Etan and Emily are the masterminds behind Wholesale in a Box, a service that makes it easier and more efficient for makers to introduce themselves to stockists they love and to make sales. Wholesale In a Box’s monthly subscription comes with handpicked store profiles (customized to your business), a calendar to stay on top of your outreach, a dashboard to help track your progress and a help desk.
They joined us in the Aeolidia Facebook group for a Q&A about contacting retail store owners to create a wholesale relationship with them. Creative product-based businesses, come join us! We do these live typed chats once a month or so.
We’ve tidied up the Facebook back and forth into something readable so we won’t lose this great info, and you can see Etan and Emily’s thoughts on wholesale tips for small businesses here. All quoted text below is from Etan and Emily, and all bold text is from our Facebook community.
What does the perfect cold outreach cycle look like? Can you give some examples of what to send (i.e. first contact and then next step value add tips) and when to send it (time between each contact)?
Great question! First things first (and we say this a lot) the most important thing is to do what feels right for you and your business. Catch-all advice is not always the best. That said, what we recommend to the makers we work with as a starting point for a ‘cold’ email is one email introducing yourself, a follow up two weeks later and a final follow up if you haven’t heard anything after that. Given what works for you though you can tweak it, engage on Instagram in between, send a postcard… etc.
If you’re wondering what to say in a followup email, here’s an article we did with our “do’s” and “don’ts:” Do’s and Dont’s for Followup Emails to Retailers
I have been thinking a lot about sending handwritten notes (being a stationery company I think it makes sense) as my first cold contact. Followed up with an email a week later. Would you consider this what you call a Penguin Tactic or something thoughtful and relationship building for my brand?
I think that would be a great approach! As long as you feel like it will be sustainable for you (not overly consuming in terms of time/money), then that is absolutely both relationship-building and thoughtful. You can do that with all of your stores, or just with some – up to you. Since stores get a lot of mail, also mull over how to maximize the results of that effort (of writing the handwritten note) by making it as “penguin-y” (unusual, brand-aligned, and attention-getting) as you can.
How important is having an order form included in your wholesale price sheet, and what information needs to be included on that?
One caveat is that it looks like maybe you have a food-related company? In that case, sometimes protocols for food producers (and the stores you’d focus on) are a little different. But generally, what we suggest to non-food handmade makers is that different profiles of stores prefer different things. Some stores love an order form to print out, others prefer a wholesale website, others just to email or phone in an order. These days, and especially with direct outreach (as opposed to connecting at a trade show), a physical order form is not usually crucial. As long as it’s simple and easy to order and you make it easy for them to indicate what they want (for instance with clear item and variation numbers), just having them email you their order can work great!
Can you talk about order minimums? We’re starting to work with smaller retailers who are wanting $100 minimums. But where really is the cut off for minimums?
Minimums are a very personal thing that is really up to what you feel comfortable with. Smaller retailers certainly appreciate a lower minimum, often, especially with a new wholesale relationship. But you should never go lower than you feel is going to be worthwhile and sustainable for you. The cutoff is up to you. We spoke a bit about minimums on this podcast we did recently, too if it helps! Wholesale In a Box is on Elise Gets Crafty!
I wanted to know: I’m launching a new stationery company in about 6 weeks, and want to send prospective shops I’ve found mailers with product samples, a wholesale catalog, a handwritten note, etc. Do you recommend I shoot them an email first, and offer to ship the package their way, or just send it?
Oh, yeah, that’s a good question that comes up a lot. “Snail mail” packages can be great because they’re so personal — but they can also be time-consuming and costly. Some of the things that I think are most important are:
1) Since stores get a lot of mail, if you’re going to mail something, make it stand out.
2) Consider it an experimentation process. So, decide to try something for this month, see how it works, and then try something that builds on your findings for next month. Perhaps this month you send a paper note instead of a followup email, but still do that first introduction via email. But different things work for different makers, so we really suggest trying different tactics.
3) Remember that you can do different things for different stores. So if there are, say, 5 this month that you think are just “no brainers” for you, maybe you send your physical mailer to those.
One article we did that covers this topic, to dig more, is here:
Deciding Whether To Email Stores or Send a Package? These Penguins Might Help
I am curious about what you mentioned in your post as a possible Q&A topic: “the biggest mistakes makers make when jumping into wholesale.”
Oh, yes! Ok, there are a few. On one hand, one thing we see folks do is to try to get EVERYTHING PERFECT before they jump in to connecting with stores. While it’s important to put together professional materials and represent yourself well, many makers err on the side of waiting too long. You learn SO MUCH by jumping in, getting feedback, and changing as you go. So we always say: “start with good enough, then make it better.”
Which brings me to the second big mistakes makers make — not taking the long view. Often folks get discouraged a few weeks in, if they haven’t gotten an onslaught of orders. But the folks who are most successful take a deep breath, improve on what they’ve been doing, and keep their focus on the gains they’re building towards 6 and 12 months down the line.
I see varying opinions on line sheets. Should we have images on them or not? Does the answer change at all if we do or do not have a catalog?
It depends how you’re using it. For trade shows, when they’ve already seen your product, the line sheet is acting much like a simple price list. For direct outreach to stores (as our makers are doing), the line sheet is the MAIN representation of their brand to the store and should definitely include images. Format and size is up to you. With that kind of outreach, we suggest having a single line sheet that has some aspects of a catalog — and not necessarily maintaining both (especially for smaller or newer brands who are focusing on emailing stores directly).
I own a boutique greeting card company that I launched a few months ago. I don’t have a wholesale catalog or line sheets just yet. Do you recommend that I wait until I have created either of those (catalog or line sheets) before I try to pitch my line to prospective wholesalers?
We do recommend having something that makes it easy for them to see what you offer. You can create a pretty effective, simple line sheet in a weekend — so that’s often worthwhile, but if it feels like a stumbling block, you can also just have a killer email that you work with, and direct them to your Etsy shop or website. For that to work, in our experience, you really do need to have a very strong brand and product line. Again, the line sheet doesn’t have to be complicated, just simple, clear and representative of your brand.
I’m redoing all the lettering on my cards but have some inventory to sell through still. Would it be confusing if I had the new versions in the catalog which I plan to immediately send to wholesalers while my website has old versions I sell off to direct to consumer peeps?
Clarity with prospective store owners is the most crucial thing, so if I were you I would just add a note on line sheet explaining the shift (just until you sell out of the old ones) so there is no confusion!
My question is about developing retailer relationships when sending product or samples. I generally package orders or samples for protection, but do retailers expect an incredible unboxing experience? Mine is not terrible, but I’m curious if I need to step it up. Also, do retailers expect occasional gifts as part of the wholesale relationship?
Oh, love that question. The big thing for retailers is that you cover the BASICS — so the products arrive safely, they’re packaged to put right on the shelf, and there is a packing slip/invoice and note in there. Any personal touch you can give (whether it’s coordinating tissue paper, a personal note, or a branded pencil) is lovely but I certainly don’t think you need to feel like the unboxing experience has to be hugely sophisticated. In some cases, getting too fancy can even feel wasteful.
I’ve seen some posts on Instagram where retailers I am working with or would like to work with are receiving some really beautiful gifts from their vendors. It made me feel like “Omg, am I missing a huge piece?”
Totally! I know! But do whats right for you. If it feels fun to send something then do it but ultimately an account that is a good fit and selling tons of your products is going to be a friend for life!
Hey, if you guys were to send out a jam up “sample set,” what all would be included?
The key with samples is to ask yourself — what are they trying to learn about my product that they can’t tell from the line sheet? For instance, with a line of perfumes, folks often have to send a sample of each scent since you can’t smell things via print!
With your headbands, I think they’d be looking to get a sense for quality and packaging and whether you’re professional– they can see the variety of patterns and stuff in your line sheet. Also, you want this to be sustainable, and not go crazy with the quantity you send. So I’d say send one of your headbands, with its packaging, a beautiful note, and make sure that all the details (mailer, how you address it, the notepaper) “reads” PRO.
What is a fun way to put your linesheet in the package other than printing off 8.5×11 sheets of paper (which may come across as a bit ugly)?
Well, one option is to not include it in the box, but rather re-attach it to a followup email you might do, say, a month or two later (since that will be closer to when they’ll be possibly considering a re-order). If you’re going to include it, I think simple is absolutely fine — I’d just try to make the overall look aligned with your product packaging and branding.
If your startup is at a place where it’s crucial to hire a wholesale account manager, but you don’t exactly have the money to pay salary, what pay structure would you suggest implementing initially?
Commissions can sometimes be tricky because so much is out of their control. That said, getting the hourly rate at what you would like it to be, may be out of your reach. Sometimes we see makers use a combination of a $10-$15 hourly rate and a smaller commission. AND adding a commission on reorders could be helpful too! It just depends so much on the needs of the actual individual as well — some folks need cash right away, while others are ok with building more for the future.
I have been pretty basic in mailing out my wholesale orders, but is that something that should be upped a bit? I include a copy of their order and usually several of my business cards, all of which are different, and all of which have one of my paintings on one side and my info on the other.
In this case, I’d almost think about — what small, inexpensive things can I do to make the experience of a retailer opening my package as consistent with my brand as I can? Again, doesn’t have to be flashy, but some personal touches, and some on-brand packing can go a long way.
Have you seen any good ways to be found by shops online? I hear people say shops found them on Instagram, but I haven’t experienced anything like that.
To be totally honest, it can absolutely be tough. We do find that many store owners are shopping primarily out of their inbox these days and off Instagram. Whether you do it through us or on your own that’s a big reason why we advocate for doing thoughtful, targeted outreach to stores — to put that wholesale growth back in your hands. That said, doing what you can for inbound is great too!
I’m an Etsy Wholesale member, through which I’ve created a line sheet, which I think is good as a starting point. I’m curious about your opinion of other avenues to try – if it’s worthwhile to try to replicate something similar on my own to be able to sell off my own website (the advantage being no Etsy % cut) or other suggestions? I’ve been hesitant to lead prospective retailers to Etsy – is it distracting?
Yes! That Etsy Wholesale line sheet is a great place to start. We’ve had makers do that different ways. Some do direct outreach and have a line sheet separate from Etsy Wholesale… and others point stores straight to Etsy Wholesale. Probably the separate line sheet is a little better for the reasons you mention, but either can work.
This oh so helpful Q&A was courtesy of Etan and Emily from Wholesale In a Box, a service that can help your handmade business grow wholesale. They give you handpicked store profiles, a system for how and when to contact stores, and help along the way. It’s a method that works and a tool to get in stores faster. You can check out their free ecourse here:
Our four rules any maker can use to gain new wholesale accounts!
Shipshape Collective Freebie
14 stationery companies shared their own trade show packing lists with us, and we’ve compiled it into a master list.