We try to value items at a reasonable price that accounts for the time put in.
    My do for complimenting the artist is not meant to be for everything. If it looks nice say so, if not then don’t. I did not mean to imply that you should compliment every single person.

  • Cat Whisperer July 18, 2012, 1:45 pm

    Husband and I regularly go to coin shows, where dealers show coins they have available to sell, and we also regularly go to flea markets and antique/collectible shows and sales. Regarding OP’s rule 6, “If it costs more than you expected simply put it down and walk away. Don’t grimace or comment on the price,” this is how we handle a situation where we like the item but don’t like the price: we’ll ask the seller, politely, “is this price firm?”

    The seller’s next move in this gambit, if they’re willing to negotiate, is to say something like, “What kind of price did you have in mind?” At that point, the potential buyer can mention a price of their own, and negotiations can start. Alternatively, if the seller isn’t interested in negotiating, they can tell you that the price is firm. If it’s more than you want to pay, you politely thank the seller and move on, no harm done.

    With regards to artists and crafters, I understand that they feel that they’ve invested a part of themselves in their work, and might have strong feelings about what they think it’s worth. I don’t think that asking them if their price is firm should be regarded by the artist or crafter as an insult; it’s just an inquiry to see if there’s room to maneuver and negotiate– no insult is implied.

    I also think that crafters and artists have to understand that the concept of connoisseurship is something not everyone understands or appreciates, and that isn’t a reflection on the artist or craftsman. At the Morse Museum in Florida, where they have some fabulous Arts and Crafts movement works on display, I’ve heard people comment that they don’t understand what the fuss is all about when looking at a display of Gustav Stickley furniture. I’ve also heard people say that they’d frankly rather hang an inexpensive reproduction of a well-known masterpiece painting on their wall than buy an original artwork that costs more, because they feel that the repro artwork is a better value than an original work by an contemporary artist. Some people just don’t find certain kinds of art or craft works appealing, and are astounded at how much money those works can cost. That isn’t a condemnation of either the artists who sell them or the people who buy the works, it’s a matter of personal taste and what people want to spend their money on.

    I do agree with the OP about “you break it, you bought it.” It’s funny– my mom brought my brothers and me up to understand that you look at something with your eyes, not your hands, and that when you want to examine an item that someone is offering for sale, it’s courteous to ask the seller for permission to handle the item before you pick it up; otherwise you keep your hands off and just look. And that when you do ask to handle an item someone is offering for sale, you handle it carefully and with respect. That’s just good manners. I can understand why artists and crafters get huffy when people handle items carelessly or with indifference for the possibility of damaging the item. And I also think it’s wrong for people with small children to allow children to go around touching and picking up items that they have no intention of buying. That’s just plain rude and stupid– which is why my mom required my brothers and I to keep our hands behind our backs when we went into a shop and told us to look with our eyes, not with our hands. (Mom was smart: not only were we less likely to break something that way, but you’re also less likely to make an impulse buy of something you don’t need and can’t afford if you don’t touch the item. Good training for avoiding impulse buys!)

  • Dear! July 18, 2012, 3:28 pm

    I’m from a place where being polite is the rule, not the exception. If someone says hello, just smile and acknowledge that a human being has said something to you. That doesn’t mean you have to stand and chat, but dont pass by the booth in silence. A agree with the OP. That’s kind of rude, and depending on where you live, very rude.

  • twik July 18, 2012, 4:08 pm

    @Jays – well, in much of the world, you DO “haggle” for your groceries. In fact, the “one fair price” way of selling goods was quite a revolutionary concept in its time. Timothy Eaton claimed one advantage of his store was “even a child can shop here without getting cheated”.

    It is not inherently rude to ask if a vendor at such a location will negotiate. It is rude to refuse to accept a “No,” however, or to assume that a professional is going to let their work go for the cost of the raw materials.

  • nk July 18, 2012, 7:42 pm

    The OP seems overly entitled to me. People who attend an art fair are potential customers; they don’t automatically owe the artists compliments or anything else.

  • Jays July 18, 2012, 8:57 pm

    Twik, I just know that my friend was tired and frustrated at people who would come to her booth, peruse her wares and immediately start trying to “get a real deal.” It just feels wrong to me. YMMV, of course.
    Let’s put it this way. I know there have been a number of threads on eHell from people who make handmade items and are frustrated when people then expect them to be cheap or to get a deal. How is this different? Generally the response to those threads has been with the OP.

  • Cat Whisperer July 18, 2012, 10:58 pm

    Reading some of the comments people made about today’s posting: it seems to me that if you’re going to sell your art or crafts at an art fair or craft festival or show, it’s incumbent on you to learn something about the fair or festival or show and how suitable it is for you to market your wares.

    As a minimum, I would think that a seller would want to know if the expectation of potential buyers is to haggle or not. If the potential buyers who attend have an expectation that the price on an item’s pricetag is just the starting point for negotiations, then as a seller I would be making a mistake to not anticipate potential buyers trying to bargain with me. It seems to me that a seller who takes offense at people trying to bargain, when that’s the norm for that particular situation, is the etiquette transgressor: they didn’t do their homework and know what to expect, and have no right to be angry or offended when people engage in bargaining if that’s the norm for that venue.

    At some of the local craft fairs and festivals in my neck of the woods, I’ve occasionally encountered someone who is trying to sell things that are a total mismatch for the festival: people whose product is either far, far, far above everything else that’s offered for sale, and is priced far, far, far above everything else; and people who are trying to sell something gimcrack and tacky at a place where high quality and high prices are the rule. I feel sorry for the people who are obvious “square pegs in a round hole” trying to sell their wares, because it can be an embarrassment; but if they didn’t bother to find out if their wares were a good match for the venue, whose fault is it but their own if things don’t sell and they’re frustrated and disappointed?

  • GroceryGirl July 19, 2012, 12:54 am

    I’ve worked in retail for quite a few years and the one thing I’ve really learned is that most of the time, people don’t realize what they are doing is wrong. We tend to think of people as deliberately rude but overall I think people genuinely don’t think too hard about their actions. It’s more like they are accidentally inconsiderate. So I think all each of us can really do is try to take that in stride and be as polite as we can ourselves. Maybe if the situation arises, we can gently nudge someone in the right direction.

    For example, for reasons I can’t fathom people tend to leave their shopping carts at the register if they only have a few things. Sort of, “oh I can just carry this bag, I don’t need a cart”. Of course, this leaves the shopping cart in everyone’s way so I very, very politely say “Would you mind taking this outside with you as you leave?” in my most cheerful tone. I’ve only once had someone refuse, every other time people seem surprised and apologetic as if it really hadn’t occurred to them that leaving a shopping cart in front of a cash register was a major inconvenience for everyone else.

    My point: I know it feels good to blow off steam but don’t be too hard on people. They probably don’t know they’re offending you.

  • KB July 19, 2012, 3:08 am

    OP, since you are only willing to acknowledge the posts who agree with you, you probably won’t like this suggestion, but to save yourself the rapid rise of your blood-pressure that the events clearly provoke in you, feel free to print out “rules” on huge sheets of paper and post them at the entrance to your stall. For even better results, have every person who visits your stall sign a ‘code of conduct’ notice before they are allowed to peruse your wares.

    Of course, you may not make many sales, but since your mental state seems to be more important, I presume that won’t bother you particularly.

  • Lexie July 19, 2012, 5:36 am

    This list rubs me the wrong way as both an attendee and a vendor of art shows. It reeks of superiority when the majority of art shows are for the community by the community.

    Empty compliments are just froth. I would rather one person in fifteen comes up to me and days, ‘I love the colours you’ve used in this drawing’ or ‘that’s amazingly detailed,’ than ten people saying, ‘Your stuff is nice.’ Any conversation with the vendor is greatly appreciated – weather, the day in general, other things you’ve seen – it doesn’t have to restricted to the wares and any potential sales.

    And suggestions are awesome. As an artist, they give you ideas and it means the customer is engaging you and your work, whether they are listing improvements or just suggesting a slight adjustment. Engaging means a sale! As a customer, it sometimes means that the artist might have one with a slightly different design, colour scheme etc not yet put out and I end up walking away with something I am 110% in love with.

    And if someone says, ‘My sister/cousin/mother/dog does this!’, I really believe it’s their way of trying to start a conversation, to engage with you. I know when I say things like that, I mean it to be, ‘I have witnessed the process behind your style of work and I understand how hard/time-consuming it would be to create these things and am genuinely interested in what your process is.’ It is always meant to engage the artist in talk of their practice, never to dismiss their work. The same with commenting on something being cheaper elsewhere – I always mean it to make the artists aware and to inquire whether their work is different – whether the materials are different, or the construction is different to my untrained eye.

    Haggling is something that doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s done in a spirit of fairness – offering $50 for something priced at, say $55, is perfectly acceptable to me. Offering $2 for something priced $20 will be met with a polite smile and ‘I’m afraid I have to decline that offer’. Haggling and trading is half the fun of an art fair! And if you aren’t inclined towards it, a neat sign that reads, ‘Prices as marked, thank you’ or a polite, ‘I’m afraid the prices are fixed,’ will do the job.

    I think most of these points could really come under the heading, ‘Be polite, considerate and gracious.’

  • Peachykeen July 19, 2012, 7:05 am

    I disagree about the price haggling discussion. I think of Flea Markets and Yard Sales as places to haggle over a price, not a craft show or art show. I base my prices on cost of material and time spent in production. I know art is more subjective than my craft (which involves sewing) but I think when I ask a reasonable price that’s what I need to get for the item to make the business profitable. Occasionally I will offer a deal such as buy 2 for $– in oder to move some items. I have politely been asked if I give a military discount or other deal for purchases which is fine but I have the right to say no, my price is set.

  • Selphie Trabia July 19, 2012, 8:00 am

    I love haggling and part of my enjoyment of travelling in markets is the ability to appraise an item and get a price that is fair for it. A lot of markets overprice goods to enable this.

    However, I won’t haggle at stores that have a sign stating “price not subject to negotiation”. I might peruse the wares, and I might buy them, but I understand that they’re not a price open for negotiations.

    Mind you, most of the fairs I visit are the kind where haggling IS expected.

  • Jay July 19, 2012, 8:34 am

    @CoolSmithy: “You can’t say it’s only worth what people are willing to pay for it when frankly people DO NOT know what it’s worth in modern society.”

    Yes, that is what it’s worth in monetary terms. If you’d like to argue that art has inherent worth just by existing, fine, but if you’re selling it, it’s only worth what people will pay. I can’t say that a lump of clay is worth $10k and expect people to accept that just because I call it art. Of course, if I can *convince* enough people that it’s art.. maybe someone will actually pay that 🙂

  • Mabel July 19, 2012, 11:03 am

    I will occasionally pick up an item to examine it more closely, but I’m always careful. If it’s made of glass or ceramic, I don’t touch it! Exception: maybe a candle in a jar, so I can smell it. Sometimes the vendor will have samples you can smell instead. I think that’s a good idea.

    Everything here can be said for writers too. There are so many people out there that expect to pay very little for the time and effort, stories are subjective and may not appeal to different people, and a table full of books is no different than a table full of carefully crafted dolls. They’re both product. If you go to a literary fair, these same guidelines for graciousness apply. I’ve yet to be on the selling side of the table but hope to be, so I’ve been trying to be a good customer.

  • Me July 20, 2012, 2:12 am

    I think that if you’re as sensitive to people’s behaviour as the person who compiled this list is, you probably shouldn’t be in business.

    If you’re in business, you have to recognize that you are in a business situation, not a social situation. These people are potential customers, not your friends, and they don’t need to coddle your feelings, or pretend your product is wonderful when it’s not, or acknowledge unsolicited call outs from your booth, or figure out your elaborate expectations for customer small talk.

    The only effect that getting snotty and offended with someone who is trying to be friendly is going to have is to scare away customers.

  • Elizabeth July 20, 2012, 10:51 am

    I don’t feel obligated to return all greetings and nor are compliments required. This rings of demanding and entitled to me. I believe I am required to be polite, however … which means that if some work is not to my taste, I respectfully keep that opinion to myself.

  • cleosia July 20, 2012, 1:24 pm

    I sell jewelry on a small scale. I once had someone tell me how nice my necklaces were but “Why are they so expensive?” I make one-of-a-kind jewelry, often using handmade and vintage beads. If you want cheap, you have to go to a mega-chain store where your item will be worn by millions. I was polite about it. After all, I have a number of people who love my pieces and have no problem with the price. And I love when I see them wear it!

  • whatever July 21, 2012, 1:45 am

    Jay, i understand your point in saying a lump of clay is not necessarily worth 10k just because one claims it’s art.

    yet i do agree with the post that says people often don’t know the worth of something. the field i have most insight in is quilting.

    if you use high quality fabrics, a yard will cost up to 20$. you need around 4-5 yards for a decend sized quilt, then you need batting, which, again if you use decent quality will come up to 40$. even if you use rather cheap backing, the costs of the raw materials might already be well over 100$. depending on the intricacy of the work, you’ll need between 50 and several 100 hours to finish a piece, starting with the cutting of fabrics, to sewing, basting together the layers, quilting and adding the binding, the last, if done properly meaning you sew the final seam by hand, all around the quilt.

    i am aware that ikea sells simple fleece blankets for 3$. i am aware that large retailers sell factory made “made in china” quilts for 20$. sadly, so are the customers. and they often don’t know how much of a difference there really is to handmade quilts. so when they claim 200$ is waaay overpriced and they don’t want to pay more than 50$, they REALLY don’t know what things are worth, and when you tell them that what they expect to pay does not even cover half of the costs of raw materials, they think you are crazy.

  • Jenny July 22, 2012, 7:20 am

    Yes, whatever, but Jay has a point. You have to sell the special attributes of it. It’s just like a pasta with truffles on it will cost more to make, but if the truffles don’t add anything to the dish, people won’t spend the extra money. Just like using the expensive fabrics may make the quilt nicer, but you have to sell the customer on why it’s better and worth the additional money. The mere fact that it cost more to make doesn’t mean that people will be willing to pay more. There has to be an attribute that makes it worth more. So if you’re hand stitching quilts that are the same in quality as those you can buy from a factory, you’re not going to get people to pay more.

  • Just4kicks July 22, 2012, 7:22 am

    @caffeine Katie: I say that to my kids! Look with your eyes, not with your hands. Once in the grocery store I said that to my then 7 yr old girl (who was touching and showing me different candies at the check out) and the elderly lady behind us gave me a strange look. I did not give it a second thought and finished my purchases. Out in the parking lot the same lady came up to me and said “I must say not only is it refreshing to see a mother actually discipline a child, but for your daughter to listen to you and stop what she was doing.” She then pulled out of her purse one of the candy bars my daughter had picked up to show me and said to my daughter “What a good girl you are to listen to your mommy….here is a treat for you….this IS the one you wanted?” I always remember what a lovely gesture that was for my daughter and for myself!

  • Dust Bunny July 23, 2012, 12:31 pm

    I would never phrase a suggestion to an artist as something they “should” do, but one never knows when the input might come in handy.

    Years ago, I was at an art fair and asked a potter if she ever made colander/dish sets (the dish goes under the colander to catch water drips). My mother has one that a friend made decades ago and she uses it all the time because you can wash and serve berries in it, and it looks nicer than a more utilitarian colander. The potter hadn’t thought of it. The next year, she recognized me and said she’d been making them and had sold quite a few.

    I think that if it’s an idea you’re not going to use yourself, do somebody the courtesy of sharing it.

  • XH July 23, 2012, 2:06 pm

    As an artist who does commission work at cons, a lot of these ring true and some of Admin’s responses are significantly off track.

    The non-customer who wants things from me for free is not haggling. The person griping that “I can get items like that at WalMart for $x.xx,” when I’m crafting custom works for $yy.yy is not haggling. Looking at a price chart and saying that 70+ hours of the artist’s time and effort on a custom commission is only worth $zz.zz is insulting to someone who’s already only asking just barely minimum wage. There’s haggling, and then there’s being absurdly rude.

    I am also not obligated to haggle. I haven’t worked an event yet where I wasn’t getting sales and was getting comments about the high price of my work. (The first one I worked I had the opposite problem – “ooo you’re so cheap!” and no sales. Raising my prices actually brought in more customers to whom I was suddenly legit.) I don’t actually want every single person who wanders by to order a commission. If I let people haggle and lowered my custom rates to accept every request I got I’d be swamped with work and not be making enough money for the stress and loss of sleep to be worth it. My rates are what they are for a reason, and a person who whines that they can’t afford my time is just leaving space in my queue for someone who can.

    What’s not on this list, but really really ought to be is that it’s incredibly rude to park yourself in front of an artist and block everyone else from getting to their table for a long period of time without at least buying something. It’s one thing to have interesting conversations with other congoers, it’s another thing to have them completely in the way of someone trying to earn a bit of money. It’s even more rude to have that conversation in front of an artist, but not with the artist. Yes, I’ll happily discuss my techniques and materials, but please keep it under an hour because it’s not possible for me to tell someone to scram without risking a potential customer hearing and being offended that I’d turn someone away.

  • Joanna July 23, 2012, 3:06 pm

    While a compliment is great, IMO it can set up an awkward situation if the person is not buying anything. You can sort of unconsciously hear the vendor thinking, “Well, if it’s so nice, why don’t you buy one?”

    As for telling the person that their friend or relative does the same, it could be that someone is just trying to be conversational and find a common link to spark a discussion. I doubt they really mean that the artist’s work is EXACTLY the same as Aunt Gina’s or Cousin Mary’s, simply that, hey, I also know someone who embroiders shirts, or whatever…

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