“Can I Speak To The Owner?”
Um, this is awkward.
Here’s a bold question from Annette.
All this “crafting a pitch email” stuff seems like a lot of hassle. Can’t I just drop into a shop with some samples and ask to speak to the owner?
First off, if this seems like the easier option I salute you, my friend. You’ve got serious cojones. You must get upgraded to business class, like, ALL the time.
Pitching in person appears to be a good idea for three reasons.
You get to meet the retailer face to face, they see your work up close and if they agree to make an order you can work out the details immediately.
It also has a kind of old-school, if-you-want-things-to-happen-you-have-to-MAKE-them-happen romance about it. You’re slinging your wares on your back and heading out to make your fortune.
But there are some very big drawbacks. Let’s take a look.
First, it brings office stuff onto my shop floor.
When I’m in my shop I’m concentrating on my customers. I want them to feel relaxed and maybe a little dreamy, while knowing that they have my undivided attention whenever they want it.
Discussing behind-the-scenes stuff with you – wholesale prices, minimum orders, lead times – scuppers all that.
My buyers don’t need to hear it and it kills their buzz.
And I might not be able to talk to you in my office right now, either
Unless I’ve just tidied up and there’s another member of staff available to look after the shop floor, I can’t invite you into the back of shop. Plus, I’ve kinda got things to do and you’re getting in the way.
Next, you’re putting me on the spot.
This is a big one.
If your work isn’t right for my shop I don’t want to have to tell you that to your face.
You might be perfectly okay about hearing “no,” but I can’t be sure of that. Being trapped in a situation where I might have to hurt your feelings is ridiculously stressful for me.
Even if your lovely thing is a good fit, I want to think about it properly before I make an order, without you eyeballing me.
Finally, it’s just not professional.
Most retailers prefer to receive submissions by email or post. Many tell you how to pitch to them on their website, or they’ll happily let you know when you give them a quick ring.
Turning up at my till with a basket of samples and expecting me to make a decision suggests that you either don’t know the proper way to go about things, or that you don’t give a toss about my preferences.
That makes me wary of working with you because I’m not certain that I’m in safe hands.
You might think “Well in that case, can I drop in and leave a sample of my work with you? Is that okay?”
Unsolicited samples cause retailers nothing but trouble. It’s like stamping into my shop and forcing me to pet-sit your iguana.
A particularly high-maintenance iguana, I might add, who likes his dandelions lightly steamed and all his carrot tops cut to exactly the same size.
When you leave your lovely thing with me unasked, I have to find somewhere to store it, make sure it doesn’t get squashed, lost or broken, then get back in touch with you to arrange its safe return.
Shopkeepers are busy.
We have bills to pay, customers to serve, floors to sweep, window displays to create and weird scuffling noises in the stockroom to investigate.
For many, being the unpaid guardian of an assortment of unsolicited items is just one job too many.
So I think dropping in unannounced to pitch your work is a bad idea. I can’t speak for every single indie retailer, of course, but I know many of my colleagues feel the same way.
Finding out how each individual store likes to be approached is likely to give you much better results.
That’s not to say pitching in person can’t work for you, though.
If you have a connection to a particular shopkeeper – perhaps you know them slightly, or you’ve been recommended to them by a mutual friend – then it can be a good way to make contact.
But ring up and ask the retailer if you can make an appointment first. That’s respectful of their time and it shows you know something about how wholesale works.
If they agree, then go get ’em.
Hello, I'm Clare Holliday. I'm a shopkeeper who's helped thousands of creative people sell their work to stores, galleries and regular customers all over the world. Now it's your turn.