How to Sell to Major Retailers, Part 1

Have you ever dreamed of selling your handmade work to a large national chain?


Trade Show Buyers


Whether you find it exciting or even intimidating to consider selling to chain stores, it’s helpful to know how this process works. There are options for small businesspeople to work with large retailers that could be a fit for you.

How they buy

Some chains have corporate headquarters where buyers will meet with vendors or their representatives to place orders for distribution nationally, or make purchases for large regions of the country. Other times, regional buyers may be the decision makers who work with vendors.

Buyers sometimes specialize in certain categories, such as housewares, jewelry, clothing, etc. and you will need to speak with the correct buyer to present your line.

Store managers (or department managers) for large chain stores usually do not meet with vendors and place orders directly, although there are exceptions. There may be some autonomy in the buying process. You will have to determine this on an individual basis.

Other times, chain stores are actually franchises, or under individual ownership. Hallmark stores are a good example. The benefit of being a franchisee is automatically having some vendor relationships and pricing through corporate; but these owners may also purchase smaller lines of merchandise that they order from entrepreneurs like you. This can make them good prospects for artists who wholesale.

How to reach them

Trade shows. Buyers for major retailers often attend trade shows to see new products and connect with their regular suppliers. If you exhibit at a show, you may be fortunate to be approached by buyers for large retail chains.You may want to include them on pre-show mailings to attract interest and invite them to your booth.

Direct contact. Identify chain stores that you feel would mesh well with your brand and your collection, and find out names of buyers you can reach out to. These may be owner/franchisees, who would be easy to contact by calling the individual stores. In the event you are reaching out to regional or national buyers, you may be able to ask a local store manager for the contact number of their buying office.

Persistence is key in soliciting national chains. Buyers can be very difficult to reach; their time and attention is in great demand, and they may not return emails or phone calls. You may get the opportunity to reach a buyers’ assistant, however. Assistants are quite often gatekeepers, who may be able to schedule an appointment for you to make a sales call. If you already have an order from the chain, buyer assistants can be a great asset to you. Get to know them by name and work on developing a good business relationship with them.

Pursue trunk show opportunities. Occasionally, department stores and other chains will invite artists and other entrepreneurs to apply to participate in trunk shows. This gives the artist an opportunity to introduce their line to the retailer’s customers, and make sales. If your line does really well, your chances of being considered as a wholesale vendor are greatly enhanced.

Use sales reps. Reps make it their business to land store accounts. With large retailers, “national account reps” are often the people who pitch lines to the buyers and make presentations. If your small business uses territory reps, they may be able to call on chain buyers in their area on your behalf, or reach out to regional buyers.


NEXT IN THIS SERIES: How does the order happen? Read How to Sell to Major Retailers, Part 2.


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  1. Always have line sheets! Super important. Without them you wont have anything to leave behind for the managers/buyers to look at when you leave. It can also answer many important questions about delivery dates, shipping, and more.

    Here is a great article about line sheets that might help:


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