As the holidays approach, we get this question a lot from the makers we work with:
“Things are crazy for me right now, and I’m not sure if retailers are even ordering. Should I even bother connecting with stores during this season?”
For store owners, this time of year is about trying to survive and high hopes for a great season. (Retailers often make 30% or more of their total yearly gross between November and December.) For makers, it’s a crazy combination of making, packing, and shipping goods for Christmas, doing holiday markets, and trying to lay the groundwork for sustained growth in the coming year.
For makers who are more established, this season usually feels high-stakes and a little (or a lot) frantic. For makers who are less established, the season may feel uncertain, busy, but also a little frustrating as you know you’d like to be in more stores to increase stability and sustainability for your business… but may feel behind the eight ball.
We never want any maker to spend their money, time, or energy in any ways that aren’t going to be fruitful for them. So we’ve looked at the data, talked to maker after maker and store after store, and these are the 3 most important principles we recommend considering as you decide how to approach this season, when it comes to getting your handmade products into stores.
3 key things to do (and not do) for makers growing wholesale around the holidays:
1. Keep the long view and focus on building relationships.
Sometimes people ask us what the main difference is between the makers we see being successful with growing wholesale and those that aren’t as successful. There are several key differences, but one of them is having the “long view". That means worrying less about whether you’ve gotten a new store account in the last 60 days and more about whether you’ve grown over the past year, and how the work you are doing now will help get you where you want to be a year from now.
This becomes especially important during the holidays, since stores are often reviewing product and making buying plans -- but may have already bought what they’re going to through the end of the year.
For instance, here’s what Chelsea at the famous Moon + Arrow said about her holiday buying habits:
“I’ve found not a lot of people realize how far in advance we buy. We buy in late summer for Christmas. People are emailing us [in late November] for Christmas and unless it’s a perfect fit, we just don’t have money for it. Sometimes we’ll buy things for more immediate timing, but those are usually things we’re just restocking. We’ll still be interested and look at emails and products we get now, but it would be to buy in a while, once we’re able to make more purchases.”
Long story short? Some stores are still buying in November to fill gaps in their holiday selection but almost all are shopping for new products, even if they’re not currently buying. Every maker knows that a strong wholesale business comes from strong, long-term relationships with stores -- so whether that great store partener places her first order with you on November 15 or January 15 or March 15 is less important than building that relationship overall.
Wondering how you actually go about building those retailer relationships and laying the groundwork for growth in the coming year? We actually wrote a really in-depth piece on this topic last year, during holiday season, which you can check out here.
2. Choose your approach based on the stage of your business.
Very busy right now but want to grow wholesale?
Only do what will be highest impact for your growth 6 months from now. You can’t afford to cut corners on things that will help you grow in the spring and summer (because otherwise you will see that growth drop off) -- but you don’t have a moment to spare for “nice to have” stuff that’s not really going to move the needle. For instance, if you’re a Wholesale In a Box customer, do send introductory emails to your store leads, but maybe push your followups to January. Do follow up with stores that have expressed interest, but maybe wait until the new year to finesse your email template. Do cultivate your current wholesale accounts, checking in with them and making sure that they don’t need more product or replacements of anything.
Not as busy as you’d like, and want to grow wholesale?
Use this time to create foundations for growth. Especially for makers that only have a few wholesale accounts, we generally say that this is a really great time to jump into wholesale. You can start investing in creating a great line sheet, refining your email template, introducing yourself to stores, and even developing penguin tactics. You may not see results right away, but this is a really good time of year to get started and set yourself up for a transformative 2017.
3. Don’t get holiday tunnel vision.
Just as many retailers are buying in August for Christmas, they’re also buying in November for Valentine’s Day…. and in January for the summer. While stores are certainly big buyers for the holidays, that is not the only season for which they need product (obviously.) Especially if you have great products in your line that span a range of seasons, keep those seasons in mind and consider pitching appropriately.
As always, our caveat is: do what works for you and what makes sense for your business. These principles are trends we see across our makers, but they are certainly not applicable to every maker in every situation.
Let us know if you have specific questions about products, lines, or how to change your outreach this season-- we’re happy to help!