Why Stores Stop Buying From You

Maybe it's not them, it's you.

Written by Clare

Here’s a good question from Nina:

“What can you do when shops stop ordering your stuff? I took your What Retailers Want class last year and used it to get ten new stockists.

That was an incredible feeling but now I’m wondering why they aren’t ordering more often. It took so much work to get those wholesale accounts and I don’t want them to slip away. What should I be doing to make them come back?”

Let’s talk about what to do when orders dry up.

There are lots of reasons why this might happen. The shopkeeper might be taking their store in a new direction. Money might be so tight that they’re only buying items they know will sell quickly. They might be having a passionate affair with Pablo from Hair Hair Hair next door, and are too busy buying frilly underthings and researching discreet B+Bs on Tripadvisor to think about stock.

It happens.

You can’t do much about any of those reasons, so let’s put them aside for now and talk about what you can control. Here’s a general rule you can use to work out what’s going on.

If a shop orders from you once and you never hear from them again, the issue might be with your product. If a shop orders from you more than once then stops, the issue might be with your customer contact. Here’s why.

First orders are always a gamble. The retailer can’t be certain that your work will sell in their store. By sending them an excellent submission, you’ve convinced them that it’s worth a shot. There’s still no guarantee, however, that there will be a happily ever after.

The retailer is betting that their customers will dig your lovely thing, but he can’t say for sure until it’s actually on the shelves.

Sometimes, even though the signs are good, it just doesn’t work out.

Sometimes the shopkeeper really, really loves your work, but their customers just don’t get it. That’s a great pity, but all the retailer can do is move on.

If you’ve only had one order from a stockist, then months of radio silence, this could be the cause. It sucks, but it happens to every supplier on a regular basis – even the big ones.

It’s also one of the reasons you need to be reaching out to new shops all the time. No matter how many stockists you snag, there will always be a significant percentage who fall by the wayside.

[Read: Should you tell people you’re a menstrual rat stapler?]

The second scenario is more encouraging. In this case, you get several repeat orders from a store but then they tail off. The bright spot here is that you know your product is a good fit. If the retailer wasn’t a happy bunny, she wouldn’t have got your stuff back in.

So why have the orders dried up? There are three major possibilities:

1. You’ve left it too long to get back in touch.

Are you a love rat?

Do you make impressionable retailers fall in love with you, string them along till they enthusiastically make their first order, then high-tail it outta there, never to be heard from again?


I guess you don’t see yourself as a smooth-talking wholesale heartbreaker.

Well, that’s funny, because this is precisely what most artists do. They spend huge amounts of time, money and energy getting shopkeepers like me to place their first order, then they forget all about us.

The bad news: When you forget about us, we forget about you. If you haven’t checked in with a stockist for a long time, there’s a good chance they’ve found some other supplier to replace you. It’s not like we’re short of options.

The good news: If you weaselled your way into a shopkeeper’s heart once, you can probably do it again. You know they like you and that your work has sold well for them in the past. That’s a ready-made platform to build on.

The solution: Get back in touch with your stockists – preferably with something interesting to say. That might be a new collection, a new item, a special offer or an idea for an in-store event. Show your worth. And don’t let them drift away again.

2. The buyer feels no connection to you.

Retailers try not to have favourites but we do. Some suppliers are just a joy to work with. They respond quickly to queries, their buyers’ pack is easy to use and it’s clear they value our business. With others, it’s like wading through mud. It’s all long delays, brusque notes, group emails and badly-packed deliveries.

Guess which kind of supplier shopkeepers like to re-order from?

The bad news: If buying from you is difficult, unreliable, annoying or lacking in basic human warmth, retailers won’t hesitate to cut you from their budget, no matter how great your product is. Clawing your way back into their good books might be nigh on impossible.

The good news: Consider this a wake-up call. If this is your problem, it’s a big sign that you need to overhaul the way you communicate with your customers. And if you do that diligently, you’re likely to see a big improvement in stockist retention almost straight away.

The solution: You need a crash-course in thinking like your wholesale customer. If you have any remaining stockists, find out how you can make their lives easier. We talk about this a lot in Sell More, Stress Less.

3. Your collection hasn’t moved on.

I’ll be honest. Sometimes retailers just get bored. We tire of putting the same old stuff on our shelves. Our customers tire of seeing it. The thrill has gone. Love don’t live here any more.

The bad news: Retailers are bombarded with pitches for new items every single day. The temptation to drop old reliables in favour of something new and fresh can be overwhelming. If your collection isn’t always moving forward, you risk becoming a nothing but distant memory.

The good news: You probably enjoy making new work. Thinking up new items is likely to be something you do naturally, all the time. You don’t have to be chained to your desk to come up with a fresh idea.

The solution: Keep your creative spark alive. Above all, you’re an artist. Give yourself time to play and experiment. Your retailers and their customers already love what you do – so shake things up a bit. And it doesn’t even have to be all that new. A fresh twist on your existing bestsellers can be all it takes to keep a shop interested.

[Read: Carriage-paid: why retailers LOVE free shipping]

Your homework, if you choose to accept it.

Get a piece of paper. For every stockist you have, draw a circle and put their name in the middle. Add three bits of information to each circle: how many orders the stockist has made, when they last ordered and when you last contacted them.

Now take a blue pen and colour in all the circles where the retailer hasn’t made an order in the last six months. Take a red pen and colour in all the circles where the retailer has made an order in the last six months. Finally, take a yellow pen and draw a ring around every stockist you’ve contacted in the last eight weeks – whether it resulted in an order or not.

Here’s what your chart is telling you:

Blue circle without a yellow ring – this stockist is stone cold.

Blue circle with yellow ring – this stockist is stone cold, despite your contact.

Red circle without a yellow ring – this stockist is luke-warm, but could be cooling off.

Red circle with a yellow ring – this stockist is fairly warm, but could be warmer.

This exercise gives you a rough idea of how likely each of your stockists is to re-order. When you know that, you can see where you might want to cut your losses, and where some gentle nudging might result in another order.

Clare Yuille Bio Picture

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.

Worry less. Sell more.