Working with retailers is a great way to expand your creative business, as retailers will make larger purchases than individuals and can result in long-term relationships (e.g. re-orders!) that don't require too much effort to maintain.
How do you get your products into retail stores? Here are some tips!
* Successful retailers have a strong point of view and buy what they love
- Visit their stores to understand their taste and what sells
- Only send them samples of products that are a good fit for their store
* Don't be afraid of retailers: you're on the same side!
- While it may seem intimidating to approach retailers at first, remember that they are small business owners just like you. You're both on the same side, working together to bring great products and a great shopping experience to consumers. Don't be desperate and realize that you have as much power as they do. If your product catches on, retailers will be clamoring and even competing with each other to carry your product -- they need you as much as you need them.
* Retailing is about relationships
- Boutique retailing is all about relationships. Retailers love to know the people who make their products so they have a story to pass on to their customer that makes shopping at their store a more unique and personal experience. Do you best to get to know the retailer personally; often small boutiques are slow during weekdays - make an appointment to stop by and drop off a sample and chat with the owner or store manager. Types of questions you might ask: what are customers looking for / what products are popular? Are most of your customers tourists or local? Are their any gaps in your assortment that I could consider in developing new products? Be careful not to sell the same products to retailers who are competing with each other directly, e.g. on the same block; instead, if both retailers want your product steer them towards different items in your line to minimize overlap -- after all, in order for you to succeed, they need to succeed!
* Retailers always want what's new
- Keep your product assortment fresh and when you contact your retailers, always be ready to show them "what's new."
* Retailers need reliability and variety
- Retailers are small businesses and are often just barely making it financially. They may be reluctant to take a risk on a new vendor who might not deliver orders on-time or go out of business. Be courteous and professional in all your communication, and make sure orders are always delivered on time. Provide references if they seem hesitant about taking a risk on a small business.
* Get to know the retail buying calendar
- Most retailers buy at least 6 months ahead of the next season, so for seasonal items be sure that your products are ready well in advance. If you have a Christmas item that won't be available until October, don't bother releasing it -- most retailers will have already planned their purchases and maxed out their budgets. Save it until next year when you can reach buyers in the Spring / Summer and take advantage of their excitement of seeing something new.
* Get a sales rep
- Sales reps typically represent 10 - 20 different manufacturers in a geographic region and take a 15% cut of sales. They have deep, long-standing relationships with retailers, so having a rep is a great way to increase your distribution quickly. To find a sales rep, find out who reps lines that are similar to yours and contact them. Be personal, courteous and send them samples (no impersonal form e-mails!). Show that you are eager, earnest and understand the other lines they carry. Reps are often willing to take a chance on one or two very small lines to add interest and variety to the assortment of lines they represent, but as with retailers, it's all about relationships.
* Exhibit at a trade show
- Although trade shows are declining in importance due to the availability of most products online, they are still a great way to meet store owners and build relationships. Before exhibiting at a show, visit it and "walk" the show to understand the different "neighborhoods" and where you might fit in, and to get ideas for booth design and product trends.
- When it comes to exhibiting at a show, keep it simple and keep costs low! If you're just starting out, consider forming a co-op with complementary vendors and sharing a booth space.
* Approach big retailers with caution
- While it may seem tempting to go after big chain retailers due to the volume of their orders, be aware that they often have steep discount requirements, onerous shipping and labeling requirements (which, if you don't follow them, result in heavy fines and could completely erode your profit margins), and may even have expensive testing requirements (e.g. if your product can be classified as a "children's product"). Also note that large retailers may decide to cancel an order if it's not fulfilled on time or for any other reason, meaning that you could take a big loss if you have investing money in creating inventory to fulfill their demand. While it can be great for top-line sales and brand awareness, the profit margins can be extremely slim, not to mention the stress of comprehending a 100-page vendor manual!