Would You Sell Your Art at Walmart?

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By Carolyn Edlund

Many artists might be surprised, or even shocked at the thought of selling their work at Walmart. Photographer Sandra Canning is not one of those artists. She is actively pursuing business with the retail giant, and would like your vote to move her forward toward this goal.

 

Sandra Canning

Artist Sandra Canning seeks to have her photography sold at Walmart.                     Photo Credit: Kara Starzyk

 

Sandra Canning got involved in her quest when Walmart announced a crowdsourced competition for entrepreneurs and inventors to pitch their products. It’s called “Get on the Shelf” and 2013 is the second year this offer has been made.

The application required a YouTube video submission summarizing the “pitch.”  Here is the link to Sandra’s submission. She requests that if you like her idea, hit the orange “Vote” button. You may be asked to log into Facebook. You can vote daily until September 2. Public votes determine which products get chosen and move to the next level for consideration as Walmart vendors. There are 5 stages to pass before a Grand Champion is chosen in this American Idol style competition.

Are fine art reproductions sold in chain stores?  Yes, absolutely! In my former life as an outside rep for  art publishers, I called on many chain stores including Bed Bath & Beyond, Michael’s, AC Moore, Tower Records  and other retailers, keeping their inventories stocked full of posters, prints and framed art which retailed in the $9 – $60 range. This is called the mass market channel, and you can see those products in the frame or home decor departments of many chain stores.

Sandra’s proposal to sell her art to this large retailer would “cut out the middle man” (usually manufacturers or distributors such as the aforementioned art publishing companies), creating a vendor relationship directly with Walmart herself. This approach is interesting – and seeing how it works out will be even more interesting.

asked Sandra to share in her own words why she is pursuing this opportunity, and how it will affect her business.

Why do you want to sell your work directly to a large retail chain?

SC: Because I do not have wide name recognition, most agents would not agree to represent me just yet. Cutting out the middle man never entered my thought process. This contest seemed like a great opportunity to get on the radar of reputable agents or reps and a good way to increase sales.

I am interested in working with large retail chains, publishers, and agents because I have always known that licensing was the path I wanted to take. Thus far, it has been my most efficient revenue generator. As an unknown artist it is almost impossible to attract representation, or the attention of a major retailer. This contest provided those opportunities.

I entered “Get on the Shelf” because I saw quite a few intersects that were intriguing. I liked the idea that it was a crowd sourced contest. Crowd sourcing AND crowd funding are disruptive concepts that cannot be ignored by any business. Amazon has gotten into the online art business, so I thought Walmart.com may be looking for ways to expand their art offerings. Supporting local artists would be a powerful differentiator for them.

Online is definitely the future of the art business.  As a small business and emerging artist I am always on the lookout for opportunities to grow and gain visibility. Currently my sales have been through local galleries, my website, and licensing to the hospitality industry. This would give me much needed exposure and distribution.

 

Get on the Shelf campaign

Sandra Canning’s “Get on the Shelf” campaign includes a video pitch

 

Do you believe doing this will affect the perception of the value of your work? How will you deal with that?

SC: The “value” of art is so subjective. I see Ansel Adams’ work in Walmart and Costco. I don’t think sales of his signed fine art originals are being devalued. My gallery collection would be different pieces from what you could get at Walmart. This will protect my past and future collectors. With the exception of investors, people buy art for love.

Typically, my signed and numbered pieces are handmade and archival quality. They are made by master printers and printed on fine art paper. This can be very costly and time consuming. The opportunity to provide a mass market collection of quality original art at affordable prices was irresistible to me. My tagline for this project is “Everyone Deserves to Come Home to a Great Piece of Art”. If one of my pictures so inspires someone to love that they want to invite that picture into their home, that would be an honor for me. This would be my tribute to working class heroes!!

More important than selling pictures is my overall mission as an artist. I see this as an opportunity to inspire everyday people to embrace the contemplation of beauty. The daily practice of finding beauty in everyday life can change the world. I started photography as a passion project, and the happiness that I found has radically changed my life. This happened during a period of deep emotional upheaval. I was dying to self and found new life in making pictures.

I hope that people will look at my success and see that their own possibilities are limitless. I am lucky that my passion project has led to a viable business, but that is not why I do it. Doing something just for the sake of love speaks to a fundamental human need. Everyone needs to have something that is theirs alone; something that allows their spirit to soar and heart to sing. I make pictures because I have to. I sell them so I can make more pictures.

If you are chosen as a vendor, what’s next?

SC: My art will be sold through Walmart.com and potentially in select stores. From there I would like to leverage momentum from this project to partner with the right rep or agents to get into additional mass retailers (Target, IKEA, and HomeGoods, etc.).

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you Carolyn for the opportunity to share my vision and goals for this project. I appreciate all of your hard work in making ArtsyShark such a powerful resource for artists!!

  2. No. No Wal Mart. Silence is complicity and I will not be complicit in the way Wall Mart treats their people.

  3. Lisa Perfetti says:

    Thank you Carolyn for sharing this story!

  4. Thanks Carolyn and I am so voting for Sandra!

  5. The greater profit and the greater good are not compatible.

    Im seeing total disregard for people suffering at the hands of a damnable greedy corporation.

    I prefer to sleep at night.

    • Sandra Canning says:

      Hello Sharon, I appreciate you taking the time to review the project and share your opinion. We do not agree, but I still respect the fact that you took the time to comment.

  6. Cindy Williams says:

    I think you could make different art for different venues. Yes I would take the opportunity

    • Sandra Canning says:

      Hi Cindy, you are absolutely correct! I see no reason why the person who is on a tight budget and cannot afford gallery prices should not have access to original work. Thank you for the vote of confidence!

      • If it were not Wal Mart Id agree. I think art should be accessable to all; not just the well-heeled. But again, Wal Mart, no.

        When Wal Mart starts paying their people a respectful wage and stops forcing them to need outside assistance for health care and food then I would be all for this effort.

        My wife and I are friends with a girl who makes a very good wage at a Wal Mart store but: as she says-they are looking for excuses to get rid of her. Unfortunately we have no Costco.

        Ok this is my third post. Those are my opinions. Ill shut up now.

        Bless all.

        Sharon

  7. A beginner who imitates established and more successful artists in order to generate sales; and, as it’s likely printed in a 3rd world factory, cares little or nothing about the working conditions of people who reproduce her work; nor about endemic low wages that direct buyers to big box stores rather than professional artists and galleries. Not original and ethically challenged.

    Walmart sells inoffensive pictures to hang over futons that doubles as a couches during the day; images for people who can’t afford decent housing let alone art. But who cares as long as Miss Thing gets her income? Seems like the only ones benefiting are the “artist” and Walmart.

    • Sandra Canning says:

      Hello Kay, Do you have a website where I can see your work?

    • Kay, I appreciate your commenting and your opinion. I can tell you however that chain stores in general do not exactly sell art to “hang over futons”. I know this because I directly sold art into chain stores for years, and am acutely aware of exactly what titles were being sold in – because I wrote the orders.

      Picasso’s “The Rest” was one of our bestsellers for years, selling into chains such as Bed, Bath and Beyond, Michael’s, AC Moore, Hobby Lobby and others. Classics such as Van Gogh’s work, vintage posters which were highly popular for years like “Chat Noir” and many others were excellent sellers. And contemporary artists such as John Lund, Sarah Lugg, David Winston, Flavia Weedn, and others sold their work through this channel.

      You are entitled to your opinion, and I consider it valid that you have issues with Walmart – the article asks this question and I knew that many people would have strong feelings either way. But to dismiss the entire mass market channel? You know not whereof you speak.

  8. Big topic, lots of complex issues.

    This is not about Walmart per se, although they tend to be the poster child for bad corporate-staff relations. It’s more about how asking how specific marketing and production choices affect economies, cultures and environment. Yes, this particular person has found a way to support herself through her creativity, which is very, very commendable. But there is a bigger picture worth considering ; cui bono, Latin for “who benefits”.

    Do foreign factory workers benefit from long hours and minimal pay? How about the floor staff of those big box stores? What happens to neighbourhood shops when Mr. Big Box moves in? Statistics show they go under, and cash moves from the local economy into the pockets of the Big Box owners. What about the income of neighbours and shop owners who might have bought one small piece because they got to know you, to understand and appreciate what you do as an artist?

    We have an economy and popular culture that posits consumerism and speed as an antidote to cultural and economic dysfunction. Somehow it’s become better to have 6 cheap items, to experience multiple buying “highs”, then it is to have a single, more costly piece. Why are “more” and “cheaper” our goals? Kind of a consumer version of obesity.

    Big box stores are essentially conservative by nature. A majority of, ie., Bed & Bath Picasso buyers would have walked right by the original in its day. Now, many, many decades after the original was executed, through the miracle of zero labour protection, off-shore manufacturing and cheap, digital reproduction they can own a “reasonable facsimile” of what critics and history have deemed “good” art. Note that “Rest” was a top seller, not more difficult or complicated works like “”Guernica” or Femme Aux Bras Croises”. Couch Art vs Art; consumers picked what did not trouble or in any way disturb. As Big Box stores survive only through the economies of scale; products must be both cheaply produced and appeal to many thousands of customers. Again, we can assume a propensity for foreign manufacture and for pretty pictures that do not challenge the viewer in any regard.

    Is this what we artists do? Create bland “wallpapers” so clients can sustain a buffered or sedated state? What happens to the passion we began this adventure with if our creativity is solely defined by that marketplace?

    Some of us focus on mass markets, others are explore different ones. What no one seems to get, is that as we continue to out-source production (food, clothing, vehicles, et alia), we also eliminate the ability of our population to support local manufacturers, artists among others.

    • Well said!! Nothing I could add to that.

      • jeanetmarie says:

        Kay and Sharon, I too share your feelings. And since I won’t shop at big retailers like Walmart for ethical reasons, I couldn’t sell my artwork to them either. Yet I see nothing wrong with an artist who chooses to do so. Cheers.

        • Im wondering why she doesnt try Amazon? They have started selling art too although I do not know how their employees are treated.

  9. Kay, I have followed this artists work from the very beginning, and have one of her pieces in my living room. I assure you Sandra in no way resembles ” A beginner who imitates established and more successful artists in order to generate sales” I happen to know that She is a gifted and talented artist that has worked hard at developing her craft. I respect your opinion of Walmart but this is not a black and white issue, and if she chooses to have her work in Walmart it would be because she wants to share her work with the masses.

  10. It is a very long shot at best, but worth the effort. They are the best at what they do and contray to most populalar opion treat vendors fairly and pay on the money. Good Luck.

  11. well…are you gonna share with the rest of us …..”HOW DO WE ACQUIRE TO HAVE THIS OPPORTUNITY TOO”??? I would love to sell my work to walmarts or anyone else who be interested in buying what I do!!!
    or is this just for a chosen few?? “GIVE US THE HOW TO PLEASE”!!!!

  12. Well, Jocur, as stated in the article, Walmart advertised for submissions from vendors who wanted to sell through their stores in a program called “Get on the Shelf”. Although submissions are currently expired, they may offer this again. Go to https://getontheshelf.walmart.com/ Good luck!

  13. David Randall says:

    Kay has said it very succinctly.

    The book,”Cheap” by Shell was written in more detail about this cultural issue.

    • Sandra Canning says:

      Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to thoughtfully review and comment on this proposal. Just to set the record straight all of my products are made here in the USA. Offering a “cheap” product has never been a part of the equation. My products are high quality and affordable.

      This is a complex subject and none of the questions OR answers are “black and white”. We will all have our varied POV’s based on what is important to us. Everyone is entitled to their feelings and opinions. Some people are focused on Walmart, others on the many doors this will open for unknown artists, still others on if people sleeping on futons are worthy of art. My perspective is based on what s important to me – technology, disruptive ideas like crowdsourcing, and the evolution of the human Hivemind – the Web.

      My final decision to enter the contest weighed on a few different things. I list them in Carolyn’s interview. After mulling over the pros and cons I was left with the conclusion that this is about the future. The winds of change are upon us. The Web will force the democratization of art. The transformation is already taking place. Crowdsourcing is an evolutionary step, and this is only the beginning. I would rather go with the flow of change than drown in it’s rising tide.

  14. Complain as you will about Walmart, I think it is quite generous of them to offer aspiring entrepreneurs a venue to come up with a product that will be available to the general public. I haven’t seen any other companies giving average people the opportunity to market their product.
    Sandra Canning chose her beautiful photographic fine art as her “product”. I have seen her images in the Boca Raton Museum of Art, in fine art galleries and she has won Best in Show in juried exhibits which included oil paintings, water colors, sculpture and installation art. She is a fine and talented artist, I would be thrilled to hang a “Sandra Canning” in my home. I hope she wins and has the opportunity to share her beautiful images with the world.
    Some people may disagree with some of Walmart’s practices but this contest is not where you should be venting your complaints, and especially not against an artist and person like Sandra Canning.

  15. @Suzanne:

    Youre not up on the news: AMAZON.COM!!!

    Helluva lot better than kissing the Walton’s butts!

    And Costco treats their people with something called RESPECT. Try them!

    • Sandra Canning says:

      Carolyn’s article not only talks about Amazon’s art initiative but also links to a great article about it. I am sure Suzanne is “up on the news”. If she is commenting on this thread, she read the article. My understanding is that only 150 galleries were invited to Amazon’s online gallery. It was not an open invitation like Walmart’s project. I think both initiatives will be successful for different reasons. I am curious about the business model for Amazon if anyone has the lowdown. What is the artist’s cut. Most galleries take 50%, if Amazon also gets a commission what is left for the artist? Just curious if anyone knows.

  16. Good Point Sandra.

  17. I’m in the process of trying to sell my art images to Walmart but I’m not sure on how to sell it or figure out pricing. Do you have any tips on nagotiating with Walmart. Thank you

    • No, I’m sorry, but I do not have tips on negotiating with Walmart. However, if you are already soliciting them, why are you going into this without having a strategy?

      • Well it’s a long story but I’m still learning as I go. My art is very unique and different. It’s going to catch on but the process is long. I’m a starving Artist. Lol but a very good one. Thanks for your input.

  18. David Randall says:

    As art is a much lesser market in general than so many other things I’d guess the odds of getting, “on the shelf” may be very limited. It’s a much safer bet from Walmart perspective to put a vast number of things other than art by an unknown on a shelf. Useful inventions are big a enough gamble, Art is just a niche market at best and competing with Picasso and Monet or Adams an unlikely pick to me.

  19. Rose Hill says:

    Well, Sandra Canning I hope you were successfully placed on the shelf at Walmart!
    As an artist and entrepreneur it is important to take the initiative, find new outlets. I’m sure Thomas Kincaide wouldn’t have hesitated for a second and to my mind he was the best at marketing his art in recent history.
    Unless we want to remain starving artists we need to be bold and go where no artists before us have gone before.
    No, I’m not a fan of Walmart and don’t shop there on principle, however … this is a wonderful opportunity for an American artist and regardless what Walmart’s devious business practices might be I see nothing at all wrong with this concept. It is also very gratifying to note that the printing and production is all done in America.
    This is a win/win for all (although in the back of my mind I envision some grant or tax windfall that Walmart may get for doing this:) – nevertheless the fact remains this is a fabulous business opportunity and I wish you all the luck in your endeavours.
    Personally, yes, I would sell my art at Walmart – because art should be affordable for all. There is no reason why one cannot be a great fine art photographer and business savvy too. Good luck to you Sandra Canning – I am inspired by your business sense.

  20. Rose Hill, thank you for your very insightful comment. My main interest in the Walmart project was the potentially disruptive nature of using the web as a means for artists “to get their work out there”. FYI: I did not get to the next round in Walmart/OnTheShelf, but it was a great learning experience. For the record, I think money is the enemy of all artists, we should be free to simply create for love. marketing is a necessary evil. Sending you warm wishes for great success!

    • Sandra Canning, we can’t win them all, but if we persevere good things will happen. I bet you gained a lot of insight during this project. I went through something like this on a smaller scale (didn’t get it either) but hey, it was exposure and yes I learned a few things along the way. No regrets, just moving forward….

      Art is a strange business, utterly personal and you are always helplessly exposed to everyone’s opinion. Yet, there is nothing like the joy of creating!

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