Category Archives: Marketing Wearable Art

Marketing Wearable Art: Pricing

During the years I marketed tie dye and batik clothing at weekend festivals in the Southeast US, I met hundreds of other craft artisans.  In the Up and Dyed gallery, 12 other creators of wearable art were represented under my management.  Many of those great folks were gifted artists as well as skilled artisans.  What is the difference between an artist and an artisan?  Can you be both?  An artist is a person who creates one item of art work at a time, from their own imagination, without intending to ever make another one exactly the same. The creation is an expression of the artist’s very specific artistic thought.   An artisan is a person engaged in the creation of similar art work over and over, usually of their own design and style, but perhaps using some one else’s pattern or instruction.  I am both an artist and an artisan.

Many professional craft artists, like me are also artisans in order to make a living at their craft.  Way too often, skilled artisans and artists struggle to sell their high quality handmade products. Several factors can contribute to the struggle. One is having an appropriate venue, not just any venue, but a venue in which the products are recognized and valued by patrons and potential patrons.  Another of those primary factors is appropriate pricing. Sometimes the products are over priced by local market standards. While far too many craft artisans greatly under price their wares, not earning enough to realize a profit.  How to arrive at a fair market retail price for the items you produce by hand? There are numerous considerations when determining a retail price for any item of  wearable art.

  • Calculate every single penny of your overhead and production costs.  Leave nothing out, no matter how trivial it may seem. Arriving at this calculation will be a difficult and hellish task, but once completed will be a valuable tool in the successful pricing of your wares.
  •  When marketing at consignment shops, consider the percentage paid to the shop part of YOUR overhead, as it helps pay the shop’s overhead.
  • Consider travel expenses, costs of shipping for supplies, all expenses related to making your business function.
  • Learn to estimate time spent on production of the item by jotting down amount of time spent on each step in the process on a note pad.  Add up the time–you may be spending more time than you thought!
  • Research the competition.  Investigate the price range of similar items in similar venues.
  • Be very realistic about workmanship.  An enthusiastic beginner’s skill  level and production time will be quite different from an experienced master.
  • Use a formula to create a fair price list, such as Cost multiplied by a set percentage rate, based on the wholesale cost of the supplies used.  

Cost X 3=retail price is a common formula for beginner artisans,

 up to Cost X 6=retail price for master artisans and artists.

Art patrons are willing to pay for well made unique items.  When they are treated to fair pricing standards, they will buy more art work, from you and from other artists.  Educate your patrons in the price difference between a one-of-a-kind item verses  multiples of similar items.  Value the work you do, and others will, too.

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Marketing Wearable Art: Venues

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So you really enjoy making wearable art, and now all of your family and friends have tons of  your work, but you still want to make more. Supplies are expensive.  How to feed your habit? Perhaps you can sell your craft, to provide funds for more materials.   Should you start a business? And if so, how should you go about it?  Are fairs and festivals right for your product?  Should you rent a store front or sell on-line?  You have heard about consignment shops and co-ops, but what does that mean?

My business grew out of a hobby that had morphed into a passion.  Unlike most craft artisans, I began by teaching my craft to others long before I attempted marketing.  Therefore, I had several years of product development under my belt, plus several years of small business retail management experience from my actual wage earning vocation.  I was also very blessed to have a spouse with a professional level income sufficient to support our family, and my infantile business.  A healthy economy and scarce competition at the time were certainly factors in my success as well.  Even with all those favorable conditions, it took a great deal of hard work, perseverance, and time to actually see a profit.  I have marketed in the following ways: consignment shops, festivals, wholesaling to retail stores, in a co-operative, on-line, and in my own store front in an artsy/tourist district.  Each situation had advantages and disadvantages.  I am now using a combination of on-line sites and consignment shops to sell my wares, as this is what suits my current life circumstances.  Please bear in mind,  MY experience is not YOUR experience.  You and your family may have very different dynamics and needs from your ‘hobby becoming a business’ venture.

The first consideration to marketing a handmade  craft item of any kind is product development.  Do you CONSISTENTLY produce a quality item that is professionally made, fairly priced, and will attract consumer attention?  It it not enough that your family and friends think your craft is grand, or that you believe it is going to take the world in a storm of commerce.  The unbiased opinions of total strangers is what really counts.  Try to test the waters in a couple of retail avenues with  samples of your work, before diving in head first.  Perhaps a locally owned business will allow you to test the market through their store front with an introductory display.  Sending items to a festival venue with another craftsperson, or sharing a booth space is a good way to test feasibility.  Using a website designed for craftpeople is a very popular avenue for product exploration, too.   One time, I was developing a line of reversible tote bags and shoulder bags.  My oldest daughter took a big box of my test products to her work place in a large city.  She sold everything in less than an hour, telling me two important things–1. Yes, they were  marketable products, and 2. I was not charging enough!

Once you have ascertained the marketability and consumer appeal of your wares, you should investigate the commerce laws of the municipality in which you reside.  Check with the Secretary of State for your state of residency, if you are in the USA, or your County Court Clerk.  Each State has different laws regarding how small businesses operate.  Many states do not require the purchase of a business licence until a set annual gross income level  is reached.  Having a business licence is  usually not expensive and can be to your advantage in many ways.  It provides protection for the business name, allows the business owner to purchase tax-free for resale, and gives the business owner access to purchasing supplies in bulk at wholesale costs.

It is an age-old custom for craftspeople to gather in a large group to conduct commerce.  Fairs or out-door festivals are the route that many craftpeople use to market their wares.  A vendor’s fee, plus travel expenses, is a somewhat inexpensive means of accessing thousands of potential customers who are interested in purchasing hand-made items.  Festivals are an excellent venue for wearable art products. My business selling tie dyed and batik clothing flourished in the out-door festival venue, in part because clothing is a light-weight, portable item.  Lugging metal sculptures, fragile stained glass, or heavy pots around a large festival site is tiring and cumbersome for the shoppers.  My experience at indoor fairs was dismal and frustrating, thus short-lived.  Although it was the same product in the same city, I found my customer base did not attend indoor events.

The primary disadvantage of marketing at outdoor festivals is the risk of bad weather.   Rain, wind, too cold, too hot–all work to keep customers away, and discourage lingering.  Since booth fees are usually paid months in advance, there is just no way to plan against the weather. Unless you are willing to travel long distances, or reside in a mild climate, seasonal  changes may limit the out-door festival possibilities as well.  I spent the Winter in the studio building inventory for a March to November marketing season.

Joining, or establishing, a marketing co-operative (guild) is another often- used means for the emerging artisan.  Co-ops generally require an annual membership fee, a percentage of each sale, and frequently, work hours for the members.  Co-ops provide a business manager to handle sales and bookkeeping for the group, an established gallery or store front from which to sell, and the advantage of diversity of products to attract a broad range of consumer interests.

Consignment sales is a low-cost, no investment-up-front method of marketing art work.  The artist places his or her work in a gallery or shop.  When an item sells, the shop keeps a percentage of the sale, and pays the artist a percentage.  Consignment store usually pay their artists monthly for the sales made in the previous month.  A common split in consignment is 40% to the shop or gallery, and 60% to the artist.  A reputable consignment shop will have a contract, keep excellent records, and pay by check on a regular schedule.  Beware of oral agreements!

I think every crafts person dreams of owning his or her own shop at one time or another.  It seems like the perfect, ideal situation. And for some folks it is!  Overhead costs of rent, utilities, insurance, plus inventory-building expenses, plus labors costs all have to be considered before any profit is realized.  Economic experts advise having at least 9 months of operating expenses saved before starting a new business venture.  It is unreasonable to expect to see a profit before the first three years in business.  All this coupled with the demands of being there to operate the business, result in a high burn out and failure rate.  In the neighborhood where my store front was located, the average life for a small business was two years.  Many only lasted a few months.  This sounds very discouraging, I know.  But it is best to have a realistic view, and reasonable expectation if you want to survive.  For myself, being tied to the store front was very confining.  Most of my time was spent waiting on browsers as they shopped, not actual customers.  It left me very little time to produce my wares–which was the whole point of being in business!

On-line businesses are very popular and the growing trend among retailers.  Some of my most loyal patrons I will never meet face-to-face because we live on different parts of the planet.  With on-line sales, global marketing is the norm.  Many sites are available to the craftsperson for group and individual marketing opportunities.  For a small fee, there are companies whose sole business is building and maintaining web sites for small and large businesses.  A website can literally be operated in your bathrobe, with products created after the order is placed and the payment received.

And, finally, there is this well established fact to mull over.  For many, many folks converting a beloved hobby into a business drains all the fun out of the activity.

I hope you found this information useful.  If so, please consider making a donation to help keep my site advertisement free.

 

 

 

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Filed under Marketing Wearable Art, Venues