How to Market and Sell Art
The following are some of the things I have learned while creating my own business, which started out
as a small table exhibiting photographs in a small town arts and craft show in Texas in the
late 1980s. In the early 90s, I founded Lumina Candles & Art (sold to friends Jan. 2001)
and I wrote this article in 1999 for my online candle business customers. I now own and
operate Borsheim Arts Studio. Here's to a successful business!
Kelly Borsheim, copyright 1999-2003
Tips on How to Start Your Own
by Kelly Borsheim, Lumina's founder
My disclaimer: There are many paths to the goal you choose to
reach. The following are observations that may help you on your path,
but you will probably have many of your own. My intent is to aid you in
some way, if I can. Thanks for reading!
Visit Lumina Candles & Art.
Tips for Selling Beeswax Candles
- Determine who your market is. (Who will be buying your beeswax candles?)
- You start off with limited resources, so try to figure
out what kind of person will want what you are selling and then seek out
that type of person. (I tend to think my clients will be people who are
somewhat like me.) I started my beeswax candle-making business in 1991.
I have determined that my market is predominantly made up of people who
enjoy (and are willing to pay for) natural products. These people often
already know about beeswax
and why it is the preferred wax for candles. I don't really have to sell
to them or "educate" them on my product (which saves me a lot of time).
Beeswax candles are not comparable to paraffin candles so when I am at a
show and I hear the comment "You can buy tapers at Wal-Mart for 3 for a
dollar," I can guess that the speaker is comparing apples to oranges.
That means 1) the comment may be coming from someone who may not know
about or appreciate the qualities of what I am offering and/or 2) I may
have to spend more time explaining the benefits of my product to this
- I do not have the resources of a large company. So I believe that my
time will be better spent going to where my market already
exists. In other words, I will have better success wholesaling my
product to stores that sell natural products or high-quality handmade
goods (such as pottery) and selling to the public via herb shows and
high-quality/funky art/craft shows and trying
to locate folks who want unusual and/or natural candles.
- Be prepared to work long hours.
- Like any business you
start, it takes work. Therefore you must decide what your goals are and
if you really want to do this. I assume you have already received advice
on contacting your local Small Business Association office and drawing
up a business plan. Good advice I should have taken. When I started
making candles, I was working a 60-hour-a-week job that I loved, doing
image preservation, but I wanted more (don't ask me why!). My goal was
more about getting to make my own choices than about making money. I
started out slow. And I am still too cautious. A business plan helps you
clarify your goals. You also need a tax ID number, so contact your
state's comptroller. This not only allows you to purchase materials free
of sales tax, but also is required by shows before you will be able to
sell your goods. Your state comptroller will help you with many tax
questions that you will inevitably have.
- Discover your strengths and weaknesses.
- I am an artist. I
enjoy talking to people; however, I am not a salesman. I am not much of
a marketer. My observation about people is this: we each have different
skills and interests (thank goodness!) and we accomplish so much more by
allowing ourselves to join with people we trust who have skills
different from our own and who share the vision. Be honest with yourself
about why you want to start your own business and what skills you bring
to the table. Consider looking for a partner or employee (or a spouse?)
who has some necessary skills that you either lack or are not interested
in using, depending on the goals for your business and your budget. For
instance, I find real/snail/paper mail correspondence overwhelming
sometimes and I rarely have time to follow up (call the customer, pursue
the sale). Self-employed people tend to be responsible for ALL areas of
the business: manufacturing, selling, marketing (different from
selling!), accounting, inventory, and shipping. It's rare that an
individual has the time, much less the skills, to wear all of these
- Create your product. Understand what it is.
What is it you
are really selling? A thing or a lifestyle? WHY would someone want what
you have to offer? I am constantly thinking about which candles I want
to make -- and which I don't. I consider whether or not the candle fits
my "theme" or "philosophy". Is the product consistent with why customers
do business with me now? Also, I did a serious amount of research on packaging
options before making a decision. I chose packaging that I found
attractive and consistent with the "personality" of my product. Later,
when I chose fragrances, I decided to use essential oils (from plants)
instead of synthetic scents--since I had already determined that my
market preferred natural goods.
- Create a plan.
- Wholesale? Retail? "Tupperware" parties?
Church bazaars? Weddings? Shows? A Web site? Candles are a seasonal
item--with most sales occurring around the Christmas holidays. How will
I sell my candles? I have chosen to do several of the above. Naturally,
wholesaling does not generate as much profit as retail; however, it
allows me to sell candles THROUGHOUT the year--helping me with cash
flow. I generally only do candle shows (retail) October through
December. And in 1996, I started my Web site. On the
other hand, do not let my methods limit YOU! I want to be able to pay my
bills by selling my sculpture, so my
goals are probably different from yours. As enjoyable as it is, I do not
want to be making candles all day, year-round. I like to focus on the
candles for part of my day and then focus on the sculpture the rest of
the time. You might prefer to go after the bridal market. Brides love to
give beeswax candles as wedding favors -- especially if you can make
them in the wedding colors. Maybe you can team up with a wedding
consultant or two. Also, I sell candles to certain florists.
- Although I took a basic marketing class at a local college, I have
learned more about marketing by keeping my eyes open -- especially when
I am shopping. I assume that my customers are somewhat like me -- and
that they might like some of the same things that I do. So I collect
business cards for small shops I like and then contact the owners to see
if they might try carrying my products. I go to arts and crafts
shows in my area and if I think they would be good shows for me to
sell my work, I find out how to get on the mailing list for future
shows. I talk to vendors who do similar work (but avoid
offending/"threatening" someone whose work is VERY close to what I do)
to find out what they like and dislike about the show. Note: Be careful
not to monopolize a vendor's time in the booth -- they are there trying to
make a living. Start off with
the small town shows or -- if you can find any -- shows in the big
cities that have small booth fees ($100 or less). Small town shows have
low booth fees ($50 or less) and even though turnout may be low, the
people are there to support the vendors! Big city shows tend to have
high booth fees ($250 and up), which means you have to sell a LOT of
candles just to recover your booth fee, travel expenses, cost of
materials, and -- oh yeah -- what we all tend to discount as unimportant
-- our TIME! And that's not even mentioning the word profit!
shows and booth setup
- Customer Service: Another thing I pay attention to is my
experiences as a customer. If I feel good about a place, I start
thinking about WHY. If I have a negative experience, I usually know why,
so I think about how--from the business's end--the situation could have
been corrected. Very few people who interact with customers actually get
training in customer service (or manners). It appears to me that
individuals seem more concerned about not taking the blame (personally)
for a problem or have no idea how to fix a problem or don't have
the authority to really help the customer. ("Oh, we botched your order,
let me give you a free ______. Please give us another chance to make it
up to you.")
- Any employee who interacts with one of your
customers, whether it's the salesperson or a production manager or a
shipping clerk, needs to know that he is representing the business, as
well as himself. One of my biggest pet peeves as a customer is to hear,
"Oh, I didn't take your order . . . I didn't work that day . . . etc."
without a positive, problem-solving answer following. Think about the
complaint from the customer's point of view and remember YOU NEED THE
CUSTOMER MORE THAN THE CUSTOMER NEEDS YOU. Don't bother with excuses
unless you feel this somehow helps the customer know how to interact
with you in the future ("we need this sort of information on the order
form because . . . "). Acknowledge the complaint--it is usually
legitimate--and then figure out what it takes to correct the situation,
even if you have to go a little out of your way to do it. [There are rare instances in
which you will better serve your company and even the client to cut your losses and NOT
serve a particular client. Some people insist you go too far out of your way or
bend your policies too much to really be worth your energy. If you make the decision
to let this sale go, do it with as much grace and politeness as you can muster.
One way to do this is to supply the customer with a name or two of other businesses that
might be more to his liking -- and you still exhibit good customer service! Learning
to say "No" is sometimes difficult, but healthier for all concerned.]
- Always carry your business cards with you.
- And pass them
out to anyone who shows the least bit of curiosity about what you do.
Include your business name, your name, your address, phone, URL and
e-mail address (if applicable), and WHAT YOU DO on the card. A simple,
but descriptive graphic is often helpful. [Mystery is not always
attractive. I hate business cards that only have a name and phone number
on them. I want information at a glance. I won't generally keep a card
that doesn't give me that.] Include your card with any business
correspondence you do. Don't be shy -- let everyone you meet know what
business you are in and how much you enjoy it. It takes a long time to
market your business, so the sooner you get started, the sooner you will
discover the rewards.
- Create a mailing list.
- Even if you don't think you will
use one yet, start building it. Just make a form and leave it with some
pens on a clipboard or have a guest book in the area of your booth or
store where people purchase your goods. Leave blanks for mailing
address, phone, and e-mail. I have generally avoided bombarding my
friends with my product advertisements unless they ask, but use your own
judgment on this one.
- Think like a business person and try to keep an open
- I have a bad habit of buying a bunch of supplies for a new
product (like the stained glass candle holders I designed and know I
could sell!) and then never finding the time to make the product. When
it comes tax time, I discover that I lost money! Gee. Focus! It's
better to do one thing well than do 10 things so-so. Determine what you
can pull off successfully with the resources you have. On the other
hand, don't be afraid to try new things. If you see something is popular
or you just want to experiment, go with the flow if it doesn't
require too many new resources. Think of unusual uses for your
product (find a niche). Beeswax candles make great gifts. Candles
enhance all kinds of ceremonies (example: weddings), meditation,
holidays (religious or cultural, such as Kwanzaa), romantic evenings,
and even Y2K/end-of-the-world preparation (what if there's no
- Like what you do.
Life's too short, after all.
I believe it was Henry Ford who said, "Whether you think you can or
whether you think you can't, you're right." If you don't believe it or
enjoy it, you can't sell it to others.
Contact Kelly Borsheim.
[Kelly sold Lumina Candles & Art in January 2001. This information is only left online to help you. Hopefully, it serves that purpose.]
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