By guest blogger Tawny Reynolds of Sundrop Jewelry
There are a lot of ways to make a living from your art these days: online retail, in-person events, consignment and galleries, old-fashioned word-of-mouth, and of course, wholesale.
Looking from one direction, you might wonder “Why should I wholesale? Why give away half the money I could make?” Now stop. Think about it for a minute. Would you actually have made that money? Would that customer in a shop on the other side of the country have ever found your work if it hadn’t been in the shop in the first place? Probably not. Having your work in shops gains you exposure to tons of potential customers who otherwise would never have even heard of you.
Now, even if you do one-of-a-kind original 20-foot tall oil paintings that sell for thousands of dollars, and your only dream is to get into the big galleries, don’t stop reading yet! There are ways to incorporate wholesale and online retail into your business too, whether with traditional prints, having your art printed onto pillows and scarves, or a myriad of other options.
Best of all, many people who drool over your art and favorite everything you share on social media – but who can’t pay thousands of dollars or more for an original work – will buy these lower-priced pieces. And you can sell directly to them with your own online webstore, which is awesome!
The drawback is that often the only visitors to your webstore are crickets, especially during the slow seasons. It takes a lot of marketing effort to bring enough people to your website to see and buy your work, because generally, fewer than 2% of visitors will actually buy anything.
That’s what makes wholesale such a great foundation for a business. Instead of having to convince 20 people to buy your thing, you only have to convince one person – the store manager or buyer. And, unlike an individual customer, who is unlikely to buy the same piece of art again and again, store buyers will. Every few months (so long as your pieces are selling in their shop, to their customers) they’ll place another bulk order.
Wholesale and online retail are great complements for each other. We all dread the “slow season,” but the two together help smooth out fluctuations in both income and degree of busyness throughout the year. Wholesale seasons are usually offset from the standard retail seasons – shops are ordering for Christmas in August and September, and for Spring at the January/February trade shows.
My online sales blow up in November and December, but by that time I’m pretty much done filling big wholesale orders for the year and have the time to fill the smaller but individually more lucrative retail orders.
Speaking of filling orders, an important consideration when contemplating wholesale is production. If you’re doing all the artwork by hand (or even just packaging up those scarves you had printed), how much can you actually produce in the hours you have to work? Will you work ahead and have inventory on hand at all times to ship immediately, or will your pieces be made to order?
The good thing about production for wholesale is that buyers don’t expect you to ship their 100-piece order the next day. You get to set the time frame in your policies – depending on the industry, standards range from 1-2 weeks to 6-8 weeks or more.
In my business, I do a combination of having inventory on hand and making to order. Because of my process, I do most of my glass droplet inventory build-up in the summer months, when the days are long and sunny. (My glass jewelry is melted with sunshine focused by a giant magnifying glass, but it only works on clear sunny days. I build up quite a bit of inventory when I have the opportunity.)
During slow times, I do the wire wrapping and sorting to find pairs of droplets that are the same size and shape, so they are ready to be turned into earrings. But I don’t assemble the jewelry itself until an order actually comes in.
Of course, while it’s good to plan ahead and consider how you’ll manage production, the most important part of getting started in wholesale is actually getting your art into shops. In my experience, landing a new wholesale account (and getting re-orders from a current shop) is really all about following up.
Yes, you want to make sure that the shop is an aesthetic fit, and that their shoppers are buying other items in the same price range as your pieces. But the most important thing is actually following up. Emailing that shop you’d love to get into to say, “Did you have a chance to look at the catalog you requested last week? Could I make an appointment with your buyer to show my pieces in person?” Calling existing shop buyers to say, “How is this selling? Do you need a reorder? I just released a new design that complements what you’re already carrying – would you like to add it to your shop?” And to be honest, this is something that I struggle with – a lot. I’ve had times when I finally made myself call all my shops, and at least half of them said, “Oh yeah – I definitely need more!”
Don’t be too discouraged when buyers say they don’t want your work now – or don’t reply at all. This will happen all the time. Buyers are busy. They don’t always have room in their shops – or their budgets – to buy now. Follow up in a few weeks, and if you still don’t hear back, try again in a few months, when you have something new to show.
For a number of years, I had an independent sales rep working with me, and he was awesome. Since he stopped repping last year, however, I’ve had to take all that back onto my own plate. After a year of doing it on my own again, one of my primary goals for the first quarter of 2017 is to hire a new rep! (Just to be clear, sales reps are not necessary to wholesale your art. But if, like me, you dread making the phone calls and networking with buyers, they can be very helpful. Just make sure you consider their commission in your wholesale pricing.)
For the last couple of years, my focus has shifted away from predominantly wholesale customers buying a fairly limited number of products. I’ve moved towards more online retail, with a few in-person events thrown in, while dramatically expanding my product line. And it has been great! I’ve learned a ton, and really refined my customer-facing website and brand. But, I’ve let a lot slide on the wholesale side. (I did say I was terrible at following up with shops, right?)
So, next year is definitely going to be time for me to focus on the basics once more. I’ll be actively approaching shops and buyers, looking for more wholesale accounts. Are you ready to join me?