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Consignment research


#1

All,

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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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
concerns.

  1. 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?

  1. How long have they been accepting consignment?

The longer the history they have the better. What artists do they
have the longest history with?

  1. 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
filling.

  1. 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.

  1. 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
show?

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.

Good luck,

Larry (trying to write and keep my two toddler girls from destroying
my house at the same time)


#2
If this post inspires others to post thier hints about researching
stores, I'd love to hear about it. 

Excellent post, Larry. While I don’t follow quite all of your steps
myself, I certainly can’t fault any of them in principle. (In
practice, I’ve never asked a gallery owner what their monthly or
yearly sales are but I can see how this would be useful information
if you can get it. Not a deal-breaker if you can’t, though, IMO.)

I think the most important step that Larry lists is to get the names
and contact info for other jewelry artists that are handled by the
gallery and CALL THEM. I’ve done this many times and I’ve never had
a fellow jeweler be less than candid and helpful. This information
has tipped me in one direction or the other many times.

I would add one suggestion to Larry’s list: Ask if the gallery uses
a consignment contract of their own and, if so, request a copy of it
and read it thoroughly. If there are clauses you don’t like, discuss
them with the gallery owner; you’ll find they’re seldom written in
blood.

If the gallery does not have their own consignment contract, send
them a blank copy of your own to check over before sending any
jewelry and be sure they have no objections to any of your terms.
Check the Orchid Archives for consignment contract samples and, if
you’d like a copy of mine (which is not as thorough as some but suits
my purposes), email me off-list.

Beth <@Beth_Rosengard>

P.S. Larry, did you mean to say this: “When asking these
questions, make sure you aren’t interrogating the owner or manager”?
Or is “aren’t” supposed to be “are”? If not, why?


#3

Beth, Thanks for your input. To answer your question below:

P.S.  Larry, did you mean to say this:  "When asking these
questions, make sure you aren't interrogating the owner or
manager"? Or is "aren't" supposed to be "are"?  If not, why? 

Yes, I did mean to make sure you “aren’t” interrogating.
Interrogation implies a one sided conversation. This is
counterproductive. Rather, one should listen to the answers given,
keep an open mind about what you hear and engage the person to whom
you are conversing. I don’t mean that you are so casual about the
conversation that you don’t present a professional appearance, that
you lose track of your purpose or that you waste the time in idle
chitchat. When you “interview” or research a store you present the
kind of professional demeanor that they can expect in your next
normal business transaction.

For example, say you want to find out some difficult but important
like yearly or monthly jewelry sales. If a store owner
is on the defensive and feels like they are giving out all the
and getting no from you in return, you are
not likely to get the facts you want and need.

Now, it’s really difficult for me to express in an email the gist of
what I mean but I will try to offer an example of how one might
approach this subject during an interview. I am assuming that I
would be actually in front of the store owner or manager, at their
location, not on the phone and that I have established some rapport.
That said…If in the course of my back and forth conversation I
asked, and listened to the response, about how they think my work
would fill a particular need of theirs (…and perhaps remarked how
balanced their jewelry inventory is compared to their other craft
medium) and I note how terrific the location is…and, by the way, I
realize how expensive it is to run a retail operation, I find a way
to also slip in, “You must have to gross at least a million dollars
a year to keep up with expenses nowadays” or something to that
effect, you may be surprised how much they share. I’m
not implying that you manipulate the individual, but you have to
probe very carefully, very thoroughly and very thoughtfully.

Larry


#4
Yes, I did mean to make sure you "aren't" interrogating.
Interrogation implies a one sided conversation. 

Hi Larry, Sorry, sorry, sorry! I misunderstood what you wrote. I
thought you were saying don’t talk to the owner or manager (but
instead some lesser employee) when what you were saying is – don’t
make your conversation an interrogation. Of course you are
absolutely correct! My brain played a trick on me.

Beth


#5

Just a thought . . .as a gallery owner (just over a year) and
jewelry artist for much longer, I would expect to be interrogated,
and I would expect that I would also interrogate the consigning
artist. I expect to have work delivered on time, especially if I’m
selling a lot of stuff by one artist. I also expect that my artists
want their checks on time, and I always pay by the 15th of the month
if the work has been delivered. I gotten burned once, someone
bought a beautiful piece, took it home for more than 2 months, and
then returned it. Sheesh, I had to give them a due bill I expect
they will be bringing that back any time now . . .it has been more
than three months since they got it. So, is that right??? And since
that, my consignment percentage chaged . … again, I tried to be
fair, and only wanted a third, but found that I would not
be in business long if I didn’t charge 40%.


#6

I recently exhibited at a well known New York gallery. I received
my unsold work (2 of the 8 pieces I had sent) at the end of June but
still have received no payment. I sent an e-mail a couple of weeks
ago and yesterday I called. They said that the check would be sent
this week. When I reread the contract before I placed the call
yesterday I noticed that it stated that work put on lay-a-way would
not be paid until it was picked up but it never said how long that
it could be left on lay-a-way. It’s a detail I failed to notice
when I signed the contract but I won’t miss that one again. Also,
they don’t pay until 30 days after the work is sold but they don’t
pay on a certain day of the month like most galleries.

Deb


#7
   I recently exhibited at a well known New York gallery.  

Speaking of well known galleries, I have heard nothing but complaints
from very well know studio jewelers about Aaron Faber Gallery. One of
the most prestigous galleries. Repeated phone calls result in nothing
but frustration for the people I talked with. Anonymous in Denver


#8

I ditto that. I have talked to numerous artisans over the past 25
years who have had nothing but aggrevation trying to get their money
for items sold.


#9

I have been left with-out pieces or money. Unless you can go to the
location on a regular basis to check on you’re your inventory and
pick up a check, Consignment is a bad idea.


#10

We had over $2000 in jewelry consigned to a local resort. The owner
was killed in an accident. Before we found out, distant family of
his and his girlfriend/wife took pieces to “remember” him by as did
also the IRS. Within a week or two, the place was closed for good and
we lost everything even tho we had receipts. At least it was down
from the well over $8000 it had been previously.

Judy Shaw


#11
We had over $2000 in jewelry consigned to a local resort.  The
owner was killed in an accident.  Before we found out,  distant
family of his and his girlfriend/wife took pieces to "remember" him
by as did also the IRS. Within a week or two, the place was closed
for good and we lost everything even tho we had receipts.  At least
it was down from the well over $8000 it had been previously.

If you’re in the USA, this could amount to THEFT in many states . . .
unless, of course, these items were in the PERSONAL POSSESSION aka
given as gifts, or purchased by the person who was killed in the
accident - if this were the case, then relatives would be entitled.
Did you have a consignment agreement? What were the conditions?