Many artists are nervous about meeting with gallery owners, craft retailers, museum buyers and others who make decisions about carrying their work.
What you may not realize is that many of these retailers got their start in the business as working artists themselves. They understand your challenges.
In an honest conversation about the fear of rejection, many gallery retailers have compassion for artists who put their work out in the marketplace, and would give them feedback about their work or suggest how they may improve their line.
Hearing “no” from buyers and gallery owners may mean that you need some improvement. But it may just as likely mean that your work doesn’t fit into their store collection, or that it doesn’t fit the wallet or tastes of their clientele, or that they have a similar line already which they have no need to replace.
So, what do galleries want?
Saleable work – Gallery owners look for work which fits into their niche, and appeals to their clientele. Is your body of work mature, in a cohesive signature style? Are you technically skilled? Retailers need to present an exciting experience for shoppers, and need to stock art and craft that stands out because it’s not only creative, but beautifully made. Collections which are large enough to make an impact when displayed, and are versatile so that a sale of multiples can be made (earrings that go with several different necklaces, for example) help them sell more products.
A partner in promotion – Build your gallery relationship by working together with them to assist in selling your line. Ways you can partner:
- Offer professional shots of your work for use in advertisements and promotional emails
- Make yourself available for in-store appearances or trunk shows
- List your retailers on your website, with address, phone and a link to their website
- Help promote your work in their store and events by sending press releases
- Promote your retailers on social media
- Consider co-op advertising
Excellent customer service – Retailers need to provide great customer service to keep their fan base, and that means that you have to step up, too. Custom orders have to be confirmed, and shipped on time. What about repairs- do you guarantee your work and provide repairs free of charge or for just the shipping cost? Do you have a policy of answering all phone messages and emails within 24 hours? Today’s consumer expects to be treated well. Your galleries are already challenged by having to sell in a tough economy, and they can’t afford to disappoint hard-won customers.
Your relationship with galleries and retailers is based on trust. Many store owners have, as some point in the past, been burned by artists and craftspeople who were irresponsible. And artists themselves have at times felt unsure about whether certain wholesale buyers or gallerists were “the real thing.”
This is a time when every artist must also be ready to defend the idea of outright purchase instead of consignment. The best reply is that what you consign will probably move slower than what you can purchase. Artists’ work that has a great track record is rarely available for consignment, because there is too much competition for representation.
Building trust works both ways. Artists bear half the burden of making the relationship successful, so communicate your willingness to work together with your retailers. It can result in a long-term financially beneficial partnership that you can take to the bank!