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  • Writer's pictureSue Bulmer

Getting to know your customers


AS we are coming up to the big selling period (I can't quite say the C word yet but you all know what I mean) I've been thinking a lot about direct selling events and how valuable they are to us small business owners. One of their values is they can teach us so much about our own customers if we stop, look, listen and tune in

Considering that when I first started out on my creative journey I never thought that I would ever make work that was good enough to be chosen to exhibit at some of the events I have been lucky enough to sell my work at. One of my faves was at the Harley Gallery and this was a show I had coveted for quite a while. I could kick myself as I missed the application deadline this year!!

I'd visited as a customer several times over the years but seeing it from the other side, you never know how it will turn out. 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 this 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 sprinkling 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 one such weekend, in between sales and chatting, and gained a valuable insight into my customers. I want to share what I thought about and learned (and hopefully some of this might be useful to you):


Who does your work appeal to? Asking myself this helped me to realise my work had broader appeal than I realised: 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 more.

How do people react to your work?

My work makes people smile: It was great to gauge peoples 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!! Others are intrigued and interested and step in for a closer look. They aren't sure what it is so they to come closer to try to make sense of it.

How else can I use this valuable time, what else can I find discover?

Market research: I had advertised commissions and had taken along with me a commission piece which I hope to advertise. I asked my customers what they thought and 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. There is always the chance people might not be telling you what they really think but what they want you to hear, and on the flip side, you may not like what you hear. But it's all food for thuought!

Do some work: I took along a sketchbook to work in, which helped make the time fly, and also provided something of interest for customers, and a great lead into a 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!!

How do I set out my stand to maximise interaction:

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 wondered if they thought I was going to bite!! I moved it to the other end of the table and all of my prints sold! Which brings me to my last point:

How do people like to be sold to?

People generally 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. BUT be prepared to talk to people too.....

Ideas for great conversation starters and telling my story?

You can't go wrong with a great set of conversation starters in your pocket for when you need them!! This is really important to think about beforehand. Simple questions such as 'have you travelled far' today? 'are you looking for anything in particular' today? 'are you shopping for yourself or for a gift?', it's not rocket science but it can go a long way to starting the killer conversation that bags a sale!!

Practice telling your story and become fluent in the language of it. The more you do this the easier it will become. I used to be terrible at this but the more I have practised, it really has become more natural to my introvert self. I also think that chatting more on social media, instagram lives, tiktok etc, showing my face and being more visible has increased my confidence. People are interested in people, and their stories. It makes it all real and a well-told story draws people in and gives them something to remember about you.


Anyhow, that's about everything covered. It was a great learning curve, yet again, and very positive. Hope it has been a useful insight.

It would be great to hear what works well for you at your selling fairs, so please feel free to leave me a comment and share your tips and ideas

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