Category Archives: wholesale

RETURN TO ME (NOT!)

Oh, just give it away!

Oh, just give it away!

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles about selling your work in stores and galleries. I covered all the ins and outs of consigning and wholesaling, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There’s one thing I didn’t cover, and that is returns–when the store wants to return certain items of your work.

The way returns are handled is what separates consignment from wholesale. In consignment, your work is placed in the store and you don’t get paid until it sells. In return for waiting, you usually get more than 50% of your retail price than you would by selling to the store outright (wholesale). The traditional split is 60% (artist) and 40% (store). When things got rough in the economy while back, this sometimes dropped to 50/50.

In consignment, if unsold work is returned to you, you aren’t out any money. You may be out time of course (waiting to see if the work sold) and you may be out the opportunity to have placed the items somewhere else where they might have sold quicker/better. But you don’t “owe” the store anything. You just get your stuff back.

Wholesale works differently. You sell your work outright to the store. You are paid upfront for your work–usually 50% of your retail price. (if you’ve figured your costs and pricing correctly, there is still profit there for you.) In essence, the store (usually) gets a slightly better price from you, in exchange for buying on the spot.

But store buyers are not infallible. Sometimes they pick stuff they love, but it just doesn’t sell. Sometimes the “sure sale” thing doesn’t work. They’re stuck with inventory that doesn’t move. Your work is money sitting on their shelves, taking up space where other more sale-able items could be.

At this point, your buyer now has several options:

1) Put the item on sale. Mark it down and move it out!

2) Donate the item to a charitable auction/fundraiser/non-profit and take a tax write-off. (I’m not sure if they can claim what they paid for it, or what they could have sold it for. Either way, it’s more than you the artist would get. If YOU were to donate the exact same item, you actually can only write off the actual cost of materials.)

3) Give to someone as a present. (“Look what I got you!”)

4) Try to return it to you.

We all have different ways of handling wholesale returns. Some artists won’t, period. Others take returns happily–it’s product that can be resold somewhere else.

And some of us who are way too nice, had to learn the hard way. Accepting returns can be a bottomless pit if you’re not careful.

It starts small. In my experience, the store owner/manager opens the dialogue during a follow-up sales call. They pick an assortment of new items. You are happily writing up the sales tally. Another great sale! Things are great! Until….

They ask if they can return a few things that just didn’t sell.

There are problems with accepting returns you need to consider:

1) It usually starts small, but gets bigger and more complicated quickly.

They say, “I have a couple items that just aren’t selling. Can I exchange them for different ones?” You say sure, no problem. Happy to oblige!

Soon there are way more than “a few things”. In fact, they are now returning a lot of stuff. Maybe even more items than they’re actually buying.

2) It leaves you in a position where YOU owe the STORE money.

I had one client who returned so much inventory at each reorder, I could barely keep up with what was going out and what was coming back in. At the end of a year’s worth of transactions involving thousands of dollars, I realized I’d only made a profit of less than $500. And that didn’t include the shipping costs. I was so excited by the big sales, I’d neglected to factor in the big returns.

3) The returns are no longer in the same condition. Sometimes the returned items are shopworn. Or they don’t go with your newer product lines. Or they’re now hopelessly off-trend or dated. Silver tarnishes, items come back in bags and packaging that aren’t yours, that particular style doesn’t sell anymore.

4) Once you start, it’s really hard to close that door. (See #2 below.) (I know, I have a lot of lists in this post!)

It can feel like you and your work is being disrespected. Sometimes, this IS the case. A few of my first clients tried to make me feel like the returns were substandard in some way, that it was my fault they hadn’t sold. I refrained from mentioning that they had hand-picked each item. And that displaying them on a shelf 6″ above the floor or in a basket under a table was probably not conducive to selling them.

Sometimes it’s a person who doesn’t have a lot of retail experience. They simply buy stuff they like, with no consideration or knowledge of their clientele, the right audience for the work, or the right price points for their store. This was the case for the buyer in #2. When I described the situation to a friend in the business, she exclaimed, “That’s just a personal shopper with a store budget!” In fact, the only reason I’m not more embarrassed about admitting how out-of-hand this got, is how it ended. (See #9 below.)

But some buyers are simply in a bind. They have money tied up on inventory that isn’t moving. Every time they look at it, they see a little pile of money that could be put to better use.

Understandable, to a degree. On the other hand, most “regular” stores buy inventory from much larger businesses who do NOT accept returns. That’s why some ready-made frames at frame shops are on sale. Why summer clothing gets marked down in August. Why specialty food items have a ‘sell by’ date. They can’t return stock three months later to these suppliers. So why do they ask us?

They ask us because there’s a chance we might. So it couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

Yes and no. I want to be a good vendor. I want to be professional. I like having a genuine relationships with my buyers. I want to work with them. I want to know what sells for them, what they’re customers are looking for, and what their needs are. That’s win-win for both of us.

Unfortunately, this attitude also makes me “too nice” sometimes. I had to learn to say no. And it’s important to know that you can say no, whenever you like.

And you can make exceptions. You don’t have to say no to every buyer. You can make exceptions to those who don’t abuse the privilege.

If you decide to take returns, have a policy, and a plan.

1) You can put a time-limit on returns. (“No returns after 30 days.” Or even 10 days, if you think you’re dealing with buyer’s remorse.)

2) You can accept returns for exchange only. (Actually, this should be written in stone! Who wants to write a check to the store?!)

3) You can put a limit on the amount or the number of items returned.

4) You can limit the number of times you accept returns. Maybe just once a year. Or maybe even just once, period.

5) You can charge a restocking fee. This will help cover your time for returning the item to inventory, the time for doing the necessary cleaning/repairs/repackaging, and the time spent to sell it again. It’s also a general “nuisance fee” if the buyer gives you grief about your “inferior word” or your “unprofessionalism”.

6) You can refuse to accept any shopworn or damaged items, period.

7) For stores you deal with at a distance, you can request they get pre-authorized for any returns. They have to check with you before they just send stuff back.

8) Any or all of the above.

So you can actually say you only accept returns in a calendar year, maximum 10 items and/or totaling less than $200, with a 20% restocking fee, and no exchanges on damaged or shopworn merchandise.

9) You can always change your mind. It’s your business. You get to decide.

In fact, I did just that. After I tallied up my sales and returns for this buyer, I changed my policy. Soon after that, I received a lot of inventory–unauthorized–in the mail. I wrote them and told her of my policy change. I gave them two options: I could mail the returns back to them. Or, if I didn’t hear back from them with 30 days, I was donating all the items to charity. I never even heard back, which means their accounting/accountability was even worse than mine.

10) You can have different policies for different buyers. Just make sure your strictest policy is your stated default. If you have someone who never abuses the privilege, you can state your regular return policy and then make exceptions for them. This is a lot easier than trying to rein in someone you’ve been lenient with.

What you DON’T want is a revolving door of sales and returns that wastes your time, your energy, and your patience.

Is there an upside to accepting returns? Yes!

1) It encourages the buyer to try new items they’re not sure about. Although it might make more sense to CONSIGN items like this. More paperwork, but at least money isn’t going back and forth.

2) When the privilege isn’t abused, it’s a good way to build rapport with a buyer. They know that you understand how hard retail is, and that you’re willing to work with them. Nice rapport!

3) The product really isn’t up to snuff. Sometimes there’s something about your item that needs work–a difficult clasp, an awkward length, a lack-luster presentation. Use it as an opportunity to improve your product.

4) Sometimes you get stuff back you can resell for MORE–because you’re prices have gone up!

A final word: The worst thing about returns is, the negative energy. The bad, sad place it puts you in (if you let it.) It feels like the store–and the world–is rejecting what you make. Especially if the buyer is a jerk and uses that against you. (It happens.)

Don’t go there. Don’t waste your good creative energy.

I still stumble. But I’m constantly learning.

Know your tolerance level. Be prepared. And if necessary, simply move on. Not every opportunity is a good one.

And say good-bye to the bad returns!

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CLIMBING OVER ROAD BLOCKS

One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.

(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)

Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.

If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!

But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??

Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.

Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.

Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.

Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)

The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.

Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.

What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.

Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….

You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.

Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!

I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.

If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.

Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.

And no one succeeds by giving up.

Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.

There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.

I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.

Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.

I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.

She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.

This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.

If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.

Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”

Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.

Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)

It’s a miracle! :^)

Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!

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Filed under art, business, craft, marketing, perseverence, selling to stores, shows, wholesale

A MAN SHOULD NEVER GAMBLE….

Deciding if you should do a wholesale show.

When people ask if they should do this big-name show or that new wholesale show, I think of that old song by musician David Bromberg….

“A man should never gamble
more than he can stand to lose….”

(From his song, “Diamond Lil” on the Demons in Disguise album.)

This question came up again in a forum I frequent, and this is my response:

I haven’t done the ACRE show in a few years–I did their first show in Las Vegas, and stopped doing wholesale shows soon after, after about seven years of doing shows like BMAC (wholesale), ACC Baltimore (wholesale/retail) & ACRE Las Vegas (wholesale).

Here are some points to consider:

1) Wholesale shows are EXPENSIVE. And even a good wholesale show is with an established reputation and good management, is not a sure thing. Used to be, but not any more.

2) First year shows are notoriously dicey. An artist friend with 30 years in the biz recently told me, “Never do a first year show or a show you can’t drive to.” I’ve learned the hard way this is excellent advice on both counts.

Wholesale buyers are still being cautious, and buyers at first year shows are the most cautious. Adding travel costs and shipping costs (for your booth) on top of that and you can easily spend $5,000 on a show with no guarantee you’ll get the orders to even recoup your investment (let alone enough to make a profit.) I don’t know where you live, but that’s something to consider.

3) Who are your customers? Who do you hope to find there? Years ago a good wholesale show would draw from stores and galleries across the country. Now, more buyers tend to stick close to home. So there MIGHT be buyers from all over, but it’s MORE LIKELY the buyers will be local. So…are stores in Orlando and Florida your target audience?

4) Have you done any shows at all? Even smaller, local ones, just to tweak your booth, display, selling skills, support materials?

I’m all for people going for their dreams and dreaming big. But you say you’ve only been in business a few months, and you’re still in the process of “building a website, creating a collection”, etc. Doing a wholesale show is a huge outlay in money, time, energy.

Are you–and your business–ready??

You might be one of those people we read about who takes that leap and flies. But doing a wholesale show is a HUGE leap, one that’s daunting even for people who already have some experience doing small shows, doing wholesale, etc.

Almost all shows across the country, retail and wholesale, have taken a hit in attendance and sales. And $3,000 is a lot of money. So…..

5) Can you afford to gamble $3,000–and lose?

My advice: I think the smarter bet is to take advantage of the Visiting Artist/ABI program. I was actually a guest faculty member for ABI, and it’s a good deal.

The critique will be helpful (though remember, even expert advice is still just one person’s opinion). They can advise you on all kinds of wholesale matters: Are you sure you’re making an adequate profit on your product? Do you have reliable sources for supplies? (If one critical supplier drops out, can you still make your product?) Are you solid on your production schedule and shipping procedures? Are you familiar with industry standards re: billing, payment, terms, etc.? Do you know how to qualify your buyers?

And you will get a chance to actually visit the show.FWIW, I think the most educational thing any craftsperson can do (who wants to do a wholesale show) is to VISIT THE SHOW FIRST. You’ll get to see what the deal is, you’ll be able to see how many buyers show up, and you’ll get to talk to exhibitors (if they are not busy and if they are willing, of course).

I wrote a entire series on how to wholesale on my old blog, but this new series I did on how to “half wholesale”–get started building your wholesale biz before doing a major show, may be more helpful to you. You can see links to both series here.

And all this information was before selling on the Internet became a “big deal”! Add in all you know now about websites and selling in your own online store, and you’ll be off to a good start

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Filed under art, business, craft, craft shows, half-wholesale, marketing, selling to stores, shows, taking chances, wholesale

GETTING PAID–Make Sure You Do!

We interrupt our normally-scheduled series on cleaning your studio for this public service announcement. (Oh, I’ve always wanted to say that!)

I wrote a long post on a wholesale crafts forum, and realized it’s good advice for anyone wholesaling their art in these hard times. (This advice can apply to retail sales, too.)

Sorry this is so long, but this will hopefully show you why you MUST hold firm on your payment policies, or even tighten them up to protect your business during a recession.

When the economy hit the wall in 2001, late payments in the fine crafts market became the rule rather than the exception. Many of us craftspeople tried to be nice and understanding. These were stores we’d enjoyed great relationships with!

Then came a fiasco with a very large company that retailed craft in dozens of stores across the country. They were a major account for a lot of craftspeople, with stores across the country–placing $20,000-$50,000 orders at wholesale shows. Some craftspeople built and expanded their entire business based on orders from this company.

Soon after the recession hit, they started paying late, and ordering more new stock before they’d paid their outstanding invoices. Many, many craftspeople extended credit, thinking things would get better. Some even made this decision deliberately, hoping to help this company out of its credit crunch.

It was a bet that didn’t pay off. The company declared bankruptcy.

Not only did these craftspeople get stuck with huge unpaid invoices, they didn’t have their stock back. (In a bankruptcy, all assets, even ones that haven’t been paid for, are held and doled out to all the people owed money in specific order. And things like rent, utilities, wages, etc. will be paid before vendors.)

Many, many craftspeople went out of business. The ones who were hit hardest were the ones who continued to ship product even when there were huge outstanding invoices.

Even us smaller producers had similar issues with many of our accounts. I hated playing hardball with people who had been very good to me. But the reality is, if you are not getting paid in a timely manner, despite repeated requests, that is a VERY bad sign. Especially when even formerly-reliable accounts fall into this pattern.

Then there’s the time and emotional energy expended trying to track down these payments. It sucks when people are unwilling to pay you for your work. It’s worse when they have your work in hand and still won’t pay for it. People having financial difficulties get defensive. It’s understandable, but it ends up seeming like it’s about your work. (It isn’t. Remember that.) If you have someone working with you who can make these painful calls, it helps. Seriously, at least you can spread the pain. I felt so emotionally drained after calling these stores over and over, sending letter after letter requesting payment, it took all the joy out of what I was doing.

You may also want to revise your returns and exchanges policy. I had a generous policy, accepting returns as credit against new orders. This can backfire quickly.

If you accept unsold inventory in return, for credit against outstanding invoices or new inventory(which I did) soon you’ll find you aren’t really making any outright sales at all. When stores are short of cash, they look around at their stock on hand that can be returned. If you have a generous return policy, they will take advantage of it. This happened to me, and it nearly put me out of business before I tightened up my policy.

I still got whacked with this during my last retail show. Even though my returns and exchange policy is clearly posted (required by law if you want to enforce it, btw!) and printed on my sales receipt, I decided to accept a very large return the week after the show. My restocking fee barely covered my merchant services fee, and came nowhere near covering my emotional anguish at processing such a large return. You can bet I’m adjusting my restocking fee for large purchases!

If you continue to extend credit to a store, even for 30 days, you’ll run the risk of being out money AND product if the store tanks.

Instead, “temporarily” request payment upon shipping the orders. Tell each person or account it isn’t THEM, but you’ve been burned recently by other vendors, and these are steps you HAVE TO TAKE to keep your company in business. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being punished for being “bad”, and if when things get better, you’ll want a civil relationship to come back to.

Reduce the minimum orders if you have to, or if that works for you. Do EVERYTHING except trust someone else with your hard-earned money or carefully-made product. Be nice, be sympathetic, but firm.

If your product sells well for them, they will do whatever it takes to keep ordering from you. If your product ISN’T selling well for them, then somewhere down the road you are going to get hosed–either they won’t be able or willing to pay you (when they can use what $$ they have to buy product that DOES sell well) or your product is sitting on their shelves and they aren’t going to order more anyway.

I hope this helps. It sucks to have to do this, I know.

But it will be worse if you overextend this courtesy and it ends up putting you out of business. I’m not saying people that abuse your payment policies and return policies are evil. What I’m saying is they are desperate. And desperate people will take any advantage to keep their heads above water. You don’t want them to take you down with them!

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Filed under action steps, art, business, selling, wholesale

How to Half Wholesale: #10 Work with Ads

Ninth in a series on how to grow your wholesale accounts in a less majorly way….

If you have deep pockets and lots of patience, you can use advertising to grow your wholesale business.

The problem with most advertising is: 1) It’s expensive; 2) You usually have to do a lot of it, consistently, to get results; 3) Most artists advertise in the wrong places; and 4) It can be hard to tell if it’s actually doing you any good or not. Oh, and 5) Most people don’t read ads….or don’t remember them if they do.

Having said all those disclaimers, I have heard of advertising campaigns that broke all the rules and were outrageously successful.

My favorite is a jewelry artist who was persuaded by her PR consultant to drop a big bundle of cash on one big, splashy, full-page ad in a leading trade magazine just before the three biggest wholesale shows of the season. It was a colorful, trendy, incredibly beautiful shot of her jewelry–and it worked. The assumption from stores was, she must already be successful to be able to afford that kind of advertising. She wrote great orders at all her shows.

But of course, for those of you who think this might work for you, be forewarned that 1) she spent a lot of money on that ad. A lot of money…..; 2) she was able to “follow up” immediately because she also spent the big bucks to be at the shows where the buyers were; and 3) she had very low price points to begin with. (Her wholesale prices averaged under $15 wholesale.)

If you go the paid advertising route, the deal is you must be prepared to do it regularly, in well-targeted venues, and be able to track the responses each ad generates (perhaps by coding the contact info in the ad, or keeping track of the reader response cards from the magazine.

Standard wisdom was, bigger is better. Go with the biggest ad space you can afford. And great images are a must.

But nothing is written in stone anymore. Some research shows that using ordinary classifieds in those same magazines can produce good results, too.

And of course, the internet is changing everything. It looks like advertising on the web is finally effective. Though which, where and why is still not known….

In short, advertising to me has always seemed like a giant crap shoot. Some people win big, others get nowhere, and it can be almost impossible to tell who will get what. And now it’s an even bigger crap shoot.

I’ve used some advertising in the past, usually for very specific events–advertising my new work in a trade publication, show guide or buyers guide that will be distributed at the show I’m doing, for example. I do it periodically for name recognition (and after this year, to let people know I’m still alive and kicking!)

My best advice on advertising is, if you’re going to do it, try doing it where no one else is doing it.

Target those unusual venues and publications that isn’t obvious to every other artist and craftsperson out there. Do your homework! If it’s a magazines, get the demographics for their audience. If you make cat jewelry, maybe you could target a magazine that targets pet boutiques rather than the usual craft store or gift shop crowd. Instead of a buyer think, “Oh, yet another cat jewelry artist”, they might think, “Oh wow, more cat jewelry! Gotta get me some….”

I still believe that new product releases and press releases will get you more mileage on a limited budget. However, this approach do take more time and thought and preparation.

But as Greg Brown says, “Time ain’t money when all you got is time”, so if your overall budget is limited, do not break the bank to splurge on a last-gasp advertising campaign.

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