Tips & Strategies for Makers


Consider wholesale to jump-start your business!

If you’re looking to grow your jewelry business, wholesale is one of the best strategies you can pursue because it allows you to be proactive in your approach. Armed with the right tools, you can actually reach out to stores and ask them to carry your products, which can yield results much faster than waiting around for customers to find you online or hoping the weather will be perfect for your next weekend craft show.

If you’re looking to make the jump from a retail-based strategy (selling directly to customers) to a wholesale-based strategy (selling directly to stores) there are a few things you’ll need to consider first:

1.  Are you priced appropriately, so you can make a profit at wholesale?
The number-one hesitation I hear from makers who are considering wholesale is that they don’t want to “give away half their price to a store.”  But this is the wrong approach to pricing. Retailers don’t take half of your retail price; they mark up your wholesale price.  (The markup is usually between two and three times your wholesale price, with 2.2-, 2.3- and 2.5-percent being pretty common in our industry.)

To make sure you’re priced appropriately, your wholesale price should account for your materials, time, labor, and PROFIT. You’ll need to mark up your own retail prices from there to be consistent with the stores that carry your work.

2.  Is your product line cohesive?
Because stores aren’t buying just one piece, they want to see that your product line has a cohesive vision and voice. Before jumping into wholesale, it’s important to take an objective look at your line. Does it look like it was all made by the same person, or are there too many ideas? In order to make your line more cohesive, you may need to cut some designs and expand others to create more choices. (For example, taking a necklace design and pulling an element out into several different sizes of earrings and a bracelet.) If you’ve been designing individual pieces, rather than cohesive collections, it can also be helpful to head to some stores that carry jewelry to see how individual designer’s collections are merchandised.

3.  Have you set your wholesale policies?
The advantage of wholesale is that, while you’re selling at a wholesale instead of a retail price, you’re sending out multiple pieces with every order. In order to make wholesale work for you, you’ll need to set a minimum that makes each order worth your time but also makes sense to a store. Your minimum order can be a dollar amount (for example, $500) or a per-piece minimum (such as 12 pieces). You can also set minimums for individual styles (such as requiring someone to order four of a certain style of earring.)

When setting your minimum order, it’s important to consider what is going to make a cohesive and eye-catching display in a store. It’s tempting to set low minimum orders to encourage stores to buy from you, but in my experience (and many others’ as well), you’ll sell better in a store when they have more product (a higher minimum order) and that will encourage more re-orders.

4.  Do you have a way for stores to view your wholesale line?
In the old days of selling wholesale, this meant a line sheet, which featured basic images of your work paired with descriptions and wholesale pricing. This is a simple and easy way of showcasing your work and can be printed and mailed, as well as transformed into a PDF to email to stores. (There are a lot of different ways to create your line sheet. I use Photoshop and Illustrator to create mine, but I’ve also found that PowerPoint or Keynote are great if you aren’t as tech savvy.)

While creating a traditional line sheet can still be incredibly effective, it’s now easier than ever to create an online platform where buyers can view (and order) your products. Sites such as Brand Boom let you create a virtual line sheet, and Etsy now has Etsy Wholesale, where buyers can register, view, and order products from multiple sellers.  You can also enable wholesale ordering on your own site. (I do this with a third-party app, called Wholesale Hero, installed on my Shopify site.)

5.  Who is the customer for your work? 
There are stores all over the country (and the world) that could potentially sell your product.  But this also creates a challenge when you’re first starting out because it can be overwhelming to know which stores to reach out to first. Spending a few minutes thinking about the ideal customer for your work can really help you focus your outreach. When it comes to my ideal customers, I like to make really distinctive profiles (with names, ages, descriptions, etc.). For the purposes of selling to stores, you can start by answering two key questions: Where do my ideal customers live? What kinds of stores do they shop in? Once you know the answers to these two questions (or have reasonable guesses), you can start to research stores using simple Google searches. For example, “museum stores in San Francisco,” “Boston-area craft galleries,” or “boutiques in Brooklyn that sell jewelry.” These simple searches are the starting point for building your list of potential stores (your prospect list).

Once you’ve prepared your line for wholesale, it’s time to start marketing. As I mentioned at the start, the advantage of wholesale is that you can contact stores directly instead of waiting to be found. In order to do this, you’ll need to build a prospect list of potential stores.

In addition to searching for potential stores online, you can build your list by looking at other maker’s websites to see which stores carry them. I recommend looking at different product categories that would complement your jewelry rather than looking at where your direct competitors are selling. You can also ask your friends and customers for store recommendations. Local and regional travel guides (both in print and online) are also a great place to find potential stores.

I recommend building your prospect list in a spreadsheet and filling it out with as much info about a store as possible, including  the store name, address, email, website, and a buyer or contact name if you can find one. The advantage of keeping your prospect list in a spreadsheet is that if you’d like to do a mailing to your stores, you can export the addresses directly to mailing labels to be printed. There is no magic number of stores you need on your prospect list, but if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend aiming for 50-100 stores.

Once you have your list of stores, it’s time to start reaching out. There are a number of ways to get in touch with stores, and I recommend experimenting with a few different strategies to see what works best for you. You can email stores individually with a brief introduction to your work. (You should never do a mass email or add a store to your email list without permission.) I’m a fan of doing postcard mailings because stores get an immediate visual of your work, and it’s a cost-effective way to reach out to your entire prospect list at once. For stores that are really high on your priority list, mail your line sheet or catalog.

6.  Dealing with Rejection 

One last thing to keep in mind: Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back from reaching out to stores! Buyers have many reasons not to buy (for example, they might not have the budget or shelf space at the moment); most of those reasons have nothing to do with whether they like your work or not. If you don’t get a definitive “it’s not the right work for us” response, keep the store on your list and follow up again in a few months. Once you’ve gotten a wholesale order, don’t forget to follow up and stay in contact with the store. What makes wholesale a truly profitable business strategy is not just the new orders, but the reorders from stores that can continue for many years!

If you’d like more information on getting started in wholesale, be sure to check out my course on Creative Live, Sell Your Products to Retailers.

Megan Auman is a designer, metalsmith, educator and entrepreneur. She has a BFA in Metalsmithing from Syracuse University and an MFA in Metals and Jewelry from Kent State University. Her eponymous jewelry line is sold in stores across the U.S. and online. Megan is also the founder of Designing an MBA, a website devoted to helping makers and designers improve their business skills. Designing an MBA features a variety of blog posts and programs on topics ranging from pricing to wholesale to marketing to social media.

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