What’s Better for Your Art Business – Wholesale or Retail Shows?

Both of these selling methods have advantages for artists and craftspeople. Let’s take a look at some of them.



When retailing your art or craft work, you must prepare for each upcoming fair or event by working in your studio, building inventory. That means time, effort and money are spent on the hope that those items will sell at the retail show. Although artists usually know their bestsellers, they are making an upfront investment, while looking for a future sale.

 There are costs for exhibiting at retail shows, including:

  • Cost of materials and labor
  • Cost in holding inventory
  • Cost in booth fees, travel and lodging
  • Cost in lost studio time when exhibiting at retail shows

Retailing definitely has value to artists and craftspeople:

  • They produce money in hand at the time of the transaction – at retail prices
  • Gives the artist an understanding of their customer, and  feedback on their designs
  • Interaction with the public and other artists in the marketplace.
A major difference between producing for wholesale vs. retail is meeting your potential.

When selling at retail, how can you know that you have reached your potential sales? In a perfect world, you would sell all but one of a product to know that you have maximized your sales of it. Once each item sells out, of course, the potential is unknown and possibly unreached. Therefore, potential sales may be lost.

This situation doesn’t happen at wholesale, because display samples are not sold during trade shows. Each sample has the potential to be sold an unlimited number of times.

When designing and releasing new items, wholesale holds an advantage. An artist can create just one of each new design and display it at a trade show. They can either put it into production to fill orders, or discontinue it if it fails to sell, without further investment. Time spent on creating stock of poor sellers is minimized.

At retail, the artist puts their investment in upfront, with the hopes of selling – and then deals with the reception of those designs, and consequences. At wholesale, artists create in the studio after items are already ordered and sold. Their time can be more efficiently spent, and inventories can be leaner.



There are costs for exhibiting at wholesale shows, including:

  • Cost of trade show booth fees – which are usually higher than retail shows (although fewer shows are generally attended annually)
  • Costs of materials and labor
  • Cost of travel and lodging while exhibiting at wholesale shows
  • Cost for lost studio time while exhibiting at wholesale shows
  • Cost in packing and shipping time for orders
  • Cost of employees employed in studio
  • Cost of uncollected receivables

In addition, you will receive only the wholesale price of the products you sell, instead of the markup to retail. It’s up to the artist to price their line profitably at wholesale.

Wholesaling definitely has value to artists and craftspeople:        

  • Ongoing business relationships and repeat business from galleries and shops
  • Allows artists to realize income year-round rather than just during a retail season
  • Ability to spend more studio time and less travel time, helping to avoid burnout
  • This business model creates receivables, and more stability, which gives you more opportunity to work with your banker on obtaining business credit and loans
  • Artists and craftspeople who own wholesale studios tend to have higher average income than those who retail only

Which is better for you?

This is a question only you can answer. The majority of artists start out selling their work at retail, which is a good way to understand the marketplace and their place in it. Moving into wholesale can be a way to diversify your business, widen your reach to audiences on a national or worldwide basis, and create another stream of income.

Some artists find that travel and time spent at retail shows can lead to a hectic lifestyle where each weekend is taken up on the road, and studio work must be done during a shortened week between shows. Others prefer to sell to the public, enjoying the higher prices they can command.

Quite often, a blend of retail and wholesale works to accentuate the positive aspects of each method of selling. You may find that using both methods creates a balance that can lead for more potential business growth.

How have you chosen to sell your work and why?

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