Part 4: Other ideas for selling your work – wholesale and consignment arrangements at retail stores.
As part of this series on Selling Photography and my experiences in doing so, I’ve written about my current dilemma: whether or not to continue selling my photography products at art and craft shows. In part 1 I wrote a general overview about what I sell and the shows I’ve been doing and the fact that I’m questioning this whole idea for trying to make money in this fashion with my images. I also included links to some of the resources available for product creation, such as show packs and cardstock resources. For Part 2, I listed what I’ve already got invested into this and some things I’ve learned. Part 3 was my pros and cons and the questions I have about the way I’m doing this. Part 3’s bigger question was WHAT kind of show is best for photographers with the kind of work I have.
In today’s post, Part 4 of the series, I will discuss a couple of other options for selling your work locally. I’m specifying “locally” as opposed to online options such as Etsy or stock sites, which I’ll write about in Part 5.
I’ve always been of the mindset that believes “it doesn’t hurt to ask”. The worst that can happen is a no. I’m also generally a positive person. I hope that chronicling my show experiences here hasn’t given you the wrong idea. I go optimistically into things and always think it will work. The downside is disappointment, of course, if it doesn’t, but somehow I’ve developed a thought process that brings me to the “how do I make it better?” way of doing things rather than putting an end to whatever it is.
So it is with that mindset that I went about approaching my local retailers to sell my work in their stores.
I live in the greater Bangor, Maine area. Brewer – right over the bridge – to be precise. The state of Maine claims its right to be considered “Vacationland” (as well as the Pine Tree State). We have a thriving tourism industry. We also have a strong “buy local” movement. So you get the visitors who want to buy something uniquely “Maine” and those who live here who like to buy locally crafted products and support Maine artists. Some areas of the state have more one time buyers, some have repeat buyers.
I am fortunate enough to be able to sell some of my work in a few stores in downtown Bangor and at the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner.
All need merchandise to sell. As a photographer and artist, my work is unique and local. Some of the store owners like my “Maine” work for their tourist customers and others like the quirky stuff for their unique gift customers. If you want to sell your work in your area’s retail stores, here are a few things to keep in mind about the store owners and merchandise buyers:
There are two ways that you can sell your work in retail stores: wholesale or consignment.
Wholesale means that you sell in quantity to the store, they pay you at a discounted rate based on the volume, and you’re done. It’s good to follow up and make sure they’re doing ok on inventory and see if they have any feedback, but that’s after you’ve made the sale and delivered the good.
Consignment is a different way of reaching the same point of selling your work in retail stores. Consignment means that you deliver the work to the store, they sell it and both parties split the money, based on an agreed percentage. In my area it’s either 75/25, with 75% to the artist, or 60/40 which is becoming more the standard, unfortunately. I’ve had store owners ask for specific items and I’ve had them say “just bring in your best sellers”. Most store owners pay out monthly, so a week or two into a month, I usually receive checks. They’re paid out based on the sales records generated by the store. Internally, what I do is to create an invoice in my books for the consigned value of the work and apply the payments as they come in.
I currently have agreements for both types of sales. The pluses and minuses are comparable in both arrangements. One of the benefits of wholesale is that once you’ve fulfilled the order, you get paid relatively soon. One of the downsides that I’ve found is that in this economy, some store owners are hesitant to invest. Being hesitant to invest in large quantities can also be an indication that the store isn’t doing so well and may not be around for long. That’s bad for you and for the owner. Being hesitant to invest could also be a sign that the owner isn’t quite sure of you. If you’re new to area sales or new in business, they might want to test their customers response to you and also make sure you’ll be around for more if they need it. A downside of wholesale is that – at least in my market – by assuming the risk, the store owner receives a lower rate than with consignment where the risk is shared.
Consignment can be scary. Here you are, delivering your hard work to a store to sell based on the hope that your items will sell and that the store has sufficient methods in place for tracking orders so that you do get paid for what sells. In all honesty, if you extend credit terms to a store that’s buying wholesale, you’re running the same risk of not getting paid. I’ve found that starting out with a consignment arrangement when you’re new allows you to build a relationship with the store owner, to develop your product based on the feedback you receive and though you don’t get paid upon delivery you generally do make more per piece with consignment. I think what’s worked for me with consignment is that the work I’ve sold has been the lower priced items – cards and smaller prints – therefore it’s not such a financial drain to create. I also think that in a localized economy, the trust factor goes far to build familiarity and mutually beneficial relationships. And while it can be a bit unnerving to hand over your work to a stranger, taking that risk the first time has me feeling comfortable delivering the work now. I look forward to seeing these folks – these women who own the shops in my area – and chatting with them about business and life. I trust them.
In either case, the really important thing about selling in retail stores is the relationship. I know that one store’s owner just loves my food photography so when I have something new, I’ll email her to let her know. Another store’s buyer looks for Maine images that are different from what’s so often seen. In knowing that I keep her in mind when I’m shooting and tag the files with her store name as I sort through them so that when it comes time for her next order, I can suggest a few new images that are in line with her taste.
Selling my work to retail stores seems to be an additional income stream that works for me. It might be wise for me to cast the net a bit wider, selling to more stores in a wider region.
In Part 5 of this series, I’ll tell you about my experiences with other methods of selling photography, such as selling online on Etsy and on stock sites. Stay tuned!
If you’ve read this far — Thank you! I’d love to hear your comments and learn about your experiences.