Selling Crafts Through Stores

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A Christmas wreath and assorted crockery for the kitchen.
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LEFT: Craft items made of driftwood. RIGHT: Small crafts made of stained glass.
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The holiday season is a prime time for selling crafts, and an attractive display may be all you need to get you business booming!
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A collection of handcrafted pottery.

Show me a successful craftsperson, and I’ll show you a good
peddler. Or — to put it a bit more grandly —
behind every creative talent there’s a marketing genius.

After all, when you make a “thing of beauty,”
you’re only half done. Before you can turn your artwork
into income, you’ll have to know how to make people want to
buy it! Most of us weren’t born salesfolk. As
children, it was usually with dread and gloom that we
trudged door to door to sell Girl Scout cookies, greeting
cards, or raffle tickets. However, if you still
suffer from that same old gnawing shyness, maybe l
can offer a few marketing tricks that’ll help relieve the
pain.

Are You Ready?

Unless your product is so unusual and in demand that the
public will trample the woods to reach your door, you’ll
have to cart your wares to the potential buyers. Of course,
you can sell direct (at flea markets, for example), but if
you want the success and security that come with multiple
outlets and repeat orders, selling crafts through stores is the way to go. Which means you must deal with a more
difficult problem: how to convince retail stores to buy
your goods.

In order to sell to such market-wise customers, you’ll
usually have to make what’s referred to in the lingo of the
trade as a “mobile presentation”. And if that phrase makes
you think of the stereotyped dapper salesman who whips open
an attaché case with a slick exhibit of samples,
charts, color photographs, and the like … well, you’re
almost right! Because, although the “slick and dapper”
aren’t absolutely necessary, a modicum of professionalism
is required if you’re to be truly successful.

If you’re dealing with small items, a relatively neat
display of samples on a board or card will suffice. Should
your goods be bulky or heavy though, it’s best to make a
scrapbook of good clear photographs of your products …
plus a few shots of yourself at work. (It’s often easy to
find a photographer who’ll barter with you.)

For medium-sized crafts, you might consider
setting up a small suitcase in which to display your wares
to curious shopkeepers. For a long time, I pulled ceramic
beads and jewelry wrapped in recycled bags out of pockets
and purses until my father-in-law gave me a worn-out
(to him) briefcase. That darn thing is handy! Now
I have a place to display samples of all my finished goods,
and the interior pockets can hold invoices, receipts,
catalogs, business cards, notepads, and pens as well.

Invoices … receipts? Well, you may not think
you need such formalities, but the stores’ owners will
expect them. After all, when you fill an order,
you need to send an invoice … and if you do
manage to sell the storekeeper some items outright, you
have to give a receipt. You can do either on a
plain sheet of paper, but you can get batches of the “real
thing” — for just a few dollars — from any
office supply store. Besides, the mere fact that you such
common business forms (along with some sharp-looking
business cards to introduce yourself and leave behind as a
reminder of your existence) will make you seem more
responsible and professional.

Pick Your Targets

Once you’ve prepared the presentation, carefully
select the stores that you’ll visit.

Start with the small shops and work your way up to the big
department stores. This approach will allow you to
polish your presentation while fewer sales are at stake.

The best way to locate good outlets is to talk to other
craftspeople about stores that have produced for
them. Keep your ears open for any “darling little
shops” your friends and relatives might discover, too! And
don’t overlook the Yellow Pages in the phone book … an
ad can often tell you a lot about a store’s merchandise.

You’ll find it easiest to “break in” by selling through
shops that work on consignment (such outlets will usually
mark your price up a third and pay you when the item
sells). The periodic payments that good consignment stores
can be expected to produce are always a pleasant surprise.
Be cautious, however. Some of these shops take little
responsibility for the goods, so choose ones in nearby
locations that can be checked on from time to time.

Aim For Success

When you’ve located stores that look as if they might be
worthwhile outlets for your particular wares, arrange to
visit them. If the shops are scattered over great
distances, you might want to telephone first: Ask for the
buyer (be sure to note the name for future reference) and
find out whether he or she would be interested in selling
whatever you make. Remember, though, that — while a
phone call can be a good first step — there’s nothing
like your smiling face to brighten up the glory of your
specialty.

I probably don’t have to tell you the obvious, but I will
anyway: Always be neat and clean. You won’t sell much
especially in the kinds of swank resort
areas that bring top prices for crafts — if your very
presence embarrasses the shop owner.

Try to approach your prospects at times when they’re least
likely to be rushed. Avoid, if possible, Monday mornings
and Friday evenings … and any day just before
lunch.

And when you make your first visit, don’t be so
enthusiastic that you just rush in the door and make your
pitch. Case the joint! If you were a customer, would you
patronize the place? Is it crowded? Do the shoppers buy or
do most of them just browse? Is there dust on the
merchandise? (That likely means that it doesn’t sell very
fast.)

Look over the inventory, too, and check out the prices.
Does the store carry items somewhat similar to yours (or
much too similar)? Are your prices competitive? (Remember
that stores generally sell homemade items for
twice the price paid to the craftsperson … a practice
that’s known as keystoning.) Is the shop under
supplied with a particular product? (File that information
in your head … if the item is something you could
provide.)

Judge fairly, but do be picky. After all, you don’t want
your crafts in just any old store. If you’re not impressed
with an establishment, don’t bother with it.

Sell With a Smile

After you’ve completed your inspection, simply ask any
salesperson if you may speak to the buyer. (In small shops
you may well find that you’re already face-to-face with the
owner/salesperson/buyer/janitor!) Here’s how to approach
this brief but important encounter:

For one thing, do business only when you’re in a relaxed
and positive mood, because your attitude can be
the most important ingredient in the sale. Buyers are quick
to sense a negative or hesitant approach … and will
often respond to it by not purchasing your merchandise.

Therefore — cheerfully — ask the
person in charge whether he or she would like to see your
product. Notice we say see … not buy. For some
reason the words “buy” and “sell” put off potential
clients. “Seeing” something implies no commitment and most
buyers are on the lookout for new items to market.

If possible, put an item in the buyer’s hand or set it down
where he or she can touch it. Explain a bit about how you
make the product, the materials involved, and the special
techniques you use. If you’ve already sold to other shops
that are successful with your product, mention them.
Meanwhile, the tactile sensation of your goods (and your
obvious skill at your craft) should be working for
you.

Know the Score

Next comes the big question of “how much.” Be prepared to
quote prices singly, by the dozen, and — if you can
supply large numbers of items — even by the
gross. Try to give the buyer a break on quantity purchases.
If you’ve figured your prices so that you have room to
dicker, it’s your privilege to do so. However, if you’ve
tagged your goods at rock bottom, you might tell the
customer that other shops pay that amount and that it would
be unfair to sell to anyone for less.

In your great eagerness to make a sale, don’t
quote a ridiculously low figure that you’ll regret later
on. Unless you’ve come up with something entirely new in
the crafts world, there’s probably an established “going
rate” for your product. You might want to agree in
advance on the amount of markup. Some stores will
triple — rather than double — your
price if they think they can get away with it … and
it’s common knowledge that the higher the price, the slower
your crafts will sell.

When you land an order, give the buyer a realistic delivery
date. Avoid promises of early fulfillment if you know good
and well that in the meantime you’ll also
have to cut a few cords of firewood, cope with a lambing
ewe, or build a bathroom, because once you’ve
committed yourself you must make sure to deliver
on that date. Remember that the first sale is just the
initial victory. The great advantage of selling
through stores is the potential for reorders that can put
some security into your life … and you won’t get repeat
business unless you prove to be reliable and
skillful!

When You Miss the Target

There are several types of negative responses that you
might receive from store buyers. The first is definite and
emphatic … when the man or woman doesn’t like your goods
and tells you so! (Sure it’s an ego blow, but don’t be
overwhelmed … just go on to the next store.) On the
other hand, it may be that your product is simply not what
the store’s customers want. Or perhaps the buyer loves it,
but the store is low on capital or the tourist trade is
down. (Make a point to return to such an outlet later on.)

Another kind of no, which is really a maybe, goes like
this: “I don’t know .. . we’ve never had that type of thing
in here before!” In this case your reply should be, “Would
you like to try out a few (or one, or a sample order) and
see how it goes?”

If the buyer still hesitates — and you think the item
would sell in the shop if given a chance —
you can offer to replace the product if that particular
style doesn’t please the store’s customers. (Don’t offer a
refund , mind you — as that would place you
in the ticklish position of shelling out money at the whim
of the owner — but simply an exchange for a
different craftwork at the same price.)

As an aid to the reluctant buyer, take along a headful of
ideas. Propose a variation or some new thing you’re working
on. Should you be asked, “Do you think you could make
such-and-such?” … consider the suggestion seriously.
It’s the buyer’s job to know what will sell in that
particular store.

If you constantly get negative or hesitant responses, take
a hard look at your product. Maybe it’s just plain
undesirable. Don’t give up if you come to this realization,
though. Just make something else, and keep on
trying new items until you do discover a craft
that sells.

There can be other causes for rejection, too. Is your craft
relatively easy to learn? Are the materials common? If so,
the market may be glutted with such items. Or your timing
could be responsible for refusals: For example, it’s very
difficult to push craftwares between January and April. You
should plan ahead for the big holidays and the peak season, especially if you sell in resort areas. (Stores may put
in orders for Christmas as early as August or September.)

Collect Your Winnings

It’s customary for shops to pay their bills at the end of
the month, so — if you’ve shipped or invoiced your
goods on the first — you may have to wait as much as
30 days to be paid. This delay means that the serious home
business craftsperson has to keep up the self-discipline of
constant production and sales.

If the 10th of the following month rolls by with no check
from one of your buyers, send out a copy of your invoice
with “past due” written on it. If that doesn’t work, write
a letter … then call … and, finally, remove your
goods from the store. (This shouldn’t happen often, but it
does occur … and is another good reason to pick
your outlets carefully.)

Good Luck!

Any or all of these suggestions should smooth your path to
successful sales. Just remember that when you go out to
market your crafts, you have two great forces at work for
you: one, the strong belief in your product, and two,
the necessity of making a living.

And — for those who love to spend their days in the
creation of beautiful things — selling handmade
products is much more fun than punching the old time clock!