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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Filed under art, choices, inspiration, life, mental attitude, telling your story, writing

How to Halfway Wholesale: #6 Tell Them Why You Love Them

A reader responded to a post yesterday, saying,

I am at a complete loss as to WHAT to include in a letter or email to a store/website that I would like to carry my stuff. I am afraid of sounding unprofessional “hi, please buy my stuff” or too formal “dear sir/madam please find enclosed…..”

I am sure I’m not the only one who has got their list of stores in other states/countries but are stymied by the proper business letter writing.

Do you have any examples or can you tell us what we should and shouldn’t include when approaching a business through emails or letters?

Great topic, Barbe! Today we’ll talk about how to say “Hi, please buy my stuff” in a nice way.

Here’s the most important thing to remember: Store owners want to buy stuff.

Their business depends on finding really great stuff that’s appropriately priced for their market.

They know they need to keep their inventory fresh–which means buying new stuff.

They want stuff that goes with all the other stuff in their store.

And they would really love it if the person who makes that stuff (you!) also happens to be pleasant, reliable, easy to work with, and interesting. In short, an artist who is also professional.

A buyer who is also savvy knows that new artists have to start somewhere–we don’t spring newly-formed and highly professional from some Zeus-like person’s forehead. They know we start out taking our new work cautiously from store to store, looking for someone who will think it’s great and who’s willing to take a chance on selling it.

The point isn’t to write a perfectly worded introductory business letter.

The point is to let the buyer see a representative sample of the work, and to address their needs, without sucking up too much of their time or jamming their email server with huge digital files and attachments.

And to show yourself and your work in the best possible light.

I’m going crazy trying to put these tips in order, so I’m giving up. In no particular order, then….

1) Just do it!

Don’t agonize about how to do it perfectly. Or which way to do it. I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule anymore whether to phone, or send snail mail or email.

A quick phone call is a great way to simply find out how they would prefer to be contacted. Ask for the owner or main buyer. Keep it short! Tell them you only need a few minutes of their time. You are an artist who makes widgets. You are familiar with their store, and think they might be interested in your widgets. Ask if they’d like to be provided information by email or by mail.

You could ask if they are looking for new artists, because it’s nice when they say “yes”. And usually, stores will say “yes”. (They may not be buying, but like a married woman, they never stop looking.)

But if they say “no”, then you’re stymied.

If that initial phone call is too overwhelming–if, like me, your heart races frantically at the thought of talking to a perfect stranger on the phone–skip it and simply either send a brief email or note.

Individual buyers may have strong preferences, but I find people often say one thing and do another. Store owners are no exception. They might say they want information by snail mail, but then they don’t open their mail for weeks. (Yes, this has happened!)

Email is a safer bet than it used to be. Many people now are email and computer savvy. If the store has a website, it probably also does some business (ordering, providing information, responding to questions, etc.) by email, too. Email is fast and easier to follow up with, too.

On the other hand, snail mail gives them something concrete (like a postcard or photo) they can carry around and show other people.

So just do what you feel like doing, because then you’ll do it, rather than saying, “Oh, I should write, but I don’t have stamps….” or “I should email, but I don’t know how to link to embed an email image.”

P.S. If they do have a website, it’s often a great resource to find out the actual name of the person you should contact.

2) Just tell them what you want.

Tell them you’re an artist who makes work that might be a good fit with their store.

3) Then tell them why you think your work might be a good fit.

This is important. They want to know why you picked their store to approach.

Here’s where you will separate yourself from the thousands of other artists who simply mailed postcards off to Niche magazine’s Top 100 Retailers….

You have done your homework, and you really think your work will meet their needs.

Tell them why you love them, and why they might love you, too.

Again, keep it short. But briefly explain why you picked them.

Are you looking for representation in a certain geographic area, and you’d like them to have first dibs at your work?

How did you hear about them? Did you read a great article about them in a magazine, saw the photos, and realized your lines are compatible with theirs? (They’ll be delighted you saw the article.) Maybe they even mentioned in the article that they are always looking for artists who make widgets, and you are a widget artist.

Did you visit the store? Maybe you were vacationing in the area, went to their gallery, fell in love with it, and noticed that, though they carried widgets, they didn’t have any widget-related items like the ones you make, and you thought they might be interested….?

Are you familiar with their store at all? Did you at least look up their website and look at the work they currently carry? Does your work fit with their style and aesthetic and price range? You noticed they carry the work of two or three artists whose work is often displayed and sold alongside your work, so they might be interested…?

Get the idea?

3) Whether you contact them by phone, email or letter, show them what you got.

By mail or email, provide an image of your work so they know if it’s something they’d even be interested in. This should be a good, professional image of your work–not a badly lit, blurred image of your work set on a wrinkled piece of fabric.

To be safe, don’t send the image in the email unless you know they are willing to accept such an image. Send a link to the image you’ve uploaded on a web page.

If you can’t do that, make sure the image is a low-res image that won’t jam up most email boxes. (I used to use a very old, but very virus-proof email program. Every time someone sent me a big photo, it crashed my program. I did not like those people very much.)

And the best tip of all….

4) Follow up!

Indicate in your communications that you’ll call in a week or so to see if they got the materials, or if they have any questions. Remember, store owners are just people with stores. They’re just like us! They get busy, they forget, they misplace the letter. Call and remind them who you are and what you do. If they like what you do, they’ll be happy you called.

And what if they aren’t?

All is not lost. But you have to play your cards just right.

Do not take rejection personally! You did your assigned reading, right? You did read Why Didn’t They Buy My Work?!

Because even if this store does not want to buy your work, the questions you ask next could lead you straight to the next store that does want to buy your work.

Do not allow a trace of disappointment or anger to color your attitude. Stay focused, upbeat and positive. Listen to the reasons they give. The reasons will help you decide what to do next.

If the reasons are valid, accept them and address them if they are reasonable. Maybe the prices are too high for their store. You can suggest they might be interested in your lower-priced lines. Or your work is colorful and they only do neutrals–you can mention you have 20 other colors available, six of which are neutrals.

But do not argue or debate. You will lose. Even if the reasons seem silly to you.

People may reject your work for many reasons, and they may never actually tell you the real reason. Heck, maybe they have a nephew who makes the exact same work, though not as nice as yours, and they can’t possibly carry yours or their sister will kill them.

You can always ask them to suggest another store in the area that might be a better fit. You’d be surprised how many store owners will be happy to do this for you, especially if they really do like your work but really don’t think it’s a good fit for their store.

You can also ask them if you can send them images of new work from time to time. Most of them will say yes, unless it’s just too far off-course from what they carry. (But it shouldn’t be, because you did your homework when you looked them up, right?) They may be interested in how your work grows and changes over the years, and if it does, they want to be there.

To summarize, here is a sample note I might send to a store I’ve been to:

Dear Ms. Blanc,
I visited your gallery while on vacation last month. I was enchanted with the beautiful work I found there! I took a brochure and also visited your website.

I make jewelry inspired by ancient cultures with my handmade artifacts that look like bone and ivory. I’ve enclosed a photo of one of my pieces, an Ancient Horse necklace. I made the horse and all the “ivory” beads on the necklace. The other beads are turquoise, coral and freshwater pearls. All findings are sterling silver.

I thought these might be a good fit for your gallery because, like other items you carry, they have a folk art/tribal art quality, yet are handmade by me. My prices are also compatible; my necklaces range from $48 to $750 wholesale. The piece in the photo wholesales for $125.

My work is now in a dozen galleries across the country. I’d love to find a store in Michigan to carry my work, and my first choice would be your gallery.

May I call in a week or so to see if you would like more information?

Thank you,
Luann Udell

Here’s an email I sent to a store I found online:

Dear Ms. Roux,
I found the XYZ museum store while researching potential new venues for my handmade jewelry. I was delighted to learn that you are now carrying jewelry with a Southwestern aesthetic.

My work features my own handmade artifacts that look like real fossil ivory and soapstone. These are accented with antique trade beads (such as those traded throughout the American West) and semi-precious stones such as turquoise, coral, pearls and lava. You can see an image of an Ancient Horse necklace here: (provide link) This piece wholesales for $68. Other items (earrings, bracelets, pins) range from $24 to $350 wholesale.

I’ve found my work does well in stores with high tourist traffic, as it is distinctive and unusual.

I couldn’t tell from the website if your store carries ONLY work by Native American artists, or if you carry a mix of artists. My work is compatible with such tribal art, but I am not a Native American.

Would you be interested in more information about my work? If so, I’ll be calling within two weeks to answer any questions you might have.

Thank you,
Luann Udell

Okay, these aren’t perfect, but they should give you an idea of how to let a store owner know who you are, what you want from them, why you think they’d be interested, and how they can find out more.

P.S. I just reread these sample letters, and I see something glaring I left out. Did you catch it?

I didn’t tell them upfront what I wanted! Somewhere close to the introduction, I could have said, “I’m a jewelry designer, and thought you might be interested in my work”….and gone on from there.

See? Even the know-it-all doesn’t really know it all…!!

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Filed under action steps, art, business, half-wholesale, marketing, selling, selling to stores, wholesale

How to Halfway Wholesale: #5 Do More Reading!

This is one of the most fun tips you’ll ever get about how to build your wholesale business:

Read more magazines.

Stores and galleries pay big advertising bucks to attract customers. They advertise in local newspapers, regional and national magazines, and on the internet.

They jump at the chance for good publicity–being interviewed for articles, participating in fund raisers, joining in art walks. Sometimes they piggyback with other local businesses, like bed-and-breakfast establishments, to entice tourists and visitors. They ask to be listed on their artists’ websites, so the artists’ collectors know where to find their work.

You, the artist, can benefit from that. You are going to look for ads, articles, store listings and store reviews for venues that might be a good fit for your work.

Most of us get the first, most obvious places: general craft trade magazines. Magazines like AmericanStyle Magazine, American Craft Magazine, Niche Magazine, etc. deal with American craft in general. (The Crafts Report targets artists and craft retailers; Niche targets retailers; American Craft and American Style target collectors.) You will find tons of stores advertising in all of these magazines.

My very first wholesale mailing were stores culled from reviews in The Crafts Report, a monthly magazine for the crafts professional now available only by subscription. (When I first started reading it, you could find it in bookstores and craft supply stores.) They would review a few galleries in each issue, with information on their store location; clientele (tourist, retirees, college town, etc.); popular price points; focus (home wares, jewelry, wood); what they were looking for (bridal jewelry, bird baths) and whether they did wholesale, consignment or both.

I’d carefully read each entry and decide if the store looked like a potential customer, and add them to my mailing list.

What’s exciting is when you take this idea a few steps out, fine-tuning it to your craft and your aesthetic.

These trade magazines focus mostly on American contemporary craft. If your artwork is American country, then find the trade publications that cater to that aesthetic. Early American Life is a great magazine for upscale traditional American Crafts. I’m sure there are many, many more.

What about your medium? Every media has its own trade publication. And many stores that specialize in that media will advertise in those magazines. Sometimes the magazines feature artist interviews. If they mention the stores that carry their work (and your work is compatible but distinctive), check out the stores.

Now take it even further. What is your product? If you create items made from beach stones, have you check out magazines such as Coastal Living Magazine? (Yes, there is such a magazine!) If you make pet stuff, have you checked out the zillions of pet magazines out there, for every animal from the usual cats-and-dogs to birds, snakes and geckos? People love their pets!

If your accessories or jewelry is trendy or hip, have you checked out the advertisers and store reviews in Lucky Magazine? (I love this magazine. It is unabashedly devoted to….shopping!)

If your work fits a special interest group–runners, opera lovers, book collectors–there is a special interest magazine for you. Perhaps several!

What area of the country might be a good fit for your work? Try travel magazines that feature that region. Many will do in-depth articles on places of interest and things to see and do–including….shopping!

And then there’s lifestyle. This is one almost everyone overlooks. These can range from the general (I’m not going to link everything, it’s taking too long!!) like Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Women’s Day, Country Home, Country Living, Martha Stewart Living, etc. All of these either carry lots of like-minded store advertising, or feature great store reviews. Mary Englebreit’s Home Companion Magazine often features dozens of stores in a certain city or state, and artist interviews.

We also tend to think only of the magazines we see on our local magazine racks. But there’s a whole nother world of lifestyle magazines out there. In my area, there’s the obvious and venerable Yankee Magazine/. But there are also smaller publications like the brand new Monadnock Living Magazine. All will feature store ads and reviews that reflect the aesthetic and values of the magazine.

I traveled out west to a show last year, and had a one hour layover in a Utah airport. At the news stand were over a dozen regional and local lifestyle magazines I’d never heard of. I snagged as many copies as I could, and made note of the titles of others for future research.

To get the best results, take the time to check out each store as much as possible. Almost all stores now have some kind of web presence. See if you feel the store, location, aesthetic and mix of artists would be a good fit for your work. The store owners will also be glad you did–it shows you aren’t just throwing yourself at every store, but carefully choosing which ones might really be interested. They will be flattered you took the time not to waste their time.

Last, how do you find these magazines?

Check out big bookstores. They often carry magazines you won’t find at your local supermarket.

Check out your local library. If you have colleges and universities nearby, check out their libraries. They often carry large and eclectic collections of magazines.

Go on-line. Most magazines now have an internet presence. You may be able to snag a free sample copy. Or go in with like-minded friends on a few subscriptions. You might even go in with them on a group mailing to targeted stores.

Check out local news stands when you travel, especially at airports. They’re a gold mine for local/regional lifestyle magazines.

Share with friends. Ask around–you may be surprised at the variety of publications your friends subscribe to.

This is a stretch, but….. In one community we used to live in, the public library hosted a free magazine exchange. You brought your old magazines to them, they stored them and set them out in a “free” rack. You browsed this stash of free magazines and took whatever ones interested you. That was how I first found out about formerly esoteric magazines on geology and jewelry that I’d never heard of before. Maybe your local library, or craft guild, or school would consider a similar project.

Of course, all these great magazine ideas are also good candidates for a press release or new product release. But that’s a whole nother series of articles!

So get out there and get some cool magazines. The next time you take a coffee break, pull them out–and start your market research. Hey, you’re not goofing off–you’re working!!

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SMALL GIFTS

Taking a small break from the latest business series on halfway wholesaling… I just had to share two small gifts in my life lately.

I started back riding two weeks ago. It’s the first time I’ve been on a horse in more than six months–maybe closer to eight, come to think of it. It was wonderful! But that’s not the small gift (because being well enough to ride at all is a big gift….)

My “main ride” at the stable is Fancy, an old blue-eyed quarter horse with a thick black mane and a skinny tail. (He’s the favorite candidate for mane-braiding among the younger riders.)

Fancy could be urged through his paces, but emphasis on the “urging” part. Whenever I asked for a trot, you could see him thinking, “Are you suuuure?”

You could actually see him heave a huge horsey sigh, a low groan, and then, if you were lucky, a reluctant, slow trot–for a few paces. A few more requests, more sighs and groans, and I’d get a finally get a good trot out of him. (Which was a nice one, when he finally got going.)

He carried his head low, low, low, which meant I had to give him a lot of rein room. And just when I would relax and let my attention wander, he would do something like bolt through the barn door and dart outside. I learned to duck in a heartbeat.

But he was reliable, and safe (except for the barn door thing), and I grew to love him. Even the slightly worried look on his face when I came to his stall, which seemed to say, “We’re not riding today, are we??!!”

Fancy is not doing well this season, and I can’t ride him. I miss my old cow pony (though I’m not sure he misses me–he always kinda kept to himself, though he loved the Cheerios I brought him.)

My new ride, Carol, is a smaller, slightly younger mare. She has her “things”–every horse has their “thing”–but they are manageable things. (For one, she’s a head-tosser and needs to work with a martingale.) She’s quicker to respond, and wants a lighter hand on the reins, forcing me to use my legs more. She’s also quicker to see if she can get away with something–but easy to bring back around. I will need to pay attention at all times, and be ready to catch her. She also has more energy, and will work harder for me. I need to get strong fast, so I can keep up with her.

She is, in short, the perfect “next horse” for me.

I also went back to Tae Kwon Do class for the first time since my hand injury (in December.) I was so nervous about going! I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up in this school ever since I started 18 months ago, and now I’m really behind the eight ball. I even took several private lessons with my instructor, to help me build confidence about returning.

There’s another student, brand new to our school but with martial arts training. She’s coming back from horrific injuries and surgeries. My instructor paired us up so we can both train slowly and carefully, bringing each other back up to speed gently.

My new partner is excited to be training again, but overwhelmed with her setbacks. She keeps apologizing for the things she can’t do (when she can barely stand to do the techniques.)

In her I see myself. All the ruefulness, all the regrets for the skill she used to have, and may never have again. The embarrassment for what she can’t do, the self-consciousness of being around people who are better than her. The fear that this is as good as it’s going to get.

And my heart goes out to her.

About the fifth time she apologizes and says, “I used to be able to do this!”, I interrupt her.

“Let’s not go there,” I say.

I tell her we both have to let go of what we used to be able to do. It will destroy us.

We both have to focus on what we can do. We both have to be right here, right now. And we both need to move forward from here.

“You’re doing great!” I tell her. “And I know how much courage it took for you to even show up tonight. Let’s focus on that for now. You and me, we’re going to get better, and do better. Starting now.”

She lets her breath out slowly, and nods. And smiles.

I am the right person for her to train with right now. Because I’ve been there.

And she is the perfect “next partner” for me right now. Because everything I tell her, I’m also telling…myself.

Two gifts in my life right now.

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Filed under courage, health, horses, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

How to Halfway Wholesale: #4 Expanding Your Circle

The whole point of doing a major wholesale show is to put your work in front of many, many targeted store buyers.

But maybe you just don’t need a lot of stores carrying your work right now. Maybe it’s just you in your business, and you can only make so much stuff a year. Maybe you already have a part-time or full time job, and don’t need your craft biz to go full time.

If a wholesale show is overkill for you, if you only need a few good accounts, then build your wholesale business the slow way–one store at a time.

Of course, the simplest way to find stores to carry your work is to look around you. What stores in your hometown might be interested in carrying your work? If you did your required reading at the beginning of this series, then you’ve learned how to approach local stores and how to talk about your work.

And you’ve learned that the biggest mistake artists make is that they quickly saturate their local markets.

The next question is, how do I expand past my local market?

You can start by figuring out what is a comfortable driving distance for you. Say you can handle a three hour drive in one direction–perhaps 150 miles. Pull out a map, figure out how far 150 miles from your location is, and draw a circle with your home at the center. Voila! There’s your next sales territory to explore. (We’re really lucky here in New England. Three to four hours of drive time will generally get you to at least five other states.)

You can now use the internet (and all its incredible search functions) to locate and research potential stores within driving distance of your studio.

Or you can simply pick a town and spend a few hours poking around the stores there, deciding which one(s) would be the best fit. This is where our God-given love of shopping becomes….market research!

You can call ahead for an appointment to introduce your work. Or you can use that cold-calling technique I described in Work Your Retail Shows.

Again, don’t saturate any one town or area. Remember, we’re not looking for fifty stores to carry our work. We’re looking for a handful of really good matches.

As you travel during the year–on vacation, family visits, business trips with your spouse–decide you will use that opportunity to scope out yet another store. Maybe these trips are just to the next state over, maybe they are across the country. Prepare for each one by researching a handful of new candidates for your work.

The next few articles will explore how to actually find stores that might be a good fit, especially if your potential market is hundreds, even thousands of miles away. The internet is our friend here. We will use it to find potential stores, explore niche markets and vet our candidates–before we even set foot through the door.

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Filed under action steps, art, business, half-wholesale, marketing, selling, selling to stores, wholesale