I know getting your product into stores is scary. And hard. In fact, it’s a punishing combination of the two.
Maybe we should call it scard.
I get that it’s difficult and a large part of what I do over at Indie Retail Academy is making the scard go away.
It occurs to me, however, that it’s not exactly plain sailing from the shopkeepers’ point of view either. Finding new and wonderful things to stock is a never-ending task, and being approached by artists and designers is an important part of that process.
Unfortunately, when indie retailers eagerly open up product submissions we often end up feeling frustrated. And annoyed.
Frunnoyed, if you will.
That’s not good for anyone. So let’s take a look at three things to avoid when pitching your work to shopkeepers.
1. Don’t drop in with a bag of samples and a hopeful expression
Let’s start with something that makes most indie shopkeepers want to hide in the stockroom. When an artist or a designer rocks up to my till and asks if I’ve got a minute to look at their stuff, my heart sinks into my boots. It’s just so…uncomfortable.
Seriously, I’m pretty sure root canal surgery would be less painful.
Turning up in person, without an appointment, suggests you don’t know the right way to go about things. Even if the retailer likes your work, there’s going to be a big question mark in her mind about how professional you are.
And if she doesn’t like your product, you’ve put her on the spot. Thinking that you might hurt someone’s feelings is stressful. That’s why we shopkeepers would rather stay in the stockroom with the spiders when you come in with your samples.
What’s more, when you drop in unannounced you take up time and space the retailer should be devoting to looking after her shoppers. She’s not going to be winning any customer service awards while your stuff is strewn all over her cash desk and you’re yammering her ear off about your screen-printing technique, is she?
Don’t make a potential stockist associate you with hiding behind boxes while something with eight legs builds a new home in her hair.
If you’ve done your research and have good reasons to believe this particular retailer might be interested in stocking your stuff, call and ask how she prefers to receive submissions. Make things easier, not harder, for your potential stockists in every way you can.
2. Don’t address your submission to To Whom It May Concern
I won’t lie to you, this makes me crazy. Just thinking about it is making my eyelid twitch.
Here’s the thing. Business is all about people. It’s about partnerships and trust and collaboration and mutual benefits. It’s not (usually) about soulless robots with hearts of steel.
Of course, the minute business does become dominated by robots, feel free to address your emails to To Whom It May Concern, The Owner or The Gifts Buyer. Our mechanical overlords will probably appreciate the gesture and look kindly upon you.
Until that terrifying day dawns, however, addressing your submission to an actual person is a good idea.
I get frustrated about this because, like many indie retailers, we spend a lot of time on our online presence. We’re all about being friendly and approachable and interesting, and part of that is having our names plastered all over our site.
When we receive a submission addressed to The Chairman Of The Board (I’m not making this up) it feels like the artist or designer isn’t really interested in us at all – they just want to flog us their stuff. This cheeses me off and I know many other retailers feel the same.
So don’t rub your potential stockists up the wrong way within two seconds of them opening your email. Check out their website or give them a quick ring to ask the buyer’s name. Then make sure you spell it correctly.
3. Don’t neglect to attach your buyer’s pack to your submission email
This last one is annoying for me but it can be downright disastrous for you. Whenever you get in touch with a shopkeeper about stocking your work, attach all the information they need to make a decision. Every. Time.
You don’t have to be coy. We don’t have to go through a little dance where you send me a link to your website, wait for me to cautiously indicate my interest and then finally send the details. That’s like what, three separate emails? Maybe four?
Sweetie, running a shop is like being a ring-master in a particularly rambunctious circus. I’ve barely got time for three separate thoughts, never mind three emails.
You want me to consider stocking your stuff? That’s no problem. Just give me your wholesale pricelist, your line sheet, your catalogue or photos and anything else I need to know.
And if you don’t mind, please do it quickly because I have an elephant to wash, a python who’s swallowed a cannon ball and three clowns to drag out of the pub. My days are kinda full.
If you don’t include all the relevant information with your initial email, there’s a good chance you’ll slip right down the retailer’s priority list. You risk getting forgotten about altogether.
Don’t make your potential stockist do extra legwork – provide everything he needs to know from the start. Grab his full attention when you get the chance.
When you get down to it, these tips are about seeing things from your potential stockist’s perspective.
If you can put yourself in his or her shoes, you’ll immediately see ways to make their job, and their life, easier. The more you do that, the more you’ll be on the same wavelength.
And rest assured that we notice this stuff. We notice when an artist finds out how to spell our name correctly, or puts “Thanks for your time!” at the bottom of their email. Not everyone is so thoughtful.
That kind of submission is a joy to behold. They make us feel pleased. And interested in what you do.
Clare Yuille — Indie Retail Academy
Clare Yuille is a shopkeeper, writer and retail coach for creative types who want their wholesale business to go whoooosh. Want to sell your work to indie retailers but feel overwhelmed, out of your depth or, erm…completely paralysed by fear, doubt and self-criticism? Clare’s blend of insider knowledge and expertise will help you simmer-the-heck-down, plot your course and experience so many biz-related epiphanies you’ll actually enjoy pitching your work to retailers. She takes away the eeeek! and replaces it with aaah.
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