Recently, I’ve been having several discussions with many creative start-up brands I work with about whether or not to go into wholesale. And, if so, where and how do they find retailers. I thought this is an interesting topic to cover and so here I’m sharing my experiences of how I found and built a network of 120 retailers.
But before I do that, I want to briefly touch on a very important point. Strategy. Whether you produce or import/represent manufacturers from abroad, it’s important to get clear on your strategy and goals. I always prefer to work backwards. So, for example, I set the goal of how many sales or revenue I need to generate to cover my running costs and how many sales need to generate a profit in order to make my business viable. Once you know where you need to get to, you should able to decide on HOW you’re going to get there.
1. HOW many sales do you need to generate?
2. HOW are you going to achieve them?
From there decide on whether you can do it on your own, which may require some investment – e.g. marketing, PR and advertising, or whether you can generate part of the revenue through retailers, which also will cost you – e.g. in terms of smaller margins, training, displays, promotional materials etc.
Also consider how much do you value exposure and brand awareness, both crucial to brand’s growth. Again, think about HOW can you do both. What would be the quickest way of generating exposure and brand awareness? What channels can you explore?
If you think that retailers could help you with that, here are my tips on how to find retailers:
- Visit them in person – cold calling
I find that visiting retailers is the most effective way of finding the right partners. In the early days of my business I used to drive around showrooms as much as I could. You can do your research online or social media these days but I still think that one should go into the store and speak to the shop owner in person. You need to feel that they are right for you and your brand and vice versa. You need to understand their customer, so you can add value to both, the retailer and its customer.
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 find the right retailers.
- Trade shows
As mentioned above, going into wholesale costs money. Highly targeted trade shows are one possible investment to consider. Use this kind of exposure and time to learn as much as you can about the market and the customer: What do retailers struggle with? What kind of product are they looking for? How can you help them / each other? Ask, ask, ask!!
TIP: After the show, follow up each lead – do the phone call, schedule a meeting. Many retailers 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 routes and actively seek out opportunities for retail partnerships. Don’t just focus on one category of retailers. Apart from the obvious (e.g. boutiques, department stores, store chains), can you perhaps partner with a 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 is into this kind of lifestyle. The designer could have gone the usual retail route but competition is fierce. Unless the retailer is also into this kind of 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 city landscapes partners 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 customers with a relevant talking point, and the artist gets an exposure, sales and commission work generated through buyers and new homeowners. Again, if the artist went through the more obvious retail channels, she would be faced with stiff competition.
TIP: Opportunities are everywhere so keep your eyes and mind open. Be somewhere where there is less competition. If, for example, a retailer already sells your category product, 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 complimentary product offering already in place.
If you put “concept store” in Google in your local area, you will probably come across few. Social media, especially Instagram, can be also used to find online stores. A note on online retailers: From my experience online traders 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 in the UK.
To conclude, finding retailers can be time-consuming and frustrating. Also, bear in mind that not all retailers will sell for you. The more support, advice and help you offer them, the more chance you stand that they will promote your brand over others. 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.
Want to be part of a group of like-minded creatives that are going through what you’re going through? We have an amazing community of emerging designers, interior designers, stylists, fashion accessory brands, artists and photographers, where we help each other to grow. This is where I encourage sharing knowledge and brand collaborations. No fakes, self-interest liars and backstabbers are allowed. Please join us here. And, feel free to share if you found this useful!