This is a companion piece to my article, “Fine Craft Wholesale Shows: A Review of the Philadelphia Buyer’s Market Visiting Artists Program,” also on this site.
In June, 2006 I attended the Philadelphia Buyer’s Market of American Craft Visiting Artists Program. The presenters offered lots of wisdom and nuts-and-bolts tips on wholesaling for artists just starting out in the wholesale market. Here are a few of the golden nuggets I picked up:
Craft consultant Bruce Baker and gallery owner Nancy Marcoe suggested finding markets not just at craft shows, but also at professional association conventions and special interest shows – anywhere potential customers may be. To keep on top of trends, watch TV commercials and subscribe to three magazines – such as Real Simple, W Magazine, and Vanity Fair – just to look at the pictures: “The trail to the market is through trends.”
Common markup for galleries is 2.2 to 3, especially in higher rent areas. Your wholesale prices should reflect that. Tell customers that if a line doesn’t work for them, they can trade it back. While a grouping of your work might sell well, the last stranded three will likely sit there forever, said Baker. Rather than let those pieces wend their way into the “Sale” basket, why not offer to trade them for fresh inventory with new designs?
Inside your shipping box, pack a list of selling points for the sales staff (along with a couple of chocolate truffles). The staff will get instant sales training tailored to your work when they put your pieces on display.
In a tough economy, artists are smart to have low price points as well as high. To keep artists’ production costs down, lower priced pieces should require very little finishing.
One benefit to wholesaling over retailing is the relative ease with which one can build a national reputation (“The banks will love it, and so will Mom and Dad,” said Baker).
Baker also touched upon key operational strategies – from sourcing inventory (“Play hardball with your suppliers”) to shipping (“Keep all promises”). Merchant card services have phased out the “proforma” method of order taking. Today, all you need to do is take the customer’s credit card number and run it through when you ship.
Good contracts are vital to operations, noted Judie Raiford of Raiford Gallery. “Don’t leave anything to chance.” Fulfilling your responsibilities is paramount: “Deliver on time, and deliver what you promise.” Spread out your work across the country. “Don’t be in two galleries within emotional distance from one another,” said Raiford.
Omit contact information from your “care cards” (the information cards passed out to customers). Gallery owners bristle at the idea of customers using their space as glamorous showrooms for your online store. I heard this message repeatedly during the weekend: If you’re trying to wholesale and you have shopping cart capability on your website, you will be shunned.
Wendy Rosen explained that multiple revenue streams are often a must for artists. Think about selling some production pieces under a separate company name (a la Dale Chihuli’s Portland Press sidelines), writing books, and developing specialized products for narrower markets. For example, at the National Baptist Convention there’s a market just for fancy hats, selling for $1,000 each.