Art fairs have firmly established a prominent place in many art galleries sales strategy. Fairs are often a considerable financial risk to a gallery business, but they can also bring great rewards. Increasing sales, meeting new collectors and expanding the gallery’s reputation in new markets are the driving motivations for participating. They also provide an opportunity for valuable peer networking.
In this article, I discuss how an art gallery can best prepare for art fair participation and maximize all their opportunities to increase art sales and gallery visibility.
What will your gallery’s overall goals be for the fair? How will you define and measure success?
Think carefully about your goals for participating. You may want to introduce your star artists to a new market or launch an emerging artist onto the scene. Art fairs can also be an incredible platform to gain a better understanding of how collectors and critics will embrace a potential new artist.
Your goals may not necessarily include generating a profit or to break even on your investment, but be clear on how much cash will be required. Start with a smaller fair or look for a partner gallery for booth collaboration to test the waters.
Research Considerations Before Applying to an Art Fair
With hundreds of fairs to choose from internationally, you must select and apply to the right fair for your gallery program. You should consider carefully the resources you have to work with, both financial and human.
Details matter in your selection process so you can submit a well-researched, comprehensive, and compelling fair application. As part of your research, consider the location of the fair and your business objectives for the gallery. Don’t let legislation of a foreign country or essential add-on services take you by surprise.
Attend the fair as a spectator first to get a sense of the type of potential buyers it attracts and talk to other dealers about their experience. Also, try to make connections with fair organizers as they can often provide the best advice for getting included and booth locations.
Your research should also enable you to understand the risks and options available to exhibitors offered by the fair. Network and gather as much information as possible to make the best possible decision and minimize risk.
Art Fair Financial Feasibility
Many art galleries have put themselves out of business by investing too heavily in art fair participation that did not deliver the anticipated sales and leads. It’s easy to lose focus on the gallery’s core strength such as all your artists and exhibitions.
You must try to estimate the costs of fees, rentals, storage, travel expenses, insurance, shipping, and any client entertaining you want to do. Compare the sales statistics the fair promotes with what other gallery participants similar to your gallery have told you. You may have to assume a little padding as everyone wants to appear in the best light.
Forecast how much artwork will need to be sold from what you will be presenting at the fair and how many warm or hot leads you have to work with before the fair begins for those sales. Do you have existing clients who will visit your booth or are your sales primarily coming from new prospective buyers?
You need to determine if it makes sense to have a booth on your own or partner with another gallery to share the financial risks.
Designing the Perfect Art Fair Booth
Once your application is accepted, it is time to plan your booth and what artists to exhibit. A finely curated booth can make or break your experience and future participation.
Decisions will need to be made regarding wall colors, installations, and lighting, all of which will impact the draw of prospective buyers to your booth. Consider the feel of your gallery space when designing your booth and selecting furniture and fixtures. I don’t recommend a dramatic departure from your gallery’s personality unless it is to complement your art exhibit.
Your booth design is all about drawing people in so you can begin to establish new relationships and connections. Consider booth traffic flow and how best to use tools for capturing contact information and writing up sales. How will visitors learn to find the gallery on social media, hashtag your booth and visit your website? You will want to draw a layout of your booth space to try to anticipate the needs of gallery staff and visitors.
Art Fair Sales and Marketing
Begin your sales and marketing efforts by segmenting your contact list for sales leads that you will want to market your booth to more personally. Ideally, you want to start this process a few months before the fair. Find those leads who are predisposed to buying works in your booth or whom you believe will attend the fair. With contacts identified, plan your communication strategy to be informative about the opportunity your booth provides and have a soft-sell approach.
Determine what sales tools you will need to present works in the booth to new prospects. Inventory databases need to be comprehensive so that you can move quickly, answer questions accurately, and email interested collectors promptly. I also recommend creating your talking points about the artists and artworks in the booth ahead of time. You will only have a tiny window of time to spark a browser’s interest. Your pitch needs to be both compelling and efficient. Sales staff also needs to have a level of consistency.
Most galleries promote their presence at an art fair by listing the date and booth number on their website and then link to the art fair’s website. Why would you want to send prospects away from your site to get information?
Instead, create a separate page for each of your upcoming fairs to highlight what you will have in your booth and how your participation aligns with your gallery program. You can also include a map for your clients directing them to your booth, request fair passes, RSVP for events your hosting, etc.
A booth preview could be in the form of the digital catalog. Try a lead generation strategy by asking interested prospects to enter an email address to access the preview catalog or have it emailed to them. This strategy creates an opportunity to follow up personally and pre-sell works. Those that respond have prequalified themselves as being warm leads to buy.
Managing warm leads can be streamlined with fair specific tags in your database. Using tags this way helps ensure booth staff can access background information and provide more tailored service when a prospect visits the booth.
Plan in advance your email marketing and social media strategies such as sending save the dates, invitations to view a preview catalog, VIP tickets, and fair related events your gallery is hosting, and follow-up communications after the fair. The more buzz you can create around your participation, the better.
You may want to consider running a location-specific advertising campaign on social media to promote your participation with art lovers in the region. You could include a call to action link back to your website to view the preview so that you can capture their contact information. Afterall one of your goals may be to attract new collectors in that market.
Shipping is a crucial part of art fair participation. Look to the fair for guidance if you don’t currently use a shipper specializing in fine art. Ensure you choose the right freight forwarder that can provide services such as temporary export, quality wooden crates, assembling at your booth.
Packaging will depend on the mode of transportation and journey the artwork must take. If traveling by road, bubble wrap and blankets should be sufficient. If transporting by air, crates and boxes will need to be constructed.
For artworks traveling outside of the European Union, use the ATA Carnet, which is an international customs and temporary export-import document. Professional art shippers should be able to advise you on these kinds of documents.
Shipping for art fairs is a significant investment that can destroy your chances of a successful fair if it goes wrong. Protecting your artworks is essential when transporting them from the gallery to the fair or storage facility.
You might also document the condition of a piece with detailed photos.
To the Point
Like with most things, the more upfront planning, the more enjoyable the process and the higher the rewards. Art Fairs can be overwhelming but valuable for meeting new buyers and networking in the art world. Be confident in your goals and your resources before going into it. Focusing too much attention on fairs can sometimes strain relationships with your gallery artists and other clients.
Personalized marketing to your best leads should start months in advance of the fair with a soft touch. Make finding your booth and learning what you will present easy by creating a dedicated page on your gallery website for each fair.
Be creative with lead generating strategies to draw people into your booth. The lessons learned from trying a new approach will be valuable for other gallery marketing initiatives.
You will be exhausted when you return home, but do not forget to send a personalized “thank you” email to all your new contacts.Follow me on social for more fuel, insights and occasional silliness: