Getting your work into a store is one of those benchmark goals for a lot of small indie designers and makers. It’s so exciting when a shop-owner says they like your work enough to sell it! Positive affirmation plus you can widen your exposure to customers and get more sales? What’s not to love!
Sad truth: depending on how you go about it, plenty.
I’ve had my work carried in stores located all over California and the experience has taught me a lot.
The most common “selling to stores” scenario for new jewelry designers is probably consignment. You agree to lend the shop’s owner your creations and they agree to lend you space in their store. When your work sells, they pay you a percentage and keep a percentage to cover their costs. The benefit to the shop-owner is that they aren’t tying up liquid capital on inventory. They can present a well-stocked store with less financial risk. If your work doesn’t sell, they can return it to you, without having to take a tax loss or being stuck with it at year’s end. The plus side for you is that you are getting exposure to a wider market than you might otherwise have had. The time where someone else is selling your work is time you can be in your studio or doing other things. On the downside, you’re only making 50%-60% of whatever the piece sold for and your inventory is tied up so that you can’t sell it in your own shop for top dollar. If you haven’t priced your work to compensate for this, you can actually lose money on the sale. That’s not great for growing your business.
Consignment is a two way street. You’re in it together. The shop owner is trusting that you will provide them with quality merchandise that will result in happy, repeat customers for their store. You, in turn, are trusting that the shop-owner will do a good job of merchandising and promoting your work. It can be very frustrating to find your work poorly displayed, tarnished and dirty, or thrown haphazardly in a dusty case. Every single one of those scenarios has happened to me! It’s even more frustrating when you have to chase down shop owners so that you can get them to pay you. It’s no fun to feel like the bad guy. The force of the desire to never experience that, ever again, is strong in this one.
True Story: when I owned the Night Market at Crafted I was always a few days late when I was paying my artists. I was overwhelmed and swamped with tasks and it was easy to make excuses for myself. I thought “well, it was only X days late, that’s fine, they know I’m good for it.” Mostly it was fine, and I was good for it. The artists didn’t complain, though I am very sure they didn’t love it. But as long as it was “fine”, I had no incentive to change. Then one day, about 4 months in, when I was “just a few days late” yet again, one jewelry artist called me on it. I was humiliated and angry, but the experience really drove home an important point. Plain and simple, you need to pay up when you said you’d pay. People may say it’s ok when you don’t, but it really isn’t.
Having seen it from both sides of the ledger, I do try to give my store accounts the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to freak out when a payment is a little late but I really go off the rails when “you’ll have the check this week” slowly stretches out into a long wait for checks that never come. It’s a horrible feeling and frankly, it just doesn’t have to happen.
You’re not “just” an artist. If you are selling your work, then you’re a business owner and that means it’s your job to make sure you get paid. You are not doing yourself or the shop owner a favor if you let it slide again and again.
These are things that are really important for you to consider if you’re going to be consigning your work.
1. Eyeball a store when you go in to talk to them about a consignment arrangement. Shop there once or twice as a customer beforehand so you can get a feel for the place. If you don’t like what you see, if they’re rude or something seems off, if displays are dirty or work isn’t nicely merchandised then let it go. It’s folly to think they’ll change for you.
2. Stay on top of your paperwork and keep it up to date. Know what inventory you have out in which stores. Keep track of what has sold, for how much, and if you have been paid for it. I won’t lie, when I had my store? Making those sold inventory lists for each artist once a month was a pain in my ass. I hated it. I was tired on Sunday nights and I wanted to chill with some Game of Thrones, not stay up late doing books and spreadsheets for the weekend sales at Crafted. Well boo hoo. It was my job to make sure people got paid on time. I couldn’t exactly say, “Sorry, Joffrey was being a super compelling jerk, there was a cliffhanger, George RR Martin is an evil genius and that’s why your check is late.” when payday rolled around.
3. Be upfront about what you expect. A consignment contract is an opportunity for negotiation. I know that you’re excited and it feels like they believe in you and they’re doing you a favor by carrying your widgets! True fact: they aren’t. It’s a business arrangement. You can find sample consignment contracts for free online.
4. Keep a copy of your contract where you can find it quickly. Preferably with an up to date inventory sheet and store contact info.
5. When providing your own displays, list them on your inventory sheet. Mark them and make it clear that you expect them to be used for your work only. True story: Once I stopped into a gallery that carried my work and found my $65 linen bust displaying someone else’s necklace while my beautiful, high-end, sterling and gemstone creation languished flat on a dusty tabletop.
6. Ask around your local art community before you sign on with someone. You’ll find out pretty quickly if a shop owner has a bad reputation for problems with artist/vendors. That information can save you trouble later down the line. I have a few “Gosh I wish I’d listened…” scenarios in my own consignment history.
7. If you have problems with a store, speak up right away. Don’t wait. Start with polite but firm and work from there. The worst thing that can happen is the store won’t carry you anymore or that you will decide to pull your work. Either way, it won’t be the end of the world, I promise you.
Hold out for stores that meet your expectations and nurture those relationships when you’ve built them. They are worth their weight in gold!
What is it Captain Mal says in Firefly? “I do the job. I get paid.” Artists, you did the job. You deserve to get paid. If you choose to consign, work with people who think integrity is important and remember that you are a partner in the process.