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how to sell your fashion line to boutiques

I work with a lot of clothing and accessories designers about how to sell their product wholesale and approach retail buyers. Honestly, most of them just want to use email to pitch stores. I get that, it’s HARD to pick up the phone and sell your own creative work.

But email is usually not enough to get a buyer’s attention. In fact, I strongly recommend a combination of mail, email, phone, and in-person visits (whenever possible).

Since “what to say to a retail buyer” is such a huge topic, I’m going to split this into 2 posts. I’ll start with what buyers HATE to hear from designers.

What’s the WORST thing you can say to a retail buyer?

I have a strong opinion on this one. I owned my boutique for over 14 years and I heard a lot of great pitches from emerging designers — and plenty of bad ones too. Every single year I pitched my womenswear line. Jane Hamill, to stores and at the same time I was the buyer of my own shop and got pitched. I’d have to say the one line that’s universally hated by buyers (you hear chatter about it in the lunch line at Coterie, for instance) is this…

“I just know this would be perfect for your store.”

Ugh. Seriously? You just know it? And how is that, because you’ve spent so much time in my store?

This phrase is really annoying to a retail buyer. I know what designers are trying to say, and they have good intentions. What they mean is this:

“I think my line would be a great fit for your store and I want to sell to you.”

What a retailer hears is a different thing entirely. Their internal dialogue goes something like this:

“Don’t tell me what’s right for my store. You have NO idea what it takes to run this business. It’s not YOUR financial risk, you don’t understand my customer the way I do.” Insert further rant here…

As a former buyer I can almost guarantee that if you say “my product is a great fit for your store” it will bother the retailer. This seemingly benign statement gets taken the wrong way – and it really puts the buyer on the defensive. That’s not a good way to start the sales process.

Here’s what you can say instead:

“My line hangs well with some of the other lines you carry, like ____________ and ______________.”

Make sense?

Name some lines you know they carry in their shop. You can find out what vendors they stock by going to their website or Facebook Page. I prefer checking a retailer’s Facebook Page because it’s usually updated more often and the vendors are more likely to be current.

For many designers, approaching a retail buyer and knowing what to say can be daunting. I remember when I had my first showroom rep, I called her up and asked her for the “script” to use when I got on the phone with a boutique.

She laughed and told me, “Jane, you just start talking and be nice.” I was completely overwhelmed and nervous! I wanted her to write out a little script – so I could practice it and not sound like an idiot. She refused.

That’s why I give designers a script. I know how scary it is when you’re just starting out. It’s easier to follow something than just wing it.

Here’s a sample of one of the scripts for stopping by a boutique:

Scenario #1 – Let’s say you walk into a shop

Amy is shop owner.

Jane walks in the store. “Hi! Are you the buyer?”

Amy: “May I ask why you’re asking? Do you have an appointment?” — buyer’s already on the defensive, thinking “maybe I am the owner, maybe I’m not. But mostly I’m busy here…”

Jane: “Uhmmm no, I was just wondering…”

Amy; “Because if you don’t have an appointment…”

Ooops — this will get you off on the wrong foot. Let’s do it another way.

Scenario #2 Let’s try it again. JH walks into the store

Amy drinking coffee, 50 pieces of mail on desk, looks busy…

JH – I walk in and just start to look around. I am looking around to see if the store’s a good fit for my product and remembering to NOT be too aggressive in my approach.

Amy: “Hi”, barely looks up

JH takes a look around still…

Amy: “May I help you find something?

JH ”Thanks, Actually I’m a designer of _____________ and I really love your store. I was in the area and thought I’d stop in and…

Take it from there. If the buyer’s busy, you can leave a lookbook, linesheet, or postcard and follow up later. If she has a moment and shows interest, you can tell her more and show her a sample.

Here’s what to do next…

Get your booty out of the house. I challenge you to visit ONE store in the next week to say hi. You don’t have to go in there with the intention of pitching them. You’re going there to check it out, say hello, and start to put a face to the name (and your brand).

Whaddayasay? Are you up for it? Leave a comment NOW and let me know.

As always, thanks for reading!

Jane

P.S. I’ll be back with Part 2 in a few days.

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27 Responses

  1. I’ve making my first outreach this week! Play it cool, right. I have been getting lots of practice talking to strangers about my business over the past 6 months. I am on the board of a start up incubator and an arts district board. Every week someone at 1 million cups(entrepreneureal meeting) asks me what I do. Answer that question in 1 sentence 20 times fast:) Thanks Jane.

  2. Thanks for the script! It’s very nerve racking being a new designer of 2B…(Continued) Jeans. Pitching to boutiques/retailers can be very intimidating.
    However I’m ready to launch out there so I’m taking your advice. I have traveled out of my home State of Illinois to visit some boutiques and possibly partner. Keep your fingers crossed. lol
    This will be my first out of state visit all because I’ve been reading your posts and articles and now I’m trying to apply what I’m reading and learning.
    So thanks for encouraging and inspiring others. You Rock!

    1. Go Conchita! It’s one thing to learn something and quite another to implement what you learned. I am SO HAPPY for you. I’m rooting for you!
      -Jane

  3. This is great. I have been doing this for a little while and I still find it nerve wracking and wish I had a sales person to do this. But this gives me more confidence to do it myself. thanks Jane!

    1. Keep doing it, Kristin! You’ll get better at it and you’ll be a better manager once you DO find someone to do it for you.
      -Jane

  4. Wow. Jane this was amazing and very insightful. Sometimes that fear of rejection occurs, but this definitely helps calm some of my concerns.

    Thanks

    1. Thanks for your comment, T.J. Glad this helped you. I like this quote from Henry Rollins, “We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don’t. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.”
      -Jane

  5. Get advice as always! Wish i got this two days ago, just sent out several emails stating what a great addition my line would be ☺️

    1. But you know there will be more emails, right Jowell? Just keep doing it and refining it and you’ll do great. Thanks for commenting.
      -Jane

  6. Great advice! Thank you for sharing. It is really difficult finding a company to design a PHYSICAL lookbook you can hold in your hand. All I see is… “create your own online lookbook”… I want to take your advice and send something amazing in the MAIL.

  7. So true! Even though I have been showing new lines to store owners and buyers for years, I sometimes still fall into the mistake of barrellng in with ‘this would work great in your store” when showing our latest line, which is women’s accessories. Opps. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Thank you Jane for sharing this! I walked in to the stores in NYC yesterday and tried to use all your advice. Even though I had your script, I was still nerve-racking. I dropped my sale folders for a few stores, but mostly they wanted me to submit via email. Anyway, it’s good to go out to stretch out my nerves.

    Thanks again.

    -Anita-

  9. I did exactly this (went to a store just to introduce myself) we used the same model so were kind of “connected” making it easier to say “hi!”. A year later and shes my first wholesale client. Yay! I want to write a think you card, but am not sure what to say in it – any suggestions?

    1. Candice,
      Why not say exactly what you just wrote? It’s perfect! Just tell her thank you for being willing to take a chance on you, even though you were new. You really value her as a client and yay…

      I’ll tell you, I owned a boutique for 14 years and if someone had sent me a heartfelt note like that, I would have saved it.

  10. Could you post something about pitching to large retailers pleases their big buyers aren’t in a shop unfortunately but from the head office?

  11. Hi there, we (me and my wife) just founded our new bridal couture company. All dresses are handmade and unique. They look absolutely amazing. Now, after our website has launched last week (www.hoflastudio.com) we want to get the attention of bridal botiques / shops, so we can also sell / present our dresses to them. What do you think would be the best strategy? My wife prepared some emails (for sending them to all shops / botiques) and I have the pleasure to review the draftemails i.O. to rephrase them and to improve the wording. Any advice from you? Besides to avoid the phrase “This would be perfect for your store” I am not sure how to write a perfect pitch email. We would be very happy to hear from you. Thanks !!!

  12. Thank you for this great information. It’s especially valuable coming from a boutique owner. I am shy so going into boutiques literally has me shaking! ? But I have had success despite my shakes. I’m now going to send an email to an out of town boutique with pictures and will be sure NOT to use the line “my jewelry would be perfect for your store” so thank you for that!!

    1. Go Laura! Good for you. We all get scared – even terrified – sometimes and the more you do it, the less you have that issue. It gets to be just a normal part of life. You got this!
      -JH

  13. Hi Jane! I am so happy I found your website! This article is so helpful! I am wondering if you have done the part 2?

    Thank you for this post.

    Sandrine Johnson

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