Friday, 1 March 2013

Guest Writer: Melissa Monroe - Taking Handmade Pottery to Wholesale Markets

When Melissa contacted me about a guest post about wholesale markets I was thrilled. This is an area of business growth I've glanced at only to shy away and figure I was no where near close enough in my practice to even consider. But at the same time I'd like to move away from consignment shops towards wholesale orders. Maybe someday I'll be orgazined enough. Thanks Melissa for this insight. You make it feel less intimidating!
I encourage everyone to comment on the post with their advice and experiences. Would be great to have a bunch of perspectives added to the discussion. 
Thanks Melissa for sharing your experience and your beautiful work with us.  
When I started making and selling pottery five years ago, it was easy to grow my business one local show at a time.  I started out with farmers markets and grew into doing larger juried shows around the Chicago area. These shows have been great and I have been very happy to be successful and profitable.  While attending the art shows, my work was seen by various store owners who were interested in selling my pottery.  When I was first approached for a wholesale order, I was completely unprepared and unsure of how to handle this type of marketing.  After a year of thinking and planning I decided to attend my first wholesale show last January.
I attended the Beckman’s Handmade Market at the Merchandise Mart in down town Chicago. This is a market runs in conjunction with the other wholesale shows within the Merchandise mart.  I was excited to wholesale and also completely nervous.  I really wanted to have a successful show.
Most of the work I create is one of a kind and based on a theme.  I knew I had to limit my selection of pottery for a whole sale event.  I selected pieces from my most popular sellers on my Etsy site and best sellers at my shows.  I then I started narrowing down my color combinations and creating sets for ordering.  I needed to make things that I would be able to reproduce easily with consistent results.  After settling on the pieces to bring to whole sale, I made a catalog of the work to hand out. Then I created the hardest part, a price sheet.
It is hard to cut retail prices in half. I have a very good idea of what price point my pieces will sell and I knew doubling my retail would not work.  When I consider show fees and time spent and fairs (rain or shine), I knew I could accept half of the retail cost and still make a profit.
The wholesale show itself is an entirely different event from a regular art show.  The crowds are smaller and the pace is much slower. Buyers want you to be ready to point out best sellers and write up the order (bring a clip board).  Payment for work is usually collected when the items are shipped out, not when ordered.  Some artists take half up front and collect credit card numbers at the show. It is up to the artist how they choose to take payments.
The show went well and I made my personal goal of finding retail stores that want to sell my work.  I feel comfortable that I can fill these orders within reasonable amount of time. I am hoping reorders will continue to help me grow my business and maintain a steady income throughout the year.  Wholesale may not be for every artist, but for myself, I am glad that I tried this method of selling my work.

Melissa Monroe is an artist living and working in Mokena IL.

She sells her work through her Etsy store Melissa Z Monroe Pottery and at shows around Chicago.

You can see her work at

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