Friday, September 21, 2007

Wholesale Shows, What?

I have written about doing wholesale shows, but, given the opportunity to do the ACRE show with the NPCG, I thought I should write in more detail about the Who, What, Where, When and Why? I am relatively new to doing wholesale, so I cannot proclaim to be an expert. Just someone who has learned a lot in the last few years.

What is a wholesale show? Wholesale shows are open to "the trade". Depending upon the show, and how loose the standards are, wholesale shows can be open to anyone with a resale number, or they may be limited to people with a brick and mortar store, or a catalog. At a wholesale craft show, the people who are coming to the show are generally anyone from gift shops, to fine craft galleries. They are looking for handcrafted work. It may be all they sell, or a small portion of what they sell.

Some retailers will visit local retail craft shows to find artists whose work they think would be appropriate for their store. But not every artists at a retail show wants to wholesale, or is ready to wholesale. So it could be chasing down a blind alley.

At a wholesale craft show they can see hundreds of artists who are already, or want to be selling wholesale. They will have a price list, a catalog of some sort. They will have samples of the work they will wholesale, and they will be ready and able to answer their questions. It is much more efficient for them, and for the artists. They can touch the work, and get a sense for the quality. By talking to the artists, they will be able to get a sense of their professionalism.

What are they looking for? This is partially speculation on my part, and probably not conclusive, but here we go:

1. Work that will sell. Sounds simple, and obvious, but this is the bottom line. They want work that will turn over quickly, returning their investment in their inventory. They want work that will be hard to keep in stock.

2. Something they have not seen before. I remember when I was first starting to get into consignment and wholesale I did a lot of scouting. Visiting stores, and checking out what sorts or work they had and at what kinds of prices. I was trying to see if the store was a good fit for my work. In the process, I would see some work everywhere. I mean everywhere. At first, it was "Oh, look!"....then it was, "Oh, they have her work, too! I love her stuff!". But after about four or five stores, it was more like, "Oh, they have that too? Boy, she is everywhere." The shop and gallery owners don't want you to go into their store and think, "been there, seen that". They want you to be excited by the many things you have never seen anywhere.
This could be new work from an artist they have been working with for a long time. Or it could be work from somebody new. Or a new medium they did not know about....(can you say polymer clay??).... This kind of excitement is more likely to spur someone to part with their hard earned cash than the ordinary and overexposed.

3. Price points. Shops and galleries generally will carry a range of price points. From the impulse item to the "wow!" gift or reward. Each retailer will tend to focus more on one end of the spectrum or the other, as part of their identity. Are they a gift shop or a gallery? The impulse items are what help cash flow. And when the economy is tight, they focus tends to be on the low end of the spectrum. As our economy divides, and the middle class gets pinched more and more, the mid-range of the price spectrum has suffered greatly. I was not in this business early enough to experience the boom years! But, I have learned that having a range of price points is important.

4. Terms. I will go into this more in another post, but your terms will matter to the retailer. But remember they are your terms. I have heard too many horror stories of artists who let themselves be talked out of, or bullied into not sticking to their terms and living to regret it. If you decide to be flexible with your terms, be sure you are doing it because you want to, and are willing to accept the outcome.

5. Professionalism. This goes to how your work is finished, to the findings your use in jewelry, to the way you present yourself. This is business. They want to know that you can be a good business person as well as a good artist.

Do you need to go to a wholesale show to build a wholesale business? No. Absolutely not. But it is more efficient and can be more effective than many other alternatives. I started out visiting local stores, and slowly building up a base in my area. But I had to be careful that I did not get too many shops too close together. Soon I had to start looking outside my area.

I went to to began to expand my business. It was a great way to get broad exposure for my work, without the risk/expense of doing a wholesale show. It cost money, but it was a fraction of the cost of a wholesale show. But after nearly two years on the site, I knew I had to make the next step to doing a wholesale show. There are a wide range of shows out there. There are specialty shows (ones for certain types of retailers, or for certain geographic areas), and there are gift shows that are open to a wide range of businesses on both ends. There are shows like the Rosen show and the ACC show that are well established, and have a reputation for high quality work, and strictly American made craft. The reason I chose ACRE was because it was being run by, and they had been a great company to work with. And I knew that it would be a good compliment to the exposure I had gotten on their website, and their Buyer's Guide. The right show for you will depend upon your work, your goals, and your budget.

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