Normal people start thinking about the holidays in late November. Makers, on the other hand, start thinking about the holidays, well, as soon as they recover from the last season.
As a maker, getting ready for the holidays can be stressful. On one hand, you want to make the most of the season to get sales -- especially wholesale sales -- in the door. On the other hand, you don’t want to oversell (and under-deliver) or create a stressful situation, trying to fulfill orders beyond your capacity.
So consider this your cheat sheet for holiday sales and holiday sanity. It’s for any maker who is trying to get their handmade line into more stores, but without driving themselves insane. We want to share our biggest learnings, based on watching hundreds of makers grow wholesale over the holidays. If we can save you time, frustration, and stress, then we’ve done our job.
As always: There are certainly no magic bullets in business and there is no “one size fits all” business growth plan. So be sure to “sense check” each piece of advice below with what you know is right for you and your line.
9 Crucial Tips to Grow Wholesale This Holiday Season:
1. Prepare your personal life.
This is a bit of a “do as I say not as I do” type recommendation. (We closed on, and moved into, our house on the same day we launched the biggest sale we’ve ever had. Not a recipe for sanity.) Here’s the deal, as you probably know if you’re more than a year into your business. Things get crazy around the holidays, especially if you’re trying to grow. You’re dealing with retail orders, wholesale orders, holiday markets, and production all at once. So it will be a little nuts, but the truth is that the truly nuts period is pretty short, probably about 4-6 weeks. It doesn’t last forever, so don’t “heap on”, adding other unnecessary commitments to the roster during those weeks. Try to set expectations with yourself, family, and friends so that you have as clean a slate as possible so you can focus on your business. During the most intensive 4-6 weeks, don’t sign up to volunteer or bake cookies for your kid’s thing or go away for a long weekend or do things for your business that aren’t directly related to holiday sales. It’s a short chunk of the year, so it’s ok if the rest of your life isn’t 100% “normal” during it.
2. Get the help you need -- early.
Ideally, you don’t wait until you’re already completely overwhelmed before you get help. The time to start setting it up is now, long before you’ll need it. Perhaps you’re so well-established that you can actually interview for skilled hourly workers to help you with production, and you already know how many hours per week, during which weeks, you will need them. If so -- GREAT -- make it happen. But, if your business is a little more unpredictable at this point, and you’re not sure whether you’ll need help, whether you’ll be able to pay for it, or how much help you’ll need -- that is ok. You can ask a couple of friends to commit to being “on call” during a 3-week period for movie-and-production nights. You can tell a friend’s teenage daughter you’ll pay her $8 an hour for production help but that it might be 2 hours or 22 hours. In other words, you can start cultivating the help you’ll need, but doing so in a way that is flexible and fits the stage that your business is at. It’s ok to tell people, “I might need help, but I’m not sure how much.”
3. Love the ones you’re with.
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 (our full guide on this is here) just by filtering for All 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 also do it in your regular calendar or task management system. The idea here is: 1) reflect on who will benefit from a check-in 2) plan out and schedule all the check-in tasks at once rather than getting distracted and doing them one-by-one.
4. Focus on your best sellers and what makes you distinctive.
Makers tend to think their line needs to be well-rounded. There is certainly some truth to that, but store owners often tell us that it is actually the 2 or 3 standout pieces that prompt them to choose this line over that line. Standout pieces help stores make sales when a customer is in the shop browsing. So if there is a piece that they simply can’t get anywhere else, it will likely push them over the edge to choosing your line, and putting together enough other pieces from the line to make a full order.
5. Get your outreach materials as good as they can be, so they’re not holding you back.
The pre-holiday period is a great time of year to spruce up your outreach materials. It doesn’t have to be a hugely time consuming process, but if you can set aside even an hour to pull up all of your outreach materials and look at them with fresh eyes, that can be helpful. Take a look at your line sheet, product photography, email template, and other materials. Make a list of the things that will take the least investment of time and money that will have the biggest impact on the quality of your materials. Get a fresh pair of eyes on them if you can, too. (We provide Wholesale In a Box folks detailed feedback on their materials, but even a non-expert can often catch inconsistencies or mistakes that you might not have caught yourself.)
6. Connect with people who will love your work
The entire Wholesale In a Box service is built to help you connect with stores that will love your work. But I do want to demystify it for you. With Wholesale In a Box, we do the scouting for you, but you absolutely can do it for yourself with consistent investments of time and attention. Start by looking for stores for whom carrying your work should be a no-brainer. Find stores that are such great fits that you almost think they must already be carrying your work. Track them down locally and across the country. Once you find a good list of stores, connect with them from your heart. Do the thinking for them. Show them how your line can be sold as gifts. Explain why you think your work would be a great fit. And follow up. It’s not rocket science -- it just takes a little courage and a lot of consistency.
7. Take a step back and make a plan.
Gosh it’s hard for me to take my own advice, but here is the advice: the more you do early, the better the results, with the less stress you’ll have. Makers often ask me when the ideal time to reach out to stores for the holidays is, 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. 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, your 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 now, plan what you intend to do to grow over the holidays, and take it one step at a time.
8. Launch ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.
If you have a product that’s brewing, pre-holiday season is a great time to do it. Don’t let it be a distraction for the sales and marketing of your current set of products. But if there is something that you think you could get out in time, the holidays are a great time to get new things out into the world. (And if you want some help launching new products without spending a lot of money or hearing crickets at launch time, check out the guide to launching new products that we created with Leela of Native Bear.
9. Work according to your business stage.
One tricky part of wholesale growth is that everyone needs slightly different advice. If you’re brand new, and this is your first holiday season, I’d recommend dramatically different things than if you’re 5 years into your business. Here is our top tip for each stage:
If you’re brand new…
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 tips 4, 5, 6, and 7 above -- connect with stores as much and as effectively as you can. (Oh and for a nice primer on starting with wholesale for handmade lines, check out Aeolidia’s lovely post here.
If you have several holiday seasons under your belt already…
For the love of all things holy, process and act on that experience. Usually that means focusing on tips 1, 2, and 3 above. The majority of makers we work with have an incredible depth of experience and business savvy but they mentally discount it and say that they’re “making it up as they go along” or “flying by the seat of their pants.” Honestly? That is true for very few of the people that are reading this email. Claim the knowledge you have by spending 20 minutes jotting down 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?
There is always an element of luck in business growth. But a huge portion of it is in your hands. You can grow your wholesale, and you can do it sanely. Start early, do what you can with what you have, and be realistic about the time and resources available to you.
If you are at the end of this post and find you still need help strategizing, we’re here to help. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you within 1 business day.