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. The first few years that I had my business I sold at craft shows and markets. I paid my rent and was grateful to be doing something that I loved for a living BUT I knew that if I was going to truly build a sustainable business I needed to grow and that meant adding new revenue streams. The first year I started wholesaling my products I doubled my sales and the growth didn’t stop there. If you’re looking for new revenue streams and want to build a business that will last and grow, it’s next to impossible to do it without selling wholesale. That’s where Wholesale in a Box comes in. (Man oh man! I wish this was around when I had my clothing business!) As a business owner who sold to over 250 stores around the world I feel like I have a good knowledge base on selling wholesale and Etan and Emily’s tips and advice are GOLDEN and so on-point!
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.
We have the honor of working with makers who are either just about to make the leap into getting their work into stores or have already committed but just don’t know the next step. They’re men and women running handmade businesses saying: ‘I’m ready to get serious about this. I want my business to be beautiful and soulful and sustainable. And I’m ready to grow from 5 to 15 to 50 stores.’ It’s a moment that can be really scary, confusing, and overwhelming. BUT we’ve found that the process of getting your handmade products into stores doesn’t have to be that hard. It doesn’t have to feel soulless.
It doesn’t have to be hugely time-consuming or involve an $8,000 booth at a trade show. From our observations and conversations from the makers we work with, we’ve found a method and four steps for growing your wholesale business. And if you’re really ready to grow (as in, you may not have all the pieces in place, but you’re ready in your gut) it can work for you.
For Leela Hoehn Robinson of Native Bear it has been a years-long process of trying and failing and refining her artistic process. As she puts it, “Whenever I am asked how I started my shop, I usually give the much shortened version which is ‘I made a stamp of my dog to use at my wedding three years ago, and then I decided to stamp and sell stationery.’ Which is true! However, the real roots of Native Bear started when I was living as a broke 19 year old Georgia girl trying to survive in NYC.” (Read the rest of her beautiful post on her story here).
Flash forward to when we met Leela as one of our customers, seven months ago. She told us that her business was going great. But it was going great in such a way that she was working ALL THE TIME and felt like she was never getting ahead and the whole reason that she had gotten into the business designing and making was starting to go by the wayside, as she printed and shipped $5 and $50 orders all day. Her products are extraordinary enough, and her storytelling is strong enough that she had gotten a dozen wholesale stores within the first years of her business, without doing very much active work to acquire them. But that set of stores wasn’t enough to get her company to where she wanted it to be: a sustainable, sane, creative handmade business.
The truth is, it was time to take another leap, very similar to the one Leela made in the years when she was starting Native Bear. So many times, it takes one leap to start, and another to get serious. For Leela, her leap into wholesale has been its own journey and she’s been able to find steady growth and gotten her products onto the shelves of some of the most respected retailers in the country.
We have four rules that we teach to makers, artists and designers who are working to grow their wholesale businesses:
1. Make connecting your job.
2. Craft your story.
3. Follow up and follow through.
4. Start with good enough, then make it better.
We dig deep into these four rules and simple ways to make them work for you, in your business, in our FREE four-part e-course.
Ready to get started right away? Here is a “cheat sheet” with a few concrete tips from our e-course of things you can do this week to start getting into stores:
1. Make connecting your job: Start with an hour per week to connect.
We’ve found that Rule #1 (make connecting your job) is more of a mental and habit shift than anything else. Makers often feel that it’s scary and outrageously time intensive to reach out to stores, but the truth is, we see makers have phenomenal shifts in their business in just one hour per week. So pick a protected hour and reach out to a few stores during that time with a short, heartfelt sharing of what you do. You may not see results immediately, but you will see them in the weeks and months to come.
2. Craft your story: Use the right platform, at the right time.
One really common question we get is should I be going to trade shows? Our answer is that trade shows can be great, but not for everyone. If you are already in 100 stores, you’re extraordinary at telling your story, and you have enough cash on hand that $5K-$10K seems like a “moderate” investment (not a crazy, gives-me-palpitations, this-has-to-work investment) then you may want to do trade shows. It’s a platform that works really well for those whose business is really ready for it. However, if you’re in a much smaller number of stores and you’re earlier in the life of your business, then you may want to consider platforms that are at the right time, right size, and right investment level for you. That likely means more store-by-store outreach, more content marketing, workshops, and local opportunities for now.
3. Follow up and follow through: Take the emotion out of it, by making followup part of your routine.
One thing that the Wholesale In a Box system does is that it manages the scheduling of all your followups for you. Once you decide to reach out to a store, your calendar is set up with your outreach, plus reminders for polite followups at smart intervals. But this isn’t really a big secret or something only we can do. Whether you sign up with us or not, we recommend the same thing. Following up with stores (once you’ve reached out) can feel really scary. It can have a lot of emotion in it. So take some of the emotion out of it by adding all of the outreach and followup you intend to do with a store to your calendar at the same time. This way you make your intention the default so a bout of nerves on a random Tuesday doesn’t derail your efforts.
4. Start with good enough, then make it better: Go above and beyond with the “little things” and don’t obsess quite so much about the “big things.”
We talk to makers who tell us they are “working on their linesheet” for literally months at a time. And I get it. I can be pretty obsessive about the visual cohesion and overall narrative of a piece like that. It feels huge. I have to tell you, though: err on the side of not obsessing quite so much about “big things” like your linesheet. Give yourself a deadline, remember that done is often better than perfect, and start getting it out to stores. Conversely be attentive to the “little things” as you go. Pay more attention to whether you write a store a thank you note, to the color of crinkle paper you use in your packaging, to checking in on people after they pay you, etc. This shift in focus from what feels big to what feels little can give you a lot of momentum and make a big difference in your growth. You can make your business sustainable. You can make a “second” leap from where you are, into wholesale. It takes some courage, a bit of work, and the willingness to see it through. But it’s not magic it’s a method that is in your hands to carry out.
Check out our FREE e-course if you want to learn more about the four rules 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!