by Carolyn Edlund
Looking for new and lucrative markets for your art? Here’s how one artist developed repeat wholesale business selling one-of-a-kind sculpture.
Kent Epler, the talent behind “The Laughing Boy” creates humorous mixed-media soft sculptures which are all unique, due to the salvaged and found items he uses as materials. His background in scene and costume design spurred him to start his collection and open a business selling wholesale to craft galleries and retailers, as well as selling to the public at art shows.
How does he wholesale his work, when each sculpture is bit different from every other piece that he makes? “It’s about trust,” he says. “It took a while to cultivate wholesale accounts, but I’ve developed relationships with store buyers who love the concept, the feeling and flavor of my work.”
Those buyers know they will receive orders with consistent quality craftsmanship that are very popular with collectors. They also know they can use the fact that each sculpture is unique as a selling point with customers who want to own a piece that no one else has.
When he started wholesaling, he tried to reproduce each sculpture exactly, but says, “I hated it. I was buying bolts of fabric and trying to make each piece the same, but was overwhelmed.” When he decided to allow each piece to have its own fun personality, he found that he liked them better and that they actually sold for more money than the production work.
“Sometimes, retailers purchase my sculpture to use as a store feature, which is not offered for sale. But then they find out that they have customers who want to buy,” he says.
Even though each sculpture is individual, he does take orders for similar sculptures with the same theme. However, they will have different fabrics and details.
His chosen materials add value to his work, too. “Using salvaged materials and reclaimed items and being eco-friendly makes my sculptures even more appealing,” he says, “I often purchase leftover materials from clothing manufacturers, which has upped my game. It makes each piece look very high-end, but my costs are quite low.”
Trust also factors into taking special commissions, both from wholesale and retail customers. Epler gives the customer a few choices, such as color themes, but insists on being allowed to work his magic with each sculpture. “This instills confidence in the customer, he adds, “They end up being happier in the long run. I am confident that they will love it, and guarantee this to the customer.”