You make a really neat Widget for a friend’s birthday. When unwrapped at the party, several guests say, “Wow~ you made that? You should sell these somewhere!” And having heard this before, you’re thinking, “Yes, I’d love to but how and where?”
First, accept the compliment. Second, folks often have no idea how hard it is to ‘break in’ somewhere, but do want to encourage or support your endeavor. I have a bit of experience in this area. Everyone’s journey will be a little different of course, but I’ll share mine. Maybe you can learn from some of my mis-steps :)
Many downtown shops love having items from local artists and crafters selling in their shop. Some reasons are: This appeals to their idea of supporting the community. It helps fill shelves without paying shipping fees. Tourists and visitors love having a memento for going home, reminding them of their recent trip.
Shops generally acquire their merchandise in two different ways; consignment and buying wholesale. This post is about the consignment route.
Back up a couple decades: I used to make Dinosaur Diaper Bags. These were Stegasaurus-type dinosaurs with four feet, a long tail and jagged teeth. They were padded, fully lined with a zipper, rope straps and large button eyes…a fun look. We had two little boys at the time; I made my own diaper bag, he was a purple dinosaur and we all liked him. End of story.
~Not quite. You see, once we had the pattern figured out, I made up two ‘prototypes’ before the purple one (a green dinosaur and a blue one). We liked the purple one so that’s what we used.
Many times when out with our Purple Dinosaur Diaper Bag, folks would stop and comment on it. I even gave out our phone number a few times because someone asked if I’d make them one. Eventually, a customer called. They wanted a dinosaur for a baby shower next week. Perfect, I thought, I already have a green one and blue one ready to go. So we agreed on a date and price. Turns out, the baby was a girl and of course they requested a pink dinosaur. Well, what could I say ? They were willing to pay, I was willing to sew; I made a pink one. They asked me to add a ribbon bow. Well, okay. The pink dinosaur came out rather cute, the customer was thrilled and all was well. Except we still had the two dinosaur diaper bags in need of a home. Around the same time a couple of friends had little girl babies. I started making Prairie Sunbonnets from a sweet pattern I found in a Vintage book (pre-Google days, people..actually, this was pre-PC). These were fun baby gifts to make and give. An easy project; hem this, gather that, add ties, turn right-side out and you’re done. Huge cuteness factor in a small package. I made lots of them in gingham and tiny rosebud prints. A local church advertised they were hosting a craft bazaar; for $12 you get a booth with an 8′ table, 2 chairs and a hot dog. I signed up, made a couple more dinosaurs (pink this time), grabbed the sunbonnets and off I went. It was kind of fun. I got to meet a lot of nice people, sold some sunbonnets and a few other crafts I’d brought and ate a hot dog. AND, I sold a pink dinosaur. Yea ! But now I had more leftover inventory.
There was a new ‘gently-used clothing’ store a few blocks from our house. I had bought some nice little-boy shorts there. The store had all sorts of infant equipment, clothing for babies and small children, plus a maternity department. And, they had a small sign by the cash register announcing they took things on consignment. I contemplated approaching the owner. I’d met her when shopping there with friends. Still it took me a while to work up the courage to go in and ask about selling crafts there.
****When inquiring about consignment, here’s what I think you should do to present yourself as organized and professional as possible:
1~ Visit the place and scout it out like you’re on a secret mission. Do your items “fit” the feel of the shop? Can you visualize a display of your crafts there? Check prices, do your crafts fit into the price range? How are other crafts tagged, bagged and displayed? Are there shoppers in the store? Is the atmosphere clean or dusty? Is it a place you would make a purchase?
2~ Go home, call the store, ask to speak to the manager, owner or buyer. Let them know you’re interested in making an appointment to talk with them about putting some craft items there on consignment. Take notes: write down the name of the contact and who you need to speak to. Book an appointment, leave them your phone number, say Thank You. Immediately note the appointment date and time on your calendar, on the bathroom mirror, on your forehead. Whatever it takes for you to remember. You have just been granted a small window of time in a public shopping venue. They might give you money for your crafts. Don’t mess up this opportunity !
3~ Make your game-plan. Sit down and figure out how long it takes to create your item/craft/widget. Maybe you do it in stages so if you make 4 in 2 hours, you are making two per hour, so it takes you 30 minutes to make one widget. What is the base, minimum material cost to produce one item? Okay, now what does a similar sort of widget sell for at another store? What are you willing to be paid, net profit, for your widget? Remember, it needs to sell for enough to make you a profit over the cost of supplies and the consignment percentage. I have found shops take 30-50% of the retail price for consignment items (*gulp*).
Example of my high-falutin’ spreadsheet estimation: I was sewing dinosaurs and sunbonnets. They were fairly easy but somewhat tediously sewn in short spurts. This was due to the fact I had a toddler and baby to feed on a regular basis. Plus there were silly interruptions to make sure they stopped bouncing on the waterbed and quit “feeding the heater-god” (dropping Cheerios and crayons down into the heater grate) (I really did watch them). Or, I could sew a bit while they napped and then more after all were in bed for the night. <<This was more realistic. I had no idea how long it took to make one dinosaur diaper bag but by the end of the week I could finish 3 or 4 plus at least that many sunbonnets. I figured (loosely) the dinosaur bag cost was about $4 each and maybe $2 for the sunbonnets. That was the best I could do for an estimate. I wasn’t sure what I could make for a profit as long as I had something to show for my effort. Anyway, I’m not fond of math and I really sew for my sanity. A wild goal was to net $15 on a dinosaur and $6 on a sunbonnet. I could live with that.
Back to the business of the appointment…..
4~ Day of Appointment: Let’s say it’s set for Thursday at 10:00am. You are dressed modestly, have in hand your price list, a sample of each item and business card with pertinent contact information. Bring a pad of paper and pen to take notes. Go alone. No kids, pets or friend for morale support. Bring no food, phone or pager. No gum chewing. Arrive at the location at least 10 minutes early. Breathe. Pray for a clear mind. Tidy yourself, square your shoulders and enter the store 5 minutes ahead of your appointment. Smile, ask for the contact by name, introduce yourself.
The above is the procedure I recommend. Is that what I did for my first consignment appointment? No, I did not. I pretty much did not manage to do anything remotely like that, though I had planned to do it “the right way”. Instead, this is what happened…The next time I went for a walk with the kids~stroller and all, I stopped in the consignment place to pretend to shop while I “cased the place”. The owner greeted me and asked if there was anything she could help me with, taking a quick glance to confirm other shoppers weren’t listening, noting my boys were busy digging through the play area and occupied for the moment, I took the plunge and blurted, “How does it work to sell here on consignment?”. So much for procedure and professionalism.
It turned out okay. She filled me in about how much percentage the shop took when an item sold. We discussed what kinds of crafts I had in mind. It was a very casual proposition. Bottom line: Bring your crafts in, we’ll put them on display and you get part of the sale. Since I had my faithful purple dinosaur with me, she approved it on the spot and agreed to see sunbonnets next time I came in. I headed home on ‘cloud-nine’. That’s how I literally walked into consignment.
There are pros and cons to this method of selling. PRO: your stuff gets seen. Finished projects languishing in your sewing room don’t get sold, no matter how much cuteness factor they have. CON: Unfortunately, buyers in a consignment shop don’t know whose stuff it is as you are only dealing with the shop owner. So expanding outside of the shop is nearly impossible as they don’t want you to label or ‘brand’ your items. They especially do not want a tag with any contact info. This keeps you a secret from the buyer and a slave to the shop (no offense intended). I realize, some situations you encounter may be very different but this has been my experience :) PRO: It’s an instant outlet for those ‘leftover crafts’ that haven’t sold at any craft show or bazaar you participated in. Your sewing room will have, well~ Room. Some shops will limit how many items you bring in, others welcome anything to fill their shelves. Some shops show their merchandise well. Others tend to look like a thrift store of outdated items. You can offer to come in and create/update/clean your display area if you’re given a section of your own. Some want you just to discreetly drop off a plain brown bag when you visit (and I am not kidding). Shops like it to look like new merchandise magically appears and do not want the sellers to be mixing with the customers. Unveiling a box full of fresh goodies with new moms peeking is not what they want. You are the silent surrogate. I was once approached by a mom on my way home after dropping off my plain brown bag. She was perceptive about the delicacy of the consignee/owner relationship but knew I sewed and wanted to talk with me outside the grounds of the shop. This is indeed a delicate situation and seller fee avoidance is something a venue tries to avoid. However, I slightly knew this mom (in the friend-of-a-friend sort of manner) and what she was asking me to make was completely outside the craft items connected with the shop. So we chatted, I made a sale and a friend.
Where do you sell things on consignment? Forget the chain stores; they’re busy selling their own brand merchandise. Is there a local hangout where people get coffee? A mom-and-pop ice cream shop, soup/sandwich cafe or family owned pizza joint with shelving to display things? Do they already have little tidbits for sale? Great~you’ll fit right in. They don’t sell crafts? Perfect~you could be their first crafter ! We frequent a small bakery that serves a soup-salad lunch. They have six 2-1/2′ square tables with chairs plus two loveseats and a coffee table. A fireplace mantel is decorated with small wooden figurines and framed artwork for sale. Faux flower arrangements on tables are for sale. A Vintage dresser displays greeting cards created by a local photographer and some hand-painted pottery. By the coffee urns there’s a metal bulletin board displaying decoupage frig magnets. In other words, they decorate with consignment. There’s not a lot; the groupings are well-coordinated and price tags are small, tactful, yet easy to find. The crafts are perfect little tableaus and accents, tastefully arranged. Take a second look around your usual places and maybe you’ll start seeing these type of items for sale that you never noticed.
I once approached a popular coffee house (again, not a chain), hoping to sell there. The decor was rustic, eclectic and casual, though drink prices were a bit upscale for me. It was big with the eco-friendly college and young professional crowd. I had made a collection of cup coats/coffee sleeve thingies. An even mix of linens and lace with Vintage buttons plus mod print cottons. I also had a few dozen sets of fun costume jewelry earrings both in contemporary and Victorian styles. The shop sells some local handcrafts like organic t-shirts, crocheted scarves, knit berets and Boho hobo bags. I really had worked to create items that would be a good fit for this place (this technique is “targeting your market”). I followed the above suggested plan. I made an appointment to meet with one of the owners and chat about selling there. I am a supporter of downtown shops and had a ‘nodding’ relationship with the owners and staff. My paperwork was done, samples packed and they called to cancel the appointment, “Something came up”. Well, that’s life. I called to ask for an appointment the next week; the owner remembered me and suggested I send an email with the information as they were busy. So I did, price list and photos. No response. I went in another time, ordered a hot chocolate and slipped it into one of my coffee coats (I did not mention selling, I was actually protecting my fingers). The barista commented on it, saying it was a neat idea and pointed it out to the one of the owners who recognized the product/or me and said I should call and chat about it, promising to read my email and get back to me. Lots of good intentions but not enough action. I was done. If it was that difficult to just get an appointment or email acknowledged, what would it be like waiting for a payment for items sold? I decided I was done there (no hard feelings~), and of course I never told them that. Then I took my items down the street to a little artsy place where the owner was thrilled to meet me and immediately offered a contract. If one plan doesn’t work out, it’s still a stepping stone for another idea. Being prepared for the one place (even though it didn’t work out) brought me that much closer to being display-ready somewhere else.
***Stay tuned for Part 2…
**Please note, I have taken “literary license” with the details contained. While given situations and examples are true, I often alter specific details such as names, timelines and locations. In a few cases, the example is a composite of several people or places. Some of the people are no longer living; some shops are no longer open. I want to respect the privacy of others as much as I am able :)