July 16-22 marks Independent Retailer Week! Here, the WIN Lab has collaborated with four savvy entrepreneurs to get their advice on everything from opening up shop to helping their retail partners sell. Because finding the right retailer(s) can sometimes feel like dating: exciting, exhausting, misleading but is also worth the work and the wait. Click here to see the four-part series.
Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua are the founders of For Now - a retail incubator where digital-first brands come together to test retail in Boston’s Seaport. For brands, the storefront is a much needed space in between e-commerce and traditional wholesale. It’s a place where their product can be seen and felt and customer insight can be attained; a place where they can grow / thrive and engage with the community at large without needing to invest a lot of time, resources and capital. For Now started as a marketing and operations consulting businesses specializing in retail and e-commerce consumer brands. They opened a co-retail space because they saw how many brands were wrestling to get their product physically in front of their audience and knew that brick and mortar is the solution for many brands.
Finding the right retailer(s) can sometimes feel like dating: exciting, exhausting, misleading but every now and then totally worth the wait. And frankly, your retailers become some of the most critical partners - don’t rush the process, be strategic, and never settle.
Retailing has been and continues to evolve - while it’s still competitive, many retailers are constantly looking for emerging / new brands to liven their shelves. Venturing into wholesale is a great way to:
- Connect with your customer - get them touching and trying on your product
- Penetrate new markets
- Grow revenue
- Increase marketing/visibility
- Build partnerships
- Test a new sales channel
Four Tips on Getting into Retailers
1) Identify your top partners.
Not all retailers are created equal so once you set your partner outreach into motion, make sure you've done your research first. Start with targeting 5 to 10 of your top tier prospects - stores that you will proudly list as retail partners - and consider staying local in the beginning so that's it's physically easier for you to manage the relationship and get them your products. A focused effort and approach in your outreach with allow you to make these retailers a priority, which they will both notice and appreciate. Placement in these locations will then "fuel the fire" to build wholesale business in the future.
2) Be strategic, and thoughtful, about your offer.
As you get ready to reach out, make sure that you determine the best channel for connection. If there's an opportunity to get introduced to them, go for it. If not, do some research and consider whether email, social channels, or the phone will be your best bet to get a response.
Once you determine the best communication channel, think about making tiered offers to allow both you and the potential retailer to test the waters. This will allow both of you to see if the partnership is going to be beneficial. Options include:
- Samples: Give the stores samples of your products so that staff and customers have a chance to experience them.
- Trunk show / event: Offer to help, or take the lead, on creating an in-store event by bringing in like-minded partners and foot traffic to their store. A good way to keep costs down is by recruiting friends and supporters who may live in the area to help execute.
- Short-term consignment: Offer to leave your products with the store for a week to see what their customers are buying and what they aren't.
- Longer term consignment: If you can part with your inventory for a longer period of time, consider a consignment deal where retailers can hold onto your product for more than a week. From there you can see what sells and what stays on the shelves.
- Create an on-location marketing strategy, based on that specific store + opportunity, to let them know you've thought through a partnership with them and are serious about driving traffic to their location.
3) Develop an email and content strategy.
Getting retailers to open your emails isn't a far cry from getting your customers to do it. Both targets want to have a reason to open your message and will do so based on competing priorities. To make sure you're successful in reaching your top-tiered retailers, consider the following:
- Set-up loosely based templates for an email cascade where you can craft different responses whether they open the email or not and different responses based on whether they respond or not. I would recommend Yesware - the service is inexpensive and allows you to see when people open emails.
- Be sure to tailor each email to the specific retailer/buyer.
- Test your subject lines to grab their attention. One example is "Featured in (insert publicity/media outlet here).
- Test the content you lead with. Is the communication product driven or owner/founder story driven?
- Include noteworthy sales stats like mentioning that you've sold "x units to date".
- Send a teaser lookbook with a request to follow-up with the full lookbook.
4) Create a lookbook.
Make sure you have a visual representation of what your brand looks like so retailers get a sense of whether your products will line up with what they want (and can easily sell). As a part of this exercise, do the following:
- Create a teaser version of the lookbook, which should be about 1-2 pages in length - enough to entice them.
- Host your lookbook on Google docs to make it easily accessible. And be sure to format it for web browsing to correctly convey your colors.
- Highlight any press + add customer voice / testimonials when possible.
- Showcase your proof of concept: any retailer will want to know that your product is sellable. If you can show them that you’ve had success at other retailers, markets, trunk shows, online etc. they’ll be more likely to take interest in your product.
Before I go, let me leave you with a few final thoughts:
- Just because a retailer places an order doesn’t mean your product will sell. You have to help your partners move your product. To do this, make sure you offer to do sampling / demos and announce that you’re available at a new store - it’s up to you to promote this! (See this post on how to help your retailer partners sell.) You should also list your retailers on your website.
- Ask for feedback from your retailers. This will get you information that you can incorporate into your products and also let your partners know that you care about making sure that everyone is successful.
- Let them be your eyes and ears - What’s selling? What’s not? What are people saying? Getting this information will also allow you to incorporate feedback and continue to build a better product.
Want to learn more about For Now? Visit their website or go visit them in Boston's Seaport: 68 Seaport Blvd, Boston, MA.