The Arts Business Institute offers a checklist of ways to reach and engage wholesale buyers.
Marketing is an activity that never ends. It prepares you for future sales by publicizing and promoting your line to buyers on an ongoing basis. They must learn about your work, and remember you, before your efforts lead to the order. What can you do to start this process?
Create your line sheets. Your collection must be presented in a cohesive way that is easy for buyers to see, take with them and keep for reference. Line sheets, catalogs, and their corresponding order forms, are traditional tools that expedite ordering. As you continue to design, produce line sheets with new releases to augment your collection.
For most artists and makers, printing line sheets for use at the beginning of each year for spring/summer and in the middle of the year for fall/winter fits in nicely with wholesale buying times in the gift and accessories markets. However, if you cater to buyers with different buying times, be sure to prepare months ahead of time so you can reach them before they need to place orders for the upcoming season.
Prepare marketing materials. This includes physical materials such as brochures, business cards, signage, postcards and press kits. It also includes virtual marketing materials, such as your website, email marketing templates and a virtual media kit. Focus on having consistent branding and messaging so that your work is recognizable and memorable. Is your logo and branding everywhere on your materials? Do potential customers recognize you? Do you convey your concept and why your line is compelling?
Connect with your customers and prospects online. Follow your customers and prospects on social media, and make a point to engage in the conversation when they post – this is one more way to become known to them. Subscribe to their emails, so that you come to understand what they sell and their schedule, and receive announcements of future plans. This knowledge can be invaluable as you gain insight into when they may order, and the items from your collection that would be appropriate given their store type and customer base.
Reach out with direct mail. In a world awash in email, direct mail is often a standout. Mailing your line sheet or catalog can be a smart move, getting noticed when it arrives rather than being grouped in with other marketing materials picked up at events. You might want to send a series of postcards to get noticed before the buying season begins, or a follow up mailing shortly afterwards if you didn’t meet with the buyer at trade shows.
Advertise in trade publications. Advertisements often act as a backup and reminder of your brand. It can be hard to tell whether you obtained customers as a result of ads, but they become a presence in the publications that are delivered to retailers and tend to be kept. This is one more way to keep eyes on your collection, and become familiar to buyers.
Extend invitations. Exhibiting at a trade show? Releasing new designs and products? Let your buyers know and invite them to attend and meet you. Send a pre-show marketing packet, making sure to put your booth number on every piece. Advertise any specials you are offering for buyers placing orders at the show. Give them every reason to stop by your booth!
Direct them to online portals. Whether you have your wholesale collection displayed on your website, or on a third-party website, it gives buyers access to view your work and order 24 hours a day. Make it easy for orders and reorders to be placed. This means the collection you display online must be current, and you should have a secure method of taking orders. Make it a priority to let your existing customers know that you offer this service.
Follow up, follow up, follow up. One of the most important items on the checklist is to follow up after orders are shipped, and again after a reasonable length of time. If you fail to follow up with wholesale customers, you are potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. Have they forgotten to reorder? Is your stock low and needs replenishing? Was your last order inadvertently left in the stock room? It happens. Each time you reach out by phone or email to make sure that all is going smoothly, you have an opportunity to help your buyers maximize sales of your line. This results in a win/win – gaining orders for your own business and becoming more valuable to the customer.