March 4, 2012

Israeli Artist's Co-op Closes Down: Lessons Learned

Vitrina Co-op

Hagar, of Gilgulim, excitedly posted about the new co-op she was working with in March of 2010.  See the other post here.  Unfortunately, the co-op did not last beyond a year of operation.  Hagar shares some of her insights on why it failed.  Undaunted, she plans on forming another group.  Sometimes it takes a painful experience to understand the potential pitfalls of a project.  Once those addressed, success is much more likely!  Here is what she says:

Why did our artists' co-op die so young?

Eight good artists and craftsmen, highly motivated and hardworking, with a jewel of a shop, an elaborate contract and fairly good understanding between them were the force behind Vitrina Co-op.  Still, our artists' co-op closed on March 1st, just a year after the grand opening.

We may put the blame on world's economy or on Israel's summer social revolt, but actually, we have to look for the answers inside our group itself.  A few of the reasons for failure include:

  • Lack of patience and eagerness for quick success.
  • An uneven share of sales as opposed to equal expense sharing.
  • An absence of understanding that our power comes from being a group and that the shop should be run as one business. 
  • The lack of acceptance that running a street shop is very different from selling from one's studio.
  • That joining an artists' co-op means an artist has matured from a hobby phase to an active marketing and selling stage. 

Vitrina co-op was a highly interesting and enriching experience for me and I still believe that an artists' co-op is a very good solution for arts and crafts marketing.  I am already looking into forming a new artists' co-op!

Inside Vitrina Co-op

Read more about how to establish a co-op to free artists from their loneliness:  Post on Hagar's blog.

You can keep up with Hagar and her next endeavors on her blog.  Hagar makes beautiful jewelry out of vintage ties and other odds and ends she finds at thrift markets:

How about you?  Have you ever participated in any type of a co-op? If so, are there any valuable lessons you would like to share with us?  We would love to hear them!


  1. I managed an artisan's co-op in Chicago for four years and had some of the exact same problems that Hagar describes. We were a much bigger group and there were definite personality problems that made decision-making very difficult. That was over 20 years ago and I was young, but I learned some lessons that have stayed with me.

    1. I now believe in a benevolent monarchy! I am kind of joking, but also serious. Somebody needs to be the "boss" and be able to make final decisions, whether the others like it or not. We had no rules when I started working there and implemented them over time. Some people would bring up the same things over and over, unwilling to allow the changes to happen.

    2. From that I learned that the rules and mission need to be very clear right from the beginning so that you bring people in who know the game plan and agree with it.

    3. A commission on all products sold should go to the general pot. That way, if someone sells more, they are also contributing more to the overall expenses and possible profit.

    4. A cost should be assigned to different tasks. How much would it be to hire someone from the outside? That should be a part of the budget and then people who work in lieu of paying dues have a concrete value assigned to their task.

    5. Where products are placed have different values, too. We brought in expert accountants, banking people, etc. to sit on our board (it was a non-profit) and one of the things that I did not know is that the wall space to the right of the entrance door is the most valuable in a gift shop. Therefore, that display should be in constant rotation or should be considered more valuable. All spaces that are eye level are more valuable than those which are up high or on the floor. People don't want to bend.

    6. Lighting and cleaning are essential. Often times members might get tired of being the one to do all the cleaning or they might not feel like their items are well lit.

    Those are just a few things that I learned. It's hard work to make a co-op successful, especially in a financial climate like ours.

    The most successful example that I have seen was a group that I happened to run into in Tennessee years ago. They had been together for 40 years and had built a beautiful show room showcasing quilts, woodwork, clay, etc. The place was built into a hill, so that you walked into the gallery from the road. Downstairs was a huge workspace with areas for woodworkers, weavers, quilters, and potters. They took their items around the country to craft shows (representing the whole gallery) and were like family to each other.

    Their biggest problem? They were all around 60 year old and were desperate for new, young people to join them but they couldn't find any who wanted to. Go figure!

  2. Rachel, your last example is exactly the type i wish to create now but I am not far from being 60 so I am not sure if it is a good idea... And yes! many of the examples sound familiar.

  3. I don't think your age should deter you at all! You can be the mentor. But, I do think you should define your role and how much power you have and then bring in other people (some younger ones, too) who will accept your leadership.

    One very good thing to do is to have a probation period for new members. After six months, you get these benefits, after a year, you get this. Then, if people don't last that long, there is no conflict of authority or power.

  4. Hi Hagar,

    The shop looked so lovely and's sad it had to close but by moving forward onto something similar with alot more foresight, will surely be a happy success :-) Loads of encouragement and good energy to you.
    Love Debra (AllThingsPretty)


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