Sunday, August 9, 2009

My First Retail Experience....At a Craft Mall

By Barb Macy of Accent Yourself

I first started making jewelry about 4 years ago. I sat at my friend's kitchen table and she showed me how to make a simple strung beaded bracelet - basic crimping & stringing skills. From that first bracelet, I was hooked! I liked the fine motor skills it required, and, of course, the beautiful beads. So, as I learned new skills, I also accumulated more beads, supplies, and tools. My inventory of completed pieces increased and I I found that I needed a way to sell my things. It sure wasn't selling itself sitting in my house.

My first adventure in retail was at a craft mall called The Country Sampler Store. It is a large craft mall chain that operates mainly in the midwest. The store had every type of craft/art known to man, including food and a ton of jewelry. I rented 1/2 of a large floor jewelry spinner, which cost about $40/month, plus the store kept 10% of my total sales. It really wasn't a bad deal. I started at the craft mall in September, so my sales were pretty good through the holidays. I stayed at the store for 6 months, which was when my original contract expired.

I had several reasons for pulling out of that store. I originally started making jewelry using base metal findings and less expensive beads. For the first 6 months in the store, that worked fine. As my skills improved, I started working mainly with sterling silver. I didn't want to have my sterling silver jewelry sitting out in the open on a large jewelry spinner collecting dust & tarnish, plus it would have been more accessible to "sticky fingers". Theft in the shop was sometimes an issue because it was so jam-packed with goods, and the way my things were displayed, it would have been easy for anyone to take anything. My second reason for pulling out was that my sales slid after the holidays, which was expected, but I ended up doing better on my own. I got more customers through word of mouth, did in-home jewelry parties and little girls' birthday parties.

Although my first experience in retail was positive, I think If I'd stayed much longer, I'd have gotten really disapointed. Within the next year, the shop and a few more ended up closing. I knew a couple of other vendors and heard that the shops closed on a very short notice. The vendors weren't given very long to retrieve their goods from the stores. Some vendors were left hanging with a ton of inventory with no where to sell.

So, if you are just starting out and thinking about getting into a retail situation on consignment, here are some tips & things I learned from my first retail experience at the craft mall:

  • A craft mall might be a good place to start. Generally, though, a craft mall will offer craftier items and lower-end jewelry items. For me, lower-priced base metal items sold the best. Plus, if/when things were "lost", I wasn't out a ton of money, just my time.

  • Start someplace locally. It is much easier to keep your eye on your things when you can visit the store frequently. I wouldn't ship anything off to a store blindly. Know the shop you are getting into. Shop there, study the traffic, get to know the staff, and see what their business is like.

  • Ask what is their most popular price point. If you have items that are priced similarly to other goods in the shop, you'll be more likely to have more sales. I was working my way into more expensive pieces, which I didn't think would sell as well in that setting. I was eventually going to price myself out of the store.

  • You'll have to wait in line for the prime location in the shop - then be prepared to pay more $$. The prime jewelry locations in the shop where I sold was in a couple of contained jewelry cases. And, they were occupied by the same person. She sold a lot and had a great following, so it was difficult for everyone else to compete. We were all on jewelry spinners out in the open!

  • Start with a smaller space, then work up to more space as needed. The more space you rent, the more sales you have to make to cover your rental fees.

  • Read the fine print of all contracts. Know who is responsible for theft. Some shops are 100% responsible, some split theft or breakage 50/50, and others are not responsible at all for loss. If the shop is secure, theft shouldn't be a problem, but in a craft mall setting, with so much clutter & goods, theft can be a problem. Don't be naive, theft happens a lot.

  • Read the fine print of your contract. . . oops, I already mentioned that. It is also important to know how and when you get paid. Luckily for me, the shop & company where I sold was ultra-organized. I got an email with every transaction and another summary every two weeks with sales and exact inventory items that sold. Their record keeping was awesome and inventory and payments were very accurate and timely.

The SATeam blog features artisan handmade creations by the etsy starving artists jewelry team. SATeam members create handcrafted jewelry and beads. More information about our team and its current etsy shop owner members can be found at


casualgal said...

Great article Barb!!!

Bonnie said...

Great advice. Thank you for a well written article.