Nowadays, it’s next to essential to have an online shop for your product. It’s the best way to reach a wide audience and to build brand visibility. Not to mention, ecommerce platforms like Artist Shops allow you to order your own high-quality products at a big discount, which never hurts. But whether it’s in Urban Outfitters, a local street fest, or a sandwich shop, selling your products in real life is nice… it just may just seem kind of hard to approach.
How to Sell Products in Real Life
1. COMIC CONVENTIONS
They may be called “Comic Conventions,” but they’re really more of an art festival of niche apparel and art. Pro tip: unique fanart is a good foot-in-the-door way to attract customers here (List of comic conventions). Shop owners Wicked & Divine, Dustin Nguyen, and Alex Pardee were all at San Diego Comic Con.
There are other types of convention-type events you can try as well: craft brewery fests might like outdoorsy or beer-y designs, and tech conferences/conventions might dig techie-friendly designs.
2. EVENTS & FESTIVALS
Street fairs, art festivals, music festivals, even food festivals have plenty of tent and booth space for vendors, plus a high density of people. This could be a great opportunity to take advantage of the summer and fall months where festivals are goin’ down every other week. Scope out local fests or gallery events going on and see if you can snag a booth.
3. A POP-UP SHOP
Pop-up shops are an awesome way to sell your product and get visibility IRL without diving into committing to a full-time brick and mortar shop. They create a “here until its gone, hurry!” urgency, plus you could make an event out of the opening/closing nights for good times and to boost traffic both on and offline. The “Life is Good” guys basically made a traveling pop-up out of their van. And Johnny Cupcakes is famous for doing elaborate pop-up shops featuring limited edition tees you can only get there (check out their stories).
There are several different ways you can go about a pop-up:
- “Store Within a Store”: Team up with a local store or boutique and set up a mini pop-up shop/display in their space. Make sure it’s a store that appeals to the audience you’re trying to tap into.
- Gallery or Event Space: Galleries are prime for a pop-up. Scope out upcoming gallery events and inquire about setting up a booth (Chicago’s Zhou B Art Center has massive “Third Fridays” parties where vendors set up booths), or see if there’s a gallery interested in featuring or selling your stuff.
- Vacant Street-Level Space: This is usually the most popular pop-up option to go with. Definitely more involved and takes setting aside a good amount of budgeted cash, but could be worth it (and fun!)
- Mall Kiosks: Maybe not the sexiest option, but this is a good bet for getting your product and brand in front of a lot of traffic.
Note: These shops don’t literally just pop-up without warning. You’ve still got to market them as you would market any other big event you’d be doing on or offline!
For more details on how to go about setting up a pop-up shop, how to budget yourself, etc., check out this article on Shopify and “The Store Front” right here for some tips.
4. BOUTIQUES AND LOCAL STORES
Reaching out to boutiques that appeal to your demographic (maybe building a relationship with them and becoming a regular first) and asking if you can sell your products at their place can be a bit limiting in terms of audience. But it’s a great starting point for start selling your product in brick and mortar stores (Artist Shop owner LxRomero does this with his pin designs at the Chicago art store, Rotofugi.)
There are a few basic ways payment works for this:
- Consignment: a store carries your product and takes a percentage of your sales
- Wholesale: The shop buys a bunch of your product, then sells it in their shop. You get money no matter how much of the product sells.
- Keystoning: Pretty standard – you set the price you’ll sell your product to the store for, then they double that price and that’s how much they sell the apparel for.
You can also simply ask them if they’d put some of your business cards/promo post cards in customers’ bags when they buy from the store, just to spread the word.
Check out “How to Start a Clothing Company” for more details.
5. COFFEE SHOPS, BOOK STORES, RECORD STORES
Sometimes selling your product in real life means just providing takeaways in real life that grow interest. There are often counters in these places covered in business cards, flyers, stickers, and artsy postcards advertising shows/artists/events. Consider doing this in places that appeal to your audience.
6. BIGGER APPAREL STORES
Getting your apparel and designs sold in the big stores like the Urban Outfitters, Hot Topics, and Pac Suns of the world is an awesome goal. But it’s not easy, and often takes building an online presence and audience to prove your stuff is worth their money. Go Media compared it to when bands get signed by record labels – if they can’t sell out a local show at a bar, labels aren’t going to jump to sign them.
Try talking to buyers, brand owners, and regional sales reps about picking up your product. You can meet a lot of these people at trade shows like Magic or Pool, but be prepared when you do: have a well-put-together catalog of your brand and items. Have stats for your following and audience, maybe customer testimonials and photos. Bring a lookbook you’ve put together featuring your product in rad photography. And have a PDF or link to your catalog/lookbook for any industry professionals you reach via email.
GoMedia.com has a lot more information on this if you’re interested in pursuing it!
7. THROUGH OTHER PHYSICAL PRODUCT MEDIUMS
Selling your art as pins, stickers, or greeting cards can be a great way to introduce people to your art and get them interested (remember to leave your name/site/social media somewhere on it!) You could even have cards at events you run (or leave them for boutique owners to put in a bag when someone buys your product at their store) that serve as a cute thank you notes to customers and double as collectible designs.
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Some Things to Keep in Mind:
- Always have takeaways:
- Personal business cards (even if your 9-5 gives you some, make your own for your brand)
- Postcards with your own cool art representing your brand, your name, and some of your brand’s information on them. This features your art more than anything.
- Hang tags: tags you pin onto your product featuring your art that can double as price tags.
- Cost: Renting booth space or doing a pop-up shop are great ideas, but must be budgeted for. If you’re renting a booth at a fest or con, see if you can share/split it with someone to divvy up the costs. If you’re doing a pop-up shop, consider going for the a store-within-a-store option.
- Niche: Make sure that wherever you’re setting up shop to sell IRL, you’re positioning yourself in a place that will get you in front of the niche your brand and designs appeal to.
- Audience: Even if you want to sell your physical product, building up your online store is a good way to build an audience. This is important when it comes to 1: advertising your IRL appearance and 2: if you ever want to sell to retailers or apparel buyers for stores, it’s best to show that you have a following to prove that your stuff sells.
Sources: Thank you UCreative, The Adair Group, Shopify, How to Start a Clothing Company, Go Media, and Small Business for some of the tips on ways to sell products in real life!
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We’re an artist community built on the power of helping each other succeed — if you’re reading this and have tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments! Thank you!
Illustration done by the amazing Katie Lukes