Alaskan Artist Finds Success in Niche Market

By Carolyn Edlund

How one artist has used regional images and themes to market her line.

Jill Marshall came to Alaska in 1975 for a three-month stay, and hasn’t looked back since.  She started a graphic design firm called Marshall Arts Design, which has evolved into a business where she uses her skills in graphic design and painting to create greeting cards which have become extremely popular.

Jill blends her love of her adopted home state with the wildness of Alaska’s people and place, weaving these themes into a strong niche line which has resulted in sales of over 30,000 cards in over 75 gift shop locations. “We have a large visitor industry here in Alaska,” she says, “So I aim my card art to that audience.” Jill wholesales her cards directly to the gift shops. “We have a wholesale gift show in Anchorage which makes it easy to access shops in remote locations. Some of the shops are reachable only by air or sea. It would be difficult and costly to visit them all individually.” She also sells her card on her website.

 

 

Marshall Arts Designs started with traditional watercolor featuring natural elements of birds, berries, animals, flowers and Christmas themes. Moving into a more whimsical style led to the Wild Women series, which combines drawing and computer graphics. Jill recently has expanded into the licensing market, meeting manufacturers at the Surtex show in New York. She continues to explore and grow as an artist, and states that she believes in the old saying “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

 

AS:  Which of your design collections are more popular – traditional or “wild”? Are you marketing them differently?

JM:  They are both about equally popular. Of the traditional ones, the Flowers of Alaska series sells more than the Berries, Animals and Birds series. There are five paintings in each series. Each gift shop has different ideas of what sells best for them. Both visitors and residents purchase the cards and posters. The Wild Women series (there are 20 of them) has sold very well too. The two styles are so different that gift shops have no problem carrying both, which are sold as individual cards and boxed. I market each collection the same way. They are aimed at women (since they do the majority of card purchasing) both visitor and resident.

 

 

AS: What niche markets have been successful for you? Are you selling to
stores in the lower 48 states?

JM: I guess you could call Alaska a niche market! I have not expanded to stores in the lower 48 at this point. I am working on designs that have less of an Alaskan theme to them to appeal to wider audiences. I am undecided if that’s something I want to take on myself or work through a distributor because of the logistics involved, Alaska is very far from the rest of the U.S. and travel and shipping are not inconsiderable expenses. I’m still looking at the numbers.

 

AS: Any future plans to expand this line or release any new collections?
JM: I’ve redesigned the Wild Women into bookmarks. I’m also looking into magnets of the designs. I’m always coming up with new ideas for the next Wild Women set. Since I release them in sets of 10, I have to wait until I’ve got that many worked up. I also keep looking for ways to repackage the existing artwork to continue to generate revenue from them. That’s one of the best parts, you keep generating revenue long after the original work is done.

 

 

AS:  Any advice for beginning artists who may want to start a greeting card
line themselves?

JM:  You are the artist, manufacturer, salesperson, advertiser, distributor, and accountant all in one. It’s important to give the appropriate time to each of those job titles. Not just the fun ones. I choose to do it all myself. I’m a business person (having run my graphic design firm for 23 years) and an artist so I already had those skills.  I did have to learn to talk to the shop owners and sell myself and my product. I’m an introvert by nature so gaining good interpersonal skills was important.
Go out and look at the competition. There’s a lot of it! It’s important to have a look or concept that sets you apart. And to test market it as much as you can. Show it to people in the target audience and listen to their feedback. Talk to as many shop owners as you can to get their insight as to what sells and what doesn’t. And really pay attention to the business end. The numbers have to add up.

 

Comments

  1. hi Jill-
    completely agree with all the roles being an artist requires, but that does keep Life interesting* & it is a fun journey to grow! thank You.

  2. Thank you for your help 🙂 I would love your feedback on my cards & web site, when you find the time. I only wish to be as busy as you. I’m just starting out so I’m looking forward to striving to enjoy the benefits of my job.
    Thanks again, look forward to hearing from you.

    Have a blessed day,
    Paige

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