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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Art Licensing: The Importance in Knowing What Sells at Retail

It is important for artists to know what sells at retail to realize what art themes have the best chance in being licensed so that products sell through. But it is complicated because artists must create art that first please the manufacturers who think they know what the retailers want and the retailers think they know what consumers will buy. To find out what art sells, the artist must research, research, research by constantly walking retail stores, trade shows, trolling retail and manufacturer websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and asking questions of sales reps, manufacturer art directors, and shop owners/managers. It is a lot of work but it is an important part in the business of licensing art. Art licensing is NOT just creating art!

Way to find out what art sells at retail
 Manufacturers and retailers are always looking at their customer demographics (age, sex, where they live, income, etc.) to help them predict their spending habits. They survey their own customers, hire independent survey companies, and subscribe to newsletters and purchase reports on trends in consumer behavior from companies such as EPM Communications, inc. Artists can also purchase these publications to gain insight into the retail market but they are pricey.

A newsletter that I have found really interesting, helpful, and more affordable is Gift Beat. It tracks trends in the gift industry that is aimed at the retailer but also has very useful information for artists. It has informative articles, some top selling art on products, and lists charts of top manufacturers selling different products in the different regions across the United States. It is interesting to find out that if a particular manufacturer is a top seller in the Northeast they may be at the bottom or not listed at all for the Midwest or West. And it is interesting to see what type of products are top sellers for themes such as birds. Flags may be top sellers in the Northeast and South but figurines are the top sellers in the Midwest and West. All this information is useful when creating themes and knowing what manufacturers to target when submitting art.

More ways to find out what art sells at retail is to:
• read comments posted by retailers on manufacturer blog and Facebook sites

• ask art directors when talking to them on the phone

• ask managers and owners of small gift stores that sell licensed products. They are a wonderful source in finding out what sells. Managers and store owners have a surprising amount of knowledge about the artists and manufacturers of the products. And they love to talk about them when they are not busy helping customers.

• engage in a conversation with reps at wholesale trade shows.  It is sometimes possible to get information at regional shows but I have had a lot more success when walking the Atlanta gift show. One time I happened to approach a flag manufacturer when the traffic was dead and the owner was manning the showroom at Atlanta. He spent a half hour discussing with me the art on their flags, what were popular and what makes a great flag design.  Another time the owner of a melamine tabletop manufacturing company was helping to man the booth at a regional show and she made time to tell me what art themes are the most popular on their products.  That type of information is invaluable!

• check-out the best sellers on manufacture and retail websites. Some manufacture and retail websites allow the viewer to sort the products into different categories including best sellers. Look at websites of your favorite retailers and manufacturers to see if that capability is available. Below are a few.

Kohl's (retailer)
Lowe's (retailer)
Evergreen Enterprises (manufacturer)

Suggestions from artists:
Jill Meyer –  I always like to glance at what is on sale as well.  Often it is just seasonal that is on sale, but when there are other things, I try to notice if there is a theme to what is put on sale, then I make a mental note to avoid that theme!  

If you have other methods in finding out what sells at retail, please share the information. Click on the comments section (below) to write your comment. Note: Some people have a problem in leaving a comment. The most successful method is to comment as Name/URL (your name and website or blog with a complete URL address).


  1. Thank you Joan! Very useful and helpful :)

  2. These tips are very helpful, Joan. Thanks! Learning all we can about the needs of manufacturers and retailers is absolutely key to this business.

  3. Thanks Joan! As always helpful and informative. I always like to glance at what is on sale as well. Often it is just seasonal that is on sale, but when there are other things, I try to notice if there is a theme to what is put on sale, then I make a mental note to avoid that theme!

  4. Joan you are such a wealth of information. Thanks for this blog. It is so helpful!

  5. Except for the few top you focus a lot on what sells when you sit down to create? Which comes first, the egg or the chicken?

  6. As like many artists that have licensed their art for awhile, I know what products my art is best suited for so I have studied those industries extensively and know what sells. And, because I am creating art to license it on products not to just please myself, I focus creating my art on what sells. In my case, the decorative flag industry is the core industry that licenses my art so for it I create vividly colored flowers, birds and butterflies which are big sellers of flags. Other artists, have found that their art is best suited for the fabric, or jig-saw puzzle or calendar industries so they create mainly for them. But, that doesn't mean that those are the only industries that license their art. Also that does not mean that artists only create art for their core industries.