7 tips to help you get your products into shops

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.

7 things you need to know before you start selling wholesale from Dear Handmade Life

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.

7 things you need to know before you start selling wholesale from Dear Handmade Life

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!

*THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! CONGRATS TO THE WINNER: Skyler Thomas of SugarSky Shop

-Etan and Emily

7 things shop owners wish makers knew from Dear Handmade Life
How to get your handmade products into shops from Dear Handamde Life

43 Comments

  1. Hi there! I’m Ashley of Peace, Love and Pottery. I make ceramic art such as planters and pendants. Currently I sell on Etsy and at markets, but would love to expand into more brick and mortars and am eager to learn more about how to do so successfully. 🙂

  2. My goal growth is to wholesale to 3-5 new stores in 2016. I need to really focus on strengthening my ability to get orders placed over email and find a way to show buyers the quality of my collection through line sheets and a look book without having to see it at a tradeshow.

    1. Hey Erin,

      My gosh, I love your jewelry so much. You split ring is just perfection. Very excited to see you grow this year! Let me know if you’d like an extra pair of eyes on your linesheet — we love working on that stuff with folks, whether or not you’re a customer : )

      – Emily

  3. So much great insight in this post! I appreciated you including what to do as well as what NOT to do. I am hoping to really grow our wholesale business over the next year. I’m actually already working with Wholesale in a Box, but would love to win a free 60 days!

  4. My growth goal for my business is this year is to get myself ready to and begin reaching out to shops and galleries to sell my work wholesale. It’s overwhelming out there with all of the information, and trying to figure out what pertains to my business. These tips are really helpful, and it’s good to hear from a store owner that they don’t necessarily follow the typical buying cycles!

  5. Hi Etan and Emily –

    I love these tips and find them so informative, useful and motivating. I handcraft all natural laundry + cleaning goods and am just getting ready to step into the “wholesale world.” It is definitely scary but I know it’s doable.

    My goal for this year is to be sold in 5 stores throughout Orange County (where I live.) With your lil’ “kicks,” I feel confident I’ll attain it.

    Thanks so much!

  6. I subscribe to wholesale in a box’s emails and they’re so helpful! I would love to grow my stockist list this year in a mindful way, with shops that are able to get my product’s story across to customers who appreciate the sustainable and handmade nature. I am definitely curious to try their service – two months for free is certainly appealing.

    1. Hey Meghan! It’s so good to hear that our emails have been helpful. Let us know if we can do anything for you as you grow this year. We love to collaborate on story-telling stuff, so if we can lend an extra pair of eyes, we’re game!

  7. This is so timely for me, and for my business. I am just now preparing to scale my business, one step at a time. The goal for this year is to move from consignment (though very successful) to wholesale in several local (by local I mean PA, DE, MD, NJ) boutiques with 6 new shops by December 2015. I would really like to do this WITHOUT attending trade shows; rather, using a direct and personal connection, one that matches the message behind my brand, but with a clear strategy and process in place so that I do it the right way.

  8. I run an illustration studio and we’re launching our first product this year (wallpaper!). I work in fashion now, but want to break into the interiors market. Thank you!

  9. Great advice! We just sent out emails to stores about our new release! My Name is Kaitlin Goodey and I design and illustrate all the greeting cards and gift products for my company Goodey Studio! By the end of the year I would like to add 10 new stores to our wholesale roster! I would love to win the Wholesale in a box giveaway as I’ve looked into their service before and think it’s lovely! The only reason we didn’t sign up was so I could use the money to produce a wholesale catalog and do a mailing campaign to stores!

  10. Wholesale in a Box is a great service! Emily and Etan are very perceptive and attentive to their customers. I can’t emphasize how much I love working with them and feel like other makers trying to get into wholesale should give this service a shot. It’s a major time saver when it comes to finding the “right” stores to pitch to

  11. Loved reading these tips, thank you!

    My goal this year is to work on gaining new stockists for my jewelry line, while also creating lasting relationships with my current ones. I also hope to upgrade my email newsletter a bit and expand my reader audience. 🙂

    1. Ashley,

      After wandering over to your website to gawk over how exquisite your work is… I’m back! Sounds like you have a great plan for this year — I wish you so much luck. BTW, I love the packaging you use for your studs — so resonant with your brand, but also super-simple and economical.

      – Emily

  12. CabinPress Studio is a bespoke Letterpress Studio rooted in the Heart of the Rocky Mountains. Along with our Stationery lines we now have licensed some of our designs to a local potter + produce unique bowls. My goals for 2016 include: producing a catalog that tells the CabinPress Studio brand story of our products, selling our Colorado USA Made products in other States, and expanding our Letterpress Workshops to a weekend ‘Makerie’ workshop that include other creative art endeavors!
    Thanks always to wholesale in a box for great tips❗️

    1. Hey Denise,

      I’m so excited to hear about your multi-faceted strategy for this year! You do such a beautiful job telling the story of your work and company on your website… and it makes all the sense in the world that you would pursue workshops plus wholesale at the same time. I can’t wait to see and hear how it all comes together. Good luck this year! I have been wanting to get to the Makerie for a long time — maybe I finally will and I can meet you in person : )

      – Emily

  13. I’m Jonnie of Grey Theory Mill and I’ve been lagging —thank you random life craziness–on my goal of 12 new store accounts for 2016. Hoping to do land those relationships (and maybe even more!) Getting a one page line sheet of best sellersis also on my eminent radar. PS: absolutely LOVE the idea of help with potential shop research!! Definitely going to look more into Wholesale in a box!

    1. Hey Jonnie! I just wanted to say that I LOVE your idea of putting together a 1-page linesheet of your best-sellers. So often, folks feel like they need to offer a thousand options, when sometimes it can be nice for store owners to see your “best and brightest” at a glance. Let us know if we can lend a hand with your 2016 goal at all — we’re always happy to jump on the phone to strategize and brainstorm. : )

      – Emily

      PS – I love your work! Been drooling over everything you post on Insta.

  14. Great article – thank you for all the tips and advice! At GreenWork Handmade we make pendant necklaces with vintage dictionary illustrations as well as other accessories like bags and totes from felted wool and upcycled denim. I’m looking to reach into the wholesale world this year, too. Not sure where to start; the efforts I’ve made so far haven’t panned out. So, some more in-depth advice & info would be much appreciated!
    Thanks!

  15. Hi Etan, Emily and whoever might be reading this! Dana from The Unknotted here.

    The Unknotted provides gifts and party supplies for women beginning their nEXt Chapter in Happily Ever After. We have cultivated a line of products specifically for the Divorcee. This year we plan to undergo some re-branding and increase our product offerings. We are also hoping to branch out beyond e-commerce into the world of wholesale this year.

    Thanks for the free e-course and great tips.
    Dana

  16. Holy canoly! The email that contained a link to this article has been sitting unopened in my inbox for a bit because I wanted to be able to sit down, read, take notes, and digest! I loved reading through these and thank you for sharing because they were seriously so helpful! I’m Skyler with SugarSky (@sugarskyshop), a handmade in the USA, crazy-patterned headwear company. Year 1 for us was simply getting off the ground with the smidge of money I had in savings and streamlining our processes so our customers have a great experience when they purchased from us! Now here we are in Year 2 and it’s the year of expanding via wholesale! I know I have lots to learn about the world of wholesale and would love nothing more than to be able to work with Etan & Emily! My goal is to have 12 wholesale accounts locked-down this year. I am currently tracking with 3 (goal is 1 per month!), and would love the help of Wholesale in a Box! Thanks for hosting this giveaway… it really is going to help someone take their business to the next level! Lots of love coming your way!

    1. Skyler!

      Thank you so much for your kind words! We were so inspired this morning to hear that you are benefitting from posts like this. It definitely keeps us going : ) We are totally rooting for you with your wholesale goal this year. That slow and steady growth is where it’s at.

      Good luck and let us know if we can do anything for you!
      Emily

  17. Hello dear Etan and Emily,

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us! It really is a big help.
    I am Maria , a jewelry and hair accessories designer and this year I’m preparing to fully dive into the wholesale waters, no more tiptoeing around it 🙂
    The plan for the following months of 2016 is to establish 6 wholesale accounts. Have been courting Wholesale in a Box for a bit now, so discovering your giveaway brings everything together.
    Thanks again for offering us this opportunities and wish you a sunny day!

    Maria

    1. Maria,

      Thank you so much your kind words, we’re so glad you found it helpful! 6 accounts this year sounds like a great goal and we would be thrilled to help!

      Etan and Emily

  18. Hello Etan and Emily,

    My goals for this year included getting wholesale accounts in the first half of the year and doing more shows the rest of the year. So far, I have one wholesale account that has place 3 orders already and 2 consignment shops. I struggle with finding good fits for my bird products and am working on expanding to include other type of animals also.

    I just listened to your interview on Elise gets crafty and I think your business is great!

    Thanks,
    Alice

    1. Alice,

      That sounds like a great goal, I think a combination of shows and wholesale can work really well for some businesses! I know it can be a struggle to find stores that are a good fit, but they are out there!

      Etan and Emily

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