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 Paper catalogs also go out of date quickly as you add new designs and drop old ones.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 When one sheet got too out of date, I’d simply drop it from the mix.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 Otherwise, every time you change a price or term, your sheets will be out of date.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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8 Comments

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

8 responses to “How to Half Wholesale: #8 The Catalog Dilemma

  1. Hey Luann,

    I think you’re mistaken about private Etsy shops. I’ve had a shop there for a little over a year and never heard of it. Can’t find anything in my settings or the guides about it either.

  2. Just a note – I’ve been a vendor on Etsy for more than 18 months and as far as I am aware there is no ability to create a password protected section in any way.

    Etsy is a simple, easy to use, cost efficient way to sell or keep a catalog type shop but technologically speaking the actual shops do not offer many features including no ability to vet who views them and no method to track who visits at all.

  3. Thanks for the input, Elaine, that’s helpful to know.
    A solution might be to not list any prices, but to email pricing information individually as buyers request it.

    My point was, a major complaint at Etsy is that it’s almost impossible for casual shoppers to find any given artist’s work–unless the shopper is looking for that artist. Artists hoping to build an audience by being “discovered” may have a long, long, long wait.

    But why not USE this “problem” to our advantage? We can point our targeted buyers/prospects/customers to our Etsy catalog. We can “hide out” in the herd, so to speak.

    As you’ve pointed out, Etsy allows people like me, with no website skills, to maintain an online catalog at little cost. Wholesalecrafts.com is about $50-$60 /month, I think, but the advantage, of course, is that it’s also password-protected.

  4. I like Etsy an have had an account for 2 or 3 yrs, but is really hasn’t worked for me to drive them from there to my website. Its another avenue that is simple, and you have stated many of the drawbacks. I am using it now almost like a sample sale shop, hopefully they will check out my main site as well but when I look at my stats I’m not seeing that much traffic come from there.

    I think you can create a password only page on most websites, you would need to look at your control panel or hosting site to check. I need to look into doing myself, but haven’t had the time so until then I created a webpage with my wholesale info/terms that isn’t listed in menu on my site. I will send that direct url to stores and put it on the sell sheets. Which I LOVE the idea of rather than a catalog.

  5. Elaine and Mary, thank you for pointing out my mistaken comment about Etsy–I’ve made the correction in my essay. Maybe someday Etsy will consider doing something like this!

  6. I just wanted to chime in to say that having an Etsy shop has been great for me in terms of connecting with shop owners. This is not scientific, but it is my impression that retailers who discovered me via Etsy have been more likely to place an order than retailers coming directly to my wholesale site via an online search or retailers who I contact directly. I’m not sure but maybe it’s because on Etsy they can see my collection (or at least a range of it) and the retail prices (and can figure out wholesale from that) so they would already have a good idea if my company is a good fit for their shop before contacting me to sign up for a wholesale account. I think it’s encouraging that retailers are starting to look at sites like Etsy to find new independent designers. I also have a Trunkt account but have had more wholesale orders come via Etsy. Signing up with mywares is on my to-do list!

    I’m loving your series! It is very well written and provides lots of helpful information. Thanks!

  7. Glenn Mitchell

    Hi:

    MegaColor is out of business. They closed their printing plant after leaving Florida for La Vergne, TN.

    Just thought you would like to know.

    GM

  8. I use deviantArt, which I like better than Etsy because not only is it free, but the saturation is in photography and digital art, making “artisan crafters” like me shine like a beacon.

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