Selling Arts & Crafts on Consignment

Consignment shops are an excellent way for the beginning craftsperson to get started. Most of these stores require a reasonable fee for you to be there, and that minimal cost is nothing compared to the cost of having your own shop. Do a little research in your local phone book or nearby hobby or craft center and you'll probably come up with several possible stores to check out. Make sure you research more than one craft consignment venue, because prices can vary greatly. Some will charge space rent as well as a percentage, others just a percentage. Ask lots of questions of each one, too.

There can often be several surprise charges, so be sure to check with the manager of each shop as to what these extra costs are. Some may make you pay for signage and electricity. A common charge is an extra percentage off the sale if the customer purchased you item with a credit card. You may often be required to pay an extra fee if you aren't present a certain number of hours each week in the shop. Ask to see a sample contract, since there often is one. Read it carefully, and, once again, ask plenty of questions.

It is very important, also, for you to keep a strict inventory. Many larger shops not only require this, but also expect you to come up with your own little codes they can punch into their cash register and print out on your monthly report. Keep a little notebook, and/or log it into your computer, tracking the day it was put into your space, what the item is, your production cost for that item (for cost of goods sold on your tax form), and the price you hope to sell it for. You can then give it a little code name. For example, I use N for Necklace, M for memory wire, S for sterling, and so forth, and give each a number that lets me know exactly which design it was. This can often be just a one or two letter, two or three number combination you can scribble on a tag with a price and your company name or their code for you, and you're all set to be logged in the cash register, just like at the department stores. This makes figuring at tax time so much easier, and gives you an idea at all times of what sells best, needs to be dropped, and, most importantly, what's missing so you can restock.

Shop lifting isn't always the problem when stock shows up missing and wasn't sold in many stores. If something comes up short, stock-wise, and it sometimes does, you now have a record of what it is that should be there and isn't. This will help when you start checking around the store for it. Customers are wonderful about not putting things back where they found them. Your item may even be in checkout--see if it is on layaway or on hold for someone. Always check with the management before you write something off as stolen. Chances are good that it wasn't. If it was snitched, though, you owe it to them to let them know, in case it shows up, and that they need to keep better watch over the shop. That is a major reason many stores ask vendors to be present a few hours each month - the more eyes the better.

If you have some spare time, check with the store. You can often get a better deal on consignment or even reduced rent if you volunteer more hours than required. I worked my way up to assistant manager of one shop that way, got free rent and only had to pay a 25% consignment fee instead of the usual 40%. Another shop gave you gift certificates you could use to purchase goods from the shop or apply to your booth rent. One offered free rent and no consignment for working a day each week. In another situation, I was paid an hourly rate, a reduced percentage and no rent. Ask! When you are just getting started, the experience is invaluable; you're an asset to the shop, and helping your bottom line at the same time. This is definitely a win-win situation. If you hope to have your own shop someday, the on-the-job training of the everyday workings of a store is priceless.

Consignment is a relatively painless way to get your feet wet in selling your crafts. Your cost is small, the chance for valuable experience is great, and it gets your artwork out in the public eye. Even if someone comes into the shop for one item, they get the chance to see yours, and perhaps may pick up one of your items as well. If nothing else, that person had the chance to see your offerings and can pass the information on to others. It's a start, and that's all most of us need--just a foot in the door.

Cindy Lee Haddock