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Bulk vs On-Demand Products for Artists

Certain warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club have an air about them. Not the smell of dollar-fifty hot dogs and free samples, but the air of big shelves and palettes of items in bulk. Ordering and selling items in bulk helps their business models by getting them products at cheaper prices, which they can sell for less than competitors while still turning a profit. 


If you’re not bored or hungry yet from that introduction, we’ll be exploring whether it’s worthwhile for artists to sell in bulk versus selling on-demand and in more limited numbers. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a textile artist, a painter, or sculptor–the principle still applies to all realms of art. Grab a hot dog and soda, and get ready to learn. 



On-Demand, Explained

This is the way most artists will sell, at least starting out. Art is produced with care, and often customized or tailored to the customer’s preference. Most artists will open a shop (whether online or brick and mortar) and sell their work there. Online options like Shopify and Etsy are particularly liked because artists don’t have to pay rent when they’re selling there, which is more conducive to beginner artists. 


For more bespoke products like textiles, paintings, and sculptures, on-demand might be the way to go. Products will take longer to produce and might be more expensive to make (hence why on-demand merchandise doesn’t do so well in the bulk approach to business). But the upside is that the mark-ups and profit are usually much higher, and the intimate connection with the consumer by selling them a unique product might lead to more brand loyalty. 


The Bulk Model, Explained

It can be a bit trickier to sell bulk art, because art tends to be more bespoke and unique. The bulk model can still be applied to several types of artwork though, including textiles and fabrics, printed designs, and simple jewelry designs and sculptures. Not everything can be mass-produced, particularly items like sculptures or paintings, which require multiple different types of materials and techniques to produce. 


However, bulk items can be bought wholesale for much cheaper than custom pieces of art, and sold at a higher price. The quality, though, is often cheaper than handmade products. For example, you can mass produce textiles and tapestries and blankets for a reasonable price overseas, but the reality is that you may get what you pay for, and cheaper translates to an inferior product. The design or fabric itself may not hold up to much use, and be thrown out fairly soon. But when was the last time a thick blanket, hand-knitted by someone's grandmother, ever thrown out? 


You also need to have a lot of business ready to go if you want to sell in bulk. If you order a bunch of T-shirts or jewelry, but don’t have enough demand to snatch it up, you’ll be sitting on a bunch of unwanted inventory. It’ll end up just sitting there, and you’ll be forced to either dump it or sell it at a much lower price. That’s why artists–or really, any business owner–tend to not sell in bulk until they’re more established. 


So What Should You Do? 

Ultimately it comes down to what philosophy you’d like to follow, and if you have the demand for it. While some items are inherently limited in how much and how quickly they can be produced (for example, luxury jewelry, hand-woven textiles, ornate metal and glass sculptures), most art pieces can be produced in bulk too (like shirts, blankets, posters). In order to do this, you’ll need to find a supplier and manufacturer, which aren’t terribly hard to do online. 


Demand is the deciding factor here. You don’t want to open up a brand new store and fill it with mass-produced artwork only for nobody to buy it. It’s usually better to start off with a niche product that you sell on Etsy or at art festivals and trade shows (if this is something that interests you, we’ve talked about it in previous articles). As the demand picks up, then you can branch off into selling items in bulk if you can fill the orders. There’s less risk and overhead to deal with in the beginning, which is when you should work on forging your niche and branding. 


We hope that this was helpful for your business model! We love supporting and helping young artists, and wish you all the best on your journey. If you’re just starting out, you’re in for a long road, but as long as you love what you do, it will be so worth it! Keep learning and mastering your craft, and let the demand and dream take care of itself! For more information on our bulk or made on demand blankets for your business, please reach out to info@fiberart.com!


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