Back in April of 2015, about a month after I launched Eclair Lips, I was setting some goals. Seems simple, right? Only since that time, I have learned two very important things: 1. I used to really suck at setting goals. 2. It's quite the process to get better at it, but like everything else, there is hope even for me! You know how they say that so many of us set our sights too low and don't expect enough from ourselves. My problem is the opposite. Too much goal, not enough, coffee, time or Sylvie to get it done. So yes, back to April of 2015. I was back to work at the full-time gig I had back then after my second maternity leave, six weeks after launching my own handmade business, and I'm setting goals and thinking: "Ok, I want to sell my line of lip balm to stores!" That in and of itself was a nice start to my goal. Selling to stores is a great idea! But what came after is what was a little nuts - I wanted to land 10 accounts in the next 2 months. Bahahahaha! The wiser gal I am now is rolling on the floor laughing and nearly peeing her pants (ok, she is probably actually peeing a little - I've had 2 kids after all. Truth you guys.) and wants to go tell 2015 Sylvie how precious she is, but to break down her goal even further. Like the amount of pieces you would have if you were to stomp on a cookie with your shoe. Yeah, that sounds about right. And I'd get her to add another year or so to her timeline. And more sleep. So. Much. More. Sleep. Since one of the questions I get often from other makers is about how I got into selling to wholesale customers, I thought I would share how I went about it, and what goals I wish I would have set back then instead of the ridiculous pressure I put on myself. I'm so thrilled that my brand is now in over 25 shops across Canada and the US, but I promise that it wasn't just luck and there were a lot of steps between when the idea first came into my head and where I am now, and there are still a lot more steps to get to where I dream to be, which is fantastic news, because I've come to really love learning all the steps.
Goal #1. Learn all about what it is to sell to shops. (Yes, learning counts as a goal!) Since I had worked in the wholesale area of the cosmetics industry in the early 2000's, I was glad to have somewhat of a clue about how it worked. I knew that whatever stores paid for my product, they would mark it up, but I was used to how huge national stores did things (think Wal-Mart, Shopper's Drug Mart and everything in between) and those weren't the stores I would be approaching now and, uhm, it was also over 15 years ago. Things change and I was pretty sure this industry was no exception. My confidence quickly deflated. I needed to relearn this stuff. Luckily, we live in an age where information is at our fingertips, and over the past two years, I have found two women who are amazing sources o
- Clare Yuille of Indie Retail Academy: Clare is the owner of a gorgeous shop and she also teaches makers how to venture into wholesale.
- Lela Barker of Lucky Break Consulting: Lela is the owner of a very successful apothecary brand that she built from scratch, and she's amazing at teaching makers how they can do it too.
- Take a good look at my pricing. Do I need to make any tweaks to sell wholesale and also make a profit? If you're asking yourself the same thing, Lela from Lucky Break has a great resource on that here.
- Decide if I want to do wholesale, (when product is sold to a shop outright) or consignment (when product is shipped to a store and payment is sent when/if it sells), or a mix of both.
- Decide if I'm able to make my product in large enough quantities to sell wholesale. Wholesale accounts buy in bulk, so it's good to know if you can handle it, or if your happy dance after receiving an order will be shortlived when you start wondering if you can get it all ready in time.
- Research any tweaks I might have to make to my product to sell it in a retail environment. Are there regulations to follow? In my case, I knew that I had to have bilingual labels (it's a requirement for cosmetics in Canada), that I had to register my product with Health Canada (it sounds scary but it's actually super easy and it's free) and there are certain things I can say that my product does (like moisturizing lips) and things I can't say (like that it heals or cures anything).
2. Get a Buyer's Pack Together After doing my research, I soon realized I had to put together something called a Buyer's Pack. It would require taking good, professional looking photos of my products (this guide helped me a lot), designing some professional looking documents and writing up some great emails to introduce myself and my work to shops. By the time I got to this point, I had been through tonnes of free information on the topic and decided that it would be a good idea to take a course and ended up purchasing What Retailers Want and Sell More, Stress Less from Indie Retail Academy. Actually buying a course was a turning point for me. It was the end of wadding through blog posts, which were helpful, but made me realize there was so much more I needed to know. It was the start to feeling confident that although I might not know everything, I had a solid path to success laid out in front of me if I chose to work at it and follow the steps. It also made all of this feel real - if I invested money into it, it wasn't just a hobby. And I hate wasting money, so you'd better believe I dived into those courses and didn't procrastinate the way I might about something that was free! By the time I worked my way through the courses (which I quickly devoured on my daily commute), shot all of my photos (on my dining room table with an iphone) and created all the elements of my buyer's pack, it was mid-October. So I was already 4 months "late" on achieving my goal of landing 10 wholesale accounts. Oh 2015 Sylvie! You were so hard on yourself! At this point, she needed a big hug and about a week of solid sleep.
3. Research Shops and Pitch Oh, this one sounds so deceptively easy. You see a cute store. You email them. They email you back right away telling you they love your stuff and place an order. Yeah, it didn't happen like that for me. It was a bit more like this:
- I love this shop, I'm gonna pitch them. Later. Tomorrow. Next week.
- Ok, I'm pitching this shop. I need to find the email address. Tomorrow.
- I'm opening up an email, pasting in the address, typing in the subject line... Crap, what's a good subject line? Let me think about it and get back to it tomorrow.
- I'm typing the email... No, I mean it, I'm writing the damn thing already. Ok. I'm clicking send. No. Wait. WAIT! I'm going to re-read it. Again. Another 5 times. Then send it. Tomorrow.
- I take a shot of tequila and finally click the damn send button. I wait. I hit send-receive. Oh no! I didn't get a reply yet. :-( Oh wait, I sent the email 2 minutes ago and it's 11pm. I should go to bed. But what if they email? I'll stay up. I could have a cup of coffee to stay awake. Oh, but there's still a wedge of lime left from earlier...
So, what all of this boils down to is that pitching shops can send me on a real mind trip and I found that to be the hardest part. It's like asking your crush to the prom over and over and over... and then being in that painful spot in between the asking and getting the answer for what feels like an eternity. And when I finally got up the courage to send a well-crafted email and not forget to include the attachments, I didn't always get a reply. Not because the shops hate me (Ha! Take that Mean Lady voice that lives inside my head!), but because they are busy (like, ridiculously busy), or they don't need lip balm, or they don't need lip balm right *now*, or they don't have money in the budget for lip balm right now, or they love lip balm but mine's not really right for them... Basically, a lot of reasons, but "because they hate me" is pretty much guaranteed to not be on that list. But you know, minds are annoying sometimes and I'm constantly studying how to keep mine on a short leash.
Mission Accomplished! It took me a lot of pitches to finally get to my first yes at the end of November 2015. And I was soooo very excited to get an order from that amazing shop! By that point, I had also realized how unrealistic my goal was, and had already let go of that number. I also realized (like I realize over and over and OVER in so many areas of my life) that even if pitching was hard at first, I would get better at it. I have, but there's also so much more to learn, which I LOVE! I still take courses on the topic and I'm doing a fantastic one through Lucky Break Consulting this year too to learn even more about doing business with amazing shops! The key for me has been staying motivated - the courses have really helped, but I've found a lot of other things to help me keep my chin up, in business and in life in general, that I'll talk about in another post. In December of 2016, I did reach that milestone of 10 shops, and I think I appreciated it so much more than if it had come easily. I'm thankful for all the things I learned along the way, especially the realization that I needed to get better at breaking down goals into realistic chunks!