Ever since I was a kid, I have had this drive to make stuff and sell it. My first “craft business” was in summer camp before middle school where two friends and myself began making friendship bracelets and selling them to the kids at camp. By the end of the summer I think we each had made $13 and my fate was sealed.
From there, I have sold to shops on a small scale as well as a larger scale, after getting picked up by a rep for a little while. While some experiences were great and others weren’t so much, I have learned a lot over the years. About eight years ago, I stopped doing wholesale as I opened up my own shop over 10 years ago and was spread a little thin with everything.
Between selling wholesale and now buying wholesale, I feel like I have the full spectrum of this kind of work and hope that I can share some of what I’ve learned with you.
If you are very new to making stuff and selling it to the world, my first suggestion is to sell at craft shows. It’s a great way to find out what people are willing to pay for your work and to see how people respond to your work. If that is going well for you and you are ready to take your business to that next level, wholesale is a great new platform. While you take a cut, you allow yourself more time to create leaving the selling part to the entrusted sellers. But how do you go about finding those shops and how do you develop good working relationships? I am going to list some basic general rules that all retailers will appreciate.
1. Do your research
Before you make contact with a shop owner or buyer, you should do the research to make sure your work makes sense for that store. If someone contacts me and they try to sell me something totally off the cuff from what I do, I feel like it wastes both my time and theirs. It’s not hard in this day and age to look up a website to get an idea for what a store sells OR an instagram page or Facebook page. Not only will it waste less of your time but you can write a very educated email to the buyer showing that you did that extra legwork which will be appreciated…a lot.
2. Making Contact
You did your research and decided you are a good fit…now what? A huge pet peeve of mine and fellow buyers is when a person comes into your shop and asks if you would like to look at their work. It’s awkward and most shop owners are busy so it makes you feel like the seller doesn’t value your time.
The appropriate thing to do would be to figure out who the buyer is, send an email or call and ask if you can make an appointment. I LOVE getting emails with line sheets attached. This way I can look at things on my own time. If I like the work but don’t have the room for it at the moment, I can also keep it and contact them at a later date to work things out. If you do send a line sheet, it is totally fine to follow up with either a phone call or email.
3. Know your terms
You are going to get questions. What are your terms? Do you have a minimum order? Do you have a minimum reorder amount that is different? Do you ever make exceptions? Do you do Net 30? Would you consider doing consignment?
Knowing the answers is best decided BEFORE you are asked them. It’s OK if you are new and even have questions for the buyer. We are people and some have been on the other end before but the more you can decide for yourself ahead of time, the more you will feel confident and ready to tackle whatever is thrown your way.
4. You are in
YAY! First, pat yourself on the back. Then get to work. Some stores will want things by a certain date, others will have special requests, etc. Once you work out your terms, get to work. Once your work is in, checking in from time to time to see how things are going is not annoying at all….unless you are calling like every week. I love check in’s because it often gives me time to get to know my vendors better as well. The more I have a good working relationship with you, the better I am at selling your work. I can talk about how nice you are and how much I love your work and you will remain in the forefront of my brain. Not only does it develop a relationship with my vendors but it also reminds me I may need more work from you. So send those emails from time to time and don’t feel like a nag.
5. What if you get rejected?
Let’s face it, rejection sucks. As my friend so eloquently said recently, rejection brings all your insecurities front and center. BUT it can also make you better. Maybe you want to fit in a type of shop you just really don’t. Maybe they just didn’t have the room like they said. Don’t let rejection get you down, learn from it, pick up your supplies and do it again. Take time for yourself to be creative and remind yourself why you do what you do in the first place.
6. Don’t oversaturate
If you are selling around town the rule of thumb is to sell at one shop per zip code. It keeps the peace between other store owners and will not make customers have that “i see that stuff everywhere” kind of feeling. Then your work still feels special, you have great stores you work with and it may allow you to work outside of the state to keep a good baseline of sales.
7. Keep your prices the same across the board
A phrase that will not sit well with a retailer is when they hear customers come into their shop and say, “Oh I love this stuff but I can get it cheaper at XYZ show later this month”. This doesn’t bode well for shop owners or your customers. Yes, you take a hit when you sell to shops but they do a lot of work that allows you to keep creating. From credit card fees, bags, staffing, displays, marketing, etc., running a shop is an expensive endeavor and a labor of love. If you want to sell in shops, that is why you are taking that cut and it’s worth it. So keep the prices the same across the board and everyone stays happy.
8. Help promote the shops that help promote you!
It’s not hard to help promote the shops that help support you. Whether you do a little instagram post that shows your order going out to a shop or you have their link on your website of suppliers, remember again that retailing is a labor of love, and let me tell you, after 10+ years it is still a struggle. Any fans you can throw our way is a win-win for us all.
When I was selling wholesale I also tried to make a purchase at the shops I was selling at, at least once a year. I think it’s a nice gesture of equal support and is always appreciated.
Once you have a good base of stores that you really enjoy working with, you have the freedom to do what you love and creating is why we all do what we do, right?