From experience, this can be daunting. But by the time you reach the point that you’re contacting brands and agents you should be confident about who you are and what you’re about. This will help with your approach.

What’s the difference between brands, agents and stockists?

A brand is the person who owns the product. They have developed it and it has their name attached to it. It doesn’t mean they’ve made the product, but usually means they have designed it.

An agent is the person who sells that product on in wholesale amounts to people in a defined area. For example, a Japanese brand may have a UK agent who manages the sales, accounts and distribution in the UK.

A stockist is you! Stores are stockists of goods they have bought elsewhere, assuming they have not made them themselves. If you are a designer and see a store that you would like to see your products in, they become your stockist.

How do I find brands and agents?

This is easier than you probably think.  If you have seen a brand you love, the first port of call is their website. Have a look to see if there is a ‘wholesale’ option, or find their email address or phone number and contact them directly. If it’s a large brand, they will probably have a list of their agents. If you can’t find what you’re looking for or are getting no response, do a quick Google search for ‘[brand name] agent’. It really is that simple. The most important thing is to speak to the right person.

I make products and would like to go wholesale. How do I contact stockists?

To start with, you need to find stores that represent your values and ethos. Then you need to feel comfortable selling your product. Tell the potential stockist why your brand would be a great addition to their store, how you complement their current stock and what extras you can provide. For example, you can offer yourself for interviews, let them know you have a brilliant selection of photographs to support the product (you do have these, don’t you?), let them know of any press you have received etc. Make sure you can deliver on orders and are good to your word. And, of course, you need to make it financially sound for them to purchase from you.

Help! Brands and agents won’t talk to me, as I don’t have a store set up yet!

This is often the case. Brands and agents are not going to send along their pricing to anyone. That’s exclusive information for stores. It’s not for the general public to know how much an item costs wholesale. They also need to protect their brand. How do they know you’re not going to sell their product alongside some cheap tat? But that doesn’t help you. What you need to do is prove that you are serious and that you fit their brand.

First of all, make sure you have a website domain set up with an email account attached to it. Send any email correspondence from your store’s email account. It’s more professional than using a Gmail or Hotmail account. First impressions count. Add a footer to your email with all your store’s information, including your web domain. If your store is not ready, set up a simple, but brilliant, holding page that reflects your brand and its ethos. Don’t be shy about admitting the site is not quite ready yet.

Phone the contacts and ask for a new account pack to be sent to you with wholesale pricing, they’ll either ask some questions and send, or just refuse. Some suppliers will not be interested in you until they see you up and running. Don’t let that put you off. Some suppliers will not even sell to you unless you have a bricks and mortar store. That may seem shortsighted, but if their slogan is something like ‘ensuring the correct fit every time’ then they can’t deliver that online. They may even ask for photos of your store.

Be prepared to have to pay upfront for your first orders. You’re unlikely to get credit. That’s normal. They don’t know you from Eve, and you may be about to do a runner with their goods and whack them up on eBay.

Once you get your foot in the door with one supplier, it’s easier to attract others. Many will expect trade references, even if you’re paying for stock upfront. Many top brands won’t sell to you unless you have trade history, because, understandably, they want to safeguard their own reputation.

Remember

Keep things professional, but establish friendly relationships with valued suppliers. Treat them with respect. Pay small suppliers promptly – don’t be a burden to their cashflow. The better you treat them, the better they will treat you.

If you’re refused an account, don’t let that be the end of it. If you love the brand, make a note of them and go back to them when you’re more established.

Case study

The paint providers. Annie Sloan paint are very upfront and particular about their stockist requirements: Have a read, and if you’re looking to sell your products wholesale, consider creating a similar page on your own site. [Visit Site]

Activity: Write down five brands you would like to have in your store, or five stores you would like to be your stockists. Find their contact details for wholesale sales and draft up your first pitch using our approaching brands and agents worksheet.

 

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