How to Pitch Yourself to Local Shops (fantasy illustrator)

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I’ve been asked by a few people how I got stores to invite me to attend in-store events such as the pre-release for Dragons of Tarkir. I am not a Magic: the Gathering artist… yet. How did I get noticed by local stores?

This post will talk about how I specifically made this happen, but the methods can be applied for many different types of artists. My hope is that you can get yourself in front of a local fanbase, which is the beginning of really taking control of your own art career!

1. Identify stores with products or art that is similar to your own.

First things first (I’m the realest). What type of art do you produce? For me, it was really easy to find which stores may be interested in my art, because I am a Fantasy RPG artist. My paintings already seem to fit well in games such as Magic: the Gathering, Lord of the Rings LCG, Pathfinder RPG, and Game of Thrones LCG. Knowing this, I located stores in my area (a radius of approximately 2 hours) that hold events that cater to games such as these. Friday Night Magic, Sunday D&D, Thursday Night Commander, etc. It does help that I have clients such as Fantasy Flight Games and Paizo, though, but that is just another bonus selling point. Figure out your specific bonus selling points!

2. Prepare your pitch.

These stores are running a business. While a few of them will be interested in supporting local artists (these gems are amazing to find, by the way, much love to store owners who want to showcase local talent.), most of them are going to be more interested in what your presence in their store will do for them. In my case, I sell playmats that tabletop gamers are interested in and I am open to sketch commissions. Custom ACEO sketch cards are a great low-dollar item you can offer to fans and gamers to decorate their card boxes or to be used as tokens in-game.

Before you go to the location, gather up your merchandise and do not forget business cards! At the very least, you can ask if you can leave behind a few cards, and customers may contact you for commissions. Take 1 or 2 of each item you want to offer into the store with you, but have more in the car! If they want to carry your merchandise, it’ll help if you have plenty on offer.

Knowing that many gamers are eager to pick up original art to show off during tournaments, you can talk to the owner/manager of the store about the possibility of advertising your appearance in conjunction with a tournament or expansion release date to draw in more players. Once you’ve had one successful in-store event, players generally ask the store employees when you’ll be returning!

Another thing I do as an incentive for the store is offer my merchandise at a discount for them to sell at retail. That way, everyone makes a cut of the profit. Some stores will go for this, especially if they want to support a local artist, and some will pass up the deal because my prices will generally be higher than, say, StarCityGames.com or another mass producer of playmats. That’s fine. Maybe they’ll do consignment. Or maybe they’re only interested in having you come by for appearances. Decide what you’re comfortable with, and be flexible!

Me upon introducing myself:

3. Ask yourself all of these questions, and have answers ready:

How much are you selling your item for at retail? How much are you willing to mark it down for retailers? For what percentage are you willing to sell it on consignment?

Generally, I mark off about 10% for retailers for consignment, and up to 20% for retail (meaning, they buy the item outright, and sell it for whatever they think it will sell). Keep in mind that, while you won’t make as much cash off of a transaction when dealing with the retailers, you are getting your products in front of the public in ways you may not have been able to before. The in-store appearances are where you’ll make the best cash!

4. Be presentable.

This seems like common sense, but I’m going to include it anyway. When I make the rounds to introduce myself to new store managers/owners, and especially when I show up for an in-store appearance, I make sure I’m at the top of my game. Not only does a kick ass outfit and on-point hair and makeup look nice, it makes me feel more confident! So, take the time to make yourself look amazing, and you’ll feel amazing.

5. Follow up!

One of the best things you can do, especially if you left the store with a lot of maybes, is to follow up with either an email or a phone call. I tend to lean toward email for myself, because I’m better with the written word than the spoken. I can review what I’m going to say, as well as have a record of the conversation afterward.

Remind them of who you are, who you spoke with at the store, and what you discussed. Let them know of your availability. Assert yourself, politely, on the assumption that of course they want you to attend an in-store event!

6. Extra Credit!

Another way to get “in” with local shops is to become a frequent flyer. Go to the location, play their games or interact with the employees. Be friendly and develop a (friendly, professional) relationship. Networking is key, and it will get you everywhere you want to go. I have an entire blog post about networking planned, so check back for that!

I hope this has helped you, and remember to be creative in your approach. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out what will benefit everyone involved. Do you have any suggestions that should be included in this post, or any creative ideas for what works for you? Post them in the comments!

In another post, I’ll talk about how to have a successful event and what kind of merchandise I’ve learned moves well!

 

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Making Things Happen

I’m pretty excited to let you all in on what’s been happening over the last week.

First and foremost, I’m scheduled for an in-store appearance to sell and sign playmats of my own creation, as well as do sketch cards and playmat sketches! How fun is that!?

I am also stoked to announce that so far, I have nailed down 2 stores that are going to carry my playmats for sale or consignment, and am in talks with 3 more stores to do the same! Top Tier Board Games in Hattiesburg, MS, and Wyatt’s Comics and Cards in Hammond, LA, will both be retail shops at which you can purchase my playmats!

So, some of you may want to know how this happened, and I’m super happy to tell you so YOU can do the same!

How it all started is sort of interesting. As you may know by now, I was juried into the Art Show for GenCon 2015, and will have a 4 panel booth. When I applied, I guess I didn’t honestly believe I’d get in. I mean, the talent that I’ll be listed amongst is out of this world. At some point shortly after confirming and paying for my booth, I realized I needed more… something… to really fit in with the GenCon crowd.

I decided I really wanted to sell playmats. So, I designed and painted Nadezhda:

Nadezhda Polzin_WEB

I then contacted Drew Baker, whom I met at IlluxCon and corresponded with in the One Fantastic Week Facebook group, to have Nadezhda and the Succubus printed on playmats. His price is reasonable and though he may be a bit pricier than some of the ‘big name’ playmat printers, his personal service and concern for my work more than makes up for it. He’s amazing. As an artist, he has an eye for what may need attention to make your playmats the best they could be.

The playmats were beautiful! My counterpart then took them along when he went to Friday Night Magic and sold three of them. I didn’t even have three mats printed yet! So, I ordered more mats. Having seen how quickly people took interest in the mats, my counterpart then made a list of all the gaming stores in the area, up to about an hour and a half away, and we made the rounds. We spoke with about 6 stores the first day, and 2 were very interested. One of those was Top Tier, and as you can see, that has panned out well!

It was surprisingly easy, even for this introverted recluse, to talk to the stores about carrying my mats. I would walk in, introduce myself and my work, and ask if the store would be interested in carrying my mats for sale or consignment. In the future, I’ll first ask if a manager or the owner is in, as most retail employees won’t have any sort of say or power in whether the store can carry your merchandise, so that’s something to keep in mind.

It’s motivating to see the excitement and interest from people who sell stuff like this daily. They know what the customers like, and they like my stuff!

Moral of the story is… maybe don’t wait for things to happen to you, make things happen for yourself! Getting hired on by art directors and working freelance is AWESOME and I love it, but I’d like to have a hand in my own fate as well. Having things that own and have control over is a whole other level.

Do the thing, y’all!