From a Retail Perspective, Episode 9
Communication is Key!
Communication is a subject dear to my heart. It is something I am passionate about, have done plenty of research on (my entire thesis was about communication or the inability to communicate in various forms), and a subject that quite a bit of my work has touched on in one way or another. This particular article touches on this subject in relation to running a business as an artist, and some of that passion comes through.
I am always telling people, “If you are selling your art and making money, you are running a business! Act accordingly.”
Like any relationship, communication is the cornerstone of a business—nay, the cornerstone of a successful business. Nothing can happen without communication. You must communicate and interact with your vendors, customers, employees, partners, and potential clients.
Communication has gotten you this far with selling your art—you have talked to shop and gallery owners, established relationships, put together orders, and started selling. You are on your way to success! So my advice is…keep going. Keep communicating with shop owners, other artists, vendors, etc. Keep the lines open. Respond to phone calls, to emails, to any messages that come your way (unless it’s spam. Delete that.) Even if responding is just saying, “Sorry, I’m doing shows right now, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!” Trust me, your response is appreciated.
I also find myself saying, “It takes 2 minutes to respond to an email. Literally, TWO MINUTES. If you have time to post photos to facebook and instagram, you have time to respond to an email.”
Let’s run through a couple scenarios of how communication, or lack thereof, can affect your relationship with a shop:
In my time in retail, we have chosen to let go of a handful of artists because they simply stopped communicating with us. We needed to re-order their jewelry, since it was selling well, and they just….never responded. Multiple artists. All of which were posting on social media, and we reached out through various channels (phone, email, social media, and snail mail) to no avail. Some of these artists had worked with us for years. A few were consignment artists, others were wholesale. What does this do to your relationship with a gallery or shop? It sours it. They will stop carrying your work, and will probably never order from you again.
Now, this may happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps someone just gave up on their business, or there was a death in the family, or they only want to sell at wholesale/craft shows (something that should be established at the onset of the relationship), or they’re dealing with cancer/illness. I absolutely understand that life gets in the way, but communicating is as simple as sending a one-line email stating that.
On the other side, we have plenty of artists who do communicate well. Since I work in a small business, we are able to make concessions for life’s ups and downs. For instance, while inquiring about a special order, one of our artists let us know that she’d been going through chemo, but could still make—it would just take longer. We sent her a little care package, and let the customer know about the extended lead-time on the order. Another artist had a family friend die. Again, we sent her a care package, and were able to give her some space to deal with things before ordering again. We have multiple artists who travel overseas, and they always give us dates of travel, so we can order around those—this is very much appreciated! We always love when artists give us notice that they’ll be doing industry shows or traveling and that their production times will be extended, as well.
From a retail perspective, when you are running a business, you must be able to depend on your vendors. Whether you’re selling food at a convenience store, or high end jewelry in a gallery—if you cannot depend on where your product is coming from, it affects your bottom line. So, the artists that we continue to carry are the ones who have proven reliability time and time again.
I do want to note that this applies to retailers too—you need to communicate with your artists! If an artist emails to check in on their work, or ask if you need to reorder, etc., respond! If you have decided that their work doesn’t suit your audience, let them know. Artists (are you listening, artists??) have just as much right to stop a relationship that is not reciprocated or is no longer working.
Next up: Episode 10, Email Templates for Absences and Delays
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 people with degrees and successful business who have written those books.