So you’re thinking about selling your work to shops.
Maybe it’s a brand new idea, or maybe you’ve wanted to get into wholesale for ages but the thought of pitching your products to independent shopkeepers makes you want to crawl under the desk and drink Rescue Remedy through a straw.
Every creative person who sells to shops has been where you are now. Most artists find wholesale confusing and intimidating at first, so if that’s how you feel you’re in excellent company.
In this guide, my goal is to help you feel prepared and confident about getting ready for retailers. We all need to build multiple income streams, and selling your work to shops is a great one.
Wholesale has allowed me to grow my business and build great relationships with stores.”Hanna Webb, Floral Accessories Designer
When you’re first starting out in wholesale, it can feel like there are no advantages to being new. That’s not true.
Indie retailers love new suppliers.
I know, because I’m one of them! In order to keep our customers coming back, we need a constant stream of new items – ideally ones that our audience hasn’t already seen a million times. So if you’re not already supplying major retailers or our arch-rivals next door, that’s a huge plus in our book.
Also, buying from you gives us the chance to get in on the ground floor. Many brands who are now household names, like Donna Wilson and Gemma Correll, started out by selling their work to independent stores, boutiques and galleries.
Retailers like me pride ourselves on our ability to spot and support fresh talent. Putting your products on our shelves helps make our shop unique and memorable, and that gives our customers a reason to come back again and again.
Shops love dealing with creatives like you.
Perhaps the biggest reason we love new suppliers is because we’re always dealing directly with the owner. If you’re an emerging artist as far as wholesale is concerned, you probably haven’t had time to accrue an accounts department that never answers the phone, or some guy in the warehouse who uses his sandwich wrappers as packing material.
In short, you’re refreshingly free of all the things that cheese us off about our big suppliers. We know that when we buy from you, we’re likely to be dealing with the person who knows most and cares most.
That’s a very big draw.
It’s a good feeling, when you’re busy with other things, to know your products are selling in retail outlets.”Kate Webster, Cards and Gifts Designer
But of course it’s not all jam. There are downsides to being new to selling your work to shops.
Your biggest challenge is looking like you know what you’re doing.
Every retailer has had their share of dreadful experiences with suppliers. We’re not about to get burned like that again, so we want to see signs that you’re safe, reliable and not likely to flake out or screw us over.
Your other major challenge is feeling brave enough to try.
The early stages of wholesale can make even experienced artists and makers feel self-conscious and intimidated.
That’s perfectly okay. It doesn’t stop you owning a thriving wholesale business – not at all.
Kitting yourself out with knowledge and connecting with other makers who sell to shops can make you feel a lot more comfortable.
I feel a warm connection with my retailers. I like picturing them opening a box of my funny cards and chuckling to themselves.”Amy Chin, Stationery Designer
Now that we know some of your strengths and challenges, let’s talk about how you should approach the process of selling your products to shops.
As a beginner, you’ll tend to make the best progress simply by doing things in a logical order. For you, there’s no existing structure that you have to overhaul or tinker with, because nothing’s really in place yet. That means your next step is determined by whatever makes the most sense to you.
It’s like organising a wedding.
Once you’ve set the date, you can focus on the catering first, you can design the invitations or you can plan your honeymoon. It doesn’t particularly matter which order you do things in, because it’s all got to be done before the big day.
It’s the same with wholesale: if you want to maximise the number of orders landing in your inbox, each part of your sales process has to be primed and locked into place. As long as you spend time making every individual component the best it can be, you can tackle them in more or less any order you like.
So let’s get you off to a flying start.
Below, you’ll find the three major components of your buyer’s pack – your wholesale pricing, your catalogue or line sheet and your pitch email. These are the things you send to a store when you ask us to stock your work.
There’s guidance on creating each of these elements on over on my website, Indie Retail Academy. I’ve handpicked an article from each one: reading these posts is a great way to start kitting yourself out for wholesale.
1. Your pricing
Your wholesale price is the foundation of your wholesale business. In the Pricing + Getting Paid section of the Indie Retail Academy Knowledge Hub, you’ll find articles on how to set your prices, retailers’ mark-ups, the trouble with sale or return (also called consignment), and payment arrangements.
Start with: Pricing Basics For Makers: What Should I Charge?
2. Your line sheet or catalogue
As a beginner, your budget may not be able to stretch to a full wholesale catalogue. No problem – you can put together a professional, persuasive line sheet to get your stuff in front of retailers, fast. The articles in the Line Sheets + Catalogues section of the Knowledge Hub will walk you through what you need to know.
Start with: The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Line Sheets
3. Your pitch email
This is how you actually approach a store about stocking your stuff. The articles in the Asking Stores To Buy section of the Knowledge Hub talk about how to do it, how not to do it and what retailers want to see in your pitch.
Start with: What It Means When A Retailer Says “No.”
Wholesale means I get to spend more time with my family. And it’s great because all the work I’m making is already sold.”Leeanne Boudreau, Textile Designer
All you need now is the confidence.
As a maker, artist or designer, you have something unique to offer independent retailers like me, and I’m not just talking about your product.
It might not feel like it right now, but you actually already have the raw ingredients you need to get stores (however many you want) saying “Yes!” to placing an order.
Even the best salesperson on the planet can’t beat your knowledge of the lovely thing you make. Blend that knowledge with your personality, strengths and values and you’ll create something that’s irresistible to the right retailers.
The result? A family of loyal buyers who enjoy giving you money – now, and for years to come.
Wholesale success really is possible for you. But remember there’s no rush. As you take your first steps into selling your work to shops, go at the pace that’s right for you.
Clare Yuille is an independent shopkeeper, and the founder of Indie Retail Academy.
She’s been teaching makers how to sell their work to shops for over a decade, and has been called “a fresh, funny, endlessly encouraging voice” with a “spot-on understanding of the doubts and fears of creative people”.
If you’re interested in getting your work into shops, I heartily recommend her site.