Are you interested in exploring the world of wholesale, but aren’t sure where to begin? You can get started now, by working locally.
There are plenty of ways to reach out to potential wholesale customers to sell your line. You can exhibit at trade shows. You can set up an online website for wholesale purposes. You could have sales reps carrying your work far and wide.
All of those are effective. And all of them also take considerable effort and money to make happen.
There is an easier way to get started if you want to find out whether your collection would fly in the world of wholesale. If your handmade work has appeal and is priced correctly to be profitable at wholesale cost, you can start to market and sell your line to retailers in your local area. There are a number of immediate benefits to doing this:
- You will receive direct feedback from store owners and buyers as to their impression of your work, and why it would or would not be saleable for them.
- Your experience in approaching stores directly gives you experience in presenting and speaking about your line, and closing prospects
- You can develop stronger business relationships with people you’ve met face-to-face and who feel that they know you.
- Having your work sold locally means that you can physically go to the store to deliver, meet for appointments, or deal with damaged or shopworn items.
- Selling locally puts you in a perfect position to do a trunk show or artist appearance at little cost.
- If there is a problem at store level (for example, very sparse merchandise on shelves indicating possible financial issues) you will see this, and can take the prospect off your list.
Ready to get out there and sell wholesale? First of all, you must determine which stores are good prospects for your work. An online search in your region should bring stores to your attention which may be good prospects for your line. Put them on your list and plan an initial prospecting trip.
Depending on the time of year, you may want to approach stores right away, or wait until a better time. Why? Because it depends on when they will likely be buying. There are special markets, like ski or beach resorts that have busy seasons at specific times, and you should be sensitive to this, prospecting well ahead of the time of need and coming to understand when they have money to spend.
But most gift stores and boutiques are looking for new product early in the year (January/February) for the spring and summer season, and also during the summer for fall and holiday sales. You wouldn’t want to start approaching stores in mid-December, for example, because their money is spent and they will be highly focused on selling their current inventory. Wait until after the beginning of the New Year.
Once you identify stores within about an hour in any direction from where you live, stop in and look around so that you can hone the most likely prospects. What are they selling? What are the price points? Is your work a good fit, and why? Get their card and make notes. If the staff is not busy, you may ask who the manager is, and get their contact information. You could leave a business card, or even your marketing packet, and let them know you will contact the buyer later.
But, just on the off-chance that you get very lucky and the buyer is available and wants to talk with you then and there, you should have samples, line sheets, order forms and your materials ready in the car where you can easily access them and get started on a sales presentation.
After you prospect stores in person, visit their websites when you get home to learn more about their focus, and who their customers are. Follow these retailers on social media. Identify the buyer or decision maker if possible, and you will know whom to reach out to, if you haven’t learned that at the store. If there is an email address to submit your work for consideration, do so in a personalized manner.
Contact the buyer directly. You might email them first, or make a phone call (usually early in the day before many customers come in.) Or, send a direct mail package with your line sheet and marketing information. Don’t forget to continue to follow up, with the intention of getting an appointment to visit them in person with samples and catalogs. If you don’t receive a response, keep them on your list and contact them using a drip marketing campaign. It can take 7-10 contacts before people remember you, or respond.
Remember, your intention is to have a sit-down with the buyer to show your line. Let them know you are a local artist, and will be in their area in the near future. Suggest a few days and let them know that you would like 15 or 20 minutes of their time.
In some circumstances, if the buyer feels very confident that they can sell your line, you may get an order over the phone. But – there is no substitute for seeing merchandise in person. If you get that initial order without the visit, make sure you arrange to stop into the store at a later date to meet in person.