I’ve had several people reach out to me lately inquiring about my process for applying to be a consignment or wholesale vendor through local boutiques. Let me tell you, it can be a lengthy process. I was terrified to try at first. I was so worried about rejection that I let it prevent me from even trying.
There was a lot I didn’t understand about the process. I didn’t know the difference between consignment or wholesale, or the benefits of doing one over the other. I didn’t understand what information I needed to provide in my application. I didn’t have the first idea of what a fair agreement looked like. My first few attempts were rough. I didn’t even think about packaging my items or which marketing materials would be appropriate to include with the items. (If you’re a knitter or crochet like me, I have an adorable free printable for washing instructions.)
This post is going to be a bit longer than usual, but it’s stuffed with heaps of helpful information! So get cozy, grab a note book and pen, and get ready to plan!
Where to Start
Before you email every boutique in your area, you should do some research. Make a list of all the potential boutiques you think would be able to support your items. When I say support, I mean which stores are busy enough to move your product. It’s becoming “trendy” to own a local, “artisan” handmade-themed boutique. Many of these stores open, and many of them close.
After you’ve curated your list, go visit the stores! Pretend to be a customer and look around. Check out which products they already carry, what the prices are like, and the overall atmosphere of the store. Many boutiques grandfather in certain businesses. If you already see products like what you offer, chances are they aren’t going to get rid of their current vendor. There are always exceptions. If you can prove or highlight why your product is superior, give it a shot!
Use what you saw in each store to determine what you are going to offer each store. Show them items that will fit their vibe. If you go into a store that is full of crazy, whimsical, colourful products, send that to them! If the store is much more minimalist or neutral, try to match that. If you don’t have any products that will fit or that you can create in different style, then that store might not be the right fit for you.
The First Point of Contact
Making a good first impression is critical. Local boutiques receive so many vendor requests; it’s easy to blend in with everyone else. You need to stand out. The best way to stand out is to be professional and prepared. You need to provide them with answers to questions they won’t know they have. The more pictures you can use, the better. Visuals are easier to process and understand than huge chunks of text.
Start with an email. Most companies have their email address listed on their website or a social media platform. You might need to do a bit of snooping, but the information is out there. If I can’t find it on their website, I go to their Facebook page and check the “About” section. If it’s not there, head over and see if they are on Instagram. Avoid filling out those “Contact Us” forms. You never know if they are working properly, or if anyone checks them.
Figure out a catchy subject line, but make sure it’s accurate and relevant to your content. Don’t try to trick your way into having your email opened. Be honest and upfront. Address the shop owner politely and professionally. No smiley faces or emojis. Proof-read your email. If you said you were going to attach a certain document to the email, make sure it’s actually attached.
Now that you’ve got the shop owner’s attention, it’s time to win them over.
Documents to Create and Use
This is where you’ll want to give them as much relevant information as possible. Don’t overload them, otherwise you’ll end up in the Trash folder immediately. Only send them what they need to know.
I have a series of 5 pages of information that I attach to my emails. My first page is a bit of an introduction to my business. There are a few unique things about my business, so I like to tell shop owners my story. I find that captures people’s attention and it makes you, as the business owner, more relatable. Don’t be afraid to brag a little. If there is something interesting and cool about what you do, share it! Use this first page as a hook to persuade the shop owner to keep reading.
My second, third, and fourth pages are my product breakdown. I include a picture or two of each product that I want to offer the store. Beside the pictures I include the product name along with a few key points about the item. Here is where you can mention the production process and any other special facts about the item. Include the Wholesale Price, the Consignment Price, and the Suggested Retail Price. These numbers might not always stay the same after you hear back from the shop, but it’s a great place to start.
My fifth page is my colour chart. Because of the products I make and the wide variety of opinions regarding colour, I like to make sure I can offer several options. Sometimes this page is useless because the shop doesn’t care what colours I choose. Sometimes this is a huge deal because shops want to keep consistent colours available at all times.
Price Your Items Fairly
The biggest realization I had was that selling through a shop provides more power to price your items fairly. A brick-and-mortar store can seem more trustworthy and reputable than an online-seller. This trust allows the store to support slightly higher prices.
Most consignment and wholesale selling relationships work off a 60/40 split. That means you will receive 60% of the retail price and the store will keep 40%. If you’re lucky, you can negotiate the price to a 70/30 split. Be fair with your pricing. I start by deciding how much money I would be happy with receiving for my product. For example, If I am selling a toque, I would hope to earn back $18.00-$22.00. That means if I want to earn that as 60% of the retail price, the retail price needs to be $30.00-$36.00. If you hate math, get over it, because there is a lot of math involved in this process!
I worked with a shop last year that was really great about pricing her items. We worked together to determine a starting point that both of us were happy with. Then we did a few tests throughout the year. We tried increasing and decreasing the prices of certain items to see what would happen. Eventually we found a happy medium and it worked out wonderfully for both of us.
You’ve done the research, put together a plan, and reached out to a few boutiques. Now what? You have to be patient during this process, but not too patient. Give the shop owner a week to respond back. If they say no, don’t push them. It might not be the right time. If you haven’t heard back within a week, send a follow-up email.
Keep the follow-up email generic. Let them know that you’d just like to hear back either way, whether they are interested in your product or not. Let them know that if you don’t hear back from them again, that you will visit the store or call. Don’t let it be a surprise that you are going to follow up.
If you still haven’t heard back from anyone after calling and visiting the store, it’s time to abandon ship. There is only so much you can do before it becomes a waste of time. Remember, you aren’t earning any money yet by trying to establish a relationship with a boutique. You’ll need to put some effort in for free, of course, but be mindful of your time. You also don’t want to establish a reputation of a crazy nagging annoyance. A lot of boutique and shop owners are friends and connected. Don’t give them a reason to say anything bad about you.
Not every store will be the right fit, and that’s okay. Some will think your prices are ridiculous. Some might not like your product, or they don’t think it will fit their shop. That’s fine. Like I said before, there are tons of boutiques and shops out there to choose from. And just because someone doesn’t currently sell products consignment or wholesale, doesn’t mean they don’t want to or wouldn’t be open to it!
You’ll never know until you ask, so start asking!
Let me know if you have success with the method I use. I’d love to hear about your experiences!