A Sculptor’s view of selling into galleries

By David Meredith, Meredith Sculpture ltd, who will exhibit at the British Craft Trade Fair (BCTF) from April 7 – 9 at the Yorkshire Event Centre.

I’m a wildlife sculptor, working in bronze, I exhibited at my first BCTF way back in 2008 and have attended every show since, but why do I sell through galleries?

Before BCTF I only exhibited at retail shows, selling direct to the customer these varied from arts and craft shows, garden shows, interior design fairs etc.so, the question I’m often asked is “why I would want to sell through a gallery, and loose a 30-50% cut to them? ” well, there’s several reasons I would suggest this route to an artist/maker:

Firstly, there’s nothing stopping you continuing to sell direct to the public whilst still supplying the trade, why limit your sales? chances are you’ll get more direct enquiries anyway, as some customers prefer to buy something they have seen in a gallery direct from the artist…including those annoying customers who watch daytime bargain hunt tv, and presume you’ll automatically undercut your stockists! (I’m sure you’ve all had them) …don’t, you’ll only encourage them!

Secondly, chances are the customer buying from a gallery has never heard of you as an artist, and probably never would if they hadn’t had been passing by at the right moment to see your work in the window so again, you haven’t lost a sale, you’ve made one.

Then there is the commonly heard complaint: “I don’t make as much, selling through a gallery”. Really? … Chances are a gallery will get more sales of your work than you think, would you rather sell one piece direct to a customer at £100, or 10 pieces at £50 pounds each. Now obviously there are makers amongst you who’s products involve a huge amount of labour, in which case I would suggest selling through galleries who appreciate the fact and are willing to take less of a cut from a sale.

People tend to be willing to spend more money (for the same product) when standing in a nice gallery than they would from an artist in a marquee in a muddy field, so you may sell more high-priced items through a gallery than at a retail show.

Most gallery staff are good sales people, a lot of artists aren’t! … they may get that big sale that you couldn’t close the deal on.

6, this is becoming increasingly the case… stocking a gallery costs nothing, exhibiting at a show doesn’t, most of the shows I do have increased their fees 300-500% over the past 10 years or so, and let’s face it, retail is getting tough out there, quite often when you’ve added up the cost of the show fees, accommodation, food, fuel etc. You’re not far off the same profit margins as selling through a gallery.

The same goes for magazine/online advertising costs, a good gallery will give you exposure to their regular and passing customers, and most will have a good online presence galleries are not all the same: of course, the Artist – Gallery relationship works both ways, especially if the artist is supplying work on a sale or return basis (which, due to my casting costs, I rarely do) Galleries need to work just as hard as the artists in this relationship. and as a maker, you need to pay attention to your galleries, and work with the ones who are working for you. Some galleries will ask for work, on SOR, that they know they can’t sell, but “would look really good in our window!!”, that’s not fair on the maker who’s invested time and money in that piece.

I see a massive difference in sales between my stockists, in fact my best gallery turns over sales a lot higher than most of my other stockists, and it’s simply because they really put the work in! They have a good database of their customers and will contact them personally if they get new work in that they think will appeal to that customer. They also promote commissioning bespoke work from an artist (which usually leads to even more commissions) rather than buying off the shelf items ss a result, this gallery gets pretty much anything they ask from me, including: – limited edition work unique to their gallery (customers love that!) – any work on SOR – solo shows and demonstrations.

We also worked together to get a large sculpture trail of my largest pieces at Trentham Gardens which has a customer database in the millions, all of whom will have had mail shots of my sculptures. This in turn led to a week-long solo show in the gardens.

I understand that not all stockists are selling on a level playing field, there’s geographical differences, and seasonal considerations, but you are a business, and as such, work with everyone, but reward those that work hardest for you…. sadly, you’ll only know who they are by trying them all! I should add, I’ve learnt over the past 10 years, you really can’t judge a stockist by its first few orders, and as a result I no longer demand a minimum order at BCTF Why not let them test the market with a couple of smaller pieces, on many occasions that approach has led to big orders not long afterwards.

I know galleries rightfully test their makers just as much as we test them, Makers need to be reliable, and deliver what we say when we say, all relationships take time and effort, but for me, I really enjoy working with my galleries, they’re lovely people who care about art… what’s not to like!