Participants in the Makers of Maryland popup shop pose for a photo. One of the many advantages of participating in an artist coop is becoming part of a community of makers.
Photo courtesy of Makers of Maryland
You have done a few (or a lot of) craft fairs. Your online shop is set up and humming along. So now you find yourself thinking about other ways to reach new customers and provide some additional income streams. One option is becoming part of an artist cooperative.
A coop is an organization owned and democratically controlled by its members, and in the case of an artist coop, the organization can provide professional services for its members including gallery space or shelf space at its brick-and-mortar store location.
Jenny Isenberg from Eclectics, an artist coop and gift gallery in Kansas City, MO, explains the benefits of participating in a coop this way: “Rather than keeping your inventory in your garage between craft shows, having space at our store allows you to display your items and increase your sales.” Isenberg also says selling work at the coop can help makers to see if there’s a product-market fit, allowing makers to test a new product and get feedback from the shop’s other consignors.
When Isenberg worked as part of the founding members of Eclectics in 1991, the idea was that a lot of people could contribute a little bit of money, and together they could make the idea of an artist cooperative in their city into a reality. It’s been 30 years, and the shop is still going strong.
Eclectics is an artist coop in Kansas City that has been running since 1991.
Photo courtesy of Eclectics.
How it works
Although artist cooperatives vary, in general, their brick-and-mortar stores feature products from a variety of makers and payment is through a consignment structure. The store’s styles can vary greatly as well – some are fun and crafty while others have a fine art gallery feel. Most cooperatives focus on local artists so that visitors or tourists can purchase items that are made locally. At some coops, consignors work in shifts, while others hire employees to work at the store.
All of the owners we spoke to agree that building a community among their makers is a priority. Stephanie Frishetti from Makers of Maryland in White Marsh, Maryland, started that coop as an online group on Instagram where makers could support one another and share best practices. When a local property manager reached out about doing a pop-up and she agreed and dove right in.
This month marks their fifth season. The pop-up features work by over 50 local makers and Frishetti says her motto is, “Where consignment meets community.”
Determining the right fit
If you’re interested in being part of an artist cooperative and you’ve identified one in your area, begin by doing some research. Heather Wells and Darrien Segal from Craftland in Providence, Rhode Island, advise, “Make sure your products will fit in with the store’s style.” Offering enough inventory so that your items make an impact on the store shelves is important, as is variety. It’s better to have, for example, a complimentary necklace, bracelets, and earrings rather than 10 of the same style of necklace. The easier you make it for the store to make an eye-catching display, the more likely your items will sell. Talk to some of the other consignors to get a feel for what’s working.
Each store has its own process for new artist intakes. Craftland does a big revamp just before the winter holiday season and brings in a lot of new vendors to freshen things up. Some artists are then invited to stay on for the year. The store is juried by the owner and managers. Makers of Maryland, on the other hand, is open from May through October so their vendor application opens in March, while Eclectics juries new vendors monthly. When researching stores, ask about the timeframe and then prepare early to have everything ready for the application process.
At Craftland in Providence, artists and makers send fresh inventory around the holidays and some are invited to stay on for the coming year.
Photo courtesy of Craftland.
Things to consider when deciding if a coop is a good fit for you and your art:
- The split. This varies by store and geographic region, but expect the store to keep anywhere from 30% to 50%. This covers all of the store’s operating expenses. Also, check to see how and when they pay out, typically monthly.
- Hours worked in the store. At some coops, consignors work shifts, while others have store managers and employees. Stores may offer different consignment fees based on shifts worked. Some stores are year-round and some are seasonal. Very new coops may just be a pop-up for a few weeks to test the concept and location.
- Competition. This varies a lot and all of the stores mentioned in this article do not have rules about this but be aware that some stores do not allow you to sell your products within a certain geographic area to the store or have an online shop so read the consignment agreement carefully.
- Location. Will it be easy for you to work at the store if that is required? Stores that are located in travel destinations will do well if your product is representative of the local area. For example, travelers (and locals too!) will appreciate Old Bay flavored chocolates in the Maryland area but that might not be a big hit in other parts of the country.
- Pricing. It’s important to keep pricing uniform so make sure you account for the consignment percentage when pricing your goods.
- Contract. Stores will have you sign a contract, just read it carefully so you are clear on the expectations.
Artist coops exist all over the US. One way to look for one in your area is to search Instagram using the hashtag #makersof__ ending with your city or state to find local shops. Any stores that you are considering, add yourself to the mailing list and follow them on social media. Once you find the right fit, you’ll have the opportunity to not only find new customers and increase sales but also connect with a supportive community of local makers.
Megan Gerrity is a lifelong paper crafter who has enjoyed being the student at events across the country. After spending years in corporate America, she has pivoted to a career that focuses on her creative passions. Most notably, she partnered with a friend to host a monthly zoom for creatives of all kinds to connect. She enjoys teaching children to create through her volunteer work and at local art studios. She is excited to say this is her first published work.