Wholesale has never been part of my plan; as a 5-to-9er, I hadn’t time to pursue or follow up on large volumes of jewellery-making. But now that my business is now my only source of income, wholesaling suddenly has a new appeal! On my radar this summer was the possibility of attending the wholesale trade show for artisans in 2018; but I kept going in circles about whether or not I was ready. Did I have my ducks in a row? Did I know what my ducks even were? Could I define a duck? What if the ducks all died because I didn’t know how to feed them? I didn’t even know if I liked ducks!
And then, Wendy happened.
Wendy owns Glass Artisans, a gorgeous shop on the Cabot Trail. She is also a large part of Victoria County Creates, and on my last pop-up studio there, she came in and became interested in what I was working on; especially when I mentioned that some pieces had beach glass in them. I could see her attention rivet on the word “glass”. She suggested I come up to the shop (the very next day!) and bring a few samples, so we could talk about her carrying some of my jewellery. I agreed easily (it felt so good to be able to say an unhesitating Yes) and hastily gathered what samples I had that included – or could include – glass, then got ready to drive up to see her.
The trip was a revelation.
First of all, this is what the drive to her shop looks like:
This is the inside of the shop:
And this is the view from where she lives:
Wendy took me under her wing and, without even realizing it, showed me how I could live and work.
It was a Friday morning and instead of being in a small office, making money for someone else, I was outside having a lovely conversation with a like-minded artisan entrepreneur, discussing how we can best make money together. We went over my samples and we decided to make these and those but to take this and adjust it like that. She made a large wholesale order for four product lines, and with that one meeting I had lined up about three weeks’ worth of production for roughly twice what my old job would have paid me for that same amount of time.
Not only that, but her decisiveness and experience helped me make so many small decisions: which lines were worth developing, what display card size to go with, how to package and mount the product, based on the standardized system she’d developed for her shop – and then she proceeded to gift/lend me two of her custom rotating card display stands so I could use the same system for my own shows. She even pointed me at the exact dollar-store-bin that would hold the cards perfectly.
And then! She handed over a huge bag of recycled glass bits that she had tumbled, for me to use in an exclusive line just for her! Talk about fun!
Having sorted out what to make, the actual production was incredibly satisfying. Instead of randomly jumping around, I had the opportunity to develop new efficiency techniques (which I adore doing) and find the fastest way to produce in volume for each line. I was able to finish the design on my product line cards and get them printed, because I had dimensions to work with. And as I finished each piece of the order, the immense feeling of satisfaction from knowing that these were already sold is difficult to describe.
Getting each part of the order finished and carded felt so. freaking. good!!!
I headed back up the Trail to deliver and Wendy was again a complete delight. She immediately started yanking items off her displays and replacing them with mine! They looked so, so good in that shop.
Even with the minor frustrations – confusion with the printer and mismanagement on my part of chain supplies chief among them – I learned a lot and very much enjoyed the wholesale experience. So much so that I felt that I was ready, and I applied to be juried into that trade show.
As an artisan, the wholesale show is a way for retail owners to find you and order your product lines, in volume, for their stores. This year they’re changing formats – each business gets a hotel suite and instead of the conference floor, we set up inside our own suite and wait for the shop owners to come to us. This feels both risky and profitable; there is no guarantee anyone will come to my suite, but I can presume that anyone who does come in will be more interested in buying than the casual observer. I’m awaiting information on the jurying process, which is mildly unsettling for a few reasons. One, the jurying fee was steep and is non-refundable; two, if there’s no wholesale show for me, I will need to make adjustments to my business model for 2018, and I’m not quite sure what that would look like. There is uncertainty either way, but with the wholesale show locked in, I would have a defined goal, which is something that’s easier for me to work towards.
In the meantime, what I learned from Wendy helped me adjust how I display my wares, and I had two relatively successful shows using the new card system and a series of wooden boards I had picked up:
Next weekend, I will be heading to my largest show ever – Christmas at the Forum, in Halifax. While it’s retail / direct sales, not wholesale, I am very hopeful that what I have learned so far will continue to be useful in expanding my business and my customer base!