wholesale + retail

What are you 100% wrong about?

windowstorefront of Merry + Bright

In every business there are things you can see and things you can’t.

Take this stapler, for example. That’s something I can see in my business.

And that half-eaten Chocolate Orange. I can see it no problem.

The lovely things on our shelves, our beloved customers and my husband patiently dusting our roll-top bath are all things I can see when I look around my shop.

And there are lots of obvious things on show in your business too.

But let’s talk about the things which aren’t so obvious.

As I’ve often reflected, human beings are weird creatures. No, we are.

You wouldn’t catch an otter opening up the back of a troublesome remote, rolling its paw over the batteries and expecting that to somehow make it work better, would you?

Or observe a meerkat, having repeatedly failed to hoover up a piece of thread, pick it up, examine it closely, then throw it back down on the carpet and try again.

We are WEIRD.

And one of the things which makes us so charmingly eccentric is our tendency to believe that if we can’t see something with our own two eyes, it isn’t there.

The problem is that many of the things which shape our businesses, and our lives, are completely invisible to the naked eye.

Your assumptions are one of them.

Have you ever said to yourself:

  • “There’s no point writing to that shop about my work. They won’t be interested.”
  • “I need to have X amount in savings before I can really take my business seriously.”
  • “If I approach a retailer about stocking my stuff and they say no, I won’t be able to handle it.”
  • “For my wholesale business to succeed, I’ll have to do networking and self-promotion. I’m just not that kind of person.”
  • “The idea of creating a thriving business from doing what I love sounds great. But it’s a dream. Stuff like that doesn’t happen to people like me.”

Sound familiar?

Most of the time our assumptions are invisible.

Think about it this way. You’ve got a jug of water, right? You pour it into a clear glass vase. The shape of the vase determines where the water goes.

So if it’s a tall and straight vase, you get a tall and straight volume of water. If it’s a modern, squiggly vase, you get squiggly-shaped water.

Your business is the water and your assumptions are the vase. In other words, what you think determines the ultimate shape of your business.

This can be a problem when assumptions are so strongly ingrained, they don’t feel like assumptions at all. They feel like facts.

We sigh and say, “That’s just the way the world works,” when, actually, it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve done it. We all have.

So what can we do about it?

Here are my four remedies for assumption-itis:

1. Get the facts

Instead of relying on how you think things work, learn how they ACTUALLY work. Do some research. Enquire. Ask a designer you admire how they got started. Find out how shopkeepers like to be approached.

2. Equip yourself

Use your shiny new facts to work out what you need to learn. Go look at blogs. Go to the library. There’s a wealth of information out there. Un-chink your armour.

3. Start asking for what you want

Assumptions keep you quiet. They stop you asking for stuff because they make you think you already know the answer.

So put them to work. If an assumption says you won’t be able to get the hang of twitter, test it by quietly having a go.

If an assumption says you won’t be able to cope with hearing “no,” then turn things around. Investigate the art of gently but fimly saying “No, thank you” to stuff that doesn’t float your boat.

Does that charity fundraiser in the street crumble into dust when you say “No, thank you” to setting up a direct debit?

Does your friend vaporise with shame when you say “No, thank you” to going on a blind date with some guy she met at the dentist?

Assumptions are theories, and like any theory, they have to be tested.

So how about you start testing yours? Chances are you’ll quickly see which ones you can ditch.

Right now, for example, I’m about to test my assumption that I can’t get seven segments of Chocolate Orange into my mouth at once.

Yeah. We’ll see about that!

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 Clare Yuille – Indie Retail Academy

Clare Yuille teaches creative people how to sell their work to shops. Click here to get her free starter kit.

 

How to make a retailer hide in her office until you go away

concreteofficeConcrete Office Series by FMC Design

This week, a question from an artist who’s starting out in wholesale:

“Pitching my work to stores by email or post seems like a hassle. Can’t I just drop in with some samples and ask to speak to the owner?” 

First off, if this seems like the easier option I salute you, my friend. Those are some serious cojones you’ve got there. You must get upgraded to business class, like, ALL THE TIME.

Now, I can see why dropping in to a store might seem like a good idea.

You get to meet the retailer in person, they get the chance to see your work up close and if they agree to make an order you can work out the details immediately.

It also has a kind of old-school, I’m-gonna-make-things-happen romance about it. You’re slingin’ your wares on your back and headin’ out to make your fortune. That’s pretty cool, actually.

But here are my reservations:

• You’re invading my shop floor.

When I’m out on my shop floor I’m concentrating on my customers. I want them to feel relaxed, happy and inspired. I also want them to have my undivided attention.

If I’m pinned behind the cash desk for 30 minutes while you give me your sales pitch, that carefully crafted atmosphere evaporates.

• You’re giving my customers a peek behind the curtain.

Talking about lead times, wholesale prices and minimum orders on my shop floor can also be a buzz-kill. Maybe it’s okay if you’re the only other person in the store, but as soon as other customers show up I’m probably going to feel uncomfortable.

I don’t want them to overhear that stuff because, as before, it undercuts the feeling I’m trying to create. Nitty-gritty business talk should happen behind the scenes.

• You’re putting me on the spot.

I’ll be honest. If your work isn’t right for my shop I don’t want to have to tell you to your face. The last thing I want to do is upset you

You might be completely okay about hearing “no,” but being in a situation where I might have to hurt your feelings is stressful for me.

And even if your lovely thing is a good fit for my shop, I might want to have a think about it before I make an order.

• You’re making me question your professionalism.

Turning up at my till with a basket of samples and expecting me to make an instant decision suggests you may not know the proper way to go about things. That makes me wary of working with you.

Now, you might be thinking, “Ah, in that case, can I just leave a sample of my work? You can have a look at it and get back to me when you’re ready. Is that okay?”

Umm, no. Sorry.

Unsolicited work is a total pain in the neck. I have to find somewhere to put it, make sure it doesn’t get accidentally squashed, lost or broken, then get back in touch to arrange its safe return.

It’s like you stomping into my shop and forcing me to baby-sit your pet iguana.

A particularly high-maintenance iguana, I might add, who likes his dandelions lightly steamed and his carrot tops cut to precisely the same size.

Now, if I’ve spent the longest weekend of my life tending to his demands and dabbing disinfectant on my many iguana-inflicted injuries, do you really think I’m going to suddenly fall in love with Mr Bitey and want to keep him forever?

Yeah. I thought not.

So that’s my take on it. Some shopkeepers will feel differently, of course, but I think dropping in to a store unannounced may not be the best idea you’ve ever had. That’s not to say you can’t ever pitch your work in person, though.

If you have a personal connection to a particular retailer – perhaps you know them slightly or you’ve been recommended to them by a mutual friend – it can be a good way to make contact.

But call first. Introduce yourself and ask if you can make an appointment to show them your work. That’s more professional, respectful and more likely to succeed than simply button-holing a retailer at the till.

And if they agree, then go get ‘em, tiger.

I’m wishing you every success.

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Clare Yuille – Indie Retail Academy

Clare Yuille is a shopkeeper, writer and retail coach for creative people.

If you’re interested in selling your work to shops, download her free Indie Retail Starter Kit.

Q & A with the Buyers from Uncommon Goods: Part 2

We are back this week with the the rest of the answers to our questions for the buyers at Uncommon Goods! These are great tips for getting into retail. Be sure to check out last week’s post too!
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Do you prefer to work with the same handmade artists on a long term  basis?

[Heather Thompson] Of course! We believe passionately in supporting the “makers” of the world – working with artists on a long term basis is our goal.  Additionally, building lasting partnerships with artists and designers helps us, as well – it’s mutually beneficial.  As we strive to bring the freshest, most unique, creatively  designed goods to market, partnering with our artists to create exclusive goods is a big part of how we execute those additions to our assortment.

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Is there a set criteria that the sellers have to meet?

[Sharon Hitchcock] We love to look at what the wonderful design community creates!  I am constantly amazed by the creativity of designers and makers.  As buyers, we are always on the hunt for creatively and uniquely designed , well made products.  We look for pieces that have an interesting materials story – items in our assortment are often made from recycled or upcycled components.  We also like items that have great functionality.  One important criteria for UncommonGoods is that we sell no products that harm humans or animals,  so we are mindful of that as we source for new products.

We work with many different types of sellers – folks who are just starting out, as well as those who’ve been in business for a while.  It is very rewarding as a buyer to nurture those relationships and watch a business grow.  It’s my favorite part of what I do.

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Does the seller have to be a certain size to be considered?

[Candace Holloway Gregory] Absolutely not!  We have vendors of all sizes who’s products are in the UncommonGoods assortment, everyone from Jane Doe building pots in her basement with 1 kiln to vendors that work with huge factories with many employees.  However, things can  get intense for small vendors when being considered for the printed catalog.  The vendor will have to guarantee they can make a certain amount of product by a given time.  That being said, we have worked with very small vendors that have had big success in the catalog.  We (the buyers and entire UG team) help trouble shoot challenges so that everyone is set up for success in these circumstances.  I think the key is to be transparent about what can be accomplished and open to think out of the box to get things done.

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Is it a typical 50% wholesale arrangement that is usual with brick and mortar stores, or are they looking for something different?

[Candace Holloway Gregory]  I think that 50% is the lowest margin that most brick and mortars are looking for but it really depends on the business, type of product, etc.  Here at UG we are looking for more than 50% as there are many costs associated with bringing an item into the assortment as well as making sure our customers have an excellent experience when shopping and receiving their products.  Price should be something a vendor is always open to talking about even if at the end of the day they can’t lower the price.

Thanks again to Rocky Taft and a big thank you to the buyers who took the time to answer our questions!

Q & A with the Buyers from Uncommon Goods: Part 1

uncommon-goods

Are you looking to branch out and wholesale your work? I had the opportunity to submit your questions to the buyers at Uncommon Goods to discover how they select the handmade goods that they sell on their site. Have you heard of Uncommon Goods? My husband and I have been fans for a while. He gets so excited when their catalog comes because it is always filled with so many amazing and unique gifts. They are super supportive of the handmade community, the focus on sustainability and with every purchase they donate $1 to the non-profit of your choice. Click here to check out all of their handmade items and read on to discover how they were picked!

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Where do you look for potential sellers for your site?

[Erin Fergusson] We are looking for outstanding creative design that makes us think, “Wow I have never seen that before!” This can mean that the product solves a problem in a unique way, is made of an interesting material, or is a really innovative combination of form and function.

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Do you look for a certain type of merchandise or a certain look?

[Erin Fergusson] Not necessarily –our products have a wide range of aesthetics. We have some sleek, modern design products and other handcrafted natural-looking items. However, everything we sell has an element of creativity that earns it a place on our site.

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As a buyer of goods from handmade artists, what advice would you  give an artist seeking to place products with your company?

[Melissa Bishop] Have a clear point of view and be able to articulate your story, your inspiration, and your process. Figure out what makes your items different, and the best way to showcase them – we are a web and catalog company, so we need an item to have an impactful presentation in a photograph as well is in person. Be friendly and open – we’re in the business of supporting artists and small business owners, and we like to like the people we work with!

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Do you have some kind of benchmark for what the minimum amount  would be that I would have to produce monthly? 

[Melissa Bishop] Great question – but not really. It would depend on a number of factors – what kind of marketing presence it has (are we showing it in a catalog? in an email?), how expensive it is (a higher ticket item may sell at a slower unit velocity than a lower ticket item – though that is certainly not a rule), how fast inventory can be produced, etc. I would say that having a healthy production capacity makes catalog placement more possible – ie: we couldn’t grant catalog placement to an item that has a low production limit, as we wouldn’t get the return on investment for our marketing dollars. I think that being upfront with production capability is important, too, as we can help troubleshoot and brainstorm with artists who are reaching their limit, but it is better for everyone (and for everyone’s sanity) to not run into the issue at all.

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When you select a product for your site from a handmade artist, how many units of a product do you typically request (for a purchase order)?

[Heather Thompson] It totally depends!  How much does the item cost? What’s the retail?  Is it Drop Ship (shipping directly from the vendor/artist)? Is the item planned for a catalog?  Speaking [very] generically, Retail orders (and casepacks) are planned in dozens.  Hopefully that helps!

A super big thanks to Rocky Taft from Uncommon Goods for helping me put this post together! Stay tuned next week for Part 2!

Selling to Stores: What NOT to say when you get a no (or a yes)

clareimageShop window at Merry and Bright Gifts

As has already been established beyond any shadow of a doubt, you’re a smart cookie.

But even smart cookies mess up sometimes. I’ve seen it happen.

I like to think of myself as a smart cookie on occasion, but I once went out with a guy who didn’t know all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody.

I know! What was I thinking?

So this week we’re going to look at some things to avoid when retailers reply to your submission.

First up, here’s what not to do when a shopkeeper says he doesn’t want to stock your work:

Try to change his mind.

It doesn’t matter if you think your work is perfect for his shop, or that similar shops have decided to stock your stuff.

He gets the final say.

Send him an furious message saying he can stuff his shop up his jumper (or anywhere else.)

Like many mammals, humans have neurological connections in our brains called the rage circuit. This means when something unpleasant and unexpected happens, our immediate response can be to lash out.

Remember that time you accidentally stood on an up-turned plug?

Remember swearing so much that the windows cracked and the paper spontaneously peeled off the walls?

That’s your rage circuit. Unleashing it on a potential stockist is not a good idea.

• Keep pestering him.

If you get a maybe rather than a no, don’t keep pestering the shopkeeper about making an order.

Don’t keep dropping in, don’t email him on a weekly basis and don’t ring him every Tuesday.

Instead, circle back only when you have something new to say – when you have new items, for example, or when you’re exhibiting at a local craft show.

Okay. Now let’s talk about what not to do when you get a yes.

You’d think that once you hear that magic word from a shopkeeper it’d be nothing but plain sailing. Usually that’s the case but, as with any voyage, it’s worth ensuring that you don’t steer straight into a rock.

Don’t do this:

React with horror when the retailer talks to you about their mark up.

If you don’t understand how wholesale or consignment work, you’re not ready to sell your work to shops. Of course the shopkeeper is going to try to make a profit from the sale of your item.

Get the process straight in your head before you even dip a toe in the water.

Forget to keep your new stockist in the loop.

Sometimes when we’re working with a new artist, everything goes swimmingly until we actually place the order. Suddenly we get radio silence.

This is often because the artist is off frantically making our items. That’s fair enough, but don’t let questions or queries from the retailer go unanswered in the meantime.

If I drop you a line and don’t get a reply for days on end, I start to wonder if I’ve made a huge mistake.

Lose interest.

Ever been dumped? Yep, me too.

It always starts out so well.

An artist sends us a great submission. She says sweet things. She tells me how ardently she loves and admires my shop. I imagine how great her lovely thing will look on my shelves. It feels like the start of something big.

So I make an order. And the artist completely loses interest in me.

Once she’s posted out my stuff, I never hear from her again. She got what she wanted.

No, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

Don’t do this to your stockists. Don’t leave a trail of broken hearts in your wake.

You put a lot of time and energy into persuading us to stock your stuff, so keep in touch. If you look after us, that first order may turn out to be the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

I’m wishing you every success.

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Clare Yuille – Indie Retail Academy

Clare Yuille is a shopkeeper, writer and retail coach for creative people.

If you’re interested in selling your work to shops, download her free Indie Retail Starter Kit.

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