This question comes up quite often from artists, who may or may not also be selling production work. How to sell those unique items that cannot be reproduced?
While selling one-of-a-kind works at wholesale certainly isn’t impossible, it is more time-consuming, so price your work accordingly. If you choose to sell this way, you have a number of options. Some are listed below:
1. Sell at a trade show. If all or most of your work is one-of-a-kind, such as the found object robot shown above by artist Amy Flynn, you can bring your entire inventory to a wholesale trade show. Set up your booth display, and as work is sold to buyers, mark them as such and put them back into your inventory boxes, to be shipped to the buyer as requested. This can be cumbersome, but seeing the items in person is a great way for retailers to get to know your work and become a regular buyer. They may then trust you to select (see #7 below.)
2. Call on the buyer in person. If you wholesale to local stores, set up a meeting and take samples of your work with you, and explain the one-of-a-kind nature of your work. Or, if you are doing a trunk show at one of your customer’s stores, it would be a perfect opportunity to leave behind those OOAK items that the store owner loves. In fact, you may want to have a trunk show for the very purpose of displaying and selling one-off designs that aren’t available in your regular line. This adds variety and gives customers the feeling that they are getting something very special. Encourage this mindset!
3. Upload images to your website. As you create more one-of-a-kind stock, take photos of the items and upload to your website. Many artists have password-protected areas of their websites for retailers to access. As each item is sold, take down the images, or mark them SOLD and allow other customers to request similar items.
4. Send a pick box. This works best with jewelry and small items. The artist ships a box to trusted, established buyers, with an inventory sheet of the stock that is included with prices. The buyer chooses what they want, and returns the rest to you, with a check (or you can invoice them.) The great thing about receiving the inventory itself is that it puts your work right in their hand, which makes it very tempting for them to keep it.
5. Use Skype. Sales reps use this technique sometimes with distant accounts, and you can do it too. Use Skype, a free video call website, to have a virtual face-to-face conversation with your buyer and present those OOAK items to them. You can write the order then and there, and ship as requested.
6. Email your buyers with photos. Include photos of your new OOAK stock in emails to those account buyers who have opted-in to your email list. Or, use those images in an email newsletter, driving buyers back to your website, where all of your one-of-a-kind work is uploaded. Use this as an extra marketing step in conjunction with #3.
7. Build strong gallery relationships and gain their trust. Once you have established a good working relationship with a gallery or store, and your work is selling well, the buyer will often trust you to choose new one-of-a-kind pieces yourself. Promote the benefits that their gallery will have something that no one else has. You might want to have a policy of allowing returns if items don’t fit their needs.