biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: Are You Ready for Wholesale?

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from previous Biz Ladies contributor Rena Tom. Rena owned her own brick-and-mortar store (the wonderful Rare Device), and now she consults for other creative businesses while running her blog. Today Rena shares some insight into getting your products in the storefronts. Thank you, Rena, for this invaluable information! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

As a consultant primarily to makers of physical goods, and as a former brick-and-mortar retailer, the questions I am asked the most have to do with wholesale. “How do I get stores to buy from me? What’s a line sheet? How do I price my work?”

I’m offering a workshop called Retail Readiness in San Francisco and also in Los Angeles and Brooklyn that addresses all of these questions and more, but I wanted to explain some key points here. Before you start talking to stores, take stock in your business and start off on the right foot!

Know Your Brand

Your products are great (naturally!), but for someone to sell them on your behalf, all the supporting materials have to be great, as well. Stores are increasingly selling the maker and the process along with the product because customers who shop for artisan-made or small-batch goods are buying provenance and authenticity. Avoid jarring disconnects by creating a smooth, end-to-end brand experience.

Do you have a specific point of view that will differentiate you from your competitors?

I like to have my clients write a few different versions of their background. This is material that ends up on About Me pages, is excerpted in the press and that you tell to the stranger in a doctor’s waiting room. What can you say that makes you stand out?

Can you clearly articulate the story of your products?

Working with a copywriter or copy editor will ensure that your story is consistent. If that editor or writer is you due to budget constraints, play a version of the children’s game “telephone” and ask a friend to briefly take a look at your brand and explain it back to you. The results may surprise you.

Is your brand’s style reflected in your product copy, your packaging, your website?

A retailer needs to communicate this information back to her customers to sell your line, so give her as much ammunition as possible. Again, try to find a store owner you are friendly with, or even another maker who already sells to stores, and have them evaluate your marketing materials.

Be Professional

Being professional includes knowing what a retailer expects from you. This means having a clear and comprehensive line sheet and catalog (I have free downloads on my website with more details) with your terms and conditions. It means that you have carefully considered your pricing, taking into account your needs but also the margins that retailers expect for your kind of product. It also means that you communicate any changes proactively and honestly with stores that have ordered.

I think that being professional also means presenting your best work. Many makers experiment a lot to “see what sticks,” which is fine at a hobbyist level, but a retailer wants to see a coherent body of work that is also well made and replicable. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but in general, you should only show your best work and eliminate colors or styles that you may personally love but have never sold well or attracted attention.

Finally, do your research. When you are making a list of stores to target, really try to determine if it’s a good fit for you. Look at the lines they carry, their buying philosophy and their price points. You will save yourself a lot of time by only pitching to stores that are a good match.

Make Enough Stuff

Nothing is less professional than making a promise you can’t keep. This may seem obvious, but ask yourself if you are able to produce the quantities necessary for wholesale. Writing orders with accounts and then being unable to meet deadlines is a big no-no.

Take a look at your production workflow, from sourcing to sales, and think about where can you optimize it.

  • Can you cut costs by placing larger orders for materials?
  • If you need to hire assistance, is the labor cost accounted for in your pricing?
  • If you are making larger quantities, do you have a place to store, pack and ship, or will you need a bigger studio?

Getting ready to wholesale often means spending some of your hard-earned profits in the service of making even bigger profits. Look at what’s going on in your life and decide if it’s the right time to commit.

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  • This is -PERFECT!-
    I am just getting ready to start a wholesale line of my letterpress stationery products. This is a blessing, as I’m about to start designing the catalog for it. THANK YOU!

  • so true! after having a wholesale business for the last 7 years I am considering dropping all of my wholesale accounts as the financial return does not exceed the time spent attending to all of them. It is bigger decision than I realized all those years ago.

  • Rena – excellent, as always. You’ve covered many of the smaller details that are so easy to forget when considering wholesaling.

    Like Laura mentions above, the “should I wholesale” decision is about much more than reaching new markets or expanding a product line. It’s a radically different business model that requires thinking about production, marketing, and business management in a totally different way. I wish more potential-wholesalers would realize this before they jump into the game, because without the proper planning it can be devastating for a business.

  • Nice blog. Being a nature & landscape, I am on the hunt for opportunities to bring/ sell my work to the public. Though not a wholesaler I search for compatible venues besides galleries. Currently designing a brochure to showcase my work. Love the suggestions about “Knowing Your Brand” and “differentiating your self from competitors.” Very timely for me and many others I sure. Many Thanks!

  • Another point that could be made is that cash flow during the first year of wholesale is much different than selling direct. Be prepared for famine before the feast. It can be a tough learning curve and has the potential to make doing business difficult. Being very very clear what your terms are can help, however a couple of accounts in arrears can break you. Good luck and loved the post!

  • Great and timely information…especially about Knowing your Brand…so important to not jump into wholesale before doing all the homework. Just this week some business colleagues & I were discussing the same thing..looking at the way forward. Keep the coming. Thanks

  • Thanks so much for this post. We’ve done wholesale with online retailers but are now approaching independent stores and it’s MUCH harder than anticipated. Definitely do your homework and the importance of already established relationships or connections with stores are key.

  • This is great timing for me as well (I was thinking about how to make this happen last night). There is so much good information here, and I value Stacy’s comment about building relationships.
    Thank you!

  • I just started an e-boutique that sells nickel-free jewelry and I am looking for wholesalers. I am on the other end of the process, but I still learned a lot from this post. Thank you!

  • All very useful info and tips, thanks very much! We’re just about to take the leap and start approaching wholesalers in the UK. Maybe one day we’ll be approaching wholesalers worldwide too…?!

  • Rena, I cannot thank you enough for this!! I just had a brick and mortar contact me about selling my goods {which I know nothing about!…yet} and instantly thought to come here for advice. Thanks ladies, you’re all amazing

  • Thank you so much for this awesome post filled with invaluable information !! I am so glad I found this blog as a result of a connection with Recipe for Press author Amy Flurry. I am excited for the possible opportunities for my candy business to grow and the recent inquiries from retailers to carry my toffee and sea salt caramels but want to make sure I am ready and prepared to take this next step. Can’t wait to read more of your posts!! Thank YOU!

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