POTTERY PRODUCTION PRACTICES: Making Art Your Business

September 1, 2007
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The Buyers Market of American Craft offers artists the opportunity to create long-term business relationships with qualified wholesale craft buyers.

Artist Tony Holman in his booth at the Buyers Market.


The American and Canadian craft industry reached a milestone when the Buyers Market of American Craft celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. As the nation's largest wholesale craft show, the Buyers Market offers artists the opportunity to create long-term business relationships with qualified wholesale craft buyers. The Buyers Market is the flagship event of The Rosen Group, a Baltimore, Md.-based arts marketing, publishing and advocacy firm.

Held semiannually in Philadelphia, Pa., the Buyers Market features nearly 1500 exhibiting artists in every medium, including ceramics, glass, wood, metal, jewelry, wearable fiber, kaleidoscopes and more. Nearly 9000 buyers attend the show annually, representing more than 4000 fine art and craft galleries, gift shops and specialty retailers from across the U.S. and Canada. The Buyers Market is regularly named one of the nation's Top 200 Tradeshows by Tradeshow Week magazine, as it was earlier this year.

"Sunrise" by Susan Elena Esquivel.

Entering the Wholesale Market

Unlike many retail craft fairs or art shows, entering the wholesale craft marketplace is not as simple as buying a booth and showing up. Artists wishing to wholesale their work face several challenges that artists who only sell retail do not face. Artists new to wholesale often have to contend with under- pricing their work, taking more orders than they can produce, and not sufficiently understanding the difference between wholesale buyers and general consumers.

To help artists enter the wholesale marketplace smoothly and successfully, The Rosen Group offers artists numerous mentoring opportunities and workshops. The Rosen Group's staff members are available to answer any questions from both current exhibitors and artists unfamiliar with the Buyers Market. Staff members regularly take time to review artists' work and provide them with business and marketing guidance.

Wendy Rosen, Buyers Market founder and president, notes that an artist's success at a wholesale show greatly depends on how well they promote themselves (see the Top Ten Tips to Improve Sales at a Wholesale Show sidebar for additional advice). "Artists generally get more sales at a wholesale show when they conduct outreach before, during and after the show," says Rosen. "That means sending e-mail and postcard reminders to their buyers, having a small reception in their booth at the show, and making follow-up phone calls to all prospects."

Artists who have never wholesaled their work can apply for the Merit Award program, which helps emerging artists successfully enter the marketplace. Merit Award winners receive booth space at a reduced cost and are assigned a mentor to guide them through their entrance into the wholesale American craft community. To be considered for the award, the artist must be new to the wholesale marketplace and have innovative designs, creative works and market viability. The Rosen Group selects winners for the summer show.

Nearly 9000 buyers attend the show annually, representing more than 4000 fine art and craft galleries, gift shops and specialty retailers.

An artist does not have to win a Merit Award to receive a mentor, however. Through its artist mentoring program, The Rosen Group frequently matches up new artists with seasoned exhibitors to answer questions and welcome the new artist to the Buyers Market. Another method for new artists to exhibit their work at the Buyers Market is through their state or local guild. The Buyers Market offers guilds both free and discounted booth space where they can exhibit a handful of artists at once.

Additionally, The Rosen Group hosts the Visiting Artist program at each show. The Visiting Artist program allows artists to learn more about the wholesale marketplace without having to commit to the expense of exhibiting. These programs are produced in partnership with the Arts Business Institute (ABI), a professional nonprofit education organization that facilitates business development workshops for artists. The ABI coordinates business workshops for artists throughout the U.S. and Canada by partnering with regional arts and economic development organizations.

Artists can also take advantage of numerous marketing and public relations opportunities through The Rosen Group. For example, the NICHE Awards is an annual arts competition showcasing the wholesale craft community's brightest and most promising artists.

"Crackle Port Hole Set" by Stiles in Clay.

The Business of Art

Founded by Wendy Rosen in 1981, The Rosen Group was created to function as a trade association for American crafts. "At the time, there was no infrastructure for artists, such as trade shows, publications and associations, like other industries had developed," she says.

The Rosen Group's central mission is to provide American and Canadian artists with opportunities and guidance to grow their business and compete in the global marketplace. The company accomplishes this mission through the Buyers Market and two arts publications. NICHE magazine (1988) is a quarterly trade publication for craft retailers, while AmericanStyle magazine (1994) is an arts lifestyle publication for enthusiasts, collectors and travelers.

Rosen says she sees her company more as an economic development organization than an arts organization. Exhibiting artists realize more than $42 million per year in total sales. That translates into average sales of $40,000 per company each year, and approximately $96 million in retail sales impact.

"What we're really doing is helping individual artists and craft retailers succeed in business, which stimulates local, state, regional and even national economies," says Rosen.

For additional information, contact The Rosen Group at (410) 889-2933, e-mail info@rosengrp.com or visit www.AmericanCraft.com. The ABI's website is located at www.artsbusinessinstitute.org.

SIDEBAR: Top Ten Tips to Improve Sales at a Wholesale Show

  1. Display All Prices and Sales Terms Clearly
    Buyers at a wholesale show don't have time to search your booth for prices. Make it easy for your buyers to know what to expect when buying from you-label your prices clearly! Some artists think that not displaying prices encourages buyers to speak to them, but most buyers will simply continue walking if they don't see your price points right away.
  2. Light It Up
    Buyers want to get to know your products before buying them. Your lighting should strike a perfect balance-not too bright and not too dim. Good lighting is almost unnoticed and illuminates your work beautifully.
  3. Spruce Up Your Display
    Create an engaging booth that will attract buyers' attention. Use color to pull all of the visual components (your work, signage, flooring, etc.) of your booth together. Your booth is not a work of art-what you are selling in your booth is-so choose colors that look great and reinforce your brand but do not overpower.
  4. Listen to Your Buyers
    Listen to what buyers are telling you. Try to find a way to match your products to their needs.
  5. Stand Up and Close Sales
    Standing up and making eye contact will put visitors to your booth at ease and make sales easier to close. Hiding behind your display or sitting down can intimidate a buyer or make them uncomfortable. Be your greatest asset and embody elements of superb salesmanship.
  6. Look Busy
    Motion attracts attention. Dust off your booth or make minor adjustments to your display. Buyers will be interested in your products when they see you showing an interest in your display.
  7. Believe in Your Work
    Your enthusiasm for your work will help buyers visualize how they can sell it to their customers. Enthusiasm is contagious and buyers will leave feeling good about your products, whether they make a purchase or not.
  8. Promote Your Work Before the Show
    Prior to the show, send e-mail and postcard reminders to your buyers with your booth number on them. Offer an incentive: market a special discount to anyone who brings the e-mail or postcard to your booth, or raffle off one of your pieces for everyone who drops off a business card. Marketing your show presence to your established and prospective buyers is essential and will result in higher sales.
  9. Ask About Promotional Opportunities
    Ask the show promoter if you can participate in any promotional opportunities. Many shows offer cooperative mailing programs and special advertising opportunities in the show's buyers' guide. Get your name and your work in front of thousands of buyers before they even set foot on the show floor.
  10. Follow Up on Leads
    Collect information from everyone who enters your booth. Even if a buyer doesn't make a purchase at the show, follow up with them afterwards. Cultivation is an essential sales tool-always follow up and make an effort to convert interest in your work into a sale.

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