This August I took part in my very first wholesale market through Urban Craft Uprising at Seattle Gift Show. When I first signed up and was accepted to this show, I didn’t realize it was a wholesale show and actually kind of panicked over it. I know, I should have read the details before committing... But it ended up being a good thing. After much fretting and worrying, I put my big girl pants on and remembered it’s good to do things before you’re ready and started figuring out how I could wholesale my hand embroidery items. Not going to lie, this wasn’t an easy task. The whole thing still had me worried, anxious, and nervous.
Throughout the process of getting ready for, selling at, and creating wholesale products, I learned a few things.
1. Pricing This is so important. Buyers want to purchase items at wholesale prices, usually 50% of their retail value. Because of this, I had to come up with consistent pricing for my work. Not only prices I felt comfortable charging, but prices that I could still make money off of, even with the buyer purchasing items at wholesale prices.
2. Design Many of my designs are one-of-a-kind pieces, which doesn't really work when Buyers want to buy items in large quantities. I had to choose a designs that I could easily reproduce and that I'd want to create over and over again. Because hand embroidery is extremely labor intensive and the holidays were coming up, I decided to focus my wholesale offerings on 3-inch hoops that could easily double as ornaments. Not only would that size take less time to create, but it also perfectly situated my items for the holidays.
3. Buyers Buyers often come to shows to see what’s new or have items in mind that they’re interested in adding to their shop. As a maker, it’s important to talk to them about their shop and see how your items might fit into their space. Buyers might have an idea of what they need, but sometimes you need to tell, show, and spell out why your products are amazing and would be an excellent fit. For example, I marked which items were best sellers on my line sheet. I also pointed out new items, which items made excellent birthday gifts, and which items were popular with kids. Buyers might have a general idea of what works well, but I know my products best.
4. Discouragement Wholesale events are very different from regular markets. First off, they’re slow. It’s a lot of “hurry up and wait.” There isn’t a constant stream of people during the entire event and you won't be making a bunch of sales, like at a usual event. I brought projects to work on to pass the time and help showcase that I am the maker behind my products.
Secondly, not all buyers are ready to place an order right then and there. I made linesheets easily available with my products, pricing, deadlines, and contact information for Buyers to take with them. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for the Buyers information. I collected business card from Buyers stopping at my booth and followed up with them after the event. This resulted in more sales and connections.
5. Burnout As a one-woman maker I found it extremely helpful to place quantity limits on my order items, that meant minimums and maximums. I would never be able to fulfill an order of 100 doughnut ornaments in a short turnaround. I set limits on orders so that I knew I’d be able to fulfill them in a timely manner.
I also overestimated the time it would take me to create pieces so that I would have plenty of time make everything. I wasn’t sure how many wholesale orders I would get or what quantities buyers would be purchasing, so I let buyers know things could be delivered sooner, but to plan on the stated timeline.
Another helpful trick I found, was breaking my wholesale orders into chunks to make them more manageable. It helped me to not get burnt out on a design and to not get overwhelmed.
Celebrate your successes! Whether you landed some big orders, a few small ones, or none at all, it's important to celebrate this milestone accomplishment for your small business. Wholesale is a big deal. It's one way to get your products into local shops and gain more brand recognition.
Selling wholesale can be terrifying and exciting all at the same time. You know your products best and if it's feasible to sell your products in quantity to stores. If you think wholesale is right for you, I say go for it! Start small and things will grow. When I ended my first wholesale trade show, I had 3 wholesale orders. By following up with leads, buyers, and reaching out to other businesses after the wholesale event, I had a total of 6 wholesale accounts, some of whom have placed multiple orders since the wholesale trade show.