Merchandising, is it a dirty word?

making it work Hilary B arts
My "go and see" was, to look at the world of selling art, how do artists,
in the widest sense, do that?
To begin with I thought about the words that are used, and why do they strike terror, disdain, contempt, in some artists?
Don't we want our work to be seen, don't we want to make a living?

Merchandise, merchandising
Engage in the business of a merchant
Selling goods or ideas, especially in a retail situation
A reminder of past events
A small item kept in memory of the person who originally owned it, or gave it.
A thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, a place or event

Oh I see nothing here about quality, changing the world, enriching peoples lives, challenging peoples views. But hang on, we do want people to remember our work, stay connected, especially when as B arts does we create ephemeral work, site specific theatre that only lasts in the memory, digital or real, so if they went away with something, or could buy something later, or in advance, that would seem to be OK?

The benefits of selling art as products are huge as it effectively gets your art out there and increases your potential audience around the world. It only takes one collector who purchased an art tie to go on to purchase a large original at several thousand pounds for the whole project to make sense, and this does happen."

I can see how this applies to 2D art. How could this apply to site specific theatre, well we could work with images/photographs/designs from our shows and put them on ties!?

Some comments from artists who sells stuff.....
The pitfalls only appear if your lose control of the product range. So, for example, if a company produces 50,000 cards (as The Eden Project did of my work) and then fails to sell them, that stock could end up in a bargain bucket, dragging down your market value. To avoid this dead stock situation, most companies are now using the art-ondemand technique. It means less profit per item but no dead stock and therefore better profit  margins.
The cost to us as artists to license using Zazzle is only time. There are no setup or running costs and we are now free to concentrate on developing projects using the technology.
I sell T-shirts and other products through my website and also created an online T-shirt shop (www.art4shirts.com). Over the years I have added more and more designs, and now have several sections to which my painting site links.
I produced my first online T-shirts when I put my Japanese print collection online (www.surimono.com). I was looking for a way to market the site and use the fantastic images I had collected over the years. I opened an account with www.cafepress.com, and they gave me a free online shop where I could add images to their products. It is very simple to open and operate: open a free account, upload an image and then apply it to the Cafépress products. You can print on everything from T-shirts, calendars, postcards, bags, clocks, aprons and button badges to fridge magnets. Cafépress does all the work take the order online, print the item, post the item and put the profit markup into your account.
All this sounds interesting, but it's very clear that it needs a time commitment from someone, either the artist themselves, or perhaps in MIW case a person who could work for a group of artists/companies?
So then I went off on a go and see on the Internet, where else do artists sell their work?

Etsy Tons of independent shops selling, art, craft, vintage. Under the "art" category;
Art Zines, Collage & Mixed Media, Custom Portraits, Decorative Arts, Drawing & Illustration, Figurines & Art Objects, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Prints & Posters, Sculpture. There are no membership fees with Etsy. It costs $0.20 to list an item for 4 months, or until it sells. Once you sell your item they collect a 3.5% fee on the sale price.
Fees for listings and transactions are accrued on your monthly Etsy bill. At the end of each month they add up all your fees, and email your monthly statement to you. You must pay your bill by the 15th of the next month using either the credit card on file or PayPal.

Etsy has a reputation for being craft orientated, and designer focussed, but has huge numbers of buyers internationally, get ready for knowing about packaging and posting costs, and trips to the post office, or even your own man with a van service, there are planting wanting your business.

I looked next at postcards since it seemed an easy way in to the world of merchandising as pre publicity and cheaper point of sale at an event. There are more sites moo.com I us them as an example. It just needs time and a source of photos and a good eye for what people would buy. And to put the costs into your project budget in advance.

10            £6.59 (£5.49 excl. VAT)       Deluxe £23.99 (£19.99 excl. VAT)
20            £13.18 (£10.98 excl. VAT).               £47.98 (£39.98 excl. VAT)
50            £26.39 (£21.99 excl. VAT).               £95.99  (£79.99 excl. VAT)
100            £43.99. (£36.66 excl. VAT)               £138.00 (£115.00 excl VAT) spec offer in Jan
Can buy short runs, so no dead stock issues, quick turn around, can buy packs of cards with different images.

People who go to music gigs always tel, you that T shirts are a good thing to sell. So I looked at the issue back stock. (If anyone would like a Stoke100 Tshirt B arts has a box of them, orange XLarge, we now give them away!!!)

T shirts  a variety of sites/companies offer this service....
Tshirtdrop's print on demand service, makes T-shirt outsourcing easy.
If you are a new or established T-shirt designer and are looking to outsource your garment printing needs, then our print on demand service is the one for you.
The process is simple :
You sell a T-shirt or garment design through your website, eBay, Zazzle or other site.
Send Tshirtdrop the order information, via our dedicated Print on Demand email address.
Sit back and relax whilst we; Pick the required garment, Print the design, Pack the garment, Post directly to your customer.
You receive an email confirming your order has been completed.
We invoice you our standard flat rate charge per garment.
All orders come through to our print queue and are printed on demand.
So whether you need 1 Print per month or 500 Prints we treat your order with the same importance as any other.
It was quite hard to get to the actual cost for a T shirt without ordering one, anyone got a Making It Work design in they would like to tryout?
Now I went off into to world of merchandising proper, things you can get printed with your design on, typically at the low end of this are pens, that say B arts working for change, office Knicks Knacks that scud around and get given away free as a way of getting your website and logo out there. However there are some other items you get designs rather than promotional stuff printed on, perhaps an image from a show I'm thinking?

Slightly posh version of custom print items and all sorts of things, iPad cases, cards, T-shirts, etc etc
As above, but it's a mixture of Etsy and Zazzle.  

Then I wandered off into the world of 2D art, which could again be images from a show, event.
Is a marketplace for people to discover and buy affordable original art online, from independant galleries and artists.
They market the site via twitter and Facebook and have an iPhone app.
They call themselves a global marketplace, have over 13,000 followers on fbook,
The selling points that you the buyer are supporting the artist and nurturing new talent.
They have a free returns policy, and you can buy gift cards, they divide art up into many, many categories all to enable the buyer to find what they are looking for.
Artists receive up to 70% of the fee for the work.
This is what ArtFinder says....
If you are an artist and want to improve your chances of being accepted by Artfinder, here are three easy recommendations:
1) Your story is almost as important as the quality of your art.  A good story sells, and collectors love to know that the artist is thoughtful, passionate, committed, or maybe crazy, whatever is their preference.
2) You manage your own store on Artfinder, and your storefront is created from the images of your art. By submitting high quality images you show that you care about quality, and are able to put together a quality presentation.
3) Selling online is about showing your best side. All artist produce works in their portfolio from time to time that are less strong. That's okay. But show us that you understand that it's about quality, not quantity. Bad quality work will detract from your good work. Know when an artwork is not ready for prime time.

I find the first recommendation very thought provoking, it is what all good sales gurus tell you, what is your story? It is the hardest thing for a hard working arts company to turn around and tell their own story, well it seems that way from here at B Arts. Which makes me think that we would need to put some time, effort and thought into this, but as they say may reap some dividends.

Then I went off and looked around at what people are doing  here.
I visited the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle Borough Museum and Art Gallery. They all have shops attached, and my heart sank, the home of heritage tat, but with some hidden art work in there which probably doesn't sell since there is so little of it.
Although to be fair to Newcastle it is the stuff you see first when you go in through the door, and it has a modern feel.
Maybe in funky Birmingham or Manchester  there is something different? Sounds like a shopping opportunity.

Grand Union (Birmingham)
Have an online shop as part of their website, they sell artists multiples, prints, photographs, soundtracks, called Editions.
I have a visit planned! More on that...later.

Here are some images that expand my thinking.

Where to stock your museum, gallery shop.

Those words are what I fear will happen when we sell our work, it just means we have to sell it and not put it in the hands of marketing companies.

Susan always say, take stuff out of your note sketchbooks and sell it.
So how would we do that? Anyone fancy this on their phone cover?

Could this be a card, just needs a cheeky phrase?

This years Christmas card from B arts?

A new tea towel anyone?

New curtain design?

Now I see that this is just the start. There are no hard figures in here,how much do artists make from selling their work, what do you make from T shirts, multiples, cards etc.
Maybe this could be part of our next phase, for MIW consortium to  try some of this?

Some further thoughts on our attitudes to merchandising/marketing....
AUSTERITY, I think it's infectious, it closes down our aspirations, closes down our available resources, cramps our style, things have to go in the face of rising costs and reduced income, the easy option is merchandising/marketing
PERCEIVED POVERTY, I think there is a general assumption that N Staffs is poor, that the middle classes are the people who buy stuff, the middle class in N Staffs is small, so don't bother trying to sell stuff. A vicious closing down of aspirations.
LACK OF RISK TAKING, in a works where everything  is restricted then risk taking is not top dog, yet what have we got to lose?
REDUCTION IN ARTS BUDGETS, companies are attempting to over deliver top quality arts on a reduced budget, so there develops a tendency to ignore areas of the budget which may be perceived as peripherals, marketing, training.
MARKETING BUDGETS, they are easily taken out, and therefore the time is lost to develop this area, leading to a reduction of the possible income form different sources.
DEPENDING ON KNOWN CIRCLES OF AUDIENCES, at times of shortage, of time, people, money, we rely on the known, the people we already know and can easily contact.
A definite recipe for NO GROWTH, no growth in possible audiences for the work and reducing the market for it.
NO ACKNOWLEDGING OF GLOBAL AUDIENCE FOR THE WORK, within the structures of austerity the company may feel that it has no place in a global market, perhaps a false economy.

3 Learning points
Put time into your project plan for identifying, producing, the merchandising in advance
Do the selling yourself, the artist is the best person to do this
Buy in targeted help, eg writing blurb, or something you don't can't do.

Hilary H.


Creative Businesses in Sheffield - some reflections

The Making It Work consortium went on a group visit to the Catalyst consortium in Sheffield in January. There’s a post below that outlines who we met and what happened on the day, so I’m giving a more personal perspective.

The first thing we learnt was that collaboration depends on making time to work together. In meeting two of the partners (Site Gallery and Yorkshire Artspace), one of the things that they were experiencing was the difficulty in carving out time to work on the consortium programme together.

Secondly, that Sheffield has built an infrastructure of spaces, activity and people consistently over several decades. What is now the Cultural Industries Quarter provides new and established organisations with an identity, networks and support as well as being part of a significant economic sector within the city.  In Sheffield the Quarter also has an identity beyond the city, and even has some currency as a visitor attraction in its own right. This has given us much food for thought for our involvement in initiatives around the Stoke Cultural Quarter.

The visit made me aware of how Stoke lacks middle-scale independent organisations such as Site, Music In The Round and Yorkshire Artspace. These, stretched as they are, do have capacity to support emergent artists and organisations. Without similar scale organisations in Stoke (all of the larger organisations are part of the local authority or commercial) it is the networks we are building that can create similar capacity in Stoke.

Art Sheffield was a fascinating model, a consortium project in Sheffield that delivered enough value back to those investing time in developing it – such as listings services and a real focus for the participating organisations in reaching new audiences.

Finally, when faced with agendas that all seem vital – such as setting up membership schemes, crowdfunding, targeting potential patrons, capital projects – the Executive Director of Site Gallery held onto something that resonated with us all:

What is the most important thing to do for this business?

Trevelyan Wright, B-Arts

Bitjam go and see Dec 2013

The Pervasive Media Studios in Bristol.

At bitjam we have been thinking about who we would visit as part of our MIW ‘go and see’s’. We could easily list a plethora of places, companies, start ups, hives of geeks and more that we would want to visit but realised that these visits needed a purpose.

Some of the aims of the go and sees:
  • To gain a better understanding of a company and how it works in the chosen sector.
  • What is it’s business model and how is it working for them. This includes how it might have changed over the life of the company.
  • (if an established organisation) How have they changed and adapted to be ahead of the competition.
  • If part reliant on funding, how has this changed and how have they adapted their business model accordingly.
  • To come away with experience of another organisation in the same sector or field of interest as our own.
  • Feed back to the rest of the MIW consortium the visit, findings and three keys thoughts about the trip.
After narrowing down our selection we approached the pervasive media studio in Bristol.

The PM Studio are part of the exciting Watershed complex that houses cinema, conference spaces, cafe and exhibition spaces.

The Pervasive Media Studio hosts a community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics exploring experience design and creative technology. It is a collaboration with University of West of England and University of Bristol, managed by Watershed.

They have been on our radar for some time as leaders in this field.  The MIW go and sees have provided us with the opportunity to take some time away from interactive tech and spend the day down there. This is what we discovered……..

The Studios function on a mixture of hot desk spaces and fixed tenures for small or startup business, these can range from companies/individuals being there for anything from one month to three years.

In there you have an eclectic mix of tech startups, from individuals busily hacking and coding to create an interactive apps through to companies building revolutionary spherical midi controlled instruments.
All of these work together in the same space and all practice what they call being ‘professionally interruptible’. Basically, anyone can grab a chat with them, exchange ideas, bounce ideas off each other and chat to visitors.
This was extremely exciting for us and we realised that was something that we practice day to day already. Some of the best ideas come about through being open to interruption.

We chatted to Verity McIntosh who is the PM Studios producer at length about how they operate , function, get funding, IP issues, partnership working and the future.

It’s clear that the have been on a long journey.

One thing that really stood out for us was how they are now a service provider for Bristol University. This has taken some time but the Uni realises the importance of the space within the city and what it provides in the world of tech and tech start ups opportunities.
As a result the Uni contributes towards rent for the space, that equates to so many months a year. This is also the case with the Council.
This is something that is a huge aim for ourselves and our new Innovation centre (bitjam Innovation Qube).

As a result the companies, individuals and teams that populate the PM Studios do not pay for their space. This came as a huge surprise to us. We were planning on developing a model of working in the Innovation Qube where we offer hot desk space for individuals and companies to hire from us. Since visiting the PM studios we have decided against that and go with a curation of the people and the space. This is after seeing the huge benefits to all involved form this model. While we were visited you had magicians working with coders and developers. This possibly wouldn't have happened if the space was commercial.
In this instance Verity acts like a curator or almost a chef, hand picking through lots of applications from people wanting to work in the space and envisaging how they might work and bounce of the others occupying the studios.

We then got the opportunity to chat to half of the teams and groups there, the variety was impressive and not what we expected.

Through these talks we realised that even if people spend months or years working out of the space to then move on and away, they always return when possible and site the PM Studios as their spiritual home. This means that the reach of the studio is far bigger than just it’s City and surroundings. When you consider that on average 140+ people come through the doors to work each year, this advertising and spreading of their message is vast.

As our visit came to an end we made our way to a lovely gastro pub to eat pulled pork, drink mulled cider and try to process what we saw/liked/will take away from this.

The three key points for us were:
  • Being professionally interruptible. We need to be more interruptible. Come and pop your head in, say hello and lets bounce ideas.
  • Offer free workspace. There’s space within a business model to allow this and the benefits can outweigh the monetary value in many ways.
  • Curate. Select and choose who works in the space, encourage interesting partnerships, take risks and watch the results.  

I would personally like to thank Verity and all the staff and people we spoke to during our visit to the Pervasive Media Studio. It was close (very close) to Christmas and amongst the decorations going up and secret santas, the took the time to take us round and allow us to interrupt.

Ben and Carl
Bitjam ltd.