Today's question comes from Stephanie in Halifax. Stephanie actually has a few questions. She's a maker and she's wondering about the best way to go about getting shops to carry her products. She's made linesheets but, since her line keeps growing, her pdf document is now 7 pages long. She's wondering if she should do walk-ins with a wholesale catalogue (but doesn't want to put shopkeepers on the spot) or if she should just email potential stockists.
Before I get to Stephanie's questions, let me start by explaining, for those of us who might not yet be familiar with it, what a linesheet or wholesale catalogue is. Essentially, it's a document intended for potential retailers/stockists that tells them what they need to know about your company and provides wholesale information on your products. It includes things like your contact info, wholesale prices, minimum quantities, and lead times. You can find more info on linesheet and wholesale catalogues here and here.
What I do (and have done) to get stockists is actually fairly simple: I send them a personalised email.
When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I worked as a TV reporter, and people would often email me and send me stuff, in the hopes of getting me to cover their story or event. It was an invaluable lesson in how to get someone's attention, and the biggest take-away I got about promoting yourself is this: PERSONALISE EVERYTHING. Mass emails don't work. "To whom it may concern"/"dear Sir/Madam" doesn't work. People can smell a mass email a mile away.
You want to make the recipient feel like your email is intended just for them.
When it comes to shops, I try to find the owner's name on the shop's website and I address my email directly to her/him. If their name isn't on their site, I google the shop to see if any articles have been written about them, and I sometimes find the owner's name that way. If all else fails, I get creative: "Fine folks of XYZ Company", "Awesome XYZ Team". I also try to share something I like about the shop. Sometimes it's as general as: "I'm a big fan of your shop" or "I've been admiring your Instagram account for some time." Other times, it's specific: "Your new renovations are amazing and the store looks fantastic." It's not ass-kissing if it's the truth. I don't contact shops unless I'm a fan. And everyone, including shop owners, loves getting a happy, positive, sincere email.
Remember that this isn't a cover letter or a résumé. It doesn't need to be dry and matter-of-fact. You're allowed to be yourself. You're allowed to be quirky, funny, silly, excited, hopeful and real.
For simplicity's sake, I don't usually include my wholesale catalogue in my first email. I attach small versions of my best product shots, and write something along the lines of: "I've attached a few pics of my products but you can see more here if you like." I add a link to my website, and I tell them that I'd be happy to send them a copy of my wholesale catalogue if they'd like. I also explain that wholesale prices are half of the retail prices on my website. So they don't even really need a copy of the wholesale catalogue. Sometimes, I just get an email back from them saying: "I want 10 of this and 5 of this and...", and we forgo the order sheet altogether. I also always let them know that I'm happy to sell my products on consignment if that works best for them.
I'm not a fan of walk-ins. When I started The Girl From Away, I had a brick & mortar/pop-up shop on PEI and, a couple of times, makers came by unannounced to see if I'd carry their products. I felt a little put on the spot. If you'd like to meet with shop owners, I'd suggest it in an email. Maybe something along the lines of: "I'd love to come in and meet with you to show you some of my work, and to see how I can best cater my products to your customers."
Other things to keep in mind/consider:
- try to reach out to shops that are already carrying products that have a similar vibe to yours
- without being boastful, tell them about your accomplishments: what markets you've attended, what other shops are carrying your products, what blogs or magazines you've been featured in
- if your customers have been asking where they can see/find your products, include that in your email: "Customers have been asking where in (insert their neighbourhood/city/province) they can buy my products, and I'd love to be able to send them your way."
- be specific about their location, for example: "I don't presently have a stockist in (insert their neighbourhood/city/province) but I'd love that to change"
- if you're not sure what shops to contact, you might want look at where makers you admire are selling their goods
- use your contacts: if you know someone who knows the owner of a shop you'd like to have as a stockist, ask them if they'd mind putting in a good word for you
- if you're doing a decent job of promoting yourself on social media, shops will likely start reaching out to you
- If you don't hear back from shop owners, don't take it personally (if you're contacting enough folks, this is bound to happen... it doesn't mean that your products aren't great... their shop might already be as full as they'd like it, or they may not feel like your stuff's a good fit... just keep at it)
- be patient (sometimes it takes time for the word to spread, and for the world to catch on to your awesomeness)
Thank you so much for your questions, Stephanie! I hope this was helpful.
If you have a question, I want to hear it. Email me at thegirlfromaway(at)gmail(dot)com.