Once you've established an online presence for your creative work, you may wonder about how to sell your work to retailers. Where do you start and how does it all work?
After I had been selling my jewelry online for a few months, I decided to explore wholesale opportunities because the sales would be much higher. Instead of doing any real research, I went off and started emailing my information along with some photos of my jewelry to retail stores.
When I received few responses, I realized that a professional line sheet, which is a photo catalogue of your work, would be useful and went and got that done. The second batch of emails (which contained the line sheet catalogue) were a hit. I was able to get orders right away and within a few months found myself in 12 stores.
Here are five questions to ask yourself about going wholesale, and two tips on each one.
Question 1: Do You Have The Money?
Tip 1: Try Co-op Purchasing
When it comes to wholesaling, you need to stock up on inventory to ensure you can meet the demands of retail stores that place large orders. But that can get pricey, since buying supplies in bulk usually means a hefty fee for minimum orders. What's worse is if you have a lot of different suppliers, you will end up needing to spend a minimum in each place you shop!
Amber Coppings from Xmittens to the rescue! She let me in on a brilliant approach: sellers join forces and purchase supplies cooperatively so they end up getting a lot of materials but don't need a huge chunk of change up front to order it.
Tip 2: Keep Impeccable Records
A surefire way to keep track of your money is by using Outright. This free service will allow you to keep tidy records of your business spending and earnings so come tax time, you are well prepared. If you don't properly track your wholesale earnings and curb your spending, you could risk not actually seeing a dime of your hard work. Holly offers a fantastic getting started tutorial for Outright on her website, Accounting Spot.
Question 2: Do You Come Recommended?
Tip 3: Get Testimonials
Remember when that customer sent you a rave review about your work? That's a testimonial you should think about using for wholesale canvassing. Whether you are speaking to a retail store manager on the phone or sending off an email pitch, you definitely want to drop a testimonial in casually to let buyers know you come recommended. With the competition steep, it could make all the difference.
Tip 4: Get Press
Although you may think getting press is difficult, nowadays it's quite easy. Use a service like HARO – a thrice-daily email that lists articles reporters are working on – and respond if you think you could provide them relevant information. Just like testimonials, press will go a long way toward sealing a deal with a pickier store with more stringent buying guidelines.
Question 3: Do You Have The Time?
Tip 5: Save Time Marketing To Stores
I found the most successful way of getting my own work into stores was by sending an email pitch and line sheet to retail stores that seemed to be the right fit for my work. It was a huge time-saver because I didn't have to drive around the country looking for shops to drop in on and I could always keep myself busy while waiting to hear back.
Tip 6: Keep Busy While Waiting
Once you email a large number of stores (try and email a few hundred), you will start wondering why you haven't received any interest. With email canvassing, it could take days, weeks or in some cases months before you hear anything. Instead of dwelling on it, keep busy by emailing new stores, boosting your online marketing or creating new pieces for your website. Wholesale can take time, especially if you have items many stores carry or if you are not pitching to the right stores.
Question 4: Have You Found A Niche?
Tip 7: Research Your Market
The simplest way to research your market is by heading over to a boutique or gallery in your area and scouting their wares. You will be able to see what's popular, what's unique and more importantly, if your items are similar to ones already carried. If you don't see anything like your work in stores, you could speak to the owner or employees and chat casually about your category of merchandise. There may be a reason they don't carry your type of products (not selling well, can't find them) and either way, their feedback is valuable. If there are products like yours present, you will need to set yourself apart.
Tip 8: Set Yourself Apart
A great way to revamp your products without a huge investment is to look at what's popular (either based on your recent sales or what's featured on marketplaces like Etsy) and work on creating a line of those items. Instead of just expanding on textures, styles and colors, think of ways you can "reinvent" that popular product with a unique spin.
Stephanie from Cre8tive Designs sells handmade flower kissing balls, which are typically used as wedding decorations. To help them stand out from competitors, she uses crystal drops on most of her designs.
Question 5: Do You Have The Stomach?
Tip 9: Learn to Deal
When it comes to wholesaling, rejection is part of your work. Just like an actress who auditions day after day, never getting the part, you may wait a long time before getting a "yes". While it's true there are always exceptions (in my case, it only took a few weeks to land several orders), it's better to equip yourself to handle rejection so that you end up being overly excited when that order finally comes in.
The best way to deal with rejection is to remember that it probably has more to do with the 'fit', or the store than with your products. A store owner could reject you because:
- Your products don't suit their clientele
- The store isn't doing well and could even be closing down soon
- They have too much stock right now and aren't looking to add new lines yet
- They only purchase from trade shows
- They are going in a new direction with their selection
- Your work comes across as more seasonal (ie. more summery or wintery than year round)
Tip 10: Be A Cheerleader
Not everyone is comfortable being a salesperson, especially us creative types. With wholesale, you will literally have to schmooze and sell your products in person, over the phone and by email. One way to handle on-the-spot questions is by coming up with a short "elevator pitch" that you can give out confidently when asked about your products. An elevator pitch is a short, practiced (yes, practice it!) spiel where you explain what your company is about in the time it would take to ride with someone on an elevator.
Another technique for projecting your passion about your work is by channeling the feeling of a really exciting moment. This may sound strange, but the next time you're explaining your products, channel those fuzzy feelings and your passion for your work will shine through.
Justine Smith is an Etsy success story who used her experience selling online and turned it into a full-time wholesale business. Her real passion is helping handmade sellers find success marketing their craft products. She offers tips on advertising, branding, social media and growth via email through her blog Handmade Marketer.
Main image courtesy of MoonLight Sally