Selling your Carvings
The true title of this journal entry should really be “Selling yourself”. Selling anything other than necessities requires marketing know how and image presentation. You don't need to be an award winning sculptor to sell your carvings and in some instances the carving does not have to be technically well done. There are some marketing experts who would have no trouble selling ice cubes to penguins. And there are excellent carvers who cannot find a market for their art. Over the centuries woodcarving has undergone many changes. I frequently hear it referred to as a “dead” or “dying” art. I have not found this to be the case at all. In regard to the general public I have heard many carvers and woodworkers say that people are not willing to pay good money for hand crafted items anymore. I don't really think that that is the case either. I would imagine that if you took the right product to the right market on the right day, you would certainly turn a profit.
For those of you who believe yourselves to be arrogant enough to think that you are going to sell out all your work in one day at your first public showing, wake up! It’s not going to happen. Successful artists and craftsmen know that they must “pay their dues” first. A successful marketing plan is formulated and tweaked over time. You need to gain the experience, visibility and consistency of display which can only be learned through time, effort and observation. There is no one way to be successful at selling. I can not sell you any sure fire way nor give you a specific list of the things that you will need to do to reach the profit level you are seeking. What I can do, is offer you suggestions for some tried and true methods that work in the long run. Whether or not you wish to put the time and energy involved into building your reputation and customer base is entirely up to you.
Wood is a medium that speaks to the soul. The business of selling carvings first and foremost relies on the quality of the carving and the presentation of such. And it is my opinion that the artists' image is the thing that will make the biggest impression on a potential customer. It is not enough to be a woodcarver; you must look like a woodcarver. You may wear old jeans and torn tee-shirts in the privacy of your own home, but that is not the way you need to present yourself to the public. Books are judged by their covers whether we like it or not but it is also not advisable to wear a 3 piece suit or evening gown to sell at the craft fair. In striving to become professional, you must present yourself professionally.
Wood carvers work with wood and wood evokes feelings of warmth and a connection to the earth. The professional woodcarver will want to dress in a manner that can evoke the same sort of homey feelings, neat and casual. Perhaps a chain saw carver out in middle America can get away with flannel shirts, ripped jeans and muddy boots. Jeans are acceptable but need to be in decent shape. Neutral colored comfortable slacks work well also. Button down shirts are great because you can roll up the sleeves and stick a pencil in your top pocket when working and look like you mean business. If you don't like button down shirts, than a polo shirt is preferable to a tee-shirt. Shoes should be well kept leather shoes or other comfortable natural styles. Accessories can include leather or other natural fiber vests, nice leather belts and bolo ties. Some western carvers dress in western styles complete with western shirt, cowboy boots and hats. Even women can adopt a feminine version of this outfit. No one really believes you carved anything in that nice floral print dress. Even if you did! Present yourself as a comfortable, casual, approachable person.
Now that you are approachable, you must make yourself interesting. The thing that I have found will draw in large amounts of people at any show or exhibition is a woodcarving demonstration. It is also a productive way to pass the day in between talking to potential customers. The general public does not understand the artistry involved in the creation of a woodcarving. They need to be shown what differentiates a real wood carving from the cast resin duplicate which they can purchase in any number of stores. They need to see your tools laid out. They need to see and smell the raw wood. They need to see the fulfillment of the artists' determination, as inspiration, giving life to the wood. The more a potential customer can connect with you, the more they will consider purchasing something from you. It is rare that a person comes along and falls in love with your art works and will pay any price to have what they want. Most people weigh the price against what they get for their money. Yes it is true, they are buying a piece of artwork, but they are also buying you, your name, your reputation and your particular style of carving. They want to know that you are not running a fly by night operation, just there to make a buck. They want to feel that you are a serious artist, a capable craftsman. They may stop by your studio or craft stall many times before they actually make a serious inquiry.
There is a known quantity in the world of marketing which is the salesman personality. Successful salesmen are presentable, likeable, knowledgeable, talkative and persuasive, but not overly so. A good salesman presents the quality of an object, explains its components, justifies its price and makes the potential customer wonder if the item is something that they need to buy. And then, assured that he has educated his potential customer, backs off and lets the person decide. Customers like to feel that they are in control and as soon as they feel pressured, they will back away. Can you be a salesman? Are you shy? Most people can talk about the things that they are passionate about. That’s all you really need to do. Share the joy of your carvings with someone else; get them interested in what you do. Forgive them their ignorant comments and educate them. Perhaps you’ll make a friend or two, or even a sale.
Again, things depend a great deal on what sort of carver you have decided to be. You may not want to try selling any of your carvings or you may want to sell at smaller community fairs. Are you just looking to make a few bucks to buy some new tools or are you committed to building your reputation, one show at a time? Are you asking what you think your carvings are worth, or are you pricing them to sell in the market?
Pricing in and of itself creates a huge challenge for the artist. Some carvers charge according to the amount of hours spent on a carving. The obvious problem with that is that some people carve faster than others. Others charge by the area of a carving, it would seem to me that this method doesn't take into account the complexities of the carving and a slower carver would spend a lot more time carving a given area. Price something too high and people will back away. Price something too low and they will think it's junk. People assign a price in their heads as to how much something is worth before they know its price. If, when they look at the price tag, they find a price too high or low, they think that there is something wrong. So how do we figure out how to price a carving? First you must consider who your target customer is. Are you selling $10 crafts or museum quality work? Some carvers display their higher priced carvings in hopes of luring some interest from a buyer and also have an assortment of other items in different price ranges. This kind of covers all bases.
One very important thing to consider is that you should not change the prices of your carvings to fit the fair. You should seek out the type of fair which will give you the best chance to sell your work at a price that you have already predetermined. You can arguably price your work according to what you think you should get for it; however you can't sell an apple for $100 if it's only worth 50 cents in the open market place, unless of course it’s a very unique apple. Everyone thinks their carvings are invaluable but they're not worth a dime until someone hands you the cold hard cash for them. You must charge realistic prices for your carvings, but you also must be comfortable with the price that you ask. If you don't believe that your work is worth the money that you’re asking for it, how can someone else? Likewise, if you think that you are not charging enough for your work that will also send a message to your customer.
You must take several things into account when pricing your work. A little research goes along way in this area. What are comparable quality carvings going for? What is your reputation as a carver? What materials were used in making the carving? Where did the materials come from? What level of consumer are you targeting? How long did the carving take for you to complete? There is a school of thought which believes that there is an optimal price range for any carving. You just have to find that price range. And you have to sell at those venues which can support your price range. If a carving is not selling at what you would consider to be a reasonable low price, raise your prices. Yes that is correct, raise your prices. You are not here to give away your artwork to the lowest bidder but you also don't want to price yourself out of the market. You must be flexible in your pricing until you reach a reasonable price at which your work will sell. 'Reasonable' is the important word in that sentence. We can become very attached to our work, which is natural since our work is an extension of us, but be careful not to allow your ego to price you out of the marketplace. It is generally those carvings that we become attached to which generate the most interest to the customer. It’s as if they can sense that we don’t want to part with our carving. That’s when it becomes valuable. I have seen carvers bring carvings to shows that they don’t wish to sell. I have seen them dare to turn away a sale. Imagine being a customer who has just spent 15 minutes looking around, you’ve finally found something that interests you and are told it’s not for sale. At the very least, you can tell them that it is your sample but you will gladly take orders. If you really are that attached to it, either leave it home or sell it when you have the chance, knowing that you can make yourself another one. Make the sale while the person is on the hook, standing in front of you. People may not follow up with you after the show. The more time they have to think about buying your item, the more time they have to reconsider. Most people impulse shop and you must try to capitalize on that. Besides that, having carvings that are not for sale take up valuable display space. There should always be a price at which you are willing to sell any carving.
Trial and error, in my opinion, is the only real way to find the optimal price range of a carving. Take the point at which an item begins to create interest and use that as a baseline number. Raise the price in steady increments until you reach a price at which the carvings won't sell anymore. Somewhere in between these two figures lies the marketable value of your carvings. If you receive too many pre-orders for a particular type of custom carving, raise your price. We are not mass producing items here, your time is valuable and you need to be paid what you are worth. As you make more and more copies of a particular item, raise its price. Not everyone appreciates the work that goes into a carving, but there are those that will be drawn to your work and those are the people you need to be aiming for.
One of the most important things to consider is the venue at which you would want to sell your work. The only people that I have witnessed making any type of good money at woodcarving shows are the carving supply vendors. The people who are attracted to woodcarving shows are other carvers and rarely will they pay their hard earned money for someone else's carvings. Carvers go to woodcarving shows seeking inspiration and want to see what the “competition” is doing. Where do carvings sell? At craft fairs, higher end gift shops, in art galleries, through websites, through word-of-mouth, through artists personal client lists, and through the artists own studio. Carvers may advertise locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. If you are in this for the long haul, your price range will increase as your reputation, skill and customer base increase.
There are all levels of craft fairs to be considered. You generally pay for space at craft fairs and that cost will offset any profit that you might make, as will your display costs. Don't forget that you will also lose a day of productive carving for every day that you direct towards selling. You need to sell the right item at the right level of craft show, at the right price. Sounds easy enough. Again, you must do your research. You don't want to sell $10 items at a fair where your booth space costs $750, and you don't want to waste your time selling $1000 carvings at the local church fair where your vendors fee is $30. In either case you probably won't even recoup your expenses. You need to know, either from other vendors or from the show producers, the amount of people who will attend the show on a given day, the estimated amount each person will spend, what type of person the fair attracts, what type of crafts are featured and what type of items sell most. Also be advised that some craft shows will also take a percentage of the sales you make. I advise you to start at your local fairs, which are relatively inexpensive, and have plenty of inexpensive items to sell. Be happy if you cover the cost of your table at your first show. Local craft shows can be worth the invaluable experience you will gain. You will learn how to interact with the public, get a taste of the guesswork that goes into pricing, get some practice at displaying your work and learn how to promote yourself and your artwork. I also recommend that you document all your shows and sales so that you will have something to refer back to when considering where to show in the future.
Dealing with retailers at gift and specialty shops is a world unto itself. The clientele that a particular shop attracts is the determining factor in this type of market. Also be aware that there are commissions and percentages to be paid if your work is on consignment. If the store outright purchases a carving for resale, expect to sell for less than the carving will bring in order that there is a profit margin for the store owner. If you sell a carving for $100 in your studio and charge a store owner $100 for that same carving, they will put a price tag of $150 or more on it, which in turn forces you to raise your studio price to $150. Not doing so will undersell your own work. It is important not to do that. What if you can't sell that particular item for $150 in your studio? You should sell your work at wholesale prices if it is for resale and hope to make up that loss in the volume of carvings sold. It is a basic marketing principle and it should be followed. You don't want your own carvings competing against themselves price wise in the market. People who do purchase a carving from you, expect their carving to hold its value. Think about how you would feel after purchasing a digital camera for $500, only to see it being sold for $350 down the street. Comparable items such as a Native American Indian bust in which you have 30 hours invested, should sell for roughly the same price at a craft fair, a retail store, gallery or directly from your studio. Set your price range and stay within it. The more you sell, the more you build your reputation and customer base. That translates into being able to raise your prices in the future. Your experience level and expertise will also improve over time, contributing to this rise in value of your work.
For the higher end carvers, there are art galleries to be considered. Handicrafts will not work here and you will be laughed out the door if you present yourself as a traditional carver. In the realm of Galleries you must consider yourself a wood artist or sculptor and you must conduct yourself accordingly. Before you even approach a gallery, you must have a cohesive body of work to present to them. This should be approximately 10-20 pieces, with generally the same theme or the same element running through them as a way to tie them all together. It needs to be representative of you as an artist, your work and the image you wish to present. You must have a professional portfolio, in a wide array of media, glossy full-sized photos, detailed interesting descriptions, cd-rom and slide presentations, and professional literature. Galleries charge a substantial commission on any work sold in connection to it. Be aware that some galleries now charge artists for the cost of hosting an exhibition. Yet, is there anything better to enhance a serious carver's resume than to be able to say his/her work is being sold through a prestigious gallery? The benefits of getting your work into a gallery is that a gallery deals with a higher end clientele than most retail shops. They already have experience with advertising and promotion and most have a loyal customer base who in turn, will be introduced to your work.
As a woodcarver you will find much resistance to your work in the 'art world' as a whole. And just getting your work seen by a gallery will be quite an accomplishment in and of itself. To be taken seriously is a whole nother ball of wax. You need to research the individual galleries to understand which galleries will be more receptive to your work and in what areas of the country you will be more successful. A gallery’s reputation will also extend to your work if it is exhibited there. Do your homework carefully. It is much easier to build a reputation than it is to change one.
In every instance where the sales of your work will involve an outside assist, be it a show, exhibition or consignment situation be sure to get all the details in writing, consider who will carry the necessary insurance, who will pay shipping and packaging, what happens if your work get damaged, lost, stolen or if a business files for bankruptcy, or is foreclosed on and its assets are seized. How much are you to be paid, when and how and just how is the pricing to be determined. Speak to other people who are selling in the same areas and learn the all ins and outs of any financial ventures. A little knowledge and legal protection can go along way in safeguarding your future as a successful carving marketer.
The region of the country where you will attempt to sell your carvings must also be taken into consideration. Obviously, Southwestern carvings will sell better in the southwest, and nautical and marine carvings will sell better in shore areas. You have a much better chance of selling anything in a trendy tourist town than in a small rural town. Wildlife carvings do better in the areas where those animals tend to live and free-form wood sculptures do better in the big city markets. These are just generalizations as there are isolated pockets in every part of the country in which certain type's carvings will do well. Take a walk around your town. See what is being sold in the gift stores and galleries. Talk to store owners. Find out what sells and why.
The internet has made this country and the world measurably smaller as we can now communicate easily with others who we never would have met otherwise. Within two months of having my website up and running I received almost 4000 hits and had been contacted by more than a few upscale carving related businesses. I think in today's world that is vital for anyone in any business seeking to be financially successful, to have a website. Initially, I thought that the cost of running a website would be out of my reach. But after having done my research I find it to be extremely cost effective. To own my own website name cost $10 a year and the hosting for my website costs $10 a month. The other major expense in having a website is that someone must create and maintain it. I have always been a bit cocky about the things I'm capable of doing. Why hire someone to do something that I could learn to do myself? There are so many programs out there that will help you design Web sites. You don't need to learn HTML or any other special computer language. You just need to follow directions. You need to know how to put your pages together, how to optimize your pictures, and how to publish your pages. Yes it takes some work to learn, and I invested almost six weeks time in building my website but it is knowledge that I will keep forever. And I will never have to pay someone else to do it.
You should consider your website your personal art gallery, where your work is on permanent display. Set it up to be visually appealing, well organized and educational. Tell people what you carve, why you carve, how you started carving, list your carving accomplishments and show off your tools. Educate them on the materials used. Tell them about you and why you do what you do. Make your carvings easy to purchase.
Selling woodcarvings in this day and age presents real challenges to the artist. There are many imported items being sold for cut rate prices. There are computerized carving systems which can produce a perfect carvings quickly. Carving shows and craft shows may produce some sales, but never enough to make it all seem worthwhile. The Carvers I find to be most successful are those who become known for producing a particular type of carving. They find their niche. Teri Embrey produces Santas, Joe Dillett specializes in family history themed mantles, Greg Wilkerson and Rex and Vicki Branson work in western themes, Chris Howard carves realistic native American busts, Floyd Rhadigan produces humorous caricatures, Peter Ortel carves Firemen and Wayne Barton chip carves just to name a few. It is much easier to become known when you specialize in something. You also become much more adept at a particular type of carving, which translates into better time efficiency and a greater profit margin. Those that do specialize should be aiming their product at their specialty market, not at the woodcarving market. For example, an architectural carver should be doing home shows; they should be attending construction trade shows and networking with builders, architects and interior designers. They should not be trying to sell to the general public but should be advertising in high end home and restoration magazines. Western Carvers should be selling at western and horse shows and advertising in western art magazines. Realistic animal sculptures should be advertised in nature and conservation magazines and galleries. You must ask yourself what type of person will be interested in the types of carvings that you produce. Get your work out there where they can see it.
Once you have figured out the type of person that you will aim your carvings at, think about where that person can be found. If you are marketing high end high-priced carvings you must go to where the money is. You cannot expect those people to come looking for you but rather, make a plan to get your work displayed in areas that your target market will be exposed to them. Do shows which are in the better neighborhoods, charity and benefit functions and corporate lobbies. Approach your local yacht club or golf club about presenting a display. Consider the types of publications that that person most likely will read and advertise in those publications. What you need to understand about the wealthy is that they are just like the rest of us. They impulse buy. Only thing is they think in larger monetary units than the rest of us. So get your work out there where it can be seen by those people and you may reap the benefits of their wallets.
Another thing to understand is the value of the uniqueness of your carvings. If you walk into a carving show which features 100 different carvers displaying their work, a person browsing will have a difficult time distinguishing one carving from another and by the time he has visited his 20th table, all things will kind of look the same to him, but if you are the only carving display at a craft fair and are surrounded by other non-carving crafts, your work will stand out much more and people will be attracted to your work just because its different. If you can generate interest, you can generate sales. You can get a feel for what type of venue that you should try to sell your work in by doing the necessary footwork involved. Go to craft shows, visit art galleries and stores. Ask yourself what stands out and why. What catches your eye? Evaluate your work and your display and try to imagine where you would fit the best. Then do your research and ask lots of questions. Don’t only ask the promoters and organizers; ask the merchants how they are doing. Observe which displays seem to be generating interest and take notes on why you think they are attracting people.
Never pass up the opportunity to display your work. You just never know where or when the “right” person will come along. Do the work to see that your work is presented in a way that is appealing and interesting to the viewer. Try different arrangements. Be flexible. Don’t try to over-organize your work. Don’t try to balance your entire display by placing carvings at rigid intervals. If things are placed too perfectly and too neatly, you risk that your display will be stiff and will not be interesting. Try breaking your display into separate smaller areas. Concentrate on making those areas interesting. Things placed slightly off center will draw interest. Give your best carvings some space. Try displaying items at different height levels and on different colored backgrounds. Group smaller carvings together to create the illusion of mass. One small carving with lots of space around it will tend to get “lost”. Avoid crowding if it can be helped. You don’t need to have all your items on display at one time but can keep some stock behind your display to be used to fill empty spaces as you sell items. Pay attention to the way your carvings ‘react’ to each other. Try different arrangements until you feel that things look their best and are given the space to show themselves off. Pay attention to the things that catch the eye of the passerby and try to figure out why it is drawing attention.
Getting your work shown in a gallery is considered one of the most important venues that an artist can display in. Why is that? There are only two basic functions a gallery serves, to sell, but more importantly to display. Wander over to an Art Gallery and study the way that they display their works. Each item is given attention in some way. Pictures and wall hangings are placed at eye level. Objects and sculptures are usually raised up on some sort of pedestal or platform, providing the viewer the space to walk around it and view it in 3 dimensions. The spacing between objects is given particular attention. The gallery walls are usually of a color which draws no attention to themselves, but yet compliments and contrasts the items being displayed. One of the most important aspects of gallery displays is the lighting. Individual moveable lights will create a better display than one or two larger fixed lights. Different types of bulbs and different lighting angles will also give different effects. Think about the types of carvings that you are displaying and attempt to have your display compliment your work. Shadows can be suppressed or enhanced with a creative use of lighting. Galleries also make things interesting by adding text on plaques and in creative well-placed literature.
Think of your display as your own art gallery. Think about what type of image you want to send out to the viewing public. Try in some way, to unify your display. A consistent unobtrusive background theme can seem to melt away and leave all of the viewers’ attention on your carvings. Galleries have experience in displaying and you can only gain this experience by putting the time and energy into your display, by being willing to change things and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Make sure that the items that make up your display are in good repair, clean and visually appealing. Have your artists’ promotional materials and business cards placed where they can be easily seen and taken. Give thought to the particular venue that you are displaying in and try to have your display fit in but yet, stand out. Consider the types of people who will be browsing your display. Will there be small children? Will you need to place valuable items out of their reach? Will you need to give security to fragile objects? Will you have a view and control over your entire display to deter shoplifters? Do you need to fasten down pieces or enclose them? Make sure that you set aside an area in your display for the business of selling your work. Keep all of your paperwork neat and at hand.
Keep in mind the importance of a good display. You can not sell your work if people never get to see it. Put it ‘out there’. Make it interesting. Make it appealing. Make your display ‘work’ for you and show your unique talent off. Experiment and play. Make your viewer feel comfortable, unhurried and unpressured. Be friendly and likeable. Demonstrate and educate. Promote yourself and woodcarving. Make some friends and above all, have some fun. Your display is an extension of you. Allow your personality to come through.
#1 Sell what you love
#3 Talk to potential customers
#4 Never lower your prices
#5 Educate your customer
# 6 Research you target market
# 7 Your display is as important as your product
# 8 Offer something different
# 9 Always strive to present a better product
# 10 Keep your work in the public eye
Tags: Carvings Woodcarvings Sell Selling