I get a lot of questions from artists who want to sell their work to shops. Like, A LOT.
But you might not know that.
You might think you’re the only one struggling with your particular problem. You might think that everyone else is merrily collecting stockists, making heaps of money and being taken out to lunch at The Ivy. So I thought you might like a peek at the kind of questions I get and the kind of information I offer to clients and students.
If you’re struggling with the same issue, you get a lovely free answer.
And if you have a different problem, you can see the kind of detailed answers I give and safely expect Indie Retail Academy to take care of your question in the same way. Sound good?
Okay. Here’s the question, from Emily.
I’m finding that a lot of the stores I approach about my work are only interested in sale or return (or consignment.)
They clearly like my work, but they don’t seem keen on buying it upfront. These retailers only want sale or return. I’ve read your posts on this topic and have decided that to start making money, I need to get paid when I hand over the goods – not if and when it sells in the store. I really REALLY want to see my stuff in shops, but I seem to be hitting a brick wall on this. What can I do?
First, let’s look at things from the perspective of the retailers you’ve been approaching.
We’re now, hopefully, at the tail-end of the worst recession in living memory. Customers have less disposable income, and when they do buy something they’re now spending less than they used to.
Times have been incredibly hard for independent shops, especially in the gift and home industries, and huge numbers have gone out of business. If a retailer’s managed to ride that out, there’s a good chance they’ve done so by becoming incredibly cautious. In short, they’ve probably been very frightened for their shop at some point since 2009.
Seriously, deeply frightened that they’d have to close.
That they’d lose their savings – or even their house. That they’d have to let trusted members of staff go. That everyone would know they couldn’t make it work.
Their store has survived, for now, but you can be certain that they don’t ever, ever, want to feel like that again. So how do they keep their shop safe?
By minimising every risk they can.
And don’t forget that buying your work is a risk.
The retailer has no guarantee that your lovely thing will sell in her shop. Sure, she might have a good feeling about it, but if the last few years have taught her anything, it’s that good feelings don’t pay the rent. And so she says she only willing to work on a sale or return basis.
The more you can see things from the retailer’s point of view, the better – but everything hinges on what you do now.
The way I see it, you have three options.
You can agree to sale or return. You can walk away. Or you can take control of the situation. Guess which one I’m backing.
I’m assuming you’ve done your homework and you know for a fact that the stores you’re approaching are likely to be very interested in stocking your stuff.
If that’s the case, and you really want to work with this store, here are two things you can do.
1. Say no to sale or return but have wholesale terms and conditions which are very retailer-friendly.
You know the buyer is risk-averse so offer things that reduce her risk. No minimum order, for example. If you make it so a retailer doesn’t have to spend a set amount to get your stuff on her shelves, she’s going to be seriously into that.
A low, or no, minimum order substantially lowers her risk. She can dip her toe in the water and see how your work sells before making a big commitment.
There are lots more incentives you can add on top, but for a wary retailer, your minimum order can be a seriously big carrot.
2. Offer sale or return, but on your terms.
I think sale or return works best when the artist takes charge. You’re the one with the lovely thing to sell, so you call the shots. So you’d say something like:
“I’d be happy to offer sale or return, but for a limited period of X weeks. After that, we’ll either cheerfully part company or switch to wholesale-only. If that sounds good, here’s my sale or return agreement for you to check over and sign.”
This way, the retailer still gets to do some cautious toe-dipping, but in a way that’s tightly controlled by you.
Are you thinking “But what do I do if I’ve already got sale or return stockists and I want to switch to wholesale-only?” I’ve got you covered too (and I wrote a script template for you.)
In this case, you’d choose a date to go wholesale-only, about six weeks ahead. Then you’d get in touch with your stockists to tell them about the switch. No apologies necessary. You just calmly say what’s happening.
Next you’d ask them to look over the stock they currently hold, decide what they’d like to keep and what they’d like to return. Then you send them an invoice for the stuff that’s staying and instructions on how to return the rest.
As long as you build in enough time and energy for the administrative side of things, there’s no reason for it to be a nightmare.
Sure, you might lose some existing stockists along the way, but so what? If they don’t want to keep your stuff, it’s not selling well in that store anyway.
There are retailers out there who will hug themselves with glee when they find you. Retailers who are only too glad to pay upfront. Seriously.
By clearing out the dead wood, you’re making space for them to come in.
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