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biz ladies 09: 7 steps to wholesaling your craft

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today we’re sharing a real-life biz ladies success story from justine smith of plum adore and etsy selling. justine turned her passion into a successful etsy and wholesale business and today she’s going to be sharing her 7 simple steps to wholesaling your craft. if you’ve been thinking about trying to make a living off of your work, this tips are a great way to get the ball rolling and start adding wholesale clients to your roster. thanks so much to justine for sharing her story and advice!

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

7 Steps to Wholesaling Your Craft

In under 1 month of trying, without any major research or background, I landed 5 wholesale accounts and turned my jewelry business full time. If you really want to wholesale, here are some tips I’ve learned that will help you with your wholesale journey:

1: Choose 20-50 products that you would be able to supply in bulk at 50% off the retail price.

I jumped in with both feet and ended up biting off more than I could chew by offering over 300 products for wholesale. I’d suggest that you:

- Organize the items into collections only if you have more than one style of items and avoid season (fall, spring etc) labels.

- Ensure you can make at least 4-6 of every piece in your collections.

- Make sure your retail prices are high enough to make a profit off slashed wholesale discounts. If you are having trouble with wholesale pricing click here for more on that.

2: Put together a line sheet with the items you chose, including photos, descriptions and product codes.

I bought a template from from Etsy Seller My Magic Button and it was the best $60 I ever spent. It took a few days of major work to get it all ready for emailing but in my opinion it was the reason stores took me seriously and decided to invest in my products. You can see a sample of the line sheet here.

3: Gather a list of retailers from your competitors

I saw a jewelry company in a local magazine, got on their website and compiled a large list of retailers from there. If you have trouble with this step, go into a local boutique you want your items in and take a look at their vendors. Gather names and check their websites and you should be able to gather at least 100 businesses to start with.

*Note from D*S: Be careful not to poach retailers or clients from competitors. We’ve heard a lot about this in the industry. Doing research and selling similar products in stores is fine, but it’s definitely not ok to try to convince someone to stop selling a similar product in exchange for money, favors, etc.

4: Develop your wholesale terms

I regularly updated my terms as I went along because as I got new accounts I learned more about the way the business worked. You can check out this article from Modish Biz Tips on developing your fine print

5: Write your email pitch

I used my success selling on Etsy as the opening for my email. It outlined how many sales I had in such a short period of time, the fact that I had been featured on Etsy’s front page several times and had even gotten custom orders and a wholesale account from my success there.

Your pitch should include:

- Your achievements either selling online, in person, at craft shows etc

- Accomplishments in your field (such as education, background or anything else that would present you as a professional).

- Why you feel your items would be a good fit for their store.

- Politely asking for consideration OR requesting an appointment (if they are a local store).

6 – Mass email your pitch, linesheet, terms and conditions as well as a few small photos of your best sellers to the contacts you compiled and wait to hear back.

I heard back from a few stores right away but others took weeks (and even months) to get back to me. I’ve spoken to many retailers and the do not consider this spam as a lot of new designers get in touch with them via email (and a lot prefer it to drop ins or phone calls).

- Each day you should aim to continue emailing people on your list

- Follow up by phone no sooner than a week after sending your initial email

- Call and introduce yourself to buyers at local stores that are very important to you. It will sometimes increase your chances of getting your email opened faster.

7 : Once you land an appointment make sure to:

- Have a professional entrance and set up.

- Bring everything you have made because most times they order based on what you bring, not what you can make (with black and white items being an exception).

- Treat the meeting as if the client will be ordering by ensuring you have paper and pens, a copy of your line sheet (professionally printed in a binder (not to be given away) for them to browse through if necessary as well as copies of your terms for them to look over.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Justine will be holding a 30 day Wholesale Challenge early next year where participants will follow a series of tasks each day in order to land a wholesale account by the end of the month.

If you are interested in signing up, please subscribe to her weekly roundup email and be the first to get all the details.

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29 Comments

Rachael Sudlow

Folks should also be very careful when considering consigning work to stores as well. Make sure you have a well written contract outlining the basics (theft, damage to work, length of consignment, close of store, etc). I only do consignment to stores that I can visit in person…it’s a big risk to send you work across the country without payment.

Valerie

Thanks for all the tips! It’s inspiring to see the success in such a short period of time.

Question about wholesaling terms vs. selling to direct customers: Should all the terms be the same? For eg. While accepting a return for one or two items from a direct customer will be pretty easy to swollow, accepting a return for a larger amount from a wholesaler may be quite the challenge for a one-person shop (like many Etsy sellers are).
Any thoughts on this??
Thanks!

Lydia, Clueless Crafter

I imagine the transition from one-person store front, having all that control, and moving to wholesale is a really jarring experience.

It’s really the first time talented crafters realize that they have become a commodity. While that can mean financial growth, sometimes the reduction of craft to object can be depressing.

So, there’s a psychological/spiritual component to think about too.

Kit

Great article. Thanks for the information and resources. My textile process is very labor intensive. Although I’d like to get into the wholesale market some day with a few well-targeted boutiques, I wonder if any of you experts out there can recommend an approach for those of us whose work is created on a slower timeline.

Justine Smith

Hi Valerie,

I would say they terms are different for retail and wholesale.

Take your example, a customer buys from you and has 2 weeks to return if not satisfied.

That is not the same for wholesale. If the items don’t sell it was their gamble and their loss, UNLESS it’s a quality issue, you don’t need to accept returns.

My policies say “Any product may be exchanged within two weeks if there is a quality issue”.

Let me know if you have any more questions and I can post a response on my blog with a link back to your shop ;)

~Justine

Justine Smith

Lydia, You are absolutely right. As I said in the “Do you really want to wholesale?” article on my blog, it can be draining and an experience some people won’t like so they have to decide if it’s right for them. Thank you for your point of view.

Lindsey

I’m really starting to look into wholesaling – so this is very timely for me! thanks for the advice ;D

Danielle

as a retailer, i can say, i do refer to etsy and other independents to find unique products for my store, but my challenge as a RETAILER is that my BREAK-EVEN amount does not allow for me to buy product where i only get a 50/50 split on. On these terms, I will never have extra cash flow to buy additional product and/or grow my business…i LOVE unique products but it is smarter for my business to just go to trade shows like the NY International Gift show and the like and buy wholesale from manufacturers who can afford to set a wholesale price that behooves my business. However, my love of supporting independent and unique small businesses keeps me shopping on etsy for product, but i would buy A LOT more on there if I could walk away with a better profit margin. For a retailer PROFIT MARGIN is EVERYTHING….but for a small company starting off, the tradeoff with dealing with an established retailer is the exposure gained and stores like me, who blog as well, there is often exponential exposure.

anyhow, great article for everyone…i love this feature on D*S. xoxo dd

Courtney

I am all about being positive and reinforcing one’s dreams. So, this is just a positive dose of reality that I wish I had prior to planning my business.

I understand what Danielle is saying. I was on the other side of the fence – started trying to sell wholesale then moved direct – a little backwards, I know! The hard thing about selling wholesale is 1) wholesale prices are difficult to achieve primarily due to the cost of your raw material inventories (and the need to keep them small). If you anticipate more sales in one product and buy too much raw materials in order to get price breaks to “try” to compete with product from other countries and produced in the thousands, yet the product does not move, then you may end up carrying way too much inventory for too long. And inventory = $$ not yet cashable. The biggest thing here is to streamline… create art/product where you use a lot of the same materials and from the same processes. Sadly, I have only skimmed the surface of this issue… moving on 2) you need to put a real dollar on your time… if you sell a necklace for $15 but the materials cost you $10 and it took you 2 hours to make, you are paying yourself $2.50/hour. Not that money is what it is all about – but it too often goes unnoticed “for the love of it.” and that takes me to 3) if you are an artist, you probably enjoy the design process. You love new materials, new processes, etc. All of which requires time or money. Design new products is great and fun. Making them over and over… not as much fun. A necessary evil to deal with until you can hire someone to help you with production… and with persistence, you can get there!

So to sum it all up – heck, yea. You can do it. It is an amazing journey. Just tread lightly. Don’t get too exited with orders – wait to see what works and wait for reorders for you to invest more heavily in inventory. And court your retailers like they are that cute boy/girl. New retailers are great. Keeping your current retailers is gold.

thanks for the article. and good luck

Marie in Singapore

The comments are as interesting as the article!! thank you so much for bringing up the subject and make room to discuss it. I am not yet interested in wholesaling, but understand that the next step in growing a business is probably starting wholesale… only if you enjoy making the same stuff over and over again… which is not my aim right now :)
Thanks!

Bess

Great article and really interesting comments.
It’s nice to hear both points of view, artisan and retailer. I guess the trick to making it all work is getting out the old calculator and realistically crunching some numbers. I am also thinking of expanding my business beyond the direct selling I’m doing on Etsy, but somewhat apprehensive about the risk.
d*s and the biz ladies series is a great source of information.
Thanks :)

Justine Smith

I loved the latest comments. It gives a good variety of view points and experiences.

cris – the reason you don’t give away the binder is because it’s very pricey to professionally print your line sheets (it cost me almost $50) so it’s good to have in case they want to flip through but you don’t want to give it away for free (especially when you have the email copy they can have).

Valerie

Thanks Justine for your response. I’ve heard some mixed comments about this topic before so I thought I would ask around!

Courtney

Oh, I forgot about Packaging. With wholesale, you need good packaging. … and if you can streamline this, you are better for it. Beware of the HIGH cost of boxes unless it is a standard size and you don’t mind the basic colors.

Justine Smith

Hi Courtney,

Thanks for posting about the packaging. I agree, if you want anything other than white, you are going to pay for it. Do you normally provide boxes and packaging for your items with wholesale?

All of the stores I wholesale with use their own materials and I don’t include boxes in the price, they would have to pay extra.

I do include jewelry tags and ring stickers so a buyer has my name when they go home.

Katie Dean

So I have a handful of wholesale accounts, but am curious to know how you handle the relationship after. Sometimes I don’t know how often I should come back knocking or should I just wait for reorders? THanks!

libby @ pinkshirtsandcarwrecks

As a buyer for a very new venture (by an established retailer) featuring local artists/designers/products/companies I recently have had a lot of experience with artists that are new to wholesaling. We did a lot of etsy research to find product for our shop, it was a great tool!

But as someone who also sells a little on etsy, I could tell how overwhelming wholesaling became to some of our vendors who weren’t used to making higher quantities or working with quick deadlines. We were ordering 24 of several items that they were only used to making two or three of at a time. Deciding to wholesale isn’t something to take lightly because it really is a lot of work, especially if making what you make isn’t your full-time job. But it’s worth it. It gets your name out there and is great advertising.

Being professional and timely is key. Treat your retailers with respect – get back to them right away, keep them in the loop with any snags with their order and set realistic expectations. As far as reorders go, I wouldn’t bug a retailer about them – they know their stock and if it’s selling well they will get in touch with you! It is nice to check in to see how it’s going, though. And if you feel completely overwhelmed and can’t keep up, don’t flake. Just be honest!

And packaging really is key! With jewelry, not so much, but if you sell cards or prints, make sure they are in plastic sleeves, etc. A retailer doesn’t want prep work to package something themselves (especially to protect an item from being damaged) – it needs to be as easy as possible to get out on the sales floor and into customer’s hands.

Thanks for the great article and great discussion!

Justine Smith

Katie Dean – I usually check in about 2 weeks to a month later. I don’t ask about reorders, I just say “Hi i just wanted to see how the items are doing”. A few times I had them call to say “We need more” and that’s always nice. Certain times of the year (like right now) I skip the follow up because they are usually overstocked and not wanting to be bugged.

Libby – what fantastic advice! Thank you for sharing, especially the solid info about really making sure you can handle wholesaling if it’s not your FT job.

I wasn’t working full time but I am home FT with my daughter and that means after she is in bed, I have to work late which sometimes is really tough. I agree that if you have a full time job, really analyze how quickly you jump into things and try to land accounts slowly at first to make sure you can keep up.

Cathy

Thanks for the great article! I was just recently contacted to do a wholesale order and had no idea where to start from the contract to pricing. (We do consignment but this is our first wholesale order.) Your article has helped me wrap my head around wholesale.

lorna syson

thank you for the help and advice, its really nice to know that there are guidelines out there as i have been feeling a little lost with what to do with my new business!
thank you again

Chrystal Lynn

Thanks for the wonderful article! Wholesaling has been on my mind like crazy lately and I really enjoyed the feature by Justine as well as the comments with additional tips.

Chantal

Thanks for the info, Justine! I have sold wholesale to a few stores recently (they found me), but they have asked me if I have displays available (I sell cosmetics). I did not, and that was the first time I had even thought about it. Is is standard for the crafter/manufacturer to give out displays for free? If so, is there a standard minimum order or do we just figure out what would still be profitable for us? I am actually trying to make a display myself using low-cost materials as creatively as I can, since it turns out to be extremely expensive to have one made professionally, so it really isn’t possible for a home crafting business like mine.

It seems I’m a bit late to the conversation, but if anyone has any info about displays, I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!

Traci

Chantal — it is not standard. However, many people who are display dependent (such as yourself) should consider doing a “starter kit.” You have an array of best-sellers in an attractive display that you charge them for. I would throw in extra product to offset the display fee. Helps you out too, b/c display is EVERYTHING. many artisans like to control how their products are display, and will do this and even have custom displays made specifically for their product.

just remember that wholesale price isn’t 50% of the retail price. you set the wholesale price. the buyer sets the retail price. nowadays, it’s more like 2.25-3x wholesale to make a decent profit. usually it’s dependent on the store’s location and what their market can bear. keystone is slowly becoming NOT the normal anymore.

Chantal

Thanks, Traci! Wow, 3x wholesale would make my products quite expensive and put me into a different price category than I thought I was in! I sell my products on my website at what I thought were retail prices, but I wonder if stores would have a problem with these being lower than what they would be selling them at.

So, would a “starter kit” include the display with a variety of testers along with products for customers to purchase? And would I sell this at the wholesale cost of the sellable products plus a little extra to cover part of the cost of the display? So much to consider!

By the way, what is keystone?

Mags

Thank you so much for this post! I have two consignments going currently and have been doing really well. I want to target specific markets and areas for consignment and wholesale and this has been such a boost! Makes me have hope. :) I’m going to make a line sheet and be as professional as possible. My day job is killing me and I love the aspect of wholesale orders! Thank you again!!

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