How Many Stockists Do You Need?

Asking this question is a very good sign.

Written by Clare

This question is from Danny:

“Your emails over the last couple of weeks have made me face up to something. I have no idea how many stockists I actually need. Up to now I’ve just been thinking ‘I have to get as many wholesale accounts as I can.’ Now I can see how vague that is. So how will I know when I’ve got enough?” Any thoughts?

Man, I want to high-five you so hard. I do indeed have some thoughts, but first let me give you this trophy. It may look like an empty Starbucks cup with a happy face scrawled on it in biro, but it’s actually a token of extreme merit.

You’re a seriously smart cookie. Let me tell you why.

Ask almost any creative entrepreneur what single thing would most improve their business, and do you know what the answer would be?

More customers.

That’s what everyone wants. We think that if only we had lots more people to serve, everything would fall into place. We’d always have enough money. We’d get to spend time doing what we love. Every day would be a good hair day.

Come on, dream with me a little. What would your business be like if only you had more customers?

What would you wear to work? What would your studio look like? How would you spend your time? Who would be buying your stuff? Got a clear picture?

Good. Now check it for unicorns.

The trouble with wanting “more customers” is that it creates an air-brushed, idealised, fantasy vision of the future. Want proof?

Let’s revist that lovely scene you just came up with. Can you see any signs of the challenges that might come with having lots more people to serve? Are there fifteen open tabs on your desktop because you need larger quantities of raw materials and you’re having trouble finding a reliable supplier?

Is your office stuffed with boxes because you suddenly need three times more storage space? Is your inbox so terrifyingly full that you open your laptop with a stick?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

That’s because “More customers” isn’t a strategy – it’s a wish.

It fuzzy and optimistic and as a result it creates a fuzzy, optimistic picture in your mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Paying attention to what you wish for is essential if you’re going to create a business that makes you happy.

But you can’t get by on wishes alone. If you want them to come true, eventually you have to turn them into plans. That means embracing the rough as well as the smooth. Getting into the details. Going looking for problems. Asking the difficult questions.

[Read: Why won’t these abominable jackalopes buy my work?]

And that’s why I gave you that magnificent trophy.

Many artists are content to stay in the warm, snuggly place of just wanting more customers. You, on the other hand, are starting to say “Okay, this is what I want – but what does that actually mean?”

You’re in the early stages of coming up with a concrete, let’s-do-this plan. And that makes it about seventy million times more likely that you’ll eventually get what you want.

But let’s get down to brass tacks. You’re asking me how many wholesale stockists you need. The answer is I don’t know.

Only you can work that out. But here are two ideas that can help:

1. Sustainability.

Sustainability applies to wholesale in two ways. The first relates to your stockists.

Which costs you the least time, energy and money?

a) Tracking down a potential stockist, carefully crafting a submission and selling your work to them just once?


b) Tracking down a potential stockist, carefully crafting a submission and selling your work to them again and again, over a period of months and years?

Obviously it’s the second one, right? Finding the best possible stockists and then working to keep them loyal is much less effortful than starting from scratch every single time. If your stockists only order from you once and never come back for more, you’ll need dozens, maybe even hundreds of them to stay afloat.

If they regularly re-order, however, you can have fewer stockists and still do very well indeed. Plus your workload becomes more predictable and you get a much-longed for sense of security.

2. Um…sustainability. Again.

Another aspect of sustainability is about you. If I may, I’d like to speak on behalf of your friends, family and guinea pig for a moment.

We all think you’re very smart, talented and funny. We like spending time with you. We even like your ironic obsession with Justin Bieber, although Mr Snuffles thinks you should get into BTS.

[Read: How to set your minimum order]

The point is, we like you the way you are. We don’t want to see you become a red-eyed, irritable, tearful shadow of your former self because you’re working like a dog turning a spit.

So before you can answer that “How many stockists” question, you need to know what your capacity is.

How long does it take to make your lovely thing? How much does it cost? What quantities can you easily supply it in? What time do you have to work on it?

Once you’ve worked this out, you’ll have a better idea of how much time and energy you can actually give to your wholesale business. Because it has to be sustainable for you, too.

But you’ve got that okay-but-give-me-some-actual-figures look in your eye.

In general terms, I’d say that an artist with less 1 to 5 wholesale customers is just starting out. An artist with 5 to 15 wholesale customers is becoming established. And an artist with more than 15 wholesale stockists has the potential to be doing pretty well.

But it’s all relative. And you’re the one who gets to draw the lines and say (for example) “Right. I want to snag my first five wholesale customers by the end of March and this is how I’m going to do it.”

When you’re that clear and that focussed, only an idiot would bet against you.

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.