One of the most asked questions that designers and makers ask me when I run workshops about selling or trade shows, or The Design Trust Get Clients Now! coaching programme is:
How do I approach a craft gallery or design shop successfully?
I always want to give practical and honest advice, whatever it is about. I talk about my own experience, as my mother had a gift shop/gallery in the Netherlands when I grew up.
My top tips on how to approach a craft gallery or shop successfully are:
1. Research research research
Firstly do some practical market research, so that you know your market and approach the right kind of retailers for your products, who are selling the work of your peers and at your price level. To get 3 new stockists you are very likely to need to contact at least 20 potential retailers. So start making a list of 40 potential stockist and research them in some detail, and then cut them down to the 20 where you want to show and who are most likely to order from you.
2. Personal & professional approach
With that list in your hand you can start identifying what the best way is to approach them. As you will see in the blog post below, each buyer has their own preferences!
Don’t just send standard emails, but personalise them and check the spelling of the name of the buyer you want to approach. Approach them in a personal but professional way (ideally first phone them up, and then send them a short but persuasive email, and then follow up by phone again).
Sometimes sending a good wholesale catalogue/brochure in the post is far more effective, as you will stand out more. If your items are small and relatively inexpensive then you can also send some real examples.
3. Direct contact
I believe that direct contact is probably far more effective than spending loads of money on trade shows. Very often when you start out you aren’t ready to start selling to many wholesalers, and your prices often don’t stand up to include the commission that retailers charge on top of your wholesale price. I suggest you start working with a small group of retailers, and then grow from there.
4. Be patient, consistent and stay in touch
Very often retailers are a little reluctant to start with, and it often takes months or years before they actually will buy from you. They want to see how you develop and grow over time, and if you are able to deliver a consistent quality and quantity. They might not be buying (yet) from you, but they often watch from the sidelines before placing an order.
Therefore it’s crucial that you take the long term view and ensure that you have the financial investment and stamina that is required to sell successfully to galleries and retailers.
I often share one of my favourite marketing slogans:
People only buy from people they know, like and trust.
Selling is about building a relationship, and that takes time, consistency and passion.
And that also means that it all depends on who you ask!
So … for this post I asked the experts!
I asked some of the best galleries, shops and retailers in the UK – from small indie shops, to established galleries, and even a big online retailer! Owners and buyers who share with you their own personal preferences on you how they want to be approached.
And the great thing is? Each of them shared their own professional and personal preference here with you.
Clare Yuille, co-founder of boutique Plaisir & the Indie Retail Academy
Clare Yuille runs with her partner Anthony an award-winning brick & mortar and online shop caled Plaisir in Biggar in Scotland – a gifts, fashion and homewares boutique with a relaxed and happy style.
Clare also runs the Indie Retail Academy and provides loads of really practical advice and training for designers and makers who want to sell to retailers. I highly recommend her online course & very practical e-book What Retailers Want for any creative who wants to learn how to sell more and more confidently to small shops and galleries.
Her newsletter is one of The Design Trust favourites – for content, but also because she is hilarious and very often so spot on with her advice!
How do you want a potential designer to approach you?
‘We prefer artists and designers to contact us by email. By post is also fine, particularly for flat things like cards and wrapping paper.
A phone call is okay if it’s simply to find out where to send an email submission (although those details are on our site) and we love being invited to visit an artist’s stand at a forthcoming craft or trade show.
People who turn up in person with a bag of samples and a hopeful expression make us want to hide in the stock room.’
What do you look for?
‘We’re looking for three specific things:
- Wholesale catalogue, lookbook, trade section on your website or some clear, bright, colour photos
- Wholesale line sheet or price list including your terms and conditions
- A covering letter or email that introduces your work
Beyond that, we’re looking for someone who’s taken the time to find out what our names are and spell them correctly, and to show they know something about what we do.
It’s not about flattery or sucking up – just show us that you’ve done your homework and have good reason to think your work is right for us. There’s a lot more you can do to help your pitch succeed, but these are two big things to get right.’
How do you select new designers for your shop?
‘We choose products for our shop based on criteria like:
- Is this something our customer will be interested in? Does it call out to her?
- Does it fit in with the range of other things we stock, in terms of style, purpose, price point and so on.
- If it doesn’t fit, is it filling a gap in our collection?
- Does this product conflict with something we already stock? Is it too similar, for example?
- What’s the quality of the submission like? Does this person seem professional, robust and the kind of supplier we want to do business with?
- Can we make this product work for us from a profit point of view?’
Do you go to trade shows?
‘We love going to trade shows for a few reasons:
- If a company is exhibiting at a major trade show, then that usually means they know how the industry works and how they fit into it. Even if they’re just starting out, they’re professionals. As retailers that makes us relax.
- Wandering around a trade show is a chance to daydream about your business for a whole day. You see lots of new possibilities and directions. You see new products and get excited about how your customers will react when they’re on the shelves. We find it completely re-energising.
- When you’ve been in business for a while, the exhibitors who might be right for you shop tend to jump out at you. We always think back to the first time we were at Pulse, which was about two months before we opened. That experience really helped us clarify our offer within our town. We’d see something we liked, but then realise it was too much like something another shop stocked. Now we’re really clear about what we do, it’s easy to zone in on the suppliers who might be able to contribute. We do like surprises too, though.
- Specifically, an exhibitor’s display is the first thing that catches our eye. We’re looking for clear, bright colours that reflect our outlook. After that, it’s the display and the product, but also the person on the stand. If they’re awkward, embarrassed, dismissive, pushy or don’t have the right details to hand we can get a little cheesed off. For us, thinking about price comes pretty late in the process. We have to fall in love with your product first.’
What are your top tips to approach a shop or gallery?
‘Gosh, and now some specific tips! I have a lot to say about selling your work to shops over at Indie Retail Academy, but I’ll restrain myself to just one right now:
Don’t be scared to be YOU, and to let that show in your submission. We get so many poor quality submissions, as do all retailers in our niche.
When you come across one that feels like it was written by a real human being and not by a robot or someone who just wants your money, it’s wonderful.
Those are the artists that really stand out.’
Dr. Maureen Bampton, Director Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool
Maureen says: ‘My position here at Bluecoat Display Centre involves safeguarding that the contemporary craft gallery runs smoothly and efficiently and that artist’s work is displayed and administered as professionally as possible.
I also try to ensure that the destination is a dynamic and energetic space with an exciting artistic programme consisting of exhibitions, workshops, residencies and educational events involving UK and international leading practitioners.
We are a charitable trust and an independent gallery with no regular funding, so inevitably and increasingly my energy and that of my team involves fund raising for the programme.’
How do you prefer crafts people to contact you?
‘Initially by email, which has increasingly taken over from the postal service, especially for speculative approaches.
Do check the website for contact details and phone to check on staff names and titles so as to make any approaches more personal.
If you email I would suggest to put ‘artist’s or maker’s application’ in the subject line. We require a CV, statement, images of the work and price guide, clearly marked ‘wholesale’ or ‘retail’.
If you do not hear anything in 3 weeks, do follow up with a phone call to check it has not been filtered out.
I’m happy to see artists with their work, but initially we like to see how compatible it is with the gallery’s other artist’s work, and appointments always have to be made in advance.’
Do you go to trade fairs? What do you look for?
‘Bluecoat Display Centre visit trade fairs – when time allows.
We do look for new suppliers, and the originality of the work is one of the prime considerations. After that it is ensuring that it fits in with the gallery’s client market.
It is important for stands to have impact and for the work to be clearly and creatively displayed.’
How do you select new work?
‘There is a selection committee that meets regularly every 2 – 3 weeks and checks any new applications. Originality, quality, consistency of voice and the price points of the work are all considerations that we make.’
How long does it take to get from initial meeting to getting it in the shop?
‘It varies depending on the space we have at the time, and also the artistic programme e.g. whether we have a relevant exhibition or event in the pipeline.’
What are your specific tips to approach a gallery or shop successfully?
- ‘Research the gallery and the type of work you deal with before sending your application
- Images are very important, especially if they are the galleries first encounter with the work.
- Clear concise paperwork, with as many contact details as possible, including postal addresses and whether you are UK based.
- A clear price guide to the work.
- Do not turn up speculatively with your work and expect to be seen.’
Piyush Suri, Creative Director of craft fair Handmade in Britain & co-founder of Handmade Interiors, London
An Engineer with a Master’s degree in Textiles, Piyush Suri graduated from Central Saint Martin’s college of Art and Design, London in 2003. With over 15 years of industry experience in India and UK, Piyush launched the craft and design fair Handmade in Britain in 2007 and his first shop in Cheshire Street was launched in October 2008.
How do you want designers to approach you?
‘I personally prefer people walking into the store. It can be a bit daunting, but if you find the right time, or email to make an appointment, you might be successful. Bringing products to the store and showing your work always works as we can decide then and there whether they will work or not.
Follow up on phone. There are so many times when we have liked the work but completely forgotten about them.
A friendly attitude always helps when we are selecting.’
How do you select?
‘We look at the uniqueness and commercial viability of the product in terms of quality and design as the first priority. Then the price point is very important.
Many times I see good products with wrong price points, and then it becomes difficult to sell.
With the product selection we normally look for good spread of price points from lower end to higher end.
My business partner and I have very similar tastes, so very rarely there are disagreements in terms of selection. But when there are, we trust each others’ judgement and go with it.’
What information do you need?
‘Attachments and website details are very important and where they are already selling. We want to know their current stockists as we don’t want to sell any products that are sold in another store in the local area, or have been selling in a very mainstream store.
Lots of makers don’t have a recommended retail price, which is very useful to have. They also should know the margins of the retailers for their product range.
Initially, we always try a new supplier on Sale or Return basis for a certain period of time, to analyse the sales.’
What are your specific tips to approach a design shop?
- Research and negotiations skills are extremely important for a successful business, besides a memorable personality. These skills are very useful – to find better deals, which results in a better price products.
- Be persistent without being pushy.
- Don’t worry about getting a NO, as it’s not personal. Buyers are struggling too in this economy.
- It helps to think from the others’ point of view.
- Every product has a target market and a price bracket, which I think a designer-maker should be aware of. And stay within that limit.’
Yvonna Demczynska, Managing Director, Flow Gallery, London
Contemporary gallery Flow is situated in the heart of Notting Hill, and was established by Yvonna Demsczynska in 1999 to showcase the best of international and British applied arts.
The gallery features 6 exhibitions a year as well as having a permanent collection of contemporary crafts. The exhibitions are curated by Flow as well as some guest curators.
Flow represents over 100 artists working in ceramics, glass, paper, wood, textiles, metal and jewellery. Flow works both with collectors and more recently with corporate clients who are establishing collections of applied arts.
How do you want people to contact you?
‘Email is the best as we can respond straight away.’
Do you visit craft fairs?
‘We do look for new suppliers at craft fairs but specifically with our ‘Flow Eyes’. There are three of us working at Flow and we usually end up spotting the same people who fit into our aesthetic, unless we are researching for a new exhibition.’
What info do you need?
‘We want a CV, price lists, artist statements, and photos or website address if the work on the website is up to date.’
How do you make your selection?
‘We mainly exhibit work which we find personally engaging and speaks out to us. We would find it difficult to sell work we did not like.’
What are your specific tips?
‘Creatives’ approaches should be more targeted.
And a bit more research … too often I hear from people whose work doesn’t fit into our style at all.’
Angel Monzon, Director of gallery Vessel, London
Vessel is a store-cum-gallery based in Notting Hill, London. We aim to be a modern Mecca for all those who appreciate good design and beauty in their life, both to look at and to use.
The best contemporary glass and ceramic pieces available have been sourced globally. Their ranges cover iconic Scandinavian functional design (including Hackman, Stelton, Iittala, Orrefors, Arabia), flamboyant, collectible Italian art glass (Venini, Salviati, Arcade), plus the best of home grown talent.
How do you want people to contact you?
‘Rule number one: Please do contact us via email or slow mail first.
Do not attempt to come in to the gallery with products in hand and expect to be given any attention. You can’t possibly be aware of the buyer’s schedule or if he is available or not? Most likely it will be a wasted journey for you.
I think a kind reminder with a telephone call is appropriate for a follow up as long as you are not too ‘pushy’.
Ask when it is convenient to come in for a visit or if you are able to drop in some samples for evaluation.
If you do bring in samples please pick them up after a week at the most. We have tons of samples going back for years that people have not bothered to pick up.
Another approach is to call ahead of one of the trade fairs and try to meet up there. This is the time buyers have set aside for scouting so it might be convenient for the buyer.
Do you go to trade or craft shows? What do you look for?
‘We always look for new work, new ideas and new people to collaborate with.
Pay attention to your booth design. You need to have a strong message to catch people’s attention and imagination.
Do not expect immediate orders at a fair. The way of doing business has changed a lot in the past 10 years and with new technologies buyers can look at the selection available at a later stage, at home or in their office.’
What information do you want to see?
‘Well, sounds stupid, but clear images, full description and pricing strategy.
Images: the pictures needs to speak for themselves. You can always do a ‘mood shot’ but add this as an additional image. Make sure the main image shows off the colours, the texture, and details as close as possible to the reality.
Description: describe materials and making methods.
Size is very important, if possible both in cm and inches.
If electrics or electronics are involved they need to be outlined, size, max wattage, consumption, etc… And do you have the right certification?
Prices: clearly state your selling price and your recommended retail price.
You need to be aware of the standard margins galleries and shops apply but this can differ a little bit from region and type of gallery.
On pricing do consider if you are only interested in selling the work outright or willing to work on commission. You should have an answer for this ahead of meeting with a potential buyer.’
How do you make your selection?
‘The work needs to be of high standard, well made, have a history or tell a story.
You will find that each gallery has its own criteria. At Vessel we are now very much into exploring products where ‘craft meets industry’ and skilled crafts is a priority.
We don’t necessary look for the end product as we now mostly engage with the artists to create something new.’
What are your tips to approach a gallery successfully?
‘Firstly, I am taking for granted that you are producing good quality work. Quality is the seal of approval.
Secondly try to be unique and lead the way to get noticed.
Do not be shy or be intimidated to approach buyers. You have nothing to lose, you will only get a no at worst.
And take part in as many networking events as you can, to show your face and to meet new potential buyers. This is important as our most successful collaborations have started by ‘coincidence’ and not over a sales pitch.’
Cat Clark, New Business Manager, online retailer notonthehightstreet
The popular online retailer notonthehighstreet.com gives customers the opportunity to find beautifully created, original products from independent small creative businesses, all from the comfort of their own home. Their carefully curated collection is a community of real people who help customers tell their real stories through quality, innovative gifts and products.
Started at a kitchen table by British entrepreneur founders Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish in 2006, notonthehighstreet.com now brings together more than 3,000 of the UK’s most exciting creative small businesses to offer over 50,000 original products for sale through a single, easy to use checkout.
The aim of notonthehighstreet.com is to not only offer customers in the UK and abroad the opportunity to discover products and gifts that are original, either through their uniqueness or by the addition of cutting-edge personalisation, but also to change the face of UK enterprise to support growing small businesses.
Through business guidance, events and online support, as well as the site platform itself, notonthehighstreet.com offers an affordable route to market for thousands of designer-makers and small businesses that would otherwise struggle for custom or lose out in the wholesale battle with high street giants.
The company now employs over 95 members of staff at its headquarters in South West London. Since launching the company has accumulatively turned over £100m.
Where do you look for new designers?
‘We use a wide variety of resources to discover the very best design talent, from attending trade fairs and markets to reading blogs and Twitter feeds.
We also receive a high number of applications to sell with us directly from creatives via our website.’
What do you look for?
‘We look for products which we believe will enhance and compliment the collection presented by our existing sellers (or ‘Partners’, as we call them) and are always looking for new small creative businesses we can support by growing their sales through our Partner community.
We carefully review each and every application and are open to seeing them all as you never know which original concept or twist on the traditional might be our next bestseller.
We can’t reveal our full selection criteria as this is part of what makes the curation of our site so individual, but I can say that we look for new, innovative and unique products produced to a high quality with a twist on the traditional which have been photographed well in lifestyle setting or on a white background.’
How do you want people to contact you?
‘We welcome applications from small creative businesses in the UK and Ireland. You can apply to sell with us by completing our online form. We review each application we receive within 7 days and you will receive our response by email.’
What info do you need?
‘We ask applicants to complete our application form and either provide a link to a website, photo-sharing site or social media page which contains images of the products they’d like to sell with us.
Or alternatively you can email us product photographs by responding to the confirmation email received on completing the form.’
Any tips on how to approach online shops?
‘Although we can’t share all the secrets of our seller’s success, we can say that our most successful Partners are those who actively work with us to continuously evolve their product range according to sales patterns, trends and product gaps.
By keeping aware of what is selling well and understanding why, our Partners are able to ensure that they are offering customers what they want over many months and years, rather than just seeing a return for a short amount of time.’
The Design Trust Business Club members can watch here an exclusive one-hour webinar with Not On The High Street on how they work, what they are looking for, and how you can sell more online.
Want to learn more about selling to shops?
We highly recommend Claire Yuille’s online course and ebook What retailers want.
It’s a very practical publication that gives you all the ins and outs of selling wholesale; from doing your research, to approaching them confidently, to pricing your work and creating stunning price lists, to what to do when you get rejected.
Clare also shares some fabulous worksheets, templates of intro letters and catalogues, and much more.