The other day I was talking with an artist about distribution channels.  Their products are mainly sold in more boutique stores and a product or two had been placed in a “big box” store like Bed, Bath & Beyond.  Pretty new to licensing, the artist was shocked at the emails that started coming in from Hallmark store owners and the like – who are huge fans of their art and have been instrumental in their success.  “Please don’t go into the big box stores!” they lamented!  “We want to keep carrying your products.”

It’s an issue.  It’s important to figure out where your art will be a fit and then be true to your customers.  If your art does well in more upper tier distribution channels – a fancy way of saying higher end boutique and specialty stores – you have to be very careful about having your art show up in mass market chain stores.

It’s hard for the smaller stores to compete with the likes of Target, Wal-Mart and Bed, Bath & Beyond.  The large retailers have more clout and pull with pricing since they are obviously buying in much larger quantities than the store down the street owned by a local family.  So the specialty stores do their best to offer things not found in the larger retailers.  Different designs, different products, etc.  If your art is a fit in that market, mind your brand!

There are different ways to handle this.

First, you could have a policy that your art doesn’t go into larger stores – period.  You would need to carefully define distribution channels in your contracts and monitor placement.  Many artists will do this as long as they are being well-received and experiencing good sales in the specialty markets.  There could come a time when trends change and their sales dip significantly, which might be when they shift their brand to a more mass marketplace.

Alternatively, an artist might have two distinct brands – with two styles and even two names, that are placed in the different channels.  The best way to do this would be for the art to be so different in style or color or theme that no one would realize it was by the same person.

Another strategy might be to have all new art go through the specialty store channels and then when they phase out there, let them trickle to the mass market.

But again – if you try to serve both levels of licensees, you need to be careful that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot!

So why is the title of this blog post “Eliza Doolitte would have a hard time in art licensing…”?  If you don’t get the reference, I’m referring to the main character in My Fair Lady – a musical and movie about a poor girl with a Cockney accent who is taught to be a lady.  If she were an artist in licensing, it would be the equivalent of an artist who only designs for Dollar value stores who is then transformed into a coveted specialty brand.  Let’s just say this would be harder to accomplish than teaching Eliza to lose her accent and head to the ball!

You can start in specialty stores and move to mass market over time – it’s rather hard to do the opposite.

Does this mean everyone should be in the upper tier distribution channels or they are ruining their business from the start?  Absolutely not!  The most important thing is to know where your art will be a fit and where it will sell.  Don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole.  Know your “who” and be true to your clients.

Here are two clips from My Fair Lady – one when Eliza is just learning to lose that accent and one when she is transformed into the belle of the ball – enjoy!

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Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara Reed

P.S.  Now that I think about it – Henry Higgins was to Eliza what a coach is to an artist.  Need one?  Paul Brent, Jill Seale & I all offer coaching – learn more at