Reprinting: Wholesaling Stained Glass in Canada

Email by Jason Peter Brown on September 20, 2007

This is a reprinting of an article by Sharon Gorman that originally appeared in the Flat Glass Journal Volume 24, Issue 5. Judging by some of the comments on the forum lately, a lot has changed in the glass industry since this article was written (especially since the near–parity of the Canadian & U.S. dollars). In light of these changes, I thought this article would be interesting from a historical perspective.

My introduction to the world of wholesaling happened by chance, as a great deal of my experiences do. After experimenting for some time with a small kiln, I had taken the plunge and purchased a large kiln to do some serious fusing. My studio was located in an out of the way industrial plaza, beside a gift–ware distributor (ah ha!). He would stop in often to chat and see what I was doing and noticed some pieces I was playing with. He suggested I should come up with a 'line' and he would represent me at a gift show. We went over a few details and I naively agreed.

The show was a great success and he returned with orders for more than 1500 fused glass frames (900 to one countrywide store) and I was quickly thrown into the wholesale business. Considering my inventory consisted of one frame of each size and style (samples from the show), I realized I needed to purchase another kiln and begin production around the clock. Delivery was expected by a certain date and the orders would be cancelled if you did not meet the deadline. With the help of my family, we worked, learning as we went, through the many steps required to send out the finished product. We managed to pull it off and the delivery was met but not without a great deal of stress. Lesson #1… Know your production capabilities and have a production schedule.

I continued to work with this distributor for one year, until I realized there were too many people profiting from my hard work. I also did not know where or to whom the orders were being shipped. I ended this relationship and began seeking out my own sources. Fortunately, some previous customers did find me and we continued to do business. They were very happy to deal directly with the studio. Everything was on a much more personal scale and any problems were handled quickly and efficiently without a middleman. Lesson #2… know your market and decide where you would like to see your product sold.

In seeking out new and potential customers, I decided after speaking with many artisan comrades that I should apply to the Uniquely Ontario section of the Toronto Gift Show and let the customers come to me. Uniquely Ontario is an incredibly well run and organized part of the show, thanks to the founder, Barbara Mowat of British Columbia. To apply, you send in an actual sample of your product and all related material from business cards to order forms. You are accepted through a judging committee and a complete analysis is done on all aspects of your presentation. This alone is well worth the very reasonable entry cost. They match you with a booth partner (mine was great) and you are assigned a very small 12 by 5 foot space to share. As anyone knows who participates in shows, your presentation is very important and a lot of thought and effort must go into it. In July, I will be entering the show for the fourth time and am very happy with the results. For me the show occurs at times during the year when other projects and commissions may be a little slow. I am continuously playing with new products to take to the show, but have learned many details must be considered. Lesson #3… give yourself lots of time to experiment.

Often when I set out to create step by step the latest brilliant idea which came to me during the night, and keep track of all my time, materials, packaging and whatever else is involved, I realize I cannot possibly sell this to a store who will have to, in turn, double the price. This is a process which has to be done with complete accuracy or you are only fooling yourself … that was Lesson #4.

Selling glass at a wholesale level is not for everyone, but may certainly deserve some investigation. Hopefully my lessons learned the hard way will be of some benefit to you if you are considering this avenue.

Sharon Gorman is a glass artist of 18 years experience, currently living and working in Guelph, Ontario. Her interests over the past five years have focused largely on the realm of fused glass and it's many applications. She uses her techniques not only in the realm of wholesaling but in creating unique residential and public commissions.

NOTE: The above biographical information is displayed as it originally appeared on the AISG website. A quick Google search for Sharon Gorman turned up no current information.