Ask Grace: Your Retail Questions Answered

retail coaching, grace kang, pink olive, retail recipes, retail help for handmade

by Grace Kang of Retail Recipes & Pink Olive

I am very excited to be joining the Oh My! Handmade Goodness community as your new retail contributor.   I have a soft spot when it comes to making people happy with thoughtful and inspired handmade gifts. Ever since I was young, I was fascinated with everything creative and wanted to curate a shop of my own.  I have great passion for retail and finding unique gifts and have now made it into my career.   Over the years, I have been fortunate to work as a buyer for Barney’s, Saks and Bloomingdale’s in growing multi-million dollar businesses.  I now operate two specialty stores in NYC called Pink Olive where we inspire giving and beautiful living.   With that business came about my bigger mission for Retail Recipes – where I help emerging designers give life to new products and create a desirable brand.

Thank you to everyone who submitted their burning questions last month.  I had a great time reading them all.  I will be visiting the blog every month to answer some of your questions from a “retailer’s” perspective and help you get your product retail-ready!

Q:  Allisa asks, “How do I determine my target buyers?  It seems simple enough but when I get down to it, I just don’t know.”

A: Thanks for asking this question Allisa.  Looking at your target market is the first step in knowing how to market your product.  In determining who you are targeting and who you want to target, here are some questions to ask yourself:

* What kind of product are you offering to the marketplace?
* Is your product filling a void?
* Who is your competition and where are those products being carried?  This will be a good starting point as to gauge the size of the market and pin-point some of the potential stores out there.
* How is your product different from what is already out there?  After all, there is only so much space a store has and they can’t afford to have too much duplication.
* How do you envision your product being sold? What kind of environment do you want to be in?

One way to find your customer is to start local.  Walk around your neighborhood. Research shopping guides and review sites to see where your product can be a good fit.  Participate in craft fairs and flea markets and see the kind of customers who are actually “buying” your product.  Ask them questions.  Ask them which boutiques they like to shop?  Note their demographic.  All this information will be very helpful when looking for your “ideal” target stores.

Retailers want to know that you have done your homework before contacting them.  Once you start compiling some list of potential stores, don’t just add them to your “mailing list” and send them a mass email.  As a store owner, it is a BIG turn-off when I get a mass email from a vendor I never had a conversation before getting that e-newsletter.    Most likely, it will get deleted or not opened. (Plus it’s not legal add email addresses without permission). For the first email, it is best to send a personalized note as to why you are contacting them and why your product will be a good fit for the store.  Acknowledge that you have either been to the shop OR have looked through the website.  With so many product submissions that I get each day, it helps when I can “connect” with the person behind the brand.  After all, we want to do business with people we like and not just being “sold” to.

Pitching to retailers is like pitching to the media.  You will have a much better chance of a response if you personalize your pitch than send a mass email to stores (who may not even be your target market).  Once you have some stores under your belt, you can start looking for sales reps/showrooms.  You can also think about doing trade shows down the road – but that is definitely a big commitment!  Make sure you are ready!

{I Am Sew Creative by ParadaCreations}

Q: Nicole asks,” I currently sell my tees through my online shop.  I would love to branch out to selling the line in brick and mortar stores and would love to know what the best way to do that.  Is there a particular “look” or persona that stores look for when they are interested in picking up a line?  And what’s the best way to go about approaching an owner or buyer when showing them your product?  Also, what is your recommendation for getting your line noticed by a buyer?”

A: Great questions Nicole.  Store buyers (both specialty and department stores) are ALWAYS looking to bring in new product.   With that said, there has to be some level of professionalism in your communication and the execution of your product for it to start gaining attention from a store buyer.  Here are some things that buyers look for in a new product:

* Branding – from a visual standpoint, this is big!  It needs to be cohesive and work well with your message and product idea.  Your packaging and presentation will play a key role in the way the buyer perceives your brand.  So PLEASE spend some time with this….it will pay off in the long run.

* GREAT website – the first place that I usually go to when checking out a new line is my friend google.com.  You want your website to come up first and compelling enough to want to see it in person.  Make sure you blow them away with gorgeous pictures and copy.

* Compelling STORY – what’s your story?  At the end of the day, buyers want to hear your story and why you created the product.  Is this solving a problem?  How did you come up with your “A-ha” moment? 

* PRESS mentions always help. When you are being “talked about” in the media, retailers are more likely to contact you.  If they like your line and end up bringing it into the shop, they can also incorporate that piece in selling your line.  It’s always good to get editorial mentions in relevant blogs and magazines – buyers are constantly on the lookout!

* GET your product out there – no one will find you if you are sitting at home with your product.  Start getting your product out there in craft fairs, flea markets and online marketplace (i.e. etsy).  I am always “shopping” with two set of hats – retail buyer hat and consumer hat.  I have picked up a number of lines that I found from sites like etsy and even craft fairs to add to the store assortment.

The more exposure you can get for your brand, in the media and direct-to-customer, the better chance of a buyer finding and contacting YOU!  Wouldn’t that be nice?

A great way to approach the store owner or buyer is by email first.  I normally don’t like people just walking into the store to show me their samples because you are disrupting the flow of what they had planned for that time (and you want to respect their time as much as you want to be respected.  If it’s for a department store, you will need to get the name of the buyer as they are not likely working in the store.   You want to send a personalized email that I mentioned in the previous question and follow-up with a phone call.  Hopefully, if they are interested you can set up an in-person meeting.  If they pass, that’s OK too.  It could just be the wrong timing.  Make sure you follow up with any interesting news in a few months.

Lastly, buyers want to know that your business is not just a hobby and that you will be around tomorrow.  When I pick up new lines for the shop, we invest a lot of time and energy in educating the staff, selling, marketing, promotions, and social media.  Whn you have a great website, images, story, etc, it shows that you have a good strategy in place for building your brand.  I love partnering with designers where we can grow together.  Always think of win-win partnerships!

Do you have a retail question for Grace that you would like to see answered? Just visit this link to submit your questions!

13 comments

  1. grace says:

    you’re welcome! keep on plugging away! pitching to retail is like pitching to the media. consistency and spark is key! 🙂

    thanks again for everyone who submitted questions last month. keep submitting them… you never know when we will pick yours!

    also, if you sign up on retailrecipes.com, you will also get my TOP 10 Checklist for FREE 🙂

  2. Katrina says:

    This is so helpful – my main goal this summer is to start to diversify my shop’s presence with some B&M stores, starting with my very favorite cheese shop that also carries local kitchen-related items. With your tips I hope to build a mutually beneficial relationship with this and other shops.

    Thanks for the insight from “the other side of the table” – looking forward to more of your posts!

  3. Thank you sooo much for the advice! I LOVE this column! I am interested in branching out into wholesale, but I have no idea how to continue the conversation with buyers once I’ve completed the “pitch”! If they are interested in my products, how do we work out the details like pricing, percentages, and profit?

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