Selling Furniture Through a Gallery

What's a fair business deal when you place your work in a gallery? August 30, 2005

I'm looking for advice on commission rates for selling furniture through galleries and salespeople. I have worked for high-end cabinet shops for most of my life and have recently made the decision to step out on my own. I am currently talking to the owner of an art gallery in a very good location and he wants 40% of everything that I sell through his gallery. He also wants regional exclusivity on the items that I place there. I am also talking to a freelance salesperson, who is a friend of mine and is interested in selling for me and wants to know what kind of commission I am going to pay him.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
In my experience, forty and even fifty percent is pretty typical for high-end galleries, which is why I gave up on trying to place my work (which typically falls in the five- to ten-thousand dollar range) in galleries. They would price that work at ten- to twenty-thousand dollars and don't want you undercutting them on direct sales. Fine if they can move it; bummer if they can't.

Hopefully other folks here will have more comments to offer on the gallery route, but you can be sure that it has its pitfalls.

I have a local gallery representing me who insists that I not sell my work for wholesale, so in all fairness, I raised all of my prices (even for someone who comes to my door without having seen my work at the gallery). I may miss some sales, but it does seem to be working out when the ones which do come through are at the higher price.

Work up a nice bio/resume and artist statement, and keep it up. I am bad at doing this, and have missed some sales through the gallery because of it.

It seems funny to me that you could be Leonardo, Galle, Chippendale, and Wendle Castle all rolled into one, but if you are not standing on a little foundation of papers with stickers and stars and lacy printing around the edges, some people will not pay as much for your work as they will for someone doing inferior work who has a better looking resume.

40 percent is a fair rate. Question to ask is: can they sell your furniture? Look at what they represent. Fine art does not always go good with crafts/furniture. As for as the exclusivity, this is common - it protects their interests. I have a similar arrangement with a local gallery. It doesn't prevent me from working directly with a client on something like a wall unit or the like. But if someone wants a piece like what's in the gallery, I would mark it up and send the gallery a commission. Make sure they're not after a cut on all of your work in the area.

I agree that the commission percentage they are asking is quite normal. The galleries I have worked with, though, have not required me to halt all wholesale sales. That would make me nervous. I must also confess that I miss the client-to-craftsman relationship when I sell to galleries. I find working with the clients who will actually own the piece is one of the joys of what I do.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor B:
I have work in the same gallery my wife has her paintings. A commission of 50% is normal. I still do the one of a kind pieces I've always done with no cut to the gallery. Not much in the way of sales, but I look at the gallery work as a chance to play and experiment on projects with the possibility of selling.

Comment from contributor H:
Having come from 25 years of cabinetmaking and millwork, about 6 or 7 years ago I made the switch into "art" and "studio" furniture. There ain't nothing similar.

The gallery is selling the artist much more than the article. A guy with a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, selling mediocre product, is going to generate many times the profit of a self-educated "master" producing a flawless product. Fact of life - accept it and move on. Part of this is the cliquey nature of the art world; it is as clubby as politics, law or medicine. Still it is possible, though not easy, to make a partial bridge, given time and the proper attitude.

40% is a fair rate and pretty typical, even good, as many places are now trying to standardize at 50%. Exclusivity agreements should be in your interest, while reasonably protecting the gallery. Any work that comes your way by way of referral, websites or other means that do not have a direct trail back to the gallery should be exempted.

The biggest value of a gallery, provided it is chosen with care, is exposure. Your work will be seen by many times more people than if you or a friend are selling it. The gallery, if it is well established, can also provide that link into the "club" I mentioned earlier, as well as giving you legitimacy with publications, which if they choose to feature your work in an issue, can make your name overnight.

The next advantage of a good gallery is commission work. This is where the money is. Commission work should be at a reduced rate, say 20%, with the gallery doing all the customer relations and delivery.

Business relations with galleries must be based on trust and very personal. They must trust that you will not be cutting them out of legitimate business, and you must be sure that they are not trying to exploit your talents. If you have any doubts about your relationship, move on. If you have a unique product, you won't have any problem finding someone to work with.