Business of Art

Beginners, unite! Consign your way to success.

Every year, new art galleries and crafts shops open. Often, they’re launched on a shoestring. They need consigned items to sell.

Every year, new artists and crafters decide that this is the year they’re going to launch their careers. They need places to show their artwork.

New shops and new artists can help each other. But, since both parties are beginners, it’s important to consider a few important points.

First, can you afford to consign your work? If you need income this week, you’ll do better if you can find a shop to buy your work, outright.

On the other hand, it can be brilliant business strategy to consign your art in a shop that becomes a local (or tourist) favorite.

Consignment works like this: You provide artwork for the gallery or shop. When it sells, you get part of the selling price, and the shop gets the rest. It’s not unusual to see a 30-70 split (the shop keeps 30%) or a 70-30 split (the shop keeps 70%).  The latter should probably be avoided.

In a perfect world, the split is about 50/50. After all, you’ve put time, materials, skill, and originality into your work. The shop is showcasing your work, providing valuable wall, floor or counter space for it.

Consignment can be great, ho-hum, or a nightmare. There are many factors.

QUALITY and QUANTITY

Are the shop’s standards high enough? Your art can shine in a setting with a good mix. However, if visitors take one look at most of the art and say, “Ick,” they may never even see your work.

Likewise, if the shop can’t find enough good artists and it’s obviously half-empty, that drives away customers. At the very least, they want a shop or gallery that provides a wonderful browsing experience.

However, if the shop owner does business with a collection of great artists, you can be in fabulous company… and build your reputation while you increase your income.

Visit your markets regularly and be sure that your work is shown in the best possible light.

PAYDAYS and PRICING

How soon will you be paid? If you aren’t paid within 30 days after the work sells, you may want to look for better opportunities.

Who is setting the prices, and are they in the correct range? If you’re new and the shop owner is as well, consider getting a second opinion about the prices. Items won’t sell if they’re priced too high or too low. (From my experience, items are generally underpriced. If your art isn’t selling, try a higher price for two weeks and see if that helps.)

SUPPLY and DEMAND

In the past, I’ve worked with multiple consignment shops and galleries each summer. Some of them will succeed and some will fail. However, a few will sell my work so rapidly, I may have to phase out the less successful shops, just to meet demand.

Even though I’ve supplied galleries and shops for many years, I still can’t predict which items and which shops will be successful.

It’s important to be on good terms with the shops you deal with.  Open communications — and flexibility — are vital.

INSURANCE

Discuss risks with the shop owner.

If there’s a fire, or the sprinkler system dumps water on everything in the shop, or if your work is stolen, what happens? Either you or the shop owner (or both) should have insurance, or be willing to cover the risks.

The shop owner may want you to carry insurance, as well. For example, if you’re making children’s toys, be sure you have liability coverage. It could be a shock — and a huge expense — if you have to recall 200 wibbly-wobbly toys because the manufacturer recalled the plastic eyes that you used.

(That said, those kinds of disasters are rare. Insurance can turn disasters into speed bumps instead of career stoppers.)

FLEXIBILITY

Although I wholesale some of my crafts to shops, I like to work with at least 50% consignment galleries each summer. (That’s my favorite tourist season in New England.)

The reason is simple: I love the flexibility of working on consignment.

If I get tired of making a particular item, I can simply discuss alternative products with the shop owner.

If a line of products doesn’t sell, I can take it back and place it in another market where it will sell. And, I can put different items in the shop where they collected dust. Everyone wins!

If I’ve committed to a shop and delivering the art is more trouble (or expense) than I expected, I can renegotiate terms.

A LITTLE OF THIS, A LITTLE OF THAT

Generally, I wholesale enough crafts to cover my basic expenses. After that, I focus on consignment shops and galleries. I negotiate good commissions, I work closely with new shop owners, and we all have fun.

I work primarily with seasonal shops and galleries… stores that open in June and close when the tourists go home. I work all winter, building my inventory, and then I can take most of the summer off. Most of my ‘work’ in the summer involves visiting my favorite tourist areas, checking on shops, and delivering products. Then, I go to the beach. Or the mountains.

CONTRACTS ARE THE KEY

Consignment shops and galleries can be a great way to launch your arts and crafts career. You can reduce the stress on both sides, by having a clear agreement with each shop owner.

Start with a standard contract, and modify it to suit your needs.

Here are some sample contracts, online:

Sample Artist-Gallery Consignment Agreement, from Michael Dunn

Sample Consignment Agreement for Artists, from Mark Henson

Consignment Agreement Contract – free sample

Some “worst case” advice, from attorney Richard Stim: Consigning Your Arts and Crafts

RECOMMENDED READING

It’s smart to consult books about consignment art sales and artist-gallery consignment contracts. The following are two of the best.

Business and Legal Forms for Crafts

The Artist-Gallery Partnership

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