At the end of 2011, I set a number of business goals for myself in 2012. One of the goals on the list was to increase the wholesale side of my business. I have had wholesale customers, but they have arrived on my doorstep in interesting ways – someone saw my shop on Etsy, a friend showed a boutique one of my designs and they called to order them, etc.
This year, the goal is to go out and pursue these retail clients rather than having them accidentally locate me. I am planning to pursue shops I feel will be a fit with my style and I also decided I wanted/needed to participate in a wholesale gift show. I checked around online and found some big shows across the country and a smaller show right here in Michigan. I decided starting with the Michigan show was a great idea – local and a bit smaller.
I signed up and two weeks ago participated in my first wholesale event. With a lot of retail shows under my belt, I went into the show hoping to secure a couple of accounts and, more importantly, learn as much as I could about how to approach a wholesale show in the future. So, today, I thought I would pass along my “Top 7 Wholesale Takeaways”.
Takeaway #1 – Focus
While I have a lot of one of a kind items, they have no place at a wholesale show. I brought a lot of these pieces along to the show to demonstrate the diversity of what I could do for the stores. What I quickly learned is that, unlike retail customers, most of these shoppers don’t care. They want to see the lines that you can produce in volume. Next time, I will focus on a handful of specific designs – you get what you see.
Takeaway #2 – Pricing
Just like retail, pricing your work is not an easy task. You need to ensure that your wholesale price is set at a level that covers you financially and leaves the buyer room for mark up. Prior to the show, I asked the EcoEtsy team for some advice on how to prepare. Evon Cassier made a wonderful suggestion that I should have a “line sheet” – a document that describes each of my lines and the pricing. I can’t thank her enough for that advice. That sheet was what I used for many conversations and handed out to shoppers with my business card when they visited the display.
On the first day of the show, I did learn some good advice from my experienced neighbors. I had listed a “suggested retail price” on the line sheet. They advised me not to do that and instead let the buyers determine the price they will be able to command in their individual stores. When I printed my sheets for days 2 and 3, I left the suggested retail off.
Takeaway #3 – Ordering
Ordering was an area I clearly did not give enough thought to prior to the show! I realized quickly that you need to write the order down fast and ensure you have a copy for yourself and one for the buyer.
My solution after the first day was electronic. I pre-populated an order form on my computer with each of the lines I was offering. Then, when an order was placed, I just added the quantity and dollar amounts on the appropriate line. I saved the document with the name of the store and immediately sent them an e-mail with the order. I was lucky we were indoors and had both electric outlets and wireless available.
Depending on the show, I would suggest really think through the logistics of the ordering process before you arrive so that you can be as efficient as possible. If you can’t take the computer route, carbon paper is a must!
Takeaway #4 – Display Fixtures
Mid way through the show, I realized that many buyers were really drawn to the way I displayed my wine charms hanging on a screen. Many were asking if I sold a “kit” that included both the display piece and the product for the store. Honestly, I had never thought about that….I certainly am now!! If you have an innovative way to display your product and can find a way to replicate it, you might want to consider the kit approach.
Takeaway #5 – Attendee Mindset
Art fairs are full of people “just looking”. This show was full of buyers. They are there with a list and a budget. Your role is to ensure that a portion of those dollars are prioritized to your shop. So, when they come into the display, focus on what makes your work different and perfect for their business.
I started many conversations by asking them about the kind of business that they owned. I had visitors with boutiques, bars and restaurants, art museums, hospital gift shops and more. Once I knew the type of business they were in, it was easier for me to tailor my comments to highlight the products that would be best for them.
Takeaway #6 – Local and Handmade
I realized early on that the “Made in Michigan” message was very important to many of the vendors at the show. I’m sure this isn’t the case at all shows, but keeping the local dimension in mind is a good idea when a show is selected. If you are near your own hometown, don’t be shy about mentioning you produce the product locally.
I also found a lot of buyers really appreciated that my work was handmade. There were many vendors at the show selling plastic trinkets made in very high volumes. In that environment, handmade items really do have a stand out, unique quality.
Takeaway #7 – Partner with Others
This show was the first time I was able to integrate my newly acquired dress form into my display. I like the opportunity of having a second full size “person” in the display to showcase a necklace. The dress form display definitely drew people in. However, about 1/2 were drawn to the necklace I had chosen and the other 1/2 were drawn to my sweater the dress form was wearing. They wanted to buy the sweater!
After the show, Karen of EcoKaren made the obvious comment to me – “you should have partnered with one of our EcoEtsy teammates and shown / sold one of their wholesale sweaters”. This is a fabulous idea!! While details would definitely need to be figured out, partnering with another teammate would make a lot of sense. In this case, if a teammate offered this sweater wholesale, I probably could have sold a number of orders. Next time!
I know I still have a lot to learn on the wholesale side of the business, but I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve made. Next time, I will head into the show with more experience and ideas behind me.
As I was preparing this post, I saw the agenda from the Etsy Success Symposium: Get Found next week. On the agenda from 4:00 to 5:15 is a panel discussion entitled “Get Out There: Using Craft and Wholesale Shows to Support Your Small Business”. I’m anxious to watch that one and see what additional tips I can take away.
For anyone who has participated in a wholesale show, please share your experience and tips here with the team.
Good Luck! Lori – Drinks to Design
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