Success with Consignment Vendors
Incorporating local artists into the store mix can help build community support and build store profits with no initial investment
By Aylin Tito, Director of Marketing & Visitor Engagement at the Boca Raton Museum of Art
It was during a Florida Museum professional conference that I started chatting about consignment sales with another store manager. I went on and on about how we loved to work with consignment vendors and local artists, and they just expressed total frustration. They mentioned how their store had items in their inventory for over a year that had not sold and they felt stuck with many of the artists that were providing consignment goods. After a few minutes of this chat, others joined and piped in on how they hated dealing with consignment vendors because it was too much work. Others just said they were hesitant to even try it because of horror stories that they had heard from other store managers and buyers. It was at this moment that I realized I needed to help spread the word on our success and love affair with consignment vendors and local artists. At the conference, we exchanged contact info and then I was able to continue the conversation and share resources with them. When the opportunity to present this topic to my MSA peers came up, I could not wait to share this information with a larger audience.
Consignment vendors make up about 30% of our total sales so it is a nice chunk that can really make a difference for our store. Why is it worth all the effort you may ask yourself? There are so many good reasons to start a consignment program in your Museum Store. For starters, you get to try new, unique products for your store with little to no risk, since you do not pay for the items until they actually sell. Also, it keeps your store mix fresh even when your budget won’t allow for any new orders. During this past year of COVID, our budget was significantly reduced. Consignment vendors helped keep our store mix fresh by bringing in new items on a monthly basis. Artists can bring in new inventory as you need it and can easily swap out non-selling items. Additionally, customers love to see that you support local artists in your area. They also love purchasing unique, handmade gifts -- and your store can be the local go-to place for these items. Also, consignment sales can be easy to maintain if expectations with the artists are managed from the beginning of the agreement. Most of the terms should be set up in a simple contract in order to make sure everyone is on the same page. Setting up start-date and end-date terms is the best way to avoid uncomfortable break-ups with poor performing vendors.
While there are many great reasons to include consignment vendors in your store, organization and communication are two key factors to keep in mind to ensure success. It’s important to openly communicate upfront with artists exactly what you are looking for, what your requirements are, and what the terms are of this relationship. This will make your job easier in the long run. One factor that really helped us streamline the program was creating a “new item submission form” that detailed all the steps to the artists. This form helps explain what we are looking for, our store’s mission as it relates to our museum, and provides clear instructions to the artists on how and when to submit information on their work. There is nothing worse than having an unannounced artist show up to your store with jewelry trays, when the store is full of customers! Communicating the process from the beginning really helps manage the artists’ expectations and helps store buyers keep their sanity during busy times. Additionally, we let artists know that sales are tallied and paid on a monthly basis so artists know what has sold. Finally, it is important to keep track of inventory. We’ve been able to do this with our point of sale inventory system but it’s imperative that, when artists drop off new merchandise, it should be accompanied by a detailed receipt that clearly lists all items and their cost and suggested retail price. This will come in handy when it’s time to pay your artists.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the results we have received from the sales of some of the consignment merchandise. Also, it gives a local artist the opportunity to be a part of your store mix. Many artists are also great self-promoters, so be sure to partner on merchandising and social media posts or even in-store events. I encourage all museum stores to give consignment sales a try. Start out with one vendor at a time, and before you know it, you’ll have all sorts of new and interesting items as part of your store’s selection.
Want to learn more about this topic? Watch a video recording of Aylin Tito's MSA FORWARD VIRTUAL educational session, "Success with Consignment Vendors: Incorporating Local Artists Into the Store Mix Can Help Build Community Support and Build Store Profits With No Initial Investment" here. Educational session recordings are complimentary for MSA members and for-purchase for non-members.
Aylin Tito is Director of Marketing & Visitor Engagement at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida. In this role, Aylin oversees and plans the Museum’s marketing, public relations, and social media efforts. She also manages and trains visitor experience associates and directs retail store operations and buying. Bringing nearly twenty years’ experience in management, administration and sales, Aylin previously honed her skills in retail department store sales and management. She led recruitment and placement efforts at an art college, while managing an effective sales team and collaborating on all marketing efforts. After being a life-long art and museum enthusiast, she transitioned professionally into the museum world after completing a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Additionally, Aylin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida International University with a focus in Art History and Studio Art and an Associate of Arts Degree in Art Education from Miami Dade College. Her strong interest in art led to volunteer opportunities in the community, including a position as board member on the “Art in Public Places” Arts Commission for the City of Boynton Beach. Aylin has also been a member of Museum Store Association for the last four years.