Friday, May 28, 2010

Wholesale: It's not as scary as you think

When artists start out in wholesale most are afraid that they’ll suddenly get overwhelmed with orders and won’t be able to fill them all. This is the concern I hear most often from beginner friends and students. Don't worry! Just take a deep breath and relax. I'm about to tell you about a simple tool that will ease your worries and help you manage your schedule. It's called a production calendar. Your production calendar is the key to preventing overload, show panic, and most importantly late orders.
To create your production calendar you'll first need to figure out how much you can comfortably produce in one week, taking into consideration how many hours you want to work as well as the time you need to keep up with all the other aspects of your business. How many hours do you realistically have to devote to production? How much time do you need to do bookkeeping, pack orders, make phone calls, do paperwork, update your website, etc, etc? You may want to take a month to track how much work you can comfortably produce in that time and then average it out.
You can calculate your weekly quota by dollar amount, by number of pieces or number of orders. Then, using that weekly production goal you can pretty easily figure out what you can ship each week and each day. Some people designate only certain days of the week for shipping, some allow a certain amount of time each day to get orders shipped. This is totally up to you.

Okay, now you have something concrete to work with! Here's the next step:
When you go to a show, bring your production calendar marked with all the orders you already have scheduled as well as any days you’ll be closed, out of town at a show or unable to ship for any reason. As you take each order you'll ask for the date the buyer needs it, and then write the name of the store on the day it’s scheduled to ship. When you reach your limit for that day, consider it closed. If another buyer asks for that ship date simply explain that it's full and show them the calendar and the dates you have available. Together you'll find another time and schedule it in. Handmade buyers are used to this, and are happy to work with you. This is how you manage your work load.
Above you'll see one of my old production calendars. I can comfortably ship 6 -10 orders a day. But when I'm at a show once any given calendar day has 4-5 orders on it I consider it full in order to allow openings for reorders that come in from my regular customers. This way I can insure that I will never be overloaded.

Production is easy to manage if you are doing online sales. You are not going to be slammed with orders the first week you sell on a wholesale site. It just doesn't happen that way. But at a show they fill up quickly because you are writing a lot of orders in just a few days. Don’t worry if your production calendar fills up. That's a good thing! It’s perfectly acceptable to tell a buyer your calendar is full and that the first open date is weeks or even months away. Some artists schedule production 6 months or more ahead of time. You can offer to write a back up order and/or put the store on a waiting list and call them if you get cancellations or have some time open up.
One word of warning: If you schedule an order for a certain date, ship it on that date. If something comes up and you get behind, don't worry, it happens to all of us now and then. But please, don't delay the order hoping your buyer won't notice. Call them, explain and negotiate a new ship date. You've made an agreement and you're a professional. Your buyer depends on you to be good to your word and will appreciate the call. I promise.
A full calendar shouldn't scare you if you've planned it well, and it won't scare your buyers away, either. It's a good thing to have your work be in high demand, it only makes it that much more desirable. When you have a waiting list it's a sign of success. Don't forget that most people who appreciate what you do understand that you make each piece by hand. In fact this is one of the reasons they love it. They know you are not a factory! 
So breathe easy, you are in control of how many orders you take and how much work you do each week. You'll come to love seeing a full calendar - it means you've got work to do and your bills are paid.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Wholesale Jury - what you need to know

Thinking about getting into wholesale or doing your first wholesale show? I'm going to give you some tips that could make all the difference in whether or not you're accepted to a website like or a wholesale show.
Although there are similarities, jurying for wholesale is a little different than for a retail show. Jurors not only want to see your work, but we need to see that you are experienced or at least ready for wholesale, know what you're doing and who you are. A jury wants to see that you have a cohesive line (see the post below), proven sellers, that your work is priced well for the market, that you are
not underselling your buyers, and that your terms are reasonable and that you
have had some experience
selling your work. Many will also want to see your catalog, website, and all of your printed materials to be sure they look professional.
It helps immensely if you've been selling successfully at retail at shows and/or online for some time. In fact I'd even say it's necessary (even if it's not required). This experience is important because store owners need you to tell them your best sellers, to know that your prices are appropriate and fair, and even in many cases to suggest ways to effectively display your work. If you haven't test marketed your work how can a buyer be confident that it sells? How can you? The last thing you want to do is sell work to a store and then have it sit there for months. That store will most likely never order from you again and you've ruined what might have been a long term relationship with a buyer because you didn't do your homework.
For most wholesale shows you'll be asked to list your suppliers (to prove you really make your work by hand) and your best wholesale accounts (to show you have at least a little experience). You'll also be asked to list your terms. If you don't know what terms are or how they work, terms are your requirements for ordering and payment as well as your turnaround time (how long a buyer should expect to wait before you can ship). These terms will appear in writing on any printed material as well as on your website.
If you list unreasonable terms, such as deposits on orders or all orders paid in advance, it will be clear you don't understand the wholesale relationship and your application will probably be denied. Read a book, talk to experienced friends, or hire a consultant for an hour, but learn the basics of wholesale and how it works before you jump into it. You can also look at other artist’s wholesale catalogs and websites to see how they post their terms. I will post on how to determine your terms in the future - you might want to watch for it.
As always, images are key - especially when you are applying to sell online on a site like As a juror, when I see amateur photos I assume you are an amateur artist. Keep in mind, on a website full of beautiful work from all over the country you have but seconds to stand out among the rest. Your images are all you have. Buyers can tell if you are a professional in one glance. And why wouldn't you want to show your work at it's best? (Read the last post below for tips on images.)
Another common mistake we see in jurying for wholesale is pricing. Your wholesale price should be at least half, and preferably less than half of your retail price. Artists tend to forget that buyers have a lot of expenses, from rent & utilities to staff, display, advertising and much more. They will need to at least double your wholesale prices to make a profit. Many stores will mark up 2.25% to 2.75%. Competing with your buyers by underselling them is a total no-no in the world of wholesale and the fastest way to lose an account.
Any smart buyer will check our your retail website before they order from you. Your wholesale buyers are investing in your work and it is critical that you respect them and that they know they can trust you. Every account has the potential to become a profitable and long-term relationship and it's not worth it to try and fool them. Savvy buyers and jurors will look for you online, on Etsy and other similar sites.
If you follow these simple tips you'll be one step ahead of everyone else. If you have more questions about getting into wholesale feel free to email me. You might also want to sign up for my mailing list - I do offer consulting and classes.
And if you haven't yet, don't forget to subscribe to my Hot Tips Newsletter. Every month I send out great free tips and links to resources for artists, from new apps, to places to sell your work, great sales on art supplies and much, much more! Here's a link to the latest issue.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

I spent this morning jurying applicants to as well as for the American Craft Retailers Expo. If you ask jurors for any show or website, they'll tell you most people make the same mistakes, so I'm going to give you some tips to help you be one step ahead next time:
First of all: Jurors want to see a line of similar work - not a felted belt with glass earrings and a quilted pillow. You need to show us a line that represents who you are in a cohesive collection. If you can't do that you're probably not ready to sell your work, and you're definitely not ready for wholesale.
Considering that artists are visual people, I'm shocked that so many don't realize how important photography is. Everyone wants to think that their work will speak for itself, but here's the thing: jurors can't pick up your work to look closer, turn it over, see the detail, or move it to see how it catches the light. We have only the image you give us and we have hundreds to look at so you don't get much time to impress us. You owe it to yourself to make that image the best you can.
  • PLEASE, do not send images that are out of focus. I constantly shake my head in amazement at how many artists send in fuzzy images, or images taken from so far away we can barely tell what we're looking at. Most jurying is done on the web now, so remember your images will be small and we can't zoom in on them to see them better.
  • Do not send images taken on a busy background. We don't need to see your work placed prettily on branches, your work in baskets or birds nests, or your work on wrinkled fabric or sitting in the grass or on a rock. We just want to see your work. We want to see it with no distraction or competition.
  • We want to see your work close up, well it, with no shadows and no props. We want your work to speak for itself and speak clearly and brightly. The best background is a graduated background (shown below). There is a reason most professionals use it - it works.
This is the image I first used for my magnets:
Not bad, right? Most people think this is fine. And many people send in much worse. But here's what Jerry Anthony did for me:
What a difference! In this image the magnets pop, glow and float off the page. They don't look like a DIY project, they look much classier and way more valuable.
When it comes to photography, this is NOT the place to pinch pennies. Your images are one of the most important tools you have to sell and promote your work. If you are not an expert it will be worth every cent you spend to hire one. It probably doesn't cost as much as you think, and a good image will make your work look it's best, shine above the rest and tell a jury you're professional and know what you're doing.
I'll talk more about jurying soon. Next time - jurying for a wholesale website.