I did not have a topic in mind for the Tuesday’s Business posting this week, which is why this is appearing on Wednesday and not Tuesday. I was drawing a blank, as they say, on what to write. Then I realized I should write on a topic that may not be discussed frequently but that probably happens to all of us at one time or another. And in this case, it has recently happened to myself and a few of my fellow artists. The topic is theft.
When we display our art work, whether at shows or in galleries, we do so knowing there is the risk that someone may steal or damage our work. Shoplifting is one of the leading causes of retailer revenue loss. One statistic states that retailers lose $35 million a day to shoplifting. When you hear the term “loss leaders” or “shrinkage” in reference to retail, shoplifting is one of the aspects being referenced (employee theft, vendor fraud, and administrative error being the others.)
The loss of art work is something that I’ve come to accept as part of the hazards of displaying my work in consignment galleries. Fortunately the frequency of art work being stolen has not been terribly high in the last couple of years. I think I can count all of 2-3 pieces that have “grown legs and gone missing.”
Yet recently this seems to have changed. Perhaps it is an anomaly; a reflection of the economic times. However, when several people notice that items are missing during a one month period, the suspicion radar goes up.
So what can one do if you suspect a piece of your work may have gone missing?
First, check and double-check your inventory records for the items sent to a particular store. And if you haven’t been keeping good inventory records beforehand, now is a good time to do so. Art work placed in a consignment store is still your inventory until it is sold.
Second, when the consignment check arrives, check the sales record against your own inventory record.
Third, review your contract with the store for policies regarding missing or damaged work.
Fourth, discuss the situation with the store manager or owner.
The discussion is probably the hardest component. You don’t want to present the situation in a manner that causes you or the manager to become defensive. While you want to make the store aware of the situation (keeping in mind that this may not be the first time loss has happened), you don’t want to come off laying blame. Can you present your concern in a manner that generates ideas for problem solving the situation.
And what might be some of the ideas generated?
Improved lighting, either within the store or over specific display areas.
Relocation of the items in concern to a locked display or area in better view of the store staff.
Improved packaging; are there ways to improve the packaging of your work so it is less likely to wander off. (I understand the packaging component can be tricky, especially if your work is meant to be touched. Packaging and display location seem to go hand-in-hand here.)
The loss of a piece of art or damage to a piece of art is not an easy incident to accept. I admit my first reaction is anger, then frustration and sadness. Part of me does want to lay blame on the gallery. Part of me puts the blame on myself. Part of me wants to throw up my hands and pull my work out of the location immediately.
And then I realize my reactions, while expected and understandable, do not necessarily solve the problem. Yes, I have lost a piece of work that I could’ve sold which means no money for me. But it is not just my loss. The store has also lost money.
And I try to think about the person who may have taken the items. Statistics show that in many cases, people steal for the thrill of it. Some do it only once. Some do it with the intent of reselling the items so they’ll have money for food, to pay their bills, or support another habit.
In some sense we all lose something here.