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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.