Pitch Emails: What Retailers Wish You Knew
Here's what retailers wish you knew.
Here’s the big secret:
Pitch emails aren’t about you.
Hold still for a second, would you?
There we go.
I just vacuumed all the YOU out of your product submissions.
All your anxiety about approaching a store and your wild imaginings about what might happen if they actually placed an order, have been compacted into this tiny bale of fluff.
You can keep it if you like.
Now we’ve got a big, empty space, ready to be filled up with what really matters.
The specific retailer you’re writing to.
Their unique point of view.
Their fears, dilemmas, hopes and dreams. And how stocking your lovely thing can help their particular business to thrive.
Most artists don’t get this.
They assume that since they created their product, what they think and feel is always most important. Instead of figuring out what’s going on in their stockists’ heads, they camp out in their own.
Which is why most product submissions don’t result in an order.
And why indie retailers like me need a stiff gin and tonic before opening our inbox.
If you really want to sell your work to shops, it’s time to stop working your own angle and start seeing things from our point of view. When you do, it’s much easier to side-step the mistakes, pitfalls and screw-ups that trip up most artists.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to do that. I’m going to let you in on what retailers wish you knew about pitch emails.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that every pitch you send from now on will be a slam-dunk. No-one can guarantee that (and if they say they can you should probably back away slowly.)
But I can promise you that there’s no downside to understanding indie retailers better, especially when it comes to pitch emails.
Today, I’m going to give you the inside scoop and help stack the odds in your favour.
1. We’re not angry with you, so stop freaking out.
Things Retailers Wish You Knew #1 can be summed up in one word:
I asked dozens of indie retailers to describe the least-effective pitches they receive. Here’s a selection of the words they chose:
Awkward, pushy, timid, unprofessional, apologetic, obnoxious, vague, desperate, over-familiar, clueless, boring.
Now, this is weird.
Artists, in my experience, are likely to be bright, funny, sensitive and emotionally intelligent.
I bet you are.
But if that’s the case, why do most product submissions suck?
Why is there such an enormous chasm between how most artists come across in their pitch emails and what they’re actually like?
You’re scared of pitching your work to a store, right?
Come on. You can be honest.
Thought so. When you sit down to write to a store, fear gets in the way.
Well, here’s the number one thing indie retailers want you to know.
You don’t have to be frightened.
We’re not angry with you for getting in touch, showing us the lovely thing you make or asking us to spend our money on it.
We don’t think you’re being forward. We’re not expecting you to be perfect.
We’re aren’t terrifying orc-monsters who’ll pulverise your dreams and sprinkle them on a toasted sandwich.
If we get the Breville out it’s for the toasting of legitimate ingredients only.
Maybe a bit of pickle if it’s been a particularly trying day.
My point is that we don’t actually want you to fail, and we’d much rather say yes to your pitch than no.
Saying yes is exciting. Discovering a new supplier, placing our first order and getting your work into the hands of our customers is a thrill. It’s the reason many of us became retailers in the first place.
But many artists assume that retailers have a negative mindset – that we’re permanently on the look-out for the tiniest excuse to knock them back.
This makes them feel scared, judged and intimidated, and as a result their pitch email is torture to write (and read.) They let their fear do the talking.
You don’t have to be scared of retailers any more.
Yes, we want you to be professional. Yes, we want to feel that if we go ahead with an order, we’re going to be in safe hands.
But we’re also just people. Often, quite nice people.
People who care about art and artists. People who, like you, are trying to keep their small business afloat.
We put our trousers on one leg at a time, just like everybody else.
So instead of approaching your pitch email from an orc-monster perspective, try thinking of each individual retailer from a trouser perpective.
As you research their store, build up a picture of what they seem to care about.
Do they stock a lot of ethically-sourced products? Do they run a busy programme of events and workshops? Do they create colourful or funny window displays?
Treating this shopkeeper as a faceless source of potential income is, frankly, lazy, arrogant and exactly what hundreds of artists have done before you.
So show that you’re different. Find the human hiding behind the title of “retailer.”
In your pitch email, talk to that human.
And remember that you’re a human too.
Tell us why we should care.
When I began researching pitch emails, I didn’t realise that indie retailers had quite so much to say about the subject.
Let’s just say we have feelings. And since it’s not something we get to talk about that often, many of my respondents jumped at the chance to let it all out.
One of the common things I heard:
“Most of the submissions I receive simply aren’t relevant to my store.”
“We get a lot of blanket emails. They’ve obviously sent the same message to several shops and are expecting me to figure out if their product is a good fit. I wish more artists would say ‘Here’s why your customers will like my work.’ That makes my life so much easier.”
In other words, indie retailers want you to help us out in your pitch email.
We want you to do your homework and only get in touch if there’s hard evidence to suggest that we might be interested in stocking your stuff.
If there isn’t, don’t pitch to us at all.
When there is a good match, we want you to go even further. Tell us why your wall hangings, lambswool socks or massive sculptures made from bronze and your own frozen blood will be of interest to their specific customers.
Do your homework and give them a reason why reading your pitch and considering your product is worth their time.
Are there parallels between your style and theirs?
Are they in a busy seaside location and you just happen to make amazingly realistic seagull figurines?
Do they have an audience of hip young things and you make snarky greetings cards for the Snapchat generation?
Give them an answer to the question “Why should I care about this?” Tell them what’s in it for them.
Because you know what?
That’s exactly what their customers are going to wonder when they see your work on the retailer’s shelf.
Instead of leaving the shopkeeper to figure it all out by themselves, break things down for them. Point out why this is a match made in heaven.
And do it fast, at the beginning of your pitch email. Prove to the retailer that they’re not wasting their time by reading on.
Send everything we need to make a decision.
Sometimes artists feel like they have to get permission to pitch their stuff to a store. They feel weird about just bouncing into the retailer’s inbox and asking them to spend a couple of hundred quid.
So they invite the buyer to join them in a little dance.
A gavotte, perhaps, or some light moonwalking.
They email the store with a few details about their product and ask if it’s okay to send them a catalogue and price list.
The retailer has to email back to say “It’s okay.”
Then the artist then emails them their proper pitch with all the relevant details.
There are two big problems with this approach.
First, you’re asking the shopkeeper to do a lot of work.
They have to notice your initial email, find time to read it, make a decision about whether it’s worth learning more and reply. Then they have to wait for you to get back to them, notice your reply in their inbox, find time to read that and finally carve out a spare moment to look at your catalogue.
I’m knackered just typing that out.
Secondly, you’re banking on a pretty fragile chain of events.
If the retailer gets busy, a delivery comes in or they’re off for a day or two, responding to your initial invitation to dance is likely to plummet to the bottom of their to-do list.
Plus, a retailer who doesn’t know you has very little incentive to do all this work, just to see a product that might possibly be of interest to them. In fact, they almost certainly can’t tell if it’s of interest without knowing your wholesale prices, minimum order, minimum quantities and carriage paid level.
Moral of the story?
Attach your buyers’ pack every time you get in touch with a store.
Don’t ask for permission – just send it.
Also attach it to any follow-up emails you send. Don’t make the shopkeeper dig back through their inbox for a message you sent two weeks ago.
So there’s no need to get the green light from a store to pitch your work.
If the idea still bothers you, however, there is something you can do. If you know you’re going to approach a store in the near future, start building up a rapport with them via social media, several weeks in advance.
Reply to their tweets or ask questions on their facebook page. Be genuinely interested in them and pay attention to their answers.
Then, when you’re ready, message them to say you’re about to email over some information that might be of interest.
If they already know who you are, the buyer is more likely to click “open” right away.
Quickfire Tips To Rapidly Improve Your Pitch Emails
1. Keep it short.
Lengthy pitches = tl:dr for weary shopkeepers.
2. Use the buyer’s name.
If I had a penny for every pitch email that begins To The Manager or Dear Sirs, I’d have a yacht by now.
Persuasive pitch emails speak to the retailer as an individual. There’s nothing more fundamental than addressing them by name.
3. Get to the point.
This is related to keeping your email brief, but it’s also about making it direct and punchy.
A pitch isn’t the time to beat around the bush – tell them what you do in one sentence. Ask for what you want (which is for them to open up your catalogue) in another sentence. Don’t waffle.
(Feel free to have as many waffles as you like once you hit send.)
4. Don’t assume anything.
However much research you’ve done, you don’t know this shop as well as the person who owns it. Many artists say “my work is perfect for your store,” but unless you’re a leprechaun, how could you possibly know that?
You can and should make suggestions, but show you understand that they’re the one making the decision.
5. Show your personality.
If you’re funny, consider allowing yourself to be a tiny bit funny in your pitch email. If you’re warm and friendly, let that shine through a little.
Write like a real, live human who likes and admires the person they’re pitching to. If this is hard, pretend you’re writing your pitch email to me.
You’re not scared of me, are you?
Scribble down what you’d say if you weren’t freaking out, then revise it to suit this particular buyer.
6. Keep it simple.
Retailers don’t need to read your artist’s mission statement or know that you’re deeply inspired by Orphic Cubism in your pitch email.
Some of that stuff might be useful later, but for now use clear language and skip buzzwords or jargon.
7. Ignore the benefits to you.
Don’t say A WORD about how this store placing an order will benefit you.
Anything along the lines of “I’m looking to expand my list of stockists” or “I want to raise the profile of my brand” is to be avoided like the plague. The retailer knows you stand to gain – the whole point of your pitch is how stocking your work helps them.
8. No meaningless praise.
Bland, generic compliments like “you have a beautiful shop” mean nothing to indie retailers. We hear it so often from potential stockists that we tune it out.
Instead, figure out what matters to us, or what we’re proud of, and say something sincere about that.
9. Don’t over-use “please.”
Although politeness has its place in a pitch email, using “please” too often can come across as desperate.
Instead of “Please could you consider stocking my work?,” switch it to “I’ve attached my catalogue for your consideration – if stocking my work feels like a possibility, perhaps you could drop me a line and we’ll take it from there?”
10. Mention your wins.
If you’ve got a stunning testimonial from a happy stockist or you’re already supplying some starry retailers, drop those names. Do it very succinctly, though – a line or two at most.
11. Make it easy on the reader.
Making your pitch email easy to read is an obvious but often overlooked point. Choose a readable font, in a size that doesn’t require squinting, and don’t include any images or HTML bells and whistles that may not show up correctly.
12. Don’t overload their inbox.
Sending seventeen massive attachments with your email is unlikely to endear you to a retailer, and may get your message automatically marked as spam. One or two small attachments, or simply the link to your online catalogue, is a much better option.
Writing a persuasive pitch email isn’t something a few lucky people are born knowing how to do.
It’s a skill you can learn, just like you learned how to order a pastrami bagel while simultaneously pulling on your coat and commenting on an Instagram story about the water crisis in Flint.
You didn’t know how to do any of that stuff not so very long ago. You’re an accomplished learner and you can learn how to do this too.
The key is to calmly be yourself. Don’t let fear sprawl across your keyboard and do the talking for you.
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.