By Carolyn Edlund
At the end of each year, many artists are frantically busy, especially if they are traveling to retail shows and fairs, delivering commissions and making the most of the holiday rush. And after the rush is over, unless you travel south to catch the snowbirds, business can get slow . . . very slow.
It’s common for many artists and craftspeople to have a “feast or famine” type of income if they pursue only one type of selling. And although I’m all for selling retail, I discovered years ago the power of selling wholesale in my own business.
Selling wholesale is, of course, a standard business model – it’s how business is done in the commercial marketplace, where manufacturers ship billions of dollar’s worth of goods to retailers of all types. In the handmade world, quite a few retailers purchase wholesale, including gift shops, museum stores, boutiques, catalogs and many others.
Should everybody wholesale their work? No, it’s not right for everyone. If you design a line which can be reproduced in a production studio, it’s a terrific model, although even one-of-a-kind items can be wholesaled.
Does selling wholesale meaning cutting your prices in half? No, actually that is a backwards way of thinking about it. Wholesale lines are built from the ground up, designed and priced so that they are profitable at a wholesale price, and ready to be marked up between 2 – 3 times, depending on the retailer’s policies. The artist rarely sets the retailers’ price on their items, unless they must be printed on the product, such as greeting cards and calendars.
Part of the beauty of the wholesale model is that it creates repeat business. And repeat business is what grows businesses. Just as fine artists may seek to cultivate collectors, the artist who is wholesaling seeks to cultivate galleries, shops and retailers who will become ongoing accounts.
In my own business, I had business relationships with many store buyers for years, and those relationships thrived because we were making money together. It’s what earned me over a hundred steady wholesale accounts, and turned my production studio volume into six figures annually.
Speaking of money, the wholesale model brings in income on a consistent basis, smoothing out those lean periods so the artist is more likely to be able to support themselves and their family. With receivables to show, the artist is also more likely to get a business loan to grow their small business, too.
Artists who wholesale tend to have larger studios and volume, and they also tend to employ others. As my own business grew, I had 3 or 4 studio assistants at any given time, and was proud to be able to create jobs for others.
Wholesaling is efficient, too. Samples are made and shown, and orders are taken. You don’t have to have huge inventory before you know if an individual design will sell. Wholesaling is also a complementary model to retailing. Both models can work beautifully together. You may choose to sell all of your designs wholesale, or only some. It’s flexible, and puts you more in control.
How do you go about selling your work at wholesale? You can attend trade shows, hire sales reps, sell wholesale online, or approach store buyers yourself. There is little to stop an artist from getting started if they want to enter the world of wholesale. But there is a learning curve at first as the artist needs to understand wholesale business concepts, sales strategies and production. It’s not the model for every artist, but I know hundreds of people who successfully wholesale their work and wouldn’t change that for anything.
Carolyn Edlund is the founder and owner of Artsy Shark, and also the Executive Director of The Arts Business Institute. ABI presents intensive workshop experiences for artists who want to learn how to wholesale their work, price for profit, market, sell, and grow their small businesses. Find out more about workshops on wholesaling by visiting their website.