As a consignment shop owner, I have both artists and secondhand vendors. This particular post relates to artists and consignment commission. At Kari’s Treasure Trove, we have a great working relationship with our artists and keep open lines of communication. That being said, some of the statements I have addressed include: “With your commission rates, I can’t make any money.” “I have to sell my items for twice their value to accommodate your commission.” “At these rates I will never get paid for my time.”
I want to suggest remedies from the perspective of a shop owner on how to make consignment commission numbers work. Let’s begin with the business side of selling art and the compensation of money for time spent. As a small business owner I, more than anyone, understand the desire to be compensated for time. Sadly, I also know from experience that unless you are punching a timeclock and someone else is signing the paychecks, you are not going to get paid for all your invested time. Not even close. In retail, ultimately sales are the goal. I would suggest that consignment should not be an artist’s front line of sales. In the day of Etsy, eBay, Go Daddy, and Wix, there is no reason why an artist shouldn’t have a digital/virtual storefront or a website. At a minimum, social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest allow for an online presence with minimal, if any, overhead.
Consignment works best, in our experience, as a great solution for last season’s work, overstock, samples or proofs, or as a loss leader. For artists that want to earn a wage from consignment, it can be a good idea to revisit your purpose for consignment. Are you wanting to be discovered? From there are you looking for “street cred” or sales? This isn’t always accomplished all at once.
One way to approach all three (discovery, credibility, sales) is to lead with your new or most popular item and then, as exposure takes hold, switch out to items that have a higher profit margin.
Another option would be to have a range of price points that appeal to admirers with a large range of budgets. An example is of one artist in our shop. He has large framed art for the collector, unframed smaller prints for the customer looking to make less of an “investment”, and a collection of pre-packaged prints designed to compete with adult coloring pages popular in big box stores. All of his price points are covered, and he does not rely upon one revenue stream from our shop for his artwork.
Finally, talk/negotiate/compromise with the consignment shop owner. Suggest temporary pricing or alternate commission structures. Shop owners want to sell your merchandise. Without sales, they can’t cover overhead let alone earn a paycheck. Don’t be offended if a shop owner passes on your idea. There is only so much a shop owner can absorb and if it is a new idea/perspective or involves their bottom line, it may take time for the idea to root and take hold. Patience and working toward a mutually beneficial relationship is a good choice of direction and shouldn’t be sold short. Once the door opens to suggestion, creative ideas can be offered on a trial basis. If the alternative structure benefits both the shop and the artist the potential for everyone to win will garner the sincerest attention. If there isn’t a way to find common ground that works for both parties, then it may be that the shop in question isn’t a good fit. Or maybe the artist’s expectations of the shop are unrealistic.
Art on consignment gets people in the door. We have had customers walk in the door and request to see local art (rarely does someone walk in and request to see our best second-hand tchotchke). Quality and price points are the determining factor for art sales in our shop. The customer considers the time spent on creating an item to be secondary, at best. Not that it isn’t appreciated, but time is not something that our average customer is interested in subsidizing. Artists, like shopkeepers, need to know their community/audience/customer. Not every town is the same. Do your research.
Which brings us back to the questions: Are you wanting to be discovered? Are you looking for “street cred” or sales? This isn’t always accomplished all at once.