I regularly get asked how I grew my wholesale business, how someone else can grow their wholesale business, or how they can set up wholesale in regards to their handmade business. I go back and forth with being honored that other small business owners value my opinion and guidance and a bit annoyed that people think I can offer out expertise and advice for free. I hope with my blog posts I can strike a compromise with these opposing thoughts of mine and offer out valuable tips I have learned over the years, but also make it clear that everyone's path is different, and this is what has worked for me.
How to price for wholesale….
Standard wholesale pricing for handmade goods such as mine is 50% of retail. This means if you are selling a handmade crocheted beanie for $20, you probably can't offer that item at wholesale pricing for a potential account. I highly recommend making a spreadsheet and figuring out your cost of goods for each item you make factoring in your most valuable resource, the time/labor it takes to make that item. You must figure out your actual cost of materials and time before you set your wholesale and retail prices. Sometimes this means specific items you make can not be offered wholesale, sometimes it means you need to reconsider whether you continue making a product. I currently do not offer any of my crocheted blankets or larger macrame wall hanging pieces wholesale, as I would lose money on them. Pricing strategy is an entire topic on its own, but whether you've been running your Handmade Business for years or are looking to get started, you need to understand your margins because if you are not able to make money with a product, your business will fail.
I have very mixed feelings with consignment, but when I first started trying to offer my products to shops, consignment worked well for me. I am fully moving away from any consignment accounts at this point in my business, but this may be an option to look into if you are newer to wholesaling your products. Typically with a consignment account you keep 60% and the store keeps 40%, meaning you get a bit more money than your standard wholesale pricing structure. The problem with consignment is you don't get paid until your item sells. My issue with this is you then have to put money upfront to buy materials, time to make your product and are hoping the shop you are selling your goods at does a good job marketing your brand and product. It often can be months before you see any money from a sale.
Things get tricky when figuring out when and how to charge wholesale accounts. Though I spent years before running Likewoah Handmade working in an industry with Net Terms and wholesale accounts not paying on time, I learned my lesson the hard way over the holidays with a wholesale account that I offered Net15 that never paid me after months and months of promising they would. As of now, I charge new wholesale customers the full amount of their order before shipping, and offer Net15 on subsequent orders as long as I have a credit card on file. Stripe is a great platform to build out invoices for wholesale orders and charges minimal transaction fees. If you have a Shopify website you can also create wholesale invoices pretty easily and accept payment through your website.
How to even get a wholesale account….
Where do you even start with getting a wholesale account on your own? I feel incredibly lucky that I spent many years before running Likewoah Handmade full time working in specialty coffee doing sales and account management. I am incredibly comfortable sending emails to hundreds of places and only hearing back from a few, walking into a shop talking my product up, and being my own biggest brand advocate to try and get my product into wholesale accounts. Do you have a shop in your area you would love to see your products in? Do you follow them on social media? I have found a lot of luck with reaching out with quick but thoughtful messages on Instagram or email saying something along the lines,
" Hey (store name), I love your shop and am a local (where you’re from) maker. (Insert a little about your business here such as) I run a Fiber Art business and not only do I hand make all my products, I donate 5% of all my sales to Planned Parenthood. I would love to chat and see if you may potentially be interested in carrying some of my products in your shop. Looking forward to chatting more soon!"
You may send hundreds of these messages out and only hear back from a few shops, but it's a great way to start networking with stores around your area. I reached out to a local shop and heard nothing back for about 8 months. They are now an amazing wholesale account of mine and I teach workshops there every few months. Some things take time, but start putting those feelers out there!
You can also stop into shops you like in your area and chat with owners or managers about your products and see if they would be interested in carrying your products. I don't often do this as I have not had a lot of luck with it, and I find that people are busy. They don't necessarily want to chat in the middle of their work day when they have a million other things to do, but can respond to an Instagram message or email whenever.
Online wholesale platforms…..
I work with two different wholesale platforms currently, Faire & Bulletin. Each platform is a bit different and all have pros and cons, but they work well for me at this point in my business. Both platforms offer 0% commission if a retailer signs up through your direct link, and Faire offers a little kick back if you sign up as a vendor and get accepted, here is the link for that!
Faire- Faire started a few years back and you have probably seen ads for them on Instagram or Facebook. It has become pretty saturated at this point, and I believe it is pretty hard to get accepted onto their platform. I have talked a lot about Faire on Instagram before, and there are many pros to being on the platform and many cons. Currently I find the pros outweigh the cons, but I am not sure that will be the case forever. Faire does a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that they charge a hefty commission fee. The first order you receive from a shop comes with a 25% fee going to Faire, meaning if someone places an order for $100 with of goods (at already wholesale pricing), Faire is going to take $25 of that as their fee. Following orders from the same account Faire takes a 15% fee. Remember they do all the heavy lifting for you, and you probably would never have gotten an order from that account had they not found you on Faire (this is also why pricing appropriately is so important). They offer some really amazing Net Terms for shops, as well as shipping deals. If I was a store owner I would do a lot of my shopping via Faire. My big issue is with their return policy, allowing stores to return any items from their first order up to 60 days after they receive their order. You don't receive that item back, Faire goes on to sell it at a discounted price and you have no idea who ends up buying it. I don't love not knowing who is carrying my products in their shop, and sometimes shops have terrible reasons for returning items, such as a shop who returned an entire order of my plant hangers the day she got them because my hang tags mention I donate to Planned Parenthood, which is prominently written all over every description and my profile on Faire. Alas, can't win them all.
Bulletin is a much newer platform, but seems to be very beautifully curated, and comes with only a 5% commission fee on orders. I have only had a handful of orders on the platform at this point, and they seem to be working out some back end interface issues, but so far I am pleasantly surprised and happy with it.
I have yet to attend a tradeshow for my business. I have gone back and forth deciding if it is something worth it for me, and at this point the cost of entry is just a bit too high for me. It may be something you want to look into for your business though, just be aware booth fees tend to range from $4-7k.
The bottom line.....
The bottom line is you need to approach wholesale like you would any other facet of your business, do your research, understand the opportunity, and make a plan. Wholesale is not for everyone, I don't even know if it will be for me forever. Currently it is a HUGE part of my business and how I make money to live. Wholesale can put your brand in front of a lot of customers, and can be a truly beneficial tool to growing your brand. I hope this helps you get started tackling wholesale for your business, or maybe makes you realize wholesale isn't for you, or helps you grow your current wholesale.