So you’re doing it. You navigated the weirdness and learned what it takes to be a successful Art or Craft Show Vendor, peddling your Handmade Goods to the masses.
But as you spend time between Shows, putting your product images and details online in your free web page because you learned – either ahead of time or the hard way – that Etsy and other pay-to-play sites are a waste of your time and profits, you start to wonder what it might be like to see YOUR Handmade products on display in an actual brick-and-mortar.
You remember those, don’t you? Although in this some-day post-Covid world, maybe those have gone the way of the DoDo. Well if they have, then this entire article could be moot, but go ahead, amuse yourself by reading it anyway.
Having “Been there, Done That and learned a lot” we have a few pointers for you to keep in mind when exploring this idea.
Those of us who live the gypsy life of the Art Show Vendor often pride ourselves in NOT being for sale in a brick and mortar. What we’re really saying is we’re glad to be mobile and free and not the OWNER of a brick and mortar. Truth be told, if someone else has a few bricks and a nice little shop, we would jump at the chance to slap our products on those shelves and split a few bucks with you.
Seriously. The Velvet Zebra is always looking for a new little quirky shop or shop owner to take a fancy and want our products on their shelves. For a few years, as we were realizing the popularity of our Chainmaille jewelry and designs, we would spend our Vendor Down Time contemplating the idea. We read articles, did research, but damn it wasn’t nearly as simple as those magazine stories kept suggesting.
“Create an elevator pitch” they said. “Bring samples” they said. “Find shops that seem likely to carry what you sell” they said “Be persistent,” they said. “Follow up with managers,” they said.
What we heard was “Annoy strangers to the point of them not wanting to see you in their store ever again.”
Seriously, unless Sales is your life-long passion, it’s not a simple thing to walk into a cute little niche store that you admire or enjoy, then basically pester the manager about carrying your products when they likely don’t even have the power to say Yes anyway because little did you know, they’re owned by a larger group that has no intention of talking to you.
If you love that, super. Do it, then tell them you know of a great Chainmaille company that is also available!
If you hate that as much as we do, it’s gonna be harder. And being hard doesn’t mean you don’t believe in your product or that you lack the conviction required to back your own workmanship and produce a viable Handmade product. It just means you’re not good at that kind of confrontation. And don’t kid yourself, selling YOU to a stranger who hasn’t asked for your pitch or your notions of greatness is a form of confrontation.
Galleries are another story – easier to get in based on the fact that the nature of most galleries is to carry Art from locals – but it’s still not a sure thing. They have to have openings, your prodct has to be a good fit, and there are rules and such you may or may not be on board with.
First we’ll confess that for us, our introduction into Galleries was a fluke, and likely not to happen again as luck would have it.
One day, after a few years of wondering, researching, reading and deciding that trying to blindly sell ourselves to shop owners wasn’t in the cards, as we were sitting in our booth at our favorite yearly summer Art Show, it happened. Now, keep in mind it didn’t happen to just US, they were visiting the Art Show on purpose, selecting such Art as they deemed appropriate.
The manager of a gallery right there in town came to us with an offer, and a contract, to join their gallery. They’d had a Chainmaille artist for a few years, but his products were too expensive and therefore not bringing in any sales. He wanted out, and they wanted us.
Being wholly unfamiliar with Gallery-joining, we showed that contract to a fellow vendor at the show, one we trusted and knew were also in galleries. When they examined the terms and assured us it was a stellar contract, one they would have signed immediately had they been offered, we decided it might be worthwhile. The day after the show closed, we took samples and had a discussion with the gallery owners, and by that next weekend made our first delivery.
Thus began a 3-1/2 year adventure full of ups, downs, and frankly quite a lot of sales. Unfortunately, the Gallery owners were bat-shit crazy and eventually divorced and lost the business. Until that point, we enjoyed rather impressive sales but were frustrated by the lack of diversity.
We don’t mean cultural diversity. The woman in charge of picking products only liked “Earth Tones” of her choosing. She wanted only certain shades of Blue, Green, Brown, Red, Black and Silver. Anyone familiar with our work knows we enjoy COLOR. And our clients enjoy our use of color as well. But for this gallery, we could only work in those tones. We believe, had she allowed the inclusion of ALL of our color choices, we would have sold even more.
While our product was in this Gallery, the owner of another Gallery contacted us about also displaying in her shop, in Colorado. We made a large wholesale to her up front, but after a year it became too difficult to manage an out-of-state relationship and we pulled out.
At the time of the divorce and the Gallery closing, we were happy to leave. The relationship was changing, the terms were changing, and we were pretty angry. But now we’re feeling the emptiness and wishing we could get back into a Gallery or Shop.
So now you’re wondering why we’re telling you this, and not giving you the promised advice. Never fear!
Whether a Shop or a Gallery, if you’re putting your Handmade goods into someone else’s business, there are going to be terms to deal with. Terms that can benefit you, them, or both, but only if you’re careful.
Clearly the Gallery or Shop needs to make money carrying your Products, that’s a given and easily understood. Even more clearly, YOU need to make money, as the Artist supplying the Products. Neither of you wants to get screwed over, so you’ll want clear expectations regarding your profits, terms and expectations.
The Terms we agreed to were a 60/40 split, with no exit penalty and a 30-day notice of cancellation.
What that meant was for every dollar made, we kept .60 cents, they took .40 cents and if we ever walked into the Gallery and said we wanted out, they would give us all remaining unsold pieces and we could just leave. And if they didn’t want us any longer, they had to let us know 30 days in advance of us picking up our unsold pieces.
At 60/40 we were able to still make a profit after subtracting our cost of materials and the Gallery’s 40%. We had to adjust our picing slightly but at the time we had been undercutting ourselves a bit, and our Gallery sales were proof that our pricing was in line with the norms and our clients acceptability.
Clearly the Gallery deserved earning 40% of our sales because they were running the Gallery, they were paying the rent, they were processing the sales, and they were managing the taxes. When the second Gallery came along, since they were in Colorado and we aren’t, we made a large Wholesale deal with them, then using the same terms, arranged to give them inventory when needed to take to Colorado. Unfortunately being so far away it became too difficult to manage and we cancelled that arraignment a year later.
When the divorce came to a head, and the Gallery we were in began having issues, the owner decided it was time to alter the Terms. He wanted to do a 50/50 spit. It was that point we packed up and left. Three months later, they were closed, divorced and history.
So now you’re thinking “But, I mean, 50/50, that can’t be so bad, right?”
Remember you’re the Artist. YOU have to buy the supplies that go in to the making of your Product, and spend your time making the Product. So at 50/50, you will NEVER make more money than the Gallery. If you don’t make more than the Gallery, you’re just an employee working for THEM.
If you spend $20 to make, say, a felted hat. Never mind the time and effort and artistry it takes, you are immediately in the red for $20. You take that felted hat and give it to a Gallery, priced to sell at say $100 just to make it simple. Now it sells and the Gallery keeps it’s 50%, which for this felted had equals $50 bucks, and they give you your 50%, which is also $50 bucks.
But YOU started out $20 in the hole, remember, because YOU were the one who paid for the yarn that you made the felted hat with. So your profit is only $30.00. It’s easy to forget that before you can count any profit you have to take into account all debt..
For a second you think “Oh, just add another $20 and sell the hat for $120” Doesn’t matter. You still get 50% of $120 and have to subtract that $20 you spent. So at 50/50 split, you will never make more than the Gallery, and you won’t even make the same amount, because you will always be the one buying supplies and starting in the hole before any sale.
The gallery we were in was just your standard, average Gallery, owned by a person (or couple) who filled it with Art from local Artists that they found appealing. There is another type of Gallery out there – known as a Co-Op – that you’ll find a little easier to get in with, but the Terms are vastly different and might not appeal to you, the same way they do not appeal to us.
Being a Co-OP Gallery means it is operated by the very Artists whose work is displayed inside. In order to operate, they rely on the Artist participation and membership. This does not in any way reduce the quality of the Gallery or the Art found inside. But it does add a layer to the usual Terms.
If you want your Art in a Co-OP Gallery, you’ll have to be willing to commit 2-3 days a week, or some number of hours per week or per month, working IN that Gallery. Also you’ll likely be expected to purchase a membership that will renew yearly, which can be anywhere between $60 and $800. So on top of giving the Gallery a good percentage of your profits after every sale, you’ll be working as a sales cleark several hours a week (you don’t get paid for that, remember) and before you make a single sale of your own Art, you’ll be out not just your supplies and time, but also that $60 to maybe $800. Some of them even charge a “rental” of whatever shelf or floor space your Art will occupy.
It’s the in-store version of an online sink-hole, wherein your are out a LOT of money up front, and have to give up a LOT of your own time, before you’ve made a single sale. That Gallery might be fantastic and you might sell tons, but keep in mind you aren’t profitable until you’ve paid the debts incurred first.
The Velvet Zebra have day jobs. Essential-Worker day jobs that pay quite well, provide retirement and health insurance, and cannot be tossed aside so that we could work for free in a gallery 3 days a week to sell Art made my ourselves and others. And reading these Articles, you already know how we feel about paying out sums of money prior to making any sales.
HOWEVER – if this idea appeals to you, and you’re okay with Terms like that – then by all means go ahead. You might find working there very fullfilling, even though- again – you don’t get paid to work there. You working there is part of your agreed upon Terms, and being a Co-Op Gallery that’s how they keep the lights on. Just remember, having your Art in a Co-Op Gallery is NO LESS amazing, fun and Fancy-As-All-Hell than being in any other Gallery.
It’s just different. With different Terms.
We’re always on the lookout for another Gallery. Maybe someday we’ll find one with Terms we can agree with and the same success we enjoyed before. Maybe someday a small Shop owner will approach us about putting our products on their shelves.
It nearly happened one day, as we were shopping around one of our favorite little towns. Simply by wearing our product, we caught the eye of the shop owner’s wife who asked for our card and website to show her husband. We were intrigued, and a little hopeful, but that husband never contacted us. Just as well, as a few years later he went under.
In the meantime, Covid-be-damned, we’ll do our Summer Art Show, and hopefully one we wanted to try before Covid closed them all. We’ll continued to sell on our own Webpage (right here where you’re reading this) and we’ll continued to Chain-on until our fingers fall off !
And while you’re waiting to see if all the good Art and Craft Shows will come back this year, you can hang around here for more good Tips and Tricks to get your booth and your gypsy lifestyle started out right!
Check out our next Article: Displays and Set-Ups, the DIY-Of-It-All !