When to Say NO to a Sale




Would you ever turn down a sale? Initially you might not think so. Here are some circumstances that may have you reconsidering:


Under minimum. Buyers who cannot come up with a minimum wholesale order for your work rarely turn into good, repeat customers. Sometimes this purchase is clearly for personal use, which takes advantage of you as the artist when you are seeking actual wholesale business. Even if they plan to sell your line at retail, they must create a large enough display to make visual impact. Your minimums should be set at a size to give your work a good chance to sell in the store.

Buyer wants terms and cannot produce a credit sheet. A majority of opening orders these days will be written with payment made (via credit card) at the time of shipping, but sometimes buyers are looking for Net 30 terms. They should be able to produce a credit sheet with several references. If not, ask them for the names of other artists at the show whom they do business with, and talk to those artists. If you can’t get good references, don’t extend credit, or decline the sale.

Buyer wants consignment. Do you want to tie up your inventory by shipping to a store that has no investment in your work, and where you take all the risk? There are certain times when consignment can be used as a strategy  – i.e., for specific items with an ongoing wholesale account. Be very careful and make sure you understand the pros and cons.

Buyer wants extended dating on the opening order. This term refers to allowing longer than 30 days for payment of the invoice, and is a red flag. It is used in particular industries for certain types of products, but for a small business like yours, it most likely means that they buyer has financial problems and you can count on never getting paid.

Other artists have a cautionary tale about the customer. The artist community is one of the most generous and helpful out there. Gossip can be untrue, so take reports with a grain of salt. Yet, certain retailers have earned a bad reputation for a good reason. If you want to sell to the customer anyway, get a credit card number and charge it just before you ship. Don’t ship before payment goes through.

Exclusivity issues. Turn down the order if the buyer’s gallery is located too close to another established account that has an exclusive arrangement with you. Honoring exclusivity is a must if you have an agreement, but consider carefully before you give exclusives to any retailer – and make sure it’s worth it to your business.

Oversize order. What if you are approached by a buyer for a large retailer who needs a massive order? If you simply cannot scale up your studio to produce the order in time, or do not have financial resources for supplies, etc. you could end up a loser. One small company took out a high-interest loan for materials to fill a huge order for a chain of stores. By the time the retailer paid the bill (120 days out), the interest on the loan had eaten up all the profits. The small manufacturer made nothing. Don’t let this happen to you.

Repeat offenders. If you’ve have had a bad experience with a retailer in the past, and they request a “do-over” to get in your good graces, think about it carefully. You may be able to resolve a payment issue by taking a credit card up front, but if the problem involved other bad behavior, it might be wise to decline. There are plenty of good customers out there to do business with.

Copyright theft. If you suspect the “buyer” is a scout for a company who may plan on stealing your copyrighted designs, decline the order and report this to show management immediately. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that copyright theft exists and it can be hard to fight, especially when the manufacturer is out of the country.

No financial commitment. When asked to create a special commission or do other extra work, get a deposit from the customer. If they have no “skin in the game” it’s easy for them to opt out after you have gone to a lot of trouble. Create a contract that guarantees you will retain some or all of the deposit for work completed if the deal ultimately falls through.

Outright scams.  Unfortunately, con artists out there are willing to steal from anyone, including artists. Quite often this is done through email, so you must take precautions and learn how to avoid this problem. See more about scams here.

When your gut tells you it’s a bad deal. Sometimes, you just get a bad vibe that the buyer isn’t being honest. There is nothing wrong with trusting your intuition and letting go of a sale if it just doesn’t work for you.

There are many scenarios where you may choose not to go through with that sale, order or contract. Sometimes artists are so eager to sell their work that they ignore red flags. If something seems too good to be true – it probably is.

What’s your experience? Have you turned down business? Was it a smart move?

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  1. What a terrific list! Over the 20 years with my business, I have said no for several of the reasons listed in this article. There is one more that I am also keenly focused on: proper environment or like-minded product offerings.

    I find that with my line, which is deeply eco-oriented, many stores who have very inexpensive imports want to show that they support “recycling” and eco-friendly so they want my work to point to as the “poster child” within their collection of otherwise junky stuff. Or there are coffee shops or framing shops or garden shops who just want a little something with a wow factor on the counter and think my work will sell itself because it is “impulse” (coffee shop), “artful” (frame shop) or “natural” (garden shop). Some of those opinions may be true on some level, but the mind-set of a customer and the expectations of expenditures is to get coffee, frame some art and buy fertilizer or maybe some garden sculpture. But they did not enter the building thinking, “oh this is where I will find some great jewelry.” So a sale in such a locale is not as likely as my work being in a proper fine crafts gallery or upscale gift shop.

    But why should I care? No red flags – they will pay on time, have a great history, nice location, etc. A sale is a sale, right? Not always.

    The bottom line for me is that I can only take on a finite number of accounts since I am the sole creator and furthermore, I am protective of territories because my work is quite identifiable for it’s style. So It is important to my long-term livelihood to avoid having my work sit and languish in a shop that is clearly a bad fit for my target market (fine crafts hand made in America) and which will create a black hole in a territory. If that same opening order gets into the right location, surrounded by fine craft AND has a staff that loves my environmentalist story-line (StopRecycling.com), it can generate thousands in re-orders. Finding a good “fit” is time, and money, and effort that repays me in the long-term. And happily with so many solid accounts for so many years, I rarely feel compelled to compromise for the short-term.

    • Thanks Mckenna for your insight and adding yet another good reason why artists must manage their businesses so that they can accept sales which are beneficial to their vision, and let go of the rest.

  2. This is another wonderful outline, thank you abi!
    i did experience several instances as above in my long career as a studio jeweler, but i did not always acted in a ‘correct’ way, that is, turned down the sale…. and later i regretted it and even felt sorry for my work being in the hands of business and people who did not really care for my work.

    i did also straight up told some individuals i did not have to do business with them (you know, lots of establishments have the sign that says “we reserve the right to refuse business…” or the like), after they repeatedly showed up in my booth time after time and on several occasions to try everything on and the leaving without buying anything with different derogative comments each time.
    i am sure that at least in one occasion (talking about big shows here) the result i got was to be barred from getting into that show again from the promoter, after the ‘customer’ told me i ‘would never do that show again’….
    but i need to stay true to my conscience, and after realizing i had done nothing wrong, i gladly let go of that show…..

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