Small Biz Advice: How to Approach a Retail Buyer.

Small biz life: we're living it daily, and we want to share what we're learning. This post is intended to help any maker who's just starting to think about wholesaling their goods, or needs a refresher on how to get noticed by a retail buyer.  Picture this: one day, it was all clear to you. You had an idea, a spark, a creative breakthrough, and you put into process a plan to make/draw/produce something. A something that was born outside of your 9-5 job and perhaps in addition to a full schedule of family and friend commitments. The something takes over your thoughts, and slowly, with help from others, you edit and revise until it's the absolute best version. You're ready to unleash it into the world, to start selling it to people who will use it, Instagram it, and above all, love it. Sounds pretty great, doesn't it? Except there's one big question for anyone who's created something intended for consumption: once all the work perfecting the product(s) is done, HOW do you get them in the right stores and in front of the right customers? For answers, we turn to our retail manager Suzy, who has over 7 years of experience buying in independent retail.  Suzy fields requests from several makers/companies every week who inquire about having their product sold in our shop. She's sharing her list of do's and don'ts when approaching a buyer. These tips address what to do before reaching out, what to include on your line sheet, and general customer service best practices. Take it away, Suz! Do have a predetermined wholesale and retail price for your products that allows retailers to sell them at a standard industry mark-up. Don't undercut your retailers by selling your product for less than the determined retail price in your own webshop.  You and your retailers should be a team working towards sales of your goods, not competing against each other for them. Do your research regarding pricing so that your time and materials are covered and so that your goods are reasonably valued. Don't underprice your goods for the sake of getting initial orders - you'll eventually have to raise your prices after a season or two which can be hard to swallow for retailers and customers who have come to know your brand at a certain price point. Do edit your offerings so that you have a collection of goods with enough variety for buyers to choose from without having so many options that customers get overwhelmed. Do create clear and informative line sheets. Don't forget all of the important details: prices (retail and wholesale), order deadlines, delivery dates, minimum order requirements, color/size/etc. options, contact info., photos (multiple angles, if appropriate), content of goods, etc. Do some research about the retailers you're approaching before you pitch your goods to them.  Find out what other goods the retailer carries. Ask yourself the following questions to assess if your product will be a good fit in a particular shop: Does your product fill a gap in their selection? Does it compliment other products they carry? Is it too similar to something they've already got? Is the price point in line with the other goods in their shop? Don't just take shots in the dark when it comes to the shops that will hopefully represent your line to the buying public. Do learn the name of the buyer and contact him or her directly with an e-mail that contains the highlights of your brand and great images of your product. Don't just stop into shops with your goods without an appointment. Do respect that shops like to carry goods that feel special/exclusive. Don't approach every shop in a neighborhood with your line - find the one that feels like the best fit and start there.  If they order, make that the one and only shop in that neighborhood that carries your line.  Talk with the buyers of shops you sell to already if you get inquiries regarding your line from other nearby shops to make sure the shops aren't too close for comfort. Do be realistic and honest about order delivery times. Don't make promises that you can't keep regarding how quickly orders will ship. Do take care of the retailers who have been consistently good customers. Don't push your smaller retailers to the side if you get an awesome offer from a larger retailer. Do keep communication open - be proactive.  Things beyond your control may happen that will cause orders to be delayed or short on goods.  Get in touch with the buyer to let him or her know when things aren't going as planned and to find out what you can do to make things right.  Delivery going to be later than expected?  Let the buyer know and offer to cover the cost of shipping to make up for it.  Short on product?  Offer to send something comparable in a sold-out product's place; don't just substitute another product without checking with the buyer. Do listen to buyers' feedback.  Retailers get a ton of feedback from customers about products - feedback that could make your product and its sales better down the road.
We hope these do's and don'ts are helpful to you! Thanks to Suzy for sharing her insights.
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