This post is probably going to be one of the snarkiest ones we've ever written, but also the most TRUTHFUL! You've been warned... Two of our good friends are managers at other Austin stores. In the past couple of months, Josiah and I have chatted with them about how people come in and awkwardly try to sell us their items. And we all agreed on so many things. So we've each compiled a list to help you sell your stuff better!
Lauren & Josiah Lowe are at The Burlap Bag, a silly ole shop with the dorkiest owners ever! I mean, high quality handmade goods. Sunnie Reagin is at Atown, a shop here in Austin with lots of local handmade goods and fun quirky gifts.Brian Nunnery is at in.gredients, the first zero-waste, package-free grocery store in the US! It's here in Austin.
(The three of us SEPARATELY wrote out these things and then Lauren combined them. And the writing is color coded as above. So if you wanna approach our stores or others like ours.... take note! :) Other stores obviously might be different. If you've done any of these things before, that's ok! Just read our tips and think about using them next time you approach a place. Maybe they'll be more receptive to your great items!)
The 4 P's to Selling Your Items to a Shop
Research the area you'd like to sell to. See what shops like that one are around. Read up on the shop before you come in - see if they are big bloggers (we are, shocker, The Burlap Bag is a blog that you're currently on...). Then actually make it into the store and see what kind of items they have. Check the prices in their store to see how your items would fit in - see if your items are of a similar quality and style - and maybe even buy something small that you can mention later that you loved!
Don't: Forget to take some time to check out the store, online and in person. I hate starting off a meeting with, "So what did you think about the store?" and them saying, "Oh well I haven't looked around yet. What all do you sell?" How can you understand what the store is all about and how can you just assume that your product will fit in without at least looking around?
Do: Your research. To me, the number one most important thing for a potential vendor to do is to get to know the store before talking with us about selling their product- just as reading up on a company you're interviewing for is imperative. Check us out online and then take some time to look around.
Please don't try to talk with whoever is running the cash register about being a potential artist. That specific employee probably isn't the shop's buyer (for The Burlap Bag, it's just Josiah and I, but we're a weird case!). If you haven't looked online for the buyer's contact info, look around the front desk for a business card or ask the cashier who you should contact about selling your items. If they are the buyer, NOW IS NOT A GOOD TIME TO CHAT ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS! Even if they say it is okay, they'd probably rather you email them for details. Instead, mention that you're interested and ask them how they prefer to talk with potential artists - email, phone, or in person. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT bring in items without an appointment. We do love seeing new artists and items... but we've also got a shop to run and need a schedule for things.
Don't: Call or walk in and expect a buyer to be available to drop everything and talk to you right then. The day to day life of a buyer or store manager is go go go, one million and one things to do, all the time. Especially do not walk into a store WITH your product *cringe* I personally find this really inconsiderate. We're trying to run a store here, how do you think we could provide good customer service if our sales associates are having to deal with what is basically soliciting?
Do: Respect the fact that we're busy- just as you would when setting up an interview for a job (back to that again, yes, because these two situations are more similar that you may think.) Trust me, we WANT to see your work and possibly meet with you, that's our job and it honestly is the most fun part of the job, but we're already working 10+ hour days sometimes, let us choose an appropriate time where we can actually sit down with you and discuss things freely.
Don't walk in the door unless we've connected already. It's really hard to get over the feeling of intrusion. Even if I like your product and if we had a positive reaction, I still feel like my space has been violated if someone does a cold visit at the store. Being able to say "hey, we met at that event" or "hey, I wrote to you on twitter yesterday" makes it feel much better. Seriously - if there's ANY relevance, even a twitter post, it's better than nothing.
- If you do decide that you must chat with me about selling your stuff in person without emailing before (even though i just explained why not to....:) )
- Don't beat around the bush. I know where you're going when you say "oh, cool store. Where do you get all your items? How do you pick all your artists? How would "someone" go about selling their items here?" Just come out and tell me that you're an artist and you'd like some info. It's easy!
- Have a business card and ask for a business card. DO NOT ask me for a piece of paper so you can write down your email.
- and NO, I don't want to see photos on your iphone. ha! how many times this has happened.....please just email them to me.
Be confident in your products. (whether this is in an email, a scheduled appointment, etc.) You probably make great pieces that took you some time - be proud of them and talk them up! Explain what materials you use and what the process looks like and where you've sold them so far and people's feedback.
Please please please don't EVER say "I can't get rid of these" or "they've been in my closet forever" or "my friends don't wanna buy my stuff anymore". Do you realllllly think I want your items after hearing that?! Seriously. I hear that one a least once a month.
Before you've even THOUGHT about approaching a store, you need:
- a wide variety of products or variation of fabrics/colors/smells/etc of the same product
- photos on a website/facebook/etsy
- some type of packaging to make your product complete
Don't: Overlook the importance of branding and presentation. Nothing's worse than having to dig through Google search to find images and information about your work.
Do: Take the time to keep up a website, etsy, even a Facebook is better than nothing. Make or have a logo made. Have nice images of your work. Have a line sheet. Come up with an idea for how your work should be displayed (or better yet- provide a display, it's likely that all it takes is a trip to Goodwill or office supply store). Make or have your own tags made. Organize all of your media into a PDF and present your work to potential stores this way- as a brochure or portfolio of sorts.
Don't: Make us feel like we have to take your work.
Do: Realize that there are a million reasons we may not want or be able to take your work, including craftsmanship issues, pricing issues, disorganization issues, the fact that we don't have space for it at the time, the fact that we have another vendor that's too similar, or even just that you have a bad attitude. Be open to the possibility that we may say no.
Samples. Always. I remember good products, and think you're silly otherwise.
DON'T PUSH. In fact, take a totally casual non-pushy approach. Tell me more about what you like about MY store, not why I'd like your product. Somehow hearing more about ME than YOU makes me feel like I want your product, as narcissistic as that sounds. But really that's not selfishness - that's just that when you talk about your product your product your product your product it makes me more and more uncomfortable if I haven't had the time to think about your product. So hearing about me too and having a dialogue about not just your product is critical.
- Have your prices for consignment/wholesale thought out. You shouldn't have to struggle and be awkward when a shop asks you for details on your pricing. Also know your minimums (such as the shop must buy 10 items minimum, or spend $100 to get your 40% wholesale discount).
- When doing your pricing, remember that not all prices fit for every store. Yes, that one cool item might sell for $75 on etsy every once in awhile, but etsy has like 5 bajillion shoppers. Our shop has like 2. Just because it sells on etsy doesn't mean it will in our shop.
-Shops DO need to make money. Shocking, I know. Air conditioning, rent, insurance, employees, buying items.... the list goes on. Plus enough for the owners to barely live. (cough cough opening your own small business when you're 23 is insane and you'll be broke). We need items people will actually buy! This means a range of prices, expensive and inexpensive. And the quality has to match the price.
-If you sell it online for $30 we will not buy it for $30. There's a thing called wholesale. And another called consignment. GOOGLE THEM :)
Don't: Try to negotiate consignment terms, complain about the cut, or raise your prices for consignment. This is NOT the way it works and it's super unprofessional.
Do: Price your items correctly to where they work for wholesale AND 50/50 consignment. Who knows, you may get lucky and sell somewhere that does 60/40- in which case you'll make a little bit of an extra buck. Generally though, you have to realize that yes, you can sell your items yourself at a craft show or on SOCO for 100% profit but you're having to pay for your table, booth, whatever + loading and unloading everything + your time + whatever system you're using to process sales + processing fees, etc. and if you add all of that up, I can almost guarantee it's around 40-50% of your profits. When you consign you drop your items off, you have a lot of freedom to display them how you want, you don't have to actually sell the items yourself as store employees are doing the work for you, you don't need your own system and you don't need to pay processing fees... oh and you can be doing anything while your items are selling away. Most people don't think about that- they think we're taking 50% of their profits because we're greedy. Sure we profit, but we are using that money to pay our expenses as well, ones you're getting to avoid paying.
And there you have it, friends. The 4 P's - place, person, product, and prices. Sorry we were a bit snarky at times - just trying to help you all out! (p.s. I totally just felt like I was doing that lame "sorry, but you're so ugly" thing. Ha! Really, you're all great!)