Getting a Business Started, Part 1: Getting in the Door

Posted by admin     Category: Brick and Mortar, Business Talk, Promotion, Starting Up


I’ve been asked about how to start up a crafty, arty, retail-flavored business so much that I’ve decided to write a series of posts about it.

Today’s topic is “how to get started”. By this, I do not mean “how to find your calling in life”. If I had the answer to that, I’d sell it for a zillion dollars, and I would be my first customer.

Actually, today’s topic is “how not to get kicked out the door by a shop owner”. We will proceed to the actual Getting Started bit in the next post. I actually didn’t intend to write this one today, but it happens with such frequency that this post more or less wrote itself.

Let’s assume that you are the typical person I’m chatting with on my sales floor. You have come in with a ziplock bag full of handmade sparkly stuff, no price list, no business cards. What you have, in spades, is a drive to Make Stuff. You are an artisan crafter, but you need to destash, sell, or consign some of your pretties so that, mostly, you can buy more beads, silver, or other supplies. Alternately, you have fallen heir to someone else’s stuff and just want to get rid of it. That’s a different matter, but some of the following advice still applies.

You probably did not call me for an appointment but instead just walked in, pulled the bag out of your purse, and started detangling your finished projects from the wire and pliers and laying them on the counter. Probably in front of actual customers (“civilians”).  Or perhaps you sent me an email or PM to ask if you could come over, got all excited, didn’t wait for a reply and just came on in.

Just for the record, this is never cool. At the very least you should call the shop and ask for an appointment. If you were to call me, assuming I were in the mood and/or budget to buy stuff this week, I would say, “text or email me your website and let me get back with you later.”

I’m a pretty easy-going, open-minded individual, but when I am at the shop, if I do not have customers, I am working. I, like most independent retailers (“mom-and-pop stores”) have a hundred thousand things on my to-do list at any given time. Writing blog posts, for example. Making lists of things I need to restock. Thinking ahead to the next major holiday or change of season, and it’s probably just around the corner. Planning promotional ads or flyers for the psychic fair coming up this weekend.

So to just come in and try to sell us stuff is really inconsiderate to a lot of shopkeepers simply because we have to drop anything we were planning on attempting to achieve that day and deal with you right then and there. As awesome as your wares surely are, it is highly unlikely that they couldn’t wait for an appointment.

Generally speaking I will stop you before you get your stuff out of the ziplock and ask if you have a website or Etsy shop. If your answer is “no”, you will get no further, because I will know you are not serious about selling your stuff. You might drop by this one time, but if I bought your things and they sold well, I would not be able to get in touch with you again to restock. Maybe I don’t have money today because I just went to a trade show and spent it all, but in a couple weeks I might like to pick up some more stuff, maybe yours. Do you really want to make it hard for me to buy from you?

If your answer is “well, I’m working on it….” you are going to want to read all the rest of my blog posts in this topic. I am writing these for you who mean well, maybe have even purchased a domain, but the big world of computers and websites and blogs are, you feel, over your head.

Trust me. They are not and we will get you through this. It’s not hard and can be quite a lot of fun!

So then I will ask, “Flickr page? Anything? Paper brochure with some pictures and a price list? Business card?” and if your answer is still no, I’m going to send you packing, unless what you have is something you inherited or a one-time sale of basically estate wares, in which case I will request to see you after hours, away from the prying eyes of civilians.

So that’s what you can expect if you just show up at a shop. You might not even get to speak to the owner, in which case you’ll certainly wish you had a card and at least a Flickr page for your items, so they can take a look and get back with you. If we happen to be bored AND flush at the same time, you might get a look-see, but it’s still very inconvenient, because we will have to stop and deal with customers. Sometimes customers can stand around and talk an ear off, or we may get a four-hour rush. In either case most shop owners don’t want someone they don’t know hanging around in their office unattended.

So the take-away for today’s lesson:

1) Phone ahead and get an appointment – no cold calls ever. You can also drop in and make an appointment, but do not pull out your stuff unless you are asked to do so. You want to avoid stressing out the shop owner.

2) Have some way to get in contact with you. A business card is best.

3) Be able to leave behind some way for the buyer/owner to peruse your things when they are not in the middle of running their store – website, brochure, even a color flyer with a few photos and price guide.

If you make a lot of the same kind of stuff, such as soap, it’s okay to phone ahead, ask the shop owner if they have a moment to speak with you (a customer might be standing right there so maybe they don’t). If no, ask when you can call back – after hours? Before opening? Or would you prefer that I email you?

If they are able to talk right then, introduce yourself and ask if you can send a sample. Try to get their mailing address and confirm it rather than asking them what it is or assuming that they receive mail at their shop (we don’t). But oh my god please be brief.

“Hi, my name is Ande Spenser and I have a soap-making company, Magickk Suds. I was wondering if I could send you a free sample of our castille soap and a one-page brochure.” [Shop owner says sure, hey free soap, awesome.] “We also do private labelling with your shop name and logo, would you be interested in that information as well?”

Please note – we little guys love private labelling, so if it’s possible, try to offer that!


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