If You Make It, Will They Come?
People become artists because they want to make art, not
because they want to sell art. I say that like I know it’s true. I’m pretty
sure it is because it feels true and because I just talked to an artist about
selling her art.
Susan Arnold paints floor cloths. How to describe a floor
cloth… It’s a unique work of art that’s so durable you can stand on it. Available
in several standard and almost any custom size, the colors and patterns of
Susan’s cloths don’t just perk up a floor, they perk up a room. They perk up
the people standing on them.
The floor cloth market segment - people who have a floor –
is gigantic. Selling them must be a breeze. According to Susan, who began
painting floor cloths because she loves doing it, selling them takes a bit of
Why isn’t selling
floor cloths a breeze?
It’s probably true of all art but most people have to see
floor cloths before they buy one. If you don’t know what a floor cloth is and
see a picture, it looks like wallpaper. And they’re very unique. People don’t
know about them. When I’m in my Norwich Farmer’s Market booth I hear people say
things like “Oh these are cool” or “I have never seen these before.”
I had never seen
floor cloths before until I saw yours. Did you invent them?
No, they date back to the Pilgrims. When they came to
America they didn’t bring rugs. Their floors had holes and gaps that let in
cold air so they used the ship’s canvas sales as floor coverings. They might
have protected them with wax.
Did Pilgrims paint
I don’t think so. They wouldn’t have had colors, maybe berry
juice but not paint. And Pilgrims were busy. They had a lot going on.
How did you get your
start with floor cloths?
I started in 1997, almost 20 years ago. One of my mother’s
close friends created historic stencils and was using them to paint floors and
floor cloths. She was teaching a class and needed someone to prepare white
canvases for her. I wasn’t doing much, just raising four kids, and I helped her
out. Painting canvases white was pretty boring so I made a few colorful floor
cloths for myself and that was it.
So you had a product
but needed to sell it. How did you find your first buyers?
I started selling at craft shows in Manchester and Stowe,
Vermont, Saratoga, New York and a few places in Massachusetts. I still go to
shows, they’re probably my most effective selling venue. Customers can see a
wide variety of cloths and ask questions. We can talk about custom orders.
But shows cost money, you have to rent booth space and you
have to travel. It’s hard to be away from your family.
It’s been great to have my floor cloths in several local
stores too. The first to carry them was New Hampshire League of Craftsmen in
Hanover and I’ve added Long River Studios in Lyme, Main Street Kitchens in Hanover,
Main Street Pains in West Lebanon, and Chapman’s in Fairlee, Vermont.
My website brings in customers too. Last year I got a custom
order from a Hollywood, California address. The customer must have found me
online. I recently painted two runners for a customer who has a Cape Cod house.
Her husband went to Dartmouth so there might have been some local connection but
I think she found me online too.
How did you get store
owners to sell your art?
All of the stores are local and I have personal connections
with the owners. I didn’t have to hard sell.
I also make it really easy to carry my floor cloths. All
sales are on commission so the store has nothing to lose. If they sell a cloth,
they get their percentage. They don’t have to carry inventory. I keep track of
what they have sold and replenish the stock. And, if they give out my card to
someone who places a custom order, they get 10%.
You mentioned your
booth at the Norwich Farmer’s Market…
Yes, I’m there every Saturday until October. The booth is my
way to advertise floor cloths and educate people about how they’re made and
cared for. There are lots of floor cloths on display and I can show people how
they are edged and explain that the paint won’t wear off. I apply six coats of
polyurethane so the cloths are very sturdy and easy to clean.
Besides selling “off
the shelf” patterns and sizes you also make custom floor cloths. Which accounts
for most of your business?
About 2/3 of my business is off the shelf. The other third
is custom work that I do for clients who want to specify colors and patterns
that work with their interiors. Some custom orders can be quite large. Other
smaller cloths might fill a non-standard space. I get a lot of ideas from
custom work. Clients ask for color combinations I might never think of on my
own and I see patterns in their wall paper or upholstery.
I love custom orders because when I’m painting the cloth I
know it’s sold. Then again, it feels really good to go into the basement and
crank out canvases with my own patterns and colors.
Wouldn’t it be easier
to sell wholesale? Just make floor cloths and leave the selling to someone
I already have to keep track of billing and payments and I
really don’t like managing inventory. I’d want to hire someone to help me do
that and I wouldn’t want to hire someone until I knew there would continue to
be enough business to support that person.
Where do you see your
I didn’t start with a business plan and still don’t have
one. Of course, the idea is to always sell more and take more orders.
In addition to floor cloths I make note cards, jewelry,
plaster paintings and magnets. It’s a bit of a mish mash. I love creating those
other things but I see myself as a floor cloth artist. That’s my best work and
the most unique.
Visit Susan and her floor cloths at the Norwich Farmer’s Market or online at folkfloors.com.
Thanks for reading I am the Boss of Me. If you'd like to read more but worry you won't remember to check for more posts or that you will remember to check but won't remember where to check, subscribe here.