“Pitching to shops by email seems like a lot of hassle. Can’t I just approach stores in person with some samples and ask to speak to the owner?”
This bold question is from Annette, an Indie Retail reader, and the first thing I have to say is I salute you, my friend.
You’ve got serious cojones. You must get upgraded to business class, like, ALL the time.
Approaching stores in person seems like a good idea.
You get to meet the retailer face to face, they see your work up close and if they agree to make an order you can work out the details immediately.
It also has a kind of old-school, if-you-want-things-to-happen-you-have-to-MAKE-them-happen romance about it. You’re slinging your wares on your back and heading out to make your fortune.
But there are some very big drawbacks, the first of which is…
It brings office stuff onto my shop floor.
When I’m in my shop I’m concentrating on my customers. I want them to feel relaxed and maybe a little dreamy. I want them to know that they have my undivided attention whenever they want it.
My buyers don’t need to hear how the sausage is made. It kills their buzz and could put them off asking for assistance.
And I might not be able to talk to you in my office right now, either
Unless I’ve just tidied up and there’s another member of staff available to look after the shop floor, I can’t invite you into the back.
Plus, I’ve kinda got things to do today and you’re getting in the way.
Next, you’re putting me on the spot.
This is a big one.
If your work isn’t right for my shop I don’t want to have to tell you that to your face.
You might be perfectly okay about hearing “no,” but I can’t be sure of that. Being trapped in a situation where I might have to hurt your feelings is stressful for me.
And even if your lovely thing is a good fit, I want to think about it properly before I make an order, without you eyeballing me.
Finally, it’s not professional.
Most retailers prefer to receive submissions by email or post. Many tell you how to pitch to them on their website, or they’ll happily let you know if you give them a quick ring.
Turning up at my till with a basket of samples and a hopeful expression suggests that you either don’t know the proper way to go about things, or that you don’t give a toss about what I want.
That makes me instantly wary of working with you because I’m not certain I’m in safe hands.
You might think “Well in that case, can I drop in and leave a sample of my work with you? Is that okay?”
In most cases, probably not.
Unsolicited samples cause retailers nothing but trouble. It’s like stamping into my shop and forcing me to pet-sit your iguana.
A particularly high-maintenance iguana who likes his dandelions lightly steamed and all his carrot tops cut to exactly the same size.
When you leave your lovely thing with me unasked, I have to find somewhere to store it, make sure it doesn’t get squashed, lost or broken, then get back in touch with you to arrange its safe return.
Shopkeepers are busy.
We have bills to pay, customers to serve, floors to sweep, window displays to create and weird scuffling noises in the stockroom to investigate.
For many, being the unpaid custodian of an assortment of unsolicited items is just one job too many.
So I think approaching stores in person, unannounced, is a bad idea. I can’t speak for every indie retailer, of course, but I know many of my colleagues feel the same way.
Finding out how each shopkeeper likes to be approached and doing what they prefer is likely to give you much better results.
That’s not to say approaching stores in person can’t work for you, though.
If you have a connection to a particular shopkeeper – perhaps you know them slightly, or you’ve been recommended to them by a mutual friend – then it can be a good way to make contact.
But ring up and ask the retailer if you can make an appointment first. That’s respectful of their time and it shows you know something about how wholesale works.
If they agree, then go get ’em.
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