Help! A Stockist Is Blanking Me!
Was it something you said?
Here’s a question from Emma:
“How do you get stockists back on board? I make greetings cards and have a retailer who placed a fairly big order at Christmas (just for Christmas cards).
We were quite chatty and friendly in emails over that busy period and I sent her my wholesale catalogue in January, but nothing. I sent a follow up email a few weeks later and she never responded. I don’t want to hassle her, but I’d love to work with her again!”
Give me a sec to warm up my typing fingers. You can’t see but I’m doing a very realistic tarantula impression right now.
Okay, that should do it. First off, it’s SO GOOD to hear you’re thinking this way.
Encouraging your stockists to come back, time after time, is one of the smartest things you can do.
You invested a huge amount of time, money and effort into tracking down the right retailers and persuading them to buy your stuff. If you allow those stockists to just wander off once they’ve placed their first order, all that hard work goes up in smoke.
Plus, it’s cheaper, quicker and easier to sell to your existing stores. They already know, like and trust you, to some degree at least, which means you’re not starting from scratch.
So you get a blackberry mimosa for thinking like a pro, Emma. Setting things up so retailers buy from you again and again is how successful wholesale businesses are built.
Now let’s talk about why, despite such a promising start, you haven’t received another order from this store. There are three possibilities.
Umm…you might want to knock that mimosa back before you hear the first one.
1. The retailer isn’t willing to buy from you again.
Even if you did everything right. Even if your cards sold well in their store. The awful truth is that sometimes retailers drop suppliers without warning.
We get distracted, one of your competitors turns our heads, we decide to go in a different direction or maybe we just forget about you. It sucks but every wholesale business in existence has stockists who drift away.
There are things you can do to make it much less likely, but you can’t prevent it happening altogether.
2. The retailer is willing to buy from you again, but not right now.
The next possibility is that this retailer does intend to buy from you at some point, but not today. After the profitable hubbub of Christmas, the early months of the year can come as a nasty wake up call for indie retailers.
Footfall drops off a cliff, the till stops ringing so often and we aren’t burning through stock like we did in the heady days of December. So maybe this shopkeeper doesn’t need more cards right now, but she is planning to order from you again in the future.
Maybe she’s just waiting for better weather or more customers.
3. The retailer is willing to buy from you now, if you demonstrate that it makes sense to do so.
The final possibility is that this retailer is more than happy to place a new order – if you persuade her that she’d be better off giving you money than not giving you money.
Don’t forget that she has a kajillion other card suppliers at her fingertips. Five submissions from companies like yours probably landed in her inbox this morning. So, are you giving her a compelling reason to say yes to you instead of the other guy?
Have a think about that while we talk through the next bit.
Now, it’s a fairly safe bet that the reason you haven’t received another order from this store fits into one of the categories above. The tricky thing is working out which one. You just don’t have enough information to be sure of what’s going on.
So I’m going to lay out two routes for getting out of this situation – direct and indirect.
Both involve making contact with the store. If you’re not up for that, the only other option is to cross your fingers and hope another order comes your way, one day.
When you befriend a leprechaun, for example. You’d be surprised at how many artists hitch their wagon to that star.
Let’s look at the direct route first.
Your Scary-But-Direct Action Plan:
You’ve contacted this stockist by post and email with no response, so maybe it’s time to up the intimacy and approach her on a more personal level.
Unless you live nearby and know for sure that she won’t mind you dropping in, that probably means giving her a ring to see how things are going and ask if she’d like to place another order. (More on this in a sec.)
Some things to keep in mind when you call:
1. Make certain you know the buyer’s name and how to pronounce it.
2. Try to speak to the person you’ve been dealing with, not someone else.
3. Check it’s a good time for them – if not, ring back.
4. Be breezy. Or at least shoot for breezy.
The upsides of this plan: You have better odds of getting a straight answer (and possibly an immediate order) than more indirect methods like email, you can answer any questions right away, you’re building a personal relationship with the retailer.
The downsides of this plan: It’s scary, you might get fobbed off, it may be an inconvenient time for the retailer, you’re putting her on the spot, you might not be comfortable talking on the phone, you might find out that they don’t want to order again.
Okay. Now let’s look at the more indirect route.
Your Softly-Softly Action Plan:
You know this retailer likes you, or at least, they liked your Christmas cards. So let’s build on that.
How about treating them like the treasured stockist you hope they’ll become? Did you ever welcome them into your business? If not, it’s not too late. Send an email letting them know how pleased you are to be working with them.
Ask questions and listen to the answers. Send them helpful information about your work. Ask if you can interview the retailer on your blog.
Upsides to this plan: it’s gentle for you and the retailer, you can impress the retailer with your customer service, you can glean valuable information about your stockist.
Downsides to this plan: it’s slow, you can’t be certain your emails aren’t going to junk or being read by the right person, it’s time-consuming.
The route you choose is up to you. Scary-But-Direct is high risk, high reward, Softly-Softly is slow but sustainable.
Now you know your options, here’s a little trick to increase your chances of getting back on a stockist’s radar, whichever route you select.
Offer them something they want, for a limited time.
Here’s a list of things retailers want from their suppliers – they’re carrots you can dangle to get our attention:
A lowered (or no) minimum order.
A percentage off our order.
A quick turnaround time from ordering to delivery.
This isn’t exhaustive, but you get the idea. Remember we talked about giving your stockist a good reason to choose you instead of someone else? Assuming they like you in the first place, and we know this store does, you may find a limited-time offer from the list does the trick.
Whether you go for Scary-But-Direct or Softly-Softly, it’s easier to offer something to a store (“Free shipping till Friday!”) than it is to ask for something (“So when are you going to spend another £500 on my work?”)
Does this mean you have to jeopardise your business by offering discounts and promotions all the time?
Nope. Retailers are used to working with their suppliers’ terms and conditions and don’t expect special treatment on a daily basis.
But it doesn’t hurt every once in a while, especially when it might prevent a hard-won stockist disappearing into the bushes. So if you want to give yourself the best chance of getting another order, pick your action plan, then pick a carrot.
Make it a big, delicious carrot this particular retailer will want to nibble on. Then get back in touch using the route that feels right to you.
One of three things will happen.
1. You won’t hear anything from the retailer, ever again.
2. You’ll eventually get another order from the retailer.
3. You’ll get another order from the retailer today.
At the moment, we don’t know which one it’ll be. But we do know that you’re smart, and that you have good instincts, and that you make something retailers want to buy.
I think you can handle whatever happens next.
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.