Test Market Your Work with Retailers

by guest writer Patti Dowse

A seasoned craft artist shares insights on partnering with retailers to test market your work.



When starting or expanding your craft or art business, you may not know if you’re really ready for prime time. You may have had some success at small shows, or selling to friends and relatives. But will your creations sell in a competitive venue, and at a correct price? Sometimes, we underprice our products because we want them to sell better, to boost our ego, or because we just want to make our creations available to people without a lot of money. If we don’t take into account the cost of marketing, it is easy to be underpriced. It’s also common to have built our confidence in our products upon friends’ flattery, and not know for sure if the rest of the world will hold it in such high regard!

I have found that partnering with a reliable retailer or craft gallery is a terrific way to find out if my product is marketable and at what price. You need to select a gallery you feel you can trust. Explain that you are trying to test the market, and ask if they would be willing to give you a try. It is crucial to make sure that the gallery you choose is selling to the market you want to approach. If so, they can give you some guidelines before you even start, to let you know whether you’re on the right track. Work with them on how to display your work. They may have some ideas you’ve not thought of, or if you’ve sold at shows, you might lend them a fixture.

Once they have decided that they are willing to try your product, make sure you have a good agreement in writing. Be clear how the sales price will be split, and how often you will be paid. Check in frequently to find out what is selling and what may not be working. You don’t want to be a pest, so don’t call every day. Perhaps every two or three weeks would be good; ask them what they prefer. Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask them. What is selling and what isn’t? How do customers seem to be reacting to your product? Is the size or price point or color appropriate for the market you are trying to reach? Have there been any issues about quality?

If you don’t want to do consignment, there’s another way to make it safe for the gallery to take a chance on your work. I call it “One Time Net 30 or Return.” Emphasize that you are not doing this in perpetuity. They will try, but stand firm! At the end of the 30 days, they must pay for what has sold, and then either keep and pay for the remainder, or return what they don’t want to you. Of course you may feel okay about consignment. I’ve always felt it was too easy to lose track of what was where.

Build upon what you learn. Refine the work so it does well for them (and you!) Then, you can say with confidence to the next customer that your work is tested. You know that:

  • The price works
  • These items sell!
  • The display functions well
  • You have the colors/sizes/shapes that appeal to the end user
  • You have sold to XYZ gallery so they can see you’re not (quite) a beginner!

I have used this technique frequently when trying out a new product line, selecting a favorite gallery to test it for me. It’s a win-win!


Patti Dowse is a highly experienced craftsperson with many years of wholesaling behind her. She has been a popular speaker, writer and consultant in the crafts industry.


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