Let’s put on our shopkeeper hat.
Being a “maker” is so firmly entrenched in our psyche that we often lose site of all the other angles. We’re so busy designing and creating and costing and promoting and paying that we often fail to take an objective look at the purchasing experience through the eyes of our buyer. Once we’ve introduced our products and interested her enough to make a purchase, how do we build a relationship that’s ripe with longevity and loyalty?
Makers sometimes get tripped up on this exercise, but the good news is that you don’t need xray vision or a crystal ball to understand what makes a buyer happy. There’s no magic here. Imagine you run a shop and purchase creative products from indie designers. Looking at things through that perspective… what would keep you happy?
1. Don’t undercut your wholesale partners.
As a creative maker in the wholesale marketplace, you never want to be perceived as competition by your accounts. We’re looking for a partnership here and your actions should reflect that. If you sell your products via the internet, then be certain to keystone your own pricing (i.e. a $5 wholesale product should be at least $10 on your website). Even better: keystone + 10% to allow for the periodic promotions you’re certain to run.
2. Avoid oversaturation.
Shops don’t want to cannibalize each other and they don’t want to compete with one another for the pool of local buyers who seek your product. Accepting too many wholesale accounts in too small a market is a bad idea all the way around: the buyers will be frustrated at your inability to act as a partner and the products will move slowly off their shelves, reducing or eliminating reorders. Be mindful of your current stockists and their proximity to each other. At Bella Lucce, we’ve had our web developer create an instant zip code lookup, so we can determine if we have a current stockists in a given area at the outset of any conversations with newly interested parties.
3. Ship when you say you’ll ship.
Nothing is more frustrating for a retailer than not receiving merchandise when they expect it. Design a realistic shipping schedule for yourself and always tack on an extra day or two. It’s far better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. If you know you won’t be able to make an estimated shipping date, then promptly notify the account, succinctly explain the scenario, offer up a new shipping date (that you absolutely must meet) and either offer them an incentive (i.e. 10% off their next order) to tuck something extra in their box. And a handwritten note thanking them for their patience goes a long way, too.
4. Promote great accounts on your company blog.
You need blog material and they need promotion, right? Featuring stellar stores on your blog is a total win-win. The shop get a search engine boost, a surge of web traffic and a ego massage. You get to show off all the groovy places that feature your product (which makes other groovy stores want to feature your product) and you have fresh fodder for the blog (which makes your readers happy and keeps those Google spiders busy, too).
Bonus points: include a testimonial from the shop owner detailing how fantastic your products are or what product is flying off the shelves. Displays of your product in-store are popular, too.
5. Keep in touch.
Retailers frequently lament the fact that formerly hot-and-heavy makers who pursued them like lovers suddenly fall off the face of the planet once they’ve made the sale. Keeping them hot for you is infinitely easier (and more cost-effective) than finding new lovers to pursue. Use an email database program (Constant Contact, Mailchimp, etc.) to dispatch a monthly newsletter showing off your latest product introductions, press hits, upcoming shows and behind-the-scenes peeks. If you haven’t heard from a retailer in several months, pick up the phone and ask how it’s going. If they indicate that your merchandise isn’t moving, propose a product exchange or a shipment of promotional materials, a few testers, etc. to help get things moving again.
6. Offer product swaps for slow-moving items.
Many vendors offer a product exchange if the products aren’t moving quickly enough. This kind of policy really builds confidence with a retailer ans works best for non-consumables and products which aren’t subject to lots of “shelf wear.” You can protect yourself by offering one-time exchanges, specifying that the products must be from your current collection and in a condition suitable for resale.
“Current stock items may be exchanged (unopened, un-harmed, in the original packaging) for different merchandise, with all exchange shipping to be paid by the buyer.”
7. Regularly introduce new products.
New products are the lifeblood of retailers. Yes, they need their staples, but consumers are always on the hunt for the latest and greatest. Keeping your line stagnant means it will eventually go stale and retailers will lose interest. Introduce new products once or twice a year to keep things interesting. These don’t have to be radical category shifts or intricate collections. Artists: introduce a new print. Stationery girls: take a favorite notecard design and rework it into a magnet. Bath and body makers: add a new fragrance of lotion or an additional product format to an existing collection. Jewelry designers: recast a favorite gold design in silver. You get the idea…
8. Provide promotional materials.
Promotional materials are designed to support your product at the point of sale. properly executed, they represent a cost-effective toolbox you can place in the hands of your wholesale buyers. These can be provided on a complimentary basis with first orders, free with orders over $x or available to any stockist for a fee.
- Window clings can be produced at minimal cost by a local sign company. Place your logo on a cling alongside the words “We proudly feature the xyz collection.”
- Preprinted shelftalkers offer critical information about your brand ethos, media coverage and product benefits.
- POP displays offer merchants instant merchandising support and draw attention to your products in a retail setting.
9. Make ordering easy.
The easier it is to place an order with your company, the more orders you’ll receive. Simple, but oh-so-true. Work with your web developer to enable online ordering at wholesale prices. Process credit cards directly on your website. Simplifying your checkout process and ensure it’s easy to follow. Accept multiple payment methods. Hook up a fax machine or use an online service like eFax to accept orders. Make that order form a tidy, well-designed, smartly-organized dream. Enable instant, automatic order confirmation emails if you process orders online and fast-as-lightning confirmations for orders processed manually.
10. Offer product training.
Products typically don’t sell themselves and shops are perpetually teaching staff about new products in an effort to boost sales. Help them help you: offer free product training to your wholesale partners. There are numerous options…
- Tuck product information cards listing features and benefits of new products into wholesale orders.
- Host a monthly product training call on a conference bridge. Invite stockists to hear your latest news + ask questions.
- Post videos on Vimeo or YouTube which walk buyers through specific products, their selling points and their creation processes. Both platforms have a privacy feature which allows you to restrict viewing to select users.
I have 15 more tips for keeping your wholesale accounts happy, but they’re reserved exclusively for my LBU girls. Registration for my LBU Live “how to wholesale” class opens again on May 27th and there are just 25 spots available. I’d love to welcome you into the course!