When I talk to artists and makers, many express interest in wanting to expand the wholesale side of their business. (For those who are new to the lingo, that simply means selling your work to stores.)
And for good reason. Growing your online sales can feel frustrating at times (especially when Instagram keeps changing their algorithm) and retail shows are exhausting. (I did three this spring, and it wiped me out! Kudos to those of you who do so many more!). When compared to these more unpredictable revenue streams, wholesale can seem like the holy grail.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the wholesale market isn’t what it once was either. Everything is shifting fast, wholesale shows aren’t quite what the used to be, and stores are closing.
That’s the bad news.
But the good news is that not all stores are struggling. Some are thriving. (Especially stores that are owned and run by younger proprietors, who are savvy at using social media and community events to bring customers in the door.)
And wholesale is still one of the most predictable ways to grow your business, because YOU can reach out to stores. (Instead of waiting for customers to find you.)
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this today.
If your goal is to increase sales in your business in the second half of the year, and wholesale is part of that goal, now is the time to prep for fall wholesale season, regardless of whether or not you’re doing a trade show this summer.
That’s because most buyers place their fall orders in July and August. (Because that is trade show season.) And while I have found that buyers are placing later orders for holiday (even ordering as late as November) they’re much more likely to place those orders with established accounts.
Which means now is your window to prep for wholesale and persuade stores to place an order.
So what should you be doing to prep for fall wholesale season in the next month? Here are three things to help your prepare and reach out to stores:
1. Create or update your line sheet.
If you’re new to wholesale, you’re going to want to pull together a (digital) line sheet you can send to buyers. This is simply a PDF that showcases your products and prices. (If you’ve never made one before, or want help or feedback on yours, consider joining my online mentorship program, Artists and Profit Makers. In there, I share examples of my own line sheets and can give suggestions on what is and isn’t working on yours.)
Conversely, you could set up your own website with wholesale ordering or even offer wholesale customers a discount code to shop your retail website. But I find that many buyers appreciate the ease of a line sheet (with wholesale prices clearly marked) and are perfectly happy emailing you to place an order from your line sheet. (And putting together a line sheet doesn’t have to be complicated. You could even build it in a program like Word/Pages or PowerPoint/Keynote.)
And of course, if you’ve been doing wholesale for a while, now is the time to update your line sheet. Early fall is a time when buyers are specifically looking for new work, so make sure your line sheet features your most recent work.
I’ve also started noting which pieces are my best sellers on my line sheets, because buyers are always looking for those! (They want work in their stores that they know is going to sell!)
The most important thing (and the place to start) is to make sure that you have an easy way for buyers to view and order your wholesale line.
2. Create a list of stores to reach out to.
Once you’ve updated your line sheet, it’s time to figure out who you want to reach out to. If you’ve already got wholesale accounts, they should be the first people you send your new line sheet to. That’s because it’s so much easier to sell to an existing customer than someone new. (Plus, you can usually get your line sheet to your existing stores with a simple email.)
But ultimately, to keep your wholesale business growing and thriving, you’re going to want to build a list of prospective stores to reach out to. I recommend keeping this list as a spread sheet, so that you can make note of email addresses and mailing addresses, as well as keeping track of when you last reached out to a store and what the results were.
This list can include stores that have been recommended to you as well as stores you find through research. Some of my favorite tactics include seeing what stores complementary (not-competing) brands are in as well as looking at shopping and travel guides for cities or regions you know your ideal customer lives or vacations in.
The size of your prospect list will vary depending on your wholesale goals, but setting a goal of at least 50 stores on your list is a good place to start.
And if you’ve been building your list for a while, now is a good time to clean it up (get rid of any stores that have closed or given you a firm no) and refresh it with a few new stores.
3. Start reaching out!
There are so many ways to reach out to stores, from trade shows to mailing postcards, catalogs, or line sheets. But if you’re trying to market your wholesale business on a budget, nothing beats sending an email.
Of course, you never want to spam stores by adding them to an email list without permission, but you can email stores individually (or use the contact form on their website) to introduce them to you and your brand.
The goal with these emails is to keep things simple. Briefly (and I do mean briefly) introduce yourself and your work and let a store know where they can go to see images. Never send images or your line sheet as an attachment, because it likely will end up in spam. The easiest thing to do is email a link to view your line sheet (I use Dropbox, but any cloud based storage will work) but I don’t recommend emailing that link in the first email. (I like to think of it like dating – I’m not asking for everything on the first date.) Instead, I recommend asking a store to reply to your email if they’d like to view the line sheet. That way, you know they’re interested.
How many emails you want to send a day depends on your goals and your bandwidth (not your Internet, I mean how much other stuff is going on in your business), but the most important thing is that you are setting aside time to do this outreach in July and August, when stores are most likely to buy. (You can also set aside time to follow up with stores in late August or early September, assuming that you’re not already busy starting to fill orders!)
I know the process of writing that first email to a store can seem daunting, which is why I’m hosting a live training in July as part of my online mentorship program, Artists and Profit Makers, where I’ll be guiding you through the process of writing an email to a store in real time. (You can join here for access to that July training, plus all the other resources in the program!)
I know many makers feel guilty that they aren’t ready to invest in a trade show, but the reality is, stores are looking for great product this time of year, regardless of whether they discover that product in an email or at a show.
The most important thing is that you prep yourself for this major buying season and start reaching out to stores now – in whatever way is easiest for you.
It may still seem like fall is ages away, but savvy artists and makers know that now is the best time to make a big push if you want to see those fall wholesale orders. Start prepping your wholesale outreach now, and you’ll reap the rewards throughout the fall and holiday buying season!
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Need help and support navigating the wholesale process? Enrollment is open in Artists and Profit Makers, my online mentorship program. This is the perfect place to get support, feedback, and answers as you build (or update) your line sheet, research stores, and reach out. Not only do I answer questions and give feedback in the private forums, I’m also doing a live training this July where members will be drafting an email to stores along with me. If you’ve been struggling to get moving on your wholesale business, and want accountability, action, and answers, you’re not going to want to miss this training. Head to artistsandprofitmakers.com to join today!