An Example of Vandi Hodges' Collection currently at The HMNS
Since I am always interested in helping artists out, I thought I would interview a buyer who I know and respect and ask her expertise on how to get your handmade items into a store. Please pass this on to anyone who needs some guidance in this area, because it's HARD to know what to do.
My interview is with...drum roll please...Jennifer King, the Divisional Merchandise Manager for the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Jennifer has been with the HMNS for over fourteen years. She is in charge of several classifications including fashion jewelry, fine jewelry, giftware and home accessories. The HMNS is a multi-million dollar retailer with a main store of 6,000 square feet, and a special gem and mineral store that is 1,000 square feet, in addition to 3 satellite stores. It is one of the highest attended museums in the United States and welcomes over 2 million visitors a year.
All this being said, I have placed 4 artists at the HMNS. Two of them, Laura Waldusky and Vandi Hodges, have extensive collections presented at this venue. Buying handmade for the stores is obviously one of Jennifer's favorite parts of her job. She says she is constantly amazed at all of the talent and creativity out in the world.
An Example of Laura Waldusky's Collection at The HMNS
Here are her Top Ten Things An Artist Should Do in order to obtain a Wholesale Account at a Store like the HMNS:
1) Create your brand and decide what image you want your business to project. Retailers like lines that create a merchandising story. Your products should be immediately identifiable as your work and each product in the line should come together as a cohesive whole. Alexis Bittar is one artist who is absolutely brilliant at this. He has three separate lines that are released twice a year. While each of the separate lines has it's own unique look, the individual pieces work with any other piece in it's own line or in one of the other two lines.
2) Be your own cheerleader. Don't be afraid to talk up your press, awards, what stores you are currently in, and your accomplishments.
3) Identify your customer and who you want to sell to. What kind of store do you envision your products in? This step is part of your brand creation.
4) Invest in some professional (or professional looking) photography. Photos of your product create the first impression - make it a good one. Photos should be clear, uncluttered and show details. Everything should be on a simple white or neutral background. If you can't include something that shows the scale of the piece, you need to include measurements. If you can afford it, get multiple shots of your signature pieces.
5) Have a catalog or a line sheet with clear pictures, pricing, contact information (email address please), bio, and detailed product information. For me, a print line sheet along with a digital photo follow-up works best. My mailbox (real and virtual) is overflowing, but I eventually look at everything.
6) Be professional in your presentation. That means writing a clear and coherent letter or email that tells me about your product and why it would work for my store. Consider it like a job interview - you're selling yourself and your work.
7) Really analyze your pricing. Remember, you are pricing at wholesale, not retail. You need to pay for your time and materials and then factor in a 2.5 to 3 times mark-up on the retail end. Does that retail price match the perceived value of your product?
8) Research your target store. What do they sell? Can you envision your product there? Does the store already have something similar?
9) Respect the buyer's submission and contact guidelines. Some buyers work on the phone. Some, like myself, are email only for prospective vendors. Some may have a specific submission process. Don't expect an immediate invitation to come show the line in person. Send a reminder email (with photos!) in six months. Expect that you might never get a response. Buyers are overwhelmed and usually understaffed. We're not deliberately being rude, we simply can't give an individualized response to every product submission.
10) Expect that the process will take time. If you mailed me something last week, don't expect follow-up the following week. Likely the buyer is still wading through last month's submissions. If you send an unsolicited sample, don't expect to get it back. If you absolutely must have your unsolicited sample returned, include a postage paid box or envelope. Even then, you might not get it back.
I will be posting two more articles about the process of a selling to a store. Stay tuned for what not to do, along with things every artist should know about the RULES of retail before they sell merchandise to stores.
Hope you find this information helpful. Jennifer really wrote this...didn't she do an outstanding job?