Yes or no to exhibiting at a fair?

With the art fair season coming up soon in London, and new fairs and opportunities coming up all the time for designers, artists, applied artists and all small businesses, how do you decide whether to exhibit at a fair or trade show, and which one to do?

Reasons to exhibit at a fair:

To make sales
This is usually the top reason you might want to exhibit at a fair. But you need to make sure that the visitors to the fair are the sort to buy at your price point. A sculptor who works in bronze with a price list in the thousands, is going to struggle to make sales at a local arts and crafts type fair. Try to visit the fair before you commit to exhibiting so that you understand the audience and how the fair works.

To make useful business contacts
A fair can be a great way to meet your industry movers and shakers. Curators, gallerists, interior designers and buyers will use fairs as an easy way to get a survey of the practitioners in your field. The get to see your product, how you present it and get an insight into what sort of a person you are, all things they will want to know about if they want to work with you. So it is important to present a great image at a fair.

To talk to customers
A trade fair is a great way to get really valuable feedback from customers, and see how they react to you products. Sometimes this if from conversations with them – although people are generally polite so you will mostly get positive feedback (the odd very blunt person is actually very useful, so try to look positively even on negative feedback). It is also useful to watch people – what they are drawn to – what they linger over, or eavesdrop their conversations to get their genuine opinions. If you are a designer this can be invaluable. But even artists who should be careful of being influenced by the market, can get great feedback on both the presentation of their work and also on what sorts of people are drawn to what parts of their catalogue.

To network with peers
You should never underestimate the value of a great peer network. In the art world most good opportunities are generated by your network, and a good peer network can keep well informed as well as providing sounding boards and support. Art fairs are a good place to expand your network, but try to allow generous time for you set up, so you have time spare to go around and meet other exhibitors before the show opens. If you are rushing and stressed you will be less open to making new contacts. But borrowing tools or helping others can be a good starting point for a great relationship.

Winning fair prizes
Fairs often competitions or selected exhibitors for added benefits, chances of mentoring or exhibiting their work in a ‘best of’ part of the fair. These can be useful for building your reputation.

To understand competitors
Fairs can be a great opportunity to see what your competitors do, their prices, how they market themselves. But of course, you don’t have to be an exhibitor for this, you can just visit the fair instead.

To be considered ‘one of the players’
In some cases, being part of a high profile fair can cement your reputation as one of the players in that field.

But fairs can take a lot of time and money to do well, so it is important to select the fair that is right for you. And it will be very hard to know this if you haven’t visited the fair before. In some cases this isn’t possible when it is a new fair, and there are advantages of being in on a new fair from the beginning. So in that case really try to get a feel of what it will be like by looking at the people involved. If it is an existing fair you are considering, try to talk to people who have exhibited there before.

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