Today we’re going to talk about the understandable-but-dumb hang-ups that stop you selling your work to shops.
Now, having your comforting illusions shattered is not a fun experience.
It’s usually more of a OH-GOD-HOW-DID-I-NOT-SEE-THIS-WAS-HAPPENING-I SHOULD-LIVE-UNDERGROUND-WITH-THE-MOLES kind of thing. But I don’t think you should do that.
Look, just give me that shovel.
And the head lamp. And stop gazing speculatively at the lawn. We’re on granite. You’d need a pneumatic drill to get down there.
My point is that if you’ve got some (or all) of the hang-ups below, it’s okay. You do not have to become a mole person. You also don’t have to feel bad. Hang-ups are one of the ways that clever brain of yours keeps you safe.
It doesn’t want you to feel vulnerable, scared or rejected so it comes up with reasons to stay right where you are. And because you’re smart, all those reasons seem very understandable and convincing.
Let’s take a look at some common ones.
1. “I know the stores I want to work with.”
The good news: Having a clear idea of who your work is for, and where those people are likely to shop, is crucial. You can’t build a successful wholesale business without a keen eye for potential retail partners.
The bad news: Having a fixed idea of what your retail outlets should look like cuts you off from thousands of potential stockists. Yes, you need to know what you’re looking for, but be flexible about the form it comes in – especially when you’re just starting out.
You might think your work will only do well in city-centre galleries with an affluent clientele. That might be true, but your lovely thing may also go down a storm in a little high street boutique. Or a garden centre. Or a bookshop. Or a museum shop. Or a hotel gift shop. Or an online-only shop. Or a shop at the airport.
The solution: Throw off your mind-shackles and loosen up your thinking about potential stockists. This doesn’t mean lower your standards. Just be open to all the opportunities around you.
2. “Wholesale is a numbers game.”
The good news: You’re absolutely right – wholesale is a numbers game.
The bad news: It’s not just about numbers.
To do well in wholesale, you have to approach a lot of shops. But that’s not the same as approaching ANY shop. The vast majority of stores aren’t going to be a good fit for your work. Pitching to them is a great way to burn through your time and energy without achieving much.
The solution: Start looking for shops which are right for your particular product – not just those who happen to sell the same type of stuff. Think about who you make your work for. Where does that kind of person shop? What kind of retailer has a similar type of customer to you?
Being selective about who you approach will actually improve your hit rate, not impair it.
3. “No-one’s going to read my submission anyway.”
The good news: You’re 100% wrong. Retailers don’t routinely delete or bin artist submissions without reading them unless we have a very good reason.
Such as: you accidentally addressed it to our arch-rival who owns the store across the street. Or you stuffed the envelope with glitter and now it’s in our cappuccino.
The bad news: When you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to make mistakes that mean your submission doesn’t get read. Addressing it to the wrong person, for example, or including massive attachments so your email goes straight to spam.
The solution: Get so good at writing submissions that they can’t possibly overlook you. This isn’t an in-born talent – it’s a skill you can learn. When you know how, it’s a breeze to write pitches that shopkeepers open, read and respond to.
4. “I need contacts.”
The good news: This isn’t true.
Indie retailers are always looking for new artists, products and ideas. We want something our customers will love and pay for, but which the chain and department stores haven’t cottoned onto yet. If you’re the next big thing, we want to get in on the ground floor.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re new and haven’t built up a stack of stockists yet. In fact, we often prefer it that way.
The bad news: You have to build your own network of contacts from scratch, and that takes time and a concerted effort.
The solution: You have to do the work. There’s no way round this one. If you want a thriving, profitable network of stockists, you have create it. That means building a warm, mutually beneficial relationship with individual retailers over months and years. Being interested in what they need, want and hope for is a great place to start.
5. “I have no idea what to say to shopkeepers.”
The good news: Yeah you do. It may not feel like it, and you may feel very apprehensive about doing so, but you already know exactly the right words to say.
The bad news: If you let it, this hang-up can keep you stuck for a very long time.
The solution: Forget about wholesale for a while and just get comfortable writing and talking about what you do.
Knowing what to say to any kind of buyer comes down to two things: confidence in your work and seeing things from their point of view. And there’s specific guidance on approaching stores here.
6. “I’m an artist, not a salesperson.”
The good news: No-one’s asking you to be a salesperson. You’re an artist. Your potential stockists and customers very much want you to stay that way.
The bad news: Reaching out to stores is just the wholesale version of marketing. And there’s no fun and easy way to build a business without marketing (here’s how I know). So sooner or later, you’ll have to tackle things you’re currently uncomfortable with.
The solution: Expand your idea of what an artist does – and accept that not everything you’re called upon to do will come easily. If you really want to make a go of wholesale, you have to go beyond what you’ve done before. But you know what else?
You can do it your way. If you’re an artist, sell like an artist.
Learn how. Invent a way that works for you. And for Pete’s sake, don’t let out-dated ideas about used-car salesmen stop you.
7. “If my stockists want more, they’ll get in touch with me.”
The good news: That’s certainly what your stockists will intend to do.
The bad news: A lot of the time, we’ll forget. Or get distracted. Or have our heads turned by one of the three hundred other lovely things that have been pitched to us this month.
The solution: Keep your stockists warm by getting in touch at regular intervals. Take some responsibility for keeping our wholesale partnership alive. If you don’t, it’s very easy for us to forget all about you.
8. “My stockists will think I’m pestering them.”
The good news: It’s actually pretty hard to pester a retailer who already likes you. And you know they do, because they bought your stuff.
Most of the time, we’re just glad to hear from you. If you’re sending us emails three times a week or are constantly on the phone, that would be annoying. But every month or so? Not likely to be a problem.
The bad news: Staying in touch does become pestering if there’s no value to what you say. There has to be a benefit for the retailer every time you contact them.
The solution: Train your stockists to expect good things from you. When they see an email from you in their inbox, you want them to think “Oh, brilliant. I wonder what she’s got for me today?”
What comes next is up to you. It could be a sneak peek at your new collection, a special offer, a request for feedback on a new product, a reminder about your Christmas delivery dates or a quick note to say “I saw this article and I thought you’d enjoy it.”
Compared to tracking down new ones, it’s easier, cheaper and less time-consuming to sell to your existing stockists. Don’t let them slip through your fingers because of misplaced politeness.
9. “I need longer to work on my catalogue. Then I’ll be ready.”
The good news: It’s excellent that you’re putting so much time and effort into your submissions. That already puts you well ahead of most artists.
The bad news: The catalogue or line sheet in the world won’t do you any good if buyers never get to see it.
The solution: Retailers aren’t looking for perfection. Good enough is good enough.
Get your catalogue to 90% then start sending it out. Retailers want to hear from you – especially at this time of year. They want to say “here’s our first order.” They want to spend their money on your lovely thing.
But that can’t happen unless you press the send button or post your envelope.
10. “I’m not good enough.”
The good news: You’re just like the best in the business. You know those artists who have a zillion stockists around the world, supply Anthropologie or Liberty and still make work that’s beautiful and full of integrity?
Yeah, those complete jerks.
When they were starting out, they didn’t think they were good enough either. Some days they probably still don’t.
The bad news: I can’t fix this one for you. You’re the expert here.
What I can say is that there are people and shops in the world who want and need to hear from you. Not some perfect, future version of you, or of your lovely thing, but as you are right now.
When they find you, they’ll hug themselves with delight.
So please don’t become a mole person. Stay up here with us, shrug off your hang-ups and decide to make this year in wholesale your best ever.
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