wholesale vs. retail

Okay, this seems to be the great debate. Why on earth would anyone willingly sell his/her work at half off to a retailer? Why indeed. Concepts like volume and quality of life come to mind.

When one exhibits at retail arts and crafts fairs, one spends the whole weekend in the hot sun trying to sell work one piece at a time. When one attends a wholesale show, one is taking orders from and building relationships with retailers for a large quantity of goods, that are then produced over a fairly long period of time. Generally it takes five to seven days to do a wholesale show producing an average of $30,000 in orders (BMAC winter stats). How many three or four day weekend shows would it take to produce that same revenue -- ten or more? What about all that extra time away from your studio attending retail shows -- time that you could have used to produce more craft widgets? Not to mention trashing all that weekend leisure time!

In the early 1980's my Stoneworks partner, Bill, and I did 37 retail shows one year -- all across the country, but concentrated in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona. That's a lot of traveling, folks. I calculated that between us we had six man months that year on the road: beating up vehicles, spending way too much money on lodging, and eating indifferently. When I subtracted our travel expenses from those retail revenues, I figured that each show (weekend) brought us only $200 more than we would have grossed had we sold that product at wholesale! Let me say that another way: we trashed half the weekends in a year to make $200 a weekend. If you add in something for the cost of being out of the studio going to and coming back from those shows, we were really out-of-pocket some serious money! Talk about quality of life issues: we were run ragged, and neglected our families. How's that for the romance of being an artist?

We stopped doing retail shows the next year. Instead, we concentrated on the wholesale shows and cultivated a base of quality retailers who would reorder throughout the year, not just at those shows. We could then stay home, reintroduce ourselves to our families, and never missed that so-called retail markup.

Go figure!


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