Successful Sale or Return

by Christine Warren

There’s currently much debate amongst makers who supply galleries with their work; how does Sale or Return compare with Wholesale? Here, jewellery designer maker Christine Warren explains the simple system she uses to ensure successful SOR.

What is Sale or Return?

It’s exactly what it says it is; the items you supply to the gallery are either sold by them to their customers and the gallery pays you after the sale; or if the work doesn’t sell it is returned to you with no payment. Whilst under an SOR agreement, the goods remain your property until they are sold. Be sure that you know who is responsible for carriage costs on any returned goods, the maker or the gallery.

What is Wholesale?

With wholesale, the gallery buys in the work from you by placing an order for specific goods that they want. The gallery then pays for the order in full as per the invoice that you send them for the goods. As the gallery will have paid for the items, the goods will belong to them and it is their responsibility to sell them.

Very often I hear makers say things like, “I had lots of enquiries, but they were only for sale or return,” as if it is at very least second best to getting a wholesale order.

As a maker myself I am absolutely thrilled to get sale or return enquiries from galleries; I see it as a winning situation for both parties. I will explain how I run my SOR and demonstrate how it benefits both me and the galleries.

With Sale or Return, makers are frequently asked by the gallery buyer to put together a range of pieces which they feel go together and have sold well in other places. This will give the gallery a good start with that maker’s work.

It is important for the maker to have a system of recording the items they supply with each order. (In my brief stint working in a gallery, I found that a list of items might accompany the work, but often with no indication of which piece was which).

My system as a jeweller entails labelling each bag with a code, (inside the bag, so the sticker cannot fall off), for example, CW1, etc. Accompanying this I print a sheet listing the codes and a brief description of the item.

I print two copies of this, which I send to the gallery with their order, enclosing an S.A.E. I then ask the gallery to sign one copy of the list and return it to me as a receipt for the items, keeping the second copy for their own reference. Obviously this would be adapted for other disciplines, but it can still work in the same way.

When subsequent batches are sent, I start a new list at the last number used; to avoid confusion, I never use the same code twice.

The maker needs to know when and how the gallery makes payments (e.g. cheque, bank transfer etc) and what their mark up is. It is not a good situation to have your work being sold at very different prices all over the place, customers will notice.

Some galleries want the work sent at wholesale prices for their system, others prefer retail prices; you need to remember which you are doing and put it clearly at the top of the list you send the gallery with their order.

When the gallery sends me a payment, I ask them to also let me have a detailed list of items sold. I then tick these off on my own copy of the list - this also provides a useful ongoing check on how well my work is selling.

Every so often I send the gallery a list of items that should still be in stock and ask them to sign to confirm that they have them. Some galleries automatically send stock lists out anyway.

I store all of this information in a file, one for each gallery, which enables me to watch for slow selling items and offer to exchange them for new ranges. When I see that stock is depleting, I usually ask the gallery if they’d like me to send more, 99% of the time they will say yes.

Over a period of time you will find that you develop a relationship with gallery owners; they feel that they know you and your work and this understanding is passed on to their own customers, who are generally keen to know more about the work and the person who made it.

Obviously there is a position of trust here between the gallery owner and the maker, but I’d always advise people to talk to other makers who are stocked by the gallery, to find out more; enquire about whether the gallery pays promptly and regularly, check how long the gallery has been trading, etc.

If the gallery is not too far away, it’s a good idea  to visit, see how the work is displayed, the type of work they stock and meet the people who run it. If it’s not possible to visit though, you’ll find that most galleries have web sites where you can get a feel for how your work might sit amongst the rest.

I find that special commissions can often be forthcoming from people who regularly see my work passing through the gallery they visit.

If you decide to supply Wholesale, remember that once your work is on display in the gallery, you can easily lose touch with how well it is selling. (Gallery owners don’t want every maker phoning or emailing every five minutes to see how their work is going).

 If, after quite a period, you contact them to ask about your work, the response can invariably be something like, “It went quite well, but we’ve still got a bit left, I’ll get back to you when we need more.”

The ‘bit’ of your work that is left, is often exactly what it becomes; a ‘bit’ or oddment, sometimes pushed together with other makers’ work.

In my experience, with Wholesale, the chances of my work being ongoing in places is far slimmer than if I do S.O.R.

To summarise... the advantages with Sale or Return

From a MAKER’S  point of view...

  • Regular monthly income
  • Control of stock
  • Build a relationship with gallery
  • Possible opportunity to try new ranges
  • Greater likelihood of commissions
  • Greater chance of ongoing exposure in same place

From a GALLERY’S point of view...

  • Less cash outlay at one time, enabling them to source more makers
  • The flexibility to be able to exchange work with the maker
  • To build a relationship with the maker

Helpful Tips

Don’t supply your work to Galleries, either Wholesale or Sale or Return, and then simply sit back and assume it will sell. Keep in touch with your Galleries, find out what’s selling, encourage them to review their displays if work becomes static and stale.

Work together with your Galleries to help promote your work, make sure they have good quality, up-to-date images of your work with appropriate captions to use in any Press Releases they send out; consider ways to link and network with them.

Keep on top of the paperwork and credit control; it’s great to see your work in lots of galleries, but if you’re not receiving payments when they’re due, you’ll soon experience cash flow problems. Don’t let things slide, it’s vital that you keep your SOR lists up to date, especially during your busy times.


Christine Warren is a contemporary jeweller, living in The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. She has exhibited at Design Edge and the British Craft Trade Fair and successfully exhibits on a S.O.R. basis with a number of galleries.

Christine, whose work centres around her interest in surface texture, uses the techniques of reticulation, rolling mill impression, hammering and Keum Boo in her work. Her most popular range at the moment is ‘Mobius’, designed on the idea of the Mobius strip, invented by an 18th century mathematician.

She holds workshops for a maximum of three people in her studio and for larger groups in other venues.

Christine Warren Silver
T: 01594 811013
M: 07972359853

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