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