What To Look For When Planning Collaborations With Your Retailers

5 questions to ask

Let’s talk about collaborating with your stockists on joint projects like exhibitions, live events, social media takeovers, window displays, demonstrations and exclusive or limited edition products.

Ventures like these can be profitable and profile-boosting for you and the store.

But before we dive in, a note of caution. This is an advanced strategy for makers who are already selling to the shops in question, and who are well established in wholesale.

That’s for two good reasons.

The first is that you generally see the best results from collaborations once all the major components of your sales cycle are in excellent condition and humming along. That’s when you’re in the best position to pitch and execute a successful joint project.

If things aren’t running smoothly or sections of your sales cycle are broken or missing altogether, the odds aren’t so favourable.

The second reason is that when your wholesale business is thriving, you can pitch a collaboration to a stockist and be relatively detached from the outcome.

If they say yes, great.

If they don’t, well, maybe next time.

When you’ve got a full order book and a responsive audience of retailers who love hearing from you, it’s not the end of the world if one idea doesn’t work out.

So that’s the ideal mindset for approaching a potential collaboration – confident that each part of your sales cycle is robust and effective, and relaxed about whether the retailer says yes.

Now, the success of your collaboration depends to a large degree on who you’re working with, so it makes sense to choose carefully.

When you’re looking around for potential partners, here are some things to keep in mind:

#1 – Is the store doing well?

Teaming up with a store that’s struggling can kill a collaboration before it gets off the ground.

If the retailer is already in a difficult cash flow situation or she doesn’t have the time to ensure her business runs smoothly on a day to day basis, she simply can’t give your project the resources it needs.

So when you’re thinking about stockists to approach with collab idea, look for markers that they’re doing well.

Frequent re-orders might be one indication, along with prompt payment of your invoices. Other good signs are regular emails to their own mailing list (if you’re not on your stockists’ lists, sign up now) updates to their website and new shop displays.

You’re never going to get completely accurate read on this but see what you can figure out.

#2 – Is the workload likely to be equal?

The best collaborations are the result of both partners pulling their weight, so look for stockists who can bring something to the table.

If you’re thinking of suggesting a live event, for example, it might be a good idea to target retailers who’ve run live events in the past and have built up an audience of local people.

If you want to suggest an exclusive product, look for stockists who’ve worked with artists in that way before. Those shopkeepers are likely to have an immediate understanding of the process and will probably be able to suggest tweaks and ideas you haven’t considered.

#3 – What are they doing already?

The stockists most likely to agree to a joint project are ones who are already going down that route.

If one of your retailers is running a thriving programme of talks and exhibitions, they’ll probably be open to your idea of a “Meet The Maker” evening than a store which offers no live events.

The first shopkeeper already has a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t in her location and she’s got lots of experience under her belt.

The second retailer may be more resistant and you could end up having to pitch not only your project, but the whole idea of live events. That’s not to say it still wouldn’t be a roaring success, of course, but you may need to put in more time, energy and resources to get the ball rolling.

#4 – Have they been burned before?

The next point to consider is your potential collab partner’s position in the food chain.

The higher up they are, and the more prominent their store, the more likely they are to have had bad experiences with joint projects in the past.

If they’re well-known for what they do, you’re unlikely to be the first artist or supplier who’s pitched them a collaboration idea.

If that’s the case, it’s possible some of those partners failed to deliver what they promised or let them down at the last minute. As a result, the retailer may be unwilling to get involved in another project without a very good reason.

So if you’re pitching to a prominent store, you may have to work extra hard to overcome any resistance that springs from them being burned in the past. The retailer may like you a lot but still be a bit gun-shy.

It’s your job to make them feel safe.

#5 – Does it make sense to join forces?

The final question to ask when considering a collaboration is whether it makes sense for you and your stockist to join forces.

If you’re still in the early days of working with a store, for example, you may want to give your relationship time to develop before suggesting a joint project.

If you’ve been working together for a while, though, have built up a degree of trust and their customers dig your stuff, then teaming up may be a smart move.

Ideally, a collaboration should feel like the obvious next step for both you and your stockist. Here are done-for-you scripts for floating the idea.

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