Line Sheet 201
HOW TO MAKE YOUR LINE SHEET DRAMATICALLY BETTER (IN A WEEKEND)
We’re really fanatical about this thing we call the 5 Rules. They’re not really rules, but they are like superfoods for your business. The 4th rule is:
Start with Good Enough. Then Make it Better.
It sounds simple, but this is probably the rule that people struggle the most with. Half the time, people run around making everything perfect before they start. They’re always a few months from “having all my ducks in a row.” They always feel like they need more of something before they can start.
The other half of the time, people we work with do launch with something “good enough” (but imperfect.) And we’re super-excited! We applaud! This is the best way to learn and the fastest path to growing wholesale! But then, several weeks into their outreach to stores, they get discouraged because they’re not getting the results they want. They try to be persistent. but occasionally a maker decides that this path isn’t working for them and gives up.
The two choices are not persistence or giving up. If there is anything that we’ve learned in business it is this: in the face of adversity, the choices are not a) give up or b) be stubbornly persistent.
There is a third option, which is to be relentless with your goal of growing wholesale and connecting with stores, but completely willing to asses what is working, what is not, and change anything that is not working. Done is better than perfect. But “done” means “done for now” -- not “done forever.”
When a line sheet isn’t a line sheet
If you are directly reaching out to stores, your line sheet isn’t your line sheet -- it’s the entire representation of your business, in a single document. One way to improve results moving forward is to improve your line sheet. It’s obviously not the only way to iterate, but we’ve found that making your line sheet better is one of the highest-impact things you can do. And there are some simple, affordable ways to make it dramatically more effective in an afternoon or a weekend. Over hundreds of emails with makers, we’ve distilled the most powerful things you can do to make it dramatically more effective.
Of course, our big caveat is that the product has to be unique and meaningful, your pricing has to be on-point, and there are other key pieces that need to be in place. There are so many things to think about. But you can only make progress if you address the things in your business one by one. And one crucial piece is your line sheet.
4 ways to make your line sheet dramatically better in a weekend:
1. Tell a story to their heart.
2. Make sure their head is not confused.
3. Remove as many obstacles as you can.
4. Be so savvy with your resources that iT feels like cheating.
#1. Tell a story to their heart.
We imagine that when we submit our work for consideration, the buyer or store owner is doing a fully rational, thought-through analysis of whether or not the work is good enough to be in their store. “Ah” we think, when we get a rejection, “They decided it wasn’t good enough.”
The truth is that store owners (and buyers) don’t always “decide” in the way we think they do. Often, a retailer will buy if their heart lights up about the product (and if their head doesn’t say “no” -- more on that piece in the next section.) If store owners cared only about dollars and cents and facts and figures, they might be in a different line of work than curating a creative boutique in an unsupportive economy.
Store owners care about being inspired, being moved, being excited -- both because that’s why they own a store in the first place, and because they know that their ability to share those emotions with their customers is their way to make a sale.
Your first job is to tell a story to the store owner’s heart. The story is about you, your product, your process, and the people who will use or wear your product. It’s a story about a journey or an emotion. Maybe it’s a story about wild freedom and how the right accessories can make a woman feel that wind-in-your-hair sensation. Maybe it’s a story about family, and celebratory meals, and how the perfect linen tea towel is the seed for those feelings of connection.
One reality-check here: the higher your price point, the higher the demands on your story-telling. Very few things have some “inherent” value -- most things are valuable because they tell such a compelling story that we must have that thing, even at a higher cost.
Some buyers will "get it” right away, but...
as you grow and tap into a broader audience, these are some of the questions you want to address through your line sheet:
- "What is new and exciting and meaningful about this product? How is this stuff different from everything else I see out there?"
- "I'm intrigued but how are people supposed to use these products?"
- "How am I going to display these products in a way that will make folks want to buy them? How will my customers know how these products fit into their lives?"
Some components you can use to weave a story that quells all of these questions and lights a spark in the heart of the store owner:
- The font, spacing, and other “visual language” that you use throughout the document.
- Gorgeous photos of people using the products in specific ways or with a specific point of view.
- Specific descriptions of how the products are used
- Photos and descriptions of your process, sourcing, and background
- Photos of how a retailer might display the products, especially if that includes packaging or display that you will include with their order.
Examples of what to avoid:
- If your line sheet is cluttered or visually not harmonious, you are not telling your story effectively.
- If the visual language of your line sheet is not consistent with the personality of your brand. For instance, if your line sheet is severe and minimal but your jewelry is soft and nature-inspired, that story will not land.
- If you sell accessories but there are no pictures of women wearing them, it’s really hard to picture who will buy them in the store.
- If there are no pictures of your art in the context of a living situation, it’s hard to tell what style it can fit into because it could go anywhere, or nowhere at all.
I don’t like getting pictures taken of myself either.
A lot of makers are very humble. They want the art to speak for itself and don’t want to figure out what to wear and sit awkwardly in front of a camera. Believe me, I get it.
The only problem with that, is that as customers, if we didn’t care who made the art, we would probably buy something from a big box store, get free shipping, and call it a day.
Your story is an integral part of the story of your product. Your line sheet should include something -- whether a lighthearted description, a series of photos, or another way of presenting it -- about you and your process. Store owners will also go to your website and click around, but your line sheet is your first opportunity to differentiate your process (sourcing, production, background, approach) from that of every other line in your category out there.
#2. Make sure their head is not confused.
Don’t forget what you’re trying to do here. Once you’ve sparked the heart of the store owner, the primary job of a line sheet is to show what you are selling, for how much money, under what terms and conditions.
Put your beer goggles on.
Sometimes I tell a maker that a part of their line sheet is confusing. “Yes,” they tell me, “But actually I explained that on page 7, especially if you look again on page 49.”
Remember in 10th grade health class when they had you put on fuzzy-lensed “beer goggles” to show you what it is like to drive while intoxicated? You need to put on your rushed/bored/multitasking/beer goggles to make sure that your line sheet is crystal clear enough to communicate effectively. Assume that the store owner opened your line sheet while they’re on the phone with their mechanic, realizing their computer has a virus, eating a sandwich, and holding their baby. Now tell me if your line sheet is clear enough.
- Is it clear what the front, back, inside, outside, and sides of each product looks like?
- Is it clear how much each thing costs wholesale, how much I can charge for it retail, and what your payment, shipping, and turnaround terms are?
- Is it totally obvious what each product is made out of and how the production process is the same or different across the line?
- Is it clear which product name/number goes with which?
- Do I have to wonder how things will be packaged and/or arrive at my store?
- Am I left trying to figure out how I would display the line?
- Is it abundantly obvious how I place an order?
Different strokes for different folks: how and when to divide up collections.
Once you have everything crystal-clear in your line sheet, there is one other obstacle that people run into -- a line that is not totally cohesive, in terms of price, style, or both.
This goes back to the concept that “a confused mind doesn’t buy.” If I am looking at a line, and 60% of the pieces read minimal and modern and edgy, and 40% of the pieces read sweet and playful, I’m confused. If a line has 80% items that cost $100+ and 20% of the items costing less than $30, I’m confused.
One way that smart makers create clarity and cultivate cohesion in their line is by having two sections in a single line sheet, divided by collection, or even two separate line sheets. That way, you differentiate between the styles and buyers can focus on whichever collection they respond to most. You can title the collections if that helps to tell the story of the groupings.
Alternatively, if you feel like you don’t have enough pieces in a particular category to make a whole different section, you can always "edit" your original collection a bit, only offering the pieces that hang together in style and price.
#3. Remove as many obstacles as you can.
So, now you’ve told the buyer’s heart a story that feels inspiring and exciting. And you’ve let their head understand everything clearly.
Now you need to make sure that you haven’t put a big old obstacle in their path to placing an order with you.
We’ve all had the experience that we are in a store, we grab something we want to buy, but there is such a barrier to buying it (a long line, a snooty saleswoman, limited payment options, or a long wait for a cashier) that we just tuck the item on a random shelf and hightail it out of the store.
You don’t want to do that to your buyers. Here are some potential obstacles to make sure you clear away:
Complicated order forms or wholesale applications that you have to fill out before you can view the line sheet or catalog. Some businesses need a wholesale application or a specific order form because they have so many orders that they would be buried without them. Most makers, though, just use these things because they feel like they are supposed to or because it seems professional to them. Professional means making purchase easy and efficient -- so if you can dump the application or the order form, do it.
Some obstacles to purchase you might have (and can consider removing):
- Limited payment methods.
- Making the line sheet so long that it takes forever to get to the end.
- Making the line sheet file so big that the email gets deleted because it won’t load.
- Creating multiple clicks to get to your line sheet before you’ve described (or shown, using embedded images) what the line is all about.
Be ruthless about editing parts of your line sheet or parts of your process that aren’t “earning their keep.” If it’s not deeply supportive of your story or your clarity, get rid of it.
#4. Be so savvy with your resources that it feels like cheating.
“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources.”
- Twyla Tharp
Sometimes it can feel really overwhelming to consider improving your line sheet because you start picturing thousands of dollars going to photo shoots or graphic designers. Or, makers sometimes say -- well, I could make all of these changes myself, but I just really don’t have months to dedicate to it.
You can dramatically improve your line sheet with 2-10 hours of work and the resources you already have. You can dramatically improve your line sheet, this weekend.
Question your resources
You have more resources than you think. Once you’ve taken inventory of what you need to change in your line sheet (using the suggestions above and the worksheet below), start taking inventory of the resources you already have to support those changes.
What could you do or use that would feel like cheating?
- A graphic designer friend who could come over, take an hour reworking things, and leave your house with an apple pie you made in thanks.
- Your daughter / best friend / aunt / neighbor who always has the perfect style and would make an awesome model for your line.
- Your own iphone, with a $15 tripod, and the morning light in your dining room.
- A photographer you know who always admired your necklaces, and would be willing to do a shoot in exchange for a free piece or two.
- A former colleague who has impeccable design sense and would be more than happy to spend 10 minutes critiquing the visual language you use.
- The house down the street with a great living room, to use as a backdrop for your art pieces (shot by you, with your phone, and a homemade lightbox.)
- Canva or similar, to overhaul your design without having to pay Adobe a cent.
- Invest a few hundred dollars in product photography.
The point is, you can make your line sheet dramatically better, in the next week, without overextending yourself in terms of resources. Do what you can, with what you have -- and that will start getting you better results.
1. Start with good enough and make it better.
If you already started, now is the time to make your line sheet better.
2. Pick a weekend.
It doesn’t have to literally be a weekend. But 2-10 hours should be enough to make your line sheet ten times better. So choose a time that you’re going to do it, work within the time you have, and no excuses.
3. Get it down on paper.
Print out your line sheet and mark it up. Make a list, on paper, of what you’re going to improve and be creative about the resources you have to improve those things. Focus on the simple things you can tweak to give you the most results -- and save all the complicated changes for later.
4. Make it happen.
Then, just execute. It’s easy to feel like your changes aren’t enough, aren’t good enough, or won’t work. But small changes can have a big impact -- and you can make those changes right away.
5. Let this practice be something that you can apply to any aspect of your business.
In everything you do -- social media, branding, accounting, outreach, subject lines of emails -- you should start with good enough, and make it better. And you can use exactly this kind of inquiry and reflection for any of those components.
6. We are here to help!
If you feel lost, confused, or discouraged at any step in the process, we can lend a hand. Let us know what you’re working on improving and we’ll do absolutely everything we can to support you. Reach out to us firstname.lastname@example.org or set a time to talk with us
Line Sheet 201 is brought to you by Etan and Emily at Wholesale In a Box. Wholesale In a Box is an all-in-one system that makes it easier to introduce your work to stores & cultivate stockist reorders. You make it happen. We make it easier.
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