After the post I sent answering questions about consignment I
received a request asking me to clarify the subject of researching
consignment stores. Consignment has played an important part in
establishing myself in this business. I am assuming that if a
person is interested in this subject then, perhaps, like me when I
first started with consignment, they have little or no experience
with marketing their work to stores. So, please don’t take offense
if it seems to offer common sense advise that is incredibly obvious.
As well, some of this advise is not exclusively geared toward
consignment and is applicable when selling your work.
Understand your product
Sit back, try to be as objective as you can and ask these questions
about your work.
- Why would anyone want to buy my work?
I know this is hard, but it is necessary. If your answer is because
it’s beautiful, remember that beauty is subjective and very
personal. You’re asking a consumer to part with dollars for your
stuff and asking a store to give up valuable case space for you.
You have to be your own best salesperson. You should be able to
give a potential gallery or store owner some sales ammunition for
them to work with. Stores don’t always employ salespeople who are
knowledgeable about every type of jewelry, so make sure you are an
expert about your own things. Consider your work to be a story that
you have written and your trying to sell it to a magazine or
newspaper. What is your “hook”? Create a headline for your story.
What grabs the clients interest and makes them want to know more?
- What is different about your work?
Does your work use stones that others normally don’t use or that are
extremely rare? Are you working with a technique that is not seen
often? Are your prices rock bottom due to some special technique
you’ve developed? Do you have a great following in other areas and
want to give another store an opportunity to profit? Make sure you
write this down and give it to any store that carries
your work so they have it for future reference. They may hire new
people and need to help in training.
- Do I have all the necessary about my work?
Do you know the total diamond weights in all your pieces? If you
have production work, do you have a price list available that shows
all the different styles and how much they are? Again make sure the
store has detailed about every piece you have and keep a
copy for yourself.
Finding a store to sell from
OK, this is the hardest part. If it were easy then we all wouldn’t
be so concerned. There’s no magic formula. It takes footwork, time
and perhaps some luck. However, there are several ways to find a
store. The one I like best is word of mouth. The best tip I got was
from a fellow jeweler who knew my work and who knew a store that was
very professional. But I would also take serious a tip from a
crafter in another medium. If you know of a potter or a furniture
maker who sells in your price range and has a great relationship with
a store that also sells jewelry, you have a good place to start.
You’ll always find galleries at wholesale craft shows who want you to
consign. This is an expensive way to find potential consignment
stores. When I do a show, I want sales. You can go to the American
Craft website http://americancraft.com/BMAC/top100Retailers2003.html
for a list of the top 100 craft retail stores.
Researching a store
When you are starting out it is easy to march to the closest store
in your neighborhood or to that great store you love to shop in and
ask them to carry your work. This is not always the best idea. You
should subject every store to the same scrutiny. Here are some
questions to ask yourself.
- Who sells the jewelry in this store?
Does the store have many employees? If they do then each employee
who has the opportunity to sell your work should be familiar with
your work and hopefully familiar with you. Your work is more likely
to sell if the salespeople have a personal interest in you and the
work. I like to work with stores that have a small, dedicated staff
working with jewelry (especially if they sell pottery, wood or other
mediums). Often stores have so much inventory that your work can
get lost. Make sure this doesn’t happen.
- Are they familiar with how consignment works?
If a store buys 100 percent of the work in the store but agrees to
carry your work on consignment there is a conflict of interest you
have to deal with. Many times, even if it is subconscious, a store
owner will push their salespeople or their clients to sell/buy the
inventory they have already paid for. It’s natural. I prefer to do
consignment work with stores whose work is mostly consignment. They
are used to the paperwork and have a better understanding of artists
- What other consignment artists do they have experience with?
Get names and addresses if possible. I’m talking references here.
Call these artists and find out what their experiences are with the
store. Do they pay on time? Do they send out regular monthly or
quarterly statements of what inventory they have? Does what the
artist say match up to what you heard from the store owner? Does
the work come back in good condition? How long have they been
working with the store? As well make sure you fit in well with the
way the store promotes its artists. Do they put all the ruby
jewelry together and put all the necklaces together? Do they
display the work by style or by artist?
- How long have they been accepting consignment?
The longer the history they have the better. What artists do they
have the longest history with?
- Do they sell any of their own work?
Again here is a potential conflict of interest. Of course if
everything else seems great, this isn’t a deal breaker, but you
should be aware that it’s natural for people to want to sell their
own work first. Make sure they aren’t using your work as case
- Are the sales in the store seasonal nature?
If a store is completely dead in the summer or winter, you need to
know this. Be aware that if you want to have a competitive chance,
you need to get your work in the store a minimum of several months
before the busy season starts, otherwise the staff will have no time
to learn about it and the store owner may not have the time to
display it well. Also it may be that a potential client needs to
see your work a few times before they buy it. So if it sits for a
couple of months, it doesn’t mean the store hasn’t been trying to
sell it. The work may just be a little too expensive to be an
impulse buy in that store.
- Does the store have a specialty?
If a store sells mostly wedding bands and engagement rings then you
may have to let your earrings sit a little longer to sell. Or, if
the store is one you really want to be involved with, you may want
to make some of these items to get a foot in the door. But, if you
can’t or aren’t willing to change your product, be aware that you
may have to do more work with the staff and be more patient for
sales, or, ultimately move on to the next store. 8) What are the
yearly or monthly sales?
You really need to know this. It may be the most difficult answer
to get a handle on. The owner could lie, or tell you it’s none of
your business. But in fact it is your business. If your willing to
stock the store with several thousand dollars of product and you
want a thousand dollars in sales per month and the store only sells
about $5000 of jewelry per month, you may be asking for problems.
There are other questions too, like what kind of insurance do you
have? Who is responsible for theft or fire damage? What kind of
policy do they have on customer returns? Who pays for and how do
they handle sizing of rings? What is the possibility of custom
orders? What do they expect concerning repairs, if they are needed?
If they have success with the work would they consider doing a trunk
Then you have to process the answers to these questions and decide
if you can handle the consequences.
When asking these questions, make sure you aren’t interrogating the
owner or manager. Bring up these points in as casual way as you
can, possibly interspersing the questions between less pointed
questions. Remember that consignment is a partnership that needs
more interaction between that parties than other types of selling.
If this post inspires others to post thier hints about researching
stores, I’d love to hear about it.
Larry (trying to write and keep my two toddler girls from destroying
my house at the same time)