How to Live with Retail Exclusivity Policies

The success you have with any retailer is based on how well you develop a partnership. If it’s one-sided in either direction, it doesn’t work. Trust is the basis of every relationship, and when wholesaling, exclusivity is one way to increase interdependence between you and any dealer.

What is Exclusivity?

Giving an “exclusive” means that you agree not to sell your work to competing retailers within a certain area, so as to let your existing account be the destination where local customers seek out your work.  It’s also a way to leverage loyalty. Understand that any gallery retailer has hundreds of suppliers (read: artists). When you engage in an exclusivity arrangement, it increases your importance to them. And, it gives the gallery the benefit of having a truly unique merchandise selection.

Artists and craftspeople who wholesale their work understand that it’s not an opening order that is crucial to their businesses. What matters most are the reorders that come over time from galleries that carry their work and present it to an appreciative audience. Those galleries also educate the consumer and cultivate collectors for the artist. Therefore, many artists offer an exclusive territory to retailers that provide them ongoing sales in a specified volume.

A store that orders from you every season is worth far more than accounts who place occasional or sporadic orders. A long-term consistent relationship and loyalty is essential between a retailer and an artist, as note by jeweler Matt Bezak.

This contributes to a solid base, or book of business, which is a reliable foundation to build upon. When you can show a banker a consistent pattern of orders and sales from the same customer base, you become a more valued bank customer, warranting greater consideration for business loans and expanded credit lines.

On the other hand, every artist wants to develop new outlets and markets for their work – so how can you balance your existing gallery accounts while still growing your business?

1. Give support to existing accounts to grow them. Do personal appearances at their stores, send press releases to their local media outlets, provide promotional material about your products, and list them on your website. Include your top accounts in your own advertisements, brochures, and email newsletters. Encourage them to carry your full line and expand your company’s presence in their store.

2. Set requirements for galleries to be guaranteed exclusivity from you – this may include minimum annual dollar amount of purchases, (or minimum piece count). Work closely with them to increase that buy annually, and set sales goals with them. Follow up with them midway through the year to gauge their sales performance and provide useful information on how they can reach these goals.

3. Persuade galleries who have exclusivity to carry your higher-end goods in addition to quick sellers. Work with them by assuring an exchange or return policy. Remember that you are partners in a mutually successful business relationship.

4. Give exclusives on one segment of your line. If you have worked hard to develop a full line which crosses categories (for example, giftware, fashion accessories and home décor), give an  exclusive on one of those categories only. You may work with another local store on a non-competing portion of your line.

5. Some artists “knock themselves off” by creating two lines (similar but not identical) under different brand names so that competing accounts can carry them without interfering with exclusivity agreements.

6. If a chain store wants a large volume order, you can avoid exclusivity conflicts by persuading them to allow you to create a special design created just for them. Provide prototypes, and make their final choice an exclusive private label product – just for them.

7. Restrict those items for which you cannot grant exclusivity. A huge bestseller might be one that you need to sell freely in the marketplace without limiting your trade. The lower your pricepoint, the smaller the exclusive territory would be.  Allow your best store accounts exclusivity on other items, while remaining firm about this policy.

8. Track where your work is sent. Sometimes a store receives work in a different zip code than its final destination. Make sure you know if new accounts will be selling your work near a gallery with an exclusive. Also, be aware that zip code exclusivity doesn’t always work well. Stores can be across the street from each other but in different zip codes. Use mapquest to track distances.

Mistakes can happen. Be proactive when you find out that an order has shipped which infringes on an exclusivity arrangement. Honor your agreements, and concentrate on great customer service. You will be rewarded with long-term business partnerships which provide dependable income every year.


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  1. Ben Thompson says:

    As an artist make sure you are not doing something really stupid by getting into a deal like this.
    One can really screw things up for themselves with an exclusivity deal.
    I knew a guy that had a contract that in the fine print said he had to contact them before offering any other products/art to any other companies for their approval.

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