Entering the Wholesale Market

 

entering the wholesale market, april mackinnon, anointment natural skin care

You have a fantastic product, even a loyal fan base and you’re ready to expand. How do you get your products into retail stores? It is an interesting challenge that Anointment is navigating right now. With a store having to choose between a myriad of products, how do you make YOUR product stand out from the bunch? This is the big question.

The answer is complicated, but here is a checklist of items to think about as you approach stores with your product.

1. Have a quality product, image and branding to go with it. I’ve seen it stated before, even right here on Oh My! Handmade but it bears repeating. Get it right before you take it to market. Your product is fantastic and retailers will want to research your website and promotional material – and will judge you and your business accordingly. Once a customer has tried your product, hopefully they will be hooked – but getting them to buy is key!

2. Social Media. Anointment is on Facebook, Twitter, a personal blog and Oh My! Handmade. I update Facebook frequently – usually on a daily basis and strive for blog posts at least three times a week. Of course, the blog posts are not always business related, but as always with me, life is business, and business is life. I like to think I’m a pretty well rounded person, so you’re going to get a little bit of everything. The great thing about social media is the connectivity and the customer feedback.

3. Farmer’s Markets and Craft Fairs. Anointment began at the historic Halifax, Nova Scotia Farmer’s Market in 2002. In 2011 my family and I moved from Halifax to Sackville, New Brunswick where we now participate in a much smaller but very well supported farmer’s market. We have met so many fantastic people in the four short months we’ve been doing it and have received press in a regional newspaper and opened a successful new wholesale account as a result – you never know who you might meet on Market Day.

4. Hire a Sales Representative. We have retained the services of a regional sales representative with contacts throughout the region in a variety of types of retail stores. A sales representative will have long-standing relationships with store owners and be armed with product knowledge, anecdotes about how the products are doing in other stores, catalogues, order forms and samples. Our rep has been working on opening new accounts in areas of the region where we are less able to reach individually. Be sure that the sales representative you hire will represent you in a way that is favourable – do your research, ask for references. When I owned a retail store I had one representative who came in with greasy samples, smeared business cards and body odour. I wish I was joking. Keep in mind that working with a sales representative means creating an agreement over their territory, commission and how you will manage any existing retail accounts within that territory. Be clear and put your agreement on paper. There are many variables.

5. Use your contacts. It’s all about who you know. If you’ve fostered relationships with retail store owners via social media, LinkedIn, a former job or other means – use it. Send a personal or personalized letter along with a catalogue and samples and follow up within two weeks with a phone call. If you have retailers that haven’t ordered for some time, send them one too, particularly if you have updated your branding, launched new products, received an award, etc.

6. Flexibility. I have set up a number of new accounts on consignment. It’s a gamble – some may work, some may not, but it is a means of reaching stores you admire or where you think your product will do well without an initial investment on the part of the store itself. Particularly in today’s economy, stores are typically working with less capital and having to compete harder with discounters.

7. Support your retailers. Don’t forget to support your retailers with regular newsletters keeping them in touch with what’s happening in your workshop, in-store promotional material, newsletters and clips they can forward to their clientele. Your relationship with your retailers is much like your relationship with your spouse – it takes time and effort to build and maintain it!

8. Have Patience. This is probably my biggest downfall. I want it all and I want it right now. You’ve got to put a a cap on that Veruca Salt Syndrome. Building relationships takes time and retailers will take a significant amount of time to try, evaluate, budget and eventually buy your product. The trick it to keep them up to date without overwhelming their inboxes and calling out of the blue. Tip: frequent calling is very tricky. Retailers are very busy and easily annoyed. It is a delicate balance.

You may find that once you reach a “critical mass” of stores they start coming to you to open accounts – fantastic! Don’t forget to keep fostering those relationships with the stores that took a gamble on you and be careful about territory. Wholesaling can become a very political game. Have your policies clearly laid out and abide by them (while still maintaining some flexibility – tricky, I know). Be patient and keep at it. Good luck!

4 comments

  1. April says:

    Bee, it definitely varies. If you have the time and ability to be out marketing your product on foot, by email, by telephone and have lots of connections with store owners, you may have no trouble repping yourself. If you are bogged down with production, management or don’t have those contacts, you may want to consider it. Being ready with samples, literature, anecdotal stories of how your product is doing elsewhere and knowing what to ask of your rep is half the battle. Make sure you are able to cope with both a sudden upswing in demand if you have a rep that is able to open many new accounts for you and/or a long, slow process of growing a relationship with retailers if your product has a lot of competition or if economic conditions are bad. There is no clear cut answer, but if you are ready to focus on production rather than knocking on doors, that’s one good sign you’re ready.

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