Tools for Success: Art School Confidential

July 15, 2013

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On Monday, Vanessa Bertozzi, Senior Program Manager at Etsy Wholesale, will speak at the 2013 AICAD Alumni & Careers Conference at RISD. The conference centers around topics designed to help recent graduates find their footing in a world beyond school studio workshops. Below, Vanessa shares some key points from her panel discussion. Enjoy and happy learning!

Art School Confidential: Demystifying Wholesale for Creatives

by Vanessa Bertozzi

More and more art schools are heeding the call from their students and alumni to prepare them with business know-how. There are a zillion educational topics for creative businesses — from using social media to customer service, from product photography to building a brand. Wholesale, because of its behind-the-scenes, industry-insider nature, remains somewhat of a mystery to many. At the same time, entry into the wholesale market is changing. More and more recent grads (and those young-at-heart entrepreneurs making career shifts) are starting creative businesses, and there’s fewer barriers to entry to get your products “out there.”

But where exactly is “out there” and how can we set these designers up for success? Professionals in art schools’ career offices, alumni organizations, or in classrooms should pass on a few crucial points to their constituents. Wholesale doesn’t make sense for every artist or designer, so arm them with these points; they need to make well-informed decisions.

If a student or alum sets their eyes on boutiques, museum stores or other retailers, here’s what they need to know before they even get started…

Price for profits and then mark up at least 2x

Wholesale comes with industry standards and expectations. Unfortunately, artists and designers can’t just come up with a % off and call that wholesale! “10 for the price of 7!” does not equal “wholesale” in the professional sense of the word. Retailers will want to mark up the wholesale price by at least 2x, sometimes more. That means a designer needs to make a profit from their wholesaled product line at at least 50% of their retail price (often called MSRP or Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price).

Know the difference between wholesale and consignment

Many artists and designers coming out of art school make work that is very labor-intensive and they would prefer to give retailers a 30-40% discount off their MSRP. This pricing arrangement isn’t really wholesale — it’s more typical of consignment or working with galleries. With consignment, the artist or designer only gets paid their 60-70% if the retailer sells the goods. Otherwise, the items are returned to the artist after a designated period of time. You can think of consignment more as a commission fee, where as with wholesale, the retailer is buying the inventory.

Develop your own personal “economies of scale” to set your Opening Order Minimum

Retailers expect a designer to be able to state your opening order minimum (usually a $ amount) for which most retailers would expect a standard wholesale rate (at least 50% of your MSRP). Your “minimum” is how big of an order a retailer would need to place in order to make it worth your while. It doesn’t make sense to offer your wholesale rate unless the retailer is really investing in your work. For it to be worth it, you need to be able to do things like buy supplies in bulk, make your items in batches, package and ship one big shipment — and of course, get that one big lump sum payment, without having to do the fancy footwork to sell each individual item direct to a consumer.   

Have your retail prices on your own website or Etsy shop match your MSRP

Wholesale comes with pricing etiquette, too. These days, it’s understood that wholesaling designers also sell their own work directly to consumers, and as long as your pricing is consistent, it’s not considered competitive. However, retailers do consider it unprofessional if a designer or artist has their website’s e-commerce or Etsy shop undercutting their MSRP.

Present your brand professionally

The standard tool for presenting your wholesale brand and product line is called a linesheet. These can take different formats, but typically they have a grid or list of thumbnail photographs of the products (well-lit, consistent product photography, often on a white background). Each product has a title and/or item number (or SKU “stock keeping unit” used to track your inventory), wholesale price, the MSRP, and pertinent information, such as dimensions, materials, colors, etc. You also should have a policies section where you clearly state your contact information, opening order minimum, and how a retailer can place an order and make a payment. A quick bio or artist statement is also wonderful! Etsy Wholesale formats all this for you through an online interface.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg! You can download the PDF of my full presentation here — please share it. Tell your students and alums about Etsy’s free educational content meant for creatives:

Etsy Wholesale is a private, juried marketplace where retailers can discover and connect with professional,independent designers and artists. Visit Etsy.com/wholesale to find out more and apply.

Photo by Samantha French


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