How to Make Greater Wholesale Impact

Wholesale Trade ShowIn a tough economy, many artists and craftspeople are thinking smaller. Here’s how to think bigger.




With many small businesses taking a beating from a tough economy, some artists are wondering whether they can even consign their work, let alone sell wholesale. But this self-defeating outlook could be the opposite of what you really need to grow your business.

Let’s take a look at starting bigger rather than smaller.


Who’s in Control?

You might think that store buyers are the ones in the driver’s seat. Many times this is true. Although you probably have a minimum wholesale order amount (and you should), they generally tell you what they want and when.

It’s essential for the health of your small business – and theirs – to act as a partner with your retailers, and help them sell your work. You can do this with effective hangtags that tell your story, artist bios to use in their store display, offering selling tips for their staff, and even making personal appearances and doing trunk shows.

Artists and craftspeople may also find that having higher order minimums, requiring a bigger commitment and presence in stores, is a strategy that works for the benefit of both. This is a tactic used by larger manufacturers who sell into many of the retailers you may also serve.

Some of these larger companies require that retailers apply to carry their line, rather than the other way around. In this way, they control the type of stores they deal with, and are in a position to reward their best accounts .


Brighton display


For example, Brighton has a number of collections of fashion accessories, handbags, luggage and jewelry. Not all retailers are allowed to carry their whole line, or even sell any of their products. This well-known brand vets new potential accounts, and requires certain commitments from them. In that way, they control the perception of their brand as “more exclusive” and more desirable. Not everybody can own Brighton – and not everybody can sell Brighton.


“Store-within-a-Store” Concept

Requiring a larger upfront investment in their line usually means that a vendor gets a bigger piece of “real estate” in a store. This is often emphasized by a display which becomes part of their brand signature. A great example of this is the Vera Bradley Company, which puts large white shelving units in many retail stores filled with brightly-colored fabric bags, totes, and many other items from their extensive line.


Vera Bradley display

This effectively becomes a store-within-a-store, and a familiar site to customers. Scaling this down to a smaller level for a self-employed artist might involve offering signature displays with your line that hold a certain amount of product, sold as a unit.

Presentations can vary, from smaller point-of-purchase (POP) displays that sit near the cash register (a prime piece of retail real estate) to larger displays that showcase your work in a store and may hold a variety of collections from your line.


Can this Work for You? 

If a retailer only carries a few of your pieces, is that effectively representing you? A robust selection carries more impact, and generally sells better. You can enhance that impact by demanding higher minimums and a larger commitment to sell your work. A number of artists have done this successfully, eschewing very small accounts and choosing to work with fewer, larger ones which are more profitable for them.


Sabo Jewelry display


If you offer a fairly extensive line of product, and have a good reputation and sell-through, you may be able to move up to this higher level. The key is that it must work for you, and also work for the retailer – portraying your brand as more exclusive, and rewarding the retailer.  Perks like exclusivity, co-op advertising, in-store artist appearances, extended dating on invoices and discounts might be involved for your best retail partners.

If you can require a bigger investment while providing a display concept that highlights your line, a fair deal for the retailer, and a beneficial partnership commitment, you may find that scaling bigger – not smaller – serves your creative business well.


Ready to really ramp up your own business? Learn from ABI’s comprehensive guide “Marketing for Artists & Craftspeople.” For the serious entrepreneur, this interactive E-course, written by our faculty, is designed to help artists and craftspeople understand essential marketing principles and apply them to their own business,for greater sales success.

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  1. What terrific advice! Even if one is just starting there is no good reason to act or appear desperate – no matter the economy. Playing hard to get is a big sales booster. And if one is actually hard to get (I am!) it’s a natural attitude.

    While exclusives and other devices are great tools – and hand-picking good locations is essential, getting a reorder is the true goal. I set a high minimum and my reorder min. is just over 50% of that. I do a little bit of everything listed above. I am always trying to increase reorder rates.

    I created a system that has made a big difference. I instituted a campaign to get that new account to act quickly and add to their first order by sending them a VERY generous offer that expires 45 days from that first order. This (hopefully) sets up two mind sets – paying attention and saving money. While the savings is BIG and appealing, I also offer a special one time only NO minimum to encourage them to replace (or add) anything for the one time reorder offer. But in addition – as the days turn into weeks and that clock is ticking…they might just be paying a little extra attention to my display and truly thinking about a reorder on a more continuous basis. I do a follow-up one week before the deadline and that is A VERY important moment: if someone says they haven’t had much action on my line it is a perfect time to brainstorm and assist, suggest, and even get a small order. After all – I have 20 years with my line and 50 years in retail/wholesale and they have invested in me, so we can both see benefits to trying to iron out ripples.

    All of this is to say that the idea that we are partners, as stated in this article, cannot be emphasized enough and my retailers know that I am fully on their team.

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful and very complete comment, McKenna.

    There are so many strategies that can work when artists and retailers partner in a win/win relationship. Looks like you have found a great strategy for increasing your sales and building loyalty. Well done!

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