Alternate Outlets for Selling

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Q: Typically, I exhibit and take orders for my work at the large summer wholesale show and then at the winter show. Of course, those shows were canceled. In addition, I have also lost the income that would have come from the summer and fall retail shows. I really need to sell my large inventory any advice about getting my work into retail shops and galleries will be greatly appreciated.

DC: Be sure to reread the information about selling work in the October Just Ask. You might decide a studio sale would be a possible way to sell some of the pieces you've been making during the stay at home time. Do you live near a craft school that typically has a physical sale at holiday time? Check in with them, perhaps you can participate. The financial arrangements for these sales vary usually falling in the range of a 50/50 split to one that may be more advantageous for the maker or the institution.

Start searching
You mention you typically exhibit at wholesale shows, so let's start making a contact list using the information you've gathered at the past shows. Of course, you have the addresses for the shops that placed orders. You'll want to be in touch with them. Even in these uncertain times buyers need fresh merchandise. They're your best bet for reorders, remember, it's easier to serve an existing account than to get a new one. I hope in addition you have a log with all the business cards of anyone who asked about your work. The fact they didn't place an order the first time they saw it doesn't mean they won't if you approach them again. Then be sure to check the advertisements for craft shops and galleries in craft magazines and do a thorough online search. I'd suggest as you search make sure they in fact sell the media you use and that the work they represent is high quality. While at it see if you can get the name of a person at the shop so you can address your approach in a more personal way. And finally, be sure to speak with friends in the craft world about where they sell and their experiences with the shops they suggest.

Snail mail selling
So now let's put the approach into action. Lately I've been getting more and more catalogs, often from big companies like Renovation Hardware. That one was nearly two inches thick. They must be onto something about the way people are shopping now. That said, consider approaching your prospective buyers with both snail and email. A simple printed piece with really good images of your bestselling pieces. It may be important to keep the price down, in fact you should print the most comprehensive piece you can afford. Snail mail this piece to all the shops on your list.

Website wants
There's no way to have a successful business these days without a web presence either your own website or a shop at one of the websites offering the work of multiple makers. I think it's best to have your own website if you have the time and money to build or have one built. Either way the rules are the same. Fabulous images, clear informative text, be sure to write about the features and benefits of the pieces, but don't write too much, buyers are busy people. Spell out your payment terms and shipping procedures. Be sure to have a clear and easy to understand pricing structure, must they purchase multiples of an object, is there a price reduction for purchasing in large quantities? Do you offer free shipping on large orders? The steps at checkout have to be easy to follow. And finally follow up with a confirmation of the order, anticipated ship date and a big thank you for doing business with you.

Glean sales at galleries
Let's take a little time to look at the gallery search. At the outset please be aware a gallery doesn't purchase the work they display. It's there for a predetermined period of time, the unsold items get returned to you with a check for what did sell. This is basically a high-end consignment situation. Be sure to have a contract signed by you and a gallery representative. Yesterday I talked with a ceramic artist whose gallery won't pay him for losing the lid of a large jar because he didn't specifically list that the jar had a lid. Don't jars usually have a lid? Always include images of the pieces you're sending. Individual shots are best, but group images are fine too as long as they clearly show all the items.

The search for a gallery is basically the same; you're just looking for a different kind of outlet. In the olden days we could receive 10 packets a day from artists. Dealing with this was very time consuming and often not very fruitful. Not to mention how long it took the maker to put the package together. Today the paper is gone, it's all digital. You'll want to send a brief email to the director of the gallery. Introduce yourself and explain why you've contacted them. If it's possible the best line in the email would be "John Doe" who is represented by your gallery and knows my work suggested I contact the gallery. You can attach images to the email or provide a link to your website, preferred, or do both. Again, you'll need crystal clear images accompanied by carefully scripted descriptions as discussed in the previous question.

I'm reading that sales are slow in galleries due to the COVID-19 situation. Don't let this deter you from your search, they still need work to sell. Furthermore, galleries typically plan a year out and may choose to include you in a 2021 or 2022 show. Not the timing you wanted but still a score and a reward for your hard work both in the studio and the office.

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