Podcast #19: Should I Try To Sell My Jewelry Line to Big Department Stores or Small Boutiques?

selling your prdouct wholesale

This question landed in my “Ask Jane” box from a jewelry designer, named Eva, currently enrolled in my “Sell to Boutiques” course. I get this question a lot so I thought I’d post it here for all to see. While there’s no perfect answer I can give Eva, I can give her some relevant info to help her make a decision.

Q:  “Dear Jane, I started my jewelry business a year and a half ago and I can say that in the first year I was not 100% focused on what I wanted my business to be. It started as a hobby but it became clear to me that I want to do the things on brand level. I do not want to look like the housewife doing pretty stuff at home, I want to create a business and a company with its own branding, packaging, high quality of materials and standards. I noticed that it is easier to get into smaller stores but the problem with them is that many of them do not have budgets and suggest consignment. I feel I have to do this at this stage.

However my aim is to get into really big stores, like Neiman Marcus, Harvey Nichols, Anthropologie, etc.The main reason is that while it’s harder to get into those stores, they do have big budgets to order and buy. So what is your advice for a small growing jewelry business – to aim BIG (big stores) or to try to “swim” with the fishes its own size (small boutiques)?” Thanks! Eva

A:  First of all, Eva, let me just tell you that you’re not alone. You mention that “that in the first year I was not 100% focused on what I wanted my business to be. It started as a hobby but it became clear to me that I want to do the things on brand level.” This is normal! It takes time to get clarity on what we want, understand our customer etc. And props to you for going from a HO to a BO (a la Suzanne Evans), a hobby owner to a business owner…

Let’s get to a smackdown between Big vs. Little cuz in this case, size really DOES matter. Listen to the rest of my answer by clicking on this link.. Listen to the full podcast right here:

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Pros and Cons of selling to big stores
  • Pros and cons of selling to boutiques
  • What department stores want to see happening before they’ll even consider your line
  • How to know if you’re ready to sell to big stores
  • What factors t consider when you decide how you want to sell
  • Why there’s no perfect answer and what that means to you

4 things you need to know about selling to big department stores:

  1. Dept stores want to see a proven track record before they’ll consider buying from you
  2. Prove to yourself and to them that you can ship a product – on time, high quality, that SELLS at retail
  3. Make sure your production capabilities are rock solid. Again, do you have a PROVEN system to deliver on time?
  4. Shipping policies are a killer for Dept Stores – EDI software, chargebacks, markdown money.

Selling to big stores truly is swimming with the sharks so my main advice for Eva is to “swim with the fishes” before you get into that potentially bloody water. If you want to know my exact step-by-step approach to getting your line into boutiques, you can check out our “Sell to Boutiques” online course right here.

It gives you the perfect email template, info on how to approach buyers, how often to follow up, and the EXACT script to use to talk to a buyer on the phone.

So now it’s YOUR turn. Did you like this episode? If you did then please LIKE it and SHARE it. I would appreciate it a lot because I want to get this information in the hands of more struggling designers.

What do you think? How do you weigh in on the Big vs. Little stores? Are you a NO WAY department store person? Or someone who prefers to sell volume and get huge orders? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

The BEST PART of my day is hearing from YOU!

As always, thanks for listening and reading!




13 Responses

  1. Very accurate pod cast! You captured what I have heard from others. And well timed. I’m designer for women’s ready to wear and honestly, I’ve looked into dept store wholesale since I started. As a clothing designer, I thought that it was a necessary step I would need to take but right now my sales are low and I am doing pretty much everything myself until things pick up and I can break even, at the least. Currently, I have all of my ducks in a row for production and am currently selling fairly well via trunk shows, I have everything available online but it just doesn’t seem to move. My next step is to secure a few wholesale clients and build from there to gain some stability and then perhaps moving on to Dept Stores. But the whole process of selling in big quantities is quite daunting to me. The factoring, the buybacks, the added expenses of shipping materials and sku’s, not to mention the mounds of financial and material waste that’s involved. I think it’s actually holding me back from going forward. I know boutiques don’t have the same requirements, but I’d love to find an alternate method of selling. It seems to me that most bigger labels are leaving the dept stores behind and opening their stores. Direct to buyer and if this continues it might mean the downfall of Dept stores altogether. Plus, everyone I ask here in NYC say pretty much the same thing, “wholesale sucks!” Is there another method to sell coming up on the horizon? (Ha! Sorry, my comment just turned into a complete mind/worry unload.)


    1. Hi Renaldo,
      First of all, your designs are GORGEOUS. Excited for you and your next page! To show at a trade show, you will need purchase orders, know your terms, delivery dates, payment terms, sizing, colors available, line sheet, simple look book. You will als want a sold plan to iinvite stores to see your line at the show (marketing) and follow-up strategy.

      I have a course that may help you – How to Sell to Boutiques ($99). It teaches the process of approaching boutiques (email template, what to say, how often to approach them etc), but not what selling tools you need. But if you take the course, there is an “add-on” course ($49) about what you need before you can sell, called “Preparing to Sell Your Line”. Here’s hte link: https://fashionbrainacademy.com/training-courses/sell-boutiques/

      Wishing you all the best!

  3. Thanks, Jane for the informative podcast! With my high-end, designer pillows, I would like to sell to boutiques, while right now focusing on my interior designer following. It is a form of wholesale and I have built wholesale pricing/margins into my items. I did launch the shop after last commenting (YAY! HomeWorkshopKathy on Etsy). More to do like shop policies and promotion through social media, updating my blog to coordinate/cross-promote, but DONE is better, right?

    Having been in the business marketing world for many years prior to this, it really hits home what you say about the large department stores. Big businesses focused on profits, and each person in the process looking good to their superiors for their contribution. Many hoops to jump through and tripwires too. I know I am not yet ready for that. For now, a bigger fish in a smaller pond sounds good to me!

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Kathy,
      DONE is so so so much better than perfect. Congratulations on launching your shop! It sounds like you have a solid plan in place. Go for it!

  4. You’re awesome Jane. To me its wwjd – what would Jane do. I’ve been doing custom bridal for about 10 years and recently moved to New York to try to make my business a real label. As a side job, I had to go back to my old career as an accountant and when I worked with a fashion label I got to see what the real cost of doing business was like with stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Ave, etc. They pretty much have away their inventory and not to mention the price they were paying to the warehouse to be able store their large amounts of inventory and filling orders with EDI was still complex because they worked with warehouses that had other brands in along with them. Having one person know where the line is located is one thing but having the order right is another. Like you said if the label is on the wrong side they wanted a discount. I’m so glad I met you at DGexpo. I’m looking forward to more.

    1. Ha! My husband will laugh like crazy at the thought if WWJD! I am honored that you say that! It sounds like you’re learning a ton and I am rooting for you to make your “side job” a real label!! Because honestly, if I was able to to it, why not you? I’m no different than you, just a bit further along. Wishing you all the best,

  5. Hi Jane

    Yes, you are very helpful – I listen to your podcasts and, to be honest I am not learning anything new.
    But, I keep on listening to them and read your blog, when I have no time whatsoever in my life.
    You are reassuring in moments of doubts or struggles. One feels that you understand absolutely every little corners of the industry – Your language is also very easy to understand, hence why I recommend you to people in Europe.
    I have been an air stewardess for the last 30 years, and started with my project absolutely 100% on my own, a few years ago. Read everything I could, learnt everything I could get my hand on, and made it a my priority, when I was awake and not flying. Then, I decided to make a serious living out of it.

    You made me realised. that I could not carry on my own, to go a step further – So, I had to change my ways of thinking, which was very hard when you have a tiring job and two daughters – Being on your alone is the norm. So, I tried to focus on gathering different teams for the selling, and administration. The production is in India, and I have such a good relationship with the factory, so very little problem on that side.
    I have been contacted by so many distributors lately, have sold like I would have never imagined to do, I feel that I am on my way to achieve my goals:
    Flying has been a source of inspiration, when you know how to open your eyes and be selective in what you see.
    Since I have found you, I have read all your single post, recommended you here in Barcelona where I live. You fulfil your function with perfection. And, I can only think that for many people you have become some kind of guru.
    We all need direction and help – People do go to church, any spiritual places – Most of the time you hear what you know, but you keep going and, you feel good when you come out.
    Your work is very similar, for people like me.
    Thank Jane and. all the people working with you.

    1. Carole,
      Your designs are GORGEOUS! I just checked out your site and it’s terrific (please forgive my late response). So happy for you to get teams in place for support. No one can do it alone. And you’re so right, It’s not that what I say is new, it’s that we need to hear it often! And sometimes we’re ready to listen to certain things but not to others. That’s why repition is OK.

      Your comments today mean a lot to me, especially when you say, “You made me realised. that I could not carry on my own, that I needed to gather different teams” and the the result, “I have been contacted by so many distributors lately, have sold like I would have never imagined to do, I feel that I am on my way to achieve my goals”

      CONGRATULATIONS! Your story is so honest and I think we all can relate to it (plus I have 2 kids as well and understand the demands of that too). Keep on going, Carole! I am rooting for you all the way.


  6. To my mentor, Jane, yes I call you that to people. Even tho I had heard much of this info in a webinar in April? Hearing your succinct clear explanation and opinion again came at just the right time. I was able to go back to the notes, re-read and add on. I’m really getting this stuff! Thanks Jane!

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