How to Halfway Wholesale: #3 Work Your Retail Shows

Third in a series on how to build your wholesale business at a more leisurely pace.

This tip is an easy one to overlook. But if you’re already doing retail shows, you can use them to build your wholesale business, too.

This works best if you’re doing one of the larger, more visible, higher quality shows. But you can actually tweak this with small shows, too.

To do this, you need to a) let stores know you are willing to wholesale and b) be prepared.

How do you let stores know you’re willing to wholesale?

Send a postcard with an image of your work to stores that are within reasonable driving distance of the show. You can target general gift or craft stores, or look for niche market stores that might be interested in your work.

If you’re just starting out and don’t have postcards yet, have a good photo taken and make reprints. Tuck it in a nice note, along with your business card, and invite the store owner or manager to the show. Some artists even include a free ticket to the show for a potentially great gallery they want to target. A personal invitation is cool!

Let them know you’re looking for store representation in their area, and they are your top choice. Offer to make time after show hours, or even after the show, to come by for a store visit to show them your work.

You can do this even if you are doing a small local craft show. As you grow and go farther afield for shows, do a little research for potential markets in those areas.

Now, weekends might be a bad time for a store owner to visit a show, and most shows are held on weekends. But if it’s nearby and they interested, they could still slip out for a peek, or send someone else. Or, if the work interests them, they can take up your offer for come by the store on your way back home. You’re already there for the show–why not piggy back on that and make it tour of potential stores in the area, too?

You might worry that store buyers don’t want vendors who do shows in their area. It’s true that some will complain about that, and won’t take you up on your offer. But many understand we may need to do shows, too, or that we are just starting out in wholesale. Many also see that particular show as a once-a-year venue, while they can carry your work year-round. I love stores that see this as a working relationship–I can refer customers to the local store if they don’t see what they want at the show, or for year-round sales. The store can build on the presence of the actual artist being in the area for a weekend. (“Meet the artist!”) It should be win-win, and people who think like this are my kind of people.

If you had a good show, you can use this to vet your work. “This line was very popular at the show–they sold like hotcakes!” (Why are pancakes used as a metaphor for successful selling, I don’t know.) “I believe your customers will like them, too.”

Even if the store doesn’t come to the show, or respond to your offer of contacting them after the show, visit as many of the stores as you can. This is good because you can see if the store is really a good fit for your work or not. If not, whew! You dodged a bullet.

If you think the store is a good fit for your work, ask for the owner/buyer/manager. Introduce yourself, and explain why you’re there. “I’m doing a show in the area and wanted to visit your store while I was in town.”

Be sure to tell them why you thought their store would be interested. (“I was in the area a few months ago, and visited your store. I see you specialize in whimsical gifts for animal lovers, and thought you might be interested in my cat mugs.” Or: “I researched stores in this area I thought might be a good fit for my work, and your store looked like a good fit. You have a beautiful website! I especially liked your on-line bridal registry feature, and thought my line of personalized wedding photo albums might be of interest…”)

Offer to leave some materials about your work–a business card, an image of your work (postcard, photo, catalog if you have one, etc.)

This is important: DO NOT TRY TO SELL YOUR WORK AT THIS POINT.

Make it crystal clear you are only hoping to leave some materials for them to look at, at their convenience.

Dropping in on a store unannounced and uninvited, expecting them to drop everything and look at your work, and pushing for a sale when they aren’t interested, is the most unprofessional thing you can do. You might as well wear a sign on your head that says, “I AM UNPROFESSIONAL AND CLUELESS ABOUT WHOLESALING.”

BUT….

If….IF…IF AND ONLY IF….they show strong interest and excitement about your work…. If they want to know more, lots more…. If they call other people over to look… If they ask if you have any actual samples on hand….

You can then casually mention that you’re on your way home from a show, you just happen to have some samples of your work in the car, and if they’d like to see them…..

You can see this tip takes sensitivity, delicacy, boldness and confidence. And not a little courage. If you think it’s hard to do a store visit, it’s even harder to “cold call”.

You have to be able to just leave your materials and walk away if they don’t take the bait. If you try to force the issue at all (“Wouldn’t you like to see the work itself??”) you lose. Big time.

But when it works, it’s fast and powerful. Sometimes the store will buy your work right there on the spot. (That’s so much nicer than hauling it all back home!)

I know an artist who successfully used this technique to build a thriving wholesale business. He never did wholesale shows, yet he had many, many more wholesale accounts than I did.

Of course, if you’re trying to do this after a show, it means keeping your inventory somewhat accessible. Packing up takes more attention than just throwing everything into the truck and squashing the door closed!

But if you gain a great new account, it’s worth it.

If you can’t do a store visit, you can still send the invitational postcards. You can always follow up after the show with a phone call or email. It’s not over until they actually say they’re not interested (and sometimes not even then.)

If that’s still too much on your plate, then try a discreet sign in your booth that indicates wholesale inquiries are welcome. To discourage bargain-hunting retail customers from simply trying to get a deal, you can add something like “with proper tax identification and resale number.” (Or whatever you require as proof for a bona fide reseller.)

And of course, if someone says, “Do you sell to stores? I have a small gallery nearby and I think we’d do well with your work…”, your answer is “YES!” Know that stores sometimes hesitate to ask outright, because some craftspeople are so hostile to the idea of wholesaling (“Stores want to buy it at half-price!”), they respond badly. So if store owners are unsure, they may not even ask. A sign tells them it’s okay to ask.

Ask your qualifying questions as you have time, or offer to follow up after the show.

So now that you’re encouraging that wholesale inquiry, be prepared.

Always keep a few extra business cards, postcards, catalog or line sheet/price sheet on hand. I’d say the minimum would be a postcard with a great picture of your work, with a note on the back saying something like “handmade jewelry boxes made from deadfall trees on our land, prices from $42 to $240 wholesale, minimum order $250 or six items.”

If you want to get fancy, get some of those ten-cent presentation folders from an office supply store, put in a business card, postcard, catalog, a short FAQ sheet explaining your process, your product lines, prices, terms, etc. and maybe a reprint of an article about your work, and anything else you would give a hot prospect at a regular wholesale show. (You did read the blogs I assigned as homework on wholesale, right? They’re listed at the end of this entry.)

If you aren’t busy with retail customers, be ready to actually write an order. Sometimes stores want to order with the actual pieces right in front of them. Let them know which items are one-of-a-kind and which ones can be reproduced as shown.

This seems simplistic, but know your wholesale prices, or be able to get that information fast. With the stress of being at a show, it’s not hard to get brain lock when the buyer says, “Okay, this piece you’ve priced at $240–what’s your wholesale price on it?” Keep a cheat sheet behind the counter, or check your wholesale catalog. It’s okay. Store owners know that shows are stressful. (Or they should know!) Many retailers of fine craft are–or were–craftspeople, too.

Try it out. Make your current retail shows a miniature wholesale show experience!

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4 Comments

Filed under art, business, half-wholesale, selling, selling to stores, wholesale

4 responses to “How to Halfway Wholesale: #3 Work Your Retail Shows

  1. I know I can’t take on wholesale commitments at this point. But still, this is such a good article. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Jan

    Super articles for those of us starting out. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your knowledge.

  3. Kim

    I send postcards and show invites to retail customers but never thought of sending them out to prospective wholesale accounts. Thanks for the great idea!

  4. Pingback: How to Halfway Wholesale: #4 Expanding Your Circle « Luann Udell

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