Wholesaling Handmade Items: Tips From Handmakers

How do you sell handmade goods to wholesale customers so that you can make a profit yourself without driving the cost so high that you lose sales?

I absolutely love Ryan’s work at Stitch and Saw, and he asks us:

“I would love to see a post of your take on wholesaling handmade items. When margins are tight and production time high it’s tough to figure out a good wholesale strategy that benefits the retailer and the maker.”

I sent this question out to our mailing list, and got some very thoughtful replies from small creative businesses like yours.

Wholesaling Handmade Items

Don’t Wait For Business to Come to You

Amy from Bow Wow Couture says:

We have been wholesaling only for 2.5 years. I suggest that before you start to sell wholesale to retail stores that you first evaluate your current pricing. Your profit should be built in at the wholesale level.

Between the two websites we sell on and our wholesale business the lead time on our handmade doggie products is quite long, anywhere from 3 weeks to 1.5 months. We encourage our retailers to order early, and when new orders are placed we give reality based delivery estimates.

Something we learned over time is don’t be afraid to set minimum order requirements. If you were going to sell your products at a craft show or festival you wouldn’t display only $75 worth of items. Same goes for a retail shop – to give your products the best chance of selling to buyers there has to be enough to see! Before we set a minimum retailers would buy the smallest amount possible and we rarely heard from them again. After we started a $250 min (where the average price of a wholesale item is $11) we started to see frequent repeat business, plus each order got bigger.

Don’t wait for business to come for you – go get the people who don’t know that you exist yet. Look for stores that you think would be a perfect match and send them an inexpensive but well done package with a catalog/promotional materials with a sample product. Do a little research on their website or Facebook page and include a short note, mentioning something you discovered about them. The personal touch and thoughtful approach will set you apart. When we saw that wholesale was working really well for us, we started attending the three major pet industry trade shows. Didn’t mean to write a book, I just have so much to say from a “handmade product” perspective.

— Amy, shopbwc.com

Keep Costs Low

Lior from La Boîte says:

There is not one answer to this but I think the following points are important:

1) Improve your buying capabilities. Check for better pricing constantly to reduce cost. You make money by buying smart!
2) Study new ways to improve production time and cost.
3) Place your product in stores that are willing to practice a smaller margin while selling.
4) Create a secondary less expensive line that will later drive sales of more expensive items.

— Lior Lev Sercarz, laboiteny.com

Account For Your Production and Creative Time

Teri from Body Systems says:

Wholesale can be great if you have the proper terms & costs in place. Our wholesaling strategy has to be different then “regular” non-handmade businesses as we have to take in account the production & creative time. It isn’t a simple (costX2) situation. With super help from Lela at Lucky Break Consulting we now understand that pricing and therefore wholesaling our handmade bath & body products is unique. We take all costs including labor, research, overhead, materials, and any other set costs and multiply by 2 or 3 to get that wholesale price.

If we decide to do custom work, the buyer has to pay for our time…isn’t that what they are coming to us for in terms of our uniqueness in the industry? To make a profit but be able to provide a good wholesale program, we have to decide what our work is worth, and make sure to charge for all time/materials involved and then create terms like payment options, lead times, and such to create first a program that benefits you and your company and then it benefits the wholesale customer. I think they come to us creatives for our uniqueness & also the direct communication we have with the buyer. If they wanted mass produced stuff, then they can buy from overseas..but our products are unique just like our creative abilities.

— Teri Lang Patterson, body-systems.net

Plan Ahead For Seasonal Sales

Sarah of Sarah’s Silks says:

In general I work like this:

Brainstorm lots of ideas (I keep a sketch book with ideas and use Pinterest to gather ideas/colors), make prototypes, and cost them out: cost of materials, cost of the time to make them, a time trial of making 5 or so. If I don’t think they can sell for 4 times cost of goods, we don’t continue with that item. Or we revise it to be less expensive.

Out of possibly 3-4 items we choose 2/year to wholesale. Usually we do a couple of colorways of each item.

To get ready to wholesale you have to start early. I am deciding new products for fall in March.

In March we also decide on packaging needed for the product and work with our designer to get that ready.

We have a photo shoot in April. Including taking photos of the package prototype (item packaged as stores like packaging)

In May start production to have stock on hand by August.

In June we lay out our catalog, and create our price list/order form with wholesale guidelines, like minimum order size, requirements to qualify as a business to resell our things, and an agreement to follow our Minimum Advertised Price (MAP).

In July we print the color catalog and copy lots of price lists. We also print packaging needed for the product (hang tag, box, wrapper). By end of July we are packaging product, and sending out catalogs/price lists to our mailing list of stores and web sites. We also send them out digitally with MailChimp.

Around August 15 we are getting orders for fall/holiday, and filling them within a week of receipt. Some customers provide us with their UPS account to use for shipping, or we use our own and charge them.

For international orders we ship Express Mail, USPS as they give us tracking numbers and custom forms to fill out on the web site.

We basically sell our things at double the cost, this is our profit. Then stores/web sites double our price this is their profit, minus their overhead and expenses.

We usually require credit card payments but also have a system set up so customers can apply for net 30 days credit from us. We do have an occasional need to send out reminders to pay, but all in all our customers are also small businesses and are quite conscientious about timely payments.

The same process happens in spring, ideally starting in October, with a flyer or catalog going end of February, for spring/Easter sales.

— Sarah Lee, sarahssilks.com

Establish Relationships With Like-Minded Retailers

Asya from Gleena says:

That is a great question from Ryan, and I still struggle answering it for myself. Even though I have been doing wholesale for a few years. I found that the best strategy for me is finding like-minded retailers. I work with a few stores, and my best relationships are an ongoing conversation. We are invested in selling my work together, and I love hearing my retailers’ feedback.

I have also learned to be completely honest about my delivery times. It takes me a long time to fill an order, and the stores that understand that, understand the handmade process a little bit more than those that work with warehoused products. I have learned that I can only handle small batch production. Doing ceramics is physically demanding, and I have to keep that in mind when taking on an order.

Over the years I have raised my prices to the point where wholesale makes sense. Raising prices is scary, but necessary, and as you figure out what the great sellers are in your line, you can nudge the price up gradually to see if the item is still selling. As your prices rise, your business becomes more profitable, and maybe you start working a little bit less. Your retailers will also make more off your line, so it’s a win for both of you.

My strategy is always evolving, as I figure out what I like to make, for how much, and ultimately, what sells for what price.

— Asya Palatova, gleena.com

Ask the Readers

Do you have any wholesaling tips to share? Or questions of your own? Let me know what you’re wondering about in the comments, and we’ll see if we can get you some answers!

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About the Author

Hello, I'm Arianne! I am the head storyteller, idea hatcher, and yaysayer here at Aeolidia. I started making websites for friends in 1997, and never lost interest in building online homes for fascinating people. I have a great boss (me!) and I'm unafraid to play hooky to head out on an adventure. Some day I'll tell you about the time when, as a marine biology student, I was bitten by a baby elephant seal.

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  1. Thank you so much for the great article! I learn so much from your blog.

  2. Awesome article! I’ve been selling handmade for 7 years and wholesale for around 2.

    On the topic of “don’t worry about charging too much” I think that many people are afraid that sales will drop, but many times with handmade items you actually sell more at a higher price. For example, I sell wood pens and I used to do around $30 retail, and customers looked at them as an expensive pen, not a piece of art. Now the pens go up to $90 and people see that they’re buying art, not just something made in Asia. You definitely don’t want to give people the “what’s wrong with it” idea.

    Don’t be afraid! Raising the cost of your items may help in many ways.

    Also, for trade/other wholesale shows, the booths can be extremely expensive, but if you can find some other vendors in your area you can easily split a booth. That way it’s cheaper to test out a show, and your booth looks full even if you don’t have 1000 SKUs.

    Good luck everyone! If you sell handmade gifts for men feel free to contact me, as I buy wholesale for my website (www.handmadeformen.com). My goal is helping artists get off their feet by helping them sell!

    – Ryan

  3. Very helpful, Arianne. I was just approached by a retailer who wants to sell my purses and I am a little scared. Thanks for your tips and insights. :)

  4. Nicola says,

    I have been searching for insights into this question for so long, it really is the ultimate conundrum for craftspeople like myself who are constantly approached by shops wanting to sell their wares and who simply don’t have the time (or desire!) to manage their own online shop.

    I started up my business in handwoven textiles just over a year ago hoping to focus on selling through shops but find myself incapable of building in ‘profit’ (ie. anything above very basic overhead and labour costs) into my wholesale prices – I feel so guilty about how expensive the pieces end up being for the end customer, and then greedy if I do sell direct at the retail price!

    If I was to multiply my cost price by 4 (rather than 2/2.5 as I do at the moment) to get the rrp, my work would be hugely expensive in comparison to factory-produced goods, and although of course my target customer is those who do place value in the handmade, I worry that there are too few of them who can afford to pay that much more. There is the added confusion that local factory-produced textiles are often sold through craft & design outlets as they seem to be considered ‘craft’ in some shape or form!

    As a result I have started to question my whole selling strategy, and wonder if I should instead be focusing on selling direct, for the first few years at least.

    This has certainly given me some food for thought…thank-you for providing some very helpful insights!

    • I’m glad this was helpful, Nicola! Please contact us by email if we can offer any specific help to you!

  5. Leonel Rodriguez says,

    This article was very very helpful! Arianne, I do have a question though. I recently started crafting my very own beard oils and beard balms. I;ve had a couple of hair stylist contact me with interest in selling my product in their salons! What is the right way to approach this new opportunity? I currently sell online (my own website) and physically when I attend festivals and Art shows. What are some things I must keep in mind when approaching these kind of opportunities?

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