Wilkison started at Painted Tree with a three-tiered kiosk, learned the ropes, and moved up to a shop, which she created and designed.
Photo courtesy of Beth Wilkison.
If Etsy and Pinterest had a baby, it might look like Painted Tree boutiques.
Painted Tree is a unique selling space ideal for small business owners, including makers, offering retail space to entrepreneurs who don’t want the expense or bother of opening a brick-and-mortar shop, but love the idea of showing their wares in a physical location where shoppers can see, smell, and fondle their goods.
Painted Tree, which started in 2015 as a vintage marketplace in Bryant, Arkansas, now has 30 stores (and more coming) in 13 states, mostly in upscale suburban areas, and has blossomed into a diverse community of shop owners selling everything from handmade gifts, jewelry, and vintage finds to home décor, bath and body products, and furniture.
How it works
Sellers rent floor space in the building and design and create their own shop. Painted Tree did not respond to interview requests, but other sources report that monthly rents range from $125 for shelf space to about $1,000, depending on the size of the space and the location. Leases are for one year, automatically renew, and some boutiques have a waiting list to join.
Shop owners don’t need to be physically on-site, hire employees, or run a cash register. Painted Tree takes care of such pesky details as hiring and training cashiers and staff and paying the bills for water, electricity, property insurance, and state sales tax. The Arkansas-based company also has a full-time marketing staff; creates events and workshops to help drive business; and pays vendors monthly for sales, taking a 10 percent commission.
There are even ladders, tools, cleaning supplies, and dollies vendors can borrow, and some locations have vendor lounges to help build community, according to the Painted Tree website.
Sewell has two booths at the North Carolina Painted Tree store. The Delicate Dish, which sells vintage china and tea party supplies, and Kaleidoscope Gift Co, which sells toys, games, and books.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Sewell.
Why it works
“I love the concept (of Painted Tree),” says Sarah Sewell, CEO and founder of Make & Flourish, an online commerce-learning community for crafty entrepreneurs. In fact, Sewell, who has more than 25 years of experience in online selling, loves the concept so much she has two stores in the Cary, North Carolina, Painted Tree (The Delicate Dish, selling vintage china and tea party supplies, and Kaleidoscope Gift Co, selling toys, games, and books). She also partners with the company in an un-paid arrangement to refer her clients to Painted Tree “if it’s a good fit,” while Painted Tree may refer new shop owners to Make & Flourish for advice.
“The Painted Tree offers something new and exciting around every corner. The stores are beautiful and give off an elevated boutique look and feel,” says Sewell, who started selling special occasion décor and party favors on Etsy in 2008 and eventually on other platforms, including Amazon, Artfire, and Storenvy, before starting her consulting business.
“Each booth has a uniquely curated theme that represents small business owners in the area,” Sewell adds.
“That also makes me feel better about my purchases, that I am supporting small businesses. I look forward to visiting different locations when I travel because the spaces inside the store are mostly represented by local businesses, which means your shopping experience and retail product offering will be different and unique from store to store.”
Makers, Sewell says, are a good fit at Painted Tree because shoppers are looking for unique items that can’t be found at a department store, such as artisan goods, small batch products, or custom work.
Beth Wilkison, owner of With Love Louise, creates personalized gifts using either sublimation or engraving techniques. She sells mostly from her website, but found that having a physical booth at a Painted Tree boutique in Tennessee a good fit.
Photo courtesy of Jack Rodriguez.
A brick-and-mortar without the investment
Vendor Beth Wilkison, the owner of With Love Louise, started making personalized items as a creative outlet during her downtime when not on the road as part of a musician’s production crew. In 2015, she had a baby, stopped touring, and created products during her child’s naptime.
She started selling her personalized drinkware, apparel, ornaments, cutting boards, and other items online, customizing items via sublimation or engraving, and by April 2020, With Love Louise was a full-time job.
“Painted Tree was an eye-opening experience for me,” says Wilkison, who gets most of her sales from her website and sells on Wayfair, wholesale via Faire and Abound, and now a booth at Painted Tree in Franklin, Tennessee.
“I love shopping and selling at craft fairs and little boutiques,” Wilkison says. “When I walked into the Painted Tree I had to be a part of it. Most of the products I sell are handmade by me, so the Painted Tree seemed like a great avenue to sell products, test new designs, and see what sells.”
While her other sale venues give her a broader reach, “getting my product in actual hands where people can see and feel the quality is something that online will never achieve.”
“I’ve found that my local online customers visit my Painted Tree booth often, and I love being able to give them a spot to pick up items quickly and not pay for shipping.”
Wilkison started at Painted Tree with a three-tiered table at a kiosk, where she learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t.
“Retail is an entirely different beast than selling solely online,” Wilkison notes. “There is so much more that goes into it — display, inventory, pricing, etc.
“I had many challenges,” she says, such as “creating the right items to sell as well as some pricing obstacles. I played around with different items and started to see a selling pattern. After about a year, I felt I had a better grasp on what moves at my particular Painted Tree and moved to a booth.
“I’ve learned so much since joining Painted Tree,” she adds, “and I’m still learning.”
Store traffic varies from location to location, Sewell notes, so vendors should be aware of that and be willing to do their own local advertising and promotion to drive traffic to their spaces. “Some vendors are comfortable with this and know that is always a task when running a physical store,” Sewell says. “Others feel it’s the Painted Tree’s responsibility and start to feel more like a victim and struggle with growth. With any retail business, online or offline, the shop owner is responsible for advertising, promotion, and lead generation to build their brand and customer base.”
As for the question of Etsy versus Painted Tree, Sewell likens it to apples and oranges. “Both are extremely important to growing a handmade business and I recommend both for makers trying to grow their business. Etsy is my #1 choice for selling artisan products online, and the Painted Tree (if available to the maker) would be my #1 choice for selling in a physical location.
“Etsy is easy to use and affordable and they get a great amount of traffic if the shop is optimized properly,” Sewell notes. “The Painted Tree is also easy and affordable for an in-person space, and they have an entire local community to support them, so my advice would be to do both if (you are) able.”
Advice for Painted Tree Sellers
Interested in selling at marts like Painted Tree? Here is some advice from Sarah Sewell, who has two shops at the Painted Tree in North Carolina and owns the consulting firm Make & Flourish:
- Before committing to a retail space, be sure you can create enough product to fill it, which means investing in supplies and materials. “Opening a space with just a small amount of product doesn’t look good or encourage shoppers to come into your booth to browse around.”
- Supplement your handmade inventory with non-handmade items that complement and support your handmade goods. “This allows shoppers to have a nice variety of things to look at inside the booth and helps the maker earn money to raise profits with less effort.”
- Treat your business as a business. Too often, Sewell notes, makers aren’t properly branded, have no logo, and don’t create labels, stickers, or packaging that looks polished and professional. “Anyone creating a space at a Painted Tree store should have their branding up to par with beautiful signage, a professionally created logo, labels, and packaging that all compliment and are in line with their brand.”
- Create and build out your space as if it was your own brick-and-mortar store. “Just because one has a handmade business doesn’t mean it’s ok to look like something set up at a local school arts and crafts fair,” she says. “Those who put time and effort into the aesthetics of their spaces tend to do very well with sales.”
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com