Here's a question for you.
What the heck are you doing here?
Most people start out trying to sell their work to shops with a great big fact hunt.
They google "What is a line sheet?"
They ask their friends "How do I figure out my wholesale price?"
They join facebook groups and post questions like "Should I attach my catalogue to my pitch email, or wait to see if the retailer's interested first?"
And these are good questions.
But there's something more important than all of them.
If you're not clear on it, you'll just end up wasting a massive amount of time.
Why do you want to sell your work to shops?
If you woke up tomorrow morning with ten new stockists (that's what we call stores that stock your work,) what would be different in your life?
I'm genuinely asking. How would things be different for you?
So many creative people want to get into wholesale. If you're one of those people, you'll read blog posts. You'll take courses. You'll haunt the Etsy seller forums, searching for advice.
Your friends and customers might be saying things like "You must get your stuff into stores!"
You hear how other artists' businesses have blossomed through teaming up with retailers.
More sales. More customers. A regular income (at last!)
It all sounds so good. You get fired up about building your own fleet of stockists.
Yet no matter how much information you consume, it seems impossible to grow a wholesale business that's big enough to do you any good.
One pitch email here. Two more there. Six months later you have little to show for it and your heart's in your boots.
But there are some artists who do it.
You're a tornado of frustration and despair...they're building profitable relationships with stores.
Well, those artists don't start by collecting a huge pile of facts or asking what other artists are doing. They start by answering the "Why" question.
Let's switch tracks for a second and use me as an example. What's the "Why" behind Indie Retail Academy?
I own a gifts and clothing boutique called Merry + Bright. We stock womenswear, homeware, jewellery, stationery and prints with a relaxed and happy style. We specialise in products by artists and designers and we've been trading in the market town of Biggar on the edge of the Scottish Borders since 2009.
I'm also an actor working in TV, theatre and film.
This means two things:
I receive a lot of submissions from creative people who want me to stock their work. Some of the product pitches currently in my inbox are for:
Father's Day cards.
Mugs with witty slogans.
Brightly coloured shot glasses.
And I audition for a lot of roles, in projects like:
Emmerdale, the long-running British soap (got it.)
An anti-smoking advert (nope.)
A animated drama set in space (nope.)
A horror film set in the highlands of Scotland (got it.)
A BBC 3 drama about a group of young women at university (got it.)
A kids' adventure show (nope.)
A bank advert (got it.)
A new play about a downtrodden man trying to save his best friend's daughter's life (nope.)
A film about a hedge fund manager who becomes an opera singer (nope.)
A McDonalds advert (close but nope.)
So I have ongoing experience of both sides of the table.
Sometimes I'm the one saying "Please pick me," and sometimes I'm the one saying "yes" or "no."
I know what makes independent shopkeepers and gallery-owners happily spend thousands on stock...but I also know what it feels like to put yourself out there and not get the gig.
I'll tell you the "Why" that drives Indie Retail Academy, and it starts right here:
I believe the best person to sell your work to shops is you.
I believe that you already have the raw materials you need to get retailers saying "Yes!" to placing an order. Your creativity and personality can unlock a bustling wholesale business that actually takes care of you.
But there are hurdles to hop over, like low confidence, self-doubt and figuring out your particular way of doing things. And you need to understand what retailers want from you in the first place.
Why am I here?
So no artist feels frightened, confused or alone when approaching stores about stocking their work.
Now it's over to you.
Why do you want to sell your work to shops? Two questions to get the cogs turning:
1. What, specifically, do you want out of this?
Is it to quit your day job and make $5000 a month?
Is it to launch a new collection and sell 500 items to stores by the end of the year?
Is it to be making 50% of your income from wholesale by next Christmas?
2. Why do you want that?
Do you want to quit your job and make $5000 a month so you can focus on making, enjoy your family or have the freedom to travel?
Do you want to launch a new collection and sell 500 items to stores by the end of the year because your sustainably produced, fair-trade products support a community of skilled craftswomen in a remote region of Thailand?
Do you want to be making 50% of your income from wholesale by next Christmas so you can reduce your reliance on Etsy, stop having to react to sales whenever they come in and finally take control of your time?
Take twenty minutes today to consider these questions and actually write down what you discover.
Here's why I think every artist should do this.
Your "what" and "why" give you clarity, of course. But they also help you figure out exactly how many wholesale orders you need.
At first, the answer to this question seems pretty straightforward, right? It's obviously something like:
“Are you kidding? As many as I can get!”
“Lots. Just keep them coming – I’ll know when I’ve got enough.”
“At least double the number I have now?”
But if you go down this route, you will not be a happy bunny. You’ll be a stressed-out, exhausted bunny who needs a triple shot of carrot juice just to get through breakfast.
When you set vague goals, like the examples you just heard, you can never pinpoint your current position on the road towards them.
Are you a quarter of the way there?
Are you half way there? There’s no way to tell because the target you’re aiming at is so fuzzy and nebulous.
Vague goals also put a kink in your ability to make decisions. The pressure to achieve them - or at least for things to be better than they are now - keeps throbbing away in your mind, but since your goals are fuzzy there’s no clear path that will take you there.
So you try to relieve the pressure by grabbing on to whichever ideas happen to float by.
“Hey,” you think, “maybe getting 5000 followers on social media is the answer.”
Or “Hey, maybe I should blitz stores with special offers.”
Or “Hey, maybe I need to set up a wholesale website so retailers can order online.”
So you pour a lot of time, energy and money into making these ideas a reality.
It feels good at first because you’ve suddenly got a sense of purpose, but as time goes on you realise that nothing much has changed. You still don’t have all the wholesale orders you want, and you’ve put a lot of effort into something that isn’t helping.
The frustration makes you feel bad.
You might even start thinking that you’re not cut out for business.
That maybe it’s not going to work out for you after all.
Then another big idea trundles by, and the cycle starts again.
Now, it’s important to note there’s nothing wrong with social media, special offers or wholesale websites. They’re all potentially smart moves that can help your business grow.
But they can’t save you all by themselves.
No single big idea is going to swoop down, fix everything and give you what you want, no matter how well you execute it.
So here’s the alternative – setting a clear and simple goal.
Write down the specific thing you want out of selling your work to shops, articulate the "why" that's driving it, then (as best you can) translate it into a specific number of wholesale orders.
Is it seven a month? Is it one a week? Your answer will help you build a wholesale business that actually makes you happy.
Also, you know what?
Even though I've taught thousands of artists...
...written more than a dozen classes...
...spoken at industry events...
...coached high-achieving creative business-owners...
...nurtured a thriving online community...
...invested in developing my knowledge and skills...
...worked as an actor for twenty years...
...kept a bricks-and-mortar retail business afloat during the worst recessions in living memory...
...and people tell me I've changed their lives in wealth-boosting, creatively satisfying ways...
...I still sometimes hear a voice in my head that says I'm not cut out for business.
But here's one thing I know for sure:
Everything that increases your sense of control decreases your anxiety.
And relaxed, confident you is much more able to get stuff done.
It's time to take control of your wholesale business - even if you haven't started yet. Get comfortable in the driver’s seat and adjust your mirror.
The time for making line sheets and pitching to retailers will come, but first work out what you want, why you want it and how many wholesale orders it'll take to get there (this article on setting your minimum order and this guide to pricing your work for wholesale might help.)
The moment you do, your chances of success shoot right up.
I'm Clare Holliday.
I'm a bricks-and-mortar retailer with a knack for showing artists how to sell their work to stores.
My students are in the UK, the US, Australia and countries around the world. Their achievements include doubling (and tripling) their wholesale accounts, landing prestigious stockists like The National Trust and exhibiting at Maison Et Objet, Autumn Fair, NY Now, Top Drawer and BCTF.
Over the last ten years I've spoken about wholesale for Mollie Makes, The Design Trust, Maker's Biz, Folksy, the London Jewellery School, Craft Scotland, Top Drawer and Home And Gift, and my programmes have helped over 10,000 artists sell their work to shops.
MICHELLE HUNTER | Glass Artist
"Your ability to give constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t even pinch is magic, truly!"
JESSICA RUST | Ceramicist
"Thank you both. Very good insight into my personality. I HATE selling, always have. I’ve heard what you’ve said and implemented it. Off I go."
CLARE LIPINSKI | Jewellery Designer
"Thank you for the kind words and clear suggestions – I was unable to see the forest for the trees, and it was beyond wonderful hearing you put things into perspective."
JANINE HALLORAN | Children's Resource Creator
"Wholesale is new to me and I'm getting myself set up. I wanted to stand out but wasn't quite sure how to go about that. This is exactly what I needed."
CARLA BRYANT | Jewellery Designer
"You were kind and gentle, yet came up with amazing ways to improve my website. Everything was something I could easily do myself."
JOAN DECOLLIBUS | Pet Accessory Designer
"I loved your review. SO helpful, funny, kind, direct and supportive. Loved it. Thank you for your support and goodness."
KATE STEWART | Jewellery Designer
"SO glad I splashed out on this! Lots to think about but also lots to feel proud about. Definitely wouldn’t have got as far as I have without Indie Retail Academy."
LIBBY BALLARD | Ceramicist
"The highlight was having your advice personal to me. I struggle concentrating on general courses so having it tailored was perfect!"
EMMA CAMPBELL + AMINAH MORGAN | Skincare Creators
"You allowed us to stop doubting ourselves and set us on a path that we're much more confident to march along!"
STEPHANIE BENSON | Jewellery Designer
"Thank you for your review of my website! You are both brilliant! The suggestions you gave me are extremely helpful. I look forward to working with you more in the future."
ANNIE SCHERZ | Glass Designer
"After watching your feedback, I was infused with excitement and pride in my own business! Thanks for your kind words, helpful feedback and enthusiasm."
MARIE MURPHY | Surface Pattern Designer + Illustrator
"Really useful. Agreed with everything you suggested. I made those changes and I'm a lot happier with my catalogue. You helped me see my brand through a buyer's eyes."
DEBORAH PANESAR | Illustrator
"I was very nervous! I was expecting to hear bad news but was so flattered to hear lots of complimentary things about my wholesale catalogue. It gave me a really good confidence boost."
PAM MILLERSHASKI | Jewellery Designer
"Your critique of my website was fabulous! While loving your encouraging words, I also needed the improvements you suggested. So ready now to jump back into wholesale. "