Metal artist Steve Zowistowski pitched his work to Uncommon Goods, a catalog and website known for unique and quirky gifts, on a whim. He was surprised and pleased when it was accepted.
Photo courtesy of Steve Zowistowski
Uncommon Goods is a catalog and website known for quirky, unusual gifts. Indoor s’mores fire pit? Light-up t-shirts you can draw on? Tote bags made from Major League Baseball uniforms? All of these, and so much more, are available at Uncommon Goods. Buyers from the company are constantly seeking out new, unique items, and crafters interested in selling wholesale to Uncommon Goods have the opportunity to find a new market for their products.
Before jumping in, though, it’s good to know what to expect. We talk to several seasoned sellers who’ve worked with Uncommon Goods for years to learn the ins and outs of working with this wholesale account.
Metal artist Steve Zowistowski pitched his welded sign language hands to Uncommon Goods on a whim four years ago after receiving a copy of the catalog in the mail. He was surprised and pleased when his desktop sculpture was accepted that same day. Two months later, he submitted his “Worry Healing Huts,” small steel houses on stilts. People can jot down their worries and then burn them inside. This product was accepted as well. Like many artists, Zowistowski says he had always struggled with marketing his work. Working with a catalog company has been a terrific solution for him.
If you’re interested in applying to have your work sold through Uncommon Goods, check out their open call submissions. Jamie Hoffman, Senior Buyer for Leisure & Tech at Uncommon Goods tells us, “Our mission at Uncommon Goods is to offer creative and unexpected gifts. For the past 21 years, we’ve partnered with thousands of independent artists and makers all over the world.” Uncommon Goods has put together a helpful blog post with tips on getting your products ready to sell through their catalog and website.
Although he’d been in business for 10 years when he first pitched Uncommon Goods, selling his furniture in galleries and art council shops and making custom gates and stair railings, he’d never sold at the national level before. He rose to the challenge by learning to be highly efficient in his production methods, spend three hours making a tool or jig that will save ten minutes in the production process, for example.
Being ready to produce at scale
Hoffman says being ready to produce in volume, and be priced appropriately, is definitely important. “My advice for makers who are applying to work with us is to make a plan for scaling your business, especially if you’re joining us around major holidays.”
“Know how many units you can comfortably make per week and talk to your suppliers about getting a consistent supply of materials long-term. Find out whether or not they provide discounts for bulk quantities, and make sure you have space for all the materials you’ll need and product you’ll be making,” she says.”
As part of the application process, a buyer will likely ask you to send samples for review. If you’re rejected the first time, don’t be deterred from applying again with different products.
Once your product is approved, if the Uncommon Goods buyer team chooses to feature it in the print catalog (rather than just online) that can boost your order numbers. Buyers sometimes reach out to makers with opportunities to collaborate on exclusive designs or products. While this would require more upfront work and investment on your part, it could lead to a fruitful collaboration if the product proves popular with customers. Rather than jumping into creating an exclusive product just for Uncommon Goods, try offering them something from your existing line to test the waters. Then, if it sells well, consider next steps. If you decide to create a product that is customized you can work out a drop shipping arrangement with Uncommon Goods.
Jackie Morrissette Olivier of Moxxie Essential Care makes plant-based, gentle soaps, scrubs, and creams. She applied to sell with Uncommon Goods when she heard they were looking for minority-owned companies. “I pitched my brand to them via email. They contacted me a few months later, we did a call and continued from there,” she says. She worked with Uncommon Goods to create a gift set just for them, and the products launched with them about a month ago.
Metal artist Steve Zowistowski has come up with specialized jigs and tools that help him speed up the production process of his sign language hands desk sculpture, a product he’s been selling through Uncommon Goods for approximately four years.
Photo courtesy of Steve Zowistowski
Uncommon Goods is a certified B Corporation meaning they’ve met a set of high social and environmental standards as a business. They sell products that are handmade in the US and are made by artists and craftspeople or are handcrafted in other countries by fair trade organizations, as well as items from small manufacturers.
According to the Uncommon Goods code of conduct for vendors, “all items are made by workers who are treated ethically and that the products meet all safety, legal and environmental standards.” In addition, they do not sell any products containing leather, feathers or fur and favor suppliers who are committed to sustainability.
Keep this in mind
One consideration to keep in mind is that Uncommon Goods does all their own product shots. This means you’re not in control of how your product is depicted in the catalog, including whether there are photos that show scale, for example. Their copywriters may also rewrite your product descriptions.
The makers we spoke with who sold their wares through Uncommon Goods reported that they were paid on time. Uncommon Goods sometimes asked for a 10% discount off of their wholesale pricing, but this seemed to be negotiable, with some makers able to get it down to 5% or even to 0.
Uncommon Goods encourages makers to use eco-friendly packaging. If you don’t have barcodes for your items, Uncommon Goods will provide them for you. Items need to be packaged ready to ship to customers. For Zowistowski this requirement has pushed him to think more carefully about the unboxing experience of the customer. He now packages each steel Worry Healing Hut by wrapping it in kraft paper, placing it in a box, and tying it with string. As he does with many repetitive products, he built a jig to make tying up the boxes faster, more consistent, and easy to do without a second person
Zawistowski says even all these years later, it’s still exciting to see his work in the paper catalog when the latest Uncommon Goods catalog comes in the mail.
Elaine is an artist, jeweler, public speaker and public artist in the Chicago area. She uses assemblage, collage and direct sculpting to get her message across. Visit her at ElaineLutherArt.com.