Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Breaking Into Wholesale, part two

Now that you’ve got your materials prepared, it’s time to approach stores. There are two primary ways to do this.

The first is to exhibit at a tradeshow. There are shows that cover the gift market in general like NY Now or the Buyer’s Market of American Craft. And there are more industry-specific shows like The National Needle Arts Association Trade Show and the National Stationery Show. The benefit is that you’ll have days of exposure to store owners across the country. And what’s better is that they’re in the right frame of mind–they’re coming to the show because they want to buy. The downside is that these shows can be a huge commitment in terms of both time and money. So it’s not really ideal if you just want to test the waters.

If this is something you’re seriously considering, I would recommend walking the show before applying to exhibit. While most shows are closed to the public, you can email the sales office to request a guest badge. Any reputable show will understand that you want to check it out to make sure
it’s a good fit.

The more manageable way to break into wholesale is to reach out to stores one at a time. Do some research in your local area or online to find shops that would be a good fit. Ask yourself, does the store’s aesthetic suit my line’s aesthetic? Is my price point a good match? Are they already carrying items that are very similar to mine? Your best bet is to find a store whose products complement what you offer but don’t overlap. For example, a store that offers fresh, fun home décor items like throw pillows, rugs, picture frames, and candles would be a good fit for someone who makes lampshades.

I strongly advise contacting stores via email. Do not pop by and put them on the spot. Store owners are very busy people and if they’re not helping a customer than they’re writing purchase orders, receiving new inventory, arranging displays, or doing 1000 other tasks. They may be polite to
walk-ins but it’s not the way to put your best foot forward.

Your email should include a great product shot, a short introduction to your company or product line, and a way they can contact you for more information. Make sure to let them know that you have a line sheet available if they want one. It also helps to mention something specific about their store (for example, a line that they already carry that would merchandise well with yours) so they know you are writing just to them and not sending out a form letter.

The majority of the time, you will not receive a response and there are several reasons for this. The obvious one is that the owner feels your line is not a good fit for the store. But the other possibilities are:
• They were overwhelmed with emails at that time and never read yours.
• They are interested and meant to write back but got too busy.
• It’s the wrong time of year. (Don’t pitch Christmas products in October, stores have already done their holiday buying for the season.)
• They don’t have any open to buy at the moment (meaning they’re already spend their budget buying other things).
• They have too much existing inventory in your product category and need to work through it before taking on new brands.

I write these things, not to discourage you, but to give some insight into the shop owner’s perspective. The bottom line is that you should not give up. Keep writing to stores on a quarterly basis but be sure to highlight the new items in your line. Stores are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest and there’s no reason why that can’t be you.

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