How One Artist Built a Successful Wholesale Business

Entrepreneur Emilie Cardinaux of The Golden Cleat made a huge splash when attending her first wholesale trade shows. She provides some insight into designing a diverse line, and working closely with retailers.


Artist Emilie Cardinaux in her trade show booth


ABI: What decisions did you make when developing your wholesale collection?

Emilie:  Probably the smartest business decision I ever made was to enroll in the Arts Business Institute’s live workshop. I took a one-day program in the spring of 2014 and supplemented what I learned with one-on-one mentorship over the phone. Having a mentor that I can check in with periodically who knows the ropes has been an invaluable asset. I highly recommend it.

At the workshop, I presented my gemstone jewelry line and my boat cleat necklace for review. I explained that over the past two summers the cleat necklace had been a huge hit, and that I had sold more of that one piece than I had any other gemstone pieces. The consensus was that the gemstone jewelry (a) wasn’t distinctive enough to stand out and compete in a saturated jewelry market and (b) was difficult to produce efficiently because of the labor and uniqueness of each piece. The obvious solution: develop a cohesive collection of distinctive nautical jewelry using the casting process which allows for efficient production.

ABI:  What products do you sell that make your business unique?

Emilie:  What sets me apart from my competition is that I have become a multi-media brand. I was unsure at first, but learned that it could be a real asset, especially in the saturated jewelry market. I am convinced that because I make vintage nautical chart pillows in addition to jewelry, I got accepted to shows that I otherwise might not have had I only offered jewelry, which is the most competitive market.

I added the pillow line, even though I had no experience in this field (either sewing or custom fabric printing) so there was definitely a learning curve. But I worked through it and I am glad I did. The pillows have been a big success, and I plan on adding new fabric products this season as well.

The vintage nautical chart pillows appeal to the same customers as my jewelry does – people who love boating and a dockside lifestyle. On the wholesale end of things, I can sell to a home goods store and a gift shop or jewelry store in the same town. Some stores have overlap and they can carry both product lines, which means my earnings from an opening wholesale order often double when that is the case.

ABI:  What have you learned from your wholesale customers?

Emilie:  I have learned a great deal already from my wholesale clients. In fact, it was because of a gallery in Hilton Head that I developed my line of indoor/outdoor pillows. My cotton sateen (indoor) pillows retail for about $100. The store in Hilton Head didn’t even carry any pillows that were under $200 and they didn’t think my pillows were high end enough to sell in their store. So at the advice of one of the gallery owners, I made an indoor/outdoor pillow that retails for about $200 which fit all of the specifications they requested.

I took the sample pillow I made for them to several trade shows and got many orders from new galleries all over the east coast. If it hadn’t been for the guidance of the store in Hilton Head, I never would have thought to bring that product line to market. Now the indoor/outdoor pillows are selling better than the cotton sateen (indoor) pillows and my profit margin is much higher. I’ve also gotten suggestions about charms to consider producing and although I don’t honor every request, some of the best suggestions come from wholesale buyers and gallery owners who understand what customers want.






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