Should I Consign My Work?

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Should I Consign My Work?
Retailers continue to push me to consign my work to them. They cite the austerity of their customers and claim to need help from their suppliers to remain in business. Even some of the shops I have sold to in the past are asking for consignment terms. What should I do? - Elizabeth J, via email
I've never been an advocate of consignment believing it doesn't benefit the craftsperson or the retailer. The maker is--in essence--providing an interest-free loan to the retailer. Since the retailer doesn't own the items, they can be removed at any time by the maker, and, of course, the maker can choose what and when to consign--for instance the items that remain after a studio sale.

The maker sets the retail price and usually expects to receive 50% payment when the items are sold. In today's market, a markup of 2.0% may not be enough to warrant having the items when 2.25% is considered typical. An arrangement that gives more than 50% to the maker is surely detrimental to the health of both businesses. It's important to build your business based on a wholesale price structure that is based on careful calculation of costs. Parties considering doing business on consignment are advised to have a contract stating the terms of the arrangement. An Internet search for "art consignment agreement" will provide a number of sample contracts that can be used as is or as references when creating a custom agreement.

That said, the changing marketplace may make it necessary for makers and retailers to use consignment to generate revenue. Let's look at some ways to make this work for both parties.

I've always liked to use consignment to create a special event for the parties involved. A perfect way for this to work is to negotiate the consignment of higher end items the retailer usually doesn't purchase. I would make this offer at a particularly busy time in the shop and would specify that it was for a limited period of time. We know that the top-of-the-line often helps sell the rest so this can be a win-win for all.

The customer really likes to meet the maker. Consider a one or two week consignment of a large body of work based on your ability to be in the shop for a trunk show on a weekend to meet, greet and sell. Holiday time can also provide opportunities. Once you have filled all orders take a look at your stock. Phone some of your best wholesale accounts and ask if they'd like more of your work with the understanding that any unsold items would be returned at the beginning of the new year. You'll notice I've stayed away from any discussion about consigning work to accounts you don't have a wholesale relationship with--so should you.

Freshen-up the Look of Your Shop ... for You and Your Customers
I opened my craft shop in 1990. My business has grown and remains healthy even after the downturn in the economy. The problem is I have become bored with the look and the merchandise in the shop; any advice is more than welcome. - Nancy P, via email
You are right to be concerned. Keeping our brains fresh and engaged is essential to the health of our businesses. If you're feeling bored, no doubt your customers must be too. Although your sales are healthy, what would happen if you shook things up a bit? This could be as simple as redisplaying your shop. Begin by making a plan on paper. Then, then pick a day that is typically slow in the shop and announce ahead of time that you will be closed on that day. Get going and move and redisplay your shop. At the same time you can do some deep cleaning and make sure all the items have price tags. You'll be surprised how differently your customers will see the shop and notice items they had missed on previous visits. How often have you walked an aisle at a show in the opposite direction and seen things you hadn't before? The same principle applies here.

If you haven't repainted your shop since it opened, it may be time for that. Again, make a careful plan of attack. If you're doing the work yourself, get all the supplies and help you'll need and decide how long you'll need to be closed to get the job done. Or, get a painter lined up making sure he or she can do the job in the allotted time. Alert your customers well in advance that the shop will be closed and this time send out an invitation to come see the new look. You'll be amazed what a change of color can do. Perhaps you can offer some special deals on the first weekend after you reopen.

Your shop is more than walls. How about planning some in-store special events? Customers always like to meet the maker. Consider scheduling a series of trunk shows that will allow them to meet and buy (see previous answer). Even better than meeting the maker, is watching him/her at work. Perhaps you can have some of your more local craftspeople set up a mini studio for a weekend. These events could coincide with local art walks. If, however, your sales are strong during these events you may find it more beneficial to plan your special events on other days. I like to plan in three-month time spans and announce the calendar via email and any appropriate snail mail. This allows the customers to get a long view. Always send out a reminder as the date approaches.