“If you want them to see you, you have to let them know you’re there”. It’s a simple mantra that can be applied to many areas of business and most certainly to wholesale. When times are tough and business may be dwindling it’s easy to sit back woefully, but remember the chain of command: customers buy from shops what they love- shops buy from you what they love- you make what they love. How easy was that? From my experience as a sales rep I’ve been with small and large brands as they surf the tough times. Here are the tricks I’ve seen in action and apply to my own business.
- Break out your Bible
All sales reps have a contact list with stores, buyer names, email, etc. Some even list how often they buy and how much. Reps go through entire careers with one steadily growing list and as a rep for your own brand you should have one. It’s not merely a list of people that you want to contact, eventually it will allow you to see where your brand belongs, where it gets the strongest feedback, and familiarize you with the buyers that you want to know. If you don’t have one start one.
- Reach out and touch someone
If you had a shop(s) contact you months ago and they never wrote an order, don’t assume it’s because they’ve changed their mind. Shop owners are often one woman shows like us and forget. Reach out and say hello, send a catalog, or announce a new product.
- Retailers need love too
It’s important to support the retailers who support you; this helps to form a good relationship and build your brand (This can apply to new shops or existing retailers of your goods). Here are some ideas to put some wind in your sales.
* Offer free shipping or 10% off their order- who says discounts are only for consumers?
* Use your resources. For example, if you have a blog with a local following and a local retailer, arrange a trunk show. Do small gift bags to giveaway, sell a brand new product in advance, or offer a % off your products for that day. Show that you stand behind and believe in your own product.
* Offer a GWP (gift with purchase) if you’re not nearby. Ex: with the purchase of any of your ceramic bowls over $50, the customer receives a free ceramic bird. Do something small and within your means of course.
- Brand spankin’ new
Back to your link in the chain. Don’t use this time as an excuse not to make new products. At the height of the economic downturn there were $1400 leather leggings selling out of shops. Use the opportunity to make something that draws people in, whether brand new or variations of your best selling items. Being small has an advantage here when you can quickly add a new color, size, etc to your collection. That “must have” product gets a retailer excited and an excited retailer gets their customers excited.
- To the beat of your own…letterpress
Make your own schedule for releasing new products. If your industry trade show happens only once a year introduce new product in between (see above). It gives you a reason to get out there, keep in touch, and keep it fresh. You’ve probably seen designers with collections called “resort” or “holiday”. Aside from implying “too bad you can’t afford to vacay in St.Barts”, there is actually some genius behind it. Having four collections a year as opposed to two, gives the brand a continuous presence and newness in stores. These are often more special than the everyday items but don’t be afraid to apply something similar to your brand.
- Color outside the lines
Cross merchandise your collection. Many shops carry a variety of products and quite a few hotels, spas, salons are opening shop areas. If you make scented sachets contact some lingerie shops, if you make mini soaps and candles contact spas and boutique hotel shops. Think about the ways and places your product can be used and get in touch. These type of shops may write smaller orders and less frequently but there is also less clamor for shelf space.
- Best foot forward
Take the time to make sure your photos, catalogs, line sheets, etc are in check. When tradeshow attendance is not an option the web and a catalog is your first impression. Make sure they’re easy to understand and easy on the eyes isn’t a bad idea.
- Do the limbo
This is the time to be flexible. If your order minimum is usually high consider lowering it. A shop may not want to buy deep into a product line but could be open to trying fewer items. If your order minimum can be lowered (reasonably of course) then give it a try; you may get 2-3 orders in place of one.
- The good, the bad, and the ugly
Take a tip from the runways and offer a well edited collection, pull colors and styles that are so-so and replace them with new or variations of the best. Showing your strongest products and a cohesive collection increases the chances that a buyer will purchase more and most important will give your brand a better presence in the store.
- Three layer cake
These days if you like a particular designer’s style but can’t afford the price, you can likely find said designer at a low tier department store. Even the biggest have had to be realistic about price and what consumers are looking for. A friend and I chatted last week about making her gorgeous and pricey gold and diamond collection in a gorgeous and less pricey brass and copper option. Call it black label, call it contemporary, call it taking the opportunity to sell more and reach retailers who may not be able to afford the price point otherwise. This is not “selling out” on your brand, but a dose of reality is sometimes necessary when times are tough and honestly you can sell charcoal in tin foil if it’s marketed well.