If you are thinking of selling wholesale and wondering what the process looks like from a retailer's point of view, keep reading this guest post.
Last week, we ducked into Moon and Arrow from cold rain and tucked our umbrellas by the door. As always, we felt like we’d entered a palpably distinct space. Lights sparkle off glass and bronze and scents waft over lovingly made displays. There are tea towels by Native Bear nestled near jewelry by Forge and Finish, by a rack of vibrant vintage, alongside pouches by Peg and Awl.
It’s not surprising that Moon and Arrow has such a passionate following here in Philly (and renown beyond.) The store’s owner, Chelsea, has a love for creativity and making, a fierce work ethic, and a generous spirit that is deeply felt.
Chelsea was kind enough to share her insights on the best and worst things makers do when it comes to getting their products on her shelves. Her perspective is super-valuable; she’s a maker and artist, in addition to being the badass entrepreneur behind Moon and Arrow and the visionary curator and cultivator of the space.
These are a few insights Chelsea and Sarah, who does communications, shared in our conversation:
ON STANDING OUT
“Ultimately, what we buy depends mostly on whether it’s just a great fit for the store. We’re looking for things that are really unique. It’s a fine line — not necessarily trendy, but fitting into a trend… we’re looking for something relevant and that people are excited about in a collective consciousness way.”
“We do also look for local stuff, and we’re careful to not have too much overlap with what we already have. So if we have a similar apothecary line but like what you have, we’ll sometimes buy the one or two items in the line that we don’t have yet.”
ON CONNECTING WITH STORES
“Trade shows are like five grand, at least. I still think, for small businesses, cold-calling — emailing stores that you think are right for you — is still the best way to go.”
“I’ve found not a lot of people realize how far in advance we buy. We buy in late summer for Christmas. People are emailing us [in late November] for Christmas and unless it’s a perfect fit, we just don’t have money for it. Sometimes we’ll buy things for more immediate timing, but those are usually things we’re just restocking. We’ll still be interested and look at emails and products we get now, but it would be to buy in a while, once we’re able to make more purchases.”
“There are just so many emails, that if you’ve heard back from us positively, it’s definitely effective to follow up — as long as you give us the time to do what we need to do on our end. Once we tell you we’d like to buy, don’t follow up with us every week to hurry us along.”
ON MEETING HER HALFWAY
“I really want to give people a chance but people don’t send photos or functional links to their website and most stores are not going to bother to hunt for you. Or sometimes makers will put the wrong store name in their email and that just feels so, so weird.”
“Having a wholesale site or login is really great. And anyone who is willing to take payment when the order is ready [but before it is shipped to the store], rather than upon ordering, is really helpful. Or even a 50% deposit on ordering and the rest when the order is ready, is great.”
“Packaging is a huge thing when deciding what to buy. Not everything has to have a fancy package, but for something like an apothecary, you need to think about the kinds of stores you want to be in, and the packaging has to fit.”
“When selling wholesale, your packaging doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to work — a lot of the paper labels rub off.”
“The biggest thing with packaging is that people need to be told what they are looking at, and you need to communicate that without having it be too wordy. For instance, tea towels need to be labeled as tea towels, and it really helps when it says the dimensions so we’re not guessing or having to unfold everything for customers.”
“We don’t need samples for most things, but for anything with a scent or flavor, we want to try it. When you send a sample, make a nice presentation that shows what the product is like, but don’t go overboard where it’s almost pressuring us into buying.”
ON DELIVERING YOUR ORDER AND FOLLOWING THROUGH PROFESSIONALLY
“I hate ordering something for Christmas, and the order is so late that we get it on December 20th — it puts us in a tough spot.”
“if you’re going to change packaging think about how it’s going to affect the customer. Are you willing to take back the old stock if you are changing the product? We can’t have half of a product that looks one way and half of a product that looks completely different. Just email me and say, ‘hey, we’re rebranding, how many of the new boxes do you need?’ Those things make such a difference.”
We think Chelsea’s advice about selling wholesale goes to show that being brave and persistent when reaching out to stores pays. But so does being really sensitive to the store owner’s experience and perspective — and helping her every step of the way. So many makers treat store owners like they’re some kind of adversary — when really, most store owners are thoughtful, creative, generous people who deserve thoughtful collaboration and partnership from makers.
This post on selling wholesale was shared with us by Etan and Emily from Wholesale In a Box (link: www.wholesaleinabox.com) — a service that makes it easier and more efficient for makers to introduce themselves to stockists they love and to make sales. Wholesale In a Box's monthly subscription comes with handpicked store profiles (customized to your business), a calendar to stay on top of your outreach, a dashboard to help track your progress and a help desk. You can see what their customers are saying at wholesaleinabox.com/