This “best of” Specialty Shop Retailing blog is updated from a popular past post.

There was a time when supporting the arts meant that you were really rich (and therefore probably not a retailer!).  In fact, art patronage originally referred to the financial aid that kings or popes provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors.  But today even those of us who are humble shopkeepers have the opportunity to support artists and craftspeople.

There are two main ways we can do this: by selling hand-crafted items in our stores, either made by local makers or international artisans; and by donating money or merchandise to arts organizations in our area.

The first helps make it possible for artists to make a living through their art, providing them with a sustainable market for their goods.  Not everyone has access to customers through crafts fairs or online, and our wholesale purchases make a real difference in the viability of the artist’s craft.

You may not think of your store as an art gallery, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t sell something handmade. I was in the veterinary clinic on our street recently, and enjoyed the animal-inspired ceramic works on display.  These pieces were not only decorative, but they were also for sale.

There is of course money to be made by selling handmade work, and often we can get full (keystone) markup on these items.  I discovered a raku pottery line that we have now carried for almost fifteen years when I was in an airport shop. The pieces were marked up an impressive 200% – as tends to be the case in airports – and despite that, I bought one at retail, and was happy with my purchase.

The advantages of supporting the arts through donations may not be as obvious, but are equally important. When Richard Florida talks about the importance of the creative class in creating community, he is showing us that creative people attract other creative people — and frankly, creative people are more likely to shop at an independent retailer for carefully selected goods (whatever they may be) than online from Amazon.

We not only want creative people as our customers, but also as our employees.  Because retailers and their sales and visual merchandising staff members are indeed artists in their own right.  We are creating an aesthetic environment and a selection of merchandise that is unique to our store vision.  And that, to my mind, is an art.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder