The town that I grew up in is situated on a busy stretch of highway, so it’s a common sight to see motorists stopping for a coffee or a stroll before continuing their journey.
Our main street is lined with gift shops selling the work of local and regional artists and craftspeople, as well as gift books, greeting cards and even local produce. It’s a lovely area to walk around in, and the shops are always busy.
For some artists, having a few works for sale in a gift shop can be a great way to earn extra money and extend your reach beyond your local community. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about this method of selling your art:
Would your particular artwork sell in a gift shop?
Gift shops cater to a different clientele than galleries, so only certain types of work will be appropriate.
For example, your art needs to be relatively portable, as gift shop customers want to buy a piece, have it gift-wrapped and take it away right then. Pieces that are too fragile or ungainly won’t sell as well.
Secondly, the art needs to appeal to a broad audience. Abstract or highly contemporary art doesn’t sell as well as folk art or create decorative objects that have a use—for example, painted teapots or cast-iron doorknockers.
Usually, gift shops have a regional theme, so any artwork that conveys a strong sense of place—like landscape paintings or sculptures made from local river stones—will be more likely to appeal.
Remember that shops will usually mark up your pieces by 50%, so you will probably need to sell at a discounted rate. Make sure the type of artwork that you’re offering will still bring you a profit when sold at a deep store discount.
And that brings us to our next question:
Should you sell your art on consignment or wholesale?
There are two different methods of being paid for your artwork. In a consignment agreement, the gift shop will stock your items for free, add their own commission, and then pay you your share once the goods are sold. If your art doesn’t sell, you don’t get paid.
Selling on consignment is often one of the best ways of testing a market, because it is relatively low risk for both artist and retailer.
Selling your art wholesale means that the retailer purchases your items from you outright, but then keeps all the money they make from reselling your work to their buyers.
Selling wholesale is often the most desirable option for artists because you receive the money up-front, but beware of stores that require you to buy back any unsold items. In addition, while wholesale is more appealing to artists, many stores don’t have the overhead to offer it. Others may only take new artists on consignment and then move them to wholesale after they’ve proven popular.
So with that in mind, here’s the final question you probably have:
How should you approach a gift shop with your art?
The best thing to do is to call the shop in advance and arrange a time to come in. Explain that you’re a local artist and would like to show them some work you think might be appropriate for their store. There will be a specific person in charge of handling new merchandise—so arrange a time when they’ll be in the shop and the traffic won’t be so busy.
When you go to the shop, take along samples of your work along with a catalogue sheet detailing the different pieces you have available. Try to offer a variety of items at different price points—for example, some original paintings, as well as gift card sets made from the same artwork.
Make sure any items like greeting cards and jewellery are already packaged beautifully—retailers like to see items displayed as though they are ready-to-go, and could be purchased immediately.
If your artwork is a good fit and the price is right, you could soon have pieces for sale in a local shop! Just be sure to read through any agreements carefully, and come to a clear agreement on who keeps which records and how payments will be collected.