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 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.
I 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.
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.).