Editor’s Note: This post was shared with us by Etan and Emily from Wholesale In a Box. They offer makers a method to get into stores — and tools to make growth easier and faster. You can sign up for a free ecourse on their method for growing wholesale (without trade shows, 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. -Nicole S.
We’ve got a lovely house, but our bathroom floor is old, worn linoleum. I’m 95% sure that it can be replaced cheaply and easily. And I even think we could do it ourselves. But I have a few obstacles I keep running into, not because they’re so hard, just because I don’t know: Do I need to remove the old linoleum to put down the new linoleum? Is my floor level enough for other flooring options? Could I just paint the existing linoleum or would it chip?
I’ve researched a bit about these issues but I haven’t resolved them enough to feel confident moving forward. And so, my bathroom floor never gets replaced.
I find a lot of makers run into the same thing in their wholesale business. They have 95% of the knowledge and confidence they need to really grow — but there are a few specific obstacles that keep them from making it happen.
And since I wouldn’t wish the “bathroom floor effect” on anyone’s business, I wanted to put together a list of obstacles that we’ve seen makers struggle with — and some honest, simple ways to move through each of them.
Two caveats before we jump in: #1 – the advice in this article is oriented to people who have less than 100 stockists and are looking to grow in independent boutiques. The strategies to grow to many hundreds of stockists and in nationwide stores are different. #2 – I tried to keep each answer concise, which means that you may have followup questions. If you do have followups or clarifications, just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you out!
14 wholesale obstacles for handmade lines — and how to move through them:
1. You don’t have a line sheet.
If you don’t have a line sheet, and if you’re reaching out to independent store owners outside of trade shows, you have two options. Either of them are good, and my rule of thumb is to pick the best option that you can complete in the next 10 days. Ultimately, the goal is to create an online representation of your products — a place people can go online to see what you do. Option 1: create a simple line sheet from scratch, using a program like Powerpoint or InDesign to do your layout. Keep it streamlined and let your photographs be the star. Don’t forget an “about” page! Option 2: use your existing website, Etsy Wholesale page, or wholesale shopping site as the online representation of your products. Either way, you’ve got what you need to move forward. Usually people get too stuck on the first version of this but don’t apply enough effort over time at improving as they go. So pick one of these options and then improve it as you go.
2. You have a bad line sheet.
Many people do. And honestly, even makers with a good line sheet often have room for improvement. The key is to use the resources you have available to you now (yes, that old camera; yes, your $40 budget) to improve the structure, photography, and design. It’s far better to do that than to wait for a future time when you’ll be able to make it “perfect” all at once. By the way– most makers would benefit a lot from improving their line sheet’s “about” page and photos, as well as improving their photos overall.
3. You’re not sure how to connect with stores.
This is the “I don’t even know where to start” issue, which is understandable. If you don’t have any stockists yet, my main suggestion would be to start with reaching out to a local store or two. The feedback and confidence you’ll get from local connections is often very valuable. If you already have a couple of stores you’re working with, then I recommend creating a list of shops you love around the country. Start with reaching out to a handful via email or package and gauge which store types seem most interested, so you can build on that. Followup is key! Store owners are busy, so don’t forget to circle back with them. Even if you eventually go the trade show route, get a rep, or choose another approach, it can provide a solid foundation to do the early outreach in this way (and you may even find that you’ll continue with this kind of outreach indefinitely!) For a good overview of the pros and cons of different wholesale outreach methods, check out the video interview we did with maker Olivia Hayward here.
4. Money to invest in wholesale is… nonexistent.
This might be hard to believe, but in working with 250+ makers to grow their wholesale business, I’ve found that the more a maker spends to grow wholesale, the less sustainable their growth is. You really don’t need to invest a lot of money to see your wholesale business grow. Large investments (in trade shows, websites, and marketing materials) can make it hard to pivot and change based on what’s working and what you learn. What we see work best is to spend more “emotional labor,” (like doing the scary work of connecting with stores) spend less money overall, but commit to improving your materials and approach a little bit at a time every month or quarter. If you do have any free time or dollars to spend, getting better photos is usually a high-yield place to do it, especially if you know yours aren’t great right now.
5. You have wholesale accounts but they don’t place multiple orders.
This is a really important thing to consider, whether you’re at the very beginning of your wholesale journey, or if you’re more established. Not every store is going to place multiple orders with you, but the truth is that some makers have mastered the art of cultivating their stockists, while others live in a world of one-off orders. We’ve found a few strategies that really work for cultivating stockist reorders, and you can find a longer discussion of them here. But the main things to keep in mind are that you want to treat every single stockist with as much care, consistency, creativity, and boldness as you would if you were selling to a local friend’s shop. Be in frequent touch; send samples of new products for free; offer to provide any missing packaging or marketing materials; make it easy to reorder and provide display materials to make that a no-brainer; make the wholesale unboxing experience at least as good as your retail unboxing is. In other words: take care of them and they will take care of you.
6. Your product line is not as strong as it could be.
This is really hard for most makers to admit to, but the reality is that the biggest determinant of who succeeds in wholesale and who fails is the quality of their products. When I say “quality”, I mean that the product is unique, well-made, smartly packaged and marketed, and that it coincides with what people want to buy. If you feel like your line could use some development, check out the workbook we coauthored with Leela of Native bear called, Launching New Products Without Losing Your Mind or Your Shirt. We cover everything Leela has learned about creating new products, dropping goods that aren’t working, pricing, marketing, and making things that will actually sell.
7. You aren’t sure how much to make your wholesale “discount” (or retail markup).
The answer to this one isn’t that complicated, but it does depend a bit on the profile of your product. If you have a quality, handmade product with a compelling story or production method, then your retail price should usually be 2x your wholesale price. You can’t get away with much less and still work with most stores; but you probably can’t swing much more and still make money on your end. If your product isn’t handmade, with a compelling story and production method, then stores may want a 2.2x or 2.5x (or more) markups. Are the exceptions to both of these rules? Absolutely. Every store and every maker has different costs and realities so ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you (within acknowledgement of what’s reasonable) — even if that doesn’t work for every store.
8. You’re not sure whether to send a package or an email in outreach to stores.
When it comes to wholesale, there are usually no overnight results, so consistency in your wholesale outreach is key. That’s why we recommend starting with email. It’s much easier, cheaper, and quicker to get in a groove with thoughtful, professional email outreach than it is to wrangle packages. Once you are consistent with email outreach, you can always add in some creative letters, postcards, or packages, especially for stores that seem like a particularly phenomenal fit. One savvy way to do this is actually to mix email outreach and snail mail outreach — for instance, perhaps you send an email, then a postcard as a followup, and then a while later, you send a final email to check in. And remember: sending emails is not license to spam or to send impersonal mass mailings. Each one should be as thoughtful, personal, and considered as if you had sent a package.
9. You want to grow wholesale but don’t know where to start.
If you don’t have any store accounts yet, but have been wanting to grow wholesale, there are a few places you can start. First, your product needs to be competitive at a nationwide level. If your product is great but not great-er than many other people’s similar products around the country, you may struggle to grow wholesale. This includes the product itself as well as the packaging and presentation on the shelf. Second, you need to be able to charge wholesale prices, cover your costs, and still be profitable. Third, you need to be able to produce larger batches of your goods efficiently — but don’t worry if you need a few week’s turnaround time or have a maximum order at first. If all three of these pieces are in place for you, then it’s time to think about wholesale outreach. And when it comes to wholesale outreach, our biggest suggestion is really the “early and often” advice. You’re ultimately the best person to connect with stores and tell your story, so start to cultivate it as a key practice in your business (and see our other tips for outreach in #3.)
10. You don’t know whether the store owner should pay for shipping or you should.
The easier you can make it for a store owner to place an order (in terms of low minimums, free shipping, easy process, etc.), the better, for getting new orders. But you never want to offer more than you’re able to swing financially. In other words, offer as much benefit to the store owner as you can, comfortably. That could be free shipping over a certain order amount, it could be a low-ish flat rate, or perhaps they just pay the shipping based on the full weight. Regardless of what you choose, the most important thing is that you make your policy clear before the wholesale order is placed.
11. You are not sure what your wholesale minimum should be.
Since wholesale minimums are so tricky, we wrote a comprehensive article on how to set yours, which you can find here. The key thing to keep in mind is similar to #10 — don’t create a high minimum just because you think you’re supposed to. Each store owner is taking a big risk on you when they buy your products. The lower you can place the entry point, the lower their risk is. Which means that a lower wholesale minimum is usually good when you are starting with wholesale, as long as you don’t make your minimum so low that you’ll resent the sale (or not profit from it.)
12. You don’t know whether you need a wholesale website.
There are a lot of nuances and pros and cons in deciding what website assets you need. But I can keep this pretty simple for you. Ultimately, when you are a very established wholesaler, you’ll likely have a wholesale shop that store owners can shop from. So that’s your end point — let’s call that Point B. To get started, though, you don’t even need a retail website. You can use your Etsy page, a line sheet, or a Etsy Wholesale page. Let’s call makers with just an Etsy shop at Point A. Wherever you are between Point A and Point B is a great place to start. Are there benefits to moving from Point A to Point B over time? Absolutely. But don’t let this be a stumbling block for getting started with wholesale. Use what you have, and plan to inch along the progression from Etsy shop (at the beginning) to wholesale website (at the end) as you go.
13. You tried emailing stores in the past and it didn’t work.
If you tried emailing stores and it didn’t work, then usually one of a few things was “off” and needs addressing: you emailed too few stores total; you weren’t thoughtful about emailing the right stores; you weren’t thoughtful about crafting personal emails for each store; the representation of your products wasn’t adequate; or your line isn’t as good as it could be. All of these reasons are pretty much the reason that Wholesale In a Box exists — we help makers with each and every one of these things so that your wholesale outreach can be effective, efficient, and authentic. But even if you’re going it alone, you likely know which of the above dimensions is your weakest point. Address that and try again — you’ll likely see better results and you can continue improving from there.
14. It feels scary.
Fear — experiencing it, dancing with it — is a part of growing your business. Connecting with stores is scary, finishing a line sheet is scary… for me, even posting on Instagram can be scary because I’m never sure if what I’m posting is up to par. I love books like The War of Art and The Icarus Deception for digging into fear and finding ways to work boldly. Because fear arises when we move outside of our comfort zone, fear is like a compass reading that lets you know you’re headed in the direction of growth. You’ll never “kill it” or “beat it” or be “fearless.” But you can choose to feel the fear, honor it, and act anyway.
Here’s hoping that something on this list clears away enough of an opening that you can leap ahead in growing wholesale for your business. In case you didn’t notice the “secret message” underlying most of these answers, here it is: start where you are, with what you have, work to connect with stores and grow wholesale — and then improve as you go.
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 Wholesale In a Box subscription (a $238 value).
Leave a comment below by 2.20.18 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! (Wholesale In a Box will also keep you in the loop on their email list.)
This contest is now closed. Congrats to the winner Sarah of SOhandmade!