A reader responded to a post yesterday, saying,
I am at a complete loss as to WHAT to include in a letter or email to a store/website that I would like to carry my stuff. I am afraid of sounding unprofessional “hi, please buy my stuff” or too formal “dear sir/madam please find enclosed…..”
I am sure I’m not the only one who has got their list of stores in other states/countries but are stymied by the proper business letter writing.
Do you have any examples or can you tell us what we should and shouldn’t include when approaching a business through emails or letters?
Great topic, Barbe! Today we’ll talk about how to say “Hi, please buy my stuff” in a nice way.
Here’s the most important thing to remember: Store owners want to buy stuff.
Their business depends on finding really great stuff that’s appropriately priced for their market.
They know they need to keep their inventory fresh–which means buying new stuff.
They want stuff that goes with all the other stuff in their store.
And they would really love it if the person who makes that stuff (you!) also happens to be pleasant, reliable, easy to work with, and interesting. In short, an artist who is also professional.
A buyer who is also savvy knows that new artists have to start somewhere–we don’t spring newly-formed and highly professional from some Zeus-like person’s forehead. They know we start out taking our new work cautiously from store to store, looking for someone who will think it’s great and who’s willing to take a chance on selling it.
The point isn’t to write a perfectly worded introductory business letter.
The point is to let the buyer see a representative sample of the work, and to address their needs, without sucking up too much of their time or jamming their email server with huge digital files and attachments.
And to show yourself and your work in the best possible light.
I’m going crazy trying to put these tips in order, so I’m giving up. In no particular order, then….
1) Just do it!
Don’t agonize about how to do it perfectly. Or which way to do it. I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule anymore whether to phone, or send snail mail or email.
A quick phone call is a great way to simply find out how they would prefer to be contacted. Ask for the owner or main buyer. Keep it short! Tell them you only need a few minutes of their time. You are an artist who makes widgets. You are familiar with their store, and think they might be interested in your widgets. Ask if they’d like to be provided information by email or by mail.
You could ask if they are looking for new artists, because it’s nice when they say “yes”. And usually, stores will say “yes”. (They may not be buying, but like a married woman, they never stop looking.)
But if they say “no”, then you’re stymied.
If that initial phone call is too overwhelming–if, like me, your heart races frantically at the thought of talking to a perfect stranger on the phone–skip it and simply either send a brief email or note.
Individual buyers may have strong preferences, but I find people often say one thing and do another. Store owners are no exception. They might say they want information by snail mail, but then they don’t open their mail for weeks. (Yes, this has happened!)
Email is a safer bet than it used to be. Many people now are email and computer savvy. If the store has a website, it probably also does some business (ordering, providing information, responding to questions, etc.) by email, too. Email is fast and easier to follow up with, too.
On the other hand, snail mail gives them something concrete (like a postcard or photo) they can carry around and show other people.
So just do what you feel like doing, because then you’ll do it, rather than saying, “Oh, I should write, but I don’t have stamps….” or “I should email, but I don’t know how to link to embed an email image.”
P.S. If they do have a website, it’s often a great resource to find out the actual name of the person you should contact.
2) Just tell them what you want.
Tell them you’re an artist who makes work that might be a good fit with their store.
3) Then tell them why you think your work might be a good fit.
This is important. They want to know why you picked their store to approach.
Here’s where you will separate yourself from the thousands of other artists who simply mailed postcards off to Niche magazine’s Top 100 Retailers….
You have done your homework, and you really think your work will meet their needs.
Tell them why you love them, and why they might love you, too.
Again, keep it short. But briefly explain why you picked them.
Are you looking for representation in a certain geographic area, and you’d like them to have first dibs at your work?
How did you hear about them? Did you read a great article about them in a magazine, saw the photos, and realized your lines are compatible with theirs? (They’ll be delighted you saw the article.) Maybe they even mentioned in the article that they are always looking for artists who make widgets, and you are a widget artist.
Did you visit the store? Maybe you were vacationing in the area, went to their gallery, fell in love with it, and noticed that, though they carried widgets, they didn’t have any widget-related items like the ones you make, and you thought they might be interested….?
Are you familiar with their store at all? Did you at least look up their website and look at the work they currently carry? Does your work fit with their style and aesthetic and price range? You noticed they carry the work of two or three artists whose work is often displayed and sold alongside your work, so they might be interested…?
Get the idea?
3) Whether you contact them by phone, email or letter, show them what you got.
By mail or email, provide an image of your work so they know if it’s something they’d even be interested in. This should be a good, professional image of your work–not a badly lit, blurred image of your work set on a wrinkled piece of fabric.
To be safe, don’t send the image in the email unless you know they are willing to accept such an image. Send a link to the image you’ve uploaded on a web page.
If you can’t do that, make sure the image is a low-res image that won’t jam up most email boxes. (I used to use a very old, but very virus-proof email program. Every time someone sent me a big photo, it crashed my program. I did not like those people very much.)
And the best tip of all….
4) Follow up!
Indicate in your communications that you’ll call in a week or so to see if they got the materials, or if they have any questions. Remember, store owners are just people with stores. They’re just like us! They get busy, they forget, they misplace the letter. Call and remind them who you are and what you do. If they like what you do, they’ll be happy you called.
And what if they aren’t?
All is not lost. But you have to play your cards just right.
Do not take rejection personally! You did your assigned reading, right? You did read Why Didn’t They Buy My Work?!
Because even if this store does not want to buy your work, the questions you ask next could lead you straight to the next store that does want to buy your work.
Do not allow a trace of disappointment or anger to color your attitude. Stay focused, upbeat and positive. Listen to the reasons they give. The reasons will help you decide what to do next.
If the reasons are valid, accept them and address them if they are reasonable. Maybe the prices are too high for their store. You can suggest they might be interested in your lower-priced lines. Or your work is colorful and they only do neutrals–you can mention you have 20 other colors available, six of which are neutrals.
But do not argue or debate. You will lose. Even if the reasons seem silly to you.
People may reject your work for many reasons, and they may never actually tell you the real reason. Heck, maybe they have a nephew who makes the exact same work, though not as nice as yours, and they can’t possibly carry yours or their sister will kill them.
You can always ask them to suggest another store in the area that might be a better fit. You’d be surprised how many store owners will be happy to do this for you, especially if they really do like your work but really don’t think it’s a good fit for their store.
You can also ask them if you can send them images of new work from time to time. Most of them will say yes, unless it’s just too far off-course from what they carry. (But it shouldn’t be, because you did your homework when you looked them up, right?) They may be interested in how your work grows and changes over the years, and if it does, they want to be there.
To summarize, here is a sample note I might send to a store I’ve been to:
Dear Ms. Blanc,
I visited your gallery while on vacation last month. I was enchanted with the beautiful work I found there! I took a brochure and also visited your website.
I make jewelry inspired by ancient cultures with my handmade artifacts that look like bone and ivory. I’ve enclosed a photo of one of my pieces, an Ancient Horse necklace. I made the horse and all the “ivory” beads on the necklace. The other beads are turquoise, coral and freshwater pearls. All findings are sterling silver.
I thought these might be a good fit for your gallery because, like other items you carry, they have a folk art/tribal art quality, yet are handmade by me. My prices are also compatible; my necklaces range from $48 to $750 wholesale. The piece in the photo wholesales for $125.
My work is now in a dozen galleries across the country. I’d love to find a store in Michigan to carry my work, and my first choice would be your gallery.
May I call in a week or so to see if you would like more information?
Here’s an email I sent to a store I found online:
Dear Ms. Roux,
I found the XYZ museum store while researching potential new venues for my handmade jewelry. I was delighted to learn that you are now carrying jewelry with a Southwestern aesthetic.
My work features my own handmade artifacts that look like real fossil ivory and soapstone. These are accented with antique trade beads (such as those traded throughout the American West) and semi-precious stones such as turquoise, coral, pearls and lava. You can see an image of an Ancient Horse necklace here: (provide link) This piece wholesales for $68. Other items (earrings, bracelets, pins) range from $24 to $350 wholesale.
I’ve found my work does well in stores with high tourist traffic, as it is distinctive and unusual.
I couldn’t tell from the website if your store carries ONLY work by Native American artists, or if you carry a mix of artists. My work is compatible with such tribal art, but I am not a Native American.
Would you be interested in more information about my work? If so, I’ll be calling within two weeks to answer any questions you might have.
Okay, these aren’t perfect, but they should give you an idea of how to let a store owner know who you are, what you want from them, why you think they’d be interested, and how they can find out more.
P.S. I just reread these sample letters, and I see something glaring I left out. Did you catch it?
I didn’t tell them upfront what I wanted! Somewhere close to the introduction, I could have said, “I’m a jewelry designer, and thought you might be interested in my work”….and gone on from there.
See? Even the know-it-all doesn’t really know it all…!!