Preparing Your Work for Sale: How to Approach Retailers

Our Visitor Services Manager shares her tips ahead of our Professional Development Day.


  • Holly Burrows
  • Other

What should people have in place before they approach you?

The most important thing to know before you approach a retailer is how much you want to sell stuff for. It doesn’t matter so much about the retail price because the shop will decide on that. It’s the cost price that you need. I often ask people how much they want me to buy something for and they say ‘I don’t know’.

How do you work out what to charge?

To be really practical about it,  to work out how much you’re going to charge you need to work out your cost price. Original artwork is something completely different but we are talking about cards and merchandise here, so it’s literally sitting down and adding up every single thing that you’ve bought – materials, printing and packaging – and then adding a bit of profit for yourself. Obviously the lower you can get your costs the more profit you can add.

If you imagine that most retailers want to make a 50 per cent mark-up on things that gives you’re a rough idea of how much to charge.

It’s difficult when you’re first starting to reduce costs because you are going to start off with smaller ranges which are more expensive to produce. But once you’ve tested it you’ll identify which things are selling and then you’ll produce more of those things and that will bring your costs down. So it’s a lot of testing.

What format do you like to look at work in?

Emailing is good. If you send me something it’s likely to get lost in the mountain on my desk. Send a PDF or a link to a website – or, what’s even better than that is if you have stuff on a shop already. It doesn’t even need to be a proper functioning shop, just a page that includes all the information on what’s available to buy and what the prices are. Very occasionally it is worth sending someone something – if what your selling is hard to represent digitally.

What you shouldn’t do is just wonder in and demand to see someone. You can pre-arrange to come in and see someone but most people are too busy, so email is best.

What other kind of preparation would you suggest?

It’s really important to go and see what kind of stuff a place sells, and get a feel for what different shops are selling and whether your work would fit there. It may be that they sell things similar to yours or maybe they don’t sell anything the same but you just thing they could use something like yours within their product range.

Especially when approaching museums and galleries it’s a good idea to have a look at their programme and to find out what’s going on later in the year because the other thing you want o do s to be timely with everything. Get in touch a couple of months ahead of the exhibition, not towards the end of it.  

Do you look at whether people are selling elsewhere?

I quite like the idea of being the first person to break someone! It’s all about the product rather than what you’ve done before. If people have sold elsewhere they’ll often say so in their covering email but it doesn’t particularly influence my decision, because I don’t want to sell stuff that’s the same as everywhere else.

From my perspective where else you’ve sold stuff is less important than the actual thing but using it  to promote your work is definitely important – for instance, on a stockists section on your website. 

Want to find out more about this and other aspects of the illustration profession? Our Professional Development Day takes place on Wednesday 18 July from 10am-5.30pm. Book your place.