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.


Grow Your Wholesale

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How to Avoid Becoming a Faire Maker Horror Story

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

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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.

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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.


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

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.


Grow Your Wholesale

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