For many makers, artists and designers, asking stores to buy their products is scary and difficult.
Maybe it is for you, too.
If that’s the case it’s okay. No-one’s asking you to do it right now. No meerkats will be put to work in a ball bearing factory if you don’t approach ten shops in the next thirty seconds.
But I’d like us to talk about what makes pitching your work to retailers so frightening. Let’s see if we can break that scary feeling down into something more manageable. Here’s the typical way an artist goes about selling to shops.
You screw up your courage and choose a door to knock on. No answer. You pick another door, practically at random, and try again. Still no answer.
You knock on a couple more and there’s still no response. This is incredibly frustrating because you know your work is good. And you want and need these retailers to think it’s good too.
Why does the opinion of complete strangers matter so much?
Is it because you’re a fragile little poppet?
Nope. It’s because being rejected hurts – literally.
Researchers Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman studied what goes on in our brains when we’re included and excluded from social activity. They discovered that the regions of the brain that are activated when a person feels left out are the same regions that are activated during physical pain.
When retailers say no or don’t respond to your pitches, you are in pain. Since you’re a maker or artist, and most likely an especially sensitive person, you experience that pain in glorious technicolour. Obviously your brain wants to make it stop.
So there’s a lot riding on those first few doors.
There’s external pressure because creative businesses are often on a shaky financial footing and need to make money, fast.
There’s internal pressure because it feels like the life you want – happy customers, enough cash to be comfortable, the joy of making a living from doing what you love – is on the other side. Only a few inches of wood separate you from success.
And there’s this hidden rule that the process of approaching stores can’t be too painful. If that rule gets broken because you keep knocking and no-one answers, your brain will start looking for an out.
Maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe the universe is trying to tell you something. Maybe that’s why it hurts.
This is why approaching stores is hard.
When retailers don’t respond to your pitch in the way you want, that pain can cause you to dismantle the thought process that got you here. You lose faith that wholesale could be a good fit for you. You tell yourself you weren’t that interested in selling to shops anyway.
Then you look around and see competitors apparently being welcomed through the same doors with open arms.
You start to think you’re just not good enough.
It feels bad but at least you know, right?
And then you give up.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
If you think about it, you let those first two or three doors decide the entire course of your wholesale business. Doors you picked without knowing what you were doing. Doors that make up a miniscule percentage of the whole.
Now, I’m not telling you that knocking on doors and getting no response doesn’t hurt. It does. What I am telling you is that if you’re repeatedly knocking on doors and no-one’s answering, those are the wrong damn doors.
It’s the doors that are wrong, not you.
You’re an artist. You make things better by making better things. And you have something to say. Whether you speak through the medium of birthday cards or fridge magnets or glass doesn’t matter in the slightest.
There are people in the world who need and want to hear you – and they’ll happily spend money on your lovely thing in order to do that.
How many loyal, regular, repeat customers do you really need to make your business a roaring success? Three hundred? Five hundred? Maybe a couple of thousand if you want to buy a yacht?
There are six billion people on the planet. If you go about it in the right way, I think you can scare up the numbers you need.
So let me say that again because it’s important.
If you’re repeatedly pitching your work to retailers and not getting the response you want, you’re pitching to the wrong retailers.
Indie Retail Academy is here to help you identify the right ones, and your Approaching Stores scripts will show you how to talk to them in the right way. These are the buyers who’ll fling the door open, sigh with relief and say “There you are! Come in! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
You may discover that these doors are quite different from those you knocked on in the beginning.
And one more thing.
Sometimes retailers get it monstrously wrong.
We say no to products that would have made us a fortune because we didn’t like the packaging or wanted it in blue. We pick an inferior product and live to regret it. We’re human. We make horrible mistakes every day.
So when we say no to stocking your work, or don’t reply at all, you don’t have to humbly accept our rejection as The Final Word and crawl off into a corner to expire. Ask us again in six months and you might get a completely different answer.
My eye is starting to twitch so let’s wrap up.
Here’s your takeaway.
There’s no shame in asking stores to buy your work. It’s not shameful to knock on a door and get no answer, or to knock and not be invited in. It hurts but we’re not trying to hurt you. And it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or the lovely thing you make.
It was just the wrong door.
And every time you knock on the wrong door, you get a little better at spotting the right ones.
This is an excerpt from the Approaching Stores script pack.
help with wholesale
If you've liked what I've had to say,
get more with my newsletter.
Six free Beginner's Guides, weekly wholesale tips and the occasional
offer to help you sell the lovely thing you make to shops.