Thursday, February 24, 2011
Walking the Line: thoughts on creating a Line Sheet
Ok so I'm going to start this post by saying that in no way am I an expert in creating a Line Sheet. 'A line sheet?', you might ask? Yes, you know, a line sheet. Not a sheet with lines on it, a sheet with your Lines on it. Your Lines of ceramics, or cards, or knitted things, or silk-screened t-shirts, or hand-bags or jewelry... you know. The Line Sheet you send to shops and retailers who are interested in carrying your work for wholesale.
(Insert footnote here: There is a difference (I feel) between Galleries and Shops. Most Galleries don't need Line Sheets to have your work in their Gallery. They might just contact you a few times a year and say we need a bunch of mugs and a couple of Teapots, some bowls. You invoice them or it's consignment and you get a cheque a month later. Shops and boutiques are essentially retailers. There are some great independent shops out there that carry a variety of handmade work as well as perhaps manufactured products. They are used to ordering through a Line Sheet. If you make work that fits in with their aesthetic, they may want to see your Line Sheet. This is how I came to have to make my own Line Sheet. End note)
There is a lot of information that they don't tell you at art school about the actual business of making and selling your craft. I've read a number of books about starting up a craft-based business, but feel as though Line Sheets were one thing that wasn't really covered. I started asking around the studio building- hey, do you have a Line Sheet? What's on it? And most of the responses I got were a little vague, and, in fact, no one was really willing to show me their actual Line Sheet, which had me a little confused about the whole subject. So needless to say, I've gone and done a little research, feel that I've made some pretty big mistakes in the process, probably turned away a few shops and shop owners because of my lack of knowledge and professionalism on this one, but perhaps could help you or even you could help me sort out the whole Line Sheet phenomenon.
Now maybe you think I am over-complicating something that's quite basic. Perhaps if I'd had a background in retail I would really know what I'm doing in this department. But, if you're like me, and you've been in the Art sector or have worked in Social Work, or in Education, or were an Apple Picker, and merely spent 5 dreadful months working at a jeans and work wear store, you will not really know what the hello a Line Sheet is supposed to clarify for a potential shop owner.
A Line Sheet is quite simply a list of the items you wish to wholesale, the prices (wholesale and possibly suggested retail) that each item is, and a description of size/colour/materials. In addition to the Line Sheet you would need to include your ordering information such as your wholesale order minimum, the shipping and handling costs that might be on top of the order cost, your 'lead time'- estimation of time to make the work, and any other considerations the shop might have before they order from you- ie, your item is hand-made and so some variation within the 'Lines' may occur. There might be a few more things here worth noting, but for the moment, I believe that's a pretty big chunk to swallow.
The complication in making a Line Sheet that works for the shop owner is that you have to leave out all the guess work. This is where I made most of my mistakes- it often felt like too much work to create an actual page full of images of each piece that I was prepared to wholesale and I merely wrote down a list of items with meager descriptions expecting the shop owner to go back to my website and sort through which piece fit with which description. Not that I got any feedback from shop owners about this, but I sort of figured out after a few seemingly good-fitting shops didn't end up ordering from me after their first email of "I love your work and think it would make a great fit for my shop!". Essentially, what you don't have time for as an independent artist and maker is also what a shop or gallery owner doesn't have time for either. However, in this case, your the one that loses out. Instead of the general public being your customer, the shop owner is your customer. Just as you don't want your booth at a craft show looking shoddy, your Line Sheet is intended to 'sell' your work and get a potential shop owner excited about selling your work in his/her shop.
Now I must say here, that people out there a little more business savvy than I would also include product number codes, and ordering sheets with style codes, amounts, and prices so that a shop owner can be checking off boxes while they are browsing your Line Sheet. This feels a little to 'product-ish' for me. I know that may not make sense, but as someone who makes everything with my 2 hands, by hand, I'm not super-keen on the whole 'code' idea. The Line Sheet in itself is a bit of a stretch. I mean, there is really a limited amount of this work I want to produce over and over again before moving onto other ideas. Which is why it's good to up-date one's Line Sheet. Some would say seasonally, but for myself, I would say yearly.
Last, but not least, it might be a good idea to put in a plug for order minimums. Look at the pieces you wish to wholesale. Are they worth wholesaling to the shop owner and to you- are you both benefiting enough from the sale of your work? What is the price range (lowest-highest) of your items? How much of those items for wholesale dollars would fill what you would expect a shop owner would want in their store at one time. Most shops I know are fairly small. They may not want everything in every Line that you make. They may also want to sell your work quite fast so that their displays are always rotating and changing to catch their customers' eye. Have your minimum order not be too high so that they feel like they have to order everything on the list in order to fill that. For example, my minimum order is $250. But yours might be $400. It really depends what you make and what the average price of your work is. I'm sure there is an equation out there somewhere for the math inclined.
So let me know what you think- perhaps I've missed something here! As an independent artist/maker, I feel that the best way for me to actually make a living doing what I love to do, means that I have to have a few different ways to sell my work. Whether that be doing shows, selling through shops and Galleries, selling online, or even doing studio sales, all of those things together are what could carry me from January through to the rest of the year. Perhaps one day I'll just be able to do one of those and make a living, but for now, I guess I'm willing to give it all a go to see what will work best.