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Business Expertise and Advice for Makers - How to sell to small retailers

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

You've ticked off all of the online marketplaces for selling your lampshades and your business is off to a great start, but there is another often overlooked opportunity that could be sitting right on your doorstep - selling to small independent retailers. If you love browsing and buying in independent shops as much as the next person why not put your products on their shelves!

In this BEAM post, we take you through how to approach being stocked in small retailers, what you'll need to consider and the benefits it will bring to your business.

Why sell to small retailers

As well as becoming part of your local economy, selling to small, independent retailers is a great way of expanding your clientele, testing your products in the market, gaining knowledge from shop owners and buyers, as well as supporting their business too.

Dealing with virtual platforms, taking images and describing your products is a very one sided affair. The computer probably won’t ever say ‘no’, but selling to local retailer

does carry with it the possibility of rejection and you'll need to think about interacting in person with the shop owner or buyer - something that you might find unnerving before you start.

This said, in the current climate selling to and supporting smaller retailers is currently more important than ever and who wouldn’t want a lampshade made by someone who just lives down the road or even lives in the same county. Not only does the product count, but the local connection too. It's definitely worth approaching a couple of local retailers to see what they say.

Do your physical homework

Start by drawing up a list of small stockists you’d like to work with and aim to pop in, in person. Make it your mission to arm yourself with the following; why your lampshades will fit in with their stock, what gap you’re going to fill and which other products your shades will compliment. Do yourself a crib sheet if you need to and make notes after each visit.

Having this knowledge will help you define the strong selling points of your shades for the retailer, but also show you’ve paid attention to the shop's stock and retail model, which will come in handy too.

Alongside this looking out for small brands or handcrafted labels you recognise, which will indicate that they do stock individual makers. And if you can and do visit the shop, buy something. Even if it’s a card. Use this opportunity to ask if they are interested in stocking local makers and who you might contact. If it’s the owner behind the counter ask when you can pop in and chat more about your lampshades. Don’t try to tell them everything in that moment – work to their diary to give yourself the best chance.

Do your online homework

Find out about the business – how long have they been trading for? What’s the name of the owner? What’s their USP? What’s their business model? All this will help when you approach them either in person or by email.

If your desired retailer has social media follow them! Like posts regularly and keep an eye on what they are promoting, gathering titbits of information to drop into a conversation with the buyer or owner. By doing this you’ll also find out some of the points for the physical homework, but bear in mind visiting the shop is still essential.

Get in touch

Sending a tentative email is also a way to win a meeting with your chosen buyer/owner at your chosen retailer. Act as you would in person, so be professional and friendly. Know the name of who you’re addressing and show that you know about their business and who their customers are.

Use the knowledge you’ve gained from your homework and explain why your lampshades would fit into their range and what the benefits are to them as a retailer, then showcase your products. Add a couple of simple images, similar to the ones from @spring.feathers below, that showcase your lampshade styles, along with a few bullet points about the USP of your lampshades.

Don’t forget to add your website and social media links, so they can click through and find out more about you.

Pitch perfect preparation

After you’ve secured a meeting with your desired shop, whether in person or via email you’ll need to focus on what you say and get out of the meeting.

Similar to selling your lampshades online you’ll need to think about how you present your products – i.e. photo’s v samples) and we’d say a mix of the two could work best, though no one wants a meeting where the seller wanders in with a standard lamp 😁.

Claire Holiday of Indie Retail Academy, recommends a ‘line sheet’ and has written this fantastic post about how to put one together. The essence of this is to market your products, clearly and succinctly to the buyer and give them a professional reference point long after you’ve left the meeting.

If you have a couple of smaller sized lampshade (think 30cm or below) that reflect your style, the fabrics you use, and the finishes, then it would be great to take them along. Think about taking one packaged (see our lampshade wrapping) and one unpackaged so the retailer is clear on what they'll be stocking.

Fiona Pullen, founder of The Sewing Directory and author Making and Marketing a successful Art and craft Business, says when preparing to pitch, to have answers ready to the following to cover all bases:

  • What variations (size/colour, etc.) of your lampshade can offer?

  • How many lampshades can you produce for them and by what date?

  • How your product will be package or presented? (If you use our Cellophane lampshade wrap then make sure one of your samples is wrapped)

  • What your wholesale price is?

  • What your payment terms are?

  • Whether you'd be happy to work on a sale or return basis?

  • What the postage costs are (if relevant)?

  • What your return policy is?

  • What discounts/ deals or retail starter packs you could offer?

If the buyer asks a question you don't know, be honest and say you'll come back to them as soon as you can after the meeting. And remember selling to a small retailer has to work for you too!

Enhance your offer

Be sure to make sure your own labels or branding appear on your shades, in the form of stickers or tags, but with the option for the shop to add their own branded retail pricing. Think about if you could offer any promotional materials that would help the retailer, such as brand signage.

If you have lamp bases that you'd be happy to loan for a window display, this could also be a great way to introduce the retailers' newest product range to their customers! Offer to create the display for them, then make sure you post this on your social feeds!

After the YES!

You've clinched the deal and your lampshades are in stock, but it's important not to now forget about your stockist. Make a note in your diary to check in by phone or email to see how your products are going, if they need any more stock and if you have any new styles of lampshade be sure to let the buyer know.

Once the stock is in place, don't forget to pop in and take some photos for posting on your social feeds, making sure you tag in the shop or reshare your new stockist's promotion of your work...😁.

If you're feeling inspired and want more hints and tips on how to expand your lampshade-making business check out our previous Business Expertise and Advice for Makers posts on our blog.


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