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Are you planning on starting wholesale to retailers and want to get your products onto the major retailers shelves? Wholesaling to retail stores cannot happen haphazardly. You need to have a plan and dedicate time to fulfilling it. We’ll outline 10 Essential Tips for Selling Wholesale to Retailers for you on this article.
You’ve done it—you’ve successfully created a product and, more importantly, created a business around it. Maybe you’ve even sold your inventory online. And now, you’re ready to scale up to the next step: getting your product onto the shelves of retail stores.
How do you do that? It takes more than just wandering into a store and asking to see the manager (though sometimes, you get lucky). While there is no magic formula, there are some best practices to keep in mind as you form your wholesale-to-retailers plan.
Taking the time to develop that plan is well worth it.
The whole idea behind selling wholesale is that you can get more product out the door with less effort. Granted, you might be selling items for less than you would by selling direct-to-consumer, but you make up for it in sheer volume.
For many manufacturers, selling wholesale is the only way to scale with any sort of efficiency.
The end goal of getting your products into retail stores, then, is to offer them to a much wider market so that you make money on volume, not the mark-up. You also save advertising dollars, as you’ll target a few dozen buyers for retail stores instead of drumming up hundreds of one-off, infrequent customers.
That said, wholesaling to retail stores cannot happen haphazardly. You need to have a plan and dedicate time to fulfilling it.
Retailers are all a little different in terms of how and when they select the products that will be carried in their stores. But there are some patterns you can be on the lookout for.
Larger store chains will probably have their own full-time buyers. The biggest ones will have several. These buyers are often looking to buy seasonally, so try to anticipate what they will want for the next season. For example, if you craft scented candles, retail shops will be looking for fall-scented candles (think pumpkin spice, autumn leaves) in the summer.
Retail buyers will also be on the lookout for what is new and trendy. This is especially the case when they are at trade shows. So, spend some time thinking about what makes your products stick out from the rest of the pack, so to speak.
With smaller stores that are a single location (“boutique” stores), chances are you will be dealing directly with the owner or general manager. He or she will more likely purchase products when inventory has been moving and needs to be replaced. So plan to hit smaller retail stores right after a busy season, like, the holiday season).
When you are getting ready to pitch your products, you don’t want to target every store under the sun. You’ll want to find stores that attract the kinds of customers who will be interested in buying your products.
This means you will need to do some good ol’-fashioned market research. For example, ask yourself:
What kinds of people will buy my product?
What are their interests? Motivations? Pain points?
How do they determine where and when to shop?
What price point are they looking for when they shop?
What does their customer journey look like? (For example, will they read reviews online first?
Or buy on impulse? Will they be swayed by fancy product displays? Or competitive prices?)
Once you answer these questions and have a good picture of your ideal customers, start listing retail stores where these customers are likely to shop. These are your primary targets for your wholesale business.
Yes, it would be awesome to get your product onto the shelves at Walmart or Target. And while that’s a fine goal, it’s also a pretty competitive and difficult process—not to mention that you will suddenly find yourself having to fulfill some rather large orders.
When scaling your business, it’s best to start with some more local retail shops first. Not only will this help your brand grow a local reputation, but smaller local stores might also have more flexibility when it comes to making a purchase decision around a new, untested product.
And, if you make a mistake with a pitch…the result affects only one or a few local stores, not a nationwide chain.
Any new product for sale—whether directly to the customer or to a retail buyer—involves some risk. Is the product high quality? Will it appeal to customers? Does it get returned often? Will customers recommend it to their friends and family? These are all questions that buyers will think to themselves as they listen to your pitch.
You can reduce that perceived risk by giving them “proof” that your product is a good one. So, for example, if you have access to customer reviews or testimonials from sales of your product online, share those. Even better would be a review of your product from a professional at a third-party review site. Better still would be news stories that mention your product in a positive light. Be creative and think of other ways to prove how good your product is.
Some buyers might be willing to contact you via email or phone to set up a wholesale account. You can automate the process, though, by having a form right on a separate wholesale page. If you can, it’s even better to create a separate wholesale website and link to it. Don’t forget to collect the necessary proof that the person contacting you is, in fact, a retailer.
Not all wholesalers sell directly on their website. This is a shame because shopping cart software and other eCommerce solutions are plentiful. Why not make things easier for your retailers and let them place orders online, too? If you have good warehouse management software, it should be able to track and process orders from both the retail and wholesale sites, adjusting inventory levels and order flow appropriately.
As mentioned in Tip #1, many buyers for larger retail chains will look for new and trendy products at trade shows. So make a plan to hit a few, and get ready to make an impression.(And don’t forget to bring along business cards that list your contact information and your website!).
Where does one find the appropriate trade shows? Start by visiting Wholesale Central; they have a list of trade shows that you can narrow down further by product type (for example, health and beauty, footwear, bridal, toys, etc.).
This tip brings us back to risk. A buyer is much more likely to trust a product if he or she has had the opportunity to use it or try it. Create packages with samples of your best products and send them to potential buyers ahead of any pitch. It might cost you a few items (plus postage), but if you are able to interest even one retail buyer, the tactic will likely pay for itself.
One word of caution: be sure there are no special laws or restrictions around your product before you send samples out. For example, alcohol samples are pretty heavily regulated, as you might imagine. Candles? Not so much.
Granted, some products do not lend themselves to sample readily. Furniture comes to mind, as do cars. So, you’ll have to get creative. Maybe you can’t send a new couch to a buyer, but you can send samples of the covering material. Even better, send a small pillow made from the same material. Attach a note saying, “If you think this pillow is comfortable, wait until you try the whole couch!” You get the idea—just give the buyer something small to give him or her the impression of what you are selling.
Finding a retail buyer is a relationship game. Instead of trying to sell a handful of items to many people, you are attempting to sell many items to a handful of people. Those people need to know, like, and trust you and your brand.
There are several ways to engage with buyers. One-on-one meetings are nice, of course, but they take time away from busy people. You can also engage in social media, sending them product updates, seasonal deals, and even marketing collateral. Email campaigns can work, too.
Remember, you’re not going for “spray and pray.” Invest in those relationships. Nurture and grow them. The ongoing business you receive will be well worth it.
One other small note: Figure out what payment terms will be for your wholesale customers. While some retail customers pay at the point of sale, most retailers are used to buying and getting billed on a regular cycle (usually monthly or quarterly) and having Net-30 credit terms. So, before you take a single wholesale order, determine:
What kinds of payment you accept (and whether certain forms have a fee—for example, if you charge an extra 1% fee for credit card transactions)
How often you will bill, and when those bills are sent (end of the month, the beginning of the month, 15 and 30 days, etc.)
What credit terms are typical (Net-15, Net-30, Net-45, etc.)
Make sure these are communicated upfront to wholesale customers. Also think about what you’d be willing to negotiate—because someone will, at some point, try to negotiate more favorable terms.
Getting your products into stores does not happen overnight. It takes time to find stores, contact their buyers or owners, and begin building the relationship process. Be patient.
Once you start getting wholesale orders in, you’ll find that other parts of your business will have to scale in tandem. You’ll need better control of your inventory, for example. You will also need to anticipate when raw materials are needed for future orders and begin buying them ahead of time. These are perfectly common challenges when growing a business, and they will require their own set of solutions.
In the meantime, keep reaching out, and be patient.
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