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Selling Both Wholesale and Retail

Selling Both Wholesale and Retail

Many times artists choose between selling on a retail basis or on a wholesale basis. You can do both, but you need to avoid a few pitfalls when you sell both wholesale and retail.


Galleries often prefer to work with artists that only sell on a wholesale basis and don’t sell at any retail venues. That way, the gallery is assured that customers can only buy the products from them or another gallery. However, when you have been selling retail and then want to venture into the wholesale market, you may want to be able to sell both ways.  You will need to reassure galleries that buy wholesale from you, that your retail prices will not undercut their pricing structure and that any customers who approach you personally after seeing your work in a gallery will be sent back to the gallery for the sale.

I have said this before but it won’t hurt to repeat it. Your pricing needs to be consistent. You can’t sell at a retail show for a lower price then what the galleries can sell your work after buying at wholesale. Your prices at retail shows should be made by marking your wholesale price up by 2.3 – 2.5 or higher. Keystone (the amount that stores mark up a wholesale price) used to be 2.0 but it is really hard to make a living any more with that low a markup. Most galleries mark up around the 2.5 mark. So if you are going to sell your work wholesale, you should not be selling your work in any retail venue for less than 2.5 times your wholesale prices. This includes retail shows, online sales or any other retail venue where you sell your work.

Developing a good relationship with your galleries is important if you want to continue to receive orders and business from them. You need to check with customers who contact you directly where they first saw your work. If they saw your work at a gallery, that gallery needs to get the sale or a commission from you if you sell directly to the customer. Perhaps the gallery doesn’t have a specific piece that the customer wants to buy. You still need to have an understanding with the gallery that if you sell “their” customer a piece, you need to give them a commission or a portion of the sale. They are promoting you and your work and you need to be supportive of them. Work out in advance what their policies are about commissions and special orders. The selling percentages may be different from the normal pricing structure. Again, if you get to know the gallery representatives, this will be a big help when issues arise.

I know that some galleries refuse to work with artists that sell their work in online retail venues. Customers are computer savvy. They can get your name from a tag on work in a gallery, google it and find all the online venues where you sell your work. Many customers then attempt to get a better price from those venues or directly from you. If your work is priced the same or higher than it is in the galleries, these issues won’t be a problem for you. So as long as your pricing is consistent, selling retail and wholesale is a viable option.


Wholesale vs Retail

Wholesale vs Retail

Many people have asked me about the advantages of selling wholesale versus selling retail. I have talked a little about wholesale but thought I would take the next couple of columns to discuss it in more depth. This information is based on what I know of wholesale shows in the US and Canada. I am unaware of wholesale shows in Europe or Australia. I would love to hear about wholesaling in Europe or other countries if you have experience in this area.

There are many differences in selling wholesale vs retail. You need to have your pricing worked out completely before you attempt selling wholesale. If you’re just beginning to sell your work, it is probably best to sell on a retail basis until you have a full line of products, a solid pricing system and a business plan in place.

Some of the reasons people sell their work on a wholesale basis is that they won’t have as much selling cost, they don’t have to spend their time selling their work or going to retail shows and they can spend more time in their studio. By selling in large volume, they can streamline their processes and make enough profit without having to do numerous retail shows or sell on consignment. Many wholesale artists do only 2-3 wholesale shows a year and get enough orders to fill their entire production schedule for a year.

If you are planning on selling on a wholesale basis, you need to consider the needs of your customer. Your customer base will now be galleries, stores or museum shops. A buyer for a shop is going to think differently than the average retail customer. A buyer is looking for products that will “work” in their store. This is different for each buyer but most who have been in the business for any length of time have a good idea of what will sell for them and what won’t. Buyers are looking for an entire line to sell. Items that either go together or have something in common. You should consider selling package deals with an assortment of your products in various colorways or styles. It is easier for the buyer to purchase and you will then have a simple way for buyers to meet your minimum order.

If you are planning on selling both retail and wholesale, your wholesale line can be different (and often should be different) than your retail line. The items that you sell on a wholesale basis should be ones that can be made fairly easily and you can streamline the process, therefore cutting down the time needed to make the item. Try to develop a line of products that go together in some way so that stores will buy the entire line.

Next time, I’ll continue on talking about wholesale selling. If you have any questions, please ask and I’ll include the answers next time.

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