When selling work it's important that the buyer have as simple an experience as possible, that you keep track of the sales, and that you keep track of the money. Have at most 2 people selling work and stick to a system.
When to sell work
We sell work throughout the opening, though ask the buyers to take it at the end of the opening. This way the show doesn't disappear during the course of the reception. Sold items are marked with a red dot on the label, so buyers can be assured the work is being held in the meantime. Some leave to get food and come back. If they can't come back, occasionally we'll let the buyer take the piece early, but this is something you'll determine case by case.
Pricing work has a way of taking care of itself because we use the honor system. Although work can be stolen at your show, experience has shown us that artwork is more likely to sell than anything else. In a Budget Gallery show, artists price their work differently (usually lower) than they would normally - partly because they are sending unusual pieces like work prints and sketches, etc. and partly because they know if it doesn't sell, it stays outdoors, unprotected for a week. In this way, the Budget Gallery is similar to a sidewalk sale. The seller wants things gone. They don't want to take the stuff they're selling back home. Everything must go, one way or another.
Saving the Art From an Uncertain Future
A funny thing happens with the audience and the pricing. Audiences and potential buyers come to understand that if they don't "act now" and buy the piece, anything can happen to it. In contrast, at a conventional gallery if a collector decides to wait a week and return, the work will probably still be there. With the Budget Gallery this is very unlikely. The piece may sell 10 minutes later, or it may disappear forever. Knowing this, the potential buyer is often overcome with a sense of urgency. Buyers have this desire to save the work by buying it. When the work is seemingly "at risk", buyers understand just how attached to the work they really are.
Finding the Right Price
Priced too high, the work doesn't sell, disappears, and no money gets to the artist. Priced too low, the artist may feel like their giving the work away, or the potential buyer undervalues it. Priced just right, the work sells, and the owner and the artist are happy with the price. Note - In my experience, a good price for a Budget Gallery piece is an amount your average person carries in their pocket or can easily get from an ATM. It should be low enough that the person feels like they can't pass it up.
Some artists will ask you for help on how they should price their work. Rather than give answers, we usually ask questions like, "what do you usually sell your work for?" and "what's the lowest you would be comfortable selling it for?". That usually gets things started in the right direction. If someone's price seems unusually high, like over \$100, we mention that most work sells for between \$20 and \$40 to give them some perspective. Ultimately, the price is determined by the artist. We just advise.
Try not to haggle. The work should be cheap anyway. But if someone shorts us a couple bucks, no big deal. When people try to haggle we try to let the buyer know that the Budget Gallery doesn't take a cut of the sales unless the artist wants us to, and that in most cases the artist is getting 100% of the sales so haggling with us is really taking money away from the most important person: the artist!
Tracking sales is essential to know which artists to pay. We've done this multiple ways.
- writing actual receipts - we bought a receipt book that was in triplicate from an office supply store. It worked, but it was slow and there were people waiting in line to buy work.
- collecting labels - when the labels for the work could be easily removed, we would put them in a bag when the piece was sold. All the labels in the bag at the end of the reception were the pieces that sold.
- Photographing sold labels - we never tried this but one could snap a photo of the label of each piece once it's sold. That set of photos could be a record of sales.
- It is also a good thing to keep track of who bought what from who. Try to get the buyers email address to pass along to the artist. Most artists have an email list or a website and really appreciate being able to contact someone who bought their work.
After the Reception
After the reception all work is sold on the honor system. You'll want to announce this to any crowd that is gathered. Leave small flyers with an email address, and ideally a toll free number (we used a toll free number from onebox.com in the early 2000s) so buyers can contact you after the fact to make payment.
Go through your sales records and determine which artists sold work. Find their entry form and determine what percentage of the sale they asked for. Set aside that amount in an envelope and contact the artist to let them know. You can send checks if you'd like. Cash if you're daring.
For some artists, this may be the first time they've ever sold anything. It can be pretty fun to watch their faces when you hand them cash.
Hopefully you'll have a surplus of money in the form of donations to your Budget Gallery. One of the traditions we have is to always use some of that money to buy food for all the volunteers the night of the opening. Nothing fancy, maybe a couple pizzas, but it makes a difference. Any extra money we set aside for the next show, to pay for supplies, etc.