How to find and sell to stores and galleries that buy crafts
For craft sales, the direct approach is the fastest way to get your work into stores or galleries. In many cities, I have had good results simply walking into a store and introducing myself to the owner or manager.
I explain that I’m a fiber artist and ask if they are interested in looking at a few pieces of my work. Almost all of the time, they will look right then.
If you only call, it’s easy for them to say "No" over the phone. But once you’re standing in front of them, they ask, "Do you have any pieces with you?" Never walk in with your pieces - unless you are wearing something - because it doesn't show respect for the store manager and comes across as unprofessional.
Unless you have a specific appointment, avoid approaching stores on a Monday, Friday, or weekend. The best times are mornings in the middle of the week. Store owners are too busy or too tired in the afternoon, and they are often gone on weekends. The bigger the shop, the more likely they will want to make an appointment for another day. Stay flexible enough to work with their time frame. Never attempt to push your schedule on them.
If you’re going to travel to sell to stores, send an introductory letter, brochure, photos, and a sample of your work ahead of time. Call about a week to ten days after you send the packet to confirm that it was received and set up an appointment.
More tips to successfully approaching stores:
If you make clothing, jewelry, or accessories, wear something you’ve made. The feedback you receive from store buyers is an excellent way to find out about pieces you should be making.
Don’t be late or early. If you don’t show up on time, what will they imagine about delivery of your products? If you get there before they’re ready for you, you will likely cause irritation.
Before leaving crafts, check over your sample pieces for dust, cracks, open seams, scratches, wrinkles, and the presence of labels. Carry a small tool kit for repairing minor damages.
Have your price lists, brochures, and business cards ready to give out. You also will need photos of your work and samples. Brochures are expensive, but they say ‘professional’. See Chapter 11 of The Basic Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts for more on promotional material.
Find an attractive display bag or suitcase for carrying your work into stores. Cardboard boxes and garbage bags present a poor image. I created a very nice looking travel bag out of tapestry fabric for protecting my woven clothing.
Build a relationship with the owner
Personalizing the relationship with the owner is an important part of building a wholesale business. It creates a comfortable feeling on both sides. It also helps when it comes to getting paid. If you have a positive rapport with an owner, they’ll be more prompt with payment of invoices.
You may not have to look far to find wholesale accounts. It’s inevitable that you will be approached by store owners at craft shows looking for new merchandise. After an owner or buyer approaches you at an event, follow up by giving them a phone call to say thanks for stopping at your booth.
Make an appointment to meet with the owner and give a presentation. A good store account can provide steady sales for a long time. After establishing wholesale accounts, keep in touch with them. Sales will increase when you make more personal visits or telephone calls with the owners.
Once I drove to Boulder, Colorado to check out a crafts shop on the advice of another artist I had met in Santa Fe. He was one of the jurors for an artist’s cooperative gallery in Boulder. The size of the gallery, its annual sales, and location looked appealing.
The amount of weaving on display, however, discouraged us - six or seven local weavers were represented with a substantial inventory of scarves, clothing, rag rugs, and wall hangings.
A few storefronts away, I noticed a shop that sold Santa Fe style crafts and gifts. I went in and found a variety of moderately expensive southwestern arts and crafts similar to those selling in New Mexico, but no weaving.
I was about to leave, when I suddenly thought to try to sell the owner on the idea of carrying my work which fit in well with her existing crafts.
She was interested, but only if I would leave pieces on consignment. Though I preferred to sell outright, I was anxious to test this market. And I had driven eight hours to get there!
After we settled on terms and signed a consignment agreement, I left six pieces. In the first month, nothing sold. Being busy with shows and other projects, I let it go for a few weeks more. At the end of two months, I had almost forgotten the account. This was not a good move.
One day, the owner called to tell me she was sending a check for three pieces. She had sold the most expensive jackets I made and she wanted more things ASAP! The moral is: it pays to keep in touch with your store accounts on a regular basis, even when you think nothing is happening.
It also pays to be assertive if you see an opportunity to open new markets for your craftwork.
Before you take off down the road to sell your goods, compile a list of your target accounts. You can gather names of stores in various ways.
The National Craft Association provides members several directories of wholesale suppliers, stores that buy crafts and many other useful services. Contact NCA at (800)715-9594.
* The Crafts Report has a ‘crafts wanted’ section where stores buying craft items list what they are looking for and the average price range. There are also ads appearing from mailing list brokers who specialize in craft store buyers.
* Exhibit your work at a major trade show for crafts where store buyers come to you.
You probably will spend more money per sale when traveling to get store accounts than you would spend if you were to exhibit at a wholesale trade show.
In the last few years, the number of retail stores that sell handcrafted items has been steadily increasing. It seems that customers are more accepting of buying fine craftwork when it is displayed in a retail environment; another increase in the number of potential markets you can sell to.
At some point, you must learn how many stores you can comfortably supply. This will depend on how much you want to produce and how willing you are to manage others if you have to hire employees.
About the Author
James Dillehay, author of seven books, is a nationally recognized expert on marketing arts and crafts. Artist, entrepreneur, and educator, his articles have helped over 15,000,000 readers of Family Circle, The Crafts Report, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunshine Artist, Ceramics Monthly, and more. James has appeared as a featured guest on HGTV's popular The Carol Duvall Show and he is a member of the advisory board to The National Craft Association. He is editor of
www.Craftmarketer.com. This article is copyrighted and excerpted from James Dillehay's The Basic Guide to Selling Arts & Crafts.