I’ve been asked a few times in the last week or so about my thoughts on how to get into wholesale for craft or design products. Although I am not wholesaling my photographic work , I did a lot of wholesale when I was a textile designer. Rather than repeat my thoughts several times in individual emails I thought I’d make it more accessible with a blog post. They are just a few initial points, but they might trigger some other ideas for you. It would be great if you wanted to add your own thoughts or experiences in the comments.
1. Finding outlets.
To keep your initial expenses low , start off with your home town and 2 or three others fairly nearby. Use the phone book or search online to draw up a list of possible shops. If you can visit them before hand, that’s even better. Its the best way to get a feel for whether your own range would be a good fit. Of course, you don’t want them to already be selling anything that is too similar as they are unlikely want stock to overlap completely.
Having chosen four or five in each place rate them in order of preference. Then call them up and see if you can make an appointment. I know some people try to just walk in off the street, and sometimes you will just happen into a conversation and you can mention your work. But I always had much more success ( and the shop owners attention) if I’d made an appointment.
2. Cold Calling to set up your Appointments.
A little trick about the phone calls. I don’t really enjoy cold calling ( not many people do). So , I always started my calling session with calls to my least favoured options. so that by the time you get round to calling the shops you’d really like to have your work in, you are word perfect. And I don’t know why it helps, but I always stood up to make these type of calls.
3.Sale or Return.
When you first dip your toe in the water with wholesale often the response you will get is that shops are happy to take your work on sale or return rather than making an order. This can be worth doing, just to get the ball rolling but I’d have a few reservations.
As they aren’t making a purchase they don’t have a real incentive to display your work well, so make sure you discuss that beforehand. Also set quite specific terms as to how long you will leave goods and exactly which items. It would be reasonable to hope for a slightly lower commission rate as well.
Also consider whether your type of item is appropriate. Would you receive unsold goods returned in good condition ? Robust items like ceramics and metal work might be in pristine condition. Textiles are likely to be in less than perfect condition.
Again, these are not to be undertaken on a whim. They cost a lot , both in time and effort , so if at all possible go and visit each fair before you take a stand. Most of them will give you complimentary entrance if you say you’d like to exhibit in future. Again, you can get a feel for whether your work will be a good fit. If you’re visiting near the end of the show you might be able to get some idea from exhibitors if they have found it a good show to attend. But try not to take up too much of their time with that, as they are there to sell their own work.
While you are going round doing your research also pay attention to the display styles of other stands. Consider what works and what doesn’t and start to consider how you would like your own stand to look.
5. Making an Impact.
If you can get your work into one prestigious outlet it can often open a lot of other doors. One of my first customers was Jenners in Edinburgh ( when it was still the world’s oldest independant department store) not long after I also added Liberty of London to my customer base. Straight away I noticed that it became easier to get other orders if I mentioned they were also stockists. So, if there is a big fish in your area, it is worth making a real effort to get your work there as it can have a huge impact in other ways.
As a side note, sometimes a big client will appear to be making you jump through hoops to secure a very small order, perhaps custom designing or requiring some other extra service. If they are a venue you would really like to have as a stockist it is good practice to do everything you can to satisfy their requirements. It can often be a bit of a test to see how a working relationship would develop.
Winning a competition or having a feature in a glossy magazine can be another way to stand out. ( Sometimes offering to do a giveaway can help you get in the door)
6.Look the part.
You ARE the brand, as they say. So make sure that everything reflects the image you would like. I feel it rather goes without saying, but dress appropriately, be punctual and have your work in some kind of suitable container and not an old plastic bag. You would not believe how many people I have seen pulling their beautiful designs out of a scruffy old bag. Treat your work like a valuable treasure and others are more likely to as well !
Not everyone wants to make an order there and then – so have some attractive material to leave with them. These days with the ease of digital photography and good quality home printers there is no excuse for shoddy brochures. If this is not your area of expertise hire someone to do it, or do a skills swap with them. For business cards it is hard to beat Moo cards. And the mini size can also double as wonderful swing tags, tags for washing instructions or even as the actual supports , for example for earrings.
Think about how the items would be packaged if sold from the shop, how you feel they would best be displayed for sale. Have some idea of how long your production times are, and what your maximum capacity would be. If they wanted a hundred all the same – could you do it ? How long would it take ? And would you want to ?
Other snippets of information. I’m running a giveaway this week to celebrate Etsy Europe week.
And the second edition of my newsletter is out tomorrow – subscribe here and get 2 freebie postcard downloads too.