If you’re a small brand looking to get more physical visibility for your products and generate more sales for your business, building a network of retailers and stockists should be part of your strategy. Finding the right stockists though can take a lot of time and research.
Generally speaking, most retailers want to stock products which they know their customers will love. Understanding whether your product is a good fit or not is absolutely crucial.
So where do you start? Firstly, I think it is a good idea to get clear on your goals. How many stockists do you need? What kind of stockists or retailers are suitable for your products? Can you perhaps create various groups of stockists such as online traders and marketplace platforms, physical stores (small and department stores) – lifestyle or concept stores, fashion boutiques, art galleries, home decor stores?
When you have this clarity on who you are looking for to partner with, it has two benefits: one – you stop wasting time and two – because you are clear on who you’re looking for it becomes much easier to approach them and pitch your products.
Here are some tips on where and how to find new stockists:
Cold calling – visit in person
In this digital world we’re living, I think visiting retailers in person is the most effective way of finding the right partners. In the early days of our business we used to drive around showrooms as much as we could, completely unannounced. Yes, some of them don’t like it especially when they are very busy, but stopping by and having a friendly, quick conversation with the store owner can give you clues as to whether or not they might be a good business for your brand. If you have a good chat, leave them your lookbook and pricelist and see where it takes you.
TIP: Find out what customers want – what makes them tick, how do they respond to product offerings and how do they behave? Having the knowledge will help you navigate the conversation.
Even though trade shows require a significant investment, it is the quickest way to get the right exposure to the right audience (potential stockists) as well as to learn about the market and the customer. It is a great opportunity to ask retailers what they struggle with, who their customers are and what kind of product they are looking for.
The more you ask, the more knowledge you gain and therefore the more understanding of the market you have.
TIP: After the show, follow up each lead – pick up the phone, schedule a meeting. Many stockists will show interest but only a certain percentage will go all the way. Take contact details and follow up on regular basis.
Actively seek out opportunities
Step outside the usual retail route and actively seek out opportunities for trade partnerships. Don’t just focus on one category of retailers or stockists. Apart from the obvious (e.g. boutiques, department stores, store chains), can you perhaps partner with an art gallery or a hotel and do a collaboration together?
Case study 1: A jewellery designer who combines design with yogi and spiritual practices has partnered with Four Seasons to display her pieces in hotel lobbies across the world. She found this partnership through the Four Seasons buyer, who enjoys this kind of lifestyle.
The designer could have gone the usual retail route but competition is fierce. Unless the stockist is also into the yogi lifestyle, it may be difficult for others to buy into the brand and sell it.
Case study 2: An artist who specialises in painting local cityscapes has partnered with estate agents in the area to promote and sell her art. The estate agency has beautiful art displays on the walls, providing its visitors and clients with a relevant talking point, and the artist gets an exposure, sales and commission work generated from buyers and new homeowners. Again, if the artist went through the more obvious retail channels, she would have faced some stiff competition.
TIP: Opportunities are everywhere so keep your eyes and mind open. Be somewhere where there is less competition. If, for example, a stockist already sells your product category, it doesn’t mean that they will generate sales for your business. Try to find outlets that are targeting your kind of customer and have complementary product offering already in place.
If you put “concept store” in Google search in your local area, you will probably come across a few. Social media, especially Instagram, can be also useful for finding online stores and independent boutiques.
A side note on online traders: From personal experiences online stockists can generate good sales for you. But, the way you both agree the trading terms will have an impact on that. Ask them why they want to take your brand on and add your products to their offering and, as much as you can do for them, what they can do for you in return. Don’t be afraid to create terms which are win-win for both parties, not just for them.
TIP: Try to look at Trouva, which is an independent boutiques directory. Use it to browse through the platform by location or a type of boutique to find new stockists. Each boutique listed on the platform has a dedicated page with images of their store and products, which gives you an insight into what they might be looking for.
To conclude, finding retailers can be time-consuming and frustrating. Also, bear in mind that not all retailers will sell well for you. The more support, advice and help you offer them, the more chance you stand that they will promote your brand over others in their store.
Therefore, it’s necessary to grow your network on ongoing basis. It’s a constantly moving element of your business. Some retailers will close down, others will expand. The way you collaborate and work together will define the future success of all parties involved.
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