1. Say thank you and mean it. To retailers who say no and those who say yes. No-one does this. Make it your signature move.
2. Find out the full name of every retailer you pitch to, then use it. Beginning your submission with “To Whom It May Concern” sets off alarm bells. Am I being sued? Audited? Investigated by the feds? “Dear Clare” makes me want to read on (instead of lawyer-up.)
3. Help the retailer and their staff sell your work by including a one-page product knowledge sheet with their order.
4. Recommend your stockists. Spot a journo request on twitter and a shop you supply fits the bill? Hook them up. Got a friend who loves their kind of stuff? Send her their way.
5. Pull your work into ready-made collections. That way the retailer doesn’t have to painstakingly piece together an order by hand if they don’t want to, and a larger, more representative selection of your work ends up on their shelves.
6. Give a small discount on your collections. Make it a no-brainer for them to say “I’ll have your Starter Pack / Sunshine Collection / Weasels of the World Bundle please.”
7. Count how many times the world tells you no in a single week. No ploughman’s sandwiches left in Marks and Spencer. No, your friend Spencer can’t come over for margaritas on Friday night. No, Netflix still hasn’t got series five of Fringe. Count them up on your phone or in a notebook. At the end of the week, realise that despite all those rejections, you’re miraculously still alive. You haven’t turned to dust. Use the fact that you’re not currently occupying a small decorative urn as encouragement to seek out bigger, scarier NOs.
8. Buffer your tweets. They go out on cue while you get on with other stuff.
9. Take a day off and go into shops. Try to see them from the retailer’s point of view. What’s working in the store? What could be better? How do customers move around the space. What gets their attention? Use your business eye.
10. If you have no retail experience of your own, find someone who does. Feed them pizza and beer while they tell you what it’s like to work in a shop. What do they say about their customers? What are their best and worst stories? What’s annoying and soul-destroying? What’s wonderful?
11. Throw a party for your stockists. Make a cake, make a speech, show your new work, ask what’s going on with them. Huge mega-corps can’t do this. You can.
12. Interview your stockists on your blog.
13. Ask your current stockists or retail customers for testimonials. Sprinkle them across your site and buyers’ pack.
14. Make a video about what you offer indie retailers. Put it on your About page and link to it from your submission.
15. Tell your success stories. Your happy customers, your awards and accolades, your milestones. BUT instead of making it all about you, show how those cool things help your stockist.
16. Go digital. Ditch the expensive printed catalogue and create something beautiful on Issuu.
17. Go analogue. Make your physical buyers’ pack an enjoyable object to receive and use. A handwritten note, heavy paper, bright photos. Send out something retailers can’t wait to open.
18. Include a stash of custom stickers with your print catalogue so that potential stockists can easily mark their must-haves.
19. Give your stuff away for free. Make greetings cards? Send a retailer a pack of six of your best-selling design along with your complete buyers’ pack. Encourage the shopkeeper to put them on sale right now. Get back in touch to see how they’ve gone and to ask if they’re ready to make an order. Do this your way – no hard-selling necessary. Make it feel like an invitation.
20. Drop your minimum order to get a new retailer off the fence. Tell them the truth – it’s because you love what they do and are excited about working with them.
21. Go after the big dogs. Is there a shop you’d give your right arm to stock but you know they won’t say yes – yet? Write them a love letter. Invite them to your degree show. Say “I’m not there yet, but supplying you is what I’m aiming at.” Shopkeepers are always looking for the next big thing. Let them know you’re on the way.
22. Ask for referrals. Get your friends and family to suggest shops to pitch to, and ask your current stockists to refer you to other stores (with whom they’re not in direct competition.) Both widen the net of shops who know about you, and vice versa.
23. Ask your stockists for feedback. How does your work sell for them? Who’s buying it? What changes or tweaks are they secretly wishing for – another size, another colour, better packaging?
24. Actually listen to what people say about your business and your lovely thing. Slow down. Shut your yap. Give them a little space, and silence, and they’ll often say something helpful – a suggestion, a new direction, perhaps even a new tagline for your biz.
25. Stop thinking you’re too shy to sell your work. Research has shown that extreme extroverts suck just as much at selling as extreme introverts. The best, most succesful salespeople are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum – and that describes most of us.
26. Merchandise your line sheet. Choose a simple, graphic way to point out your best-sellers, your new items and any which are back in stock. Retailers want to know this stuff because it helps us make good, informed choices. Help us out.
27. Have colour photos in your wholesale catalogue. Black and white looks cool, but it doesn’t tell me anything about how your work will fit into my existing collection.
28. Ask yourself questions. Your brain is on your side. It wants you to do well in life and in business because when you do, it gets to marinate in a piquant bath of dopamine and serotonin. Put it to work by asking yourself questions, like “Will I get a yes from this retailer?” When you do that, your brain will come up with evidence to help answer the question. That might be “Well, I know this store is already stocking products with a similar style to mine, so that’s a good sign.” Or “I’ve written fifty submissions since January and my hit rate is going up, so I know I’m getting good at this.” You’ll see it’s not just wishful thinking or blind hope, but that there are solid reasons to believe this is going to work out in the way you want.
29. Give sincere compliments. Follow a retailer you plan to pitch to on twitter. When they post a picture of a display or item you genuinely like, tweet to tell them so. The same goes for facebook. Drop in to their page every so often and leave a comment or share their posts. You have to mean it, though.
30. Set a smart carriage paid level. Shopkeepers hate paying for postage. We HATE it. If your carriage paid level is reasonable, many retailers will make up an order to that amount without even blinking.
31. Speak retail. To sell to retailers, you have to talk like retailers. Understand the lingo, bingo.
32. Don’t mess us around. We’re busy and don’t have time for an elaborate fan dance regarding your buyers’ pack. If you want us to consider your stuff, attach all the figures and documents we need to make that decision. Don’t say “email me back if you’d like a copy of my price list.” That’s a total pain. Attach it in the first place, and to any follow-up message you send.
33. Look after us. So many times, artists skedaddle the second the money hits their bank account. You might be thinking “Hey, that shop knows where I am. If they want more, they’ll get in touch.” Shopkeepers receive new submissions every day, so that’s a pretty big IF to base a business on. The best suppliers take care of their stockists. They understand we’re tired and busy and desperate for a holiday. They know we need careful tending. So get in touch every so often. Let us know when you have something new. Just ring us up and ask how it’s all going. That’s the kind of supplier shopkeepers love.