Over the last two weeks, my family has been eating, sleeping, and breathing sheets of greeting cards… thanks to Lisa Jeffrey from MuttsandFrutts, an upscale pet boutique located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.
She approached me a few weeks ago about the possibility of wholesaling my artwork for sale in her retail shop; after a series of pleasant e-mails to iron-out the details, I spent the first weekend of October finalizing and shipping her order of cards and prints.
After a bit of head-pounding, because my greeting card sleeves were on back-order from my usual supplier.
Lisa sent me confirmation yesterday that everything arrived on time, the quality and colors were lovely in person, and thinks “they will do really well”.
She has promised to take pictures of my prints on display, once they’ve settled into their new home. :)
Pssst, there might even be an original painting or two making an appearance in her shop soon….
Over the course of this wild and merry adventure, I’ve learned a few things (the hard way) about selling artwork online, wholesaling, and general preparedness ~ that I figured I might share with you.
Or rather, than you think you’ll need….
I’ve been lulled by the slow and steady hum of my Etsy shop and website ~ one week I’ll sell a couple of prints, next week a pack of greeting cards, and on the 4th week, everyone goes on vacation to the beach…
I’ve survived very comfortably with keeping half a pack of Epson paper in standard and large sizes, and at least one full cartridge of ink in each of the 8 colors my printer uses. Okay, mostly full cartridges.
Okay… a full yellow cartridge…. :P
You see, printing a few things at a time doesn’t waste much ink. And when my ink does run low, the infrequent sales allow me time to re-order from Epson.com and wait a few days, without inconveniencing my customers.
Herein lies the trouble.
All the while I’m tweeting, and blogging, and liking, and building connections ~ hoping to gain more attention and bring new customers to my corner of the world… I wasn’t ready for the inevitable increase of business.
It was one large wholesale order, but it could have easily been a major blog endorsement or Etsy feature…. and I was totally unprepared with my ink well down, a handful of cellophane sleeves, and approximately 20 sheets of 11.7″x16.5″ paper.
If you find yourself buying black or yellow ink often, always order more than one extra replacement… or else you’ll be freaking out when the extra cartridge runs out during a large order!
Repeatedly using Overnight Express gets expensive quickly, trust me. :P
Helpful Tip: You know how websites (and some retailers) offer coupons AFTER the transaction?
If you’re planning to stock-up on supplies, try placing a small order first. Get the e-mail offer for X-mount off your next purchase, and then place the bulk of your supply order using the coupon!
Lesson learned the hard way, as always.
If everything you create is OOAK, or custom made, this isn’t an issue. But for those of us who create reproductions of our work, it is so tempting to re-use the initial photos to list products over and over, without actually having to stock-up on physical inventory.
In fact, the #1 Reason why I purchased my Epson R2880 in 2009 was to print-on-demand and reduce the money-pit of printed material lying around, collecting dust and risking damage.
However I’ve also had to decline impromptu invitations to showcase my work, and unique last-minute opportunities to expand my local visibility ~ such as the Humane Society’s “Bark in the Park” arts & crafts fair ~ because I didn’t have enough prints, cards, and paintings ready to display on a table or 10’x10′ booth.
The cost involved in preparing that amount of inventory (not to mention buying a tent) on short notice would have exceeded our monthly budget.
But gathering inventory can be as simple as printing an extra copy each time something sells, or running off a batch of cards on a slow day.
And resist the urge to list originals at discounted rates on eBay for “quick cash”… because customers at art shows enjoy seeing original paintings beautifully framed, ready for hanging, in addition to hundreds of reproduction prints.
Always bring something new and original to the table.
Just remember to keep your growing stash someplace safe (after packaging them in archival materials)… I’m considering purchasing a plastic storage tote for my supply closet.
I know this seems obvious, but so often I get distracted when listing items… and only manage to get one or two sizes in my shop.
I have had a few convos from customers wondering whether or not my work is available in a different size or quantity… but unless a person has fallen in love with my work and is determined to get Madonna Cat as a single greeting card, someone doing a random search for “cat cards” with a $5.00 budget in mind might easily overlook my more expensive notecard sets.
Most people won’t realize your work is available, or even that they want to buy it, if it isn’t visible.
When was the last time you thought about the empty spots on the shelves of your local grocery store?
If it wasn’t on your list, I’ll bet you wouldn’t even notice or care whether it was sitting in the backroom on a pallet, or still at the warehouse 50 miles away.
And unless it was a favorite food you could not live without, you probably didn’t bother to track down an associate to ask about it.
Maybe you figured you could get it somewhere else, or it wasn’t necessary after all.
When Lisa was looking for cards to purchase for MuttsandFrutts, my overall card selection was shabby…. and why?
Because I’d forgotten to list half my designs as cards!
Even though I could technically print ANY of my paintings onto cards, I hadn’t made the effort to do so.
Think of all the potential sales I missed!!
She wound up purchasing multiple 5″x7″ cards of nearly every design I’d created!
And guess what!?
I never had 5″x7″ cards listed at all… only smaller 4.25″x5.5″ cards in sets (printed 2 onto a standard sheet of 8.5″x11″ paper)
She took the extra trouble to inquire if I could print larger cards, but not every customer will be as enthusiastic as Lisa.
If they don’t see it, they won’t buy it.
Hint: The same thing applies to different paper options, matted VS unmatted, framed VS unframed, and the list goes on. Appeal to different customers by listing a variety of services and price points.
You might never intend to sell huge posters in your shop, or ship anything with glass… but customers may ask.
And if they do, it will ease your mind to know the answers in advance without the frustrated digging, and Googling, and getting drastically different quotes.
Research some possible scenarios ahead of time, at your leisure, so that when a customer asks whether they can purchase expedited delivery of your item to Aitutaki, New Zealand ~ you can respond promptly, professionally, and positively.
Your swift and assured reply may mean the difference between a large order from a happy customer, and…. no sale at all.
On a similar note: I could never understand why sellers refuse to ship internationally.
If they assume that nobody would pay “that much for shipping”, or the possibility of “lost packages” is too great a risk, they would be sadly mistaken.
And it definitely has a negative impact on sales.
My very first Etsy customer was from the United Kingdom.
Every year, over 50% of my customers are from Canada.
And the only package to date that has ever gone astray was shipped to a US address… it eventually arrived 2 weeks later, after they’d received a replacement print from me.
Where would I be today if I hadn’t bothered to research international shipping before opening my shop?
Maybe I should have mentioned this first. Hehehe
When accepting a large order, or a custom OOAK assignment, please consider very carefully how long it will actually take you to complete (given all distractions, prior commitments, etc.)
AND THEN DOUBLE IT! Triple it even!
I gave myself less than one week to get Lisa’s order completed… and although she appreciated my swift response, I lost the majority of my profit on issues stemming from Lesson #1: ordering stuff Overnight Express, needing to place multiple orders because I ran out of yellow ink, again!…
and don’t get me started on the cellophane bag drama.
Plus, the stress involved in such a tight deadline made me an absolute monster to live with. =/
Of course, if you consider yourself totally prepared – and have everything on-hand – it will make the whole process go more smoothly.
But still be prepared for unexpected delays. They will always happen.
I do realize how self-explanatory all this advice is… in fact, countless Etsy forum threads and business blogs have addressed these issues and more.
And just like an unexpected job loss, pregnancy, celebrity sighting, serious illness, or zombie outbreak… you will probably not be prepared when it happens to you.
But if you survive your first brush with success, you’ll never EVER forget the lessons you learned.
While my printer is still warm from recent exercise, I’ll try to get caught up on my listings and offerings, and anxiously await your reply to this post….
How has procrastination caught you off guard?
What has unanticipated success taught you?
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