Serious Selling for the Small or Independent Dance Organization

The Art of Merchandising, especially for independent artists

By Rasa Vitalia

How does a small business artist make it happen? Inspired by Dance/USA’s article, “Serious Selling,” about the production and profit practices of the San Francisco Ballet’s merchandising and products, which are sold in its “Ballet Shop” and on tour, I set out to give inspiration to the many of us in the arts community who strive to make it happen — on a far smaller scale.

As a professional solo dance artist based in San Francisco, I am always creating new dance and music performances based in contemporary world dance forms such as Middle Eastern, Indian, Brazilian, and other forms along with modern, pop, hip hop, funk, and club-based movement. I perform at a variety of venues and events for public, corporate, and private programs as a soloist and with live musical acts.

Let’s get down to business. As a solo small business artist, I do not have a “season” or home base, unlike larger, long-established dance companies. I am constantly traveling and performing and spend much of my non-performing time working to book new shows and working on creative endeavors.

The Art of Merchandising, especially for independent artistsBeing on the move makes it more challenging to find a place to sell my products, so I must be very creative. I usually have a brief one-time opportunity during each show to reach my audience through performance and personal interaction. In order to stay in the minds and hearts of the audience, I have developed a few products that keep me connected and promote my work in future shows. These products include autographed postcards, stickers, animated dance flip books, DVDs of performances, promotional videos of shows, and an annual calendar with beautiful professionally shot photos of my varied looks. I design all of the paper products on my own, on my own time, and send them off to the printers. I hire professionals to take my videos and photos, which I pay for by trading services or out-of-pocket. I do what I can to show whomever I work with on a project that their time and work is valuable, and that they receive proper credit.

My product budget comes from clients’ payments for performances based on existing budgets, ticket sales, and tips. If there is a tiny bit in the pot, it gets turned right back into business account. Since creation, production, and distribution are costly, I can only produce a small amount of product at a time. The smaller the amount of product, of course, the more the cost is per item. Therefore I advertise to clientele that pre-orders of merchandise are available, prior to my purchase of bulk items, but I make the final decision on how many items to create based on future projected purchases. This can be risky. Although my products might cost more than most audiences are accustomed to, they feel the satisfaction of supporting their favorite or fellow artist with a one-of-a-kind, limited run item that they cannot purchase anywhere else. I take pride in the fact that my merchandise is created with personal care, complete with my autograph. I hope that these limited-edition, collector items are valued in the present as well as becoming more valuable in the future as part of San Francisco’s performance art history.

The Art of Merchandising, especially for independent artistsWhere do I distribute my merchandise? I do not have stores in which my product is presented nor vendors who distribute my product. I’ve found that renting booths and space is costly and not a good investment financially. Most often I try to sell my product at the public venues where I perform. Usually I don’t have a supporter available to help sell the merchandise nor a secure table or area where I can leave my product safely. Typically I must make a pre-show announcement and then walk around for a couple hours pre- and post-show to meet and greet my audience, hand out autographed business cards, and showcase my products to each person or group in attendance. Yes, it’s very challenging and time-consuming to do all this as well as perform at one event, not to mention the energy it takes to prepare and break down shows. I often have more than one show a night and must keep to a strict schedule and itinerary. On the other hand, I also present my product online via my website, on Facebook, and in my monthly newsletter, as well as by word of mouth and during my telephone communications. Sometimes people inquire through these means, but it takes a lot of time in personal communication to sell the product. I also advertise online and in the public locations and media sources when appropriate. Wherever I am, I am always ready to present my product. I do all of this on my own, and you can, too!

I’m not yet able to judge whether these products provide increased visibility of my work. Most of my products are purchased by private individuals or a few small businesses. However, I believe people may display and speak about the products to those around them with a  chance of increased “visibility,” or increased knowledge and growth of my work and my presence. I believe in the law of karma.

The most beneficial, enriching, and inspiring part of this equation is my audience. I feel that through offering these items it increases my connection to my audience as they feel much more connected to myself, my work, to the scene, and to history as well as supporting the arts in a very direct way. The public audiences are the most engaging and more likely to purchase product, I’ve found, while private and corporate audiences, which hire me as a service, are only sometimes interested in product. However, I have built a large following in each realm — private, public, and corporate — that love my work and are interested in my products, too!

While large companies have greater resources at their disposal, even solo artists and small companies can find a way to generate income and visibility through product sales.

While large companies have greater resources at their disposal, even solo artists and small companies can find a way to generate income and visibility through product sales.

We can all look forward to increased work and revenue with positive financial and fan support, higher visibility, and a grander scale of success in the present and in the future! I do hope that this is an aid and inspiration for fellow artists. Keep doing it! Keep striving! Keep in balance! Keep going!

Rasa VitaliaRasa Vitalia is a professional, multi-disciplinary visual and performance artist in San Francisco. She is an international dancer, visual show director, and stage choreographer for a variety of first class shows and events, putting her unique artistic creativity and flair in each original performance. Vitalia has more than a decade of experience and mastery in multiple world dance forms from around the globe, which makes her work universally revered. Rasa Vitalia’s achievements include San Francisco’s Performance Artist of the Year Award for 2011-2012, artist-in-residence at Supperclub San Francisco, working with award-winning musical acts such as Katdelic (P-Funk), as a featured headliner act in many productions and much  more. Her highly acclaimed work appeals to a wide variety of audiences of all ages as she keeps her work universal and entertaining, and graces the stage with great pizzazz. For more information, visit www.RasaVitalia.com.

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