Hello, lovely makers! This is Kristin Oldach of KraeO handmade.
I’m a designer and maker of knitwear, patterns, and most recently my partner and I launched our own line of hand-dyed luxury yarn, Fuzz Family for KraeO.
I’ve been a maker all my life, attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for both undergrad and grad school where I studied painting. I had humble dreams of becoming a famous painter, residing in the south of France... no big deal! But God had a different plan for me. Just one month after I finished grad school I found out I was going to be a mother.
It was 2010, jobs were hard to come by (thanks to the financial crisis), and who was gonna hire a pregnant painter anyway? My partner and I made the tough decision that many women are faced with, and I opted to stay home with my son for the first couple of years of his life. It was during my pregnancy that I taught myself to crochet, and before I knew it I was churning out scarf after scarf, quickly running out of closet space. Etsy was at its height of popularity and I decided to open up shop. The rest is history!
Well, not completely… I made a lot of mistakes. A LOT! But that’s how we learn, right?
I didn’t start wholesaling my handmade knits on purpose. It was about 6 months after I started KraeO that I received an email from a small boutique in Oakland, asking if I would be interested in selling in their store. I was so excited! But I had NO idea how wholesaling worked. I emailed her back outlining a complicated pricing structure that I thought was brilliant. It went something like this:
20% off - $100+ 20% off - 5-10 pieces
30% off - $200+ OR 30% off - 10-15 pieces
40% off - $300+ 40% off - 15-20 pieces
50% off - $400+ 50% off - 20+ pieces
Needless to say, I never heard back from the boutique. I shudder with embarrassment just thinking about it. After some serious googling and talking to my parents (who are both in sales) I realized how silly this pricing structure was. I had a rocky start to my wholesaling career, but after a few years and a lot of mistakes the wholesale side of my business makes up about 75% of my annual revenue and even landed my products in West Elm.
Today I’m going to take you through how I go about getting new wholesale accounts, share a few tricks I’ve learned throughout the years, and go over some steps you can take to insure you make the best possible first impression when going after stores.
The first thing I want to talk about is pricing. This can be very subjective. There are tons of pricing calculators out there, and ultimately you need to decide what works best for you and your business. One thing I know for sure: you need to price your items to profit at the wholesale rate. This is how you’re going to grow your business and reinvest in your company. Coming up with your retail price and then cutting that in half is likely to be too low. This is a good practice even if you don’t want to sell directly to stores. Some important things to consider when developing a pricing strategy:
- MATERIALS COST - How much does it cost to make your item? This includes all the products necessary to make it and the tools used. Don’t forget to factor in shipping costs!
- LABOR - What do you pay yourself? This is 100% non-negotiable. I know it’s hard, but you can’t accurately price your products without including labor costs. Start by figuring out what you would pay someone else by the hour to make your item. How many items can you make in an hour? This simple formula will give you rough labor costs per piece.
- OVERHEAD - Don’t forget to factor in studio/home office costs including rent or mortgage, utilities, etc.
I read an article when I first started out that suggested taking your “break even” number and multiplying that by two (100% markup). This model may not work for everyone, but it’s a good benchmark. Find what works for you and make sure you’re pricing for wholesale profitability.
Now that we have that uncomfortable conversation out of the way, let’s move on to the fun stuff!
When I first started wholesaling I was lucky; most of my business fell into my lap. I had a lot of stores finding my Etsy shop and contacting me. It wasn’t until I took KraeO full time that I had to start hustling for new business. This meant cold-calling stores. I was terrified.
What if they don’t like my work? What if they say no? What if they didn’t even respond?
The answer to all these questions is: “WHO CARES!” I’m proud to say that through this process I’ve developed a pretty thick skin and a confidence that allows me to sell my goods unapologetically. Let’s talk process:
- Line Sheets - In order to start emailing, calling, or visiting stores, you have to have a line sheet. Typically this is a simple, clean product list with photos and product details. It should include price, color options, sizes, materials, styles, etc. It’s important to note that this is NOT the same as the product description you might use for Etsy or your online store. This is bare-bones info. The shop owner does not want to read the fun, creative copy we write for our retail listings. They want to see a clear picture of the item, the price, and the sizes and colors for quick reference. I would also discourage you from using any lifestyle shots in this context. My line sheet consists of each item shown on a model, wearing plain, neutral clothes on a white background.
There are plenty of examples and templates available online to help you create your line sheet. And again, find what works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all format. What IS consistent across the board is that your line sheet should be a simple, almost a clinical review of your product line.
Another couple of things that need to be on your line sheet are your wholesale policy and a bio. Wholesale policies includes minimums on opening orders and reorders. This is your minimum price that you set if someone wants to place a wholesale order. For example, you may have a minimum opening order of $500 and a minimum reorder at $300. This means that the first time a store places an order with you they have to spend at least $500. Once that initial order is placed, wholesale customers have added incentive to reorder at a reduced minimum.
It’s vitally important that you have minimums, which are one of the greatest advantages of wholesaling. Big orders in bulk mean big money in bulk.
Your bio will provide a human element to your otherwise clean, minimal product list, and can also provide insight to retailers on how to market your work to their own customers.
Be clear with retailers about your lead times and avoid making any extravagant promises that you can’t keep. My personal policy is to under-promise and over-deliver. If I can get an order out in one week, I set the lead time at a week and a half to two weeks. Customers are ecstatic when they get their order a week early, setting a positive first impression by exceeding expectations.
Finding Leads - OK! So now we have our pricing set and our line sheet ready to go. Now what? RESEARCH! This is going to be the bulk of your work. We have to find the retailers we want to work with. These are called leads. It’s important we put in the work of finding stores that are the right fit for each of us. If you just send out mass emails to a bunch of boutiques you’ve googled, you likely won’t hear back from buyers.
My favorite trick in this arduous process is to look at independent brands that I love. Not necessarily competitors, but other designers who’s aesthetic fits my own. I go to their website and look at their stockist page to see who’s carrying their work. That’s where I start.
Go to the boutique’s website and take a look at their ‘about page’. Check out what other brands they carry. Look at their social media pages (I’ve found tons of boutiques via Instagram). Familiarize yourself with their store. You’re going to use this information in your correspondence to them.
I’ve also started with geographic areas that I thought would be a good fit for my brand - such as the Pacific Northwest, or small towns in New England and New York. I’ll search for local boutiques and make an itemized list of the stores I’ve found with the contact information and brief notes for each (often times you can find the buyer contact info on their website).
If this all seems overwhelming, fear not! There are a lot of companies out there that will do this work for you. Indigo Fare (Indigofair.com) is a marketplace that helps retailers discover independent makers and puts them together. Another one, and one of my favorites, is Wholesale in a Box (wholesaleinabox.com) They do all of the work I outlined above, FOR YOU! They send you a number of stores each month with all of the contact info and social media pages you need to vet new retailers. There IS a monthly price tag, but I’ve found it pays for itself many times over after your first wholesale order. Wholesale in a Box is SO helpful and quick to respond whenever I’ve needed anything. Emily, the cofounder, also provided invaluable critiques of my line sheet and email templates when I was first starting out. I’m obviously a big fan.
Don’t forget, this is all subjective. What works for one person may not fit for another, so find what’s right for you and iterate as you go.
Contacting Retailers - Now to send those emails! It’s important to remember that many stores will have a procedure for applying to have your brand carried in their shop. If that’s the case, make sure to follow their process to the letter.
Now, let’s go over what to do when there is no application process. Develop an email template that that you can use for all new retailers. A few pointers:
Your email should be short and to the point. Store owners and buyers get tons of correspondences on the daily. They don’t want to read a novel, and most likely they’ll blow past your email, especially if it looks like extra work for them. What you want to do is introduce yourself and your brand quickly and efficiently. Mention what you love about their store and why you want to be a part of it - “insert compliment here”.
The trick is to avoid TELLING them you’re the right fit. They know their own brand and don’t need unsolicited input on what they SHOULD be buying. Let them know that you’re familiar with their shop and appreciate the brands they carry, and/or what about their aesthetic appeals to you. When you start your email to a buyer/owner, open up their website or instagram page in a separate window so you can refer back while you’re writing.
Heres and example of what one of my emails looks like;
[Subject line] Choose something that will catch their eye. I usually say something like “I LOVE your store”
Hi [Name of buyer or owner - if you don’t have that info, use the store name],
My name is Kristin Oldach with KraeO handmade. I came across your website and really love what you’re doing with [name of store]. It’s so tactile and soulful (get creative with your compliments). I can only imagine how amazing your brick and mortar is.
I see that you carry [Name of brand that you like]. I just adore them!
I thought I would shoot you my F/W 18’ line sheet. I would love to be a part of what you’re doing with [name of store].
You can find our line sheet [here]
I have attached our line sheet below.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate. Thank you so much for your time! I look forward to hearing from you.
[Photo Image 1]
[Photo Image 2]
I like to add a few pictures of my products at the end of the email. That way when the buyer is scrolling quickly through, the photos of your gorgeous products will jump out at them and they’ll be inclined to go back and carefully read your offer. Make sure you spell-check / re-read your email several times before you send it out. A poorly crafted proposal / introduction can cost you business opportunities, particularly with other busy, discerning business owners. I once sent an email out to a store with the WRONG store name! Needless to say I never heard back. I lost some sleep over that faux pa.
Follow Up - OK! So you’ve sent your email and you haven’t heard back. Time for follow up emails. That’s right! We have to do it again. The follow up email should be short, sweet and to the point. It should also be written above your original correspondence. You don’t want a potential customer to have to go back and search for the original. In your follow up, you’ll want to reattach your line sheet or link and those product photos at the end of the email. I usually wait 5-7 days to follow up and my email usually looks something like this:
Hi [name of buyer or store],
I just wanted to follow up with you about an email I sent last week regarding being a potential addition to [store name].
Please let me know if there are any questions I can answer for you,
I’ve attached our F/W 18’ line sheet below.
[Photo Image 1]
[Photo Image 2]
Following up a second time is completely up to you. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t. It really depends on how badly I want to be in their shop, how busy I am, or how busy I think they might be. Now that you have all of the info you need to start contacting stores, it’s a good idea to make a schedule for yourself.
As a knitwear and fiber designer, I know that small boutiques are usually buying for Fall and the Holiday season starting in June. I usually start cold calling in July, and I try to contact 10-20 stores a month every season to continue growing my list of wholesale accounts. If you get just two new accounts every month, thats a 10%- 20% return!! Which is fabulous!
Once you’ve turned those leads into customers, it’s important to maintain those relationships. You want to keep them for the next season, and the season after that. Once you know they’ve received their order, follow up to see if there’s anything they need, and remember that following up is a fine line; you want to be confident, not pushy.
Now that you have the tools you need, GO GET BUSY!
And remember, You’re going to hear “no” sometimes, but who cares!? Keep at it, and don’t get discouraged.
BEST OF LUCK!