bone to pick…

simply skip this post if you are not interested in hearing some critical thoughts on making and selling your work at trunk shows.

say what? did you say bone?


so, here’s the story-

I was recently invited to do a trunk show at the Huntington Library for the re-opening of their famous Japanese Garden which has been under restoration this past year. I was excited! A great match-up between my work and the event which doesn’t present itself very often. I was honored to be asked. I love the Huntington and was looking forward to visiting the newly renovated Japanese gardens anyway.

Of course there was a hitch…they want 50% of all sales. Now you might think that sounds good to you, but if you make a living this sort of thing you realize that you will likely loose money doing this. It’s one thing to sell your items outright at wholesale (50% off retail) to a shop or gallery for that price because they are committing to buying the merchandise (and likely meeting a minimum order), they are doing the display, the sales and everything else in regards to moving your merchandise (which is now theirs!).

But in this trunk show situation, you the maker, are creating a collection of work for the event. You pack it all up, create a beautiful display for it, and stand there all day with it selling, demonstrating, and answering questions- among other things (like packing up everything that didn’t sell at the end of the day, creating an invoice for them of what sold and submitting it so you can wait several weeks to get paid-oh and NOT working in your studio on other things for that day)). So in effect, the museum shop’s only commitment is a couple of fold up tables they set up outside their shop, the ringing up of the sale and some museum bags to put the merchandise into. There is no commitment to the merchandise, no inventory for them to manage, no extra staff to hire on for the event (i guess my time is free?).

After a number of emails back and forth with the staff there it was suggested that I just increase my prices 30% to cover the difference between what I wanted and what they were willing to give. Nice one. I pointed out to them that this would increase a $185 item to $240 and I didn’t think it would be salable at that price in addition to the fact that their customers could actually go online and see that they had been overcharged which would reflect poorly on us both. Their answer? Non- negotiable. Other artists do it. Hmmmm.

No deal. Too bad. Had to turn it down. Very disappointing. I was told that in the past that artists/makers received a better % but a year or so ago they changed it to 50%/50%. I suppose we are just to be thankful for the opportunity to support the museum. I guess I’ll support it the old fashioned way by just visiting every now and again. They do have a free day each month and you can access tickets by going here.

I write this here because I think it is of value to point out the fallacy of their thinking and what always feels to me like artists/makers being taken advantage of because there is always someone else down the list that is willing to settle for this sort of nonsense. Admittedly, it’s usually not full time professional artists/makers but I believe it brings us all down in the end.

But I will still enjoy visiting the renovations at the Japanese Garden when it re-opens in late March.

By the way, the upcoming workshop at the Japanese American National Museum is this Saturday Mar 3 from 1-4 PM. We will be working on silk in color and focusing on itajime.
You can call the museum to sign up at 213-625-0414.

Also, this is a last call for those who want to join in on the online indigo workshop which begins on Monday. Looks like we have over 15 countries and 25 states represented in the class so far. I’m excited about what we all be able to learn from this!

30 thoughts on “bone to pick…

    1. shiborigirl Post author

      agree- even i was surprised at the Huntington on this one. how i would have liked to do this one but just couldn’t let myself- bones costing what they do these days…

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    1. shiborigirl Post author

      having been making and selling my entire life with fair abundance of experience with retail, wholesale, and marketing i can only conclude it either be just that- shameless exploitation or simply inexperienced staff in charge of things the don’t understand.

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  1. Chrissie Day

    Good for you but what a sad world it is at times.I have been in the same situation and refuse to stock galleries etc now with free merchandise to go dusty etc then they give it back to me.They actually have more respect and desire to sell something they have actually bought ,maybe I lose out I do not know but the artist is always the last in the pecking order.
    I do admire your stand just wish everyone would be the same then the practise may stop.

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  2. johnmarshall302

    Hi Glennis- What you describe is, unfortunately, typical. I generally don’t deal consignment. I did so for a number of years but found that I was actually loosing money, plus the wear and tear on my textiles. So I stopped. You want it, pay for it and it’s ours!

    The exception to this is one location in San Marcos. I have been dealing with them for almost thirty years. They will gladly buy ten of my pieces at a time up front. But by having twenty of my pieces on consignment, I have a better chance of satisfying any given customer’s needs and can pull back a child that isn’t quite ready to go out in the world on his own (only to reintroduce him to the group at a later time).

    I have a wholesale price and don’t care how much a client marks up my work – none of my business. The wholesale price represents cash and carry. If consignment, for all the reasons you mention, I prefer 20/80 but often go 40/60. Any “guest appearances” I count as a lecture and charge accordingly.

    The only way we can improve our lot is if all artists stick to our guns as you have done. We certainly have the power to set the standard.

    -John

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    1. shiborigirl Post author

      i was asking 70/30 for this event which I thought very fair. there are those out there that will comply but apparently not the Huntington. too bad for us all. we could make beautiful music together! like at the JANM!

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  3. Jane Edler-Davis

    Amen!
    And it gets even worse when there are music shows and … oh by the way… there are 30 artisans.
    I also like the people who want a donation from an artist… for a raffle or whatever.
    My husband is the artist… I am a musician.
    We also get asked to play…. for free….
    Well you love doing it…?!?!
    Yes… but we also like to eat!

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  4. kathydorfer

    i agree .. 50% is wholesale and they do the work .what are they thinking ?
    on the other hand happy to hear they will be opening that garden .
    looking forward to class ( :
    kathyd

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  5. Janet

    I agree with you Glennis. The Huntington is great to visit, but taking 50% of your profit for what, giving you an old cardboard table to set up on and emailing that there are artists there that day – well, their profit increase should be coming from increased admissions to the garden, not from your sales. You are doing them a favor by creating a reason for people to come who have otherwise already seen the place.

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  6. shiborigirl Post author

    not to mention the fact that i would post on both my FB pages (a total of over 1500 people), write a blog post, send an announcement to my constant contact people (over 800), mention it to the folks in my class at the JANM this weekend, etc., etc., etc..
    why? because i would want to make the event a success for everyone!

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  7. Michele Unger

    As a board director of an arts festival, I can see both sides of this situation, but the bottom line for me is this…it’s not fair to you, the artist. I applaud your standing behind your principals and passing on the trunk show. You are correct that buyers would have gone online and would have seen the price increase for your items, and it would have reflected badly on you. I’m sorry you didn’t have the opportunity to showcase your beautiful work in a setting so perfect to reflect your aesthetic, but it was their loss, ultimately. Way to go!

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  8. Candy from Candied Fabrics

    Wow, this is not cool! I do a lot of similar type shows that benefit local charities here in Redlands and the standard is some sort of fee that helps the group with publicity/show set up stuff (~$50-80) and then they take 20% of gross sales. I do not raise my prices to reflect this increase, I believe to have more than one set of prices (except for a sale on my own site for newsletter subscribers or what have you) to be incredibly unprofessional. How sad!

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  9. shiborigirl Post author

    yeah- like michele said- it was a loss all around. for half a minute i wondered whether i should make some very simple basic items and mark them up to even out some of the costs but wasn’t feeling that one either…

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  10. vivian helena Aumond-Capone

    Glad you stood your ground… I am in a co-op gallery, and pricing on something that takes me weeks, or months vs a watercolor painting is tough. And then explain the difference to a customer.. We need to continue educating the public on what goes into working with fiber..
    This is not a defense, because I think the Museum was way off base.. but they are thinking like a store owner that only buys at the 50% off. And those items are either imported by the car load or items are in multiples, not unique or made by an artisan in the U.S.A.

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    1. shiborigirl Post author

      and also lots of non-professional musicians willing to play for free…one of the reasons it’s hard to make a creative living these days. but in the end, you usually do get what you pay for.

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  11. helensalo

    Hoe ludicis I have been involved with sale of crafts/art for years and have never heard of 50% yee gads! our local art association only takes 20% and they do all the promoting, selling, etc. I think the museum people are out of touch and are only thinking of themselves and not the generaous artist offering to sell to promote. I wouldn’t do it either.

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  12. Morna

    Excellent that you posted this. Somebody should point it out to the museum people – suggest that they read all the comments.

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      1. Morna

        Hmph. Kind of reminds me of a bookstore I used to frequent. They had a truly crappy arts &crafts section. Their reasoning was that nobody buys those books, so why bother. They didn’t understand that nobody buys because they didn’t carry purchase-worthy titles. They went out of business. Now it’s a GAP.

        People see what they want to see.

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