A “haggle free environment” sign I saw at the Unurban Coffee House in Santa Monica. I think every small business should have one.
A young company is willing to sell a fairly large quantity of their art prints and T-shirts on consignment in your store. But they have a contract, specifying their share of each sale, asking for a check every 30 days, and obliging you to cover the cost of any mcrchandise lost in your store during the consignment period. You sign the contract, and subsequently:
a) Pay every 30 days and keep careful inventory of the merch to be sure you know how many have actually been sold, and give your word to compensate for any lost ones.
b) Take 90 days to pay anything, and complain that their company is the only consignor you work with who even has a contract.
c) Say that you gave away some of the merch to celebrities to help promote the products.
d) Claim that the person who signed the contract doesn’t work for you anymore, which you feel voids the contract, and try to negotiate a lower price for each piece of merch sold.
e) At the end of the consignment term, fail to send back several of the pieces that didn’t sell and say that some of them got lost in the mail.
You are an artist who also manages a co-op store. Another designer would like space in your co-op, and shows you her T-shirt designs. There isn’t an opening right now, but you like the designer’s T-shirts, so you:
a) Let her know that there isn’t a space right now, and say that you’ll let them know when something opens up.
b) Let her know that there isn’t a space right now, and two months later make a knockoff of one of her designs.
A designer approaches your store. You like the designs, but the designer wants to get paid for any merchandise that leaves her hands. So you:
a) Agree to wholesale, but start off buying only a small quantity of merchandise because you want to see how the sales go.
b) Compare the designer’s high prices to the other prices in your store so that she will lower her wholesale prices, and when she does (because she is eager to be in your store), buy wholesale from her.
c) Suggest a drop-shipping arrangement, which means that the designer ships directly to the customer and you are paid a commission for listing the merch in your online store, eliminating the need for you to hold merch you haven’t bought yet. This works out well for both of you.
d) Agree to wholesale, take the merchandise, and say you’ll pay next week, then two weeks later (when you haven’t paid yet) say the store is going out of business and you can’t pay.
You are carrying an artist’s work in your store and you have to consider returning it because you are changing locations and reducing inventory. But there’s one nice little piece you really like and want to keep. The artist had you sign a piece of paper stating that her wholesale price is $100. You:
a) Buy it for yourself at the agreed-upon price, and consider it money well spent for a lovely piece that might increase in value over time.
b) Call the artist and say enthusiastically that you have money for her—60 dollars! Get angry and act threatened when the artist reminds you of the $100 price you agreed to on the signed paper.
c) Offer the artist $60 and a piece of costume jewelry from your store, and say it’s the best you can do.
d) When the artist stands firm, return the artwork, even though doing so will make it obvious that you lied and the piece was never sold in the first place.
If you answered any of these questions in any way, you are just like a retailer that The Mighty Squirm worked has worked with in the past. All of the above things have actually happened to us; most of the bad things happened in our earliest days and were valuable learning experiences.
We’ve worked with honest retailers who (understandably) needed to protect their bottom line and couldn’t gamble too much, but at the same time wanted to make sure we didn’t get hurt either. We’ve worked with businesspeople who weren’t dishonest but were savvy, who knew they could get us to lower our prices because, when we were just starting out, all we wanted was to get people to buy our stuff. We’ve also encountered bald-faced liars, cheats, and idea thieves. Honest, savvy, or dishonest, all of them seemed just the same on the surface. They had kind faces, were articulate, and seemed like they were on our side. Some of them were even parents and exchanged parenting stories with us. (Woe to the children of the dishonest merchants; think how they’re being brought up!)
Even basically honest people sometimes want a little integrity “wiggle room.” They might hope an artist who’s doing consignment with them will just drop off a pile of stuff and not ask for any agreement to be signed. If they are artists themselves, they might decide to do a version of someone else’s design that’s “different enough” to protect them from being accused of copyright infringement. Basically honest people who own stores might feel that it would be nice if artists would just relax and trust them, and not make them afraid of legal action. After all, retailers have high overhead and maybe not much more money for attorneys than artists have.
Here’s the problem with the integrity wiggle room: It’s too often the beginning of artists not getting paid what they deserve for their hard work. Even when everyone means well, merchants inadvertently lose stuff that artists drop off without asking for payment, and unless there is a clear inventory count and a solid agreement, the artist gets a little hurt. Or, if the artist agrees to a wholesale price that he knows won’t give him adequate profit, he can get VERY hurt, especially since the merchant can set the retail price as high as she wants.
The guy I was thinking of when I wrote the last multiple-choice question (the one about the art that costs $100) actually had the nerve to say to me, “I thought artists were starving. Aren’t you happy to get ANY money for this piece?” No, in that case, I wasn’t—partly because he was so blatantly trying to rip me off that I got mad. There were other times (I’m not proud of them) when I WAS happy to get what I could for my work, and settled, and felt like an idiot. But no one should have to do that, not ever. There is “fair trade” being developed in the food industry; why not in the art industry?
There are times when trust works great. It’s worked great for us when we already knew and trusted a merchant and could work out something a little more relaxed. And forgiveness of small snafus can work great too, for everyone involved. On the other hand, when an artist asks to protect herself from a relative stranger, a merchant should respect that to the greatest degree possible. And if you are an artist who ever has a booth at an art or craft show, consider putting up a “Haggle Free Environment” sign like the one accompanying this blog entry; I saw it a while back in the Unurban Coffee House (at Pico and Urban, in Santa Monica). I think this is the greatest sign ever and I think every small business should have one! After all, if they all had one, no one who did stick hard to her prices would ever feel alone.