Top 12 Tips for Selling Handmade on Consignment

Hello! I have gained some more experience that I am sharing with you today. This time I am talking about selling handmade items on consignment in a local shop. And once again I will start off by telling you that this particular experience was not a success but I have learned quite a few things so that is the positive side.

Here is the backstory. This shop was opened in my town and my husband and I are acquaintances of the owners so when they approached us about putting my handmade items in their shop on consignment we thought we would give it a try. I was feeling a bit trepidatious because they are a new shop and they didn’t seem to have much sales experience behind them but it doesn’t hurt to try.

They stated clearly up front that they would be taking a 20% commission on anything that sold and that was fine with me. In fact, I wouldn’t be willing to go much more than that as that would cause me to have to raise my prices out of the range that local people would be willing to pay. They also stated that if anything was stolen or damaged that they would still pay me my 80% for the item. None of this was put in writing and even though nothing went wrong, in hindsight I think we should have had a written contract and I would advise you to do that.

The shop owners asked me to provide my own display so I used a quilt ladder that we had offered for sale but that didn’t sell and I just strung some small ropes with clothes pins to hold smaller items and larger items were in baskets tied to the quilt ladder. This was something that was already built by my husband and on hand so that is why I went with that. (The ladder was also for sale.)

From October to March (this month) I made about $100.00 so as you can imagine I do not feel that this was worth it. Here are some of the things that frustrated me so you know what to watch out for.

The need for display. That kind of threw me because this opportunity came out of the blue and I wasn’t prepared to invest in a professional retail display. Plus, there was a small space (about two square feet floor space) allotted to me and I didn’t want to impose by asking for more space. Because of this I don’t think that my products were displayed to their best advantage. I acknowledge that is is partly my own fault.

The ladder I used for display.

The other products in the store. The main premise of this shop is locally grown and produced vegetables and foods. So quilts, pillows and Christmas stockings did not really fit in with that. I sold a couple of coffee sleeves, a Christmas stocking and a couple of pillows before Christmas. The pillows were discounted and then I received 80% of that so really didn’t make much profit after you account for the cost of supplies.

Special requests for me to make things. After Christmas the shop owner seemed in a hurry to get the Christmas themed items out so I picked all of them up during Boxing week (the week between Christmas and New Years). There was no attempt at a Boxing Day sale or anything like that. Then the shop owner asked me to make baby themed items and dog bandanas because those were selling fairly well. I complied by making baby bibs, dog bandanas and kitchen aprons which I though would sell since it was a food store. These are not things that I normally offer for sale in my online shops or at craft shows. The quilt ladder also came home with me and there was a request to bring in bags and a display for them.

Buffalo Plaid Deer pillow
One of the Buffalo Plaid Deer Pillows that sold. Originally I wanted $30 for these pillows. I wound up putting them on sale for 20% off making them $24.00 and then only received 80% of that after consignment. I was not happy with that price in the end.

So now I had my husband building me a sort of a coat rack hanging display which took him a week to get finished. I hung the bags and aprons on the coat rack display which again took up only about two square feet of floor space. None of them sold. Two dog bandanas and two baby bibs sold between Christmas and now for a total income after commission of about $26.00.

This was so not worth all that work!

Shop owners competing with me and other vendors. Another things that really annoyed me was that the shop owners were bringing in all these different handmade items on consignment and then they were attempting to create their own versions of these items thus competing with their own vendors. Granted, these versions were not as well done but they were priced quite a bit lower which was not cool in my opinion.

Not working for their commission. The shop owners seem to have no sales or merchandising training. They basically expect the products to sell themselves. I mean, literally, they just stand behind their counter and wait for the customers to approach them to buy. When I worked in retail sales positions this was an absolute no-no. You should only be behind the counter when someone is actually paying you for their products. Otherwise a shop owner should be walking around the shop interacting with the customers and sharing the features and benefits of the products. This also helps to prevent theft.

I really do appreciate having been invited into their shop and having had the opportunity. However, I think you can hear the tone of frustration in my blog post with this experience. In the spirit of saving others from the same and also preserving this for future reference for myself my tips follow below.

My 12 Tips for you for selling handmade on consignment:

  1. Ensure the shop wants to sell what you want to make and that your items are a good fit with their customer base. If they are asking you to make things that you don’t normally sell don’t enter into that (unless you actually want to start making and selling those things.)
  2. Ensure you have a contract with all agreements in writing.
  3. Check into what is expected of you regarding displays before getting into a contract. Or, if you already have a display that works well for your products is the shop open to having that display in their store?
  4. Ensure that the commission amount is acceptable to you. Are you able to raise your prices to cover the commission and still sell your items?
  5. Find out what kind of sales history and merchandising experience the shop owners have. Will they be actively working to sell your products? Or will they just stick your items on a shelf and expect them to sell themselves?
  6. Will they be advertising and marketing your product? Or what exactly are they doing to earn their commission?
  7. Start out with a two or three month trial basis and have this stipulated in the contract in case things are not working out.
  8. Do you need to pay rent for the space in their store that you are using? I would be cautious of that plus paying commission as you could wind up making very little money or even losing money. But if they really do sell a lot of your product this could be worth it.
  9. Make sure that you have an accurate inventory and that the shop has a reliable way of keeping track of what has sold so everything is transparent and easy to understand for both yourself and the shop owner. When you are dropping products off have an inventory list ready to provide to the shop owner and ask them to confirm that the list is accurate.
  10. When you receive a payout ask the shop owner for a list of what sold so you can keep your inventory updated and also know which items are selling well.
  11. Make sure to create price tags for your items with your logo, your website information and other small bits of information about you or the product. (ie. handmade in “town name”, organic cotton, makes a great baby gift etc.).
  12. Before you approach the shop research them by visiting a few times and seeing what else they are offering. Are your products a good fit for their shop? Be prepared as you would be for a job interview if you are approaching the shop. (In my case the shop approached me and I was pretty sure it was not the best fit but decided to try it anyway.)

Finding Time to Quilt

5 Time Saving Tips and Tricks

In my recent reader survey (which is still open for responses) many people said that time is their biggest challenge when it comes to quilting. Interestingly enough this was the biggest challenge noted in my last survey two years ago. With that in mind, and in the interest of service to you lovelies, here are my 5 tips for finding/making time to quilt.

I sew quilts to make money. This is literally how I feed and clothe my children. I currently have five quilts that have been custom ordered that I need to get sewn as quickly as possible.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Schedule it in

What does this mean? It means actually write it on a calendar, in a planner or in your phone when you are going to quilt. If you really care about it you will find the time. Now, you may work full time or have five kids or any other number of things going on so you might only have half an hour here and an hour there. Still, schedule it in and that brings me to point number two.

2. Batch your tasks

If I only have an hour I want to make the most of that hour so I will use my time efficiently. For example: two of the quilts I need to sew are of the same style so I cut all the squares for those two quilts at one time. Tomorrow I will be cutting out background squares for two other quilts that are different but have the same size background squares so I will cut those two quilts at once.

Photo of a WIP from two years ago that’s still sitting waiting. I don’t get everything done either. 🙂

Yesterday I had two quilt tops to baste and this is a bit of an ordeal because I have three kids and a dog. I have to sweep and mop my floor and keep everyone away from where I’m working while I have quilts laid out on the floor so I want to get as many done at once as I can. Two quilts basted is better than one. If you have several tops sitting around waiting for quilting take them one step further by basting several at once. And that brings me to point three.

3. Spray Basting

Basting with pins is time consuming, painful and all around annoying. If you love doing it that way than rock on with your quilty self but I find it is much faster to spray baste. I use 505 basting spray in my kitchen.

I first cut the batting to size off the roll. Then I lay it out flat on the floor. I lay the quilt top over the batting and smooth it down. Lifting one corner to the centre I spray the underside and then carefully replace that corner and smoother it out again. I continue in this way for the other three corners.

I lift the now spray basted top and batting up and lay out the freshly ironed quilt backing on the floor (face down). I lay the batting and quilt top on top and smooth it out again as before and then lift the corners to the centre as before but this time I am lifting the top and batting together (naturally because they are now stuck to each other) and spraying the underside of the batting.

One person asked me how to baste quilts in a way that prevents puckers and spray basting is how I do it. Quilting with pins I found resulted in more puckers for me plus I had to keep stopping and taking out the pins. This spray basting method is what I swear by. Truly though, you want to be in a well ventilated area and do not breathe that stuff in. Also, don’t over-do it with the spray and really get it pointed where you want it so you don’t have more clean-up afterwards.

I had those two quilts basted in an hour yesterday and was finished in time to drive my son to hockey.

4. Quilting

Actually quilting the quilts is tedious to me. I might feel quite differently if I had a long arm machine but I don’t so it’s a bit of a chore. Trying to sit and quilt a whole quilt at once is really hard on the body and not advisable so I would suggest breaking it up into hour long chunks of time with breaks in between. I can usually get a twin sized quilt quilted in four hours so an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening and then it’s finished in two days.

5. Binding

I do enjoy hand binding but I really don’t have the time for it and it’s not realistic to do on quilts that I’m selling. Hand binding can easily add four hours to a project and that brings the price up. To keep the cost down and save time I machine sew the binding. I can usually get a quilt bound in under an hour by machine binding. I will do my own video tutorial on this in the future but in the meantime Cluck Cluck Sew has written about it on her blog (that’s where I learned it from) and Amanda from A Crafty Fox has done a video tutorial on it as well.

I hope this helps jump start some ideas for you on how you can save time and get more projects finished. If I think of more I’ll write another post.