From August 22-25, three Kentucky Crafted artists exhibited in the Kentucky Arts Council (KAC) booth at the Buyers Market of American Craft (BMAC). This was the first national show two of the artists have participated in. The third exhibitor was a veteran. BMAC occurs twice a year, and Traci Cassilly, Jordan Stapp and Marvin Schnoll headed to Baltimore for the summer show. All were taking orders within the first few minutes of the show’s opening.
Doing a national wholesale show is not a venture to be taken lightly and I’m sure each of the exhibitors gave considerable thought to whether this was the right venue for their work. What sorts of guidelines should you use to determine if wholesaling on a national level is the right direction for your work and if you are ready to go down that slippery slope?
First off, a show the size of the BMAC (an average of 8,500 retailers attend each show) definitely requires production work. Maybe that realization took you out of the mix right away. If not, let’s keep traveling down this road. Do you have a full product line with pieces at varied price points? Do you feel really good about the wholesale prices you’ve established for your work? What is your production schedule like? Is your cash flow strong enough to support buying more materials to meet the supply and demand? These are a lot of questions just to decide whether or not to do one show – one show that if it is a good show for you, might keep you busy and support your family for six months or a year.
Most artists who choose to wholesale their work in the national marketplace decided long ago that they did not like packing up all the display materials and their complete inventory, throwing it in the van and heading out on the road to put up a 10′ by 10′ open-sided tent just in time for the rainstorm to hit. They have made working in the studio a priority over constantly putting their work out in front of a new audience each weekend. Yes, by making this choice they are giving approximately half of the profits from the sale of their product to another entity. That is one of the definitions of trade. If we go back to one of the questions we asked in a previous paragraph regarding feeling good about wholesale prices, we see how important the answer to this question can be.
Another way to approach the age-old question of whether to sell your work wholesale or retail is to do both. Consider establishing a production line of quilts that are machine stitched by a cooperative of women that you pay a fair hourly wage to. They are producing your designs, with your name on them, and you are offering the end products to the retail trade. At the same time the women are sewing away on these quilts, you are producing 3 to 4 hand-stitched wall quilts per year for museum publications and themed exhibitions in galleries. Your creative needs are being met; you’re creating new jobs and you have products for sale in the wholesale market. Everyone wins! Just as there is a clear difference between the two end products, there is a clear difference between the markets for the two end products.
Do you think you are ready for a national show, or what is your experience with doing large national shows in the past?
Vallorie Henderson, business development director