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4 Wholesale Outreach Methods

by Arianne Foulks

September 27, 2016

How a textile designer uses Etsy Wholesale, Etsy Open Call, the NY NOW trade show, and one-on-one outreach to build wholesale relationships with boutiques and large retailers

Have you been thinking that it would be great to get into selling wholesale to boutiques, but not sure how? Getting one or two big orders each season would take a lot of the worry about cash flow out of the picture, and can be a great way to diversify. But how are you supposed to find the perfect stores that will be a great match for your business? I saw that Casey D. Sibley was hard at work on this herself, and asked her to share her experiences with you.

Casey designs colorful textiles and handmade goods to inspire a happy life. She is here today to share with you the four methods she’s been using lately to be in touch with retailers about stocking her products:

  1. Personal research and outreach
  2. Etsy Wholesale
  3. Etsy’s Open Call event
  4. NY NOW trade show

Read on to hear how these investments in her business’ future are working out for her, and to learn more about her wonderful business.

Fabric buckets by Casey D. Sibley
Clutch bag by Casey D. Sibley

How long have you been using Etsy Wholesale? What do you like about it?

I’ve been on Etsy Wholesale since 2014 and it’s been an instrumental tool in the growth of my wholesale business. It allowed me to easily set up policies and a platform for stores to easily place orders early on, and the way that Etsy has everything laid out helped wholesale make more sense to me.

I also noticed that my wholesale conversions went up once I had an online place for retailers to place orders (as opposed to having to email me PDF, handwritten orders). They could quickly see what I had for wholesale along with pricing. In a few clicks, they could build their order, see totals, and send it right over. I do a lot of targeted outreach to find new shops, but being on Etsy Wholesale has allowed new shops to find me, as well. I would say that about half of the shops that I work with found me on Etsy.

What other methods do you use to reach out to wholesalers?

Up until about a month ago, I would search online for new shops through Google (thinking of places and types of shops where my ideal customer would be hanging out), Instagram, searching through stockists lists on other websites, and word of mouth. I was always on the hunt, and would set aside time every week to email new shops about my work if I felt that they were a great fit. I’ve built up a pretty large list of shops that I reach out to regularly and try to build trust with by following up a few times a year.

Last month, I exhibited at NY NOW and Etsy Open Call for the first time and came away with several new orders and loads of new, interested contacts. Both shows were such a great experience for me, and I’m planning to make trade shows a bigger part of my wholesale outreach and market research plan moving forward! The investment is, obviously, much bigger. But the time I saved finding all these great new shops is invaluable, and I’m already making back my investment in both events, just days after attending and showing my work.

Did you do anything special to be invited to Etsy Open Call? How did you prepare for the event?

Etsy announced applications for Open Call and I jumped at the opportunity! Last year, I applied and was not accepted. So this year I felt more prepared (mainly because I had also been preparing to attend NY NOW and getting my line more honed in). I’ve tried to keep my relationship with Etsy going strong over the years, even though I have my own website and still do a lot of business off of Etsy. I really appreciate all that Etsy has done to help me grow my business (it’s where I started!) and they provide so many opportunities for sellers.

Every time I see a contest or opportunity arise through Etsy that I think might be a good fit for where I want to take my business, I apply. Because of this, I’ve had opportunities to write for the Etsy blog, been featured on their social media posts, had product featured at the Etsy Pavilion at last year’s NY NOW trade show, been selected for a Mini Open Call with Clementine Store in Virginia, and most recently, selected for the Etsy Open Call held at the Brooklyn office. I’m not afraid to keep applying for opportunities, even when I am not accepted at first!

I’ve also spent a lot of time this year trying to improve my work by developing a more cohesive collection. I thought a lot about which products would do well, and introduced a couple of new products based on customer feedback. This collection represents some of my hardest work yet! And it’s also one that I have been the most satisfied with.

What are a few dream retailers that you would like to be stocked by?

More so than having my products stocked at large dream retailers, I would love the chance to collaborate with them on products that they can handle manufacturing on. Especially after my trip to NY for the trade show and Open Call, I really love working with smaller retailers all over the globe. I love that connection and relationship that can form with another small business owner. And those smaller partnerships have been profitable for me. So that’s hard for me to answer! If I could work with any retailer on a collaborative project, Land of Nod would be a fun one to work with. I love their style–it’s very bright and happy which is something I strive for in my own work!

Apron by Casey D. Sibley
Fabric buckets by Casey D. Sibley

What great takeaways or tips did you get from attending the open call?

I think Emily Blistein, who gave a presentation prior to the pitch sessions at Open Call, gave some really great advice. She said that we knew our product better than anyone, and if there was a question we couldn’t answer it would be okay! She also stressed that we should take on partnerships that would work for the retailer and us, and not feel obligated to take on work that didn’t feel right or agree to terms that might not work for us. Obviously, pitching to these larger retailers was such a great opportunity! But it’s important to not let the sparkle of a big opportunity distract us from the realities of fulfillment and profit margins when working on very large orders.

I also loved seeing all the work from the other sellers. That was both humbling and incredibly inspiring. There were a couple of sellers whose work really stood out to me, which had me thinking of ways to get my own work to that same level of execution. It’s important to be able to see the work around you, even in the same market, and not get discouraged by comparing yourself to them, but see how or what someone is doing right and use that information to help refine your own brand. I was really motivated to come home and work on my packaging and the cohesiveness of my line, for example.

What would you do differently if you were invited to do an event like this again?

I would work on my pitch more. There were a couple of brands that I thought might be a good fit, but I got a little caught up in the moment and sort of blubbered through a few things when talking about my work. If I had practiced exactly what I would say, over and over, I might have been able to speak more succinctly about the most important points for my work. I talk about my work enough that I know what I want to say, but in a more nerve racking setting, some of that goes out the window!

Will you be making any changes to your business based on feedback from retailers at this event?

The retailer feedback for the Open Call pitch sessions was not as in depth as I had hoped (the whole thing flew by because they had to get to 36 sellers). But! They did ask a lot of great questions about how often I release new collections, and how my fabrics are made and how well they resist fading. Those are things that I realized I want to outline more clearly in the information I send out with my products. One major thing I have been working on this year is being really transparent and crystal clear about how I operate my business and what practices are important to me as a maker and seller. Open Call solidified that goal for me.

I also have been thinking a lot about if and how I want to work with larger brands moving forward. I can definitely see working with them in the future as I grow and my production methods evolve. But for now, I’m planning to continue to build relationships with smaller retailers.

After the pitch sessions, I felt emotionally and mentally drained! It was pretty intense, and a really long day. I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to be “on” for the buyer party at the end (Etsy invited retailers–many of whom were in town for NY NOW–to come and shop the Etsy Open Call finalists’ work). I’m so glad they had this event at the end! It was so nice to chat with the smaller retailers, and I picked up four new shops at the buyer party. That was a big confidence booster after a long day of pitching 🙂 So while I didn’t receive a “Golden Purchase Order” from any of the larger retailers that we pitched to earlier that day, it was still a very profitable and enjoyable event overall for me. And I was so honored to be invited and get to rub elbows with the Etsy team, the buyers, and the other sellers.

My name is Casey and I am the designer behind Casey D. Sibley Art + Design, a Reno, NV based studio specializing in hand-drawn and hand-painted surface pattern designs for textiles in a happy modern style. I design colorful and bold fabrics for home goods and personal accessories, meant to be used daily and inspire a happy life. With a background in architecture and a love of pattern, my goal is to bring you products that are not only functional, but also beautiful and well-made.

Thank you for this peek into the four methods you use to pitch your products to wholesale buyers, Casey!

Ultimate trade show packing list

I have a bonus for you today! 14 stationery companies shared their own trade show packing lists with us, and we’ve compiled it into a master list. You can also peek and see each business’ exhaustive list, with things like how many catalogs they bring, etc. The one thing everyone agreed on was to bring at least four different kinds of tape! Want this? Sign up and nab it below:

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