You’ve put in the work, and you managed to secure yourself a meeting with a large retailer, you’ve celebrated this milestone, but now you’re not quite sure of what to do next.
Catherine from Future Retail and Therese from the Small Business Collaborative answers the most common questions from both the sale and the buying side to help you prepare for your meeting.
T: Establish what season the buyer is buying for; large retailers buy several months before the products hit the stores.
Make sure that all your sales materials are up to date; this will include your catalogue, line-sheets or price-list and print them in full colour if you don’t have a professionally printed brochure. If you have any new lines launching in the next few months, make sure to include them too if they are relevant to the season you’re pitching for. I always have a duplicate copy for myself as I find it difficult to make detailed notes while presenting, having this allows me to mark the product the buyer is showing interest in.
Prepare your samples, if you have a broad range of big and bulky items you don’t have to bring every single product. I bring an in-flight sized trolley bag, and I pack it carefully so that the catalogues and sales materials are the first things out of the bag and then the products I will be showing first.
As a little thank you for the buyer’s time, I always bring some treats, cupcakes or doughnuts and they always go down well and are a nice little ice-breaker if you’re nervous.
C: Remember that the people you are meeting will be incredibly busy so make sure that you are on time.
If you’ve got a slot in their diary, it might be the only one they have free all day, so if you’re late, don’t expect that they’ll be able to fit you in. Do a trial run if necessary, so that you don’t get lost – often head offices have doorways tucked away in back streets, so it’s worth finding out exactly where you are going first!
On the other hand, be patient if you have to wait to meet with them – head offices are often hectic, and you never know what kind of emergency might spring up on the day that could keep your meeting from running on time.
T: If possible, visit the store, visualise where your products could sit. Think about what product is going to be the most relevant to the retailer, what colours would work the best, how they might display them.
Spend some time on the retailer’s website, read articles about their business, check how many stores they have, what other similar brands they stock, think about how your products offer a point of difference and how they would sit alongside your competition. Consider who their customers are and how this fits in with your customer profile. Note how they price their ranges, are they rounded up to the pound £10, to 99p or 50p? You might not use any of this directly in the meeting, but it will help you feel prepared and confident, and it will show that you’ve done your research before the meeting.
C: This is key – make sure that you have an excellent understanding of what their product handwriting is like. Think of which of your products are most likely to appeal to them, and lead with those.
Do your research – but be genuine as well. I once worked for a clothing retailer, and someone who was pitching to us turned up in head to toe clothing from that company – shoes, jewellery and bag included! It was half flattering, half over the top.
Everyone enjoys a compliment, but they’ll feel it if you are insincere or excessive.
Another good idea is to understand who will be in the meeting with you. You may get a list of attendees from the buyer beforehand on a meeting invite, so if you get just a name but no job title, try looking them up on LinkedIn so you can get a sense of their job role.
As well as the buyers, they may bring along a member of the merchandising team. These are the people who manage the budget, so even if you won’t be working with them directly on the orders, it’s worth making friends with them too!
Similarly, always treat the junior members of the team with respect – they handle all of the admin and paperwork, and they are the gatekeepers for the whole organisation. Being polite and respectful to these members of the team is not only the decent thing to do, but it also makes excellent business sense too!
T: Pricing and what discount you can offer, especially if they buy in bulk. Before you quote any firm price, consider asking the below:
You also need be clear on your lead-times, your production capacity and your minimum order should be your carriage paid value or higher (most large retailers do not accept mixed carton deliveries and will order by the outer carton size) as most large retailers will expect you to cover this cost.
C: When a big retailer is looking to work with a new brand, they will want to feel comfortable that you can meet their demands.
Be clear about what you can achieve, and never over-promise. Be realistic about what you can produce and in what time frame. Retailers often have to wait up to 6 months for Far East production and shipping, so don’t be afraid to quote them your most pessimistic lead time. It is far better to tell them it will be four months for delivery and be ready in three months than the other way around. Nothing will sour the relationship with a retailer quicker than you making promises that you can’t deliver.
They should be able to provide you with a document known as a supplier manual that will give you a vast amount of detail on their packaging and labelling requirements, as well as any samples they require for photography and testing.
Also think about whether you would be prepared to offer them exclusivity on a particular product (in other words, agree that you will not provide it to another retailer). You can also think about whether or not you can offer collaborations – exclusive products that you develop especially for that retailer.
Get a sense of where they are planning to send you products. Do they see it more as a flagship/top store range which would be smaller quantities, or would they consider sending it to more stores? What would you suggest if you were in their shoes? Is your product more niche or could it go everywhere?
T: This depends on the retailer; fashion buyers are often more casual than the John Lewis buying team for example. Look at how the shop-floor team dresses as it will give you a good idea of their dress code. If you’re unsure, a dress with a cardigan or smart jacket will always work.
If you make any accessories or are a fashion brand wear your products and make sure they stand out.
C: It does depend on the brand you are visiting. Just be aware that head offices often have either ferocious air conditioning or none at all, so it’s worth having a layer you can take on or off.
Probably as important as what you will wear is that your look is both professional and pulled together in the same way that you would for an interview.
You have done really well to book this meeting, you already know your product range inside out but preparing and making sure you know your pricing, prepared all the sales material and double and tripled checked it will help you come across confident and trustworthy in the meeting. In part two, we will walk you through what you can expect during the meeting and give you a few tips on how to follow up after.
If you would like some more bespoke help to prepare for your meeting, or have you had a meeting and got the supplier manual and feel a little bit lost and need some help then both Therese and Catherine work with clients 1:1, you can find out more about working with Catherine here and Therese here.
Do come and join in the conversation over in the Small and Mighty Business Community and share your thoughts on wholesaling. Therese is also participating in a Facebook Live Q&A in the group on Wednesday 13th February at 7 pm GMT. It’s free to attend, you just need to RSVP and show up.
After a decade in the home and gift industry, Therese founded the Small Business Collaborative to help small creative businesses navigate their journey to wholesale. Therese has sold a vast range of products to both independent shops and large high street retailers.
Seeing your products in a retail store might seem like a faraway goal, Therese will guide you and share her knowledge to give you the tools and confidence you need to reach your destination.