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?