This was my plan: to skip the Buyers Market of American Craft (BMAC) this year, but still get all the wholesale orders I want. I should start by explaining that I wanted to reduce my wholesale workload, down to an amount that made the high cost of the trade show hard to justify. For those of you who want to know, the minimum cost to do this trade show is about $3000. And that is for people like me, who can fit my display into my car, and drive myself to Philadelphia. For artists who need to travel on airplanes, while shipping their display and products, the total costs are closer to $5000. My goal was to reduce the size of my wholesale business to somewhere around $9000 this year (roughly half of last year's wholesale gross). And it just didn't make sense to spend $3000 in order to make $9000.
But could I get enough galleries to order from me anyways?
I started laying the groundwork for the plan at last year's BMAC, where I told all of my buyers that I would not be attending the trade show in 2012, instead I would be in touch if they wanted to order from me. In January of this year, I produced a simple catalog for my 2012 wholesale line, and mailed it to my active wholesale accounts, then followed up with emails every few weeks. I have to admit, the first week after I mailed the catalog was very long. Was I being overconfident? Did I just screw myself? Then, I got an email from one of my largest accounts "We got your lovely brochure and will be sending an order soon." I exhaled. The orders arrived over the following weeks. And as of now, I am right on pace to reach my goal by the end of the year.
My motivation behind the plan is not just about wholesaling. It is about my complicated relationship with workaholism. The self-employed workaholic's dilemma goes something like this: we complain a lot about how much we work, but we're terrified that the work will go away. Being self-employed can feel like sitting in a canoe in the middle of the ocean. Burying yourself under a pile of work makes you feel less adrift. Less insecure about money. But it has a price ... exhaustion and burnout.
Lucky for me this isn't new ... years ago, I went through this same transition in my design practice when I started saying "no" to work. And now I think my pottery business has reached the same point. It's not easy. Saying "no" takes an awful lot of strength. My "pile of work" security blanket is gone, and I have to battle the doubt that creeps in and out of my head.
But now it's mid-March ... I've settled into my timeframe and workload for the next few months. And guess what ... I like it. I work on wholesale orders way ahead of deadline, so I never feel rushed. In fact, when someone orders two casseroles, I make three. Now I don't worry about those pots that don't survive the pottery process. I have extras, what a concept!
And those extras will come in handy. In between working on wholesale orders, I am stockpiling inventory for art festivals later this year. This is how I plan to make up for the forgone wholesale income. I'm adding a few more retails art festivals to my year, and bringing more inventory for all of them. Last year, I had two art festivals where I nearly ran out of pots with one more day to go. I only made a few hundred dollars on those last days, because I didn't have much to sell. Those were boring days, plenty of time to think about how to change the way I work. And to make myself queasy on fried festival food. I probably shouldn't do that either.
Once again, I am referring to The Hourly Earnings Project to guide my business plans. The project revealed that wholesaling was the least profitable segment of my business. So whenever I felt exhausted by work, it was clear where I needed to cut back. My plan for wholesale going forward is, if possible, to attend the BMAC every three or four years. If I can amortize the cost of the trade show over a few years, then it will make sense for me. In the meantime I will shift my focus towards retail art festivals, my annual open house, and my online store.