Standing Out to Stores - Stacey of Mineral and Matter
This miniclass is part of our Wholesale In a Box Mentor Intensive, which is offered free for Wholesale In a Box makers. You can find the rest of the miniclasses here.
Stacey Foster is the maker, designer, and shopkeeper behind Mineral and Matter. Mineral and Matter is a line of jewelry and decorative arrows that is beloved around the country -- as well as a studio space and shop in Salt Lake City. In this miniclass, Stacey gets very specific about how makers can stand out to store owners -- from packaging, to what to do and not do in your initial email, to the details and terms that make a difference. She’s also honest about the toll that her work takes and what she’s learned about staying sane and healthy.
On making and evolving
I worked for a jewelry designer in LA for three years and a letterpress stationer after that for two years, both of which were great for experience and finding my way towards what I wanted to be doing. I moved to Salt Lake City shortly after my time in LA and began a line of decorative arrows and a small jewelry collection, selling on Etsy and at craft fairs for the first couple years.
I grew slowly and started offering wholesale and did NSS and NY NOW with my arrow line. Around that time, I took a business planning course for women through a local program and completed it with a request for a loan, which I received and used to purchase a U-Haul truck, remodel it into a mobile boutique, and buy inventory. I added the mobile boutique to my mix for a couple years and then found a studio space (I had been working out of my second bedroom until then) and there was a small retail space (barely bigger than the truck!) that I used to open my retail store. I quit my full time job at this point and made the leap to working solely for myself. Then, I took a soldering class and started making more jewelry as well as carrying other designers. After a year there, my building was sold and I ended up renting a larger space next door to my previous space and offered to share it with The Land of Salt, as it was a big rent increase and I was nervous about taking it all on myself. That partnership was amazing and we rented there together for three years. My jewelry business continued to grow and I reached a point where I felt able to do it on my own and found a space with a better location that I rented this past May. The Land of Salt also rented her own space and now we are neighboring shops in the same building. We still talk shop all the time and have a short wholesale planning meeting every Tuesday morning to help keep us both on track. My new space is a larger retail area with a small studio section and my focus is now on maintaining the retail side of things along with growing the wholesale jewelry side.
Make the effort to communicate -- in a personal way
As a store owner, I get to see both sides of the wholesale business and it does give me a lot of insight as a maker. Communication is definitely a big part of having a successful relationship with a store and it's helpful to remember that they are people too, with the same worries and problems of work/life balance that we have as makers. I try to be sincere and thoughtful when writing thank you notes, commenting on Instagram, emailing them, and in my outreach efforts. As a store owner, I definitely take note of makers that put that little extra personalization into their communication with me. Professionalism is also important, like careful packaging of merchandise I receive, contacting me with any delays in production (and offering options for handling it), replacing anything that was incorrect, and being quick to respond to my emails.
Make it easy for your product to sell in shops
As I develop my products, I'm always trying to work on making the final product easy for a store to sell. That includes packaging that is eye-catching but also simple and that fits in with a variety of store styles, including Point of Purchase displays (ring boards and necklace display boards) as options.
Don’t take store owners’ silence personally
Another thing I try to remember is that as a store owner myself, I rarely have time to email back every single email submission. I get 5-10 submissions a week and I am still a very small team with all aspects of my business falling to me, except for a small amount of production that I have assistants working on. I also have a family and try to make time for myself so some things tend to fall low on my priority list and email replies is one of those things for me. So, when I email stores and don't hear anything back, I try to keep my head up and remember that they are busy people too and not take it personally, but just move on and keep looking for those perfect partnerships. That said, as a store owner, I DO look at every one of those emails and attached line sheets or website links -- and if it's a good fit and I haven't spent my inventory budget for the month already, I'll reach out to them. If it’s a product I do want at some point, I do try to reach out to at least to say, “Please keep me on your list! I'm interested!” It's harder if I don't see it as a fit, because I don't like sending out a negative reply. (This is probably an email template I need to spend some time making.)
struggling with wholesale (but great at craft markets?)
I do a lot of local markets as well as a handful of out of state markets and it is so interesting to see that what sells best at one place isn't always the same as what sells well in another place. I would say if you have a hard time getting stores but do well at markets, maybe you can try to represent your work in another way to store owners. So much of selling is personal and the whole look. If my booth is set up the best that it can be, it will draw in one person and once someone else is looking, more people come in and then everyone wants to know what’s going on at that booth.
In a store pitch, usually an email, you don't get all the visual representation or the ability to draw a crowd. You have to use your words to convey that experience. If it's not working, keep changing it up until it does. Put yourself into that store's shoes and reread your pitch and see what draws your eye, piques your interest, sounds intriguing, or sets you apart from other makers. Your personality could be the thing that's different. Maybe you only use ethically sourced stones or had a great piece of press recently. Maybe you need to show your product with it's Point of Purchase display or its jewelry card if you really think it fits with the store you’re pitching. Maybe you can select an area of your work you do well on and pitch that only. For example, if someone pitched me an ear party (think stacking rings but for your ears) right now, I would likely buy from them. It's on trend, different from other jewelers’ pitches I'm getting, and I've been looking for a designer that focuses on this specifically lately and I can see it in my store as something special that my customers would love.
What matters most when buying for the shop
These are the things that matter most to me when considering a line for the shop:
Without a great product, we don’t have a conversation.
Good product photos.
Without good photos, I can’t tell it's a good product.
Nice packaging that fits my store.
In fact, beauty products are almost entirely sold to me based on their packaging/branding -- I don't have time to request samples, try them all out, and then also hope the packaging looks nice.
If you can show me your vibe though your pitch pictures, I'll be intrigued and want to see more and be able to imagine the item in my store.
The price point needs to fit my store.
Ethical production and sourcing.
Ethically made/sourced is always a good selling point.
Complement to store inventory.
I need to make sure the product doesn't overlap with what I already stock.
Evolution in the line over time.
For reorders, I like to see something new from time to time. It makes my reorder exciting for me instead of just a regular restock.
It helps me a lot when minimums aren't too big to try out a brand -- and when reorder minimums are low so I can replace things when a few sell.
Keep packaging simple and special
Every brand is different, but if you are pitching to my store, I'll love you if you have a mineral or outer space (not cheesy though) theme in some of your products -- but that is super specific to my shop. Otherwise, I like clean white packages and gold shiny packages and matte black packages. I don't mind a pop of color that goes with my own branding, so rich purple, fuschia and navy are winners for me. If your product packaging is too much color or too busy or looks too crafty, even if I like the product, I probably can't see it fitting in on my shelves. Less is more with packaging if you don't have a specific brand look. A nice detail could be gold foil lettering, a collection that goes together nicely if I buy a set, or a bonus display fixture if your product needs it to be best displayed. I love Tester stickers that match your brand -- I want my customers to use those testers but I don't have perfect labels for each product if they don't come labeled as a tester already.
The biggest mistake I see makers make is not looking professional when they reach out to me. For instance:
Please don't misspell my name or store name.
I don't mind, but I'll notice.
Check your emails for grammar.
If you use the wrong your/you're, that's all I will remember about your pitch.
Don't sound too much like a template email.
I realize you're using one and that's fine, but include a little bit that is personalized and let's me know you've really checked out my store and think we fit.
Don't make your email to me too long.
I'm so busy and I'll skim it and look for the line sheet link and miss any details that might have made your product more special if I'd known.
Mineral and Matter’s best selling line
One of my best sellers is Little Shop of Oils -- they’re zodiac perfume oil rollers. They come in a matte black box with sparkly gold stars and text. The testers have nice gold tester labels on them. They're personalized, and each is a zodiac, so customers feel a little connection and ownership already by looking for "their" sign. Finally, they do smell good and have gemstones inside and the bottles themselves out of the box are just as cute as the box. Lastly, this company almost always has everything in stock and ready to ship and they communicate fast and speak up if part of my order is delayed and offer to split it. They also have new products seasonally and refresh packaging on older products from time to time. Every order I place, I end up trying another item from their line and it becomes a regular part of my order with them.
On balancing life, making, and shopkeeping
This is the hardest thing about owning a business. I've chosen to make it extra hard by spreading myself out to retail/online sales/wholesale and often feel like I am not doing any one of those three things the best that I could. I have a 2.5 year old boy, a husband that needs attention, two dogs that need walking, a house that always needs more cleaning, a yard that I didn't touch all summer long and I also need to take care of myself. I'm not unique: everyone has a list like this.
Two things that have worked to help me find balance lately:
First, boundaries: I have learned to say no and the list of things I say no to grows all the time. Right now, it's no to custom orders, repairs (that aren't my jewelry), facebook (I autopost there from Instagram, but otherwise don't even look at it), answering my phone after business hours (voicemail is fine!), and staying open as late as my neighboring shops. I've turned down shows that have been too small in the past, even if my bank account says I should try and maybe it will be better this time -- it usually isn't. I've stopped letting myself stress and overbook during slow periods to make up for the lack of immediate funds. The money will come, if I don't freak out, but instead focus in and hone in on what works in my business. Now, I use those slow times to make more stock and fix up my website, etc. My other firm boundary is not working at the shop past 6pm. I can go in early, but I can't stay late. Once I get home, it's family/house time. I can't touch work again until everyone else is asleep. (I break this rule from time to time, but overall it's good for all of us.)
Second: Me Time. I'm getting better at this, but this last summer really wore me out. I have health problems I associate with opening the business and running it the last five years and it's time to fix that. I've started seeing a nutritionist weekly, exercising three times a week at least, eating healthy, and SLEEPING. Eating and sleeping are things we all have to do daily to exist, so I've put my focus into making those two things the best they can be and it's really paying off.
I've also added a part time employee one day a week just so that I could have a “me” day. I can work for part of it if I'm in the mood to do so, but if I do work, it has to be designing new things or doing business things that I enjoy but never have enough time for. I also use this day to schedule in lunches with friends, get my nails done, check out the new store down the road or just walk around the park. I'm trying to use this day as time where I do all those things that I think would help fulfill me, excite me, motivate me, rejuvenate me or make me feel like a more well rounded, contributing person.
Be yourself, even when it feels hard
Hang in there and don't try to be something you're not or don't want to be. Don't get sucked into the hole of comparison. Do your best, make changes as needed, do even better, and keep going. The best growth happens organically, not overnight. Don't be hard on yourself -- you will never have enough time to do all the things 100% perfectly, and that's OK. List your priorities, make sure they match with your heart -- and then get to work.
Stacey’s breadth of experience makes her advice really compelling and actionable for makers.
Among the takeaways that stand out are:
Don’t take silence personally.
It can be hard for busy shop owners to reply to every email, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to send you a message.
Keep trying different things.
If you’re struggling with wholesale, don’t fall into the trap of EITHER quitting OR forging on. Keep trying different approaches until you get some momentum.
Be thoughtful about packaging.
Many times, that’s the primary thing that store owners are making a decision based on (especially with something like an apothecary line) so if the packaging isn’t gorgeous and unique, it’s going to be hard to sell.
Make it easy to work with you.
Pay attention to things like having accessible minimums, communicating professionally, and details like including “tester” stickers with your shipment.
Set firm boundaries between your work life and family life.
Take care of yourself first.
Eating, sleeping, exercise, and time for rest and fun are crucial to the sustainability of what you’re doing.
Don’t compare yourself to other makers or try to fit a mold.
Don't try to be something you're not or don't want to be. And don't get sucked into the hole of comparison.
Have questions or need a hand?
This miniclass is part of our Wholesale In a Box Mentor Intensive, which is offered free for Wholesale In a Box makers.
As always, we’re here to help! If you have clarifying questions, want us to take a look at what you’re working on, or would like to schedule a coaching call, just drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.