Anthony: Welcome back! Last time we were talking about “people not prospects.” But now I’m looking at this and thinking: gosh, us retailers are awful, aren’t we?
Clare: We are awful. I don’t know any artist who’s pitched to a store and always heard something back. That just doesn’t happen. If you haven’t already, you’re going to get ghosted at some point.
Anthony: We have the best intentions, but sometimes we just can’t get back to people. I remember Erica, who’s a member of our Sell Like An Artist Facebook group, saying this. She’s a retailer. She said she tries very hard, but sometimes she just doesn’t reply to pitches.
Clare: Yeah. It’s not always possible, is it?
Anthony: It isn’t unfortunately. I think most artists and designers and makers have had this happen to them.
Anthony: On behalf of our profession, we apologise.
Clare: We do. It sucks to write to a store and make yourself vulnerable in that way and then not hear anything back. Not even a note, not even the courtesy of the retailer closing that loop for you.
But… let’s talk a bit about why this happens, what’s going on in retailers’ minds when they don’t reply. I think that might be helpful.
Anthony: Ah-ha, the Sorting Hat.
Clare: I have to say, I don’t like that hat in the films.
Clare: I mean in the book it’s great, but I find it very frightening in the films. I wouldn’t have let them put it on my head.
Anthony: Not even if Dumbledore was doing it?
Clare: No. I would have just said, “Look. It’s fine, just put me in Slytherin. Please, not the hat.”
Anthony: I would put you in Slytherin as well. Anyway, what have you got for us now?
Clare: What I have is this, humans can categorise each other in much less time than it takes to consciously think about it. Frankly, I think this is terrifying.
Clare: I mean never mind the Sorting Hat, this is scary, right?
Anthony: It is rather, yes.
Clare: How quickly we can do this.
Clare: Researchers have shown it can be this fast. So when it comes to pitch emails, we can say this: “You are going to get sorted. Retailers are going to make fast decisions about the artists who pitch to them. Most of the time, that decision is going to be “yes” or “no.” Like, is the retailer interested in hearing more, are they going to take the time to look at your catalogue? Or can they tell almost from the first line of your pitch email that it’s a “no”?”
Anthony: Indeed. Everyone’s going into the hat.
Anthony: What happens after that?
Clare: Well, Kimberly Elsbach researched the sorting process in Hollywood. She ran a study on showrunners, the people in charge of big TV shows.
Anthony: Executive producers and so on.
Clare: Yeah, people who make sure everything comes together as it should. They hear pitches for new shows or ideas for an existing show. They decide what happens. They steer the ship, so to speak. What Kimberly discovered is that even expert showrunners, people who have been doing this for years and who’ve had enormous success and won awards, they have no formal or objective system for measuring a pitcher’s suitability.
Anthony: We can identify with that, can’t we?
Clare: We can.
Anthony: When we opened our shop, no one ever gave us criteria for assessing the product submissions we received.
Anthony: We didn’t get a little laminated card with a checklist or anything.
Anthony: We’ve had to learn on the job and find our own way.
Clare: Yeah, exactly. Kimberly was researching how showrunners measure creativity in a pitch from a writer or a production company. But the same principle applies to indie retailers. When you pitch to us, we are looking for something that will tell us if you are likely to be a good fit for our store. And we do that in a very eccentric way.
Anthony: Ah, okay. These are the qualities that we’re looking for in a supplier, right?
Clare: Yes. Kimberly found that people who receive pitches build up a profile in their heads over time. That profile is a set of qualities which they associate with a successful outcome. In this case, these are some of the qualities that an indie retailer might be looking for in a potential supplier.
Anthony: I haven’t actually thought about it in exactly this way before, but I recognise this. I do this myself.
Clare: Do you?
Clare: Right. Out of these, which qualities would you say you are looking for in a supplier?
Anthony: Okay. I would definitely identify with personality.
Anthony: We really want to see that because, of course, that’s what our shop needs. If we just stock the same product as every other store, customers have no reason to choose us. I love products with personality, and for me that starts with the artist. I absolutely want to see that their in pitch email.
Clare: Some personality?
Anthony: Yeah. I would also relate to “pays attention,” because there are a lot of moving parts in wholesale. There are a lot of big boxes to unpack and invoices and emails back and forth. I love it when we phone a supplier and they instantly know who I am and what I’ve ordered.
Clare: I know, it’s a good moment.
Anthony: When they have an excellent handle on the details like that, I feel in safe hands.
Clare: You feel like you can trust them.
Anthony: Exactly, yeah.
Clare: Yeah, that’s good. So this is what retailers do. We receive so many pitch emails that, even just as a form of self-defence, we need to a way to quickly sort through them, but no one helps us with that. There’s no school we can go to for that. Therefore we come up with our own completely subjective criteria, and we measure the pitches that we receive against that. It works like this.
Now, remember here, before we say anything else, that this is happening very fast and partially below the level of conscious thought. The retailer is not sitting down with every single submission and carefully examining every word. We just saw that retailers have a dream supplier profile in our heads, a checklist of qualities that we believe will make someone a great supplier for our store.
Clare: When something in your pitch allows us to tick off an item on that checklist, we unconsciously give you points. That means that we are more likely to pay attention and do what you want us to do, like open up your catalogue and think seriously about buying your work.
When something in your pitch does not match up with that profile in our heads, we subtract points. This is the truth of the sorting process. It really comes down to how you make us feel.
Anthony: Okay. You might be thinking, well what am I supposed to do then? If every indie retailer has their own, unique dream supplier profile locked away in their heads, how can I make sure that I match up to it? How do I get them to give me points instead of subtracting them? How can I win?
Clare: Yeah. It’s true that you can’t possibly know every retailer’s idea of an ideal supplier. You can’t know the specifics for every buyer that you pitch to. Of course you can’t. But what you can do is match the trends that most of those profiles share, which if we click back for a second, is the list of qualities we see here. Retailers give points for similar reasons. In addition, you can stay out of the minus column as far as humanly possible. Retailers mentally deduct points for similar reasons too. If you can cut that stuff out of your pitch, you’ve got a better chance of gaining points instead of losing them.
Clare: Shall we look at some ways to do that?
Anthony: We’re talking about what not to do next?
Clare: Yes, what you might call common but easily avoidable pitfalls.
Anthony: I’d like nothing better.
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