Selling to Stores - Who Is On Your List?

Contributor post by Rena Tom

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By girlhula

I am so happy to be back with more small business advice for the new year. We’re past the holiday season but it’s a great time to make a list and check it twice. The list, of course, will have all of the stores you want to approach this spring with your wholesale line.

Before you create your target list, you should really *know* your product. Who do you want to buy it? Who has purchased it in the past? The more data you have, the better your results will be.

Start off with stores in your town. What boutiques do you like to shop at? If you make a product to wear, have you worn it and gotten comments while shopping anywhere? Do you see a similar product (similar in style, function or price point) on the shelves of a particular store? Make a note of all of these places. By “store” I also mean hair salon or day spa, local grocery or farmer’s market - anywhere commercial. In San Francisco, there is a car wash by my house that has a surprisingly good gift shop inside where everyone must pass through to pay!

Next, ask existing customers for store suggestions where they live. This is a great way to find out about small stores in other towns. As an incentive, you might offer a gift card to a customer if the store they recommend actually picks up your line.

Expand your list by looking at your competitor and seeing where they sell. Of course, your product must not be too similar, because a retailer doesn’t want the same merchandise from two different vendors, but this is also a good way of gaining awareness of stores you haven’t heard of before.

Also, keep an eye out for new stores; they usually get nice press for their grand opening in newspapers, national magazines, and on blogs and they are often looking for new lines to differentiate themselves. Go to their website and check out their designers to see if they seem like good candidates.

Now you should have a pretty big list! This is where “checking it twice” comes into play. If you can, check what merchandise each store actually carries, and make sure your products are a good fit. You’ll have a much better chance of keeping a retailer’s attention if you have already done the legwork. You can check by going into the store, or looking at their website or online store, doing a Google search and looking at any press they have received, or looking at Yelp for photos that users have uploaded. If possible, look at price points too, so that your work would not be out of place on their shelf.

Finally, group the stores geographically and by priority. You won’t want to send linesheets to three stores on the same block, for example, and you’ll want to approach your number one pick in an area first. If you don’t get a response after a couple weeks, move on.

Good luck with creating and organizing your target list! Do you have other tips for finding out new boutiques to approach? Let me know in the comments.

Rena Tom is a retail strategist for creative business owners. She previously owned Rare Device, a boutique and art gallery with locations in New York and San Francisco that was renowned for its carefully edited collection of design objects, books, housewares and accessories, and for supporting small, innovative designers and artists whose work was not easily found in stores. Rena blogs about personal projects as well as retail trends and small business tips at She lives in San Francisco with her husband and baby boy in an apartment filled with too many laptops, Sprecher root beer, half-finished craft projects and overdue library books.

Jan Halvarson


Laura Evans said...

great post ... exactly what i needed to read this morning. thank you for sharing & happy monday!

Chantal said...

Thanks for this Post...Very informative. 2012 is a BIG year for DragonflyExpression and this subject is on my "going to happen" list!

Adrienne said...

The timing for this post is incredible. Something I'm working on right now!

Dolan Geiman said...

We're headed to NYIGF later this month and hoping to connect with a few of those stores on our ongoing list! Our wholesale business all started with a list like you describe. We researched, edited, and carefully honed that list for years before making the pitch!

Katie Moroney said...

This is just the perfect blog entry for the beginning of the year! Concise, intelligent, and inspiring! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

eringrace said...

wow great!
getting into my favorite stores is definitely on my goals list this year.
*starts to make list*

Christine D. | The Plumed Nest said...

this is such an intelligent approach! love the way you wrote this. i have read many "tips" on the topic and i think this outlines the mentality of the approach so well. excellent. thanks! i will be referencing this in the future.