Over the course of the last three years, I have seen many of my fellow crafters and entrepreneurs have pondered consignment arrangements with boutiques and co-ops, and wondered whether it was the right choice for them. When I was starting up, I leaped into such an arrangement, and as I later learned, made every mistake in the book. So here's what I learned, expensively, and I'm sharing it with the hope that others can avoid my mistakes! This is not to say that all consignment arrangements are bad, or won't work for you. I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking to really inspiring shop owners. However, buyer beware. There are some unscrupulous owners who take advantage of the fact that it can be hard to get your foot in the door of traditional wholesale arrangements, and find artists that will agree to situations that are very one-sided, just happy to have the opportunity for your items to be seen, ANYWHERE. I was there once, and I know how easy it is to get sucked into an agreement that will harm you financially (or emotionally) if you come from a place of fear. So here are some things to think about when mulling over a prospect:
- You're the product. Consignment boutiques make money primarily from the vendors, not the customers. They will probably seem awesome when they're courting you, because the more vendors, the merrier. Aren't we all different when we're trying to land a job or a client or on our first date? Their attitude may well change once you sign a contract, so use good judgement. Beware of situations where the space rent is high and the FVF is low, the consigner has no motivation to sell YOUR products, or any products at all.
- If you must pay rent, make sure you have a dedicated space. Otherwise, your primo spot may be up for grabs, used to entice new vendors, which goes back to my first point. Sharing the love sounds great until you're the one in a dark corner, adjacent to the bathroom.
- The consigner wants to make money. There's nothing wrong with that. If the owner of the shop insists they are doing it to help artists, question their motives. if it's true that they receive no monetary benefit from running the shop, they will be even LESS motivated to sell product, and if then you have to ask yourself what they're getting out of running the shop, if not money. Make sure their vision and motivations line up with yours, or you could find yourself at an unpleasant impasse. Are you looking for a great place to sell your stuff or a cause? Either way is fine, but if the owner has the opposite outlook, conflict is sure to follow.
- Speak up, early and often. Letting a situation with merchandise placement or payment go on unspoken because you don't want to rock the boat is a mistake, the simmering tension will eventually erupt. If you have a contract, don't wait until your contract is about to renew before broaching a deal-breaking issue, you want to make sure any possible issue is resolved before you commit yourself again.
- Talk to other vendors, especially past vendors. Those are your best source of information for what it will be like to sell in this shop in six months or nine months. If you ask around, it should be easy to find past vendors, find out how they left and why.
- How much traffic do they get monthly/yearly? ASK. Find out the median sales by vendor, and expect the low end of that range. No matter how good your products are, if the shop doesn't receive enough traffic, you may not get sales there. Find out the high range and the low range. Figure out the cost of the monthly rent or fees, less expenses for materials, balanced against the time commitment you'll need to stock your shop, pick up payments, etc. Even the best looking shops may simply not be profitable.
Maybe these tips are all common sense and I just missed the boat, not unheard of! But maybe you'll glean something from MY experiences and you'll have nothing but fabulous and successful experiences in consignment, hope sprints eternal!
If you have questions about any of my experiences or my tips, drop me an email!