How to Sell Your Artwork – Retail, Wholesale & Sales Reps

Crowd at art fairUnderstanding the options you have to sell your artwork. In Part Two of this series, retail and  wholesale selling, and using sales representatives are presented.


Selling Retail

Ways to sell your work retail include participating in art or craft fairs, selling your work in an Arts Walk or Open Studio event, selling through referrals, taking private commissions, and private selling events.

Another option is to sell your work to retail customers online, either through your website or a third-party site. Because you are doing the selling yourself, you have control over the process, and the marketing. Selling online also has the benefit of reaching a global audience.


street fair


Your presence in the retail marketplace gives you several more advantages. You receive the retail price for your art, and get cash in hand. When selling in person, you meet the public, and begin to understand the type of customer who is interested in your work. Hearing their concerns, needs and objections will help you tailor your sales and marketing approach. It also benefits you to learn to talk about your work to your target customer so that you can perfect your selling skills, not to mention choosing the right venue for your work.


Selling at a wholesale show


Selling Wholesale 

Could selling wholesale work for you? The majority of art or craft that is wholesaled is created in multiples in a production studio. You have to be willing to design a cohesive collection of work that will be made over and over. One-of-a-kind work can be wholesaled, although it is generally more difficult to do. This is because a streamlined production process is leaner and more cost-effective.

Artists who successfully wholesale create ongoing relationships with store owners and buyers, and make most of their income through repeat sales. Work that is wholesaled is priced at approximately half of retail, and is sold outright (not consigned.) The average markup to retail is 2.3 to 3 times wholesale. If you wholesale and also sell retail, never undercut your wholesale customers on your retail prices.

Artists who wholesale often exhibit their work at trade shows, where they meet and sell to store and gallery buyers. They may market and promote their line to stores themselves, or hire sales reps. They tend to be serious businesspeople with a business structure built to profit from a production studio, and they usually earn more than artists who do not wholesale. If you choose to pursue wholesale, make sure that your prices earn you a profit at that level.

If you don’t want to be involved in production work, marketing, sales, shipping and customer service, wholesale probably isn’t for you.


Wholesale Show Booth


Sales Reps 

You can use sales reps if you wholesale your line, and create production work. They will help you reach areas and customers whom you could never reach on your own, and can be instrumental in adding a lot of volume and income to your business. Reps call on independent stores and sometimes on large retailers. They often earn about 20% commission on sales they make for you. You must take this expense into consideration when setting your wholesale prices. 

The rep business is challenging due to a slow economy, and some reps have gotten out of the business entirely. They have substantial travel and office expenses, which they must cover themselves. They are also approached frequently to represent different lines, so they must be very discriminating and often turn them down.

Artists and craftspeople quite often are very interested in hiring sales reps to grow their businesses. Although it can be challenging to find the right person, having a sales rep can be very beneficial to your business.

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  1. In the section about wholesale, I find this statement to be mis-leading:

    “If you don’t want to be involved in production work, marketing, sales, shipping and customer service, wholesale probably isn’t for you.”

    I dare say that anyone who is making work to sell retail has the exact same issues and perhaps even more hat’s they need to wear. Retail and Wholesale require the same devotions. And, as someone who makes a ONE by ONE “production” styled line of jewelry – and one of a kind for most of my line – I cannot stress enough how very difficult it is to consider doing retail on-line or really in any form as a main income source. I average between 250 to 400 pieces created per month for wholesale. To switch my income to retail would require finding a minimum of 125 retail buyers every single month and then a mostly new set of buyers the next month and so on and forever. That would have never allowed me to thrive as an artisan which I have for 20 years (and having my best year so far!) as of this Sept.

    With wholesale, finding a few (just a few as my business is pretty matured and my re-orders are consistent) new buyers each year is painless and not very costly. And having my established accounts take my 250 to 400 pieces each month is as simple as it gets. I mostly just open an email, gather the orders and quickly (repeated addresses are easy) ship out to my various accounts several times a month.

    Wholesale may not be for everyone, but it is not more complex nor requiring more “skills” or steps than retailing direct. We are so lucky that we can do a bit of both: I love selling face to face and test marketing my line, but I really depend on my wholesale for my livelihood.

    • Carolyn Edlund says:


      Thanks for your reply. I am the Director of the Arts Business Institute, and the author of this article, so I thought it would be appropriate to respond.

      The reason for the statement in the article is this: most true production studios do not create one-of-a-kind items to ship; they reproduce a set line which is sold at wholesale through trade shows, reps and online orders. My own experience involved a production studio with assistants making hundreds of duplicates each week for orders.

      In my conversations with many of the artists that we mentor here at ABI, I find that the act of producing duplicates, and the thought of packing and shipping large orders does not appeal. Many of them either want to design only, and hence they pursue licensing, or creating a versatile body of originals (or mostly originals) to sell at retail.

      Although there certainly is some shipping involved retail if you mostly retail online, retail shows mostly involve personal interaction and not the packing shipping and daily pickups involved in production studio endeavors.

      I don’t see where I have indicated that wholesaling is more complex or requires more skills, as you mentioned. It is simply a different choice. Having done both for many years in different roles, I certainly appreciate that entrepreneurs have many hats to wear and that it is difficult.

      McKenna you have done very well and found a system that works for your business to create repeat business, which is the cornerstone of a successful wholesale studio.

  2. I’m trying to find the right trade show for art wholesale, any recommendation?


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