Monthly Archives: June 2008

How to Half Wholesale: #9 Work with Reps

Eighth in a series of how to grow your wholesale business in a small way….

What is a rep?

I believe it’s short for “sales representative”. It’s a person who carries either actual samples or very good print images of artwork/craft items/jewelry etc. to stores. They “represent” the artists. If the stores like the work (and they trust the rep), they place a wholesale order. The rep delivers the orders to the artist, the artist makes the work and collects the money. A new wholesale account is created.

How much will they sell?
They will follow your wholesale terms, unless you have both agreed to exceptions–say, small sample orders.

How do I get paid?
Reps only carry and show your work, and collect the orders. They turn them over to you, and the rest is just like a normal wholesale transaction. You make and deliver the work, the store pays you according to your terms, and you put the money in the bank.

How do reps get paid?

Typically, reps get paid an amount equal to 15%-25% of the wholesale order. My understanding is that 20% is the norm for our industry. That might seem like a lot, but actually, that’s the amount artists and craftspeople are expected to budget for marketing and promotion anyway. Using a rep is simply another way of marketing your work. If you’ve accounted for this expense in your wholesale pricing, you should be okay.

Every order??
Well, that’s a good question. The answer is, it depends….

And here we get to the issue about whether using a rep is a good thing or a bad thing:

It depends.

Reps are just people. People who sell your work for you. Consequently, some are great, some aren’t.

Some work hard to sell your work, others want a lot of artists (because it makes them look like they got a lotta stuff) but only push their sure sellers. Some are careful to pitch your work to appropriate stores, others will sell to every two-bit operation that is willing to pay your minimum. Some are hard-working and honest. Others are fast-talking, sleazy and sloppy.

Over time, a rep will develop their routine to what works best for them. You must understand how your rep works before you sign on with them, to keep misunderstandings to a minimum. Use a contract, and read it carefully!

Some will repeat their “tour” regularly, writing new orders and reorders for you constantly. And in this situation, since they are actually doing all the selling for you, they expect that percentage from every order.

Other reps simply introduce your work to the store. Reorders and follow-up are up to you. They expect a percentage on that first order (the one they got for you) but they don’t expect a percentage after that initial order.

Some insist on actual samples, others are happy with a good catalog or line sheet. Some want you to give them the samples. Others accept them “on consignment”, and your items will be returned to you after their tour of duty. (Obviously, it’s easy to give someone inexpensive samples like cards or bookmarks, but you probably don’t want to give away precious metal and stone jewelry….)

Reps may expect you to develop new lines and new designs regularly, because it’s introducing these new items that keeps their inventory fresh and appealing.

In short, if you work with a rep, it’s important to know upfront what is expected of you, and what you can expect from them. Contracts are simply a written record of those expectations, with both parties in agreement.

How do you find a rep?
It’s actually not too hard to find a rep. The trick is to find a good rep. One who is a good fit for your work, your work ethic, your goals, your dreams. But when you find one, it can be a marriage made in heaven.

Here are some suggestions for finding a rep:

Ask other artists. When you find an artist with work that’s compatible with yours who’s already wholesaling, simply ask them if they use a rep. And if so, would they mind sharing the name.

Ask a store. If you are already wholesaling to a store, ask them if they ever buy from a rep. If so, ask them for the names of the ones who might work well for you. (Assure them you don’t intend to saturate the area with your work, or sell to their competition.) This is also a way to vet and pitch yourself to the rep: “I’m already selling to one of your accounts, and my work does well there….”

Ask a working rep.
Some reps actually do wholesale shows, representing a variety of artists. If you think your work might fit, talk to them. (Caveat: Show etiquette applies here. These people are working, and their first priority is to sell their current clients’ work. Wait until they are not busy with actual customers, and be ready to simply leave a card or catalog and contact them after the show.

Go where they gather.
Pam Corwin of Paper Scissors Rock has long recommended the Great Rep website as a great source for reps. You’ll find reps looking for specific lines (maybe your work is a good fit?), and craftspeople looking for reps. It’s a directory, so it’s up to you to screen your potential candidates.

Ask everyone!
Spread the word you’re looking for a rep. You might find out the brother of a friend of the sister of your neighbor in yoga class is a rep. Yes, you know it happens!

My caveat up front: I’ve only worked with a rep once, without much success. But many other craftspeople have, and it’s a real option for expanding your wholesale territory without leaving home.

A fellow artist who owned a small framing gallery took to the roads of New England with samples of local artists’ work. She planned to visit various stores and galleries along the way, showing them the samples and hopefully writing orders. She liked my jewelry and took samples with her. Nothing came of it, but the idea was intriguing.

A few years ago, I had a chance to work with a really great rep. He came highly recommended by other artists, and when I called him, he was interested in my work. The reason was, it fit in well with a few other lines he carried–Southwestern/tribal/world art–and he had stores in mind that did well with that look.

The only reason I hesitated was that his territory was New England, and I felt I had enough accounts in this region. In hindsight, maybe I should have tried working with him, and maybe I’ll open that door again someday.

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Making Room

So what great insights came from my four questions session yesterday?

Carol and Barb came over for two hours. We had coffee and a quick nosh. (Can’t work on empty stomaches!) We “checked in” briefly to see what everyone was up to.

Then it was time to start.

What did I want to talk about?

I wanted to talk about my vision for my art. Wanting to catch everyone up on where I was coming from, I presented a five-minute summary of the last couple years:

My realizing I still have a vast new audience to present my current body of work to….(validation!)

Me knowing my work will evolve naturally and organically once I can clear space in my studio to get back to work….(relief!)

Me recognizing that writing, though abstract, makes me feel like I’ve done something…and may be distracting me from my actual art production time/energy….(hmmm…at least I see it, though I’m not sure what to do about it.)

Me remembering that last year my first surgery, and first foot injury happened two months before my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair…(manageable, but still putting me off my game.)

and that it was the first fair I’d done in eight years without my daughter Robin assisting me every step of the way…(difficult.)

Me understanding the many negative things that happened to me at last year’s Fair (let’s just say that sometimes, there’s nothing scarier than your fellow craftsmen), and how long I’ve had to deal with the repercussions….(frustration.)

Me realizing my cancer scare began almost immediately after the Fair and lasted through several months of testing and follow-up….(emotionally exhausting.)

Followed by two more surgeries in December…(uh oh.)

Resulting in being housebound, in constant pain, inactive, incurring weight gain and depressed….(it was, well, depressing.)

And me now realizing we have to clear the garage for a new wood boiler, and clean out our house attic so we can insulate before winter….(yikes!)

And I still need to clean out my barn attic so I can begin to clean out my studio….(double yikes!)

There! “So,” I said, “I’m ready to talk about my plans for my art.”

“Not so fast, sweetheart!” exclaimed both my friends in unison. “We can see what the problem is here. And it’s not what you think.”

The problem wasn’t about the art. The problem was making room for it.

They both pointed out that the first step was to get a plan of action for this huge de-cluttering laid out–before I even begin to think about making more art.

They said they understood, because they’ve both struggled with the same issue. And gone through the process, and come out the other side–lightened, encouraged and energized.

And they said they both happened to be very, very good at creating such plans for action.

When they said that, a huge weight lifted from my heart. How perfect that these two people were doing this exercise with me.

I knew they were right. I knew I had to do this. I had no idea how I was going to do it.

It turned out they were going to give me exactly the help I needed.

They guided me through a visioning exercise. I mentally walked through my studio, “creating” the perfect new work environment. I thought about what really needed to be there and what didn’t.

Then we took a quick tour of the two staging areas. With their eyes helping, it was even easier to see what could be “at hand”, and what could go upstairs into the barn attic.

Shelves will keep my current storage containers more accessible, and labeling will help, too.

Teen-aged boys will be forbidden to set up a man-cave in the attic. (If you have teen-aged boys, you know what I’m talking about….)

The list goes on.

Someday, perhaps I’ll be able to section off part of the barn and actually insulate or heat it during the winter, so my office and shipping station can be upstairs, away from my actual workspace. (Email and internet stuff can be a huge distraction!) For now, there’s a lot that can be stored up there for quick grabbing when I need it. A little hassle to run upstairs (especially in winter!), yes, but better than tripping over E*V*E*R*Y*T*H*I*N*G underfoot.

My friends also offered to help.

It was so hard to ask! “Come on, Lu, say it—’Will you help me?’–four little words! You can do it!” they urged.

I did, and they said yes. (They want pizza, beer and music. I think I can swing that!)

They encouraged me to make a list of other people I could ask for help, too, and how to make it easier for people to do so. (Keep the request to a couple hours, add the music and food.)

They encouraged me to set a deadline (three weeks!) to see how much I could accomplish by then.

They promised to come back for another session to make sure I’m making progress, and not getting bogged down in details.

As we stood by the top of the barn stairs and talked, I worried about how much shelving and labor would cost.

And then looked up and saw…..a stack of shelves, commercial-quality slotting and brackets I’d bought seven years ago, originally to use in my studio but set aside because I hadn’t needed it.

Here’s the funny thing. If you’d asked me where it was, I would have said I’d given the stuff away already! I’d walked by them a hundred times in the last few years, and yet not seen them.

Yet at the exact moment I realized I needed that stuff, there it was. (Okay, I’m not sure I can find the brackets, but those should be easy to buy again.) (I hope!)

In the end, nothing monumental or too big too handle. Just something that’s easy to do for others, and sometimes so hard to do for ourselves.

Update: I’ve already packed up six boxes of books for a prison library; set out a ton of stuff on our tree lawn which disappeared within hours; posted stuff on Freecycle which was picked up in minutes, and thrown out two bags of trash. I think it’s working!

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What Is Needed Now

Today is going to be a special day for me. Two friends who have been recipients of my “active listening” exercise are coming to listen to me. “It’s your turn!” they both tell me in email. “We’re coming, ready or not!” Thank you, Carol and Barbara!

You can read more about this powerful four-questions exercise here.

I’m scared. The last time I did this two years ago. I feel like I haven’t actually moved forward with what I gained then. I’m afraid I won’t have any new answers to those questions.

But this morning, it came to me.

I’ve felt I have two powerful, conflicting paths before me. They are:

What is my passion? What is it I need to bring into the world.

And what does the world need?

The first sometimes seems too selfish, too self-centered. The second seems too self-sacrificing. Which is the right path to take?

My brief sessions with a rational behaviorist, though, have made me realize they may not be mutually exclusive. They may only seem polarized. Maybe….I don’t have to choose, either/or.

Suddenly, I see I could be looking where those two choices intersect:

What does the world need….from me?

That’s my path.

I also realize the point of “clearing out” is not about having a clean studio, or more storage space in the attic.

The process of physically clearing out, and making room, will help me spiritually and emotionally “clear out” and “make room”.

Four hard questions. Some wine. A little cleaning.

And hopefully, new energy and purpose to follow.

Wish me luck!

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DO I MAKE YOU PROUD?

I guess it was on my mind because I’ve been talking the last few days about the movies of M. Night Shyamalan. (And by the way, I think I am the only person in the whole world who loves all his movies. Yes, even The Village.)

So maybe it was inevitable I woke up this morning thinking of that emotional, finely wrought scene with Cole and his mother in The Sixth Sense, where he tells his mother that he’s talked to Grandma (who’s dead.)

He says, “Grandma says to tell you, the answer to your question is, ‘Every day.’ What did you ask Grandma, mama?”

And his mother answers stumblingly, with a heart full of tears, “I asked her….’Do I make you proud?’”

I’ve been struggling for so long now with doubts and fears about my artwork. Profound forces beyond my control seem to push me this way and that, and conditions under my control hold me back. (Have I really told you how cluttered and stifling my studio is lately?)

Yesterday I drove five hours to spend a day with silver jewelry artist Kerin Rose, who gave me an impromptu class on Precious Metal Clay. I’m exploring ways to transform some of my designs into sterling silver, and Kerin has graciously offered to help me explore to do that. I’ve been hugely excited about the new audience I could find for this work.

We spent the entire day talking, playing, experimenting, kvetching, day-dreaming (will Sundance Catalog ever discover us???), brainstorming (thank you, Kerin, for suggesting I contact this gallery to see if they’d be interested in carrying my work.)

Kerin and her sister Mara are delightful, witty, warm and loving people. It was a wonderful, perfect artist day. I look forward to more! I am also the proud new owner of what they lovingly refer to as this honkin’ big ring (the flying heart one in the center.)

But on the way home, exhaustion and weariness, and more self-doubt crept in.

Is this really the right thing for me to do? Should I segue sideways into silver work, when there are already so many other artists with much more talent and passion for the stuff? More time, more creative energy, more equipment, more money, to make even more disparate work for what feels like an ever-shrinking audience?

Am I off on another wild goose chase for the “thing” that will bring me what I want?

And what the heck do I want right now, anyway?

I feel like I’ve let myself become so distracted with should’s, and could’s and maybe’s, I have no idea what is in my heart anymore. Maybe I’ve let the jewelry pull me too far away from the fiber work. Maybe the fiber work is done. Maybe the writing is pushing both out.

Maybe I’ve listened too hard to the loving people who, wanting to help, have offered many other paths I could take. I know I’ve listened too much to the jealous, destructive people who really don’t have my best interests at heart.

And maybe, as several people have told me lately, maybe I’m just over-thinking all of this. Second-guessing myself to the point of self-destruction, artistically.

I woke up thinking of that line:

“Do I make you proud?”

And I’ve been crying ever since. (Yes, for an hour now!)

I don’t know who I’m speaking to.

But I know I so desperately want the answer to be, “Every day.”

I know now the first thing I need to do, before I pick up any other tasks or commissions or orders, is clean my studio.

A visitor yesterday said, “How can you even work in here??” and I realized I can’t. My perfect, beautiful, cozy studio full of interesting, clever stuff has become a rabbit warren. (No offense, Bunster!)

It’s going to be painful. I need to let go of so many things that represent new ideas, new possibilities. Every item in my attic and studio represents “potential”. But it’s also just weighing me down.

I’m sure the silver line is still a good idea. I do love silver, and I still get excited about the many ways it could enrich and expand my designs. But I know there is something else that has to happen before I pick up even one new thing.

I don’t know whether this is fear speaking today, or whether it’s simply what a dear friend used to call a “come to Jesus” moment, when the final reckoning begins. But I know it’s time to clear the decks, if only to make room for the answer to my prayers.

And to end this essay today, I’m also wondering if perhaps the “sixth sense” in the movie is not the ability to see ghosts, but the ability to love.

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How to Half Wholesale: #8 The Catalog Dilemma

The biggest problem when contacting store owners outside your region is how to let them know exactly what they can buy from you. Their first question is often, “Do you have a catalog?”

Buyers love catalogs. They love to look through them and see all the lovely photos of your work. They can actually see what they’re buying. All your information–your contact info, your terms, maybe even your story–are all in one place.

When I first started to wholesale my work, I dreamed of the day I could offer buyers a print catalog.

It definitely did seem like a “dream”, though. Catalogs are expensive to print and mail. You could end up sending dozens of catalogs for every order you generate, which might be okay for folks like L.L. Bean or Sundance Catalog, but not for one-person small producers like you and me. Paper catalogs also go out of date quickly as you add new designs and drop old ones.

Then I discovered sell sell sheets. What is a sell sheet, you ask? It’s simply a one-page sheet of paper, printed in full color, that highlights a new product or new product line. Artists and craftspeople can create a four-color display with quite a few samples of their work for a relatively low price.

The person who introduced me to this concept was a honey producer. She’d set up an attractive display of her honey products, with teddy bears and bee skeps. One bad bear had dipped a spoon into a honey jar. It was adorable!

The first time I found reasonable printing for a four-color sell sheet, I thought I’d died and gone to catalog heaven. Megacolor was one of the first of the big, cheap printing companies out there, and I still like using them for sell sheets and postcards. My contact guy there, John Maasik, has been “berry, berry good to me” and he enjoys working with artists:
888-339-2001 email: jmaasik@megacolor.com

I used sell sheets for years, creating a new one every two years or so as I added new jewelry designs. I would staple all the “editions” together to create a catalog. When one sheet got too out of date, I’d simply drop it from the mix.

If you decide to go this route, only print your name and company name and contact info on the sheet itself. You can either print product information and pricing on the back with your own printer, or print out price sheets as you need them. Otherwise, every time you change a price or term, your sheets will be out of date.

Eventually, though, even the sell sheets seemed like overkill. I still couldn’t get my very newest designs out to buyers, and spending a couple bucks to mail a packet of materials to a prospect was expensive and cumbersome.

Now we have the internet, and lots of ways to post our work. But how do we create an online catalog?

One solution is to join online services set up to do just that. Wholesalecrafts.com began as a way for artists to create not just a web presence, but an actual online catalog. The site has a hard-working support team who offer many other artist services, such as co-op advertising and now its own wholesale show, the American Craft Retailers Expo (ACRE).

This venue was the first time I’d ever used an online catalog, and I love it. The upside is that it’s easy for me to upload and maintain my own data and images. Everything I need is built into the site: search features (by product, price points, media, etc.), ordering capability, information about the store and buyer, etc.

The downside for me is, I don’t think my work fits in with most of the other work on the site, aesthetically and price-wise.

And with so many other artists, it can be hard to make your work stand out.

I’ve been a member twice, and though it has not been a roaring success for me, I did get some good accounts there over the years, and it cost a heckuva lot less than a standard wholesale show. Some people do quite well there, and it’s worth checking out.

Another possibility is to use the new online marketplace Etsy.

Many people express extreme doubts over using venues like Ebay and Etsy to showcase and sell your artwork. Most of the work is not highly original or “arty”, and it can be almost impossible to stand out to shoppers.

Now, here’s the creative part, suggested to me by an artist who reads my blog and has agreed to share the tip:

Don’t even bother using these venues to sell to casual shoppers.

Use these venues to host your “catalog” for your customers.

CORRECTION: I originally thought it was possible to create a password-protected site on Etsy, so only store owners approved by you can access it. Here you could provide wholesale pricing and terms, and even process orders. However, several alert readers have contradicted that. So for now, consider Trunkt (see below) as the “wholesale version” of Etsy.

And there may not be hoards of wholesale buyers thronging you when you try this. But–and I can’t emphasize this enough–the idea of using these online venues as a catalog is hugely intriguing to me. It’s something I could do myself (as opposed to putting updates on my “honey do” list for my husband). (Please don’t suggest I learn how to build and manage my own website. Please? Have mercy….)

I haven’t even begun to explore this concept yet, but I’m excited by the thought. It would be a lot cheaper than Wholesalecrafts.com (though you wouldn’t get the added benefits from WSC, of course.) However, again, if you just need a few new wholesale accounts, or are targeting a niche market, you may not need those services anyway.

There are other new wholesale sites out there like Trunkt and MyWares.com. These all look interesting and trendy to me, and it’s hard to tell which ones will come out on top and which ones will work for any given artist.

But I love the prospect of simply being able to have a product catalog online, easily available to interested store buyers, something I can easily update and modify as needed.

And I don’t mind “standing alone” with my work and my products, as long as I am working with stores that really want something different and something beautiful.

And I think it’s wonderful that we now have so many different options open to us.

Your turn to share! What ideas are you exploring to get past a paper catalog?

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How to Half Wholesale: #7 Network With Others

Networking was the buzz word in the 80′s and maybe you hate the word as much as I do. But it works, so just do it.

By networking, I don’t mean badgering everyone you meet at parties, the grocery store and your exercise classes to buy your work or give you ideas for stores. (That was the bad 80′s networking thing.) That gets hugely annoying fast.

I mean taking advantage of the natural rapport and eagerness-to-help you get from people who already like your work and want you to succeed.

Who can you network with?

Well, one resource we often overlook is our own customers.

They already really love what you do. Hopefully, you have a good relationship with them, and they probably want you to succeed (so they can say they “knew you when.”)

Even if you’ve only done a few small shows, you might easily have several dozen good customers. (Do a few major shows, and you probably have a few hundred, or even a couple thousand customers…. It adds up over the years!) Have you ever asked them if they’ve come across a store where your work would be a good fit? It could be in their home town, or a store they’ve visited in their travels.

Most people are simply happy to help, but if you’d like, you can offer an incentive. If they suggest a store, or introduce your work to a buyer, and you end up with an account, you could offer to send them a little something. This could be a piece of your work, or a discount coupon if your work is too pricey to just give away.

This next suggestion takes a little courage, but what the heck. Try asking your non-customers for referrals.

Sometimes retail shoppers may love your work, but for whatever reason, they cannot/will not actually buy it. Perhaps it’s out of their price range, or they can’t wear metal jewelry anymore (mid-life allergies, dammit) or your work isn’t really their style. They may still be so enthusiastic about your work that they’ll share a store or venue that might work for you.

If you’ve done or are doing a wholesale show, you will have people who are highly interested in your work, but don’t feel your work is a good fit for their store. If you’ve established a rapport, and they seem genuinely disappointed the match won’t work, ask them if there’s another store in their area that would be a good fit. You’ll be surprised how many buyers will help you out here. I’ve even had these buyers take my materials back home with them to show the other store owner. (I think it speaks highly of our industry that we’re all so willing to help each other like this…)

Another good resource is other artists who wholesale. You can do something as generic as ask on a forum you frequent if people have suggestions for you. (This is an excellent way of getting referrals across the country, too.) Or you can offer to swap good store contacts–one of your good customers for one of theirs. This works best if your work and theirs has a similar aesthetic or audience, but is not directly competitive. (Although some artists are so generous, they’ll even help others who might seem to make similar stuff.)

You can even get suggestions from artists you don’t know and have never met. When you’re surfing the net and come across an artist whose work seems compatible with yours, check to see if they sell to stores and galleries. Then check out those stores and galleries and see if they might be candidates for your work, too.

Big caveat here: Just lifting someone else’s store list is a little rude and lazy in my book. They went through all the work of finding those customers, and they offer the listings to help their retail customers. Here are ways to keep this practice balanced and fair:

1) Do the work, and just use the list to do your own store research. Go to each store’s website, and see if they actually are a good candidate to approach. Check out their other artists and price ranges to ensure it really is a good fit.

2) Find a way to give back to the artist. Buy a piece of their work! If that’s too expensive, recommend their work to a store, or send them the info for a potential new venue.

3) Post your own store list, so other artists can do the same. What goes ’round, comes ’round.

Last, if you blog, ask your readers for good leads. It can be a way for them to “give back” for all the good stuff you share with them.

Okay, now let’s brainstorm: Who else could you ask for good store leads?

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WHAT WERE YOU DOING?

I’ve been reading slowly through Martha Beck’s book The Joy Diet, a guide for leading a happier life. I’ve always enjoyed her columns in Oprah magazine, and the book is just as good.

I came across an interesting passage that got me thinking….

People can have a hard time identifying what’s really important to them in life, and discovering what they really want to do in life. Ms. Beck, a therapist, says sometimes clients find it hard to dig through the layers of rationalization and obligation we pile on our lives to find the answer.

I’ve got a good “cut to the chase” question for that: “When you were in first grade, what did you want to be when you grew up?” This sometimes helps people get back to the simple joys and desires they had, before shoulda/woulda/coulda took over.

Martha has another great question to ask yourself:

“What were you doing on the evening of 9/11?”

Her point is, the morning of 9/11, everyone was doing the same ol’ same ol’, taking care of what they thought they should be taking care of. But by the end of the day, people were doing something drastically different. They were desperately hold on to, or reaching out to, the things they felt were really important.

The evening of 9/11, I was out having my birthday dinner with my husband. The only other people out were other people having their sad little birthday dinners, too. But what cheered me (a little) that day was that despite what had happened, we were still determined to celebrate the small, important milestones in our lives.

And by the next day, I’d written this essay called An Ancient Story for Modern Times.

Reading Martha’s passage, I realized several things.

My first real response to 9/11 was to put it in context for my children, and hold my family close.

My second response was to go to my studio and make my art.

My third response was to write about it in context with my story. And to retell that story to others.

I guess I’m more on track in my life than I realize….

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