Cobalt blue enamel on fine silver.
Since I began selling my jewellery 12 years ago I have sold in various ways - craft show, wholesale show, consignment in a store or gallery, direct from studio (including online sales) and by commission. I figured that I should try every way of selling until I found the way that suited my business best.
I have sold on consignment at approximately 15 different places from craft stores to jewellery galleries. Here are a few thoughts on selling by consignment...
- 'Consignment' is also known as 'sale or return' and it is when the artist places a number of their pieces for sale in a store or gallery owned and operated by another party. The artist retains ownership of the pieces until they are sold to a customer, at which time the artist is paid by the store owner. The store owner takes a 'commission', a % of the sales price.
- This commission could be anything but in my experience it varies from 35% to 50%. Some high-end galleries may take more. The commission covers all the expenses of retailing from paying sales staff to providing wrapping for the pieces.
- Selling on consignment leaves the artist free to make art and not worry about the business of selling and running a retail space. Especially vauable if this is not your strength and you find a good retailer.
- With co-operation from the retailer the artist can also use the store or gallery to test the market for different pieces, arrange small shows and presentations of new work.
- In my experience the best sales come from the best relationships (between artist and retailer)and the best relationships develop from mutual understanding and good communication. These things usually have to be worked at!
- Many artists grumble that with consignment the retailer is taking no risk with inventory, all the risk is taken by the artist. This is true of course, but can be mitigated somewhat if the retailer pays promptly for sales.
- Local retail outlets mean that you can check on your pieces - have they been moved, are they clean, are they displayed well, is inventory low? Long distance consignment requires far more trust in the retailer.
- If sales have been good and then suddenly drop off look into it right away, it could be a warning that things are not right with the store or gallery. This could be anything from it going out of business to it being so crowded with work that yours has been shoved out of sight.
- A contract with the gallery is a good idea, spelling out who is responsible for what and when cheques are sent out. Usually the pieces are insured in the gallery by the owner of the gallery and they are responsible for the work. Shipping work to the gallery is usually paid by the artist, shipping unsold work back is paid by the gallery. Most galleries pay out monthly, in the month following the sales month. If a gallery is constantly late with payment or often gets the payments wrong another warning bell should go off in the artist's head. The policy on lost or stolen items, and returned items is important to know.
- If things go really pear-shaped what can you do? If work has been sold and you haven't been paid, it can be a difficult situation, more so if the store is in another part of the country. This has happened to me and many other artists when Object Design gallery in Vancouver folded a couple of years ago after the owner pocketed money owed to the artists. Some of us launched small claims suits, some talked of hiring a collection agency. After considering the options I decided to take the loss.
- As of now I have work on consignment in two places. One is local and is the first store I ever consigned work with, it is far and away the best place to sell my work and the owner has become a good friend over the years. Mutual respect and commitment has been beneficial to both of us - I hope it continues a long time.
This is a long post, so I'll continue it next time with a list of dos and don'ts for consigning work. Meanwhile Happy Selling!