Artist Sue Bulmer, who took part in the Christmas Art Market in 2012, tells us about her experiences at the event.

Blog, The Christmas Art & Food Market with Sue Bulmer, That's the One by Sue Bulmer

When I received the email telling me I had been accepted to take part in the 2012 Harley Christmas Market, to say I was over the moon would be an understatement! It had been an ambition of mine to be able to attend this well-established Christmas Market for several years as I had visited as a customer several times and had seen how what a well-regarded and well-attended event it was. I had applied twice before earlier in my creative career and had been turned down but since then a lot had happened, I had gained lots of good advice and feedback during the Notts County Council Nottinghamshire Creative Business Scheme and also through the Design Factory mentoring Scheme well as picking the brains of several gallery owners and friends. I had also gained experience of selling events and my collection of work was a lot more cohesive which made my application stronger.

The run up to the weekend went quite smoothly with excellent communications from Dayle and the event organisers and I turned up to set up on the chilly Friday afternoon. Set-up went remarkably well and I was home in time for tea and an early night so I’d be feeling refreshed and revitalised for a busy weekend of sales. The attendance was high, people were spending on Christmas gifts and also for themselves, I was well-prepared, having taken part in a couple of selling events and showcases earlier in the year and I was determined to learn as much I could from the whole experience.

I used to think that the ideal way for me to sell my work was through galleries, it was easy for me, I didn’t have to spend all weekend trying to do it myself and I could get on with making new work while the galleries did their bit. Having had a few substantial sales I then got curious, and questions started popping up making me wonder who is parting with their hard-earned cash to buy a piece of my work?

So I decided to start selling direct to customers, handpicking my events carefully, and not applying for anything and everything. Now I’m no seasoned professional, don’t get me wrong,  I only have a couple of such events under my belt, but I think selling direct, if you choose your locations well, can be a great way to get to know a LOT more about your customers and what makes them tick. I made a few notes over the course of the weekend, in between sales and chatting, and gained a valuable insight into my customers.

 Blog, The Christmas Art & Food Market with Sue Bulmer, Sue at her stall

This is what I learned (and hopefully some of this might be useful to you):

– I realised my work had broad appeal: I got really positive reactions from children, one customer saying that my stand was the only one her child had said they liked, and also older customers showed a lot more interest than I had expected, proving to me that my potential customer base is actually a lot broader than I had previously thought. I need to make sure I tap into this next year.

– My work makes people smile: It was great to gauge people’s reactions to my work as they stepped in closer for a proper look and I was pleased to see it brought a lot of smiles to peoples’ faces. This is something I will incorporate into my marketing and use to sell my work to future customers. I like the fact it makes people happy!!

– Market research: I had advertised commissions and had taken along with me a commission piece which I hoped to advertise for the wedding season the following year and I asked my customers whether they liked it and got lots of positive feedback. Customers are more than happy to give feedback, use this to your advantage, and ask them, it’s free and a great way to find out what people like and want.

– I also took along a sketchbook to work on, which helped make the time fly, and also provided something of interest for customers, and a great lead into conversations. Children, particularly, seemed fascinated in what I was doing, stopping to watch and asking questions. I also had three new pieces of work to bring home at the end of the weekend!!

– Setting out you stand: I could write a whole blog post on this, but I’ll keep it short, people are more likely to browse through prints and special offers if they are further away from where you are sitting. To begin with had my special offer print box right next to me and no-one was looking. I moved it to the other end of the table and all of my prints sold! Which brings me to my last point:

– People don’t like the hard sell: I don’t like the hard sell either, so I don’t do it. If people make eye contact I acknowledge them and smile, but on the whole I found that customers wanted to be left alone to browse and would initiate a conversation if they wanted to. Taking some work along with me also made this bit easier, I felt I had something else to concentrate on, and my customers didn’t feel as though they had to interact if they didn’t want to. There are some who may contest this and state it isn’t the way to sell things, but I found it worked really well, to take the softly softly approach and leave people to browse, always being aware of them, but not intruding.

Anyhow, that’s about everything covered. It was a great learning curve, a fantastically busy weekend with lots of sales and lots of chances to interact with and chat to customers. I would definitely apply again as I found it so rewarding and also such a friendly and well-organised show too. And a bit of advice, if at first you don’t succeed, don’t be too disheartened and do apply again. If you know that shows you really want to exhibit at, keep applying, it’s worth the wait!!

Visit Sue’s blog for posts about places to visit, the working life of an artist, making, sketchbooks, and her series of Why Blog? posts.