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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