Nov 7, 2006


Shop Talk Volume 6...vendors - we love them and sometimes not so much. Welcome to another posting of my "Business of Boutiques" series in which I offer advice, or at least tell you of my experiences as a shop owner so that you shop owners-wanna-be's can avoid some of the headaches I learned all on my own. I would have much rathered learned from someone else's headaches though!

Today, this posting is directed towards those of you who want to sell your merchandise to boutiques. In other words, you sell wholesale. Shop owners call you "vendors" or "dealers." Why am I addressing vendors? Because as a shop owner, my time is precious and I don't want to waste it. If you are a new shop owner, this posting may be useful as well.

Okay, so you designed and produced some fabulous soaps, or lotions, or candles, or aprons, or greeting cards, or beaded earrings....the list is endless. You want to sell your wares to the little shops...but no one seems too interested...or they haven't put in an order yet...or haven't returned your call. Is your product not good? Maybe - but probably not. There are many reasons why you may not be selling and many reasons why a shop owner will not buy and below are some of them:

Vendors:

Know your market! And know your customer. I can't tell you how many times I get samples or a catalog filled with product that I would never put in my store. All because I sell journals, does not mean I would buy hot pink journals with French Poodles on them...it does not fit my very tight color palette and style. However, they would be great in a little shop just three doors down. Also, I can't tell you how many times I get a phone call from a vendor who wants to send me catalog or sample and I ask them, "have you been in my store?" "Have you been to my website?" If they answer "no" then I direct them to it and tell them if they feel they have something that would work in my store, please send it. But even then, they will send products that look nothing like my website! Sometimes, I do get a good vendor with a good eye and knows how to sell. So, don't waste your catalogs or time selling to the wrong market! Your time and money should be spent on your market.

Do not drop in unannounced! I can't tell you how often this happens! I do not have a sign that says "no soliciting" simply because as an antique dealer, I want people to feel free to show me their antiques. But as a result, I get all sorts of people in my store. Nothing, and I mean nothing annoys me more than to have a vendor call on me, without an appointment. And worse, they stay and stay and take up my time because I am "not busy" simply because there are no customers in the store! When the store is empty is when I am at my busiest - making calls, typing bids, checking email...and you, the vendor, is keeping me from my work. I have little sympathy for them because I used to do cold calling too and hard sales...so I know the drill because I have been in their shoes. If you must stop in without an appointment you will get way ahead of the pack if you would just simply do the following:

Come in and admire the store briefly

Don't interrupt my phone call or business with a client

Don't hover near me while I am with a customer, that makes everyone uncomfortable

Briefly introduce yourself and immediately tell the shop owner: "I know you are very busy, so I would like to leave this with you and if you don't mind, may I call you next week to follow up if you have any questions?"

Then hand the catalog to the owner, with a sample of the product, if you have one, and politely leave while complimenting her store - a store owner never tires of hearing compliments. We work very hard and it is nice when someone takes notice. If we aren't too busy and you have something fantastic, we will stop you from leaving...so don't be afraid to leave too soon.

However, the BEST way to see an owner is not to just drop in, but rather call ahead and say that you would like to stop by on such and such day to drop off a catalog if that is okay. Briefly explain your product, and how you went to her website and you feel the product would go nicely in the store. Then go to the store on said day, and if the owner is busy, briefly introduce yourself, leave the catalog, and ask to call again to follow up.

Know your product lines. It is very frustrating when I do finally get to glance at a catalog - and I do mean glance - and I can't immediately find the minimum order amount. What is the reorder amount? Do I have to buy in sets, or can I just get one of each? The catalog needs to be organized clearly, with good, quality photos of the products, a detailed description, and how it is priced (in sets, in cases, per unit...). If your catalog isn't that clear, then be ready for a rapid-fire list of questions from me, and have the answers ready.

Packaging. I can't stress this enough. Some products (not many though) are so good, that I ignore the horrible packaging and repackage it myself. But if your labels, containers, or tags aren't up to par, it won't make it in my store no matter how wonderful it is. The American culture is trained to expect creative, wonderful packaging. For example a vendor of mine, www.secretleaves.com has my style down to the "T." They "get it" and their products are perfect for my store. Also I just ordered kraft pillow boxes that cost me $85/case to house my bath infusion salts that are a part of my new Elizabeth House line (more on that in another posting.) These salts are not expensive, and they are wonderful, but I have no doubt they would not sell as well unless I packaged them in a thoughtful way. So spending money on packaging, in the long run, will pay off.

Consider grouping your products. If you have a very large line of products. Let's say you a dog care line. You have three sizes of shampoo, 4 types of powder, 2 types of cute water bowls, 2 types of treat jars, 3 types of soaps, and several types of dog treats. Consider creating a "starter set" for your new client. I actually appreciate this because I usually get a price break and I get a good variety of a line that shows well in the store. And I don't have to take a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what I need - you did it for me!

Pay attention to whom you sell! I can't stress this enough! Do not walk into my store and sell me a great line and then go right next door and sell the same line to neighbor! I actually had this happen and I dropped the line immediately and discounted the product to get it out of my store. The store owner next door had no idea I had just ordered it - we are good friends, and we just found out by accident. She dropped the line as well. So now that vendor lost not one, but two clients. Be smart about where you sell - trust me, most store owners are very smart with regards to this issue.

Get to know your client. I have several vendors that I cherish. They come through for me on short notice, they have dug out inventory from a warehouse when a spur of the moment trunk show happened, they have waived shipping fees when a product came in way after its due date...in short, they go out their way to help me, a very small business owner, and I go out of my way to order only from them. We developed a great business relationship and in some cases a friendship that is wonderful. They understand my limitations, needs, and understand my concerns...and they do their best to accomodate. A simple phone call of thanks can go a long way - for example, a bedroom I designed, I used several clocks on a wall, all from one vendor. This bedroom appeared in a national magazine and the president of this very large and reputable company called me personally to thank me for showcasing so many of his clocks! Very nice.

And a short note to new shop owners:

Know what you will sell and what you won't sell and be up front about it. The vendors understand and will try hard to find products that you like. But you need to give them guidance.

If a vendor has products that just do not work in your store, but you know of a store that would love it - pass it along to the vendor! I do this all the time. Vendors are trying to make a living just as you and I.

Let the vendor know when a product does not meet your expectations - this will help them, especially if they are new and trying to break into the market. Also let them know what you just love about a product - this will help them as well and give the new vendor some confidence. I am a big supporter of the small, local artists, craftsperson and so on...

And finally, if interested in a product, ASK the vendor who else has bought from them in the local area. And then decide if that store is too close to yours. And if not, then ask the vendor if she will refrain from selling in a certain area. Sometimes they will and sometimes they won't But ask!

Finally, get to know a vendor with products you like. Take time to get to know them personally. They will make sure you are "the first" to know about a new product, or send you sample. I appreciate that.

And speaking of vendors, I invite anyone who is reading this blog to send me a catalog or product sample if you feel it would do well in my type of store. Or, feel free to direct me to a vendor's website. I always love "discovering" something new for the store. Then, pass this blog along to someone you know who would find it useful.

I hope I didn't sound too harsh with my tips, but selling is hard - whether it is retail or wholesale. But really, the main thing to keep in mind is this: we all are in it together. And actually, being a part of the boutique babes "family" is really a great feeling.

Even if it is dysfunctional at times.

From my house to your house,
Elizabeth
www.elizabethhouse.us



4 comments:

cityfarmer said...

I have been meaning to comment since you visited stuffintheburbs awhile ago...we, too had a retail store for many years and now have become the service end of the business....I have all the same conecpts and admire your musings....stay in touch...my post chamges all the time...


well said.

Garden_Antqs said...

Elizabeth,
I read your blog often and visit your website, and I love the advise you give us dealers. I sell my antiques in shows and recently tried my hand again (for what seems the 100th time) in an Antique Shop. Someday, when I don't have another full time job, I'd like to open my own shop, but in the meantime, I'll continue to do what I love. I really value the advise you give and even mentioned you on my blog. Thanks for taking time to give us great tips!!

janet said...

I've recently discovered your blog and just want to say thank you for your posts about the business of having a shop. I'd love to do this at some point, although I'm not fooling myself that it will be easy. Thanks especially for your tips to vendors—all good advice.

I wonder if you have any thoughts for vendors who do one-of-a-kind items. Is that a problem, too much hassle, etc? I'm asking because I work with vintage linens and fabrics, and the final products depend very much on what materials I can find to work with. I'm very accommodating as to a shops style and color needs, but find that some owners aren't interested (or perhaps don't have the time?) in having the more personal relationship that this involves. There's that issue of trust involved, too - something that's hard to develop with someone who is far away and that you might not be able to meet in person.

Thanks again for your wonderful blog - I'll be reading regularly!

vintagegrace said...

What a lovely blog...and shop, and apartment! And you're very sweet to share such wonderful tips. I've just discovered your pages, and am already a big fan. Thanks so much for inspiring me!

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