After Working With 233 Makers Over 18 months: Real Talk About Why Wholesale In a Box Works for Some Makers and Not Others

When we first started Wholesale In a Box, there was nothing in the space or on the market that existed like it -- not a single company that provided this service, though a couple have since sprouted up. We knew the method worked, based on our depth of experience in related approaches with makers and artisans around the world. We knew makers wanted it because we created it in response to the dozens and dozens (now hundreds) of conversations we had with makers in which they said, "I want to grow my wholesale, but it's a huge hassle finding stores that are a good fit, I don't have a good system to stay consistent, and I don't know what to send to stores or what to do when they don't write back."

But we didn't know specifically what kinds of makers would sign up with us. We didn't know how much of a difference training would make. We didn't know how successful we could help makers be.

The last 18 months have been a wild ride. And we've learned an incredible amount about which of our makers are most successful and which of our makers are least successful. Because the truth is that some of our makers are dramatically more successful with Wholesale In a Box than others. We have makers that got 5 new store accounts in their first two weeks with us. We have makers that get a new store account in their first 24 hours with us. And we have makers that go several months without seeing the results that we all want them to see.

So over the past few months, we have been on an obsessive mission to help all of our makers get the results of our most successful makers. We've asked the question: how can everyone we work with be wildly successful, both immediately and over the long term?

The result of months of work and days of analysis resulted in some pretty fascinating results. We found a lot of things that we could be doing better, to train and engage and equip our makers to the greatest extent possible. So we’ll be working on our end to put those in place. But we also found 7 "success behaviors" on the maker’s end that differentiate the makers who are most successful growing wholesale from the makers who are least successful growing wholesale. It’s a combination of super-concrete things and more high-level mindset pieces.
 

 

The 7 things that makers who are successful at growing wholesale do:

  1. They are hugely consistent in their email outreach.  
    Our most successful makers are like clockwork when it comes to sending emails. One maker logs in every morning at 6:30 am and sends every intro email and every followup until about 7:15 am when she moves on to other work. She sends every email on her calendar, and also adds additional outreach to stores she’s most excited about. We also have successful customers who are inconsistently consistent. That is to say that they work in spurts. Every two(ish) weeks they spend an entire afternoon sending emails and that works for them. Any way you work it, the ones who are getting stores are getting emails out regularly (which includes followups).
     
  2. Quality of product: they show stores what stores want to see.
    Store owners are, by necessity, practical. They want to be able to tell a story about a brand. They want accessible price points. They want to know the facts about your pieces and also feel inspired that it will fly off their shelf. They need to know your work fits into a broader trend or zeitgeist in the market. Successful makers help store owners out by putting their minds at ease in relation to these dynamics. They can do that in photos, in narrative, in their line sheet, or in their outreach email -- but they address these things both implicitly and explicitly.
     
  3. They reach out to stores that make sense for them.
    Whether you are working with us or not this one is essential. It’s one of those things that should go without saying but as many of those things go, does need saying.  For our customers, this is one of the parts that we take care of by making sure that we send stores that line up with your brand and products. We take things into account like what a store owner is buying in a particular season, geography, style, offerings, and other makers’ experience selling to the store. If you are doing it by yourself, you may not have access to all of that information, but it is essential to make sure that the stores you are reaching out to would be a good fit for you.
     
  4. They are open minded about stores and don’t sweat the small stuff.
    Our most successful customers don’t worry too much about "nos" or mis-steps. They are discerning but not picky when it comes to which stores to reach out to. They respond thoughtfully to stores, but don’t stress about every weird response. It is simply too hard to be consistent if you’re getting caught on the daily bumps in the road -- and consistency is where growth comes from.
     
  5. They have great quality outreach materials and packaging.
    It’s hugely helpful to stores if your line looks great on the shelf. It doesn’t have to be fancy or have expensive packaging, but it is very important to be far away from ziploc bags and labels printed on flimsy paper. We also see this concept more generally -- pro makers focus on making great products, but also on all the “packaging” around them: their website, their photos, their line sheet, and working to improve those as time goes on.

    Specifically one thing they do is purple cow outreach.
    Seth Godin, a marketer we love, has this concept of the “purple cow.” The idea is that we tend to ignore products or marketing that is “just like everything else” -- and we are drawn to things that are remarkable, different, outstanding, or even weird. Our most successful makers are those that make themselves remarkable. That might mean a super-detailed and informative email template. It might mean a product line that is totally accessible but completely unlike anything else on the market. It might mean using penguin tactics. What it doesn’t mean is creating beautiful (but not unique) products and sending a competent (but not unique) email over and over again. Honestly, it’s more fun to be a purple cow -- and it definitely works better.
     
  6. They don’t get in their own way.
    “Getting in your own way” could mean taking 2 months to draft an email template because you’re scared to get that first “no” from a store. It could mean quitting after a store owner says she doesn’t like your work. It could mean signing up for Wholesale In a Box but not investing the time or money to get good product photos that show your work well. It can be hard to pin down, but you can probably sense when you’re getting in your own way.
     
  7. They have endurance and take the long view.
    There’s always a balance in business, between being persistent and ruthlessly cutting out whatever doesn’t work. We could never tell you the perfect balance. But we can tell you that our most successful customers are those who have good months, and bad months and forge on throughout. They’re the ones who say, “My focus is on growing my business over the next 12-24 months, so it doesn’t matter that much whether I get a new store account this month or don’t, as long as I’m making progress towards that goal over the span of several months.”

The one thing I can tell you for sure is that every single one of these things is something you can change, build, or develop. Makers who are successful at growing wholesale are made -- not born. We do our best to help every maker who works with us to develop in these ways -- as well as do everything we can on our end to make sure they have the tools to succeed. We also know that there is SO much more that we can do and are also in a constant process of improving.

So whether you’re a Wholesale In a Box customer or not, we want to cheer you on, on your journey. Wherever you are, there is room to grow and ways to get there.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Do Not Disturb Unless I’ve Won the Lottery or Jesus Has Been Sighted on the Old Taos Highway

There's a book I really like called Women Who Run with The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It's got a poorly designed cover (see below) and an embarrassing title.

 

But over the past few years, it's been my book. It's the book I go to when I'm inspired. It's the book I read in the morning with my coffee. It's the book I go to when I'm confused and feel weak.

With everything that is happening in the world right now, I know some of us feel frustrated, confused, and defeated. So, for whatever soul balm it is worth, I wanted to share some of the passages that most inspire me around creativity and making.


4 inspiring quotes for makers from the book Women Who Run With the Wolves:

On taking our work seriously
“Often the creative life is slowed or stopped because something in the psyche has a very low opinion of us, and we are down there groveling at its feet instead of bopping it over the head and running for freedom. In many cases what is required to aright the situation is that we take ourselves, our ideas, our art, far more seriously than we have before.”

On saying “no”
“A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she ‘should’ be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

On what it means to be a real artist
“Gifted women, even as they reclaim their creative lives, even as beautiful things flow from their hands, from their pens, from their bodies, still question whether they are writers, painters, artists, people, real ones. And of course they are real ones even though they might like to bedevil themselves with what constitutes ‘real.’ A farmer is a real farmer when she looks out over the land and plans the spring crops. A runner is real when she takes the first step, a flower is real when it is yet in its mother stem, a tree is real when it is still a seed in the pine cone. An old tree is a real living being. Real is what has life.”

On creating protected time
“I know a fierce painter I know who hangs this sign on the chain that closes off the road to her house when she is in a painting or thinking mode: ‘I am working today and am not receiving visitors. I know you think this doesn’t mean you because you are my banker, agent, or best friend. But it does.’ Another sculptor I know hangs this sign on her gate: ‘Do not disturb unless I’ve won the lottery or Jesus has been sighted on the Old Taos Highway.’”

Keep running with the wolves -- and keep making what you make for the world.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Your Survival Kit for Wholesale Around the Holidays

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!



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Doing What You Love vs Winning Awards For It

When I was about eight, I went to camp for the first time.

As a fairly introverted person who loved hanging out with my family, summer camp ended up being hard. Thirty-two-year-old me would know exactly why it would be hard for me and in what ways; eight-year-old me was bewildered, as the camp seemed literally designed to have a good time around every corner and yet I felt kind of dazed from home sicknesses and nervousness about how to be around the other kids.

The camp was a week long. There were times when you were expected to go with the group -- on swim lessons, or hikes, or at meals. Overall you were encouraged to try a lot of things and have a well-rounded experience, but much of the time was "free time" and you could choose to spend it how you wished. Many kids would sit on their beds in the cabins sharing Twizzlers, playing cards, and making trouble. Others took part in sports or competitions or skit-making or, well, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the other kids did.

I only know what I did -- which was that every time there was an option (even with time that was not explicitly "free" but during which there would be no consequences for my deviation) I went to the Arts and Crafts shed. There were set projects with all the materials for them and an example of how it could turn out. There were also materials for making whatever you wanted -- paints and wooden shapes, embroidery floss, and even plain dolls you could paint and make clothes for. There was also always a woman in there who would quietly work on something, but offer help with your project whenever you needed it. I made dozens of projects that week; among them a red-cheeked baby doll, a tangle of bracelets for everyone I knew, and a butter-yellow wreath adorned with a hand-painted wooden duck and a baby-blue satin ribbon.

I spent a lot of time in the Arts and Crafts shed.

At the end of the week there was a slightly dressed-up lunch and awards ceremony. Kid after kid received awards. There were awards for activities and contests I had never even heard of. Children were awarded for things like "excellence in sportsmanship" or "fastest time in the 5K", and they'd get trophies. It was nearing the end of the award ceremony and it seemed that almost every child had been awarded something. Except, obviously, me -- I hadn't participated in most of those activities, much less won them. All the awards had been given out.

There was a pause in the ceremony and a side discussion among a couple of the counselors. And suddenly the announcer said "And our last award goes to Emily Kerr, Bunk 9 -- the Arts and Crafts Award!" Everyone applauded. I collected my hand-painted, wooden plaque with the wooden teddy bear and tiny ribbon attached to it. The plaque had obviously been carefully made from all the materials in the Arts and Crafts shed -- not something normally given out.

And this is where I have two versions of the story. One version of the story is that I had such a good time and focused so intently in the Arts and Crafts shed that they were forced to recognize excellence in a category that they had never recognized before. I had somehow not only done amazingly well in a category, but had done amazingly well in a brand-new category. The other version of what happened -- and the obviously factually accurate one -- is that I was such an odd, introverted kid that I spent the entire week of summer camp in a dark little Arts and Crafts shed, and the kind counselors were forced to invent an award simply because they wanted everyone to get something and I hadn't participated in any of the regular stuff.

In other words, I was either so strong in something unique that I received a handmade award, or I was so abysmally weak and absent in the regular stuff that I received a handmade award for literally whatever they could think to award me for.

For a long time, when I would think of this story, I would feel a little hum of pleasure as I thought about the award and the Arts and Crafts shed. I loved the arts and crafts, I loved the plaque with its glued-on adornments, and I loved having done so much of the thing I loved to do that a plaque was made about it. But I would always also simultaneously know that the plaque was basically hilarious -- a hastily created stopgap for the one situation in which they had a camper who didn't do anything at the camp other than craft.

Recently, though, I've started to look at it differently. I've started to see how it doesn't really matter what the counselors’ intentions or private thoughts about me as a camper were. Because in grown-up life, there are no counselors and there is no award ceremony. There's only the choice of what to do each day -- swim or make skits or climb up a greased pole. Or, find the one place where you feel cozy and excited and a sense of I-can't-believe-they-let-me-do-this and spend as much time as possible in that shed. As an adult, you won't get a handmade plaque. And you still may be a little weird. But you'll get a hum of pleasure every time you think about it. And you'll not only have done well -- you'll have done well in a brand new category.

I guess my point is just to remind all of us that we don't have to do well at 101 things to be able to be proud of ourselves. And just because the people around us might be excelling in all the trophy categories, and there's no trophy for the thing we're doing, doesn't mean we aren't excelling too.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Save a Little Time With Gmail Canned Responses + Keyboard Shortcuts

Here's the thing. You can't just send the same email to a bunch of stores and expect a positive response. Hear me when I say that efficiency does not equal spam. 

That said, we are big fans of tools that make it faster to connect meaningfully. For instance, you can use Wholesale In a Box to find stores that are a great fit and then connect with them in ways that are thoughtful. You can hire a studio assistant to do some of that holiday packing and shipping. And... you can use two little tools, Gmail Canned Responses and Mac Keyboard Shortcuts to save yourself hours of email time. (Read: you can get back to the making.)

 

 

Tool #1: Gmail Canned Responses

If you don't use Gmail, you can move on to tip #2 -- this one isn't for you. However, so many of our makers do use Gmail that I find myself recommending this to folks on an almost daily basis. 

The purpose: 
Obviously, every single email is different and you always want to speak directly to what you respond to a given store as well as how you see your work fitting in. That said, having an email template for all the parts of the email that don't  change can be crucial. If you use Gmail, Canned Responses is a way to save your email template in the actual window where you compose it -- and you can access it in just 2 clicks. Plus, you don't run the risk of creating formatting issues by copying-and-pasting from another program.

How to do it in older versions of Gmail:

  1. In Gmail, click the Gear Icon, then click Settings.
  2. In the Settings area, click the tab that says "Labs."
  3. Search for the lab called "Canned Responses." Once you find it, click Enable, then save your changes.
  4. Once you're back in your regular Inbox, click Compose to draft a new email.
  5. Write (or paste your email) in the Compose window. Make sure to delete your signature from this version, as it will pop up again when you use the template. You can include links but you'll have to add attachments when you send the individual emails.
  6. Once your template is how you want it, click on the small grey area at the bottom right of the Compose window. Select Canned Responses, then select "New canned response..." A window will pop up where you can name the template. Perhaps you call it something like "2016 Wholesale Outreach Template."
  7. Now, you have your template saved in Canned Responses. You can repeat the above steps to add other templates. Perhaps you have one for home/gift stores and a different template for lifestyle shops.
  8. Once you're ready to use your template, just compose a new email, click the grey arrow at the bottom right, select Canned Responses, and then select the name of your template (for instance, 2016 Wholesale Outreach Template) from the "Insert" section. Customize to the store you're sending it to, edit your subject line, and you're good to go!

Using a newer version of Gmail? Follow these steps to enable Canned Responses:

  1. In Gmail, click the Gear Icon, for settings.
  2. Click "Advanced".
  3. Enable canned responses. Check the "Enabled" box across from the "Canned Responses (Templates)" heading.
  4. Scroll down, and click "Save Changes".

 

Tool #2: Keyboard Shortcuts

If you don't use a Mac, this tip isn't for you. But this tool will save you a lot of time if you do use a Mac, so it's definitely worth sharing here.

The purpose: 
Do you ever find yourself typing the same things to people over and over again? You absolutely mean them - and you value the relationship, of course. But some things you might find yourself typing repeatedly when you're growing wholesale are:

  • Thank you so much for getting right back to me!
  • To place an order, you can head over to my Wholesale ordering site.
  • Sure thing! You can email me at diane@houseofhome.com.

In every one of these cases, retyping the phrase or sentence doesn't make anything more personal -- it just runs the risk of delaying your email or causing a typo. Mac Keyboard shortcuts let you input common things that you say and then you can trigger your computer or phone to type them for you with just a keystroke. For instance, perhaps you input the "To place an order..." sentence, so every time you type "77" your computer knows to insert that sentence.

How to do it:

  1. Type command-space to pull up the Mac spotlight search.
  2. Type "keyboard" in the search. Then, select the Keyboard system preference.
  3. Once it opens, click on the Text tab.
  4. Click on the "+" button to create a new shortcut. Type in an easy to remember shortcut, then tab to enter its longer version. For instance, perhaps the shortcut is "rr" and the long version is "So sorry for my delay in getting back to you!"
  5. Once you're done, close the Keyboard system preference to save your changes.
  6. Whenever you want to use that shortcut, just type in the combination of letters or numbers -- from your phone or your computer -- and the sentence will appear. 

 

Let us know how these two tools work for you, and if you have any questions about the process! We're happy to help if we can! 



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Our Guide to Calling Store Owners, Without the Stress

Have you ever had to call a store owner by phone and felt a little stumped about what to say? This post is for you!

For the most part, when you're reaching out to stores that you don't have a previous connection to, we recommend using email. The main reason is that most store owners really want to be with their customers when they’re in the shop -- so they prefer not to have an in-person or telephone interruption. Plus, email has the added benefit of allowing you the time to craft your story, think through your email template, and attach a few beautiful photos of your work to make a good first impression.

Emailing doesn't always work, though, because some stores specifically request that makers call them. (As we’ll note in the “specific requirements” section of our store profiles.)

 

So what do you say when you need to call a store? Here's what we recommend:

Someone answers the phone: Hello this is XYZ boutique, how can I help you?

You: Hi there! My name is Sara. I’m a (maker, jeweler, artist) and I wanted to share my line with the store. Who would be the best person to talk to about that, or would it be better to email?

(We suggest confirming that phone is best, just to express respect for their time.)

 

Option one: They are not available and the person you're speaking to just seems to be working the desk.

You: Oh great, when would be a good time to call back and speak with them? Is there a particular time of day that is good for them?

Then add a task on your calendar to follow up with them.

 

Option 2: The store owner answers with, Yes, I’m the owner, what kind of jewelry do you make?

Once you're on the phone with the right person, give them a one (maybe two) sentence description of the line. Avoid the temptation to tell them your life story -- assume everyone you talk to is busy and just heading out the door.

You: I make a handmade line of sterling silver jewelry that is functional and beautiful. Does that sound like something you would be interested in?

Usually they'll either say that it doesn't fill a gap for them, or they'll request that you follow up via email or snail mail with more info. If they ask for you to follow up via email, ask if there is anything specific they would like you to send or if a line sheet is ok.  

 

One other tip is to avoid language like potentially, just, maybe, might, and other words that are implicitly apologetic. You’re not a telemarketer and you have nothing to be ashamed of. You researched this store and really think your work would be a good fit, so stand tall in that.

For instance, instead of: Does that maybe sound like something you might be interested in?

You can ask: Does that sound like something you would be interested in?

 

What do you say when you need to call a store to introduce your work? Have you gotten any funny responses that made you think on your feet?



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

I Have a New Line Coming Out… Do I Pitch to Stores Now or Wait for the New Stuff?

The question goes like this:

“I’m curious about pitching when you’re in the midst of putting together a new line sheet for the next season. I plan on having a new line sheet with lots of new cards around mid August (that’s the theory anyway) and I wasn’t sure if I should wait to pitch to new retailers until it’s ready? Or should I pitch them my current line sheet and just not worry about that?

I’m also worried about annoying new retailers by coming out with the new line sheet right after they’ve placed an order. Is this something I should worry about?”

We often hear this question because creative people are always in the process of making new pieces, new lines, or new line sheets. So they often wonder: should I go ahead and introduce my work now? Or should I wait until I have everything set?

The usual caveat does apply here: do what feels right for you. There are no hard-and-fast rules that can be applied across businesses, product type, time of year, etc. If you have questions about a specific situation, reach out and we’ll get right back to you.

That said, there are a couple of general ways to approach this (and either approach can be right at different times): The “Wait” Approach and The “Get-After-It” Approach!

 

The “Get-After-It” Approach

What we've been seeing with the businesses we work with is that there's not a real disadvantage to using what you have.

In our free e-course we always say to start with what you have and then make it better.  If store owners like the work enough to place an order, it's unlikely they're going to feel shortchanged by new product coming out. It tends to be great, actually, when you look at this process more as relationship-building than as ‘order-prompting’ because then you can reach out now with your current line sheet. From that perspective, this initial contact is about starting a conversation, not selling any piece in particular.

You can consider adding a short line to your introduction email along the lines of "I also have some new products coming out in the next few weeks so I'll circle back with that when it's ready!" If you are following up (and you need to be following up!) then this is just a great way to do that. Your final followup can include the brand-spanking-new line sheet, or if the timing doesn’t work out you can set a task for yourself to reach back out a month or two down the road to send them the new line sheet. Don’t think of it as an excuse to follow up, but rather as a value to them.

One other thought, from the perspective of relationship building, is that even if someone places an order a week or a month before you launch your new line, why not be proactive and send an email to any stores who have placed an order recently announcing that and offering to replace or swap out if they like any of the new stuff.  This kind of care is how you turn a $150 order into $3000 as the years go by.

Set it and forget it. If you're a Wholesale In a Box customer, you can click on any store and add special tasks for that store, as seen above. These will be in addition to the "regular" tasks already set up for that store. 

 

The “Wait” Approach

We’re always working to improve what we do. But there are times when, for whatever reason you are at a point where you are not really thrilled about what you’re offering. If that’s the case, it’s likely that others won’t be either.  

If you have some specific changes you are making to your line (or the story you are telling about it through you line sheet or photos for instance) that you’ll be really excited about in a month or two, then waiting might be the right decision. This is most often true when the changes are already in progress (e.g. the photographer is sending over the files next Tuesday or Wednesday) as opposed to a more general hope of, someday, time permitting, changing a line sheet.  If you go this route, we highly (highly) recommend that you have a specific time frame that you are really trying to stick to.  If you don’t have a time frame, you are likely not making a strategic decision -- but rather pushing it off -- which is not going to result in growing your business in the way you would like.

 

In general, it usually pays to keep connecting, cultivating orders, and iterating on your line as you go. But if it feels right to wait for a month or two -- especially if you have a particular timeframe you’re making changes in -- then go ahead and wait before connecting with stores.

 

What have you done in the past when deciding if you should reach out with what you have or the new version of your line or line sheet you are actively working on?



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Announcing: Wholesale In a Box Launches a Tool to Cultivate Current Stockists + Get Reorders

Today we are launching our two biggest updates: we are adding the ability to manage and cultivate all of your existing wholesale accounts AND the option for our customers to switch to a $49/month Cultivate plan during busy seasons.  

Our goal at Wholesale In a Box has always been to help makers grow their businesses, on their terms. So we have been nose-to-the-grindstone to see how we can do that even better. Over the past two months, we’ve talked to dozens of our customers, done virtual and in-person studio visits from Pennsylvania to Nebraska to Georgia, and refined every nook and cranny of what we do. 


Here’s what you’ll now be able to do with Wholesale In a Box:

Reach out to new stockists as before AND cultivate your current wholesale accounts all in one place.  

  • No more spreadsheets collecting cobwebs & no more missed reorders because you didn’t follow up
  • See at-a-glance what is pending and where everything stands with every lead and all of your current stockists. 

Use our method -- but also make it your own

  • Set reminders to tell a stockist about your new line, follow up to check in on a recent order and more.
  • Create custom tasks and notes about a store. 

Do all your outreach faster -- no more switching back and forth between screens.

  • Your pending tasks are always front-and-center
  • See a complete history of all of your interactions with any store. 
  • Know exactly where everything stands with easy, color-coded “cards” for each store.

Introduce your work to stores when it works for you, on your schedule

  • A drag-and-drop calendar so you can adjust your to-do’s 


Downshift to a $49/month Cultivate Plan

Most of the time, makers want to be growing and reaching out to stores to introduce their work but sometimes you just need to take a month or two to focus on a trade show, do a redesign, deal with the holiday rush, or move to a new city. When this happens you don’t necessarily want to slam on the brakes but you may not want to reach out to new stores during that time.

That’s why we now have the ability for our customers to downshift to the Cultivate plan for $49/month. While you’re on Cultivate we won’t send you new stores to reach out to but you can continue to reach out to any stores from previous months, have access to the app and cultivate your existing wholesale accounts. You can switch back to the Grow plan and get 20 more stores a month whenever you are ready. 


We are so excited about these changes and we hope you are too!  

Learn more here and of course if you have any questions or would like a screen share walkthrough of the new app, please reach out!



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

How to Turn a $150 Order Into $3,000

Almost every maker we talk to says, “I really want to grow wholesale -- and that, in itself, seems like a huge challenge. But even more than that, I want store accounts that are real relationships, and that place orders regularly over the long term.” 

And we hear store owners say some variation of: “I placed an order with a maker, but after I paid my money and got my shipment, it was just ‘crickets.’ It means so much if makers follow up, check in, and make themselves available to get me any extra packaging, swap out pieces that aren’t selling, or see if there are any issues.”

Stores want and need you to follow up and support them after the sale. Makers want and need reorders. So we want to help you connect those dots. 

We are big fans of reaching out to stores, and growing wholesale accounts -- but we also know how crucial it is to cultivate your existing accounts, which is why we are launching a big change to our product that will make it easier to do just that. Keep your eyes peeled for the announcement in the next 2 weeks!

Not every wholesale order is going to turn into a long-term relationship. In fact, most of your accounts won’t turn into long-term relationships. Some things won’t sell in some stores -- and there’s not always something you can do about that. But our most successful makers are those that are active about cultivating one-off orders into relationships. And there are several reasons for that -- not all of which are obvious at first glance.

 

3 reasons that caring for your current wholesale accounts is as important -- if not more important -- than getting new ones:

 

1. You can turn a $150 account into a $3,000 account

If a store orders once from you, that order might bring in $150, just as an example. That is fantastic! And it is a huge leap forward for folks used to selling $10 at a time. That same account, if they are really selling the product, could place an order with you every 3-4 months, over the span of the next several years years. $150 x 4 orders-per-year x 5 years = $3,000. That’s called the “lifetime value” of that account. Your first order with them might only be worth $150, but the potential lifetime value of that store can be many multiples of that. This doesn’t even account for the ‘follow-on’ effects of being in a store that is a good fit for your brand, such as new stockists that come from the exposure of having that account, traffic, and direct sales through your website. 

 

2. You are supporting an ambassador of your brand

If you were going to pay a passionate, educated, well-connected person to advocate for your brand, tell your story, and share your products -- and if they were going to do that 8 hours a day, several days a week -- how much would you fairly pay her? $15/hour? $50/hour? That would be so valuable, it would almost be impossible to pay her enough. Well, the incredible news is that when a store owner chooses to carry your line, they are also choosing to be an ambassador of your brand. They succeed only as much as they succeed in telling the stories and advocating for each product they sell in their store -- so believe that they are telling the story of your product. That means that anything you do to support your store owners in succeeding, and support them in feeling happy and satisfied with their order from you, is something you are doing to support an ambassador of your brand. In that context, almost no effort on your part could be too much. 

 

3. YOU’RE CREATING THE KIND OF WORLD WE WANT TO LIVE IN. 

One of the makers we work with, Jonnie Estes from Grey Theory Mill, got an order from a store across the country from her. The store owner shared precisely why she connected so much with the line, she is also a maker, and why she was so excited about the work. Jonnie then emailed us letting us know how much this relationship meant to her on a personal level: 

“I mean, I'm stoked on the order, but being on the same page as another maker who is on the other side of the US totally made my stressful-anxious just ok-day to a wonderful one.”

And to us, that is what it is all about. Why take extraordinary care of your stores? Well, beyond the potential financial value, beyond the value for your brand -- there is the value that exists in cultivating relationships. This little handmade world we are a part of simply cannot thrive unless we all contribute towards weaving together the relationships that make it possible. And every little bit of energy you put out, in cultivating your relationships with your stores, is a contribution to creating the kind of world we want to live in.

All of which is to say: treat every store as if they are a $3,000 customer, a brand ambassador, and a partner in creating the world we want to live in. Because they are.

 


“Ok, ok,” you say. “But how do I do that?” Ok, that part is actually the simpler part. And it’s something we’re going to be digging into over the coming weeks and months. It’s also why we are building an exciting new piece of Wholesale In a Box to address it. 

Today, we want to share one simple concept that we think can be really powerful for cultivating and caring for your store accounts:

 

Don’t treat your customers who are 2,000 miles away like they are 2,000 miles away.


No matter how you get an account -- if they reached out to you or if you introduced yourself -- that is only one (though often challenging) part of the job.  After that, the work of cultivating that account, taking care of them, and developing a relationship that leads to reorders is a crucial component. 

One way to frame it is to treat every wholesale account like they are your first and that they live right down the road from your house. Because 90% of the things you would do in that situation ARE things that you can do for every single store account that you have. 

 

Some things you might do if they were your first account and down the road:

  • Set a reminder after you send your order to reach out and make sure everything looks ok and see how things how things are selling. 
     
  • Ask them what you can do better to help them with the display, how can you make it easier for them. Ask how you could have made the ordering process easier.
     
  • Bring them a little gift or treat with their order.
     
  • If there are certain things that are selling and others that aren’t, perhaps offer to replace the things that aren’t for free. 
     
  • Put them on a separate email list for when you announce a new product. They are your people: tell them first. 
     
  • Reach out at appropriate intervals (we recommend every 2-4 months) to see if they would like to reorder, just pinging them to check in. 
     
  • If they say no, that’s OK, move your energy to other accounts. 
     

 

Not every order will turn into a 5 or 10 year relationship, but the best way to find out if they will, is by creating a system to cultivate those accounts instead of letting them fall off. 
 


Keep an eye out for some big changes to Wholesale In a Box in the coming weeks which will will help you create a system to manage your existing wholesale accounts -- and turn many of your $150 sales into $3,000 sales.

 

How are you tracking your current accounts? What tools are you using currently to know when to follow up and when someone ordered last? We would love to see and hear how it’s been working for you! Comment below what has been working and not working for you to cultivate your current wholesale accounts.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

When to Send Samples to a Store and When Not to

Today we wanted to talk about a topic that’s always kind of squishy and discomforting for makers: when should I go to the expense and effort of sending samples?

Now, this is a topic with a lot of different approaches and opinions. Every maker is different, every store has different requirements, and there are no hard and fast rules. But today we’re sharing two simple perspectives that might help take the pressure off -- while also helping your products to rest happily on new stores’ shelves.
 

Be generous and also practical

It would be very generous of you to send $100 worth of stuff to every store you reach out to, but it wouldn’t be that practical. On the other hand, dashing off emails without much thought to differentiating them for different retailers is practical -- but not as generous as it could be. Often, the right question is - how could I be wildly generous in what I share with this store that would also be pretty practical on my end?

Many times, this will just mean being radically thoughtful and sincere in what you write in your emails to stores. If you choose a store that is a great fit for you and send them a thoughtful email and clear linesheet that will often stand out simply because it is generous in its clarity and respect for the recipient’s time.

 

Use the “4 out of 20” rule

We think it’s not “all or nothing” when it comes to samples. You’ll of course send a sample to any store who requests it, if the relationship looks promising. You can also consider the following “4 of 20” rule:

Instead of sending something to everyone you’re reaching out to, choose 4 of the 20 stores you are reaching out to, that you are extra excited about, (i.e., you would do a dance if they placed an order) and send them something small (but wonderful) alongside your email.  

Oh, and don’t forget that “wonderful” doesn’t have to mean expensive. Think of something that will give them a real taste of who you are along the $5 or $10 line. Marci of Alabama Brown (she also owns Lula Mae) sends out these lovely little twine-twined paper catalogs to stores who request them. (Notice how she’s not afraid to show exactly what her brand is about in the wording on the front!)

 

And Trisha at Shindig Paperie was thrilled to get a simple note -- that had gorgeous hand lettering on the front.

Bottom line? You don’t need to send samples to every (or even most) stores. Be generous (but practical): it will pay dividends.

Speaking of which, we are here if you need us! No question is too small to send an email or give us a ring.  It is sincerely our pleasure to help you grow in the way you want. You can reach Emily at emily@wholesaleinabox.com or Etan at etan@wholesaleinabox.com.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

A Simple Way to Make Tough Business Decisions

We’ve worked with entrepreneurs around the world and with makers at every stage of their businesses. We’ve advised people with multi-million dollar businesses and those who are down to their last pennies. So we’ve seen a lot of folks make a lot of crucial decisions. And we certainly face a lot of them, as business owners:

  • Should I work on new pieces for my line or just keep selling what I have?
  • Should I send stores my line sheet or just a link to the website?
  • Should I send a cease-and-desist letter to that person who ripped off my work?
  • Should I shell out for a trade show?

These decisions can feel really draining and overwhelming. We feel paralyzed, or like we need the advice of more and more people, or we take the “easy way” out, costing us in the long term.  

Sometimes, there’s a simple answer to a question you’re facing. But many times, there isn’t a hard and fast answer for the questions that matter most. In those situations, I’ve found a really simple tool to make those decisions: and it is called a “body compass.”

One caveat here: this can sound a little frilly/goofy/ridiculous/woo-woo as a decision-making technique. The only reason we share it is because it’s been so transformative in our lives and business-- but if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.

The first step with a decision is always to think it through, of course, and gather the information you need to make it. Sometimes, at that point, an answer will be obvious - so do it! But if you’ve thought and thought and gathered and gathered and you are still stuck, then you need to use your body compass. 

Here are the steps, as distilled from the work of Martha Beck.

  1. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, get quiet. Think about a super-icky, unhappy event in your life. Now tune in to your body and notice how you feel when you think about the event -- what do you feel in your body, and where do you feel it? Perhaps it’s a tightening of certain muscles, queasiness in your stomach, or something else. This is your “bad” body compass reading.
     
  2. Now do the same thing, but for a positive, happy event in your life. Notice what you feel in your body when you recollect this, and where you feel it. Often, people will feel a sense of lightness, openness, a lack of tension, and a sense of freedom. This is your “good” body compass reading.
     
  3. Now, envision the course of action you’re deciding whether to take. Play that course of action out, in your mind, like a movie. Now, notice how you feel in your body -- do you feel more in the direction of the “good” body compass reading, or more in the direction of the “bad” body compass reading? Generally, if the action feels in the direction of the “good” body compass reading, that will be the right action to take, and will work out in the end, even if it entails temporary discomfort.

There is actually a lot of data to support this. In Daniel Kahneman’s work, he looks at the ways that our logical reasoning process is good for fairly straightforward decisions, but that for the most complex, multifactorial decisions, our subconscious “thinking” process -- our gut -- is actually the best at synthesizing all of the information. So that body-based signal we get is coming from a source that is deep and powerful -- we just need to learn to tap into it. 

There is a buddhist story that I first learned of through my friend and coach, Melissa Foster.  The story goes that there was once a blind man who needed to find the ocean. He asked the Buddha how to find it, nervous and worried. The Buddha didn’t give him a braille map or a list of characteristics or directions on how to go. The buddha simply said: “You’ll know the ocean because it tastes of salt.” And, he added, “Just as you know the ocean because it tastes of salt, you know the truth because it tastes of freedom.” 

So you don’t always need to guide yourself with lists and facts and pros and cons. Sometimes you just need to go a certain direction because it “tastes” -- and feels -- like freedom.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

The Big Outreach Mistake Most Makers Make

 

The last few weeks, we’ve shared a bit about how to reframe rejections and what that bewildering email from a store owner might actually mean.

And this week we want to share the big outreach mistake that most makers make. When it comes to outreach to stores, many people take “no’s” simultaneously TOO seriously and not seriously enough. On one hand, most people are way too emotionally reactive about getting no's. Each silence or negative reaction causes a tailspin of fear and desperation.

And this week we want to share the big outreach mistake that most makers make. When it comes to outreach to stores, many people take “no’s” simultaneously TOO seriously and not seriously enough. On one hand, most people are way too emotionally reactive about getting no's. Each silence or negative reaction causes a tailspin of fear and desperation.

On the other hand, some of our customers persist in doing the same thing over and over again without pausing to reflect on what’s working overall and what could be improved overall. 

A good rule of thumb is: be less concerned with the individual results of your efforts; be more concerned with your overall results and shifting your approach to improve them.

The key is to interpret results over a period of time -- and change your approach based on thoughtful consideration of all the data. 

 

You can do this in a few ways: 

  • experiment with different subject lines
  • ask for feedback from stores you trust (they are often happy to give it)
  • overhaul your line sheet
  • send a “capsule” line (a subset of your full set of products) to some stores. 
  • spend some creative time (even 30 minutes will do the trick) just brainstorming around what’s working best about what you’re doing in growing wholesale, and what’s working the least. Then choose one way to do more of what’s working and pick one thing that’s not working to stop completely.
  • refine your wholesale line to only include the pieces that sell the best and work for you, in terms of production
  • grab a maker buddy and give each other 30 minutes of honest feedback on each others’ line sheets (to get that fresh pair of eyes.) 
  • try sending actual “snail mail” as part of your outreach, to all of your stores or just to some of them.
  • use social media to engage meaningfully with stores (not for pitching but just so you can get to know each other better.)

It’s a balance between persistence and change, between staying the course and changing things up. We’re here to help as you go.



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Two New Features: Store Location Bumpers + Store Maps

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that none of the stores we send you are too close to any of your current stockists?

Now you can rest easy. 

 

No more stress about STORES being too close: announcing store location bumpers

We’ve spent the last several weeks creating some technical safeguards so that you'll never have to worry about reaching out to a store that is too close to a stockist you're already working with. 

Moving forward, you won’t get any stores within 2.5 miles to any of your other current stockists! 

 

Get store locations and addresses, in a click.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could see the location of every store that you’re reaching out to, on a map? Now you can!

If you click on “See More” on your ‘My Stores’ page a map will pop up of where the store is, as well as the mailing address of the store. That way, if you ever choose to send them a note or letter instead of an email -- that information is at your fingertips and it’s connected to Google maps if you need to calculate the distance between it and anything else.  

Let us know what you think! 



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

4 Emails You Might Get From Stores and What They Mean

Last week we got an interesting email from one of our makers (with a couple of details changed for confidentiality):

What should I do with a store that gave a vague response? Here's what they said:

“Your style and pieces are gorgeous and I’ll think about how to make them work in the shop. Thank you for reaching out! For now, go ahead and keep me posted with updates.”

Is that just a nice way of saying "no" or is it enough for me to follow up with them again?

And this got us thinking: How is a maker to know what means yes, what means maybe, and what really does mean no?

Store owners are busy folks just like you and don’t have too much incentive to sugar coat things. They will tell you no, yes, and maybe next time, even if it is sometimes a little unclear what is what.

So think of this post as a decoder ring for figuring out that that email you got really means -- and what to do about it.

 

Generally, emails from stores will fall into three categories:

  1. Yes! I’d like to place an order! or Send me a sample!
  2. No for now
  3. No
  4. Silence

 

Yes! I’d like to place an order! or Send me a sample!

This category is pretty simple. If a store is ready to place an order, or likes your product enough to request a sample, you have one job: make it easy for them.

We’ll talk about this more in future posts, but if a store is ready to place an order, your focus needs to be following through, fulling up, keeping the ordering process simple, and getting them what they ordered in a thoughtful way.

 

No for now

We’ve noticed that if your work is really not a good fit for a store, or they just happen not to like it -- they will tell you.

But, if they say some variant of “I love your work but can’t buy it now”, we think that counts as a “no for now” and you can and should follow up later.

For instance:

Josephine,

Thank you so much for reaching out! Your work is great but We are full for the season. / We are full of (YOUR PRODUCT TYPE) for right now.  / I already spent my money on (YOUR PRODUCT TYPE) for the season. / Not for now, please add me to your email list.

-- Store Owner

 

In this case there is only one thing to do: say thank you and schedule a followup on your calendar in a few months when they may have cleared some space on their shelves.

We would use a date for that followup of sometime in the next "season" when their buying needs may have shifted. You can circle back in a personal way with updates, new products, news, etc.

 

No

If a store takes the time to respond to you and say that your work isn’t the best fit for the store, no really does mean no -- and we do not suggest following up or adding them to your mailing list in the hopes they’ll change their mind.

For instance:

Dear Joe

This is not for us. Best of luck.

Store Owner

 

This has a ring of finality to it, as do any statements about what a store does or does not carry.  Mark it in the no column and move on to the next one. Some will, some won’t, so what. You can also use this information as good input for the types of stores that may be more or less interested, moving forward.

 

Silence

The final thing that can happen, of course, is that you’ve reached out to a store and you simply don’t hear anything.

As we have discussed before, sometimes silence just means they are busy.  That’s why we do suggest following up in a respectful, understanding, non-pushy way with stores. You owe it to both of you to understand that they’re busy, have overflowing inboxes, and may appreciate you checking in just to be sure whether they’d like to place an order, have questions, or have decided you’re not the right fit for the shop.

When you get silence from a store, don’t draw conclusions that it’s a “nice way of turning me down.” Follow up, and find out.
 

We think it’s important to take what stores say to you seriously -- but not to add your own concerns or “drama” to the mix. Take what they say at face value, know that they’re doing the best they can to filter a lot of information, and be willing to take the learning and move on.  

By using this method you can, absolutely, get to a place where when you see a ‘no’ in your inbox it’s as good for you as if you had gotten an order. It may be hard to imagine but you can train yourself to do this. In fact the businesses that we work with that succeed are successful only in that they have trained themselves to think this way when they open their inbox.

Oh, and if you’re struggling with emails to stores feel free to reach out, we would be happy to help! Forward us an email or send us a question, and we’ll be happy to collaborate with you on it!
 



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

Reinterpreting Rejection: Some Will, Some Won’t -- So what?

Over the next several weeks we will be writing several posts in response to what we have been hearing from the makers that we work with around putting yourself out there, rejection, what silence means, and the key mistake most makers make when sharing their work. 

 

Here are some basic truths that we all already know, but tend to forget: 

  • If you aren’t putting yourself out there, if you aren’t boldly connecting on behalf of your art, then you and your business aren’t growing.
  • If you do put yourself out there, you will face rejection.

So here is the fundamental shift that we have experienced, and that we see successful makers make...

 

Successful makers and entrepreneurs learn to reinterpret rejection and failure. 


Except for the “lucky” few who somehow strike on just the right combination from the start, the rest of us have to grow through courage, experimentation, perseverance, and shifting what we do based on the overall results we get. 

And all of that depends on a different relationship with rejection -- because the majority of the time, our efforts to connect won’t work and we’ll get “rejected” That’s fine, since only some of what we do needs to work in order for us to be wildly successful. But it does mean that unless we cultivate a new understanding of rejection, we will never be able to persevere past the first few weeks -- it will be too exhausting. 

In order to reinterpret rejection, we have to gain a new understanding of what success means. The problem isn’t rejection in itself. The problem comes when we draw the wrong conclusions from rejection. 

When we get a “no” from a store we thought was perfect and we think that it means that if that store didn’t work out, then what the hell will!? Or that wholesale isn’t the path for us. Or that we shouldn’t have reached out. 

For connection to be sustainable, we have to detach ourselves from the ups and downs of the results. This is exactly what Steli Efti and Patrick McKenzie tell us, with a technique they use in the world of Silicon Valley sales. Steli says the trick is to distance yourself from the result, and focus more on the part you actually do.

One tactical way to do this is to count the emails sent, not the responses.  So if you know that for every 20 stores you introduce yourself to, in the long run, after following up diligently, you will get 1 new account, then use a physical piece of paper where you check those off as you send them.  A great tool for something like this is Elise Blaha’s Goal Tracker.

One caveat here: you absolutely do need to be thoughtful and passionate and discerning as you connect with stores about your art. Like Seth Godin says, it can hurt to ask, if you ask in the wrong way.  You should not email people randomly and then hope that some tiny percentage buys from you. But if you are emailing stores that you truly believe would benefit from having your product on their shelves -- and you’re doing so in a respectful and thoughtful way -- then your job is simply to do that consistently and without letting each individual rejection cause you pain or turmoil.

 

Some will, some won’T -- so what? 


There is a saying which we came across through our friend Katy of Made For | Made By: some will, some won’t, so what? Some people will get what you’re up to, some people won’t -- so what? Move on to the next person. 

 

A “no” is not an indictment of your art or OF you. 


A “no” just means that for a few reasons that you aren’t privy to it didn’t work. Maybe the store just placed an order with a similar artist. Maybe they didn’t like the font on your line sheet. Maybe they had a bad morning or their kid got in trouble at school.

No matter what the answer is, if you checked off your boxes for today, then you were successful in putting yourself out there, come what may.  

Your only job now is to do the same courageous, difficult, necessary work of connecting -- today, tomorrow, and next week. 

 



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.

A Little Detail When Emailing Stores That Makes A Big Difference

Time after time we have heard stockists say that the biggest factor in determining if they are going to order from a new maker is if they feel that the product is right for them. The sooner you are able to help them see the beauty of what you have made, the better -- and since some of them won’t make it to your website, you need to help them out.

One simple way to do that? Add small images to your outreach emails to stores. 

Since the number of people who click a link in any email is so much lower than the number that open the email, adding 2 or 3 small images to your email is a great way for the store owner to get a quick glance at your work.

What you make can speak for itself.  A simple image can communicate that your work is a good fit for the store without you having to say so explicitly. This often works well because so many store owners understand themselves to be curators and sometimes don’t like being told what is good for their store.

People often say that no one reads on the internet and for makers who are emailing new stockists every week to grow their business that can be a problem.  A line sheet and website that tell your company’s story in a visually compelling way is one way to make that work to your advantage.

Of course your whole email needs to be well crafted and about how good of a fit your work is for their shop! The trick here is that by having a few great photos, you lead with that (even though it’s at the bottom people will glance down at them) and if they like what they see they can dive into your email and click through to your line sheet or website.

 

A few tips (to not anger your prospective customers) while doing this:

  1. We usually suggest attaching the images or embedding them at the bottom of the email, rather than weaving them into the body of the text. This allows it to be scannable and not visually broken up. Also, since you’re sending personal emails, you don’t want them to look so professional or overly structured that it looks like a mass email when it’s actually not.
  2. Use relatively small images; anything big can slow their email from loading. (A clear photo can be reduced to 15-25 KB and still look beautiful.)
  3. Test your emails with a friend or your personal address and make sure the images look good when sent.
  4. Make sure that the stockist will be able to access them, i.e. they’re not in an unshared Google Drive folder. #partyfoul

 

Try this out the next time you email a round of stores and let us know how it goes! And if you would like some feedback on your email feel free to forward it to us at team@wholesaleinabox.com!



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Wholesale In a Box is on Elise Gets Crafty!

We are so excited and honored to share an interview that we had with (the great) Elise Blaha Cripe on Elise Gets Crafty.

We talk about getting started with wholesale, what to expect from stores, what you really need to jump into wholesale, tips on terms and conditions, and more! Check it out here or on iTunes here.

We have been following Elise’s work for years and had such a blast speaking with her, we hope you enjoy.

Click here to listen to Wholesale In a Box on Elise Gets Crafty.

We also wanted to repost an article we wrote almost a year ago about several things we have learned about business from Elise over the years!

 

What We Learned About Business from Elise Blaha Cripe

Elise Blaha Cripe "makes stuff like it's her job."

She makes things herself and then shares the process, tools, and product of that creativity with the world. She's the founder of Get To Work Book, a pioneer blogger, and the host of Elise Gets Crafty, a great business about craft, small business, and life. She's also been a big inspiration to us as we start businesses and try to live creative, authentic lives.

Here are 5 things that we learned from Elise's work that can apply to any business that comes from personal passion:

1. Turn it into a project!

As she talks about here, Elise has a knack for turning her passions into cohesive, ambitious projects with a goal, a beginning, and an end. In 2011, she baked 40 different loaves of bread, in 2014, she made and sold 29 different handmade projects, and last year, she made and gave away 30 DIY projects. This approach gives her structure while engaging all of us in her journey.

2. Use what you do naturally.

Elise makes stuff, so her business revolves around that. She's a mama, so the adventure of integrating motherhood, creativity, and business is a core topic. She reads, so she shares her recommendations. Sometimes we think we need to develop a new skill or identify an obscure passion in order to have a business. Elise shows us that your "normal" can be inspiring to the world. (Elise's "normal" is over at her gorgeous instagram.)

3. Be concrete and vivid.

Elise stands out because she shares the little details that make it hard or inspiring or interesting to make things. She shares when her quilt gets tricky and where she bought that teal tape and how she actually makes her to-do lists. She shares how she started a podcast and what to buy a new mother. It makes her work useful and it makes it fascinating.

4. Keep at it.

Elise, like most people, is an "overnight success" where overnight is actually more than 10 years. She is wildly consistent -- she just keeps making things and sharing content, day after day, for multiple years. This isn't to say that success has to take a long time. But it does take consistency.

5. Don't worry so much about the structure.

She started with her blog and then later had the projects and eventually a store, along the way some ecourses, and finally Get To Work Book.  So many times, people get stuck on questions about how to "frame" their business, in terms of the name, or how to integrate multiple projects, or what the website will look like. The truth is that when you're starting, you can't yet imagine the shape it will take. In Elise's case, she created a landing page that linked to multiple project pages / sites and also has a whole separate site for her Get To Work Book. So start somewhere and worry about structure later.

   photo by Cortnee Brown for Creative Start via Elise Blaha Cripe

photo by Cortnee Brown for Creative Start via Elise Blaha Cripe

Thanks for your beautiful work, Elise! Way to go!

All pictures are Elise Blaha Cripe's and can be found in their original glory over at her website. For her take on business and creativity, check out Elise Gets Crafty. For her phenomenal, inspiring, and very useful planner, check out Get to Work Book. She's also great on Twitter and Instagram.



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Why we believe craft shows won’t work (in the long run) for your business

As we all learn and relearn as small business owners, anything that is not sustainable in the long run will have to stop, either by choice or by necessity. And we think craft shows are often one of those things, for makers.

We love craft shows. When there is one near us in Philadelphia, or when we are traveling, it immediately makes it to the top of the list.

And we so value and appreciate that for many of the makers, artists, and designers we work with, craft shows have supported them in a big way. They make it easy for a fledgling business to test out a new product in a market they have easy access to and get feedback from real people who are exchanging real money for their work. Craft shows have propelled dozens of businesses that we work with from an idea to a money making business and that is a beautiful thing.  

The problem is that almost every day, we hear variations of the following from our customers and prospective customers:

  • “Last year I went to 31 craft shows and it is draining me, financially, emotionally and physically.”
  • “Craft fairs were great when I was starting out but I’m just getting too old for it now and I have kids.”
  • “I want and need to move my business to something that is steady and consistent beyond craft shows.”

 

Even if there is a return on investment, is it sustainable?

Though the return is often there financially, craft shows may not be sustainable physically and emotionally. “Sustainable” simply means that a certain activity can be maintained for the duration.  If a craft show is generating more than you are spending then it may be sustainable financially but often not after factoring in taking time away from the creative side of your business, from being with your family every weekend, and a general sense of being drained.

 

What does this mean for you?

  1. Just because something has worked before -- and gotten your business to this point -- doesn’t necessarily mean it will get you where you want to go. All businesses need to reassess and shift to whatever tactics are right for us, right now. It is natural that these change over time.
  2. If you’ve had this hunch that craft shows are not sustainable for you, you are not alone.
  3. There are other options to propel your business forward. You can scale back the shows and still succeed.  

Many of the makers we work with continue to do a few select craft shows as they grow but simply cultivate additional channels to sell their products and devote more energy to those, be it building an online community and traffic to their website, wholesale, or a combination of those.

If going to shows is energizing for you please, please keep doing them. Continue forward if it is generating energy for you and your business, but if it is hard now and you feel drained, it’s likely not going to get any easier 1 or 5 years from now -- and the time to build another way forward is now.



 



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The Owner of Two Destination Stores Tells Us What Every Maker Should Know

Liz Sieber’s stores are simultaneously super-friendly and exquisitely curated and designed. Walking into Omoi Zakka or Sieber’s new store, Select Shop 215, feels like stepping into a story that unfolds shelf by shelf. The gorgeously practical is nestled next to the outrageously creative -- and it’s all with a consistent voice and point of view. Handmade goods sit alongside Japanese imports; luxurious splurges and economical little items both have their spots. It’s the kind of place that is as inspiring as any museum, but also so accessible and welcoming that you feel instantly at home. 

 Photo credit: Thom Carroll

Photo credit: Thom Carroll

So when Liz gave us a call on one cloudy Philadelphia afternoon, we leaped at the chance to hear about her buying process. Select Shop and Omoi Zakka are not exclusively handmade stores, so her perspective is especially helpful if you’re a maker who is interested in a broader range of boutiques, especially those most focused on a particular style or aesthetic.  

Liz shared everything from hyper-practical tips about packaging, to what to share in your emails, plus never-do-this stories about a box of broken soaps and a guy with all his products in his backpack.

 

Anytime works to share your product, if the fit is right.

“I’m always looking, for sure. In terms of timing, we do a big lump of orders in January and February, and then a big lump of stuff toward the end of summer. But I like to make sure we constantly have new stuff to show. And now that we opened a second location, it’s even more likely that I’ll be buying throughout the year.”


Show some basic respect for the store owner’s time. 

“There has to be a certain level of professionalism. I had a guy who emailed and said he’d be in the area and told me to text him. But I’m not sitting around, twiddling my thumbs, so can’t see people with no notice, and I’m not going to text anybody. I’m not asking for anything fancy, but it has to be professional. I’m always a little perturbed at people who just start opening their briefcase and backpacks on my front counter.”

  Photo credit:   Select Shop 215

Photo credit: Select Shop 215


When it comes to an introduction, email is just fine but be thoughtful about what you say.

“An email is just fine for me. When people send big giant packets of samples and lookbooks and they spent so much money but I know right away when it’s not right -- that is not helpful. I’m happy with an email because I can click through to the website and make a decision. 

“I don’t like if I can tell you’re emailing everyone. Spell the name of the store right. Be familiar with the concept of the store. For instance, you can say, ‘I noticed you carry x product so…’ Show some connection with me and my design aesthetic. Or perhaps it is: ‘I was on your online store and I noticed you don’t have a lot of x thing’ or ‘I noticed you have a lot of candles and not a lot of soaps.’

“If there is a website, that helps. Linking to Etsy is fine but it’s nice if there’s something a little more personal. Not so much: ‘Here’s my work, take it or leave it.’”


Pricing matters.

“Honestly, if the product is a fit, whether or not I buy often comes down to pricing, It has to sit on the shelf next to larger manufacturers, so the price has to make sense for my customers. For example, I have a hard time bringing in ceramics from smaller vendors because it’s hard for them to compete on price with manufacturers in Japan. 

“On the flip side, I don’t sell anything that’s really cheap. It just has to make sense, in terms of what the product is, and how that price is going to be perceived, when it’s on the shelf.”


Be as attentive to packaging as you are to your product.

“When I’m deciding to buy a product, I’m looking at a level of professionalism, and that the product comes in packaging that makes sense. For instance, greeting cards need to be in sleeves.

“One time I had a vendor that shipped me a bunch of awesome soap but she didn’t wrap a blessed thing and it all came to me chipped. You can’t just pack the box like you’re taking it to the craft show in a car. My customers don’t like the idea of buying soap that’s had a million people’s fingers on it. And if there’s not real packaging, there’s not any way to even put a price tag on it. And having branding on it, especially if you are a smaller brand — that is half of the story. Long story short: make sure your product doesn’t get to me broken and damaged.”


Find Liz’s insights as a store owner helpful? You might also want to check out our store owner interview with Chelsea of the gorgeous, bohemian store Moon + Arrow.


If you’re ready to get your product into stores you love, then we can help. Sign up here for our free 4-day email course with the most important things we know about connecting with retailers.



Grow Your Wholesale

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Deciding Whether To Email Stores or Send a Package? These Penguins Might Help.

Over here at Wholesale In a Box, we’re really passionate about something we call “Penguin Tactics.” Penguin Tactics is our name for when a maker does something bold, remarkable, generous, and beautiful to connect with a store or customer. We named these incredible little acts of connection “Penguin Tactics” because of something that our friends at the Unreasonable Institute do. The Unreasonable Institute is a big-time entrepreneurship incubator. But instead of sending a ho-hum thank you card on formal-looking letterheaded as a thank-you to partners, they put a 3-foot-tall stuffed penguin in a box and ship it to each and every partner. It’s connective, generous, it’s remarkable, it’s a little weird -- it’s a Penguin Tactic.

Connecting is your job

"Art is the work of a human, an individual seeking to make a statement, to cause a reaction, to connect. Art is something new, every time, and art might not work, precisely because it's new, because it's human, and because it seeks to connect." - Seth Godin

There is no art without connection. We are taught to think that it is more honorable for things to come to us. And things do come to us: design ideas, opportunities, and even new wholesale accounts. But it is no less honorable to go out and seek that connection. This is a really bold thing -- to connect with people and say, hello, this is what I made.

One of the fundamental pieces of the method that we teach makers is that connecting is your job. Instead of waiting for people to come to you and requesting wholesale orders (which will only get you to a point), you have to thoughtfully, respectfully, and consistently connect with stores that you think are a good fit, and who would benefit from selling your product.

 

Start with email

The biggest mistake many creative business owners make when it comes to growing wholesale is that they don’t start.  We make it easier by suggesting stores each month, and giving makers a calendar of outreach and follow-up tasks to do. There are so many pieces to put in place that starting with emails is the simplest (and we believe) the most effective way to connect with a retailer. Email is usually the smartest thing to do, because it’s the simplest way to start.

We focus on emails, for the most part, because the truth is that connecting with stores doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be thoughtful and heart-felt.

Also, we have heard time and time again that store owners prefer a thoughtful email to a maker stopping in or calling -- they just have too much going on.

Email’s jerky brother: Spam

Our enthusiasm about email is not license to spam people.

If you're spamming people, you're not seeking to connect-- you're trying to find a shortcut.  Connection is about generosity so your outreach should be:

  • Concise - This can be hard, because we’re basically saying ‘Be a good writer!’. So if you need a hand, feel free to forward an email over and we would be happy to help! A second pair of eyes can often help you get most of the way there.
  • Respectful - Be honest and direct about why you think your work is a good fit for their store. Hint: the reason should be different than your previous 10 emails.
  • Remarkable - “Remarkable doesn't mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to me [your customer]. Am I going to make a remark about it?” Seth Godin

 

When to use Penguin Tactics: the pros and cons of sending packages and going big.

Email is great, most of the time. But we also think that once you’re in the rhythm of connecting with stores, it can often make sense to use some of those bolder, weirder, more-effort-involved Penguin Tactics.

For most makers, using Penguin Tactics looks like sending a cool, quirky package in the mail. One advantage of sending packages is that you have a richer medium to express your style, enthusiasm, and brand. The disadvantage is the cost in money, time, materials, and postage AND not every retailer wants you to send them an onslaught of stuff. For instance, Moon and Arrow says she prefers actually getting samples AFTER she indicates she’s interested. But a package can so deeply forge a connection that it can certainly be worth it!

A great example of a Penguin Tactic that is generous and simple but also remarkable -- is how one of our customers, A Jar of Pickles did her outreach here.  

In the end, she may decide that she wants to create this kind of package for a minority of stores, because of the time and effort it takes. But it’s likely valuable to do, for the stores that seem like especially good fits for her. -- but It was not too over the top (and even that took a lot of work!)

This is not required, but as a rule of thumb, we often suggest sending heartfelt emails to most stores you reach out to -- and then using Penguin Tactics for 1 or 2 every month. Send something remarkable, and weird -- maybe in the shape, or size, or medium. Maybe it’s a card that’s round or a box that is unusually big or small. Maybe it’s just a simple letter but it is deeply unusual in how sincere it is. Send something remarkable, yes -- but and not out of control in extravagance. Some store owners have told us that when a maker sends a very generous (but perhaps over the top) package they feel bad if it’s not a good fit that the maker spent so much time, energy and money into the package and often, as though they are guilted into buying.  That’s not what you are going for, so it helps sometimes to take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of your customer (in this case a store owner who is busy like you).

Getting yourself out there is hard --  and doing so in a way that is aligned with how you want to feel and how you want your prospective customers (ideally partners for many years to come) to feel -- is even harder.

We believe in starting, even though you will likely mess up along the way.  Getting your work into the world is worth the occasional embarrassing email you send and even worth the 15 rejections you get for every one account you gain. Even when you think you made a fool out of yourself, it’s more likely you made a human out of yourself.

We are here if you need us: team@wholesaleinabox.com or set a time for a call if you would like to talk something through.  



Grow Your Wholesale

A free five part email series with the most important things we know about getting your handmade products into stores.