Recent correspondence with Suzanne Sippel, Retail Manager Asher Gallery at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, raised an important issue. Many artists and craftspeople too often make a huge mistake. I have witnessed this phenomenon myself for years especially when I go to the smaller shows, exhibitions and online.
Suzanne Sippel said, “It’s the craft shows and fairs where I find more artists who don’t understand the business aspect of what they do. They are so excited to be selling their work that they ignore or forget the “sales” portion of the transaction. They miss the distinction between wholesale and retail, and absolutely forget overhead. I was very excited to read your column on including overhead, as I had not found a way to explain this to my “younger” artists.
As the Asher has grown we are representing more mature artists, and these issues arise less and less as a consequence. But it’s still a problem. I will find fantastic work by a new artist, but they would want to double their prices for me (wholesale/retail mix-up again). Naturally this keeps them out of my gallery, but they are still out there. It devalues all of our businesses and their own professional growth.”
So what is the impact of selling your work at wholesale prices at a street fair, open studio, online, or exhibition? If you sell work in retail venues (such as the above) and charge only wholesale prices, then you aren't covering your retail expenses. But even more important, no gallery or store will take your work. They don't want to compete with YOU selling at your wholesale price.
A gallery or store can't sell your work when they know that their customers might buy something similar from you at at half the price. It makes their retail price look like they are ripping off their customers. Of course, that isn't true, but the customer might not understand that the artist is the one making a big mistake.
You heard the gallery perspective in the quote from Suzanne Sippel, but the message concerns your survival as an artist or maker. Your wholesale prices should cover your investment in fabricating the work including hours, materials, and overhead (including overhead labor and overhead materials.)
Your retail prices should cover your retailing expenses. In the example of a street fair, you have the booth fee, travel, hotel, food, time for sitting at the booth, expenses involved in creating your booth (such as tent, cases, tables, fabric for your drape, and display expenses such as lights, fixtures, and more.) These expenses are not covered in your wholesale price. Retailing has its own set of expenses which is why there is a retail price.
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