How to Fix Your Product Photos for $50 or Less

This post is part of our October theme at Wholesale In a Box: Crafting Your Story. We delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we write about it here on the blog... and we cover it on our Secret Podcast!

In Episode #4 of the Secret Podcast -- which is just for Wholesale In a Box makers -- I spoke with the uber-talented and business-savvy maker, Kara Pendl of Karacotta Ceramics - a line of gorgeous and functional ceramic pieces intended to elevate your everyday life. She also helped create the Austin maker collaborative called Broad Studios. Kara came to mind immediately as a maker that does an exceptional job authentically and seamlessly sharing her story, so I knew she’d be perfect to speak with on the topic.

Want access to that episode? All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by October 1st will get the episode. If you’ve been considering signing up for Wholesale In a Box, now is the perfect time!


Many times, a maker comes to us with a beautiful product and an incredible production process but their photos are just not great. They’re a little dark, slightly blurry, the setup isn’t ideal, and the spirit of the product itself isn’t coming through. Or sometimes the mechanics of the photos are good, but there’s no beauty to them, nothing really compelling -- the pieces feel dead and uninteresting.

I’ll be blunt: when I see photos like this, I worry about the maker’s ability to grow wholesale. Because for most makers, at most times, your photography is the only reality of your products that people see. In One Mill Co’s workbook on how to get your products to stand out to stores, store owner Mary Claire White doesn’t mince words:

“Product photos are so important because if someone is looking at your stuff online, whether it be on Etsy or whatever the platform, even an email introduction to a store. If your photography doesn’t look good — no way. Pass. You’re going to get looked over. Think about Etsy. You’re scrolling through countless images. Think about all the images you’re looking at. The ones that you stop on are going to be the ones with the beautiful photography, every single time.”

Over the past several years, I’ve made myself a bit of a scientist about what works for makers, when it comes to photography. I’ve interviewed professional photographers, asked dozens of accomplished makers what they do to get great photos, and experimented myself. This article represents what I’ve found. The point of this article isn’t to give you a formula for getting phenomenal photos with no work. The point is to help you get your photos significantly, dramatically better with less than $50 investment and two days. You can improve them from there, either by improving your setup or by working with a professional photographer.

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First, a few caveats:

Caveat #1: This article is not for makers who already have very good or excellent photos.
If you already have very good photos, this article won’t help much. If your photos are very good, your improvements will come from observing art you respect and finding ways to weave those inspirations into the design, styling, and execution of your photos. This article is for makers whose photos are below average… and who want to get them quite a bit better without a big investment.

Caveat #2: Yes, you should use a professional photographer.
If you have any money to invest in your marketing, one great place to invest (possibly the best place) is in professional photography. A professional will take care of the setup, lighting, composition, and editing -- saving you a lot of time and giving you a better end product. But: I find that many makers don’t do this. So this article is meant to guide you through going from not-great photos to great photos with $50 or less.


HOW TO FIX YOUR PRODUCT PHOTOS FOR $50 OR LESS

1. Learn what makes a great photo.
Research the difference between the photos you love and, well, your photos. Set a timer for 30 minutes and scroll through Etsy or Instagram. Save or screenshot any photos you love. Then, pull up your photos. Finally, jot down what you notice is different about the photos you love, relative to your photos. You might notice some or all of the following things:

  • Lighting.
    Is the quality, direction, or quantity of the light in the photos different?

  • Color balance.
    Is the tone (warm or cool) of the color in the photos different, more consistent, or better balanced?

  • Composition.
    What do you notice about how the photos are framed? What is in the frame and what is not? How zoomed in are they? What angles are the photos taken from?

  • Focus.
    Is the photo in better focus, or focused differently, than your photos? Are different elements of the photo in focus?

If you’re just beginning to learn to “see” when it comes to photos, one suggestion I have is to sign up for a free month of Skillshare and take this course or this course to start to learn some of these fundamentals. The aesthetic and style of the courses isn’t ideal -- but I learned so much from them about the mechanics of a great photo.

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2. Create a photo setup and plan a shoot day.
You don’t need to spend a week or $2,000 on a photoshoot. But you also can’t expect to get a great photo from your desk chair, in 5 minutes. I recommend scheduling a day to do a photoshoot. 90% of the time investment is setting up your area and tools, if you’re doing it right. So it’s possible to do a shot in just a few hours of intensive, focused work. But if you set aside a whole day, you won’t feel pressured.

Some suggestions for your photoshoot setup:

  • Assemble your tools.
    Reflectors.
    Because light is the most important element of your photos, reflectors can be very helpful, to fill in, diffuse, or shift the tone of the light in your photos. I grabbed this kit on Amazon for $19 and found it very easy to use, small to store, and easy to do with no prior training or even additional helpers/hands. You can also just use a piece of poster board or sheet insulation as a reflector.

    Tripod.
    Your photo won’t be in focus unless you hold the camera still. And your photo can’t be great unless it’s in focus. So get a tripod. Here’s one on Amazon for $9 but even a stack of books and some duct tape could possibly do the trick.

    Phone or camera.
    If you have a great camera to use, then use it. If you don’t, use the newest iPhone or smartphone you have access to (yours, your husband’s, your best friend’s.)

  • Pick a location.
    Try several locations. Find a place near a window without funny lights or reflections. Like I mentioned, one of the biggest impacts on photo quality is natural light -- so choose a location that gives you room to maneuver and great natural light. This doesn’t have to be in your studio. It can be in your house, your garage, or even outside. You’ll probably need to try taking photos in several locations before settling on one. Once you do, observe what time of day that location has the best light and try to take your photos during that time block.

  • Find a background that is resonant with your aesthetic.
    You may want to have several backgrounds, but at least choose one. You can get tile or flooring pieces at home improvement stores, use plywood, paint an old piece of wood, or use a table or floor that you like. Pick something that is big enough (probably bigger than you think so it’s not cutting off your shot) and is resonant with your brand’s aesthetic.

    A quick note on backgrounds. People have different philosophies on this, so use your best judgement. But if you are pitching to independent shops (not nationwide retailers like Target), you don’t necessarily need your products on a white background. It matters most (possibly exclusively) that the photos are GREAT -- and many times, it is harder to get great shots with a true white background. Additionally, even if you do choose to do your photos with a white background, you’ll still want to have some lifestyle / in-context shots of the work with more textured or varied backgrounds.

  • Wrangle your props.
    Wander through your house and studio and round up plants, tools, and lifestyle items that complement your brand’s aesthetic. Put them all in the location you’ll be using so that you can experiment with them. You’ll likely be bad at predicting which props will work, so round up a bunch. Your hands can also be “props” so consider them as well -- that might mean doing your nails or choosing rings or bracelets that look good.

  • Take the photos.
    Once you get your location and light and reflector set up, take your photos.

    Do it systematically.
    First, experiment with different props, backgrounds, and angles. Once you have a few setups you like, go through your products and take a few photos of each product, depending on your needs.

    Make sure to hold the camera very still.
    If you are not still, your photo will not be in focus, so use a tripod, brace your arms, and make sure nothing moves when the photo is taken.

    Take enough photos.
    You likely need more “straightforward” product shots and more interesting lifestyle shots, so get a mix now that you’re set up.

3. Get a photo editing tool and set aside 4 hours to learn how to do the absolute basics.
At least 50% of having great photos comes from the editing process, so always edit your photos after your shoot. It will be easier in the long run if you edit within a few days of taking the photos.

The editing process includes:

  • Selecting the best photos from your shoot.
    Choose those that have the best mechanics (focus, light, composition), are most consistent with each other, and that “feel like you” in terms of style.

  • Getting your photos to look consistent.
    That doesn’t mean all of your photos have to look the same. But consistency reads as professionalism. So try to use one photo that you like as the standard for color and exposure, and then make the other photos match it.

  • Modifying the images.
    You don’t need to get fancy here. If you can learn how to straighten your photos, adjust the exposure (lighten or darken), crop, and adjust color levels (make warmer or cooler), that is more than enough. If you’re trying to give your photos a consistent white background, Mei has a great tutorial on that here.

  • Managing your files.
    Keep your unedited photos and your edited photos in organized folders so that later, you can easily find what you need. Always save your edited photos as a new version, so that you have the original to go back to when necessary.

Some easy and inexpensive photo editing tools to consider:

  • On-phone tools.
    If you’re a person who lives on your phone, you can certainly edit your photos there, using a tool like VSCO. To me, editing on your phone ends up being time-consuming, a little stressful, and difficult to get consistency across photos, but if the choice is between editing on your phone and not editing at all, definitely edit on your phone.

  • Photoshop or Lightroom.
    Get Photoshop or Lightroom and learn how to use them with this fundamentals course, this more intensive course, or Elise’s tips on applying the same treatment to a bunch of photos. You can also just google the very specific things you need to do: straighten, adjust exposure, adjust color levels, and crop. Canva or even the Preview program on Macs are also options, but you can’t straighten photos with those tools, which is why I don’t recommend them for photo editing after a shoot. Photoshop and Lightroom are powerful and complex tools -- so I’m not saying you can learn to use them properly in 4 hours -- but I know from experience that you can learn to do the most basic things and ignore the rest.

4. Bring in style and you-ness.

The mechanics of photos are important -- and an out-of-focus or too-dark photo usually isn’t as compelling as a photo that’s crisp and clear. That said, it is so important that your photos feel like you, reflect your style, and aren’t the same as everything else you see.

Once you get the basics down, your photos can be as much a creative process as your product design. So don’t be afraid to make your photos a little weird or different. Use hands, people, backgrounds, tools, and props to bring in your personality and life. Think about what people love about your products, and try to have the photos themselves represent those qualities.

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5. Start with good enough and then make them better.

It’s tempting to feel like you have to get your photos perfect from the start. In reality, it’s best to take the best photos you can today and then improve them over time. It’s not hard to swap out photos in listings, so you can always improve them even more, later.

Be aware of your mental or practical challenges around this. For instance, perhaps you read the above but you feel like you have a special situation because...

  • You’re always making new products or have so many products that it’s impossible to take photos of them all efficiently.

  • You don’t have any natural light in your studio.

  • You don’t want to look fake or inauthentic.


Yes, these are all real challenges. But every maker I’ve seen with sub-par photos could benefit from using the above process, despite these concerns. So try to move past the challenges you have and get a round of great photos. For instance:

  • If you have too many products to do new photos of all of them or if you’re always making new products, just do a set of lifestyle photos of some of your products. Even a small set of great photos will be a significant asset to you.

  • If you don’t have natural light in your studio, do your shoot in your house or outside or at a friend’s house.

  • If you don’t want to look fake or inauthentic, then be very selective with the aesthetic choices you make (and recognize that bad quality photos aren’t more authentic than good quality ones -- and they are working against your art and business.)

To summarize, these are the total costs of the above:

  • Skillshare courses: $0 for one month

  • Photoshop: $10 for one month

  • Reflectors: $19

  • Tripod: $9

  • Backgrounds and props: $0, if rounded up from your house/studio

TOTAL: $38 (less than $50, even if you buy a prop or two.)

By investing just a little bit of time and money (about 1-2 working days and under $50) you can dramatically improve your photos. And as your photos get better, your wholesale growth will come more easily and your retail sales will improve. It’s one business area where a little investment really does go a long way.

What do you do to improve your photos? Are there any makers who you think have incredible shots of their work?


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Getting Crickets from Store Owners? Here’s What to Do.

When it comes to my creative business projects, I tend to work in the shelter of my own space and ideas. I don’t usually ask people for advice, trusting my own vision over what Uncle Ned Who Worked In Business thinks.

So I get it when our makers work in isolation and don’t solicit feedback on their work. It’s a good instinct. Makers shouldn’t be asking for advice from Uncle Ned. And they shouldn’t be trolling Instagram looking for the new trend or what’s popular. But sometimes a maker reaches a dead end in their wholesale growth. It usually sounds something like:

“I’ve been putting myself out there but I’m getting crickets.”

Crickets are a species that thrive in a habitat made up of one or more of the following:

  • You’re not actually putting yourself out there.
    You’re overestimating the emails you’ve sent or pitches you’ve made. You’re not following up. Or you’re doing it, but not consistently.

  • Your pitch, my darling, is terrible.
    Maybe your line sheet is confusing. Maybe your photos are bad. Maybe the outreach you’re sending is cold or rambling. Maybe your order process is frustrating.

  • There is something crucial about your products that isn’t working for store owners.
    This could be the packaging or the price point or the colors or the range of products. It could be something subtle about the aesthetic. Or maybe the aesthetic is great but the product type is tough to sell.


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HONESTY WITH OURSELVES IS AN ACT OF SELF LOVE

Because one-on-one coaching is part of the Wholesale In a Box subscription, we often help makers figure out which of the above three Cricket Habitat Elements they might have. But I also think that if you give yourself 30 minutes and a notebook, you can look in a clear-eyed way at your numbers (emails sent, number of people responded, orders placed) and materials and figure out which of the three things you’re encountering.

Two general trends to consider:

  1. If you’re not getting a lot of responses (let’s say, less than 40%), it’s likely that there is something that could be better about your pitch or outreach materials.

  2. If you’re getting a lot of responses but they’re all negative, it’s possible that there is something about your line that isn’t working for store owners.

The hard part is being honest with yourself. Just as it’s tempting to leave things off of a “food log” if you’re tracking your nutrition, it’s tempting to lie to yourself here. It can feel harsh to face reality. But I think that being honest with ourselves is an act of self love. When we are honest with ourselves, we are valuing our vision, our dreams, and our art above our immediate comfort. And that’s precisely what we would do for a valued friend.

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ALSO: MAYBE IT’S ALREADY WORKING

One thing that could happen: it’s very possible you’re actually getting great results and you’re just, well, impatient. You’re trying to grow a sustainable business for the long term, not get quick wins that will fizzle out in months. And even one or two new store accounts per month can snowball to an incredibly flourishing business over the span of a couple of years. So sometimes, the best thing you can do is remain calm and, yes, carry on.


YOUR MISSION, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT

Let’s say that you do the above reflection and decide, “You know what? I AM putting myself out there and my pitch and outreach materials and photos are very strong. But still: crickets!”

Then, we need to consider whether there is something about your line that is not working for store owners. Often, makers will ask me what I think about their product — but the truth is that even after helping 600 makers grow wholesale, it can be very hard to predict. My opinion is only one opinion.

So I usually recommend something that is very crucial and very challenging. And that is to get feedback from store owners. I recommend contacting 10-12 store owners who have responded with a “no” but who you really think SHOULD be a perfect fit for your work — and ask them for their honest, brutal, direct input about why the line didn’t work for them. In doing that, you should be respectful of their time and also really get across that you want them to be honest with you. Maybe you’d call or email and say something like:

“You were kind enough to email back and let me know that my line isn’t a fit for the shop. And that is absolutely fine, of course! Also, I’m working on growing my wholesale business and I’d love to learn what aspects of the line didn’t work for you. I promise not to take it personally, but could I ask you for your honest feedback on what made it a ’no’ this time around?”

PATTERNS NOT ADVICE

Once you start collecting responses from store owners, your job is to put them all in one place (a folder on your computer, a note on your phone) and not consider them until you assemble a bunch. Any single piece of feedback is not helpful. We are not looking for advice — we are looking for patterns.

Once you do get a group of responses, you want to look at them like a scientist. What patterns do you notice? What trends are there? Pull out 2-3 insights that feel like the common thread or underlying message when you look at all the input, as a group, with soft eyes.

THE SWEET SPOT

Once you do assemble those insights, you’re not going to slavishly react to them. Your vision for your own line is equally, if not more, crucial. What you’re going to do is find the intersection between what store owners want for the line and your vision for your work. That’s the sweet spot. And when you really find that point, that’s when wholesale takes off.

You may want to find ways to adapt your line a bit to better fit the feedback of the store owners. If the aesthetic is great but everyone thinks the price is a bit high, perhaps you find ways to tweak your process or materials to get your price down. If your aesthetic is great but they all have a tough time selling your product type, perhaps you begin experimenting with other products. Don’t react to the input — respond in a thoughtful way, synthesizing the input with your own vision.

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LEARN TO REST NOT TO QUIT

This is hard work. And honestly, 99 makers out of 100 are unwilling to do any of the above. Simply an openness to staying persistent with the overall goal AND being open to changing your approach makes you very unique.

It’s tiring to be persistent and consistent and also iterate your approach. So go easy but don’t give up. If you’re tired, you can learn to rest, not to quit.



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The Best Insights of 4 Years of Store Owner Interviews

This post is part of our September theme at Wholesale In a Box: Store Owner Insights. We delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we write about it here on the blog... and we cover it on our brand new Secret Podcast!

In Episode #3 of the Secret Podcast -- which is just for Wholesale In a Box makers -- we talk to Elizabeth Hahn, owner of Philomena and Ruth, a shop in Waterloo, IL where she carries her line of socially conscious tees and accessories under the same name, as well as a curated assortment of goods from independent makers. Elizabeth shares her story, challenges and best parts of owning a store, advice for reaching out to shops, and biggest pet peeves as a store owner.

Want access to that episode? All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by September 1st will get the episode. So if you’ve been waiting to sign up for Wholesale In a Box, now is the perfect time to do so!



Some makers feel intimidated by store owners -- they seem inaccessible, powerful in the maker world, and ultra-discerning in their preferences. Other makers are a cavalier with how they interact with shop owners, being informal to the point of rudeness or using an approach that just isn’t effective. The remedy for both? Really understanding store owners’ experiences and perspectives -- developing empathy for what they’re up to and what they’re all about.

So today we're rounding up some of the most helpful insights from the best store owner interviews we've done over the years. Below you’ll find the top 8 insights that we pulled from interviews with Chelsea from Moon + Arrow, Lindsay from Collected Thread (which is now closed, but she’s still a beacon), and Liz from Omoi Zakka. The individual pointers are helpful… but more than anything, I think these tidbits can help give you a bit more understanding of where these creative, caring, and busy folks are coming from.

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IT HELPS YOU STAND OUT IF YOU PUT TIME AND EFFORT INTO SENDING A PERSONAL EMAIL

“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.’ — Liz, Omoi Zakka

“Contacting me by Facebook or Twitter drives me nuts. My email is on our website – take the time to email me.” — Lindsay, Collected Thread

IT’S GOOD TO KEEP STORE BUYING CYCLES IN MIND, BUT STORES ARE GENERALLY OPEN TO NEW PRODUCT ANY TIME OF THE YEAR

“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.” — Chelsea, Moon + Arrow

“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.” — Liz, Omoi Zakka

DON’T BE SHY TO FOLLOW UP

“You’ll never turn someone off of your product by following up and sending your product. I’m trying to balance the store with two little kids and there is a lot lost in translation. There are a lot of people I would follow up with but then my kids started crying. It’s never bad for a maker to take initiative.” — Lindsay, Collected Thread

“There are just so many emails, that if you’ve heard back from us positively, it’s definitely effective to follow up -- as long as you give us the time to do what we need to do on our end. Once we tell you we’d like to buy, don’t follow up with us every week to hurry us along.” — Chelsea, Moon + Arrow



STORE OWNERS CARE ABOUT MAKERS BUT THEY CAN HELP YOU BETTER IF YOU TREAT THEIR TIME WITH RESPECT

“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 I 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.” — Liz, Omoi Zakka

“I really hate it when people assume that I should know who they are from social media or if they have contacted me before. Make sure you re-introduce yourself and always, always communicate as much as possible.” —Lindsay, Collected Thread

PUT THOUGHT INTO YOUR PACKAGING TO HELP TELL YOUR STORY and STAND OUT

“Packaging is a huge thing when deciding what to buy. Not everything has to have a fancy package, but for something like apothecary, you need to think about the kinds of stores you want to be in, and the packaging has to fit.” — Chelsea, Moon + Arrow

“Thoughtful packaging with your product really does go a long way. When I’m selling products, I wrap everything as a gift regardless of whether it is or not. For instance match tissue paper to your card. Use letterpress cards as opposed to a digitally made card. Or if you’re selling a journal, send a pencil with your branding on it — it keeps you in mind longer and it showcases your creativity. I may not like your journal but if I like the card that goes with it, I might go look at your website and order something else.” — Lindsay, Collected Thread

CONSIDER WHAT WHOLESALE TERMS WILL WORK FOR YOU AND THE STORE

“Having a wholesale site or login is really great. And anyone who is willing to take payment when the order is ready [but before it is shipped to the store], rather than upon ordering, is really helpful. Or even a 50% deposit on ordering and the rest when the order is ready, is great.” — Chelsea, Moon + Arrow

“As a maker, I would NEVER ship something without getting a payment first, even if it is just 50%. As a maker, to not get payment ahead of time is foolish. I like to pay for everything up-front. As a store, that has gotten me in trouble a couple of times. Just think about how the store needs to protect themselves and how you need to protect yourself.” — Lindsay, Collected Thread



ONCE AN GET AN ORDER IS PLACED, BE THOUGHTFUL ON TIMING AND COMMUNICATE WELL

“I hate ordering something for Christmas, and the order is so late that we get it on December 20th -- it puts us in a tough spot.” — Chelsea, Moon + Arrow

“I love if people can ship within a week or two. On that same note, if it’s going to take a while, overly communicate to stores. I’m willing to work around people but they have to tell me what’s going on. Always give a deadline of when to expect things. If you’re wrong, that’s fine – just communicate that with a store.” — Lindsay, Collected Thread

FIND THE BALANCE WHEN IT COMES TO SAMPLES

“We don’t need samples for most things, but for anything with a scent or flavor, we want to try it. When you send a sample, make a nice presentation that shows what the product is like, but don’t go overboard where it’s almost pressuring us into buying.” — Chelsea, Moon + Arrow

“An email [rather than snail mail outreach] 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. — Liz, Omoi Zakka



I love reading back over these interviews and reflecting on these store owners’ insights. Yes, their advice is great. But more than anything, it’s so helpful in just remembering that -- sure enough -- store owners are people too. They often are juggling a lot to keep their shop running, so being considerate of their time and putting a lot of care into how you introduce your line will go a long way.

We hope this roundup of insights from shop owner interviews has been helpful. Feel free to comment below with feedback, we’d love to hear what you have to say!



This post is part of our September theme at Wholesale In a Box: Store Owner Insights. We delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we write about it here on the blog, and we cover it on our Secret Podcast. All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by September 1 will get Episode #3 of our Secret Podcast, with Elizabeth Hahn of Philomena and Ruth. Elizabeth digs into her experience as a store owner, what to keep in mind when pitching your product, and how to actually stand out on her shelves.


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A Scary Reality (And Some Helpful Tips!) About Offering Stores Net 30 as a Maker

I had a few conversations recently with makers where they said some version of:

“I offer all of my stockists Net 30 Terms -- they place their order, I make and ship it, and they pay me within a week or two of receiving it, once they’re happy with the order.”

Honestly, when I hear that, I worry. It’s this feeling of: “I completely understand why you’d do that, and it’s industry standard for product companies selling nationwide, and you should definitely do what you think is right for you and also... I feel worried for your business.”

Every maker is different, and it’s crucial that you make your own decisions about what terms you offer to your stockists. But there are some tricky consequences of offering payment terms to stores -- and I want you to be fully informed when you make this kind of decision. So in today’s article, I’m giving you a full rundown of what payment terms really are, how they affect your business, when you should and shouldn’t give your stockists Net 30, and super-specific answers to common questions about payment terms.

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SOME DEFINITIONS:


“Net 30” is a business term and a form of credit relating to the payment terms for orders. Net 30 means that the store owner must pay in full for the order within 30 days of the order being shipped. Net 60 and Net 90 means they must pay in 60 and 90 days, respectively.


TWO THINGS THAT ARE TRUE:


True:
It is industry standard for product companies to have Net 30 (or longer!) terms for the stores they sell to. Anthropologie is definitely not paying you before you ship their order.

Also true: as a maker selling your line to independent brick-and-mortar shops, you probably shouldn’t offer Net 30 or other payment terms because: You will always be spending cash before you really earned it. And the problem will get worse as you grow.


YOU’RE LENDING MONEY TO STORES. YOU JUST DIDN’T REALIZE IT YET.


Let me walk you through this. When you prepare an order for a wholesale customer, you have the following expenses:

  • Materials

  • Labor (perhaps it’s just your own labor currently, but eventually, you’ll want to pay people to assist you.)

  • Shipping and insurance

  • Overhead

On a $750 order, the above items could total several hundred dollars -- but it doesn’t feel like several hundred dollars because each of the items was purchased separately, and nothing totaled that much when you paid for it.

But the fundamental reality is that you spent money for that order BEFORE you received money for that order. You’re effectively lending money to the store owners for 30 or 60 days -- the time between when you prepared their order and when they paid for it. That’s not a problem on any single order, especially if you’re positive that the store will pay their bill. But you’re creating a fundamental cashflow problem in your business -- you’re lending money to stores that you probably don’t have.

At first, that gap -- the time between the money you spent to create the order and the money you earned for the order -- isn’t that big of a deal. Each new order sounds great -- but if you have Net 30 terms, each new order makes your cashflow problem worse. And as you grow, this gap can become very challenging to manage. Yes, you’re still making a profit on each order -- but the cash OUT is happening before the cash IN -- so you’ll always be short on cash, despite the profit you’re making overall.

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CASH IS THE BREATH OF YOUR BUSINESS.


It is said that more businesses fail from lack of cashflow than from lack of profit. And not to get too hippie-dippie on you, but I look at cash as the breath -- the inhale and exhale -- of the business. Of course, breath is not the whole purpose of life… and simply breathing doesn’t mean you’re healthy. But if your breath stops for even a short period of time, you can’t continue.

It is the same with cash: cash allows you to purchase the things you need and keep your business running. Cash allows you to pay yourself, covering your personal bills. Cash means you can make choices and make investments in your business. Cash is not the purpose of your business. But without cash, you can’t continue.


LOGISTICS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MONEY ALL DO BETTER WHEN THEY’RE SIMPLE.

In addition to the fundamental cashflow reality, there are additional reasons to not offer retailers payment terms, as a maker:

  • It’s harder logistically.
    If a store owner pays after the order is placed, you’ll need to wrangle the payment later. That may mean calculating and sending multiple invoices… as well as keeping track of who has paid and who hasn’t paid. That’s why big companies have whole departments that handle “accounts receivable” -- it’s a big job to manage.

  • It’s harder relationally.
    Offering payment terms to stores sounds like such a positive thing. But there are a couple of dangers to your relationships with valued store owners. First, when the store owner needs to pay money as part of the order placement process, you know for sure that the order was well-considered and serious. If not, there can be shades of grey that can be tricky to figure out. You don’t want to be writing emails saying, “So, I just wanted to confirm that you’d definitely like me to put together this order?” And you definitely don’t want to be sending stern payment collections emails months after you shipped the product.

  • It’s risky financially.
    Here’s the reality: owning and independent brick-and-mortar store is a pretty amazing feat. Store owners are hardworking, creative visionaries. Also: they face challenging financial realities every day and every month. Every store owner I know is a person of integrity and deeply honors their financial commitments. Also, store owners as a group are likely to run into financial challenges that could put their ability to pay you at risk. The blunt way of saying it is: store owners may not be the best people to loan money to over and over again, as a core part of your business practice, and with your business and personal financials depending on their ability to repay those loans.

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QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE ABOUT PAYMENT TERMS, AND MY BEST SHOT AT ANSWERING THEM.


Q. So, you’re saying that payment terms usually aren’t good for makers. Are there any exceptions?

A. Yes. You can and probably should provide payment terms for your retailers if one or more of the following are true:

  • You have a big cash buffer for your business that is so “extra” that you don’t need to touch it for anything else OR you have access to a cheap, reliable source of credit.

  • You are primarily selling to Nordstrom, Target, and other nationwide retailers.

  • You have a longstanding relationship with a given store owner, they pay promptly, and reorder often.


Q. Are you saying that I need to collect 100% of every sale as soon as the order is placed?

A. No. We’ve worked with about 600 makers and most of those require either 100% payment when the order is placed or 50% when the order is placed and 50% when the order is shipped (or even when it is received.) The exact parameters depend on your individual business. What do the stores you sell to expect? How long is your turnaround time? How much of a cash buffer do you have? How much do your materials cost? Do you have employees or assistants you need to pay? All of these factors can affect the exact parameters of your payment terms.


Q. Aren’t you all about helping store owners and being thoughtful about their perspective? This is my way of offering a perk to them!

A. Offering perks to store owners is so crucial. If you can offer free shipping, or fun freebies with each order, or volume discounts, or more-than-2x markup… these are all great things to offer. Payment terms are also great things to offer, especially to store owners you have an established relationship with. But you should never offer perks to store owners that harm the key financial realities of your business. I’m all about trying to do things that benefit store owners. Offer whatever you can -- but for most makers, payment terms probably isn’t one of those things.


Q. If I eventually want to have my line in larger or nationwide stores, won’t I need to offer payment terms?

A. Yes, probably. But this is a great reason to grow organically, with a great group of independent shops first -- before trying to sell to Anthropologie. Once you are already selling to a great group of independent shops, you’ll (hopefully) have a large cash buffer and/or the ability to get credit, which will allow you to meet the payment terms of larger nationwide stores. It’s just not something you need to jump to from the beginning.


Q. Faire gives store owners Net 60 terms, so wouldn’t that be a smart way to resolve this tension?

A. Faire definitely advertises the availability of Net 60 terms to store owners, and I do think that this is attractive. One way to take advantage of that is to use your Elevate link -- that way, you don’t pay a commission, but store owners get the benefit of the payment terms. That said, we are hearing reports that Faire doesn’t always honor the 0% commission on Elevate sales. And there are other concerns about Faire to keep in mind that we wrote about recently. Finally, Faire says “Brick and mortar stores are eligible to apply for Net 60 credit terms.” That means that it is up to Faire whether or not to grant Net 60 credit to store owners. So not all store owners will get the terms… and the criteria Faire uses to evaluate store owners can become more stringent over time.


Q. Maybe I could keep it loosey-goosey?

A. Gah! Definitely not! Beyond anything else we talked about in this article, there is one ironclad rule: make your terms crystal-clear form the start. You can choose the payment terms that feel right to you, but your business and relationships depend on them being clear (and established in writing) in your Wholesale Terms.


The truth is that there is no one right answer for every business or every maker. Every person’s situation is different (which is why I take time every week to do 1:1 coaching with the makers we serve at Wholesale In a Box -- there’s just no replacement for hashing through each maker’s individual parameters.) There are financial realities -- if you’re providing payment terms, then you are lending money to stores. But what you do about those financial realities is up to you, and is part of the creative work of shaping your business in a way that feels aligned with your values.


What other questions do you have about payment terms? What have you found helpful and not-so-helpful when it comes to setting terms with retailers?


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Simple Ways for Makers to Grow Wholesale This Holiday Season (And Stay Sane Too)

This post is part of our August theme at Wholesale In a Box: Holiday Wholesale. We delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we write about it here on the blog... and we cover it on our brand new Secret Podcast! 

In Episode #2 of the Secret Podcast -- which is just for Wholesale In a Box makers -- we talk to Jonnie Estes, owner of the uber-successful jewelry line Grey Theory Mill. Jonnie shares how she has grown to 200 stockists, her tips for staying sane during makers’ craziest season, and strategies for getting great wholesale results over the holidays.

Want access to that episode? All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by August 1st will get the episode. So if you’ve been waiting to sign up for Wholesale In a Box, now is a great time! 

The holidays are an intense time for makers. There is a lot of pressure to make sales while the making is good. But the outreach for those sales is best done during the summer, when many makers are juggling vacations, kids, and constant craft markets. Plus, many makers fear getting more orders than they can handle. While every maker is different, it can be helpful to get answers to burning questions that feel like obstacles. 

So today, we’re rounding up some of the most common questions and concerns makers have about wholesale around the holidays. We’re digging into how to approach holiday wholesale as a newbie, how to cultivate orders with current stockists if you’re an old pro, and some simple tips to get orders in the door without a bunch of extra work. As always, though, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. So be sure to “sense check” these answers against what you know to be right for you and your business. 

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Q. I’m brand-new to wholesale and this is my first holiday season. What should I do to get ready?

If you’re newer to wholesale, you want to focus on building your wholesale foundation for the long term. And the good news is -- the things that you will want to do to build wholesale long-term are the same things you will want to do to cultivate holiday sales now, for the most part. That means developing great outreach materials, making sure you have a system for connecting with stores, getting great photos, and (of course) creating products that you can really stand behind. 

Usually, new makers focus too much on making new things; they start outreach way too late; and they don’t give their outreach materials enough careful consideration. So be on the lookout for those tendencies and try to lean the opposite way, if you can.

One other caveat here. If you’re brand new, don’t worry too much about being overwhelmed by a million sales. For the most part, it takes time to get traction and your main challenge (to be blunt) will be getting sales in the door at all. Focus on connecting with stores as much, and as effectively, as you can, rather than trying to get just the perfect amount of sales made. 

Q. I’m getting serious about wholesale this year. What do you recommend for giving myself the best possible chance of success?

First, start early. It’s not really possible to do outreach too early because generally, a store owner will ask you to circle back if the timing is wrong but they love the line. It is possible to do outreach too late, though -- so make the summer your holiday outreach season. Second, focus on relationships. Yes, you want to make sales now. And that’s a good thing. But don’t forget that you’re in this for the long haul. And it matters more that you grow dramatically over 2-3 years, than it does that you grow by a chunk in the next 2-3 months. Next: make your outreach materials as good as they can be. They don’t need to be perfect, but small changes, that aren’t that time-consuming to make, can have a big impact on how your line is perceived. Finally: create a system to connect with stores. If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, you already have a great system for doing outreach to stores set up for yourself. Think about whether you need to really etch out some solid time each week to send the emails and do followups, though -- and commit to keeping that schedule every week, especially for the next few months. 

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Q. What is the exact right time to do wholesale outreach for the holidays?

Stores tend to plan their buying several months in advance, so generally, they're buying for Christmas in August. But the exact way stores break down their buying seasons varies store to store and year to year. Some stores buy for the holidays well into November, especially in terms of filling gaps on the shelves. Others completely close out their holiday buying by early September. 

Makers often ask me about the ideal time to reach out to stores for the holidays, and my answer is: earlier than you think. Different stores wrap up their ordering at different times. But no matter the store, you really can’t lose by being a little too early.  July and August is a great time to start but most people delay their holiday wholesale outreach until it’s close to too late. My observation is that it’s actually fear that causes us to delay marketing and sales until the last possible minute. Because at the last possible minute, the fear that you’ve completely missed the boat starts to outweigh the fear of sharing your work. But if you can manage your own discomfort, your “return on investment” of marketing and sales work you do early will be SO much more than marketing and sales work you do at the last minute. So start early, plan what you intend to do to grow over the holidays, and take it one step at a time.

I also really encourage you to not obsess too much about the exact right timing. Even if a store isn't able to place an immediate order (but is interested), outreach always starts the conversation and builds the relationship for when they are ready to buy. Overall, the main thing is consistently reaching out to shops that are a good fit, over the long term. 

Q. I have some special holiday items in my line. Should I add a holiday themed page to my linesheet or send retailers two documents (my linesheet AND a 1-page, holiday-themed, mini linesheet)? 

A. Either approach could work well. Generally, I lean towards having one single attachment in each email -- and probably that’s best here too. Busy store owners will often only open one document, so you want to make sure that all of the information you want to share is in one place. That said, if you think your holiday line is SUPER strong and you really want that to be the main thing folks are ordering this season, you could separate it to make it even more obvious and compelling. For most makers, though, you’ll want them in the same line sheet. 


Q. I'm considering offering an incentive to retailers to place their holiday orders before a certain date. Is this a good or bad idea, what would good incentives be, and what would be optimal timing?

While not a necessity, the idea of offering retailers an incentive like this can be a great thing to do, if you have the margins to support it easily. Plus, with holiday sales increasing the stakes, an early-order incentive can help avoid a situation where a retailer loves your line, but waits to order and then ends up ordering something else because it comes along and catches their eye. 

In terms of what to offer, and how to structure it, I’d keep it fairly simple. Free shipping could be fantastic, as could a simple percentage discount. Since so many retailers do their holiday buying on the early side, you might want to make the deadline somewhere between late August and late September (but certainly not any later than that).

Q. Should I create holiday-specific items?

It depends on the maker. Most makers probably shouldn’t create holiday-specific items because of all the time it takes to do the product development, photography, line sheet creation, etc. Instead, they should focus on doing holiday-related framing, promotion, and outreach for the line they already have. Some lines, of course, are really holiday driven -- like paper lines. If that’s the case, then you’ll of course need items for all of the major holidays. But if you’re a newer maker, and your line is something that’s not, by necessity, holiday-related (for instance, a jewelry line), I’d stay away from creating new pieces. See it as an “extra” that you can add when it feels doable, not a core component of your wholesale strategy.


Q. Should I do a mass email to all my stockists to check in and give them updates on the line?

A mass email to your stockists is certainly better than not contacting them at all -- so if those are your alternatives, yes, send that mass email. That said, your relationships with your current stockists are some of the most valuable business relationships you have. So treat them as such. Consider setting aside a morning or even a full day just to do pre-holiday personal emails to all of the stores you currently sell to -- sometime in late summer. Make these emails personal, concise, and warm. Reference something that you know the store is doing or working on (perhaps something they’ve mentioned on Instagram). And catch them up on any products that they might be particularly excited about for the store this season. Be sure to attach (or link to) your line sheet or catalog and make your ordering process clear.



Q. How much should I focus on current stockists vs. new stores?

If you’re growing wholesale, it’s tempting to focus entirely on getting new orders from stores. But one of the most important things you can do is cultivate your relationships with your current stockists. In other words: love the one(s) you’re with. How to cultivate reorders during the holidays? So many store owners tell me that they don’t have a super-precise system for deciding what to reorder. So a big part of your focus should be making your line visible to the stockist and being of service to the stockist. That way you’re top-of-mind when the store owner is making their list of items to buy. The way I’d recommend doing this is “rounding up” a list of your current stockists. In the Wholesale In a Box system, you can do this easily just by filtering for Stockists. I’d recommend reviewing one by one, reflecting on who might benefit from a check-in and what they’d be interested in hearing about (whether an update or a new product). Then, schedule a task for each store that you think would be good to check in with. Again, that’s easy to do in Wholesale In a Box by clicking Add a Task -- but you can certainly do it on your own, with just a bit more leg work. Either way, the idea here is: 1) reflect on who will benefit from a check-in and 2) plan out and schedule all the check-in tasks at once rather than getting distracted and doing them one-by-one.

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Q. I’m pretty seasoned with wholesale but would like to really supercharge my wholesale game this year. Any suggestions for me?


While every maker is different I do believe there are some DOs and DON’Ts that apply for most makers. So consider these if you’re wanting to grow wholesale for your business this holiday season:


DO start outreach earlier than you think.

DON’T worry too much about nailing the exact right timing for outreach.

DO use the summer to refine your outreach materials, add individual items to your line, and get into the groove with outreach.

DON’T focus solely on making sales to new stores. Cultivating relationships and reorders with current stockists is equally or more important.

DO reach out to current stockists individually, personally, and in a way that’s relevant to them if you can possibly find the time.

DON’T take an “all or nothing” approach with improvements to your outreach to stores. Sometimes small refinements -- like new photos, better wording in your emails, or tweaks to your packaging--  can have big results. 

DO think about the “shelf appeal” of your line, including packaging, branding, store displays, signage (and also photography, which is the proof point of all of those.) 

Finally, don’t forget that you are likely the best expert on your own business. If you have several holiday seasons under your belt already, then use that experience as your guide. Claim the knowledge you have by spending 20 minutes jotting down the answers to these questions: What went well for me last holiday season? What did I wish went better last holiday season? If I were looking at my business from the outside, what would I recommend doing? What are a few things I can do differently this year to build on what worked, do less of what didn’t, and get better results? This will let you act in very concrete ways on what you’ve already learned -- and improve substantially from whatever your results were last year. 

As a maker, it’s easy to feel “behind the 8-ball” since Christmas starts, very literally, in July. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Choose a handful of strategies to try this year and trust that even small steps forward will, over time, get you where you’re trying to go. 


Want more support in growing wholesale this year? Wholesale In a Box helps makers get their handmade products into more stores. Plus, this post is part of our August theme at Wholesale In a Box: Holiday Wholesale. We delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we write about it here on the blog, and we cover it on our Secret Podcast. All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by August 1 will get Episode #2 of our Secret Podcast, with Jonnie Estes of Grey Theory Mill. Jonnie is so insightful and shares her biggest tips for growing wholesale around the holidays. So if you need some guidance, training, or a secret weapon for growing wholesale this year, we’re here for it.


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How to Avoid Becoming a Faire Maker Horror Story

This post was part of a 2-part series. So for more on Faire, click over to our other article here.

It’s been fascinating watching the impact of Faire over the last couple of years. At first, especially when Faire overlapped with Etsy Wholesale, most makers were skeptical or ambivalent about Faire. Recently, however, Faire has stepped up their recruiting efforts and many makers are either on Faire, considering it, or are actively against it. In other words -- Faire has become a part of the maker community.

Also: I’ve been hearing some unsettling things about Faire that I do want to share with you.

I have been hesitating to write this post because I didn’t want to seem like a Faire Hater. I don’t see them as our competitor, honestly -- but I know there could be a perception of that and I didn’t want to seem like we were speaking negatively about another company for our own benefit.

That said, my concerns have started piling up, so I want to share them in case doing so will save makers heartache or challenges. As always, I fully trust that each of you knows what is best for your business. So I’ll leave the decision of whether and how to engage with Faire to you. But in addition to the more general exploration of Faire that we did the other day, I want to dig into a handful of specific caveats to keep in mind if Faire is something you’re pursuing.

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3 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Faire Maker Horror Story:

1. Don’t let them steal stockists from you.
A maker of ours, who is well-established, has a beautiful product line, fantastic branding, and a thoughtful (and drama-free!) approach to business came to me and said:

“I’m on their platform but was very unhappy with a discovery I made in February of this year. They were suggesting other jewelers with 50% of my order minimum requirement on my profile page -- in between my products and my “about me” section.

It was such a blow to me because I asked them before being on their platform if they were going to advertise other jewelers, because that was my main concern, referring buyers to my profile on their platform and then having them get distracted with another jewelry brand. And that’s exactly what happened. We saw our wholesale sales go down after we started referring people to Faire.”

I believe Faire is being intentionally confusing about recommending similar products from other makers. From their perspective, as long as shops place orders, Faire makes money. And if store owners are able to find a “similar product” for cheaper or for a lower minimum, they might jump over to that other product, either intentionally or inadvertently. That’s fine for Faire, as it means stores order more reliably. But it’s not great for makers, of course -- it means a stockist relationship you may have been cultivating for years could suddenly vanish.

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My tips to avoid having stockists stolen from you:

  • Be cautious of the Faire algorithm.
    Faire’s reality as a Venture Capital funded company means they are under a lot of pressure to grow, and grow quickly. So they will continue evolving how they “serve up” products for stores to purchase until it is optimized for total sales via Faire. That may not mean helping people reorder from you. So keep an eye on your Faire page/store, especially watching what store owners see --and make sure that you’re comfortable with how your line is being presented.

  • Beware the Faire Falloff.
    You may see a burst in new stockists when you start on Faire. But watch those stores’ reorders. Unless they are reordering, it’s very possible that Faire’s algorithm is rewarding new makers with orders… but ultimately routing reorders to makers with cheaper products and lower minimums. Many makers are seeing The Faire Falloff -- growth in stockists, followed by an overall drop in wholesale sales and reorders. How to combat this? Look at your reorder rate (percentage of shops that order from you 2 or 3+ times.) Is it getting better with Faire or worse? If it’s getting worse, think long and hard about whether Faire is helping you grow your business over the long term or whether it’s just giving you a quick hit of sales.

2. Don’t count on unsustainable perks.
It’s a law of nature and business that if something seems unsustainable, it won’t continue. Companies with VC funding are legally obligated to use strategies that maximize profits for their investors. And one key strategy of Venture Capital funded companies is to do things that lose money now in order to gain customers. Once you get those customers in the door, you fix what’s called the “unit economics” -- in other words, you take away anything that isn’t making you money. In the case of Faire, I think there are a few things that are fundamentally unsustainable and won’t last forever.

The unsustainable things Faire is doing that likely won’t last:

  • Lot’s of “breathing room” for makers.
    The reason that many makers are seeing rapid gains in orders from using Faire is that currently, there is not maker saturation in many product categories. Right now, Faire is carefully managing the number and type of makers they accept into the platform -- which means that if you get in, you often get a hit of orders. But this won’t last forever. To maximize profits, Faire will need to push maker saturation up until their profits are as high as they can be. That means that makers who are seeing tons of orders now will see that drop as equilibrium/saturation is reached in the marketplace.

  • First order perks and free returns.
    Two tools that Faire is using to get folks engaged in the marketplace are $200 of free product on first orders (in some cases) and free returns. This is a great example of a program that loses money now, to gain customers, and will eventually be rolled back. Am I positive that’s the case? No. But if I were a Faire maker, I wouldn’t depend on those perks as part of my model or plan or calculations. They’re just too likely to disappear without much notice.

Honestly, you should take advantage of things that are good for your business, even if they won’t last forever -- you just shouldn’t depend on them. So take advantage of free returns and new orders and first-order perks. But don’t count on them lasting or build them into your wholesale numbers.

3. Make connecting your job.
Many makers wish they could just make their art and that someone else could handle X [business, finances, sales, stockist relationships.] Faire is tantalizing because it almost feels like that’s what happened -- they swooped in and are “handling” wholesale for you.

But to be blunt: Faire is not handling wholesale for you. Faire is a wholesale tool that you can use within your overall wholesale strategy. Wholesale is still your job. And you simply won’t grow your wholesale business over time unless you cultivate real, positive, present relationships with the store owners who buy from you. We’ve helped 600+ makers grow their wholesale business. And those that thrive are those that see relationships as part of their art -- not a distraction from it. The others? Those that, for instance, thought Etsy Wholesale was “handling” wholesale for them before they abruptly closed? Many of them aren’t in business anymore.

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Make sure you’re connecting with stockists outside of Faire, and that you have a system to do just that. If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, you can use the Wholesale In a Box app and system to cultivate relationships with stockists -- even if they come from Faire. Just shoot us a note with your new stockists; we’ll set them up in your app and you can keep in touch with folks in your way, on your schedule. If you’re not a Wholesale In a Box maker, be sure to build your own structure to cultivate relationships with stockists -- and stay on top of it.

Long story short? Prioritize relationships.


Yes, Faire can be a powerful tool as it stands today. Use Faire if it is helping you create more and better relationships with shops. And drop it or change how you use Faire if it is hurting your relationships with shops.

We realize every business will have their own experiences with this service. So we’d love to hear your thoughts on Faire, if you’d like to share.Part of Wholesale in a Box maker membership includes unlimited coaching, we’re always available to help you work through the pros and cons of utilizing business tools like Faire. If you’re not a Wholesale in a Box maker, feel free to get in touch to learn what it’s like working with us!


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Considering a Store Display For Your Line? 3 Principles to Keep In Mind

This blog post is part of a new project to support you in growing wholesale. In addition to the other things that Wholesale In a Box makers get from us every month, we’re trying something new -- Wholesale In a Box will have a monthly theme we’ll focus on across the company. For our first month, we’re starting with a topic that is really important for growing wholesale, but isn’t always the first thing that makers focus on: standing out on store shelves.

We’ll delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we’ll write about it here on the blog... and we’ll cover it on our brand new Secret Podcast! What is the Secret Podcast you say? It’s a podcast just for Wholesale In a Box Makers. In the very first episode, we spoke to Mary Claire White, owner of the Memphis boutique Falling Into Place. We dig into everything from store displays to starter packs.

Want access to that episode? All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by July 1 will get the episode. So if you’ve been waiting to sign up for Wholesale In a Box, now is a great time.



Having a great product is always Job One for a maker. The beauty, artistry, quality, and branding of the pieces you make are the foundation of everything that happens in a handmade business.

That said, if wholesale is your focus, your primary customer is the creative, hardworking store owner who buys from you. And that means that your job is to help them sell your work -- not simply to hand off your line and hope for the best.

This month at Wholesale In a Box, we’re focusing on the topic of how to help your line to stand out on -- and fly off -- store shelves. There are multiple components of doing that successfully: branding, packaging, and pricing among them. But one interesting -- and lesser used -- tool you can use is that of store displays.

We dig more into the hows and whys of store displays, signage, and starter packs in the Wholesale In a Box Secret Podcast (available to Wholesale In a Box makers starting July 1.) But in this article, I want to look at a few displays that work well and call out three principles that you can use for your own store display, if that’s something that makes sense for your business.

3 principles to use in creating a store display for your handmade line:



1. Keep the display simple, above all.

I love this display from Humboldt House in Chicago, IL. It’s beautiful but it’s also very simple, which helps highlight the bold jewelry in contrast. While this particular display is likely one that Humboldt House created in-house, it is a format that could work well for a jewelry maker to provide to a shop owner, especially in combination with a small sign to accompany it.

What’s working here:

  • The look of the display complements, but doesn’t overshadow, the aesthetic of the jewelry.

  • It is versatile and can be combined with other merchandising elements by the store owner.

  • It’s affordable to make, as the structure itself is fairly simple.

2. Use resources you already have and match the display’s aesthetic to your line

Linda at Rustica Jewelry creates these displays for her line (and actually sells them to other makers.) She partners with her husband to create the displays, since he’s a woodworker.

What’s working here:

  • The aesthetic of these displays is rustic, and simultaneously muted and colorful. That matches Linda’s aesthetic perfectly and works well for the stores that buy from her.

  • The displays have a small footprint and rotate to showcase more pieces from her line.

  • She’s found a way to produce these easily and economically, by using resources she already has. While not everyone has a woodworker husband they can ask to make displays, everyone does have resources on hand (whether materials, skills, or collaborators) that they can leverage.

  • They incorporate a bit of branding in an unobtrusive way.

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3. Consider adapting displays you already have

Quiet Cricket has a beautiful line of candles and apothecary items. While she’s going strong with wholesale, Hannah from Quiet Cricket actually got her start at craft markets. Because of that, she has a lovely display that she uses at markets -- but would translate very well to wholesale. While she hasn’t yet, she could consider adapting this display to be used in-store by shop owners.

What works here:

  • The display has multiple tiers to showcase multiple products from the line.

  • The aesthetic aligns perfectly with Quiet Cricket’s sweet, minimal, dreamy brand.

  • Its relatively small size would make it easy and affordable to ship and helps with any footprint or shelf space concerns that store owners might have.


All in all, using store displays and signage in your wholesale strategy can help set you apart from other makers and help stores sell your work. When thinking about them in the big picture of your overall business strategy, remember to keep them well designed (matching the aesthetic of your brand), simple, cost effective, and with as small a footprint as possible.


These tips just skim the surface of our Secret Podcast Episode 1 with Mary Claire White of Falling Into Place. We talk signage, store displays, starter packs, how to decide if these elements are right for your business -- and if so, how to pursue them simply and well. Want access to that episode? All Wholesale In a Box makers who are with us by July 1 will get the episode. So if you’ve been waiting to sign up for Wholesale In a Box, now is a great time -- make sure you’re signed up for our mailing list to get our updates.


Grow Your Wholesale

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

Don’t Hire Someone to Be Your Best Friend (And 6 Other Hiring Tips)

First of all, I hear you. HIRING IS HARD. It’s hard to manage people. It costs money. It takes a huge amount of time to find, vet and train people. You don’t have a big enough studio. You’re an introvert. You have just a small amount of work available. You live in a tiny town. You’re an artist, not a manager. You tried that last year and it didn’t work out.

But no matter how hard you work, or how Beyonce-like you may be, there are still only 24 hours in a day. So in order to build something more evolved than what you are currently doing, you need to involve other people.

If you don’t hire help, growth in your art and business will come at the expense of your relationships, health, or happiness. And I honestly believe that most makers should be hiring help -- but that it likely won’t take the traditional form of a full-time (or even part-time) studio assistant.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with all you have to juggle as a maker, business owner, artist, and human being, read on.

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7 things I’ve learned about hiring help (even as a tiny handmade business):


1. Make a list of your Jobs To Be Done

The biggest mistake people tend to make when hiring is that they think in terms of job titles, for instance: “I need to hire a studio assistant.” The problem with this is that the job titles you’ve heard of may not meet your needs in terms of your budget or what you actually need done in your business. So I recommend thinking in terms of Jobs To Be Done (JTBD), instead.

How to begin? Make a list of all of the things that need to get done to maintain or grow your business and that YOU don’t HAVE to be the one to do. Prioritize them -- the highest priority tasks to outsource are those that will move the needle on your income and are those that you are least good at or enjoy doing least. Once you have your set of high priority projects, begin to envision the traits of the future project do-er. This starts to become your job posting. We spoke with Katie, of Katie Dean Jewelry, at the beginning of this year for our Mentor Intensive. Here’s what she said about when she knew it was time to hire:

I had gotten to the point where I was so exhausted that I would have conversations with people and then wouldn’t be able to remember what had been said. Ultimately, I knew I had to make a shift for my well-being and that it wasn’t selling out. It was very gradual, though. I think the best way to do hiring is to do everything yourself until there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do what you need to do, or the volume of product is more than you can produce. At that point, you hire someone on.

2. Find the money.

I always laugh when people recommend finding the money for hiring by “cutting out that latte habit” and using that money to bring on help for your business. Most small business owners wish they had enough money to have a latte habit in the first place. So I won’t tell you to find your hiring money by trimming luxuries you never had.

But -- many of us are wasting money or leaving money on the table by under-hiring because we have a scarcity-based impulse. So I will tell you to take a hard look at your finances and identify any money you can spare. You need less money than you assume to hire. And you probably have more money available to you than you think. In a recent interview, Aftyn from Rise and Wander says that although she and her husband have a tight budget, they sit down at the end of every year, look at all of their spending, and figure out what they could downsize, change, or cut out to make room to hire more help.

If you don’t hire help, growth in your art and business will come at the expense of your relationships, health, or happiness..png

3. Hire for the right number of hours.

Many people assume that you can only hire people for 20-40 hours per week. But the truth is that you can hire people for a day per year in the busy season… or a weekend per month… or 5 hours per week… or any other structure in between. It can be consistent or it can be seasonal. So consider your list of Jobs To Be Done and consider the amount of money you can possibly round up to spend on the new hire. The number of hours you hire for should come from your JTBD and budget -- not the other way around. Jennie of Jenny Lemons shop and brand explained a bit of her thought process when it comes to hiring during our Mentor Intensive:

I have an assistant who helps me 1-2 days per week who helps me and who is also a small business owner who is getting started. I’m also looking into hiring an actual employee. And I’m really committed to working with artists and small biz owners.

In terms of how much to pay, it depends on the job and also on minimum wage. I wish I could pay what Google pays people. But minimum wage in San Francisco is $14, which is really high, so I start people at $15 because I don’t want to be minimum wage but it’s also what I can afford and what I think is fair.

4. Don’t hire someone to be your best friend.

The personal relationships I have with my team are some of the most satisfying, positive relationships I have. It’s such a beautiful thing when we connect deeply and personally with the people we work with. That said, I didn’t hire my team to be my friends -- I hired them to fill functional roles on the team. I recently heard Whitney Johnson put it like this:

When we’re hiring people, we’ve got functional roles we need to fill on our team. But one of the pitfalls for people is we’re not clear on the emotional jobs we’re hiring for. And I think we have to be really, really reflective because it sometimes shows the underbelly of who we are. Sometimes we hire someone because we want them to take care of us… or hiring someone because we want someone to talk to… or to have them somehow take care of the business.

Hire people who are good for your business and hire them to do jobs that need to be done. Don’t hire as a salve your own emotions, to bring a “cool factor” to your business, or to give you a pass as a business owner.

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5. Find the people.

When we first started hiring, I only shared my job posting through our social media, email list, and personal networks. And it always seemed like an uphill battle to find enough great candidates fast enough. Since then, I’ve found that paying to post jobs can be very much worth the money, even though it’s a tough pill to swallow. When you’re making your budget, plan on spending some money on finding and training your new hire -- rather than assuming those costs will be zero. Depending on the type of work you’re hiring for, consider Handshake, Upwork, FreeeUp, Working Nomads, local universities, local job boards, or other for-pay places. It doesn’t matter as much which board you choose -- the important thing is to treat it like a real hiring process, not just a matter of hiring someone you know.

6. Start with a trial project.

This is a bit of detail, but it’s a detail that I’ve found powerful. It’s hard to get to know someone in the course of the hiring process. And every job has its own quirks. So I recommend starting every new hire with a small trial project so you can see in action whether there is a fit between the person you hired and the job they’ll be doing. Pick something representative of what the job entails, but that doesn’t require a ton of training -- and make sure they can complete it in less than a week. At the end of the trial project, step back and assess whether they did a fantastic job on the work itself, as well as demonstrated the values and character traits that you want to see in the hire.

7. Be clear.

The biggest mistake I see inexperienced leaders, hirers, and managers make is that they are unclear. They’re unclear about the good, bad, and ugly of their job when they’re hiring. They’re unclear in the training process. And they’re unclear with criticism and praise. My teammate Simone says, “overcommunication is good communication.” So overcommunicate in your job posting about what the job is really like. Overcommunicate in your training and management. Overcommunicate about feedback and concerns… as well as about praise and gratitude and what’s going right. And as Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

Overcommunication


A hiring case study…

I spoke with Jonnie from Grey Theory Mill about her recent hiring experiences and she had some wonderful wisdom to share. She is based in San Diego and is a beautiful force in the maker community. Her line is a spirited blend of cheek and class, and Jonnie had some great thoughts on the mountain tops and valleys of hiring:

Finding “Goldilocks”

Cliche, but it really is about finding the right person. I had hired 3 people before landing my "dream girl", and they were good, but--to quote Goldilocks--they weren't 'just right'. I had known most of last year I needed to hire help, but it really set in during my August tradeshow when I noticed a fellow maker had a friend she flew in to help her with the show. My thought was, "who would I fly in to help me sell my brand here?" I don't have an extensive list of friends who aren't already makers, and many of my friends are neck deep in raising kids, OR pursuing careers, OR wouldn't be a good fit, but one friend did come to mind.

Navigating business and friendship

When I got back into town I asked this friend if she would ever be interested in helping me with shows. Her whole face lit up and she enthusiastically agreed. Later she approached me and shyly told me she's always been interested in learning about jewelry, loves to make things, and asked me if I would consider teaching her how to make the jewelry--as an intern. I was so excited that I immediately said yes. I hadn't asked her if she wanted to do anything else because she has a career, I just didn't know at the time she was wanting a change.

Jonnie and Monica of Grey Theory Mill

Jonnie and Monica of Grey Theory Mill

I had been saying I didn't want to hire a friend, but I guess there was a loophole if that friend was, "just right." It also helped that this friend is one of the most considerate humans I know and literally said, "if I am not good at this or not a good fit, your success is important to me and I want our friendship to be unaffected by this." Without knowing it, I had hit the jackpot.

Diving in as a team

I hired her in September and we started with small things and had fun. By the time we hit December, she knew how to make all the dangly earrings and a good deal of the necklaces. The icing on the cake was, I didn't have to train her at all on shows. She's inherently amazing at representing and selling.

Training is tedious work (and something that made me dread hiring someone because it would slow production down), but I knew looking at the long road ahead, there would be four capable hands instead of two very tired and distracted ones.

Breathing and evolving

Hiring her gave me the breathing room my subconscious knew I needed, but my pride was hiding. I'm beyond grateful and so excited to have her on my team.

Now we're in the second quarter and I have trained her to do email marketing. She caught on quickly and I now consider her better at it than myself!


Jonnie’s tips on hiring:

  • Say exactly what you want out loud OR write it out. I firmly believe in the answers/things/people you need showing up when you get the thought out of your head and into the world.

  • Hiring friends can be amazing or a total shit show. You should be able to tell or know if a working relationship added to a friendship might cause damage.

  • Start delegating and training them on the tasks you hate. Telling them you hate said tasks is optional. I told mine after she said she LOVED doing X + Y! My response was, "AWESOME! That's my least favorite!!"

  • Set goals and reasonable expectations based on their experience. For a lot of my jewelry, I can make a piece in X amount of minutes. I share that with her so she knows that that is where she should be reaching.

  • Tell them when they make you proud!!! Tell them when the mess up, but don't get mad! You've been doing this for YEARS. They are learning a whole new trade.

  • Spoil them. Seriously, if they are your "IT" person, your "just right" person, spoil them. Even if it's small spoils like their favorite coffee, small gift card, lunch, etc. Be a boss they want to work with and for, be a cool job. My employee basically gets any free jewelry she wants, she gets treated to the restaurant of her choice after shows, I went BIG on her Christmas presents, I round up on hours, etc.”


Hiring is an intimidating process. Building a job description takes time, training is tiring, and there are other challenges to overcome. But here’s the reality of it: creating a team of people who are excited about your business and mission will not only energize you, it will empower you to bigger, more beautiful aspects of your art and business.

So embrace honesty and ask yourself what you need. Look truthfully at your finances in order to leverage your business’s fullest potential. Start small and incorporate sample projects as a part of your hiring process. Above all, clearly articulate what and who you need to launch your business into a better place.

As Jonnie reminded us, it may take a few tries to find your “Goldilocks” team. But be patient with yourself and embrace flexibility in this new adventure. When you find those great teammates, your art, business, and relationships will be all the better for it.


Grow Your Wholesale

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Maker Tips + Reviews Of Faire -- Plus Our Two Cents on Using It to Grow Wholesale

This post was part of a 2-part series. So for more on Faire, click over to our other article here.

I’ll be honest. When I first heard about Faire in early 2018, I was very skeptical.

My concerns were partly rational and partly emotional. Marketplaces are double-edged swords for makers -- they can be helpful, but the relationships that makers work so hard to build are assets of the marketplace, not of the makers. Which is a big problem when those marketplaces pivot or close. Plus, the founder of Faire is very… tech-y and Silicon Valley-y. And I was worried about whether he would really make the hard choices to put makers first.

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Since then, we’ve learned a lot about Faire -- especially how it really works for most makers, and how makers can use Faire without getting burned. I still have many of the same bigger picture concerns as before. But the reality is that Faire is becoming a more significant option and tool for many makers, and we want to make sure we’re supporting our makers in using that tool effectively and wisely.

Our first stop in putting together this article was to ask makers we respect for their honest review of Faire, as well as their recommendations and tips for other makers. Today we’re sharing those reviews and tips, details on how Faire works for handmade lines, pros and cons, what makers should consider when deciding whether to use Faire, and how Faire and Wholesale In a Box can work together.


What is Faire and how does it work?


Faire is an online wholesale marketplace connecting product companies and stores. It was established in 2017 under the name Indigo Fair -- since changed to Faire because of a trademark issue -- and has been growing steadily since. It’s based in San Francisco, founded by a Square and Square Cash alum, and has raised a lot of venture capital since inception.

In terms of structure, it is similar to Etsy Wholesale. Makers apply to have a store on Faire, where their products are then uploaded, and stores are able to search and shop all of those products.


How does it work for makers?

  • You must first apply and be approved to become a maker on the platform.

  • Once you’ve been approved you’ll need to create your shop page, but Faire does offer to set that up for you if you give them access to your product information and images.

  • It doesn’t cost anything for the maker to join, but Faire takes a percentage from orders placed on the site. First time store orders have a steep 25% commission, while all reorders have a 15% commission. In addition, there is a 3% credit card fee on all orders.

  • Generally, makers need to message stores through Faire and don’t have access to store information directly.

  • Faire guides makers to conform to some guidelines, including a very low wholesale minimum and a specific wholesale markup.

  • One way a maker can avoid paying commission on orders is to direct stores to their shop page with a personal link. This is called the Elevate Program and is used for current stockists that have not placed an order with the maker through Faire. It’s an incentive program to get more stores ordering through the platform.



How is Faire different from Wholesale In a Box?


While both Wholesale In a Box and Faire are tools makers can use to grow their wholesale business, there are a few things that make the two tools very different.

Most concretely, Wholesale In a Box is a tool that helps makers take wholesale outreach into their own hands. Faire is a wholesale marketplace. That means that Wholesale In a Box is a more active approach -- that doesn’t work unless you work the system -- while Faire is more passive, and may land you orders without any effort on your part. It also means that with Wholesale In a Box, all of the relationships with stores are between you and the store, whereas with Faire, those relationships are owned and mediated by the platform.

Wholesale In a Box is more like your business website -- it’s a tool that may take a little more work on your part but ultimately it is all in your hands, with just a monthly fee, no commission, and the relationships being yours for the long term of the business. You can think of Wholesale In a Box as your store scout and wholesale coach. We dig deep into each maker’s goals and preferences and then we go to work each month, hand-picking a set of perfect-fit stores to contact. We load those store leads into a super-simple but super-powerful app you use to organize your outreach and relationships with those stores -- all of those outreach tasks are set up for you to make the absolute most of your time. Plus, makers have access to us for unlimited wholesale coaching by phone and email, which is why many makers say that Wholesale In a Box made them “go pro” with their business, improving everything from their operations to their line sheet to their marketing.

Finally -- and this is me being biased, but still -- I will say that I believe there is a different motivation and guiding ethos between Faire and Wholesale In a Box. Faire is a large company funded by venture capital, whereas Wholesale In a Box is a small family company. In fact, Wholesale In a Box wasn’t something we came up with as a business idea -- it grew out of hundreds of interviews and studio visits with makers, working to help them grow. We’ve never taken a cent of venture capital, so every decision we make is guided by one question: will this help makers do the work they love in a sustainable way?



What do makers say about Faire?


We reached out to several makers who have strong wholesale businesses and a lot of experience with Faire. They were both generous and honest in sharing their thoughts on Faire, in terms of its impact on their business and what they would recommend to other makers.


Dani from Dani Barbe

Many of the stores were ordering in December, some a week before Christmas, so it was definitely a different wholesale experience than I'm accustomed to. Usually I'm wrapping up wholesale orders with established stores in the fall. I liked that it didn't require much effort on my part, and was another tool to get wholesale orders.

Dani at work in her studio. Via  @danibarbe

Dani at work in her studio. Via @danibarbe

Theresa from Boss Dotty Paper

I think there are a lot of pros to working with Faire, but I'd say the biggest one is the exposure to lots of different buyers — and types of buyers — than you might come across otherwise. I've received lots of orders from shops I never would have considered pitching to on my own.

Bill from West Park Creative

I don't mind Faire’s commission fees (25% on new orders and 15% on reorders) because I'm not spending money on advertising.

Bill in his studio. Via  @westparkcreativestl

Bill in his studio. Via @westparkcreativestl

M in Tennessee

I've gotten a lot of new retailers through Faire, which is amazing, but they take 25% of my sales, which is high when my prices have already been cut in half. So far, I've been seeing Faire as a positive tool, but part of me also feels helpless because I don't have a robust enough retailer base to not use it. Faire requires no outreach or effort after you upload your catalog. Orders come in. you have little contact with the retailer or buyer, and your responsibility is solely to fulfill the order. There is no harm in signing up for Faire and see if it works for you -- are retailers finding you? Do you get consistent orders? For many, it will be worth it. For others, it won't be worth the percentage they are losing to Faire, especially if they have a decent amount of retailers who are ordering from them consistently. For many others, like me, it will be more of a balance -- does Faire supplement my wholesale income enough for me to continue using them?

Robyn from Pearl and Ivy Studio

It’s relatively easy for a new maker to set up. I find it to be easier than Etsy and I’m in front of a lot more prospective retailers than I could be by just reaching out to shops on my own. Also, Faire seems to be promoting the marketplace a lot at the moment, so I’ve noticed more traffic on my page. Faire’s commission percentage is kind of high, 25% on new orders and 15% on reorders. Also, I’m concerned about building a business on a platform that isn’t my own.

Robyn in some of her beautiful pieces. Via  @pearlandivy_studio

Robyn in some of her beautiful pieces. Via @pearlandivy_studio



Stacey from Mineral and Matter

Most orders are small or only meet my minimum (I do have a lot that are larger though or reorder regularly.) The 25% first time order commission is high, but I feel it's offset by the ease of acquiring the new customer and the marketing that Faire is doing as well as offering services I can't offer (returns, terms.) The categories seem to be filling up quickly, but I'm sure new ways will be implemented that allow active sellers to get more visibility.





Pros and Cons of Faire for Handmade lines



Pros of using Faire:

  • Easy to use and easy to set up

  • Great opportunity for makers to get their brand in front of shops, especially those that they might not have considered for their line

  • Makers can gain stockists that they may have not reached out to on their own

  • They’re a large, venture capital funded company, with a lot of resources to develop the platform


Cons of using Faire:

  • Commission rates are quite high and are charged on every wholesale order, for every store, for the lifetime of that store relationship

  • The store accounts you don’t “go with you” if Faire changes or closes

  • Not building personal connections with stores

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Things to consider when deciding whether to use Faire



If you’re deciding whether to try Faire to grow wholesale, especially as a handmade line, here are a few things to consider:

  • Dig into your numbers and make sure that Faire commissions will work for your business and products
    Faire can be a great way for makers to get exposure, but Theresa from Boss Dotty Paper Co reminds makers to make sure it works for the specifics of your business: “You definitely have to consider whether it works for you financially, and potentially adjust your pricing.” With the high commission rates, it is important to really dig into your pricing before you get started on the platform.

  • Consider Faire in the context of your overall business and wholesale strategy -- not as a “one stop shop” for wholesale
    It’s wise to view Faire as one wholesale tool among many, rather than as the entirety of your wholesale strategy. Stacey from Mineral and Matter suggests, “Don't put all your eggs in one wholesale basket, keep your own wholesale platform as well (flashbacks to Etsy Wholesale closing).”

  • Be strategic about how you use Faire
    Stacey also suggests setting up “guidelines for how/who you refer to your Faire platform and who you refer to your regular wholesale platform” rather than using Faire for all of your wholesale relationships.





How, Why, and Whether To Use Faire and Wholesale In A Box Together

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We also asked makers why use Wholesale In a Box and Faire and if they had any tips for using them together productively.

Here is what a few of them had to say:


Theresa from Boss Dotty Paper Co

To me, Faire and Wholesale in a Box are two very different companies, even though both aim to help you grow your wholesale program. Faire is a bit faster paced and has been higher volume for me, but Wholesale in a Box excels at helping you cultivate personal relationships with buyers. It's definitely possible to use both! I actually refer buyers to Faire in my Wholesale in a Box emails (via a custom link so I'm not charged commission).

Theresa with one of her rad cards. Via  @bossdotty

Theresa with one of her rad cards. Via @bossdotty

Dani from Dani Barbe

Faire is nice because once you upload your pieces onto the site, you can mostly sit back and wait for orders. I think it's a nice additional tool in your wholesale tool belt, but I'd never recommend solely relying on Faire. It's similar to makers, such as myself, who were on Etsy Wholesale. When that platform closed, many makers felt lost. I look at Faire as providing nice filler orders that come in, but I don't depend on it.

When I use Wholesale in a Box, I direct buyers to my line sheets / catalog and my wholesale portion of my website. I prefer this because I'm not dealing with a 15% - 28% commission on orders. I can offer a more robust wholesale catalog, interact with the buyers, solve any issues that may arise, and really develop those relationships and reorders. It is more legwork and I'd be unlikely to do this without Wholesale In a Box's system and help. The research component of finding these gorgeous stores, making sure I actually know about their store and the owners (we've all gotten those spammy emails where it's obvious the person doesn't know a thing about our business!), and staying organized takes time and effort. In my opinion it is worth it, especially with the Wholesale In a Box system.

Stacey from Mineral and Matter

I think I get different customers from different efforts. Some have responded to my outreach on Faire, but mostly it has brought me stores that I hadn't reached out to yet. WIAB continues to be successful for me and I send all of those leads to my own wholesale website. Leads that don't respond after a couple attempts I may send to Faire and have had some success getting a couple orders that way.

Shot of Stacey’s gorgeous studio and shop. Via  @mineralandmatter

Shot of Stacey’s gorgeous studio and shop. Via @mineralandmatter

M in Tennessee

Wholesale In a Box is about a community. It encourages you to network, explain who you are, and build relationships. I think it's possible for them to work together and supplement each other well. To me, connection is important, and Wholesale In a Box allows me to have connection to the stores I'd like to see my work in.

I have so much respect for the balanced, wise, grounded approach that these makers have when it comes to growing their businesses. And I hope that you find the right mix of tools to help you grow in just the way you want to, so you can do the work that you love now, and in the future.

Faire is a new tool, and it can be powerful. But ultimately, the relationships that create the foundation of your business are the main asset you have -- and it’s wise to cultivate those relationships in ways that are balanced and sustainable. That may mean using several wholesale platforms and tools simultaneously, and strategically.

Let us know if you have other questions about Faire or Wholesale In a Box! We’re happy to dig into your particular business goals and product line to help you explore the right strategy for you.


Grow Your Wholesale

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

Can’t Make Pricing Work For Wholesale? 5 Things to Try

Recently, I had coaching calls with two talented makers. Each maker has a beautiful and unique product line. But both had the same problem:

“I’m using a formula to calculate my wholesale and retail prices. But after I tally my costs, and add in the wholesale price, I feel like the retail price ends up too high.”

The common answer to this problem is something like: “Don’t doubt yourself! Just look at [fill in the name of super well-known brand charging a lot.] Your costs are what they are -- you need to make a profit.”

And while that might be easy to say, I believe that for many makers who are trying to grow their wholesale business, it’s not helpful advice. Independent store owners aren’t buying for pleasure. They’re creative, hardworking people facing very real challenges, like paying the rent on their shop. They need to purchase things at a price that they know will sell. Your line, in turn, has to meet that need.

So today I want to share a few things to consider if you feel like the retail price for your handmade line ends up too high, once you make “room” for both your costs and the wholesale price/margin.

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First, keep in mind these pricing basics:

  • You don’t have a business unless your price is higher than your costs.

  • You also don’t have a business if you’re not making sales.

  • Product matters more than price.
    Always, above all — quality and uniqueness are more important than price. So the development of your art, products, and vision will always matter more than your pricing decisions.

  • Pricing is an art, not a science.
    That means there is no “right” answer to whether your prices are set well. And your intuition about it may be your best guide.

  • The price on your website should never undercut store owners’ retail price.
    Most handmade lines should shoot for their retail price being 2x their wholesale price. This isn’t true for every line -- some lines really need to be at 2.2x or higher -- but it’s a good rule of thumb.

  • The route to making sales isn’t simply cutting your price.
    This isn’t a race to the bottom, in which the maker with the lowest price wins. But lines with pricing that doesn’t fit with their product, brand, or marketing will struggle.


Now, let’s look at what happens when you end up with a price that feels too high.

Many makers use this formula to arrive at their retail price:

Materials + Labor + Expenses + Profit = Wholesale Price

Wholesale Price x 2 = Retail Price

BIG caveat here -- this is certainly not the only way to arrive at a price. And in the coaching that I do with makers, we talk about many other approaches to setting prices for their wholesale line. Brand, product mix, market, competition, your long-term vision, and many other factors should all play a role. We discuss those in more detail in the book we wrote on launching products.

That said, I know that many makers use the costs-based formula above. And it’s a crucial calculation to do when deciding on a price, even if you’re taking other factors into account. So today I want to focus on the situation when you, as a maker, have arrived at a price that you think is correct in terms of your costs, but it feels too high to you in terms of your market.


5 options if your retail price feels too high, but your costs make it tough to lower:

  1. Keep the price high.

    Consider your price from the standpoint of stores you’ll sell to, your current customers, and your gut sense. Often, if you think your price is too high -- it is. That said, whether to keep the price where it is or try to lower it is a strategic decision, meaning that both routes could work. You could certainly keep your retail price higher and hustle on the storytelling and brand-building end of things to really "earn" that price. That means stellar product photos, incredible production story and photos, and a super-strong product. Plus, of course, know that your market may be a bit smaller and you may have to work harder for each store account.

  2. Take a hit on margin for now, while you build wholesale for later.

    Another option is to do what many makers do -- accept a lower margin while you're in these initial stages of growing wholesale. So drop your price a bit, even though it won’t leave room for profit in the way you’d ideally want. This often makes the most sense if you think your costs will come down with higher volumes. The plan would be to take a lower margin now, build your base of store accounts, and then as your costs come down with those higher volumes, your profit per piece will go up.

  3. Cut costs.

    Of course, if there are immediate ways to get costs down, that could help a lot, too. You may have thought of everything, but it’s something to really brainstorm about. Are there alternative ways of producing your product? Different materials you could use? Elements you’ve always included but may not actually be crucial? A different supplier?

  4. Sell only a chunk of your line wholesale.

    You can also consider limiting your wholesale line to just a sub-set of what you sell retail. Perhaps some of your products have higher margins than others? Then consider making those higher-margin products your wholesale products (and not increasing the retail price) and leave the rest of the line to be retail-only.

  5. Hold off on wholesale.

    I think it’s important to have “on the table” that wholesale isn’t right for every maker. Often, one of the above solutions will work beautifully and even a maker with high costs can thrive in a wholesale setting. But wholesale isn’t right for all makers -- and sometimes giving yourself permission to focus on the things that are already working for you is the right way forward.


Sometimes makers doubt themselves and underprice out of fear that their line isn’t good enough. (Don’t!) Other times, makers bury their heads in the sand and hope they’ll sell their product, even with a price they know is too high. (Don’t do that, either!) Only you can say for sure if you’re doing one or the other.

The key thing to remember is this: pricing can shift and evolve over time. It will remain an open question -- and it’s wise to use both careful calculations and your intuition in answering that question over time.


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7 Easeful Things to Do Now, for Wholesale Growth Next Year

Right now, many of you are receiving or shipping final orders before you start to hunker down for a well-deserved hibernation for a few weeks. And let me be the first to say: PRIORITIZE HIBERNATION. Sink into it with all the cookies and family and naps you couldn’t possibly make time for over recent months.

But once you’ve semi-recovered and you’re starting to think about next year, I wanted to share some small, simple things you can do or reflect on now to have the most powerful possible 2019.

7 Simple Things to Do Now, for Wholesale Growth Next Year

1. Reflect.
Take time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not in your business. This higher level analysis lets your brain slip out of today’s concerns and rest in a calmer observation of the whole picture. If you can take even 15 minutes to jot down successes, failures, and questions from 2018, it will give you a much stronger foundation for next year.

2. Build on bright spots
One outcome of the reflection process in #1 is that you’ll notice that 2018 was a mix of things that worked (bright spots) and things that didn’t. Once you have a sense of that, my suggestion is to build on bright spots. Don’t invest tens of thousands of dollars on ideas you’ve never experimented with… and don’t abandon channels that have already worked. Instead, try to identify small things that gone well -- and think of ways to move more in those directions. Did you get a few local wholesale accounts by pounding the pavement? Then investing in a few months of Wholesale In a Box could be wise. Or, let’s say you had an incredible response to a flash sale you did of a new kind of painting -- think of ways you might do more of those this year.

3. Set some darn goals.
In the last year, I’ve started setting a yearly goal, as well as creating a quarterly list of projects that I stick to, come hell or highwater. Each quarter, I reassess and choose the next list of projects. This structure has been really helpful for me, both in terms of outcomes and in terms of the peace I feel in carrying out a plan each quarter, rather than constantly second-guessing myself. You can use whatever structure you want, but consider setting some quarterly or yearly goals and sticking to them for the whole time.

4. Turn pro.
In the spring, I shared a blog post talking about the idea, and importance, of “turning pro” when it comes to your dreams and your business. It’s about identifying the ways you could add structure, seriousness, or intention to your work -- and taking action. As Steven Pressfield says:

“What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.”

Only you know what this might look like in your business -- hiring a photographer; staying on top of Quickbooks; getting a part-time helper; or planning your production schedule more carefully. You don’t have to do everything at once, but choosing even one thing can start a snowball.

5. Make it the default.
One of the biggest reasons makers find Wholesale In a Box so helpful is that we provide the handholding, accountability, and structure to make wholesale growth the default rather than the exception. Whatever your biggest business focus this year, find ways to put progress in that area “on autopilot.” For instance, if growing Instagram is a goal, don’t leave it up to daily inspiration -- schedule out your posts months in advance. If wholesale is your jam, consider working with us so you know it will happen. Even asking a friend to check in with you on a big goal can be a simple way to make progress the default.

6. Get help.
This might be production help or it might be help from us. It might be guidance of mentors or the guidance of a friend. It might be signing up for our wholesale ecourse or delving into our free Training Center. Planners are help. Software is help. Tools are help.

7. Just start. But refine and iterate as you go.
A few months back, we asked a bunch of inspiring makers for their advice on what they wish they knew about wholesale when they started. Lydia from Argaman&Defiance emphasized the importance of starting with what you have and not delaying until things are “perfect.” But then, also be sure to make space to refine as you go. She shares:

“Getting started is not and shouldn't be the hardest part. Starting becomes the focus because it’s so uncomfortable. What we should be focusing on is the editing process and how we can become sharper, more decisive and recover quickly from mistakes and failure.  If we can become stronger editors (in the creative process and beyond) you can communicate your brand, aesthetic, and process that much better.”

Is getting your beautiful work on more store shelves one of your big 2019 goals? Well, we’re REALLY excited to announce a free program that we’re putting finishing touches on and we’ll announce next week. It’s a simple way to give yourself a huge, inspiring, practical boost for wholesale in 2019, especially if you’re really ready to hit the ground running next year. Keep your eye on your inbox next week for details!


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10 More Self-Care + Sanity Tips from Accomplished Makers

For many of you, the madness of the holiday season remains in full swing right now. You’re probably turning a corner but I know that a little supportiveness can feel great when things are hectic.

Last month, we shared a post called How 3 Makers Stay Organized + Sane In Hectic Times and got a great response. So today we’re sharing tips for staying healthy and productive from two more powerful makers who know their stuff.

Kara from Karacotta Ceramics

Kara Pendl believes that everyone deserves to live and work in a space they truly adore -- and she makes gorgeous, exuberant, functional ceramics to support you in that. Each piece is hand-thrown in Austin, TX.

Kara at the wheel. Via  @karacotta_ceramics

Kara at the wheel. Via @karacotta_ceramics

Kara shared her three top self-care tips for makers during the holiday season:

Find your village.
It takes a village to run a small business, especially during holiday. Outsource all of your mundane life things, as much as your budget & creativity allows. Hire that house cleaning crew, get your groceries delivered, pop your kids in a carpool, have your laundry picked up.

Secure the boundaries!
Keep your schedule simple, and hold your boundaries TIGHT. For example, maybe only taking meetings on Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesday are for making, Thursday is web/admin, and Friday is loose-ends. Do not deviate! I think the tighter you can keep your schedule, the easier it is to weed out extraneous time-sucks, and the more productive you will be, knowing you only have a finite amount of time.

Don’t let supplies limit you.
Order extra, extra, extra supplies! It really is the pits when you're cranking away in the studio, getting a million things done, and then you run out of branded stickers, or packing boxes. Order double what you think you will need - it will get used eventually, and then make a supply list for everything you use, and do a quick 15-min supply inventory check on Fridays.

Elana from Elana Gabrielle

Elana Gabrielle is an illustrator, designer, and maker based in Portland, Oregon. Her illustrations, design, branding, and textile goods are tactile, warm, and wild. She’s constantly developing new art and products, but all with her distinctive approach.

Elana at market. Via  @elanagabrielle

Elana at market. Via @elanagabrielle

 

Elana shared a lot of kind guidance as well as her own experience of this season:

Busy times can be difficult to navigate, and finding ways to stay organized and productive has been one the most important things I’ve done for myself and my business. Through trial and error, I’ve found that having a routine with daily guidelines has made a huge difference in keeping myself focused, healthy, and avoiding burnout. Finding a structure that works best for your lifestyle and personal preference is key, and the following list is an overview of some things I’ve found helpful.

Start with the big picture.
I start my day with a cup of tea or coffee, and I create a list of all my tasks for the day and divide it up in order of priority/urgency.

Plan according to your rhythms.
I plan my day/week according to my to-list, organizing logistics during times of the day when I work best. For example, my mind is most fresh first thing in the morning, so that is when I complete any writing, research, communication, etc., and I do my creative work in the afternoons.

My

Limit distractions.
When I get stressed I find that I am much more easily distracted, so I either keep my phone in a separate room or use an app like Moment to keep myself out of the social media rabbit hole.

Ode to the crock pot.
When things are most hectic, I make sure to have some simple healthy options stocked so I don’t have to worry about it or resort to unhealthy options. Crock pot meals are a good option for this, especially during winter months!

Exercise really does help.
Exercise is so important for my mental and physical wellbeing during busy times. No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I am always more clear-headed, energized, and focused.

Sleep and work faster.

Sleep is a priority for me! I work 10x faster when I am well rested.

Get outside!
Every day.

Finding moments to slow down here and there and focus on my own well-being is so helpful in staying sane through hectic busy times, and I hope this can help you too!


Thank you so much to everyone who has shared their insights in this little series: Kara from Karacotta Ceramics, Elana from Elana Gabrielle, Lora from Free Period Press, Jonnie from Grey Theory Mill, and Paris from Paris Woodhull Illustration.





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How 3 Makers Stay Organized + Sane In Hectic Times

Regular people don’t realize how insane the pre-Christmas months are for makers. But: it’s true, they’re insane.

The sheer quantity of work -- in combination with the uncertainty and pressure of making the most of holiday sales -- adds up to quite the exhausting scenario.

So: if you’re feeling similarly, remember that 1) you’re not alone and 2) January will come.

Also: I asked some of the most effective, successful, and inspiring makers I know to share their tips for staying sane, organized, healthy, and focused in hectic times. Read on!


Lora from Free Period Press


Free Period Press creates products to help you unplug, relax, and get your creative juices flowing. Cleveland-based Lora puts an incredible amount of soul, hard work, and savvy into Free Period. She partners with other great artists and makers in the design of each product and ends up with items that are inspiring, helpful, and fun.

Lora at the Cleveland Bazaar. Via @freeperiodpress.

Lora at the Cleveland Bazaar. Via @freeperiodpress.

Lora shared two key tips and we added a third:

Invite friends to help.
Relationships are such an important part of self-care, and they often get neglected during our busy seasons. Packing orders and hanging out at craft shows is more fun with friends. Offer to pay them for their time if you can, or at least provide food!

Prioritize what you need to do.
Your to-do list is probably a mile long, but try prioritizing your to-do list in terms of your goals. Ask yourself, "Which of these tasks is the most important to get me to my goal?" When I do this, I usually realize that a surprising number of tasks are not as urgent as I thought. During some seasons, I am focused on getting money in the door! So during those times, I prioritize based on ROI. I ask, "Which of these tasks is most likely to bring in the most revenue?"

Consider a Self Care Index.
Note from Wholesale In a Box: Lora didn’t mention this, but she has the coolest Self Care Index zine that could be a fun and helpful tool.

Lora’s Self Care Index at the lovely  Moorea Seal  shop in Seattle. Via  @freeperiodpress

Lora’s Self Care Index at the lovely Moorea Seal shop in Seattle. Via @freeperiodpress


Jonnie from Grey Theory Mill

San Diego-based Jonnie is a strong, vibrant presence in our maker world. She makes her Grey Theory with a touch of sass, a pinch of the profane, and a lot of class. She’s also uber-busy as her business grows, as she’s thriving in both wholesale and online.


Jonnie got really honest and really specific about how she stays organized and sane:


Bullet journaling.
I started a variation of bullet journaling after a friend told me she thought I'd enjoy it. She was right. I love being able to have my goals/tasks split up into their various priority level. I have an "at a glance" which is my equivalent of an analog zoom out.

Keeping organized with orders.
For keeping orders straight I have a word document that has 3 columns: Current POs, Later Ship Date, and Consignment. When an order comes in I plug the shops name in, the date they ordered, the ship date I quoted and the order total. This makes it easy for me to see what needs to be done when, what I will be quoting for a ship date for incoming orders, and when it comes to month end I can plug in the order total to my spreadsheet.

Staying on top of money-in-the-door.
I have no training in bookkeeping, but this year I really wanted to see what was coming in -- per account -- so I started two spreadsheets. The first is called “Finished PO's” and the other is called “Deposit Log.” As the POs go out, I plug in all the data from my Word document: date ordered, date shipped, shop name, and their order total. For my deposit log, I plug in the numbers for wholesale, retail, and consignment at the end of the month. So far, so good! It gives me peace of mind to know how much I am actually making.

Hiring help (finally.)
This year I hired help. I may have made that decision a little late in the game, but finding the right person was so important to me. I am looking forward to having the help with production, but even more so with the holiday retail shows!

A true day off.
I try, try, try my darndest to have one day off a week (versus the random hours throughout the week). It's hard, but I'm getting better at it.

Workouts.
I prioritize getting a workout in at least 4 days a week. At very least I do a 15 minute HIIT workout. Getting that blood circulating does wonders for me when I'm feeling hella grumpy-moody.

January sabbatical!
Last year I was SO toasted come Christmas, I decided that the first two weeks of January would be a personal "no-work unless you really want to" sabbatical for me. Having that carrot in front of me makes me feel like I can get through anything.

Jonnie on vacay in Hawaii! Via  @greytheorymill

Jonnie on vacay in Hawaii! Via @greytheorymill


Paris from Paris Woodhull Illustrations

I met Paris at two makers’ summits I spoke at this year and she is as warm, generous, and smart in person as her illustrations are. A Knoxville native, Paris creates apparel with a purpose, quirky paper goods, and city maps.

The Knoxville pride is real. Via  @pariswoodhull

The Knoxville pride is real. Via @pariswoodhull

Paris shared some helpful self-care practices she stays sane with:

Lists!
Haha I'm a list maker addict ;-) I end each work day by making a list for the next work day. And not a digital list, but a hard copy one -- one that I can keep propped up on my desk all day, staring me in the face. It helps me to visually see what I need to do and also induces a good bit of (healthy) guilt if I'm procrastinating and not getting as much done as I should be.

Exercise.
I know this is one of those things that is kind of eyeroll-inducing, but stay with me? I was always the person that never worked out because "I didn't have the time." When I started going to the gym consistently, I realized that it sets me up for success in my day to day life; I have a better mindset and I'm 100% more efficient/effective running my business. It's also nice to have an hour each day that is dedicated to me and not emailing, packaging, talking to customers, etc.

Paris staying human. Via  @pariswoodhull

Paris staying human. Via @pariswoodhull

Have a friend that will listen to you rant.
Having a small business can feel so solitary sometimes, which makes the pressure feel insurmountable. Having a trusted friend that you can talk through things with, or even just get a quick pep talk from, can really work wonders. For me, this is my sister. Poor girl has probably heard me rant, cry, and complain about how hard it is to run a small business one too many times. P.S. It helps if you buy them dinner every once in a while in exchange for listening to you ;-)


Learn that not everything needs to be done immediately.
My phone is a really big distraction for me and I'm currently still figuring this one out. What if I don't answer this email right now?! What if I don't reply to this instagram comment immediately?! Ha! Trying to remind myself that everything can wait and I will get to it eventually. 90% of things can at least wait 24 hours for you to get to them. No one is going to die if I don't answer their email immediately.


Business is not emotional.
Meaning that my feelings do not matter in my business. Sounds cold, right? Well this is my number one way that I self-care in my business. I'm a very emotional person and I have a tendency to take things personally, which are two of the worst qualities to have when working with clients. Some days I will literally write "Business isn't emotional" on my forearm to remind myself that my #1 priority is to serve my clients as best I can. For me, it's a small way of controlling my emotions and learning to be more flexible.

Let it evolve.
Organization, focus, and self-care needs are things that are always changing. Organizational needs will change as a business grows and same with self-care and focus. Haha… owning a business is a learning curve 24/7.

Thank you so much to all three of you!! Your wisdom is hard-earned and each nugget is such a good reminder and valuable insight.


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Compromising Your Wholesale Terms Makes You Sick + Snippy

My mom is a pediatrician.

Growing up, I knew that she often saved babies from cancer and families from chaos. Occasionally, though, she’d come home from work and say, “Sometimes I can’t believe that I spend my whole day telling people their kid has a cold.”

I remembered this the other day and laughed. Because similarly, sometimes my job is insight and magic -- and sometimes I spend my whole day telling makers to stick with their own darn wholesale terms.

A maker will come to me with a several-paragraphs-long question via email. At first, it will sound really complicated, like these questions:

There is a restaurant owner who wants to buy a LOT of plates from me, but wants a wholesale price that’s dramatically reduced. Should I do it?

A brand new stockist, who has been inconsistent in her communication, requested Net 30 even though my terms say I take payment up-front. What should I do?

A store owner who seems sketchy wants me to send samples of every one of my products, even though I say in my terms that I’ll provide one sample but that others can be purchased at wholesale price. Seems a bit excessive but maybe I should do it?

In each of the above cases, the first thing I noticed was how the maker sounded frustrated and scared.

The second thing I noticed was that the maker had already made a decision about this scenario -- in their own wholesale terms.

So to all of these makers, my answer was simple: stick with the terms you already set. And do so in a friendly, collaborative, and clear way.

Many makers who feel betrayed by their own business. They love it, but they describe it like an abusive boyfriend. They feel angry and resentful and tired. They may be physically sick from overwork. They feel cornered between their own desire to grow, their fear of losing it all, and their own exhaustion and depletion. And in many cases, this feeling comes largely from their own unwillingness or inability to maintain clear boundaries in their business -- especially with their wholesale terms.

Hustle is really important. When you are starting and growing a business you do have to go the extra mile and work super-hard. Things I’ve done to grow my business include staying up all night to find stores for a single maker, worked on holiday after holiday, and made the “impossible” happen for the people we serve.

But many times, I believe that makers aren’t compromising on their boundaries out of hustle, but out of fear. Fear that someone might think they’re not “nice.” Fear of losing a sale. Fear that the universe is a scarce and threatening place and that if they set a boundary, they will END. UP. WITH. NOTHING.

Have you ever heard of “the three kinds of business”? My friend and coach Melissa introduced me to this and I think of it on an almost daily basis. It’s simple. There are three kinds of “business”: your business; someone else’s business; and God’s business. Your business is acting in a way that aligns with your values and integrity. Other people’s business is what they do and what they think about what you do. God’s / the universe’s business is the uncontrollable part of what results from your actions or other people’s actions. Melissa says that the result of spending time thinking about any business that’s not your own is a feeling of separation, resentment, and confusion. It also means that if you’re spending time thinking about the other kinds of business, you’re not caring for your own business. And if you’re not… who is? (More on this concept by the originator of it, here.)

Long story short, I think that often when makers compromise their wholesale terms, it’s because they’ve wandered away from their own business (quite literally) into God’s business (“If I don’t say yes, my business won’t succeed”) or into the store owner’s business (“If I don’t say yes, she’ll buy from someone else and be mad at me.”)

A question to ask yourself when you’re considering making a decision that goes against your own wholesale terms (or against any boundary that you’ve set for that matter):

Am I changing my policy because:

a) In this particular situation, the boundary has become unnecessary? Or,

b) To “be nice” or because I’m afraid that everything will crumble if I don’t make concessions?

If your answer is really truly “a”, then perhaps it makes sense to go against your own policy / boundary / terms. But if it’s “b”, then I have only seen frustration, scarcity, and fatigue result.

But, you might be saying, “I want to be easy to work with!”

And I do agree that being positive, kind, and a good collaborator is incredibly important in growing wholesale. You wouldn’t believe how many store owners tell me that they could buy from a different maker, but that THIS maker is just so easy to work with.

Here’s the irony, though. In my experience, compromising on your terms doesn’t make you easier to work with. It makes you snippy, resentful, annoyed, overextended, and frustrated. It also makes it hard to make money or create a sustainable business. In other words:

Compromising your own boundaries and terms ends up making you HARDER to work with and limits the growth of your business.

Just to make this crystal-clear...

Do’s and don’ts for setting terms and deciding how to maintain them:

  • DON’T set unnecessarily rigid or strict terms in the first place.
    Don’t throw in a bunch of terms for good measure or to “seem professional.” Set terms that you think are simple and important and feel necessary. That way, when it comes time to maintain those boundaries, they feel intuitive and important to you. Oh, and if you need help deciding what to make your wholesale minimum, you can find more on that here.

  • DON’T use legalese.
    Sometimes makers write their terms in a severe, off-putting, confusing, aggressive type of language. Yes, it’s important to have clear terms. But it’s also important to state those terms in a way that is human, friendly, and approachable.

  • DO maintain your boundaries in a friendly way.
    I’m not sure why, but when people maintain a boundary, sometimes they do so in a way that sounds frustrated, snippy, stern, or condescending. Remember that no one can make you violate a business boundary without your permission -- and so you can maintain your boundary and uphold your terms in a way that’s cheerful, kind, and warm. And that difference in tone may likely be the difference between losing the sale and gaining a stockist for the long term.

  • DO use your emotions as an early-warning sign.
    Anger, resentment, and fear are indications that you may need to set or strengthen a boundary. Sometimes it’s a boundary with a specific person and other times it is a general boundary between yourself and your business. If a store owner’s request makes you feel scared and frustrated, it’s likely that a warm and polite “no” is in order.

My observation is that the makers who are best at maintaining their boundaries in a way that is warm and collaborative are those that tend to succeed at wholesale. And ironically, those that are constantly shape-shifting and compromising and bending over backwards are those that don’t make it, ultimately.

Trust the wisdom of your own boundaries. Be relentlessly kind and warm in your communication of those boundaries. And know that when you do these things, you’re acting on behalf of your biggest and best business and life.


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4 Things I Know Are True About Making Your Line Successful + Extraordinary

The other day, I was coaching one of our newer makers by phone.

To get to know her line, I flipped through her product listings to get a sense for what the jewelry was all about. Most of the pieces were ornate, creative, asymmetrical confections that were both vintage and fresh. But part of the line was simple brass jewelry.

In our conversation, I asked how she felt about the brass pieces -- is that a direction she was planning to go in?

“Well, I don’t want to!” she explained. “But I got worried that my stuff is too different, so I wanted to play it safe and make pieces that are more similar to the rest of what I’m seeing in stores. The truth is, I love the other stuff. I love finding odd vintage components and turning them into something gorgeous and unique. I’m just not sure anybody is buying that right now.”

My advice to her was to cut the brass pieces altogether. They’re not what she loves, they’re not unique in the marketplace, and she doesn’t have a lot of energy around creating them. Plus, they’re confusing. Store owners often scan through a line, to get a sense of it. If the line is scattered or confusing, they tend to wander away, unsure what the line might offer. 

The more I thought about this, though, the more I realized that there is so much complexity in this maker’s experience, and in the conversation we had.

In fact, there is a piece of writing I love that illuminates so many of the tensions presented by this maker’s conundrum. In it, George Saunders, the celebrated writer, tells of the years when he was working in a dull corporate setting, commuting through New York winters by bike, barely earning a living, and trying to be a writer. (I really recommend reading the whole piece -- you can find it here -- you’ll be glad you did.)

It’s gorgeous, simple, honest writing. It also captures something essential for those of us who want to make or write or create. So between my maker friend and George Saunders’ insight… 

 

4 Things I Know Are True About Making Your Line Successful + Extraordinary: 

1. Make what you know how to make better. 

George Saunders shares a time in his writing when he spent years sounding like Hemingway, or Carver, or some other version of himself. And one day, in boredom and frustration, started writing silly, weird, gross poems and illustrating them. This led him to write a short story that used that same off-kilter feel. And he had a realization: 

“Suddenly it was as if I’d been getting my ass kicked in an alley somewhere and realized I’d had one arm behind my back. All of my natural abilities, I saw, had been placed, by me, behind a sort of scrim. Among these were: humor, speed, the scatological, irreverence, compression, naughtiness. All I had to do was tear down the scrim and allow those abilities to come to the table.”

Working on it was fun: for the first time in years, I knew what to do. I had no idea what it was ‘about’ or what it was teaching or espousing or anything like that. I just, at every turn, had some feelings about how I might make it better. As goofy as the story was, as far-fetched as its premise seemed, I could feel and see the people in it as real people, and I cared about them. What a relief that was: to work with certainty, toward fun, just for the hell of it.”

Creating what you know how to make better, as odd or different as it may be, is fundamental to creating a successful line over the long term. It’s not always easy to do (I wrote an article on that piece of things here) but it is what you’re trying for.


2. On the other hand, don’t just close your eyes and make whatever you want. 

The counterpoint to #1 is subtle, so stick with me. It’s true that you need to make what is authentic to you, what you know how to make better. 

But. You also can’t close your eyes and cover your ears and disengage from what your community is inspired by.

There is no art without connection. Art is made when someone creates something true and then is able to close the energetic loop by offering that to someone who responds to it. It takes both pieces -- the making what’s true and the engagement with someone who responds to that work.

Makers who are successful work consistently at the intersection between what people want and what your voice is. The good news is: you don’t need to please everyone. You only need to find a small, passionate group of people that responds to the work. And the truth is that it’s much easier to find those people when you’re clearly making what is true for you, rather than what you think might sell. 


3. There’s no rushing it and there’s no crystal ball. 

Sometimes makers want me to tell them whether what they’ve created is going to “work.” I can’t. I don’t have a crystal ball and I’ve been proven wrong about a line again and again. 

Other makers want to rush the process, growing to large numbers of wholesale accounts without really stopping to watch people’s responses to the work. 

How to find the intersection between what people want and what your voice is? Through observation and through experimentation. Observation means becoming an observer of the makers you most respect -- watching how they structure their prices, how their tell their story, how they package in a way that aligns with what they do. Experimentation means that you create what you know how to make better and then you experiment with different ways of connecting with people around that work, exploring who responds to it, whether it needs tweaking to be well-received, and how it’s best packaged and sold. And these processes take time. 


4. Store owners want your standout pieces, especially now. 

It’s hard being a store owner in this world, in this economy. 

But when a store owner carries products that people can’t find at the big box store down the street, she knows that people will choose to shop with her. The more pressure a store owner is under, the more she will want pieces that are unique and beautiful and unexpected and that she knows will sell. That means that store owners tend to buy lines for their standout pieces, not for the dime-a-dozen pieces that might fill out a line. Those standouts almost always come from a maker’s most creative, authentic process -- the very things they make most intuitively and with most passion. 

 


I’ll leave you with a little more of George Saunders. He’s talking about the writer who has just found the writing that’s like him, that is of himself, no matter how humble it may be: 

The work he does there is not the work of his masters. It is less. It is more modest; it is messier. It is small and minor.

But at least it’s his.

He sent the trained dog that is his talent off in search of a fat glorious pheasant, and it brought back the lower half of a Barbie doll.

So be it.

Better than being stalled out forever.

He’ll make a collection of lower halves of Barbie dolls and call that a book.

And the thing is: it is a book. That’s what a book is: a failed attempt that, its failure notwithstanding, is sincere and hard-worked and expunged of as much falseness as he could manage, given his limited abilities, and has thus been imbued with a sort of purity.

A book doesn’t have to do everything, I remember saying to myself back then, as a form of consolation; it just has to do something.

So, although this book is short and took seven long years to write, and is truncated and halting, and is, yes, dark and maybe even a little sick in places, I remember the years during which it was being written as some of the richest and most magical of my life, full of hope and love and aspiration and the satisfaction of, finally, making something happen.”
 


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2 Tiny Outreach Tips You May Not Have Tried

Mostly, growing your handmade wholesale business is not a place for cheats or tips or tricks. 

Mostly, growing wholesale is a long-term game where “boring” things like consistency, followup, respect, thoughtfulness, and gradual improvement of your product line are what work.

But! Since we spend all day everyday working with makers who are doing wholesale outreach, sometimes we’ll come across a fun tip that just is so simple and works so well that we think, “Gosh, I wish everyone knew about that.” 

So, with the permission of the aforementioned makers, I’m sharing two of those tips. 

2 handmade wholesale outreach tricks you might not have tried, but probably should:

1. Pitch stores in a city you’re visiting and set an appointment. 

You’ve probably heard us say before that it’s generally a terrible idea to stop into a store and pitch your work, unbidden. Store owners want to be working with their customers when they’re in the shop, not reviewing your work. 

That said, being able to show your work in person, being able to share textures, paper quality, or stitching precision can be such a wonderful advantage. So if you have any travel planned (or even in your home city), consider concentrating your outreach in one city, that you’ll be visiting in the next couple of months. Reach out to stores that are a great fit in that city, share your line sheet, and let them know that you’ll be in their city from X date to Y date, and that you’d be thrilled to stop by and give them a first-hand feel for the line. They can review the line virtually, but also opt into a visit if they want to (on their schedule.) 

We’ve seen this be incredibly effective, leading both to higher response rates as well as a lot of sales for the couple of makers who have done this.

If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, you can let us know that you’re visiting a certain city and we’ll focus your outreach there during that timeframe. If you’re not a Wholesale In a Box maker, you’ll have to do the legwork to find the shops and track down contact information, but you can still certainly use this strategy.


2. Engage personally via Instagram before you reach out. 

Another “no no” is to pitch store owners via social media. It’s just not professional (or effective) to leave a comment on a store owner’s Instagram post, pleading for them to review your line. 

But -- one of our makers let us know that she’s making sure to follow store owners on Instagram about a week before she reaches out via email. She also engages in a thoughtful, real, personal way on one or two of their recent posts.

Then, when she does reach out via email, she’s finding that store owners feel like it’s a much “warmer” contact than it would be if she were reaching out totally out of the blue. It’s certainly not a manipulative thing -- just a friendly way to connect before it’s time to really pitch your products.

If you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker, the Instagram link for every store is included in the store’s profile, so you can just click through to engage. If not, usually a quick search within Instagram will do the trick. 


Like I said, these tips aren’t going to change the game for you if you’re struggling with a product that’s not where it needs to be, or if you’re not playing the long game and staying consistent over time. 

But they could be fun -- and super-effective, if these makers’ experience is any indicator -- to try within the context of a broader strategy.


 


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10 Ways to Grow Wholesale With Etsy Wholesale Closed (Besides Panic)

As one maker friend put it: People were saying for months that a shift was going to happen with Etsy Wholesale. And, well…

Shift happened. 

As you’re probably well aware by now, Etsy Wholesale is closed its doors: July 31, 2018 was the last day of the platform. While few people are surprised -- since Etsy Wholesale had been quietly withdrawing for months -- many makers are understandably frustrated, freaked out, or just… tired.

So I wanted to put together tips and tools for moving forward and continuing to grow your handmade wholesale business, now that Etsy Wholesale is closed. 

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The Big Picture

Let’s talk “big picture” for a second. As recently as 10 years ago, trade shows were pretty much the only way to grow wholesale for makers -- period. It was a very unified, monolithic, systematic market. And when we started Wholesale In a Box 3 years ago, Etsy Wholesale was just starting and there were very few other options.

The last year or two has seen a boom in platforms for wholesale, and the speed at which new folks are popping up is only increasing. So the overall trend is that handmade wholesale is becoming increasingly fractured. 

Platforms and marketplaces come and go and their algorithms evolve and change. It’s hard to find solid footing in that landscape -- you’re left not knowing how to grow your business in a sustainable way. But I don’t believe you need to accept this level of volatility and risk -- there are concrete things you can do to make your business strong and resilient, despite the changes.

Ultimately, whatever tool makers use, you need to take the work of marketing and connecting with stores into your own hands. That will be useful to you 50 years from now, regardless of what happens with the platforms, just as it was 50 years ago.


What to actually DO

That’s all helpful context, but I know that most importantly, makers are looking for a way forward in these last weeks of Etsy Wholesale. 

First: You know what’s best for your business and there is no one answer about what you should do, now that Etsy Wholesale is closing. The way you’ll move forward is a strategic decision that probably should be pretty strongly guided by your gut and plans. 

That said, we’ve helped over 400 makers grow their wholesale business, so I do have some opinions about what Etsy Wholesale sellers should be thinking about in coming weeks, to make this a time of growth in your business, rather than a time of crisis.


10 Crucial Things to Do Now That Etsy Wholesale Is Closing:

1. Pause and reflect.

I know this change feels urgent, and there are aspects of it that are. But I honestly think that the first step you should take is to pause and reflect. Not post on Instagram. Not email every stockist you have. But reflect and make a plan. You have 4-8 weeks to put your plan into action, and a good plan, executed more slowly, is better than a poor plan executed quickly. 


2. Divide your plan into immediate action and strategic changes. 

Don’t confuse your immediate actions with your strategic plan around this. There are a couple of things that you’ll want to do in the next week or so -- but all the rest will benefit from a thoughtful plan, carried out over the next 4-8 weeks. If you mush the two categories together, you’ll be more stressed and end up with worse results. 

The main thing that you’ll want to do immediately is…


3. Get all of the information on your Etsy Wholesale stockists.

As soon as possible, you’ll want to capture all of the information (particularly names, websites, and emails) of your Etsy Wholesale stockists and keep it somewhere that you can access after the platform closes. 

There isn’t a way to download all of that directly, so Natalie Jacob from Etymology suggests taking screenshots of each purchase order. Try to save them in an organized way or even turn that data into a spreadsheet or similar list so that it’s easy to access later. 


4. Forge new connections with your Etsy Wholesale Stockists.

If you have current stockists who buy through Etsy Wholesale, communicate with them, and actively support them in transitioning to a new method of ordering, paying, and staying up to date on your line. This might take several touchpoints, so be persistent. 

A few specific tips here: 

  • Touch base with each store individually.
    This is a big transition and it’s very much worth contacting each store personally. That way, you can use the opportunity to let them know about new products they might be interested in, check in with them on how things are going, give them your new ordering information, and answer any questions. So although I’ve been seeing makers use Instagram posts for this purpose, I think that misses the opportunity to connect more personally.

  • Don’t just reach out once.
    Store owners are busy and are handling this transition with all of their Etsy Wholesale vendors. So certainly don’t harass them, but plan to contact them a few times over the next few months, to make sure they have your info and know you’re there for them.

  • Make the new system very simple.
    We’ll talk about how to devise a new ordering system (#8) and a new system for sharing your products (#6). But whatever systems you choose, be sure that when you share the specifics of the new approach, you make it as simple, straightforward, and clear as possible.

  • Try to send them to the “final” ordering system, even if it’s not perfect yet.
    One maker we work with is creating a new website but it won’t be done until late August. She does have a website that stockists could order from now, but she’s not thrilled with it, so is considering sending store owners to an intermediate solution for the next couple of months. My recommendation? Send stockists to that website now, anyway. It’s better than having the stockists change systems twice.

“I honestly think that Etsy Wholesale closing down is a great thing for small businesses. I hope it allows for makers to find wholesale relationships with companies that they can build a deeper and longer relationship with. This is yet another sign of the potential disadvantages of depending on a platform for your business's success and sustainability.” - Joey Vitale, Indie Law


5. Don’t necessarily just swap Etsy Wholesale with something else.

I’ve been hearing makers ask, “Any suggestions for what to replace Etsy Wholesale with, now that they’re closing?” But in all honesty, I think that is the wrong question. 

Etsy Wholesale combined a few different functions into one platform, but you don’t necessarily need to replace all of them with the same tool. The functions are: 

  • Presenting your products online

  • Finding new stockists

  • Payment / invoicing

Depending on the stage and unique characteristics of your business, you might want a different system for each of these functions, even though Etsy Wholesale used to do them all for you. In fact, you might consider brainstorming options for each before ultimately deciding what you’ll choose. In #6, #7, and #8, below, we’ll talk about options for each.
 

6. Create a new system for presenting your products online. 

This transition away from Etsy Wholesale is a huge hassle for many makers. But it may actually end up having a positive effect on your business in the end: 

“If Etsy's announcement was a big shakeup for you, now is a great time to begin planning to build a stronger foundation for your business. When you own your own website, wholesale ordering solution, and mailing list, you don't rely entirely on third parties, and it's easier to bounce back when they make big changes to their services.” - Arianne Foulks, Aeolidia


One of the key things that Etsy Wholesale did was make an easy, attractive method for makers to share their wholesale product offerings with stockists. Some makers even used their Etsy Wholesale line sheet as a way to show retailers not on Etsy Wholesale their product set. So the first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out how to share your products with retailers moving forward...

Consider creating or improving your own website.

Probably the ideal option for sharing your products with retailers is via your own website. If you already have a retail website, that can certainly serve as the place that store owners go to look at your products. They can even shop your website with a 50% off coupon code if your markup and shipping will allow for that. Alternatively, they can view your products on the retail site and just place their order via email or phone. 

If you don’t have a personal website yet, you can get something simple and effective going fairly quickly with services like Shopify and Squarespace. You can always plan to improve it or make more complicated later, but even a few days invested in setting something like this up could get you pretty far.

Your other option is to create a true wholesale website. We teamed up with our friends at Aeolidia on the things to keep in mind if you’re going this direction -- and also discussed how to decide if you need a wholesale website. You can find that article here: Whether You Need a Wholesale Website (And How to Do It Right)

Or, create a simple line sheet.

A more low-tech way of presenting your products is through a PDF line sheet. We recommend making this document a bit of a hybrid between a lookbook and a traditional line sheet -- including an “about” page, gorgeous photos of the line, all the specifics (including price) on each product, and Wholesale Terms. You can have this on hand for stores to peruse your products as well as order from. 

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7. Create a new system for finding new stockists.

If you were on Etsy Wholesale, that may have been a primary way that stockists were finding your line. (Or, perhaps more accurately, a way you were hoping stockists would find your line.) 

That means that it’s a good time to consider creating a system for yourself to start proactively connecting with stores that you think will be a great fit for you. 

Of course, we’re really passionate about direct, thoughtful, individual outreach to shops that you think could be a great fit for what you sell. That’s what we support makers in doing at Wholesale In a Box. But you can also start a practice like this on your own -- and we have some good training resources in our Training Center and in our beloved free email course, Grow Your Wholesale.

There are also platforms like Indigo Fair, Hubba, Stockabl, IndieMe, or even new models like Handheld Handmade so those could be good to check out as one piece of your strategy. 


8. Create a new system for payment and invoicing. 

Depending on what you choose for the way that stockists will review your products, you may have already covered a payment/invoicing system. 

But, many approaches will still need a separate payment and invoicing system. For instance, if you create a PDF line sheet, you’ll still need a way for store owners to place orders. 

A simple Paypal or Square invoice will work just fine -- and of course, store owners don’t need these services to pay these invoices. They can pay with a regular credit or debit card -- you just need to get set up on your end. 


9. Be sure that you have Wholesale Terms. 

Although technically you should have already thought through your wholesale terms if you were operating in Etsy Wholesale, it’s possible that you didn’t think them through in much detail. 

If that is the case, now is the time to make sure that you have established Wholesale Terms and that you’re sharing them with store owners in a consistent place (whether that’s a page on your website or a page in your line sheet.) It’s really important to make sure you have clear terms on at least the following: 

  • Payment and ordering. How will you accept orders? What forms of payment do you accept.

  • When do you need payment (on ordering, on shipping, or some combo)?

  • Minimums. Your minimum for your first order and for subsequent orders.

  • Shipping and insurance. Who pays for shipping, how are things shipped, who pays for insurance if any, etc.

  • Turnaround time.

  • Sizing, materials, etc.

  • Anything else. If you have other things they should know before they order, now is the time.


10. Use your resources.

There are a lot of great resources that can support you during this transition. Here are a few of our favorites…

Other resources to check out: 

 

Your wholesale strategy is going to evolve and change -- so don't panic and do something expensive (like signing up for a trade show that you can't afford) just because Etsy Wholesale is changing. Take some time to experiment, explore alternatives, and reflect on what you really envision a sustainable wholesale strategy being for you.

And, never hesitate to reach out to us (team@wholesaleinabox.com) if you have any questions along the way!


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7 Lessons Learned From a Maker on Her Wholesale Journey

Photo: Reba Jenson

Photo: Reba Jenson

2 years ago, we did our first Wholesale In a Box giveaway. Makers entered by commenting on our blog, and then we picked a winner from the bunch.

When we announced that Skyler of SugarSky had won the free 90 days of Wholesale In a Box, she was thrilled in the sweetest, most endearing way. Still one of our makers 2 years later, working to grow her wholesale business, we got the most wonderful message from Sky when we announced this year’s giveaway: “I SO VIVIDLY remember when I won the WIAB free trial via Dear Handmade Life! I never win anything and I was AMAZED. It’s proven to be such an incredible thing to win :)”

So we decided to hop on the phone to hear how her business has evolved since then. What she shared was really inspiring, very actionable, and sometimes surprising. Sky has managed to grow her business by leaps and bounds, and to a size that few makers know is possible. She’s stuck to her mission and values, finding thoughtful ways to bring in production help as she grows, but never compromising on what is most important to her.

Listen in as we talk to Skyler and she gets honest about wholesale, growth, hiring, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what she wants newer makers to know...

 

FINDING YOUR MOTIVATION.

“My motivation to do this daily is that our whole operation is based in the US.  We get to support the people in our community, as those are the people who design and sew our products.  That is very motivating for me because it means we are helping people here in our country continue to feel empowered and appreciated.  

I could manufacture our products at a 16th of the cost if we outsourced some to offshore but, for me, keeping jobs here in the US and helping people on our soil to be employed is top of my list and always will be with SugarSky.

Of course, you have to keep your margins working,  but I know that so long as SugarSky exists, jobs for people here in America will exist.”

 

KNOW YOUR OWN SKILLS.

“Before launching the business, I started brainstorming and thought; What talents or skills do I have in my wheelhouse that I can turn into a business?  I tossed some ideas back and forth and thought, well, I know how to sew and I am always wearing headbands.

The idea was born after a couple glasses of wine in our tiny little apartment in Atlanta.  My husband was like, ‘OK why not?.’ I also knew how to build a website so that wasn't a barrier to entry for me so decided to give it a go from there.”  

 

NOTHING IS PERFECT.

“My original goal was to sell 10 headbands.  I thought: If I sell 10 headbands this is a success.  I had left my full-time job in Corporate America so my aim was to sell 10 the first month so that could go towards helping pay our bills that month.  The next month, we planned to reassess.

There were lots of trips to fabric stores to find a good material and sewed prototype after prototype, finding the right material that was comfortable and a good fit.  After that, I just pressed the launch button, with only 5 patterns. The business was me sewing everything and trying to work out the kinks as I went along.

Not everything has to be great when you start and focusing on progress over perfection is always my aim.  You just need to pull the trigger and work from there.”

Photos: Reba Jenson

 

SCALING: FROM MAKER TO BUSINESS OWNER.

“My business is very different now than when it first launched.  In the beginning, I was sewing everything. Still being in my corporate job at first meant things were taxing.  You can almost get burnt out because, after a day at work you don't want to spend so much time on your business even though you love it, but you have to.

It then went from me sewing everything to having a team of highly skilled seamstresses. That transition was a huge learning curve and I am so thankful we did that.  We received our first wholesale order of 6000 which was huge for us at the time so this forced us to reassess. I knew I couldn’t sew everything myself forever.

We hired the seamstresses as contract workers -- paid by the piece..  This means you cannot designate hours or manage them as employees but they produce the volume of product required to meet your demand and they are paid on how many pieces they produce. This worked really well for us because they could do the work while their kids were napping or on weekends… and we didn’t have to worry about filling the time every single month of a full-time employee”  

 

INVEST IN THE BEST.

“Inevitably, starting a business is risky. So it's important to invest in people or processes that do things better than you. As an entrepreneur, the biggest mistake you can make is trying to do everything on your own.  

I believe if you are investing in the right things at the right price for your business, you will see a return.  This was the case when we signed up with Wholesale in A Box. I remember getting WIAB’s 5-part email course after signing up and I thought. ‘Oh my gosh, this is all such good information.’  Then with your help, I started drafting my emails to potential customers. I went for it with the help you provided. Ever since then we have seen some great successes with wholesale.

One way to test your approach to investing in something for your business and give it three months; if you don’t start seeing an uptick in revenue after this time, then you can cut it off.”

 

NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE.

“We’ve had our fair share of failures. In one instance, my fabric supplier completely ran out of fabric. I realized I had put all my eggs in one basket with only one supplier and there was a real risk I would have to shut down the whole business.  The supplier then provided an alternative solution but their replacement simply wouldn't work for our designs. A year into the business, that was a scary moment. Thankfully we sourced an alternative supplier, who we still use today, and things are working great.

I talked to my Dad, who is an entrepreneur, and he said ‘You have to keep moving.  You don’t have to get back to where you were, just get to a different place that works for your business.’  I then came up with a totally different way to sew the headbands. It uses less fabric and it’s less labor intensive. So the outcome had such a positive impact on the business in the end.

With challenges, you have to take the energy of the problem and let it throw you into the next phase.”

Photos: Gretchen Powers

 

A BALANCING ACT.

“The biggest thing that I have learned through this business is to strike a balance between patience and tenacity. There are some things you have to slow play and others that you have to push really hard. Anything in excess or lack isn’t good.

If you’re constantly pushing, you're going to get burnt out, but if you’re always sitting back, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Owning your own business, you need to find a balance between these while not letting your business define you.”

A huge thanks to Skyler for sharing her journey and insights! As always, she shows a remarkable mix of humility, confidence, and generosity, and we’re so glad SugarSky is thriving. You can follow SugarSky at sugarskyshop.com and at @SugarSky.


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Makers Summit is Magical and Amazing and You Should Go

This year, I was invited to speak about growing your handmade wholesale business at Makers Summit (by Makers Collective, in Greenville, South Carolina.) It was exciting, since I really admire the Makers Collective folks and the authentic, thoughtful way they do things. But I had some reservations, because it's hard to take time away from work and life to do something that may be awesome or may be meh.

But now that my bags are unpacked (and by "unpacked" I mean: open and spilling their contents on my bedroom floor), I feel pretty much in awe of how great the conference turned out to be. 

Whether you were there with me and want to relive the greatest hits or whether you're thinking of attending next year, I wanted to share some of the moments and insights that made this a magical couple of days. Of course, this is just a sampling, and there were a lot of speakers I wasn't able to attend or take notes on because I was preparing for (or giving) my workshops, so suffice to say: thank you to each and every person who shared their heart and energy and wisdom at Makers Summit this year! 

10 magical & Amazing INsights from Makers summit:

 

SoutherN hospitality is definitely a thing

First, I I had never been to Greenville, South Carolina but it's a beautiful place. Thoughtfully designed, and nestled next to a beautiful river -- it's an easy and gorgeous place to spend a weekend. Check out Methodical Coffee and Falls Park, two of my favorites.

Then I noticed how kind and friendly everyone was. Makers Summit attendees were incredibly open and welcoming and I never felt that out-of-place "I'm at a conference and know no one and this is lonely" feeling. 

But most of all, I was floored by how thoughtfully the Makers Summit organizers had woven a spirit of hospitality, respect, kindness, beauty, and welcome into EVERY element of the event. The weekend ran in the flawless way that only comes about through sheer hustle and determination. They made every interaction and every detail a chance to make attendees feel cared for, inspired, and welcome. 

The beautiful organizers!  @eringodbey ,  @libramos ,  @jenmoreau

The beautiful organizers! @eringodbey, @libramos, @jenmoreau

 

It takes a family to raise a business (And family comes first) 

At some conferences, there is a sense that no one has a spouse, a kid, or a life outside of work. At this conference, many people were there with their spouse, or their mom, or their best friend, or their baby. And many, many people I spoke to told me stories of starting their business with a sleeping baby on their lap... or the smart ways they've structured their life to "live the dream" of creative life and work that isn't compartmentalized.

I left feeling inspired that you don't necessarily have to compromise your family for your business, or sacrifice your business for family -- but rather that both things can work in a creative, messy, challenging, satisfying, rich whole.

"In American culture, we think more is more, but sometimes, you don’t need more. Work less and preserve your energy.” - Phil Sanders
@annasanders  is an inspiring photographer and designer, as well as  @philsanders'  partner in crime. She was a thoughtful presence at the conference alongside her hubby.

@annasanders is an inspiring photographer and designer, as well as @philsanders' partner in crime. She was a thoughtful presence at the conference alongside her hubby.

@letteredlife  and  @austin.bristow  shared enthusiasm and passion for making a life and managing time, both in Austin's workshop and in chats throughout the weekend.

@letteredlife and @austin.bristow shared enthusiasm and passion for making a life and managing time, both in Austin's workshop and in chats throughout the weekend.

@rbprintery  volunteered at the conference, hosted a letterpress station, and run a beautiful husband-and-wife letterpress biz.

@rbprintery volunteered at the conference, hosted a letterpress station, and run a beautiful husband-and-wife letterpress biz.

 

Running a creative business can be hard And it can be amazing

Jen Gotch from Ban.Do gave a very personal talk about the deep challenges she finds in running her business. She said she wanted to "destigmatize mental illness and deglamorize success," and spoke courageously on behalf of both goals. Her experience has been that business is hard, gets harder, and is 100x harder than it ever looks from the outside. Her experience may not be everyone's experience, but it's a valuable voice in the conversation. Many people also spoke to how deeply satisfying running your own business can be and how it's only gotten better over time.

“Taking this leap of faith [of running a business] is in itself an act of self care. Because it’s all YOURS. It’s you deciding to take hold of your life and spend it doing something you truly care about.” - Jeni Britton Bauer
“Go your own way and shoot for the moon. Because if you build something massive you get to choose what to do with all that money / influence / freedom / whatever.” - JBB
“Most of being an entrepreneur is just dragging shit around.” - JBB

 

Love this illustration by  @avamariedoodles  who also runs  @aviatepress . Super-loved Jeni's followup comment on Ava's post: "It’s not going to be easy ..... but that’s what makes you: an Olympian, Frodo, Annie Oakley, Luke Skywalker... you’ve gotta challenge your inner champion. And also, that illustration is my favorite likeness of me ever. Thank you.

Love this illustration by @avamariedoodles who also runs @aviatepress. Super-loved Jeni's followup comment on Ava's post: "It’s not going to be easy ..... but that’s what makes you: an Olympian, Frodo, Annie Oakley, Luke Skywalker... you’ve gotta challenge your inner champion. And also, that illustration is my favorite likeness of me ever. Thank you.

 

You're not alone in having a lumpy, challenging, weird journey

Phil Sanders from Citizen Supply and Matt Moreau (from @thelandmarkproject and Dapper Ink) gave funny, interesting, and inspiring talks about their journeys and insights. Neither started with a master plan... and there were a lot of false starts, setbacks, and victories along the way.

“Everyone was looking at me for answers. And I just didn’t know. I realized that all I'm in control of was how I react.” - Phil Sanders
"Once you change your mindset to business being about the journey, not the goal, you’ll realize that you’re exactly where you want to be.” - PS
Matt Moreau ( @thelandmarkproject ) in his awesome talk, which took the form of a Netflix Binge. Photo by  @makersco_

Matt Moreau (@thelandmarkproject) in his awesome talk, which took the form of a Netflix Binge. Photo by @makersco_

@philsanders  snapped by  @jelrod

 

You might be sick of your story but your customers probably aren't

In my workshop, I emphasized that one of our 5 Rules of Growing Wholesale is crafting (and sharing) your story. So it resonated with me that both Jen and Phil spoke to the importance of simple, consistent storytelling throughout their talks.

“Focus on simple, repetitive messages until you feel like you want to die because that’s the point at which your audience is actually hearing it.” - Jen Gotch
"Don’t consider your product done and ready to ship until it is accompanied by your story in one way or another.” - Phil Sanders

 

you can't do it all yourself

Most makers start as a one-woman operation, but many of the speakers emphasized that building your team, your community, and your group of mentors is crucial.

“All companies are communities” - Jenni Britton Bauer
“You need to be able to distance yourself from doing every function in the company so you can do what you do well.” - JBB
“Meet up with mentors as much as you can. Get around people that have a high standard for themselves -- because your staff is not going to call you out and help you be better.” - Phil Sanders
@amyfoggart 's great snap of the beautiful art on the venue walls

@amyfoggart's great snap of the beautiful art on the venue walls

 

Focus and get professional

Matt Moreau and Phil Sanders spoke to the need for metrics, accountability, systems, and structure in creating a thriving business. At one point, years into running Citizen Supply, Phil read textbooks on buying to fill in the gaps he had in his business. Matt, a self-described "art school kid" when he started, has developed intentional rhythms and structures throughout Dapper Ink to keep things growing and on track.

“You can’t be who your company needs you to be unless you go through the process and work through the answers.” - Phil Sanders
"Good vibes alone do not a good company make." - Matt Moreau
“Ask yourself: What is the one thing I can do, that will affect the company the most, that only I can do? For creatives, there is value in finding the one thing that matters in your company right now and trying to improve it, rather than constantly finding something new.” - PS
"When you’re investing in things without knowing what’s working - you’re giving away your profit." - PS

 

Failing and taking risks is foundational to success
 

“We didn’t know how to get where were trying to go but we just became pros and taking a lot of shots and almost scoring most of the time and sometimes scoring.”  - Phil Sanders
"Part of growth means you’re innovating - and with that much ‘new’ you’re going to miss something. Cut yourself a little slack and move on.” - Jenni Britton Bauer
“Make your failures less risky. Mostly, I’m talking about debt - don’t keep putting good money after bad.” - JBB

 

Move towards having a clear vision, even if you're not there yet

Many of the speakers said it took them many years before they were able to articulate their vision clearly. But they all emphasized that it's important to develop and communicate a clear vision, when you're able to.

"Ask 'How cool would it be if __________.' Give everyone some room to dream together."
“When you get ideas, those are special moments in your life. But the vision is when you bring your idea out into the future. It’s when you see how your world will be changes when your idea is fully realized.” - Jeni Britton Bauer
"Pay attention to what you’re naturally doing in the early days of your business because that’s what you can put words to as the vision for the future of the company." - Jen Gotch
“If you have a habit to keep your vision on track, you’re already winning.” - Matt Moreau
Pic from  @shirldart  and letterpress from  @rbprintery

Pic from @shirldart and letterpress from @rbprintery

 

The internet is good but real life is so much better

(Obviously.) But I found it incredibly fun and meaningful to meet people in real life who I had connected with through Wholesale In a Box online.

I got to meet Lou from Garner Blue who we had been emailing back and forth with and is such a sweet presence in the maker community with her line and with her new shop. (And then to crown it all off, I spotted her carrying a Native Bear bag, one of our beloved Wholesale In a Box makers!) I met to meet the wonderful @positivelycreativepodcast, who sparkles with intelligence and warmth. And there was maker after wonderful maker in my workshops who I had been in contact with and could finally strategize with face to face.

Me, happy and tired after three great  @wholesaleinabox  workshops!

Me, happy and tired after three great @wholesaleinabox workshops!

 

Thank you to each and every person -- sponsors, speakers, volunteers, attendees, organizers, service providers -- for creating such a great weekend! See you next year : ) 

 


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Cupcakes, Spreadsheets, and Turning Pro

Last year, I got really into The Great British Baking Show.

Is that something that I should admit? Probably not, no. But after a stressful day, there is something bizarrely relaxing about watching people frantically bake Cardamom-Vanilla Cupcakes With Raspberry Coulis Filling.

If you're not familiar with the premise of the show, it's pretty simple: a group of amateur bakers compete each week on both their technical and creative baking skills. At the end of each episode, one baker is the "star" and one goes home. It culminates, of course, in the episode that picks the final winner.

It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of the bakers over the course of the episodes. At first, everything is a bit of a hot mess.

And, honestly, that's why it's so fun to watch the first several episodes of the season. It's a hilarious mix of potential and chaos and joy and epic failure. Cakes fall on the floor, bakers laugh and cry, things freeze and shatter, and flavors are sometimes so creative they are completely inedible.

Many of the bakers are frantic, but they're also, in some way, still not taking the competition seriously. They're certainly not taking themselves seriously -- showing both a sense of ego as well as a lack of confidence. What they bake is really inconsistent, sometimes marvelous and other times a complete mess. Oddly, many of the bakers also don't practice or plan, although there is time to do so between episodes. Many of them are winging it, perhaps because they don't really believe they can win the competition and aren't sure they want to invest in it. They're definitely not "all in." And they don't seem to be using all the tools or techniques or planning structures that they could.
 

“The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow.” 
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro
 

Later in the season, the bakers start to get serious. As the number of remaining bakers dwindles, they sense that there is a real possibility they could win the competition. And as they see the impact of their hard work, they start to realize that a lot more of their success is in their hands than they thought. 

They start to practice more during the course of the week (between episodes.) The look both more relaxed and more serious. They are more calculated with their plans and flavor combinations. They have a better sense for timing, using timers to keep them on track and balance complexity. 

It's a shift that the author Steven Pressfield calls "turning pro." The bakers have an internal transformation that bumps them to a completely different level with their work. 

“What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.” 
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

One of the bakers exemplifies this "turning pro" moment so beautifully. An engineer by trade, Andrew is a bit anxious throughout the season. Despite his training and perfectionism, he's haphazard and there is a randomness to how he seems to be approaching things. But by the last episode, he becomes so organized that he creates an intricate spreadsheet to keep track of the bakes and their timing.

It's the ultimate example of something all of the bakers are doing -- becoming so serious about what they are doing, that they don't allow themselves to risk their passion to a lack of planning.

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I've seen this with both my own work and the work of our makers. At first, as creative business owners, we're kind of winging it. We can't quite believe we're really running a business or doing our art, so some days are marked by brilliance and others are frantic failures. We don't use all of the structures or supports or systems that would help us be successful. And we don't plan in the ways we should. 

Eventually though, either in a swift change or over the course of years, many of us turn pro. We, indeed, stop fearing spreadsheets. We get better photographs. We finally learn to really understand our business finances. We hire help. We hire professionals. We become professionals, both taking ourselves less seriously but taking our work and potential more seriously. 

So, as silly as the parallel to a baking reality show seems, I really encourage you to consider this dynamic in your business. Where do you need to turn pro? Where are you letting yourself off the hook, and in doing so, holding yourself back from your fullest potential creatively and financially? Where are you playing small and letting yourself be disorganized and letting things be haphazard? 

We don't need to turn pro all at once. But each day, we can take a small step towards that pro version of ourselves. The important thing is to keep moving toward it.

And for further investigation on this topic, check out: 


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