Consignment: The Good, The Bad, The Successful.
Consignment can be a controversial subject in the jewelry world, and rightly so. In this episode, I’ll provide multiple perspectives on having your work on consignment, and my tips on how to go forth with this process successfully. There is no guarantee that there will not be bumps in the road, but at least these tips will give you the tools to protect yourself, and your work, if the need should arise.
What is Consignment?
Consignment is when an artist or vendor provides goods to a retailer with the agreement that said retailer will pay the artist/vendor when the goods have sold.
Many people have had bad experiences with putting their work on consignment in galleries and shops—I am no exception to this. There are dozens of stories across all mediums. There are also many stories of artists who consign successfully.
Who does consignment benefit?
Well, in some ways, it benefits both the artist and the retailer. For the retailer, they don’t have to invest much to get the artists’ work into their store. It’s a small risk, and they get great work to stock their shelves. This is also a great option if they are unsure about having the audience for a certain artists’ work and would like to test it out—I have seen this happen at the shop I manage. We brought on two artists on consignment, and the one we were unsure about has found an incredible following and has sold really well (we will eventually bring her on as wholesale).
For the artist, there is more risk, but also the opportunity to get their work in front of an audience that they may not have the chance to otherwise. Pieces that may have sat in a drawer for years can at least be seen by a number of people and possibly be sold.
There is risk involved in consignment, more so for the artist. Not only are you providing the retailer with inventory, under the agreement of being paid at a later date when the items sell, but I have heard many stories of galleries shutting down, not paying artists, items being stolen and not compensated for—the list goes on. However, I have also seen many consignment relationships blossom and become very successful for the artists—their work hits a market that was unexpected, they establish a relationship with the store and community, have opportunities to take on custom work, etc. For every horror story, there will be at least one success story.
How can I consign successfully?
First, there is no 100% proof way to guarantee success. However, here are some tips to approaching consignment in a way that ensures you are protecting yourself and your work.
Say a gallery/shop wants to have your work, but they want to take it on consignment. Here are some essential questions you should be asking:
1. Do you have insurance that covers lost or stolen items on consignment?
2. How many artists do you have on consignment?
3. How do you track inventory and what has sold?
4. How and when should I expect to be paid?
5. What happens if an item is stolen?
6. How will my work be displayed?
A couple more options to ensure success are:
1. Have a contract. Harriette Estel Berman has a fantastic one on her website. Make sure the storeowner and manager sign the contract and you each have copies.
a. A couple notes about contracts:
i. Whenever you have a contract, you must be ready to back it up. As in, you must be ready to take it to a lawyer should something happen. That doesn’t mean you have to have a lawyer on retainer, but just know that it is a possibility.
ii. In your contract with the store, you can establish a time limit, as in “Artist will be on consignment for xx months, and then will be moved to wholesale with $$ minimum starting order.” If you have this in your contract, be sure to follow up on it, and pull your work should that time come and the store doesn’t want to move to wholesale. You can always agree to stay on consignment and alter the contract if you feel that’s beneficial.
2. Photograph your work—lay it out nicely on a tray or table and photograph it before packaging it up for the store (see above photo). Write any details necessary—item numbers, wholesale prices, stones, etc., and make copies for both you and the gallery/shop. This ensures that you both know what they took in. You can also have them sign your copy as acknowledgement of receiving the wares.
3. The photos should always be paired with an invoice or statement of what is being delivered. You will need to keep copies of both for your records. This is a practice we have that has helped immensely over the years—it helps with organization, tracking, and aids in the knowledge of the pieces. It’s a lot easier to track something visually than with a description, i.e. “labradorite cluster earring”.
4. Check in with the gallery/shop monthly. Call or email to see how your work is selling, and if they need anything from you. If you have found that certain selling techniques work for your jewelry, give them some pointers. Once your relationship is established, you can check in every 2-3 months.
5. Tell people that your work is at this location! Your customers want to see your work in person—they’ll go into the shop just to see it. That helps both you and the retailer. You can also provide the retailer/gallery with photos of your work that they can use to promote it!
6. Request to swap out work for new pieces about every 6 months. Take the oldest work back and send in new work. Refreshing displays does wonders for selling.
7. I highly advise against trying to discourage galleries from carrying your work on consignment by only sending them random or old pieces. That is a disservice not only to them, but to you as well. Your work is a reflection of you and your business. If you don’t want to do consignment, then just don’t do it.
8. You can always do partial wholesale/consignment. We have a few artists who we buy basics from wholesale but will request to have larger items on consignment. This allows us to carry a wider range of work from the artist without the risk that those larger pieces won’t sell.
9. Contact current artists! If you are nervous about consigning with a new shop, check out who their current artists are and get in touch with them. Ask about their experiences both good and bad, and if they have any tips for you. Many artist will be happy to talk about their experiences.
Once you've started consigning your work...
If you find that your work is not selling after about a year, revise whether it should be in that gallery/shop. Talk to them and get their feedback and what they’ve heard from customers. Maybe you have a different line that will do better. There have been times where I have thought we had a great audience for a certain artists’ work, but was wrong. After moving the work around, re-displaying multiple times, and swapping out for new/different pieces, it still wasn’t selling. That has nothing to do with the quality of the work—we just didn’t have the customer for it. Sometimes that happens. The benefit of consignment was that we could send the work back to the artist, rather than being stuck with inventory that we couldn’t sell.
If your work does well and goes gangbusters, that’s fantastic! Keep it up! After about a year of selling consistently and successfully, approach the shop about carrying your work wholesale. If they can’t do that, try a partial wholesale/consignment agreement (see #8 above.) If that still is not an option, carry on as you are comfortable.
Wishing you all the success in the world!
Next up: Episode 7, Details and Inventory Tracking for Consignment!
Note: The above is the opinion of the author, built from years of experience and discussions with customers, shop/gallery owners, and fellow artists. This is not meant to be a formal guide into how to run a business--there are plenty of those written by people with degrees and successful businesses.