Over here at Wholesale In a Box, we’re really passionate about something we call “Penguin Tactics.” Penguin Tactics is our name for when a maker does something bold, remarkable, generous, and beautiful to connect with a store or customer. We named these incredible little acts of connection “Penguin Tactics” because of something that our friends at the Unreasonable Institute do. The Unreasonable Institute is a big-time entrepreneurship incubator. But instead of sending a ho-hum thank you card on formal-looking letterheaded as a thank-you to partners, they put a 3-foot-tall stuffed penguin in a box and ship it to each and every partner. It’s connective, generous, it’s remarkable, it’s a little weird -- it’s a Penguin Tactic.
Connecting is your job
"Art is the work of a human, an individual seeking to make a statement, to cause a reaction, to connect. Art is something new, every time, and art might not work, precisely because it's new, because it's human, and because it seeks to connect." - Seth Godin
There is no art without connection. We are taught to think that it is more honorable for things to come to us. And things do come to us: design ideas, opportunities, and even new wholesale accounts. But it is no less honorable to go out and seek that connection. This is a really bold thing -- to connect with people and say, hello, this is what I made.
One of the fundamental pieces of the method that we teach makers is that connecting is your job. Instead of waiting for people to come to you and requesting wholesale orders (which will only get you to a point), you have to thoughtfully, respectfully, and consistently connect with stores that you think are a good fit, and who would benefit from selling your product.
Start with email
The biggest mistake many creative business owners make when it comes to growing wholesale is that they don’t start. We make it easier by suggesting stores each month, and giving makers a calendar of outreach and follow-up tasks to do. There are so many pieces to put in place that starting with emails is the simplest (and we believe) the most effective way to connect with a retailer. Email is usually the smartest thing to do, because it’s the simplest way to start.
We focus on emails, for the most part, because the truth is that connecting with stores doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be thoughtful and heart-felt.
Also, we have heard time and time again that store owners prefer a thoughtful email to a maker stopping in or calling -- they just have too much going on.
Email’s jerky brother: Spam
Our enthusiasm about email is not license to spam people.
If you're spamming people, you're not seeking to connect-- you're trying to find a shortcut. Connection is about generosity so your outreach should be:
- Concise - This can be hard, because we’re basically saying ‘Be a good writer!’. So if you need a hand, feel free to forward an email over and we would be happy to help! A second pair of eyes can often help you get most of the way there.
- Respectful - Be honest and direct about why you think your work is a good fit for their store. Hint: the reason should be different than your previous 10 emails.
- Remarkable - “Remarkable doesn't mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to me [your customer]. Am I going to make a remark about it?” Seth Godin
When to use Penguin Tactics: the pros and cons of sending packages and going big.
Email is great, most of the time. But we also think that once you’re in the rhythm of connecting with stores, it can often make sense to use some of those bolder, weirder, more-effort-involved Penguin Tactics.
For most makers, using Penguin Tactics looks like sending a cool, quirky package in the mail. One advantage of sending packages is that you have a richer medium to express your style, enthusiasm, and brand. The disadvantage is the cost in money, time, materials, and postage AND not every retailer wants you to send them an onslaught of stuff. For instance, Moon and Arrow says she prefers actually getting samples AFTER she indicates she’s interested. But a package can so deeply forge a connection that it can certainly be worth it!
A great example of a Penguin Tactic that is generous and simple but also remarkable -- is how one of our customers, A Jar of Pickles did her outreach here.
In the end, she may decide that she wants to create this kind of package for a minority of stores, because of the time and effort it takes. But it’s likely valuable to do, for the stores that seem like especially good fits for her. -- but It was not too over the top (and even that took a lot of work!)
This is not required, but as a rule of thumb, we often suggest sending heartfelt emails to most stores you reach out to -- and then using Penguin Tactics for 1 or 2 every month. Send something remarkable, and weird -- maybe in the shape, or size, or medium. Maybe it’s a card that’s round or a box that is unusually big or small. Maybe it’s just a simple letter but it is deeply unusual in how sincere it is. Send something remarkable, yes -- but and not out of control in extravagance. Some store owners have told us that when a maker sends a very generous (but perhaps over the top) package they feel bad if it’s not a good fit that the maker spent so much time, energy and money into the package and often, as though they are guilted into buying. That’s not what you are going for, so it helps sometimes to take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of your customer (in this case a store owner who is busy like you).
Getting yourself out there is hard -- and doing so in a way that is aligned with how you want to feel and how you want your prospective customers (ideally partners for many years to come) to feel -- is even harder.
We believe in starting, even though you will likely mess up along the way. Getting your work into the world is worth the occasional embarrassing email you send and even worth the 15 rejections you get for every one account you gain. Even when you think you made a fool out of yourself, it’s more likely you made a human out of yourself.
We are here if you need us: firstname.lastname@example.org or set a time for a call if you would like to talk something through.