Editor’s Note: If you’re a regular Dear Handmade Life reader then you know that I had a clothing line for nearly a decade. When I first started trying to get my products into shops the whole shop owner/maker relationship was a mystery to me. There weren’t nearly as many resources online back then as there are now so I just went on instinct and built genuine relationships with shop owners and tried to think about their perspective. It’s so awesome that our friends Etan and Emily from Wholesale in a Box are able to take the guesswork out of trying to figure out what shop owners are looking for and share the best ways to form long-lasting professional relationships with them.
We’re happy to welcome our friends Etan and Emily from Wholesale In a Box to Dear Handmade Life for a series of two posts about building your product-based creative business through selling wholesale. Not only are Etan and Emily awesome independent business owners themselves but they offer makers a method to get into stores and tools to make growth easier and faster. You can sign up for their FREE e-course on their method for growing wholesale (without tradeshows, hassle, or stress) here!
… AND if you’re getting serious about getting your handmade products into stores, the folks at Wholesale In a Box are giving away a free 60-day subscription you can enter to win, after the post.
Now onto Etan and Emily. -Nicole S.
Since we’re really passionate about helping makers get their handmade products into more stores, we started sitting down with store owners and asking about their peskiest pet peeves, coveted tips, and honest experiences. We recently shared the insights of Philadelphia’s Moon and Arrow and heard from a lot of makers that those tips and “peek behind the scenes” was incredibly helpful in terms of focusing their efforts.
This time, we had the honor of speaking with Lindsay, who owns Collected Thread in Oklahoma City. An artist and maker herself, Lindsay started Collected Thread with $2,000 in savings, in what was then, a rundown district of the city. Her hunch was that her city was ready for a handmade store — and she had the vision to pull together her work, and that of some maker buddies, to create that space. A little more than seven years later, Collected Thread is an institution. It is one of those stores that you walk into, and within five minutes, there are about seventy things you want to buy. It is also such a thoughtful, loving, beautiful place that many makers name it as the example of the “well, I would LOVE to be in stores like that” store when they’re working on growing their wholesale business.
We sat down and talked to Lindsay about everything from the worst maker experiences she’s ever had, the details that will clinch (or shut down) a sale, and concrete things you can do to get your product on her shelves.
1. Make what’s unique to you, and make it well.
- “Especially with the popularity of Etsy, you see a lot of people replicating things someone else is making. I’m looking for really unique, handmade items that you won’t find elsewhere – and craftsmanship is a huge part of it.”
2. Don’t hesitate to follow up or send samples.
- “Sending samples is always a great idea. I had a stationary artists recently send me sent some samples and she was so complimentary and so energetic in the introduction. I didn’t even like the stuff but I wanted to order just because she was so energetic. She wasn’t blowing smoke but was really familiar with my store. I could sense from her personality that she was someone I wanted to work with.”
- “You’ll never turn someone off of your product by following up and sending your product. I’m trying to balance the store with two little kids and there is a lot lost in translation. There are a lot of people I would follow up with but then my kids started crying. It’s never bad for a maker to take initiative.”
3. Craftsmanship matters.
- “Test out your product – give it to friends and have them wear it so you know it’s strong before you start approaching people. Test it well, and ideally, get perspectives outside of just family and friends.”
4. Don’t worry too much about buying cycles.
- “I don’t really have a particular buying schedule or cycle. I’ve never been to a market or trade show — just contacting artists individually. I am ordering every week and always looking for people. The only bad time to approach me is in mid-December or even November.”
5. Reach out thoughtfully.
- “Contacting me by Facebook or Twitter drives me nuts. My email is on our website – take the time to email me.”
- “I really hate it when people assume that I should know who they are from social media or if they have contacted me before. Make sure you re-introduce yourself and always, always communicate as much as possible.”
6. Be assertive, not pushy.
- “It’s great when vendors go for it, reach out, and follow up with me. But it does not work for me when vendors are really pushy and won’t take no for an answer.”
- “If I haven’t ordered from you in a year or two – unless you really changed things in your line – I probably won’t.”
- “If you’re rejected I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for feedback. I know that it’s a personal thing for a lot of people but I love giving feedback (if it’s asked for) but I don’t want to offend someone and just offer it. It shows a level of professionalism to ask.”
7. Be attentive to details: packaging, communication, and terms.
- Packaging: “Thoughtful packaging with your product really does go a long way. When I’m selling products, I wrap everything as a gift regardless of whether it is or not. For instance match tissue paper to your card. Use letterpress cards as opposed to a digitally made card. Or if you’re selling a journal, send a pencil with your branding on it — it keeps you in mind longer and it showcases your creativity. I may not like your journal but if I like the card that goes with it, I might go look at your website and order something else.”
- Communication: “I love if people can ship within a week or two. On that same note, if it’s going to take a while, overly communicate to stores. I’m willing to work around people but they have to tell me what’s going on. Always give a deadline of when to expect things. If you’re wrong, that’s fine – just communicate that with a store.”
- Terms and payment: “As a maker, I would NEVER ship something without getting a payment first, even if it is just 50%. As a maker, to not get payment ahead of time is foolish. I like to pay for everything up-front. As a store, that has gotten me in trouble a couple of times. Just think about how the store needs to protect themselves and how you need to protect yourself.”
Hope these tips from Lindsay have helped you understand the perspective of a shop owner and started to prepare you for your getting into shops.
Be sure to check out our FREE e-course if you want to learn about how to dive into wholesale!
PLUS: See below to enter to win a 60-day subscription to Wholesale In a Box below!
Are you ready to grow your handmade business this year and get your products in more stores?
Wholesale In a Box is giving away a free 60-day subscription (a $198 value). Leave a comment below by March 25th letting us know what your growth goal for your business is this year and we’ll enter you in the contest. Be sure to leave your email address in your profile so we can contact you if you win!