After my last blog post, I got a great question from a reader who wanted to know how she could find wholesale buyers for her own work. I thought maybe it would be helpful to share some of my own story here, in case other people have that question. I'm not an expert at wholesaling by any means, but these are some of the things I've learned in the past few years. [These photos are for my most recent wholesale account, by the way. It's a custom doily design for the fabulous and classy Century Finds!]
I didn't start out selling wholesale, since most shops would rather sell goods on consignment, especially from a not-so-well-known artist. I scouted out shops in my town that carried work similar to mine, and asked to speak to the shop owner or buyer. Sometimes I spoke to someone right away, and sometimes I had to email or call them later.
Not everyone wanted to carry my work, but I did find a few shops that would take things on consignment. Some of them were fantastic about merchandising my stuff well and sending me checks regularly. Other shops hid my stuff in a corner, and then never wanted to pay me when I did notice that something had sold. It's tough to know who's going to be reliable unless you get a recommendation from another artist.
It wasn't until I'd been in business for over 2 yrs. that shops were really beginning to approach me, since they were finding me on Etsy and through blog features. I felt like I was well-known enough to demand wholesale instead of consignment, so I kindly told inquirers this. Most people declined to order (since most startup shops don't have the money to buy wholesale at first, and that's mostly who was contacting me), but occasionally someone would be interested.
Now, I have a line sheet which shows info on all of my available products and designs, plus an order form that I can give to potential wholesale buyers. If I find a store online or in my area that seems like a good fit for my work, I find out who the buyer is, and introduce myself. If it's in person, I'll try to leave a line sheet and order form with them (along with a business card), and I'll try to follow up with them in a week or so to see if they're interested in placing an order. Sometimes they'll want to see samples of my work in person, so I make an appointment to bring things by.
Honestly, it doesn't turn into a lot of wholesale accounts for me, and I'm always having to approach new shops and follow up a lot on my own. I'm just more focused on retailing online right now, but it could be very different if you have more time to devote to this. Some artists make most of their money wholesaling, so it's a good route to take for some people. If it sounds like a good thing for you, then go for it! :) You may have to start out with consignment, but it's a great learning experience and you can test out the waters a bit.
Don't be afraid to talk to a lot of shops before you find one that's interested. It's humbling work, but it's just a match-making game--trying to find the right fit for your work. You might even get advice from shop owners about your products, which could help you improve something to make it sell better. You never know what you'll learn!
Another thing to consider is that most retail shops sell reproducible work. If you make original paintings (or something similar), you may have better luck selling prints of your work to most gift shops. I don't know much about approaching art galleries, but it could be different from retailers. I'd talk to a few galleries just to see what their policies are. Etsy isn't geared toward wholesale buyers, so you might have a tough time finding them if you just sell there. And really, exposure exposure exposure is key. :) Advertise, get your name out there, see if you can display your work for free at a coffeeshop or something. The more people who see your art, the more likely you are to find a wholesale buyer.
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