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Wholesaling one-offs


#1

I find myself thinking a lot about whether I should apply to some
wholesale shows, and I’d love to get feedback.

I did some wholesaling years ago, but my work has changed a lot. I
have some production pieces, but mostly one of a kind. Does it work
to try to wholesale one of a kind? How does that work?

I really need some galleries around the country. I hate the process
of trying to visit, evaluate, and try to interest galleries in my
work. Clearly, there has to be a better way. I’m sure I’m far from
being the only one out there who is lousy at figuring out how to get
my work in front of the right customers! My stuff is not strictly
mainstream, but I know the right places are out there somewhere.

Any recommendations of specific galleries would be very welcome
(here’s my Orchid gallery: http://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/noel.htm).
And I’d love to hear from folks who do unusual work and have
wholesaling experience. Its all very well to be told how wonderful my
work is, but I gotta SELL a lot more of it.

Noel


#2

Hello Noel

I will keep this short since I am in the middle of studio day/work
Rosen Show… the last sentence in your message is your clue (Need to
seel a lot more) even if you are doing one of a kinds only you can
devise a system or a program to doing buisness in the wholesale
shows where you make a huge body of work, show it at the wholesale
fairs, and it would be first come first serve,in other words once the
peices are chosen by a particular gallery then you will assign it to
them to be sent after the show.but you continue to show the work to
the rest of the Galleries that come by to see what you have,except
with red sold dots on your peices sold;and either order some thing
similar or call or internet contact after the show.to place orders
or commision you for new works. The reason for my advising on doing
the wholseale shows with one of a kinds is this.it costs less to do
a major show then to travell around presenting your work to singular
galleries at a time,almost like a travelling salesmen,AWAY form
Precous studio time. It costs less doing the shows,the good ones any
way, because you have so so many galleries come by and look,if
nothing, in a very short amount of time; and you never know who is out
there in a crowd of buyers,there are also museum and gallery
curators that come by who are looking specifically for certain
peices for specific shows. I do show one of a kinds, and even
sculpture hangs in the background of the booth,quitely sitting there
until somebody asks what those are.believe it or not Micheal Monroe
had contacted me a few years back through the wholsale shows,I had
no idea who he was.at the time he was the Smithsonian’s Renwick
curator.and was putting in time for the Hilory, of white house. okay
got to go hope I shed some light on your dilema.good luck.

Hratch.


#3
Its all very well to be told how wonderful my work is, but I gotta
SELL a lot more of it. 

I found myself thinking about your post on the way home from the
workshop last night Noel…

Whoever we are, and whatever we do, our work on the open market is
worth precisely what people are willing to pay for it. The basic law
of supply and demand rules.

Unless I’m missing something, your work is clearly ‘art for art’s
sake’. It is sculpture, and therefore can’t be compared to, or
compete with jewelry designed for production - unless you are very,
very, very fast.

If your work sells well and commands a price that allows you to
charge half or less of what your customers (retailers) can charge for
it, you can afford to wholesale it.

If your jewelry does not fit that bill, you will most likely find
wholesaling a very frustrating experience.

Clearly, you are an artist and have very little to prove to the
marketplace from that point of view. It is precisely that credibility
which will allow you to elevate your production items to the level of
art in the eyes of consumers.

At a wholesale trade show or market (we don’t call them art shows,
because they aren’t), your consumers will be retailers. Most
retailers are there because they want to find things that sell.

My advice to you is to reach inside, design something that appeals to
your consumers, and design it so that you can make a lot of them -
fast.

Don’t worry if you don’t have your epiphany before the show. Sincere
retailers who like your work will tell you what they need. As a
designer, it’s your job to respond to that demand with vision, and to
get their signature on the order form.

Michael Rogers
M. M. Rogers Design
Albuquerque, NM
mmrogers@mmrogers.com


#4

Hi Michael,

My advice to you is to reach inside, design something that
appeals to your consumers, and design it so that you can make a lot
of them - fast. 

I have a problem with offering advice like this. There are many
different ways to approach any kind of market. I think it is
absolutely imperative for each individual wishing to expand or
develop their business to do as much research as possible and apply
this knowledge to their particular situation.

Regards,

Donna
Donna Hiebert Design


#5

Michael,

Your last paragraph gets to the heart of my dilemma, which is in the
same general boat as Noel’s. But having not been in that market
space before, I don’t know what the correct protocol is…

Don't worry if you don't have your epiphany before the show.
Sincere retailers who like your work will tell you what they need.
As a designer, it's your job to respond to that demand with vision,
and to get their signature on the order form. 

At what POINT do you get the signature on the order form-- at the
show? after you’ve produced design concept sketches? when you’ve
agreed to a prototype’s production run? As the designer, do I ask for
a percent of payment up front as I currently do with custom
customers? (I do 50% up front, 25% when final design is agreed to,
25% before shipment of final product) And how about that final
payment – I assume that as a good businessperson I should receive it
prior to shipping them the order, correct?

I’d really like to not come across as someone with “Take Advantage
Of Me, I’m New” painted across her forehead. I’ve been doing the
retail side of things, selling directly to the public for several
years now and feel comfortable with how that works… just not really
sure how the other half handles it.

And your points about price point are very well taken. I envision
creating a line of “production one-of-a-kind” pieces that are
primarily/exclusively for wholesaling, alongside my truly
one-of-a-kind pieces that I directly retail.

Many thanks for any insights you can give to me or Noel (or any of
the many lurkers no doubt reading this thread and wondering the same
things).

Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs


#6

donna -

My advice to you is to reach inside, design something
that appeals to your consumers, and design it so that you can make
a lot of them - fast.

I think it is absolutely imperative for each individual wishing to
expand or develop their business to do as much research as possible
and apply this knowledge to their particular situation

that is exactly what mmrogers’ entire post seemed to clearly advise

  • you can’t “reach inside” if you lack knowledge, knowledge gained
    from researching. and researching will help you decide if you want to
    work up your designs one by one, or if you can devise a design that
    can be done quickly and salably for wholesalers.

perhaps the central thread of mmrogers’ message was, "artist, know
thyself before venturing into wholesale waters.’

good luck - ive who was impressed by the clarity of mmrogers’
wholesale hole-in-one post -


#7
I have a problem with offering advice like this. There are many
different ways to approach any kind of market 

Thank you for your thoughts Donna. I mean this sincerely. If there
were only one perspective, this forum would not be very interesting.

I stand by my advice - all of it.

I began making jewelry at nineteen, and and designing hand made
jewelry for production at age twenty one. I’m fifty two now and still
work an average of ten plus hours a day designing and overseeing the
production of hand fabricated jewelry in my own workshop. I believe I
have reasonable a basis upon which to form an opinion.

When someone approaches me with a sincere criticism, I try to listen
carefully. I then ask “what is your solution?”.

I’ll look forward to it.

Sincerely,

Michael Rogers
M. M. Rogers Design
Albuquerque, NM


#8

Hi Michael and Ivy and anyone else following this post,

I am not questioning Michael’s business success or experience or the
general clarity of his post. I don’t have a solution - and I
certainly don’t have your experience as a jeweler - I’ve just rolled
over, my paws are in the air, you win.

I am speaking from my perspective - someone who is developing a
jewelry business. I listen to a lot of advice and observe the
varieties of ways that people find a way to create a business that
suits them. I suppose I was particularily commenting on the advice
"to make a lot of things fast" - I see that some craftspeople thrive
by producing work in this way - their aesthetic and business acumen
suits this model. Other craftspeople produce work that requires more
time on each piece - and must market and price their work
accordingly. Both (and many more) of these business models may yield
excellent results - it depends on factors particular to your own
situation.

One thing I have decided to do, after years of varied experience in
business and artmaking, is to create a model for my business that
allows me to follow my passion. It is the passion that sustains me.
If I am not inspired than the hard work seems empty. Again, I am not
saying that Michael did not speak to this area.

In closing, I wish only to emphasize that I make decisions
concerning my business by doing as much research as possible -
talking to experienced professionals, like Michael, reading varied
publications industry and non-industry, visiting tradeshows,
attending seminars - business and technical, finding individuals who
are willing to be mentors - industry and non-industry, reading this
forum and others, and finally - listening to my gut. Then, like
everyone else, I make my decision - and take a risk (hopefully well
calculated). But I always try to come back to my passion.

For now

Donna
Donna Hiebert Design


#9

Hi, Michael,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply about wholesaling. I’ve given
myself a few days to mull it over, but I’m still not sure I
understand what you’re trying to say. Are you saying that because my
work is “art”, it’s hopeless to try to sell it?? Yes, I think of it
as art, and sculpture, but (most of) it IS also jewelry. And I’m far
from the only one whose stuff isn’t designed for production.

Are you saying that production work is what one needs in order to
wholesale, i.e., one of a kinds will not work in a wholesale market?
That could be… I guess I would hope that the uniqueness would
raise the perceived value in the eyes of the buyers, as it ideally
does with customers.

Yes, I suppose I could dig down and come up with some castable
designs. But I still need to find the right way to market the pieces
I make because my soul demands it. If I did not need to create, I
would just have a job of some sort. For what it is worth, I do make
other work, some of it quite repeatable, and lower in cost. But if I
am ever going to “do well”, it will be on the basis of my “signature
work”, so I need to get that work into venues where it will be
seen/bought, and I have trouble doing all that many retail shows.
Currently, my work is in NO galleries, and I need to find the ones
that want my kind of work. So wholesale shows seem like an efficient
way, maybe.

Unfortunately, it has not been my experience that “sincere retailers
who like your work will tell you what they need.” Mostly, they just
tell me yes or no. And when “no”, I don’t get an explanation of why.
Mobilia, which accepted and sold my “Just My Cup of Tea” teapot
piece (subject of the “Flashy Tea” thread a couple of years ago) has
not been willing to display anything else of mine, and I have no
idea why. I was turned down by ACC Baltimore – and St Paul!

So, evidently I do have something to prove. If anyone has insight as
to what the problem is, I hope you will share it with me. Some
things are obvious to everybody except oneself. Regardless, I will
keep plugging away-- it’s the only game in town!

–Noel


#10

Hi Karen,

At what POINT do you get the signature on the order form-- at the
show? after you've produced design concept sketches? when you've
agreed to a prototype's production run? As the designer, do I ask
for a percent of payment up front as I currently do with custom
customers? (I do 50% up front, 25% when final design is agreed to,
25% before shipment of final product) And how about that final
payment -- I assume that as a good businessperson I should receive
it prior to shipping them the order, correct? 

There are no hard and fast rules for this. The circumstances will
govern your up front requirements. Just don’t sell yourself short.

Generally, if I am asked to design in a certain direction, and I
don’t know, or more importantly don’t have a payment history
established with the client, I will require a minimum order and get
at least half down, with an agreement for half on delivery before I
get started. Whew - run on sentence!

We require credit references and check them thoroughly. I highly
recommend having some credit applications handy.

Once a client is established, the minimum order and payment
requirements are usually well understood. We quite often charge
credit cards before we ship.

A note of caution. Clients who constantly attempt to renegotiate
lower prices and lower up front costs for themselves are trouble. When
you see this pattern emerging, find a way to make a polite exit. Your
time is better spent elsewhere.

Recently, a fairly new client wanted a large order. He wanted it made
quickly, and wanted some fairly radical modifications of some
existing designs (mine, of course). We agreed to up front payment in
full. It worked out fine.

I talk much faster than I write, and can cover more ground that way.
If you would like to chat with me about some of your other questions,
please call me at the workshop -(505)881-3367. I can usually be
reached Mon - Fri, 8-5 Mountain.

I will close with a shameless plug.

We are still accepting resumes for a full time salaried sales rep
position.

Email resumes directly to me at mmrogers@mmrogers.com. Please don’t
attempt to forward resumes though Orchid. We prefer PDF files. Send
references - a minimum of five. We WILL call them, so make sure all
telephone numbers are current.

Sincerely,

Michael Rogers
mmrogers@mmrogers.com


#11

I have been watching this post with some interest as I make one of a
kind work. In some cases “some” of a kind. I display the work, take
orders on things that I can repeat without tying myself into a
pretzel, and sell the ones that I wouldn’t make again with a gun
pointed at me. Too complex. When I first started out, I made one of
a kind pieces. They were beautiful. No one would buy them. Buyers
would smile and look at the work, but then not buy. I swore that I
would never ever ever do production. I lied.

After a year or so of sitting without selling, I developed a lower
end production line. It was really cute. It sold. It sold really
well. It killed in fact. So there I was in production. Sigh…Not
what I had planned, but stores loved the work. I started doing
wholesale, then it really sold. I had moolah, but I wasn’t happy, so
soon, I began putting in a bit of my one of a kind work into the
cases. To my surprise, bit by bit, they sold.

It took a while, some magazine articles, some recognizable people
wearing my work and a lot of patience, but within a few years the one
of a kinds were in and the production work was gone gone gone. I was
a much happier jeweler.

The work hadn’t changed, people just had to see it over time and fall
in love with it…and if you have seen my work, some of it takes a
little time to figure out that you like it. Not everyone’s
taste…lol.

Now I have jumped into gold…22k, and I am having show nightmares
every night. Last night’s dream found me forgetting to pack my
suitcase, and ending up in a tiny booth overwhelmed by gargantuan
neighboring booths. Pray for me… :slight_smile:

The upshot is, that doing what makes you happiest sometimes takes
more time than the tried and true business plan…and works better
for you anyway. Do what makes you smile.

Lisa, (carving, soldering and setting up a storm), Topanga, CA USA


#12

Thank you, Donna,

One thing I have decided to do, after years of varied experience
in business and artmaking, is to create a model for my business
that allows me to follow my passion. It is the passion that
sustains me.

What you say is what I’ve been trying to get at. Rather than make
things fast, I think that I need to give myself permission to make
things that take even longer than what I’ve been making. When I look
at the work of the people I admire most-- from Lalique to Namu Cho,
James michael Sturlin, Andy Cooperman, and so many others-- these
people are not whipping their pieces out! There are many fine
metalsmiths, like Barbara Heinrich for example, who have studios
full of help, and have a genius for designs that have wide appeal
and can be mass produced. I have no word to say against them. That
just isn’t the way I am able to work, for better or worse.

–Noel


#13

Hi Mr. Rogers:

I suppose I was particularily commenting on the advice "to make a
lot of things fast" - I see that some craftspeople thrive by
producing work in this way - their aesthetic and business acumen
suits this model. Other craftspeople produce work that requires
more time on each piece - 

I was wondering if I could ask a question at this point (although I
have not been involved in this thread). I am in no way as experienced
as you guys, but am learning. How I have been looking at it is this:
I take the total amount of hours I am able to work in a given period
and divide it by the number of pieces I am able to make. I try to
come up with a total figure on how much I could make if I were to
make the maximum number of pieces and they were all going to sell
within a given period (I know, I have a big ego). The problem is, at
the present, the maximum number of pieces I can make doesn’t yield
the net profit I would like. I work alone as of yet and would like to
figure when/how to take on help. I have upwardly adjust the the
prices on my products already and I think they are in line with
market (although it is still not profitable to wholesale them).

As an aside, there is an issue that comes up with the phrase “make a
lot of things fast” I don’t have any problem with it, but I think it
sparks the same kind of reaction I have when my Mom calls me and says
"can you throw something together as a gift for so-and-so?" No, I
don’t “throw things together” It’s just a nuance that may get
somebody’s goat. I refer to my work as “products” because I think of
myself as a business. If I referred to my work as art (which it
isn’t) I would be more apt to think of myself as an artist and might
forget that the primary objective here is to make money. You’re right
though. If you’re going to make money, make a lot of things fast
pretty much sums it up.

Thanks
Kim Starbard
Cove Beads


#14

Dear Noel, I have found that I can not make a living with my one off
work. I have very good artistic credentials such as having one of my
grandfather’s, my father’s and my own pieces in the Renwick permanent
collection. Three generations of my family have had museum shows, my
father is an award winning craftsman/designer and my family has been
making jewelry for coming on one hundred years. We have been
collected by many famous names. I have closed my retail store because
it was not economically viable. I am wholesaling a collection of
designs inspired by 3 generations of family designs and find that 60%
of my sales are from commision work out of my studio. There is even a
solid market for my families pieces in a few galleries and E-Bay. OK
so my reality is that I need to keep overhead very low, be visable to
people wanting commision work and repairs and the few orgaizational
clients I have (churches and clubs). I have worked with marketing
people for years both in the art world and regular marketers. I make
few one offs anymore but, I still indulge myself. There seems to be a
gap for craftsmen getting gallery space and being able to make a
living from such venues. I too have been turned down by ACC on
numerous occasions, whta blow to the ego. I have also been turned
down by the Smithsonian craft show, another ego blow. So I need less
ego and more sales. I am raising 2 kids from this income, more sales,
less overhead and ego.

Sam Patania, Tucson
www.patanias.com


#15

Okay my turn to offer my two cents. I am going to address this to
both Noel and Kim. I, like Roger, have a wholesale production line. I
have several jewelers who either have gone off to do theie own thing,
are would like to go off and do their own thing, which I support
whole heartedly. I am going to give the same speach I give them.

Unfortunatly we live in a capitalistic sociaty, where the average
buyer is looking for the best deal at the best price, period. Most
people couldn’t either tell the difference, or care if a piece was
painstakenly made by your hand or churned off a machine. Now before
everyone gets in an uproar remember, I am talking generalizations. So
people care and appreciate hand craftsmanship, but there is a reason
that Zales and the like are still in buisness, with five stores just
like it in every mall in America.

So now for the harsh piece of buisness reality, if the market wont
bare the price tag you are putting on your piece, sorry, it is
overpriced.It is not the consumers fault it takes you 20 hours to
make a piece, and that you need to make more than pennies an hour.
Great venue for one offs (no its not wholesale), do fairs, art and
wine fests, farmers markets etc. Stores and galliers are out to make
money, and if your one off (dont forget they are going to mark it up
around 2.5 to cover there overhead) has to sit on a shelf for a year
on the hope that someone appreciates it, well they are losing money
since there are hundereds waiting in the wings with products that
have better price points and sell faster. Now I am not saying that
everyone should churn out quick easy garbage, or that you need to
sell yourself short as an artist, but there is a reason they call it
work, even if it is for yourself. If you want to do great labor
intensive one offs, great do it, but realize it is a hobbie and find
a way to pay your bills. If you want to make a living as a jeweler
with a wholesale buisness, well sit down, form a buisness plan, and
go. Now remember your buisness plan means coming up with a profitable
product, unfortunatly the buying public owes none of us anything, and
it is not our right to have them buy our one offs. And who knows, if
you can make enough of a name for yourself with a production line,
then maybe the market will bear your “signature piece” one offs, but
untill then you are going to have to come up with something that the
public likes at a price the public will pay.

Option two, open a retail store, stock it full of whatever you want.

Eric


#16

The work is beautiful, the economy sucks, are galleries selling? If
not, (I do one of a kinds too, and own a gallery) then it’s price
points. People just aren’t spending money now. Lots of lookers…
20-40 people per day; one or two sales (maybe)… not easy to run a
business, and frustrating as an artist. Oh, and we only represent
60+ artists not including myself. Thank goodness we’re a consignment
gallery. I’d hate to be a buyer now… Too many have Wal-Mart
mentality. Just my opinion.


#17
Are you saying that because my work is "art", it's hopeless to try
to sell it?? 

That is absolutely NOT what I’m saying Noel.

If your work will command a high enough price that a retailer can
charge twice, or more than you will charge them for it, you will do
fine.

If not, you will need another plan.

Most designers who make a decent living at it have a production line.
If there is a better way to do it, I’d sure like to learn about it so
I can spend more time with my kids.

There’s an old story about a couple of apple stands set up right next
to one another that sort of makes the point.

One fruit vendor with bushels of apples looks curiously over at
another vendor who has a solitary piece of fruit with an enormous
price tag on it and asks “do you really intend to make a living that
way?”.

The second vendor shrugs his shoulders and says “I only have to sell
one”.

I suppose it’s all in your point of view.

One last piece of wholesale advice, and then I’ll get out of here and
let someone else have the floor.

Don’t consign your work. Experience has taught me that people are far
more motivated to sell when their own money is invested. If you are
going to hold out and stick to your guns, hold out for cash.

Good luck Noel. I’ll see you at the shows!

Michael Rogers
M. M. Rogers Design
Albuquerque, NM


#18

I’m going to throw my 2 cents in on this thread. It has always been
my belief that, with the exception of a few extremely well known
jewelry artists, it is necessary to do both production and one offs.
The production work pays the bills and helps to pay for you to
develop one offs that take longer to sell. The reality is that time
intensive, more unique pieces are much harder and take longer to
sell. Given this, it is necessary to have something to keep the money
flowing. I don’t think it diminishes anyone’s artistic sensibilities
to have a line of something that pulls in enough money to do the fun
stuff. Most painters do lithographs or other repeatable pieces as
well.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
617-234-4392
@Daniel_R_Spirer
www.spirerjewelers.com


#19

Hi

I am a little lost in all these emails are you tired of retail? and
want to move to wholesale? If it is so then, if you were successful
in retail you should be even more successful in wholesale does not
matter if you are turning out trillion pcs a day or one.

If you were successful in retail that means your pcs sell, any
retailer or gallery would be glad to carry your pcs as long as it
goes with what ever else they are carrying and they are impressed by
you. I would not feel bad or my ego would not be hurt if a certian
Gallery or store doesnot want to carry my art. People make many
diccitons for many diffrent reasons and until they tell me on my
face that your work is not good enough for them then I would like to
take a non bais look at what they sell and what you have to offer
and make according changes if I can. Your ego should not be so cheap
that anyone can hurt it.

If you were not successful in retailing your pcs, but are sure that
your pcs are what people appreciate, and you just don’t know how to
merchandise them, then still you are on the okay side, you will have
to find a retailer who can be convinced by you once again you will
have to do the selling but the pcs will do the talking too. In this
case it will be better for you to let someone else deal with the
retail.

If you had a hard time retailing because your pcs are just not what
majority of people are looking for and only attract certain type of
customers then you need to find areas where there is majority of
that kind of customers are. Wholesale or retail again depend upon
the two above mentioned criteria.

What should be your price in wholesale?

if you are moving form retail to wholesale then this should be an
easy answer. You already know what the end customer is willing to
pay the question remains how you should spilt the profit between you
and the retailer. A very simple equation of that is what ever it
costs you to manage the retail part of your business is what you
should offer in discount from your retail price. example your
time,rent or show fees and expenses…

you could now also consider to have pcs mass produced by some
factory in China India Italy Mexico where bulk jewelry production is
the way of business. These people are also smart enough to look at
an item and create ways to make them faster without loosing the
originality. This is what they do for a living.

Know yourself and employ yourself in your own company to do just
those thinks that you are good at and leave the rest for other who
are better at it than you are. Just have to keep an eye on
everything making sure your company is going in the direction you
want it to go.

One question I would like to ask Does Cartier or Tiffany makes more
money or the companies who make duplicates or bootleg? These
companies are not managed by designers themselves.

I hope I was of some help
Gary Udhwani


#20

Hi Noel,

I have seen many replies to your original post about the merits of
selling production vs. one-off, but I haven’t seen any response to
you as far as how to connect to your market and sell what you are
already doing if that is what you wish to do.

I have been doing business through a website called
Wholesalecrafts.com for almost 2 years now and in the past year it
has really taken off. There are many artisans on there who sell
one-off and very limited production (2-3 of the piece)… not
necessarily jewelry, but a variety of other media. It is a different
beast than selling a production line, but from what I’m hearing,
they are connecting with the galleries that are seeking this type
of work.

It is something that you may want to look into. If you join, there
is a forum for artisans to use and I know this subject has been
covered. While there is a lot of low-end bread and butter stuff
available there, there is also high-caliber, high-dollar work as
well.

Good luck!
Carrie Otterson