Buyer Beware

A few months ago I was contacted by the buyer of a museum gift shop that was interested in carrying art jewelry during this year's holiday season.  They planned on juring the original artwork to decide what to purchase.  The store wanted to carry 1-3 "items" that could be reproduced and ordered in multiples up to 20 and that would be priced between $20 and $100 wholesale. To put those prices in perspective, $20 in this town is lunch for one. $100 is dinner for two only if one person is the designated driver, and the other one is a near teetotaler. 

If you're a regular of my blog, or if you just glance over to the right at the photos, odds are you already get that the request is not only a problem, it's a conundrum for most people who make things. There are plenty of artists who do production work (I truly admire the ability of some artists to do production work since my own knee jerk reaction makes me eternally grateful that I can earn a living as an artist doing one-of-a-kind). 

The trouble with the request is not the multiples of art.  It's that most handmade jewelry which wholesales at the low end of that price point falls into 2 categories: 
1) costume, 
2) beginners who don't know how to charge for their art and are letting themselves be ripped off.  

Since this was a store buyer, I did something not doable with exhibition jurors or gallery directors: I emailed this person back, explained what I do, and asked them to take a look at 2 links on my site with pieces that are one-of-a-kind but that I do as a series (Luna earrings and Threads of Fate bracelets) and that wholesale for (quite) a bit more than their request. I thought it would save us both a great deal of time and effort in the process.

The buyer kindly got back to me immediately and said that one of the musem curators had suggested they contact me specifically.  It was a good start, right down to suggesting that I should show 1-3 one-of-a-kind works with whatever I brought in to be selected.  It was obvious though that she hadn't followed the links, so I persisted in my request in the name of clarity and time management (hours of work at the bench plus time to photo, inventory, and pack the work plus 1-1/2 to 2 hours to deliver by their 30 day deadline and a trip to their parking deck with a fee twice as high as most artists make in an hour).

We must have had 6 email exchanges all total before she clicked the links. I suppose this person was trying to save time by not getting sucked into a webiste full of images?  I did make it clear that I would still deliver the work for a final decision.  The next to last reply was that they wanted "items" that wholesale between $20 and $100 so that they could mark them up 150% in order to offer discounts to their members and still make money.  

I could have replied that I don't make "items." I could have replied that the museum's frequently publicized goals have a tone of working with and supporting the arts through community but that clearly did not include regional artists who are expected to work for pennies so that the gift shop can stay afloat. Instead I replied, perhaps somewhat more cut to the chase, " I believe we're back to square one," and asked the buyer once more to look at the links.

The buyer did and replied that they didn't sell "fine jewelry" and that mine wouldn't work.  I associate the term "fine jewelry" with the junk advertised on billboards, showing lots of flashy diamonds too often mined by vastly underpaid workers or tortured children in Africa.  It wasn't really the step up from "items" this person probably intended.

I didn't brother responding. Besides, however polite and diplomatic I endeavor to be in most situations, I'd have had to say, "if you'd just looked at the links in the first place, you could have saved us a lot of grief," in a sentence that began with a pronoun, an adjective, and a noun not repeatable in front of children.

Instead, I decided to send a thank you note to the curator, saying that I apprreciated her referral (I geniuinely did) and diplomatically suggested that perhaps their buyer wasn't as aware of the genre of art jewelry.

Wholesaling art for $20.  What artist can afford to do that, and stay in business?!?

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