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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.