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Selling to retail stores – How to speak to a retail buyer

Whether you are interested in selling your product to a small independent “mom & pop” shop or to a large national retail chain, selling to retail stores can be tough if you don’t know how to speak their language.

I’ve listened to countless product pitches working at Macy’s in the Buying & Planning departments for apparel, accessories, and home goods. I could tell within just a few minutes of speaking to someone whether or not that person was experienced (and labeling them as such in my head would shape how I handled the meeting from there on out.)

To give you a better idea of how buyers are able to do this — have you ever spoken to someone and noticed immediately that the way they say things just sounds… different?

It might be a hint of an accent. Or maybe you notice certain words that don’t sound as familiar. Whatever it is, you can tell almost immediately that they are not from “around here.”

Just like you can tell when someone sounds foreign, buyers can tell when a vendor sounds inexperienced too. They can pick up on subtle nuances in how a person pitches their products. It might be something as small as word choice or something more obvious like how you respond to a particular question. Either way, they are very capable of assessing your experience level just from an initial conversation.

There are 3 very important reasons why you do not want to come off as inexperienced (even if you are a new company just starting out) when you are selling to retail stores:

  1. The buyer will most likely negotiate harder. It’s easier to negotiate against someone who doesn’t know how or when to push back.
  2. The buyer may lose confidence in your ability to execute. The truth is that you are more likely to make mistakes when you lack experience. The retailer won’t want you making mistakes on their dime if they can help it.
  3. The buyer might avoid you just to avoid babysitting. Most buyers don’t have the time to walk new vendors through every nook and cranny of the buying process. If they know they’ll have to hand-hold, they may choose to work with someone else just to lessen their own workload.

It’s important you don’t become a victim of this. To make sure you’re ready for that first buyer conversation, we’re going to cover how to speak numbers and product the way the buyer wants to hear it.


There’s a science to putting together a pitch that is both enticing and confident. Like a recipe, follow the instructions below to ensure you sound ready to land an order from a major retailer.

selling to retailers - What to say to a retail buyer infographic


All the buyer needs to know right now is your name and from where you are writing. You can write something like,

“Hi [buyer name],

My name is [your name] and I’m the owner of [your company name]. We sell [product type]. I’ve attached a photo of our best-selling items for your reference.”

Skip the storytelling and get straight to the point. Do not write a long story about yourself or your company's history. You need to get right to talking about THEM.


You want the buyer to know right away why you are reaching out. A specific ask can be for an in-person meeting, permission to send samples, or for an appointment at an upcoming tradeshow. Whatever it is, the point is to ask for it upfront. Don’t make the buyer read through five paragraphs just to find out what you’re emailing for.


Providing proof of concept early in the email gives the buyer the assurance they need to keep reading. You’re providing a “hook” that gives them a reason to care. You want to share anything that proves your product or company has traction. Some things you can talk about are:

  • Strong sales history (“Our larger retailers are having weekly sell-throughs over 15%”)
  • Recent press releases (“Our product was recently featured in [PUBLICATION NAME]”)
  • Distribution (“We’re currently in 100 stores across the country”)


Regardless of what your product is, the buyer will always want to know that you are logistically capable of working with a large retailer and that you can make them a lot of money. Remember, the point of this email is to show how you can help them.

Here are some of the most common needs a buyer has and how you can address them with your product.

“I need to increase my sales & margin.”

Driving sales and profit margin is all the buyer cares about at the end of the day. If you can show how you were able to drive sales or provide solid margins to another retailer, you will be very attractive to the buyer. Utilizing sales data is best for this!

Keep in mind that buyers are looking to drive incremental sales which means they don’t want your product to compete with (or cannibalize) the sales of a product they already have. They want your product to add to their existing sales.

TIP: Demonstrate that your product is (a) appropriate for the retailer’s customers and (b) unique enough to drive incremental, non-cannibalizing sales.

“I’m running low on inventory and I need something that can ship NOW.”

Most large brands require that retailers place orders far in advance from the date that it will actually ship to stores. Buyers usually plan for this but there are times when they have an immediate need for more inventory. 

Sometimes shipments from other vendors don’t arrive as planned or sales performance could have been much better than expected causing the stores to be low in stock.

These two scenarios happen often!

If you can provide buyers with immediate shipments, you will be servicing a need a larger vendor probably cannot service. This is a great way for gain an edge over a larger competitor.

TIP: If you are logistically capable of shipping right away, highlight that!

“I don’t want to place an order with such high minimums per style (MOQ).”

At the end of the day, buyers have bosses they must report to. How “good” a buyer is depends on how much they drive in sales and how profitable those sales are. Because their performance assessment is so results driven, buyers can sometimes shy away from trying a new product that they think is too “risky.”

This is especially true with new products that have high minimums.

If, for example, the minimum order on a $30 item is 2500 units, then the buyer must be willing to invest $75,000 just to test the item out. This may be too much of an investment for the buyer to gamble with, but if you could provide lower minimums like 500 units, then the investment to test is much lower ($15,000) and therefore, less risky.

TIP: Offer lower minimums per style to entice the buyer to “test” your product.

“I need new products that will make my assortments look fresh.”

Buyers are always competing to find the best new product to put in their stores. Customers won’t make it a habit to visit a retailer if the stores always have the same products sitting there. They want to have new items that will attract customers to visit them regularly. 

TIP: Show that your product is different and will get customers into their stores.


When selling to retail stores, finish off your email by reminding them of why you are reaching out and how your product benefits them. You can say something like,

“Let me know if you would like to review some samples – I’d be happy to send them over. I think our product would be a great addition to your current [product category] assortment.”

Remember to sound confident.

One of the biggest mistakes I see from inexperienced pitches is a tone of desperation.

And don’t forget – if your product helps the retailer grow its sales, you are doing the retailer a favor just as much as they are doing you a favor.

Are you having trouble getting in touch with buyers when selling to retail stores and finding the right thing to say? Let us know in the comments below!

This is a guest post from Maria Catapano, an entrepreneur, consultant, and co-founder of CATAPANO GROUP, where she teaches businesses how to grow their product sales. To get actionable tips and advice on selling your product to large retail stores, enroll in her free 6-day email course Retail Rundown™ here.



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  1. Hi Andrea! Great blog article! I’d love to see more pieces like this for wholesale companies. Wanted to let you know that the link on Catapano Group’s site to sign up for the course doesn’t appear to work. Thanks!

    1. Hi Brooke! Rita here from the Catapano Group. So sorry about the tech glitch! It should be working, but shoot me an email at rita@catapano.co (no “m” at the end of “.co”) and I’ll be happy to sort it out and get you enrolled into the free course!

      1. Hi Rita,

        Does the Catapano Group offer consulting? By the way absolutely LOVE the free email course. It was chock full of information that in the past I had to pay for on an hourly basis 🙁 to consultants that were basically just ripping me off.

  2. I enjoyed this article! Perfect way to start the New Year also. I do have one question though.. What would you suggest if you have a newer business and haven’t established credibility yet?

    1. Hi Renee! Great question, we get this one all the time. I always say that you should not pitch the bigger, more important buyers without credibility or proof of concept. Buyers want to bring in products they know will be successful, so they will be very hesitant to try something that isn’t already showing some traction. Have you ever watched Shark Tank? If so, you’ll notice that the companies without any “proof of concept” have the hardest time getting the buy-ins! It’s worth putting in the hustle upfront to get whatever it is you need to get the buyer to say yes.

      If you don’t have any credibility yet, I would say start by soliciting mom & pop shops, gift shops, and other small stores. They are more willing to try new products since they’ll only be purchasing a few units per store. Even if you sell 5 units, it’s still 5 sales you have to speak about, 5 customers you have to interact with!

      1. Excellent! I am happy to hear that you have addressed this issue as the formula you described is geared towards larger retailers or chains. If you are a new producer, you should probably not start with large retailers right out of the chute. And yes, minimums can be lower with these smaller stores. Other advantages are 1. You will probably be working with the owner direct rather then going through an extensive vetting process. 2. Smaller retailers tend to pay on time whereas this may not be the case with larger stores. 3. Good personal customer service goes a long way with smaller stores. 4, It is typically easier to get appointments with smaller store buyers ….. I address more on working with retailers in my blog: SellingtoGiftShops.com.

        1. Hmmm my experience with smaller retailers was vastly different then what you have expressed Sandy. BTW I sold to a little over 200 smaller retailers in less then a year. My experience was bitter sweet. If I had to do it all over again INITIALLY I would not have hired sales reps, not paid showroom fees, I would not allow sales reps to bully me into designing and producing 30 piece collections (which by the way most want 2 sets of) instead I would have kept my collection smaller, utilized the dollars that I spent on extra samples and showroom fees to do trade shows and higher minimum quantities with my manufacturer. I would certainly research manufacturers to produce my product and lock in minimum cost ex: how much for 100 units? 500 units? 1000 units? Go after the big retailers!!! It doesn’t cost you anything to shoot them an email with your line sheet.

          Here’s the reality…

          1) Yes 99% of the time I worked with the owner directly.
          2) Smaller retailers who place orders at trade shows tend to place orders with various different vendors. Hence when you are ready to ship their order according to the ship date you both agreed on they tend to either a) have a gatekeeper pick up the phone and tell you that they will get back to you and they never do so you have to call persistently because you had these goods made for them and small minimum quantities are expensive. That’s a harsh reality that sales rep don’t concern themselves with and vendors pay the ultimate price. b) they don’t remember the order they placed with you. I learned to have them photograph the items on their cell when placing an order. c) When you do get a hold of them more frequently they will say I already spent all my budgeting dollars for the season
          3) Good Personal Customer Service is a must! I would follow up with the owners of the boutique 2 weeks after orders arrived and ask which items were moving. Don’t be afraid to ask them who their primary customer is, what colorways sell most, silhouettes, price point. Also ask them what brands are they currently selling that seem to be moving for that season. Let the owner know and feel that you are vested in their success. The feedback is priceless and they will NOT forget you.
          4) If you are just starting I suggest visiting stores locally that you feel your product would be a perfect fit.
          Make sure the owner is there, that the store is NOT too busy, purchase something (doesn’t have to be a large purchase, introduce yourself, tell them about your product, profit margin, why it would be a perfect fit, amazing if you had a sample with you but if not leave behind a line sheet and ask them what day is slow that perhaps you can bring samples to view.

          Now with that said I want to stress that sales reps grew my business tremendously on outside my local area but I would NOT go that route out of the gate and if I were to hire a rep stick find a road rep who is passionate about your product. Remember small retailers don’t have the time to go visit showrooms they save those field trips for trade shows. So why pay showroom fees?

          Hope this helps as I don’t want any of you to experience the expensive lessons I’ve learned.

          Best of luck!


  3. Great Article, and very timely as this is the season for getting in front of larger buyers! Andrea, I always appreciate your offering advice for those of us selling wholesale. I would also add that tradeshows such as the National Gift markets are a great way to meet prospective buyers. I thought the idea of reaching out before hand to make appointments was a great take away, and something I have not been doing. Thanks, I will check out the course from Catapano!

  4. Very good article – and timely for me because I am going to reach out to some retailers myself soon, in addition to my sales reps selling.

    1. Hi Erica!
      Sell-through is one of the metrics a buyer will use to assess sales performance. Some other retail metrics are:
      Sales units, sales dollars, margin % (profitability).

      The unit sell-through equation is:
      (Sales units)/(Original units on hand) X 100.

      In words, it measures how many units you sold out of the total original amount you had to sell.

      To illustrate:
      EX 1: You sold 5 units out of 10 units you had on hand to sell. (5)/(10) X 100 = 50% sell-through
      EX 2: You sold 5 units out of 50 units you had on hand to sell. (5)/(50) x 100 = 10% sell-through.

      Generally speaking, the higher the sell-through, the better! It means your item is flying off shelves!

  5. An excellent article. We found that sending samples really helps with a follow up call in around a week to jog their memory. We create card games for the retail and toy market and the buyers can be difficult to get through to sometimes. Find out what their precuement process is and keep positive. Lifes a big game after all.

  6. Hi Andrea, We are a startup jewellery label in India and finding it difficult to get in touch with buyers in US and Europe for our new collections. Our work has been covered by a few fashion magazines and media houses but we really need to know how to get in touch with the buyers, starting from scratch.

    1. Hi Alex! How to find a buyer’s name and how to get in touch is one of the more popular questions we get so we put it into one of the lessons in our free 6-day email course. If you’re interested you can sign up with the link Andrea provided above! I think you will find it helpful especially if you are starting from scratch 🙂

  7. This article is fantastic and very timely! I’ve been thinking about a good strategy for my business agooaculture.com this year. Thank you Andrea!

  8. This is a great article and very helpful. Thank you so much for posting it! I have a question regarding samples. I’m pitching a bunch of stores by email, and have only had one store ask me for a sample so far. Samples cost me around $50 apiece so I’m hesitant to send them. Is this something I should do? Is it ok to ask for the sample to be returned? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Laura,

      It is definitely ok to ask for samples to be returned! Just know that the Assistant Buyers and Merchant Assistants handle all sample retrieval and returns and sometimes there can be errors causing your samples to be lost before they make it back to you.

      Before you send samples, I would be sure to include pictures of your product in the body of your email to the buyer. This should give him/her a pretty good idea of what you have to offer.
      TIP: Make sure you don’t attach the image and instead embed it IN the body of the email. The less steps the buyer has to take to view your product, the better!

      If the buyer is interested, request to come show him/her the samples in person. A 30 minute commitment shouldn’t be too difficult for the buyer to make time for. If he/she absolutely cannot meet, then go ahead and send samples with a request that they be sent back.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Hi Rita.

        One more question…when you send the sample I recommended a call tag be enclosed do you recommend also including fabric swatches in other color ways, a label that details, style, size, price and shipping dates along with look book and or line sheet?

        Look forward to hearing back from you.


        1. I am not Rita, but I would answer yes to all your questions. The purpose with any interaction with a buyer is to make the process as easy as possible for them!

    2. Hi Laura,

      Send the sample out! Trust me I was hesitant as well to send my sample to Anthropology but when I did I landed a private label order YEAH! Enclose a call tag aka prepaid return label, send the buyer an email with tracking info so they know the sample is on it’s way and make sure you let them know a call tag is also enclosed.

      Good luck!!!


      1. Yoli-

        Did you require minimum order quantities when soliciting business from small retailers? If so how much? Also did you require payment upfront or did you allow net 30/60 days?

  9. Hi Andreea and Rita,

    I’ve just signed up for the Free 6-day course and want to says thanks . Your tips are so helpful. I sent an e-mail to a buyer in Nov 2016 but haven’t heard back. Would you recommend sending a follow-up email or a phone call?

    1. That is so great to hear, Linda!!!! Glad you are enjoying the course. And yes, definitely follow up with the buyer a few times via email and/or phone.

    2. Hi Linda,
      Absolutely follow up with the buyer! It’s hard to not take a lack of response personally, but trust me, do not! It would take a buyer very little time to reply saying they aren’t interested. The lack of response is usually a result of their busy schedules. I was a victim of this myself when I worked on the buy side. Stay respectfully persistent. The only thing I would say is, don’t follow up by saying something passive aggressive. An example would be “As I said in my 6 emails below….” I’ve seen vendors do this more often than you’d think and it just made us not want to respond (which defeats the purpose of the email!)

  10. Yes! I do like this mini course. Do you have to have a fancy call tag label or just
    get one from post office or UPS? I do want to get into the 6 day free course!

  11. Hi Rita,

    Loved this article. Sometimes common sense and best practice gets lost in experience and overthinking things. This is the best advice anyone could probably get.

    I’ve found myself in an amazing position with a very established private label jewelry company specializing in fine diamond and gold finished jewelry in the U.S.

    They have stellar premium key accounts, excellent sell through, customer success stories for days, and their own factory overseas.

    I’m coming from a branded and licensed background, private label and the intricacies of fine jewelry have been my initial challenges. (And having a factory to consider as a ‘back of house’).

    Sample sends are not realistic in the price points I’m catering to. Meetings & trade shows are the best options.

    What do you suggest to do that’s new or different in engaging a buyer or doing a stand out follow up that helps the company and our products stand out in a congested market?

    I’m always scared to show product in an email, because we have such an enormous range- I can easily pigeonhole by guessing wrong and looking like a one trick pony.

    What’s your best strategy or advice for connecting in-person, forging that initial trust factor, and listening to what the buyer needs a solution for outside of doing homework on their business needs and opportunities that my company can fit?

    1. Hi Mike,

      I appreciate you taking the time to write this post.

      To answer your question about what’s new or different in engaging a buyer…there isn’t any “newer”, “more unique” formula to get a buyer’s attention. This is one aspect of selling that will withstand the test of time.

      Buyers need to drive sales profitability. That is what they NEED…ALL the time.

      The vendor that does the BEST job at telling them how they will meet this need will stand out the most.

      I can’t emphasize this enough.

      What will improve your pitch is listening closely to what the buyer needs. There is much more face-to-face contact in fine jewelry which you should absolutely use to your advantage. Listen very closely to the EXACT words the buyer uses when they speak with you. Write down the words that don’t seem “important” to you. If the buyer is using them, they are important. In your follow up, use the EXACT words the buyer said in your emails. This is one of the best formulas for meeting a buyer’s needs.

      When I was on the buy side, one of our company-wide initiatives was focusing in on “core” styles. We used this word all the time when we were talking with vendors. One specific account executive emailed me back with her line sheet and said “everything is sorted based on what’s strongest for us, but I put what we consider CORE styles up top for you.” Amazing!!!! This was EXACTLY what I needed!!

      In regards to pigeonholing yourself via email, I want you to re-frame your thinking on this one. Buyers specifically look for concise, digestible pitches that can give a quick snapshot of what a company can do. In fact, the vendors that try to show “everything” come off as inexperienced and disorganized. It’s your job to highlight what you believe will be most relevant to the specific buyer you are reaching out to.

      I hope this helps you! Thanks for reading our post!

  12. Hi Rita,

    Thanks so much for posting this great article!

    Within the past year, some of my products have been picked up by one of the larger retail chains. I’ve been given the green light by the original buyer and my information has been passed along to others to set up my vendor account. However, it’s been about two months since then and when I reached out a couple of weeks ago (for the first time) there was no response.

    Is it possible that the company has decided not to sell my line after all and I should just take a hint? I am a pretty new business–could it be that they realized this and won’t get in touch again?

    Thanks so much for the advice!

    1. Hi Molly — if you got the green light for vendor set up at the retailer, that means they were definitely interested in building a relationship with you. I would follow up with an email and then call the original buyer again. Don’t be shy! If she has changed her mind about you, she’ll tell you that explicitly — no need to assume!

  13. I am about to have a call from a big retailer…I am nervous and excited and so happy I saw this last night!!! thank you so much….would love to speak to you!

  14. Hello!
    I’m currently drafting my email to buyers and this was very helpful!
    The thing I’ve been stuck on for months has been the MOQ and shipping. I’m looking to reach out to local boutiques here in LA. Production is a high cost for me right now, but I don’t want to scare buyers away with a high MOQ! My products (jewelry) are about $100-300 on my website.

    Do you know what’s a reasonable MOQ that buyers will be willing to consider?
    And should I include the specific MOQ in the email as well as the line sheet, or just emphasize “low MOQ” on the emails?

    Thanks so much!!

  15. Hi Steffi! You don’t necessarily have to require an MOQ! It’s up to you based on whether or not you have a need for it. Most people who have MOQs have a logistical reason for it (ex: their factory packs their product 12 pcs. in a box, or they are selling a t-shirt that comes in 6 size runs per pack, etc.) If you don’t have a need to enforce an MOQ by style, then you don’t have to. In fact, it would be more attractive to buyers if you didn’t.

    Instead, based off your situation, I would suggest you simply set an “order minimum” by dollar amount for these wholesale orders. You can set the minimum at whatever makes the order worth your while (ex: $100, $300, $500+, etc.) and then let the buyer choose what he/she wants to hit that dollar amount.

    In the solicitation email, I would say something like…. “I would love for you to try some of our pieces. Our order minimums are just [$XXX.00] and [$XXX.00] on reorders.” Then in your line sheet, include this detail either on the footer or on the last page with your contact info and other wholesale terms.

    I hope that helps!!

  16. Hi Maria, I have an high-end contemporary clothing brand and just received interest from a large retailer and they have asked for my MOQ so they may set up a separate production for their order (earlier than my established delivery date). They have not placed yet, my average RTL is $250-300/ item. What would be a reasonable request without offering no minimum at all? Or is it common to not offer a MOQ- I just don’t want to shoot myself in the foot. Thanks so much for your help!

  17. Hello Rita,

    I really appreciate this article it’s great.
    I am starting a leather handbag business. I am having a hard time getting out there. I would like to know if you have any tips and suggestions for a newbie?
    The handbags are handmade in Peru.

    Thank you,

    Kattia A.

  18. Great Article. We are working right now on getting our product into retailers right now. This is new for me so I am doing all of the research I can. I am interested if you guys offer some type of online courses or services. Please email and let me know. Thank you.

  19. Great article! What it doesn’t address, however, is how to make a pitch when you are a brand new strartup. Many of the selling points speaks to product performance at other retailers, or through other channels. What about when you are a new business and have no sales, but you have a great product w/ samples, and a lot of interest from perspective customers?

  20. What do you do if you’re just starting out and only want to focus on wholesale or getting your items sold in stores? You don’t have a sales history to show them so what strengths do you play up in that case?

  21. Hi, thanks for the great article. I’m a brand that’s getting approached by retailers that want to carry my products but we have never sold to a retailer. We don’t have hang tags etc. Not sure what I’ll be expected to provide a retailer? Any insight on how to prepare my merchandise would be helpful.

  22. I’m not 100% if this is still monitored but I had a question about the “Credibily” part of the article. What’s the best way forward when pitching to a retailer if you have maximum 2 sales.

    Should I spend my energy growing my brand first before approaching retailers. I have a friend to stocks her jewlrey with retailers and she didn’t have any sales before that moment.

  23. Hi, thank you for great insight! What’s the best way to find a good sales rep? I own a jewelry brand and have been having a hard time finding good representation in New York City. Thank you!

  24. Very helpful article! Just one question; if you are successful in selling to a retail chain, is your product sold at every one of their locations?
    How does that work exactly?

  25. Great article you have here!

    I was just wondering if US retailers/buyers have requirements for foreign suppliers? What do they look for before doing business with them? Do they need some type of certifications or insurance?

    I’m sure they prefer local – easier to purchase products. But do they deal a lot with international/foreign suppliers?


  26. Effective communication with retail buyers is about building relationships, understanding their needs, and articulating the value your product brings to their store. By employing these strategies, you'll increase your chances of success in selling to retail stores

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