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!