Artist and guest blogger Mckenna Hallett creates jewelry from scrap metal and upcycled junk, and sells her work wholesale to galleries and retailers all over the country. She shares her view on how artists who wholesale can become better partners with their retailers.
For over 30 years, I have tried to squelch the thinking that when a store owner takes our widgets and doubles or even triples the wholesale price that somehow, they are greedy and taking advantage of the creative souls that are doing all the work. I have written in hundreds of posts on many dozens of platforms defending the need (increasingly so!) for a solid 2.5 mark-up for so many shopkeepers nowadays. I have even used all caps from time to time. YES WE CAN be better partners and make more wholesale sales – we just need a little empathy.
When you are putting together a new line, or bringing a new piece into your existing line, do the math. Make sure you are getting the highest profit you can for your efforts, of course. But then make sure the retailer can get the highest profit possible. We can replace imports and other high mark-up items with finely crafted Made in American goods by calculating our financial impact on retailers.
I am passionate in my defense of the retailers out there who have expenses that we in our studios will never face. Do you have 10 or 30 or $100,000 invested in your décor? Do you have $1000 or $2000 each month for lighting expenses? Do you have a full time employee who does nothing but track inventory, sales, and orders? Do you have 6 figure rent with cams and additional percentage of sales every month? And an advertising budget in the 10’s of thousands annually?
Do you host monthly or quarterly art shows or gatherings and open cases of wine and wheels of cheese and box loads of crackers all at your own expense to draw in sales and new clients? Are you open 7 days a week and in some cases up to 12 hours each day requiring at least a few full time employees to keep the required hours in your lease contract? Do you have at least 2 or 3 large sales events around specific holidays that “force” some kind of discounting of at least some of your inventory?
The above list of questions may not represent all retailers, but is rarely applicable to any of us working from our studios and creating only what we already know is sold or will soon be ordered from our lines. We can control our costs and our cash flow with much greater ease. If the market softens in one region, we can sell to another part of the country. We are able to secure our profits with very little risk compared to the retailers who may or may not find a buyer for that last item from last year’s stock on a discontinued item or line. Losing money is very easy for a retailer.
Empathy for the retailer’s struggles rewards us in so many ways. When we ship to them and give them our awesome creations and give them plenty of room for marking up, we get re-orders. And then we get another and another. We can cultivate a relationship with one client and keep a steady income going for years.
Retailing requires finding a buyer for every item purchased. It is an enormously difficult task to properly display and sell items from hundreds of vendors let alone to source those items in the first place. And it may go without saying, but that won’t stop me: We cannot compete directly with our retailers and expect to grow a solid foundation. If we sell online in this day and age when a quick photo with a smart phone can lead a buyer directly to an online site, we are risking everything we are building. A growing number of retailers are refusing to even buy if they discover any online selling at any price.
With empathy, surely you will keep your online presence as a place for referrals to all the great businesses who want to sell more than you can keep up. Let your online marketing focus on a win-win for you and the retailers representing your line by showing off your great line and sending business to your great partners.