Okay. My answer to this question is going to be both simpler and more complicated than you think.
Deep, right? I should totally get myself a mountain to meditate on.
Here’s the simple part. You can’t convince a retailer your work is right for them.
Wait! Before you throw your pottery wheel/silver-smithing anvil/ paper-cutting knives out the window and become the subject of a class-action lawsuit by injured pedestrians, let me qualify that statement.
What I mean is you can’t convince a retailer your work is right for them if they’ve already decided it isn’t.
It can’t be done.
For example, you’ll never convince me that an boilable egg timer that plays “Killing Me Softly” when the yolks are nicely runny is something we should stock at Plaisir. It doesn’t matter that I desperately want one or that everyone I know is getting one for Christmas. As a business, novelty egg-timers just aren’t our thing.
The shopkeeper has to meet you half way.
Your product has to give them that “you will be mine” feeling. You know, the feeling you get when you’re out buying cat litter and suddenly spot a dress that’s just right for you. Or maybe it’s a painting, or a house, or if you’re my husband, an obscure Japanese RPG computer game in which one of the characters is a grapefruit.
Whatever it happens to be, when your eyes alight upon it you just know that soon the two of you will be together. The sack of cat litter falls forgotten from your hand, mildly concussing an unfortunate spaniel, as you’re drawn magnetically towards it. In your head, it’s already yours.
Sorry, to a retailer, this is more exciting than the elevator scene from Fifty Shades of Grey.
My point, and I do have one, is this.
The shopkeeper needs to feel an immediate connection to your work.
It has to appeal to them on a fundamental level, to some degree at least. If it doesn’t the game’s over.
So how can you increase the chances of a shopkeeper feeling that immediate attraction?
1. Be amazing
I know that sounds flippant but I’m serious. Be frikkin’ incredible. Make your product, branding, packaging, descriptions, photographs, website and pricing structure as good as they can possibly be. That means making sure they measure up to the highest professional standards in your industry, and that they reflect what’s in your head and your heart.
2. Only target retailers who are predisposed to dig your work
This means doing homework. There’s no point submitting your lovely thing to every shopkeeper in the country. That’s a waste of your time and a pretty efficient way to make yourself miserable in the process. If I asked you why you pitched to a particular retailer, you should be able to give me solid reasons.
Look for similarities in style, outlook, the ranges they stock, price, location and anything else you can think of. Find this stuff out by looking at their website, blog, facebook page and twitter account in detail. Join their mailing list. Best of all – if you can, visit the darn shop. If you can’t come up with at least two or three good reasons to think they might like to stock your work, move on.
These two things together help you find your right people.
Right people means people who are naturally excited, energised and supportive of what you do. In this case, that means retailers who understand the value of your work, are keen to stock your lovely thing and who help you find even more right people by selling it to their customers.
Everyone has right people.
You find them by doing what you do to the very best of your ability, and by making yourself visible to them. Sending them a submission, exhibiting at a craft show and inviting them to visit your stand at a trade show are all ways of making yourself visible to potential stockists.
So now let’s talk about the convincer.
Let’s say you’ve got a potential stockist who likes what you do, but who’s still undecided about making an order. How can you gently nudge them into giving you a whirl?
Add a pinch of social proof
We humans are social creatures. If the other monkeys in the tree are doing something new and exciting with bananas, we tend to think it’s a good idea too. That’s why rave reviews from happy customers and existing stockists are just as important to your success as money in the bank.
Ask the retailers who currently stock your work for a testimonial. Ring your previous clients and ask them for a few quick words about how you rocked their world. Get a picture of them while you’re at it because praise is more credible if we can see the person giving it. Sprinkle your testimonials across your website – on your about page, your contact page and the front page for starters. Put some in your wholesale catalogue, or even your linesheet and order form if you want to.
Give incentives for ordering
Ordering from a new supplier is a risk for any retailer, so reduce that risk by offering incentives. Think about all the reasons a potential stockist might have for not ordering fifty of your lovely things right now. Expense is likely to be a major one.
So maybe you can swing it so they only have to spend £100 the first time around instead of your usual minimum of £300. Maybe the postage and packaging is free. Maybe they get a 10% discount when they spend £150. Maybe you’re willing to offer sale-or-return for a set period. As long you can still make the figures stack up at your end, incentives are a great way to get a dithering retailer off the fence.
There’s so much to say on this topic I could go on all day.
Since I know you’ve got art to make, cat litter to replenish, concussed spaniels to take to the vet and erotic novels to read, I won’t.
But here’s your takeaway. Most of this boils down into one thing:
Be yourself, as hard as you can
Do that and your right people will find you.
See, told you it was simple.