Setting up shop online is easy, but the actual selling takes a lot of hard work. First you have to make something and make it well, then you have to photograph it beautifully, then you have to write a description which reads as though you hadn't bothered your backside to offer photos in the first place. Then you have to market your products and that in itself can be on uphill struggle.
On the other hand selling offline can actually be much easier, you just make and take to a shop. Beautifully made things will sell themselves because customers can pick them up off the shelves, try them on, hold them, feel them and smell them. You no longer need to bother with beautiful photos and wordy descriptions and because some shops also like to use their own branding and packaging, allowing you maybe a label or swing tag, that's another thing you don't have to worry about.
But the thought of approaching a shop can seem very daunting and can put people off the idea before they've even tried.
I've put together a little list of tips of what to do when considering approaching shops to hopefully make the whole thing seem less scary and hopefully more rewarding.
- Firstly, spend some time in the shops you are considering. Pop in a couple of times over the course of a few weeks. You want to get a feel for how busy the shop is and how well it's doing. Many a designer has lost items when a shop they stocked closed without warning.
- Try and get a feel for the products in the shop and more importantly what sells. This will give you an idea of the shop's reputation and what they are well known for. Do handbags languish on the shelves for months on end and yet every time you pop in they seem to have new jewellery. This means that the shop is known for jewellery and that is what customers will intentionally go to the shop to buy. If you don't sell jewellery then you only have the opportunity of selling to passers by who may not be looking for anything at all. Always try and find the right place for you.
- Think about the location and what effect it will have on you. For instance, I don't drive so delivering to shops in my own town is a dawdle, delivering to the towns immediately surrounding my own takes a little more planning but isn't in itself a hassle. I can even manage Belfast with a huge bag and little fuss, but anything beyond that becomes much more of a headache and you'll need to take that into consideration. In stocking a shop you could be paying as much as 50% to the shop owner. Are you fine with only earning 50% and taking on any hassle involved in delivering too.
- Once you've worked out which shops you would like to approach, make an appointment. I honestly can't stress this enough, I know a few people have had success by just dropping in the off chance, but keep in mind that the shop owner holds all the cards and at this early stage the only thing you have to offer is respect for them and what they do. I personally can't abide when someone assumes that just because I'm not making something or packing an order that I must be sat here with my two arms the one length and all the time in the world to do what I please and the same holds true for shop owners. Just because they don't have a queue at the counter doesn't mean that you can assume they're standing there with nothing to do and you'll be a welcome break in an otherwise boring day.
If you do choose to just drop in unexpected, I would suggest starting the conversation by saying that you love the things they've chosen for the shop and you believe that your products would fit perfectly and could you possibly arrange a time to call and have a chat with them when it's convenient. You may get lucky and they'll have time there and then, but if they've actually just been waiting for a few spare minutes between sales to nip to the loo when you happened to walk in then you've at least offered them the opportunity to offer you a quick response, even if it is just to tell you to phone later in the day.
- If a shop isn't interested in your products, don't take it to heart. Try and keep in mind that nobody knows the shop and customers better than the owner. They're running a business and have to make all their decisions with their head rather than their heart. It doesn't matter that you make the most beautiful brooches she's ever set eyes on in her life, if she's stocked brooches before and hasn't had any success with them or if her biggest sellers are soaps and candles, then chances are she just won't be able or willing to sacrifice the shelf space for your products. Don't take it personally, it's just business.
- So you've taken the first step and now you have a date and time to go back again. I would suggest taking good photographs of your range of products, take photos of things in groups, a selection of jewellery, highlighting one or two pieces in photos of their own is a good way to go. You don't want the owner to feel as though they're plowing through your holiday snaps for the past ten years. 15 or 20 photos at the very most will be more than enough, then choose a few key pieces to take with you. I would also suggest wearing something of your own if you happen to make something that can be worn. If you have your own packaging take a sample of that too to show the quality.
Don't worry if the shop owner asks if you can leave a couple of things for her to think it over. I was asked the same thing when I first approached a shop and later that day a customer saw the pieces I had left behind the counter and asked if they were for sale, had that not happened the owner may have decided against stocking me in a few days. I got lucky.
- Going back to the respect thing again, I would say to make sure you are presentable when going to the shop. It isn't a formal interview so you don't need to break out the good suit, but just make sure that you are tidy and well presented. Leave enough time for a quick chat to turn into a coffee or even a lunch, you want to give the owner your full attention and not look as though you really need to be somewhere else. With that in mind, don't take the kiddies with you either.
- If the shop offers to take a few pieces on sale or return don't let it worry you. Most shops will only consider consignment until a designer has a proven track record with them. It's a way of letting you get your things onto shelves where customers can see them, but the only risk to the shop owner at this stage is letting you have a shelf.
- If you are offered consignment, try and stop yourself from calling in to the shop every day "just in case something has sold", but do keep an eye on your things or more importantly where they are. If a couple of things sell, you could bring up the subject of them maybe being better located within the shop, at eye level or closer to the front of the shop, if however nothing has sold in a few weeks, suggest replacing them with a few different items. This will help keep the shop looking fresh for the owner, it makes you look proactive and it has the added bonus that regular customers to the shop will view your items as popular, regularly replaced and updated and therefore desirable. Nobody has to know that you took the last batch home again and that they didn't leave the shop wrapped beautifully in customer's bag.
- And lastly, negotiate. Just because you agreed to 50% on your first day selling through a shop doesn't mean you're stuck with that figure. If you find that you're selling well through a particular shop and getting the call to restock more frequently then it may be time to consider a renegotiation of your percentage.
In the early days if the owner felt that 50% was reasonable for your products to take up her shelf space before selling a month or two later, whereas now she finds that your products are selling within a couple of weeks then you should be able to successfully renegotiate the owners percentage down a bit. Go easy though, maintaining the relationship is important and you can always come back to the subject and whittle down the percentage a little at a time.