How to Work With People Who Bargain for Art
Q: I get upset when people call or visit my studio or contact me over the Internet and try to bargain me on the prices that I am asking for my art. I price my art fairly at what I think it's worth and I refuse to negotiate. That's my policy. The only problem is that I think I'm losing a certain amount of sales. How can I explain to people in a nice way that my prices are reasonable but firm so I can end up selling more art?
A: Art collectors like to feel they're getting good deals no matter who they are, what they're buying or where they're buying it. Aside from the idea of believing they're "getting good deals" or getting fair value for what they buy, many potential buyers also have personal reasons for wanting to pay less such as limited budgets, high cost of living expenses, temporary cash flow problems and so on. In any situation where you're selling your art, having someone ask whether a selling price is firm or offering to pay less than full value is entirely normal.
Whatever you do, if someone makes an offer on a piece of your art, don't get offended, upset, defensive or take it personally. No one is trying to insult you or denigrate your art. They'd just like to pay a little less, that's all. Bargaining for art is not about you and it's not about your art; it's about how much a potential buyer feels comfortable spending. Also remember that no matter how much you sell your art for, it's still the exact same art. It is not better art if you sell it for more or worse art if you sell it for less. The sooner you get these kinds of counterproductive thoughts out of your mind, the better.
As you seem to have discovered, when you get rigid about selling prices and flat out refuse to negotiate, you're likely to have difficulty moving beyond that point in the conversation. No matter how much convincing you do to the contrary about how fair and reasonable your prices are, if someone is set on paying less than whatever you're asking, the chasm will likely never be bridged if you're not willing to give in at least a little. And that's how sales are lost. The good news is no sale ever has to be lost over what usually amounts to not all that much money when compared to the full price.
Collectors who buy directly from artists often do so because they like being around artists, going from studio to studio, spending time at studios of artists whose work they enjoy, seeing how they work and talking with them about their art. They also tend to believe prices are lower and somewhat more flexible when buying direct rather than at galleries or other retail venues. These days, more and more artist-direct purchases are being made online as well, and attitudes toward asking prices there tend to be similar to those people have about person-to-person purchases. In case you're not aware of it, art in all price ranges is selling online, not just lower priced work, as buyers become increasingly comfortable with Internet interactions and transactions. Even though online buyers may never physically meet the artists they buy from, they are still able communicate with those artists, either by chat, phone or email, and get a real sense of who they are as people and what their art is about. That's why it's so important for all artists to establish accessible online profiles and make themselves available to anyone who has questions about their art.
For both types of direct buyers-- online and in person-- searching for art is often somewhat of an adventure; they prefer the thrill of the "hunt" to the more sterile environments of galleries. In addition to discovering art they like, the idea of finding bargains is frequently part of the experience as well. As with any human interactions, in narrowing down whose art they want to own, buyers typically gravitate toward artists who they get along well with and who respond to their needs-- artists who they feel some sort of connection with. So be aware in advance that inflexibility on any issue, including your asking prices, will likely hamper your ability to form good relationships and ultimately reduce your chances of making sales.
In situations where negotiating is generally viewed as part of the process, rather than be intransigent when it comes to prices, you might begin by modifying your attitudes towards people who like your art, but who for whatever reason prefer to negotiate. Look at it this way-- anybody who is willing to talk money in the first place already likes your art enough to want to own it, and that's saying plenty. You want to cultivate this conversation, not end it before it even starts. The last thing you want to do is issue ultimatums. At the very least, you have to respect them for having the nerve to step up and make an offer that's lower than your asking price. This doesn't mean you have to tolerate insultingly low offers from people who are simply playing games, who bargain for sport, who start pointing out negative aspects of your art, or who badger you to the point of distraction (the sooner you get these losers out your life, the better). But for anyone who seems to genuinely care and is clearly excited at the prospect of owning your art, get flexible and give them a chance.
Here are some compromise options and approaches in no particular order that might help you to increase sales and ease those monetary tensions:
Option 1: If you absolutely positively insist on refusing to negotiate below your current prices, raise them maybe ten to twenty percent and then let people bargain you right back down to the whatever dollar amounts you would have been satisfied selling the art for in the first place. This way you can still be firm, but not look like it. It's not necessarily the best or most compromising way to go, but at least you give the appearance of being open to negotiating.
Option 2: Make every effort possible to sell to any collector who really loves your art, makes reasonable offers, and who respects you while doing so. These are the perfect people who you want to own your art-- ones with the potential to become your biggest fans and advocates. Reducing an asking price by five or ten or twenty percent is really not that big of a deal when you think about it-- especially over the long haul-- and often pays dividends in more ways than one. When give buyers like this the art they want at the price they want to pay, you get that art out of the studio and into their homes or offices and essentially enlist them as supporters who will likely talk you up at every chance they get. Last but not least, you get a reputation as someone who's approachable and willing to work with potential buyers. Collectors talk about the artists whose work they own all the time, and when they talk about you, you want to maximize the chances that they'll say nice things and send new people your way.
Option 3: If you'd rather not sell at lower prices or you're not willing to come down in price quite as far as someone would like you to, offer a partial discount in combination with the option of paying over time. For example, let the buyer pay a certain amount per month, or pay off the balance however they wish within a set time period, or pay by whatever other plan or method you can agree on. With time payments, buyers often feel like they're paying less... and sometimes might also be willing to spend somewhat more since they're putting less stress on their finances all at once. Draw up simple written contracts or agreements whenever you use this option.
Option 4: Accept as many different forms of payment as possible. Not only does this make you look more "official" in terms of having your business act together, but different buyers have preferences about how they like to pay. Offer options including payment by cash, check, money order, credit card, online through a secure site like PayPal, and so on. Accepting various forms of credit also means buyers aren't pressured to come up with all the money immediately and may feel more comfortable about buying in the first place or even paying a little more than they would have if you only accept cash or checks.
Option 5: If you're having difficulty agreeing on a price, ask whether an interested buyer has anything they'd be willing to trade-- either goods or services. Or be willing to consider a part cash / part trade option. You never know who has access to what, and sometimes a trade can work out far more profitably than a cash sale. You'd be surprised what people have to offer.
Option 6: When collectors bargain you on particular pieces that you simply don't feel comfortable reducing, rather than reject the offers altogether, suggest other pieces that you'll sell at those prices. If that doesn't work, have them point out their favorite pieces and then show similar ones that are priced more within their budgets. Perhaps even show them art that's slightly more than they can afford, thought not as expensive as the ones they made their initial offers on, and reduce the prices on those instead.
Option 7: Keep all negotiations open for as long as possible and explore as many options as possible. Treat every potential buyer like the perennial used car salesman who asks, "What do I have to do to get you into this car?" Whenever someone expresses genuine interest and appreciation in your art, do everything in your power to make sure they walk away with something. Assuming a buyer is sincere and you both approach the situation with a reasonable degree of flexibility, sooner or later the two of you will figure out a way for them to own your art, and for you to feel good about selling it.
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