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Arts Business Institute Understanding Wholesale Better

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Original Post

This morning, a new article appeared on the Arts Business Institute blog, called
"What's Better for Your Art Business Wholesale or Retail Shows?

It can be viewed here www.artsbusinessinstitute.org/blog/wholesale-or-retail-art-shows/

I wanted to bring this to your attention because it addresses a couple of issues that can benefit artists and craftspeople through wholesale selling:

Sales Potential
Inventories
Stability

Have you started your foray into wholesaling? We have another thread going on this topic. Many people that I work with personally are on their journey into this type of doing business because they want to grow. It can be perplexing at first, but there are definite steps to doing it right.

What's your opinion? What works better for you - Wholesale or Retail shows?

Posted at 7:54 am May 9, 2012 EDT

Responses

Coco from CocoBags says

I have never, until now, considered wholesale. I don't seem to do well at retail shows and wholesaling appears a little more attractive now. However, My concern for wholesaling would be finding reliable suppliers for your product components. What if you sell something wholesale and are not able to meet deadlines etc. because of supply problems?

Posted at 8:40 am May 9, 2012 EDT

Hi Coco, thanks for responding. You will need supplies, of course (which you should be purchasing at wholesale if possible). The best strategy is to have a couple of resources. Contact potential suppliers and get a feel for their inventory levels, turnaround time and dependability. Have a backup vendor if you need to.

As a wholesaler for twenty years, I rarely if ever ran into supply problems. Every business is different, but I didn't see that as a huge concern. Have you experienced problems with your suppliers in the past?

Posted at 8:55 am May 9, 2012 EDT

Coco from CocoBags says

So far I have been making only one or two of each of my bags, so supply wasn't a real problem. There was one time when I did run out of the felting material I use and had to stop sewing for almost a month because my supplier had discontinued that product and had to scramble around to find an acceptable substitute

However,my main concern would be for the exterior fabrics.( after all that is what sells) My suppliers cannot guarantee bolts of a particular fabric at a given time. And I can't book/buy my bolts in advance of selling my bags....

The same would apply for my jewelry shop. I don't know how to make it work for wholesaling jewelry

Posted at 9:23 am May 9, 2012 EDT

I have wanted to try to market something in bulk, but a quilt can take months to make dependent upon it's size. I'm wanting to stay in the production I'm good at and to keep quality over quantity, but it isn't making the kind of money I want at the time investment I'm putting in. I have been struggling with ideas that will work, that stay within my standards, and that will appeal to a wholesale market. One idea I've been toying with will cause me to branch out and hire another person or contract out to bring it to a point that it can be mass produced. Then it stops being a handmade product.

Carolyn, can ooak items, like a quilt or an original piece of art be wholesaled? Is it even a possibility to be considered? I guess my question really is, will a retailer purchase a lot of ooak items that can not or will not ever be duplicated without the ability to get that same item again?

Posted at 9:36 am May 9, 2012 EDT

Coco, because it is the nature of the fabric you use to fluctuate, you could select colorways and offer a variety of patterns in them. When taking orders, let prospective customers know that, for instance, if they wanted to choose turquoise, that the fabric would be one of the similar colors/patterns that you show them.

Store buyers are aware that this happens. Don't feel hamstrung because you can't get an exact fabric anymore. Retailers usually buy selections. They like a style of purse, and take it in a couple of colors, to make a nice display. Take a variety of swatches with you, and show them. The point of the sale is more that they like your work and want your products. It would be rare to see a buyer absolutely stuck on one fabric unless your conversation with them indicated this.

Another consideration to keep in mind is that designers are always bringing in new merchandise, so you will want to move on with fabrics. This can be promoted as a benefit to the retailer - that each re-order they place can include some new fresh patterns that they haven't carried yet. That's a plus because that's what shoppers and store owners want - something new!

Posted at 9:40 am May 9, 2012 EDT

Coco from CocoBags says

Carolyn, your input has been very encouraging! I see wholesaling in a whole new light now.

Posted at 10:49 am May 9, 2012 EDT

Yesterday I met with another store owner in the neighboring town of Jacksonville. The meeting went well! I now have two stores carrying my jewelry. There is interest in my lighting as well. I'm noticing a better response in dealing with people in person. A combo of wholesaling and consignment seem to be working for me at this time, and it would seem that my time is better spent outside of Etsy! This is all new to me, so time will tell. Carolyn, I enjoy your newsletter and wanted to say thanks for the encouraging words!

Posted at 12:52 pm May 9, 2012 EDT

Thank you, John - I'm really pleased that you've taken the plunge and you now have two wholesale accounts. You will find that as time goes by this gets easier, and that you also develop ways to streamline your operation to make production more efficient and profitable.

Posted at 7:38 pm May 9, 2012 EDT

Carolyn Edlund says
Edited on May 9, 2012

Leah, you mentioned that your quilts cannot be offered at wholesale and be profitable. This is a very common issue with fiber artists and quilters, so other ways of selling may suit your quilts.

I noticed that you also make bags and smaller items with quilted fabric. My suggestion to you is that you look into ways that you can design a wholesale line of smaller or less complex items that would work. This involves product development at the wholesale level, which I always found worked for me rather than trying to cut a price in half and see if you could make that profitable.

It's not unusual for artists to have several bodies of work, some that can be wholesaled and some that is not. You should devise a system of working so that you can work in steps and batches and make the best use of your time.

Do not think that if you hire an assistant in your business that it isn't a handmade product - because it is! I had 3-5 assistants in my studio, and we all worked together. This is normal for studios that are growing, and successful. Ditto with designing and having contractors work on your product. Jewelers regularly send work out for casting, finishing and other steps to be done. In fact, I know one woman who has a great pewter jewelry line and pretty much has all of her line made by a contractor. She exhibits at wholesale craft shows, and spends most of her time in sales and admin now.

You also asked about wholesaling OOAK. It can be done, but is not usually as profitable as production work.

Posted at 7:45 pm May 9, 2012 EDT

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