How do I Approach Galleries?

How do I Approach Galleries?
by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

I’d like to branch out and sell my work through shops. Plus, should I continue donating my art for an annual charity?

I make beaded jewelry and accessories and have been selling my work on my own for a while. I’d like to get into galleries and gift shops but really don’t even know where to start (I thought about sending a sample out to a few stores but don’t want to be a bother or not have my sample returned if they don’t want to sell it). How do I approach the shops and, better yet, how do I even find ones that might be interested in my work?
- Jim Hanson

Start at the beginning. You’ll have to decide whether you’re going to offer pieces you make in multiples or only one-of-a-kind items. I’d suggest you consider some of both. The production pieces could be the bulk of your offerings and the one-of-a-kinds could give your line some extra visual draw. Spread out the pieces you want to wholesale. Are you covering all the bases expected of a jewelry line? Buyers want to see a line of related items they can use to tell your story in their stores. This means you’ll need a body of work that reads well together. Take a trip to a store that might be a good placement for your work. Take a careful look at the displays and note how the pieces of each artist read together. Would your work display well?

Once you’ve created your line, it’s time to leave the shop and go into the office. You’ll want to calculate the production costs for each piece to determine your wholesale prices. Are they realistic? If a buyer doubled them, would your jewelry fall into a price point the customer purchasing at retail would be willing to pay? If you’re stuck on this one, again visit shops and check the prices for comparable pieces. If your prices seem too high or too low, don’t despair--too low is easy to fix. It’s a bit more difficult if your prices seem too high; perhaps you need to check shops selling higher priced items or perhaps wholesaling your pieces might not be a good idea. Production costs often keep craftspeople from entering the wholesale market, which isn’t always a bad thing.

If your prices are competitive, it’s time to create promotional materials to send to prospective buyers. These should include artist cards that show your work, a brief price list, and a state-ment that includes your jewelry point of view as well as descriptions of the materials you use. I’d suggest you also present this information in a form that could go out as an e-blast. You’ll also want to write an approach letter to go in the packet. Do you have a website? If not, you could build a simple one to function as a gallery of your work. You can then send prospective buyers there to see what you do--something that will be appreciated by the busy buyer.

Since you are a beginner at this, you’ll need to generate a list of contacts for possible accounts. You could start in your area with shops that carry handmade items. Talk to other jewelers about the shops they sell to. Magazines specific to metals and general crafts magazines typically carry ads from shops that may be of interest. Most will have a website--go there and take a look at what they offer. Note the ones that seem appropriate for your work. If you have serious interest in a handful of shops, send out a sample. Choose something not too expensive to make that shows the quality of the materials you use and your workmanship. Don’t ask for it back--the longer it stays in the buyer’s office, the better the chance of an order. And if you send out five and get one order, you’ve paid for the pieces. Remember, growing a new business takes time and investment in promotion!

Woman Shopping for Jewelry Every year around the holidays, I get asked by a local charity to donate a piece of art for their annual silent auction. I know it’s for a good cause, but I never hear anything from them after the fact. I sent a handblown vase the last couple of years and would have loved to know what it sold for, how much the event made for the charity, and how the funds will be used. I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but is it too much to ask for this info? Or should I just decline next time they ask?
- Erin Alexander

Knowing what and how to give to charity is always a tricky topic and can be especially problematic for craftspeople. It seems every fundraising group thinks they can ask for work and it’s easy to give. There is a lack of understanding that your work is the same as money to you. I suggest you formulate a giving plan supporting causes you believe in and then stick to it. A plan will allow you to give an honest answer to solicitations (for instance, “I only give to causes that help children”). Once you have a plan, evaluate each request based on that plan.

You will want to give work to events where it will be respected. Ask for the names of the other donors and the type of items they’re giving. You don’t want to give a $200 vase to a silent auction primarily offering items of lesser value, or to one filled with food baskets, services, and movie tickets. You may not want to give at all to auctions that don’t offer a majority of handmade items. We give for altruistic reasons, but there’s no reason not to expect some career benefits from our gifting. When we had the store, there was a steady stream of solicitations. We only gave to causes that supported craftspeople and artists or if the request came from a customer who was very involved in the organization.

We learned from the good ones and when we were the fundraising organizers, this is how we proceeded. We wanted the people we asked to know how the item would be used--was it to be a door prize, in a called auction, or in a silent auction? We tried to encourage a gift that matched its intended use. We offered a pair of tickets to the event--a smart organization wants their donors to be a part of the party, and the maker wants to be there, too. Not just because the party is part of the reward, but also because it’s good for the organization to have their donors seen in this crowd (and it’s certainly good for the donor’s business). And finally, within a week, someone from the organization wrote a personalized thank you note to each donor.

You may be giving to a good cause, but it isn’t exactly behaving as an appreciative one. You would be in order raising the issue of apparent lack of appreciation for past donations when the next ask comes.

Donald Clark is the author of Making a Living in Crafts and was a partner in Ferrin Gallery for 25 years. In addition to writing, he is currently a consultant to artists, a personal property appraiser, and a collection manager. He also continues to create constructions that have been shown extensively and collected internationally.