I’ve had a few conversations lately with people congratulating me after finding out that my work is being sold at certain retail locations outside of my own showroom. The conversations often shift when I spell out the details of those opportunities and it occurs to me that not many people know the “ins and outs” of working with retailers. I thought it might be a good topic to write about for you, the customer.
Most people seem shocked to learn that I only receive 50% of the retail price of my work when I sell the items to a retailer. That’s right, the wholesale price (set by me) is typically 50% of the suggested retail price of the product. If that were the case, why would I bother to sell wholesale at all? Here are a few reasons why.
1. Money in hand.
When I turn over product to a retailer I have the ability to set the minimum order that they must place. For example, a retailer must place a minimum order of $100 and within that minimum I can also add a set minimum item number such as four sets of nesting bird bowls, five ring dishes etc. The retailers that I work with pay me when I deliver the work. (*) This means that instead of waiting for my work to sell at a location where it’s on consignment, I get the money instantly. Although I receive 60% of the price of my work when it’s on consignment, that money isn’t guaranteed and I have to worry about inventory just sitting in a shop, not bringing me any money. This brings me to number two.
* (I won’t go into 30 net, 60 net etc. but you can Google it and know that I rarely do this because I just don’t sell that much wholesale product.)
2. Not my problem.
Once the work is dropped off it becomes the retailer’s job to sell it. I don’t have to market/advertise for it or get people in the door. My job was to make the product and deliver it. Done. This is a reason why some people might work exclusively with wholesale orders.
3. Getting your brand out there or getting new opportunities.
In the town where I live, my studio is located in an area where some people don’t really want to travel to. It’s a little silly but there is a certain demographic of people who just won’t come down to the studio and therefore, probably don’t know that my work exists. Working with a retailer is a way to get my handmade ceramics into the hands of a customer that I might not normally reach and if I’m working with a really good retailer, they might give the customer enough information that they will then find me on their own for other products not sold through that retailer or for a larger, bulk or custom order.
4. Shipping Costs.
When an artist ships work out to a gallery or a shop to be sold on consignment, (also receiving only 50-60% of the retail price) typically the artist is responsible for shipping costs at least one way, sometimes both ways if the work has to be returned when unsold. When shipping to a retailer who’s buying wholesale product, the retailer pays for the shipping.
Lately, there are a few different retailers that I’ve been working with regionally and this can be tricky because of the size of the area I live in. I live in a region that isn’t heavily populated and retailers want exclusivity. They don’t want to sell a product that is available on every corner, what would be the appeal in that? Some retailers will have a certain mile radius agreement or some just want to know that your product isn’t sold in the same town where their shop is located. I’m working with a store that has purchased some of the products I normally make and sell but with a signature glaze color that fits with the concept of their store. I have also been working with them to design some custom products that will only be sold at their store. There has been a lot of input from their entire staff and it’s been a longer process because they have very specific tastes. But they know what their customers want and this gives me confidence that the products will sell and they will be placing more orders in the future.
My favorite retailer to work with is a specialty yarn shop called Fuzzy Goat in Thomasville, Georgia. The owner, Cadence Kidwell, first approached me to make yarn bowls for her and I didn’t even know what a yarn bowl was! Over the last three years since she opened her shop, she’s given me the artistic freedom to do whatever I want to with the yarn bowls that I make for her. So unlike the previous retailer who has a lot of direction for my designs, Cadence allows me to just show up with a batch of yarn bowls that may have different colors than the previous batches I’ve delivered. She likes my style and gives me a lot of leeway to provide her customers with lots of options, even if they don’t know what I’m going to show up with. I sell my yarn bowls exclusively through Fuzzy Goat. Why would I do this with her? Well, she’s been really good to me. She promotes my products on social media every time she gets a new shipment, she tells her customers about my process and she respects me as an artist and a maker. She understands the little things that go into making something from scratch and she’s okay that my work doesn’t look like it was made in a factory. In fact, she loves that. I have received several opportunities to sell larger amounts of custom work to her customers who stumbled across my work in the form of a yarn bowl. She is the perfect retailer to work with.
I don’t sell a lot of wholesale work but it is nice to have a few orders going to keep that monthly check coming in. It supplements the sales from my showroom. Would I prefer to have everyone visit the studio or website and pay the retail price? Well, yes. But maybe then I would miss out on opportunities to reach outside of my own ideas. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn some business skills from really great business owners. If I’ve learned one thing about running a business over the last few years it’s that having multiple streams of income coming in is extremely important. Wholesale orders and a big wedding order are what got me through this really slow retail summer. Maybe next time you’ll decided to purchase directly through the artist so that they receive the full retail price of their work but now at least you understand how it all works.