We're doing a blog series on things that can take your business to the next level. Things that are crucial for you to go from amateur to money-making professional. Which is why we created the October 26, 2013 Next Level Business Workshop as a day where you can make these tweaks happen.
"Wholesaling has absolutely been the key to taking our business from just getting by to building a sustainable business." When we asked Kristen Pumphrey how her handmade business is doing, this was her response.
We recently journeyed to Pomme Frites Candle Co.'s new studio space in Downtown LA's Arts District to check in, smell the delicious new fall scents, and see what goes into fulfilling an upcoming order for a major national retailer. Amongst rows of candles, in progress and in boxes ready to ship, we spoke with Kristen to ask her her thoughts on how being successful at wholesaling is key to Pomme Frites' success.
Q: We're such fans of your candles! Can you tell us more about your business, what you make and how it started?
A: I worked in NYC at a craft magazine which inspired me to launch my own line after the magazine folded. In 2008 I moved to Austin, TX where I met Tom, her new husband and now also master candle maker. They started the line Pomme Frites which consisted of selling candles, buttons, and book safes. As the company evolved they slowed their production of large molded owl candles and while the book safes were a huge hit on Etsy they were hard to market at a fair price when it comes to wholesale. By the end of 2012 they had come up with the candle style and packaging to streamline and start wholesaling efficiently. With each book safe being one-of-a-kind, trying to sell them at wholesale was too cumbersome and while there was a great buzz around the book safes the excitement was greater than the return on investment both time and money wise. As of 2013 Pomme Frites Candle Co. is all about making 100% soy candles, all hand poured in our DTLA studio.
Q: Tell us about your first wholesale order?
A: Around the time we moved from Austin, TX to Long Beach, CA we saw the consignment terms at many stores change to where the percentage was no longer heavily in our favor and the split was basically 50/50 like wholesaling. There can be a lot of drawbacks to consignment and to pay the extra amount didn't make sense business-wise. After we made the decision to switch from consignment, Blue Windows was the first store we ever wholesaled at. By 2013 our candles were available at Terrain, our first major national retailer-- yay!
Q: How has wholesaling changed your business?
A: Having our candles sold at small boutiques wholesale has taken our business to a whole new level. Now there is consistent income which allows us to focus on day-to-day operations and not have to worry all year about holiday sales. Now we see shows as a perk and rely on sales from wholesaling as the driver for business.
These small retailers are our bread and butter. We used to think it was the holidays with the Etsy sales and shows that would come with it, but this has really given us steady income year round. Even with our big national orders, we don't see it as this is what will "make" us, but more that we get greater recognition and more orders from other boutiques. It's more of a validation and advertisement than a huge money maker.
Q: What's the wholesale process like?
A: Well it's been a little different working with bigger retailers than with more mom-and-pop boutiques. With a national retailer they are really much more in charge and will have much more specific demands. For this big order we have, we've had to create an exclusive scent for them and also changed up our label at their request. Originally they asked to deliver a hug order in like two weeks and we were like uh, yeah, we make everything ourselves, so we need some more time. Luckily they've worked with us, but you do have to be prepared for that kind of stress.
With boutiques we will typically check them out online beforehand to see if they carry products that we know our shoppers buy, then I will email them letting them know about our candles and why they would be a good fit. Once they've started carrying our product, we make sure to check in on them to see if they need to order more. I can always tell if we get an Etsy order from a certain location that it probably means our supply is out at a nearby store.
Payment on receipt is totally acceptable terms for boutique shops. Make sure you spell this and other important terms out upfront to ensure you get paid. Also think about delivery and shipping fees that might also be part of making sure you don't lose money doing little things like that.
Q: How do you find places to wholesale and approach buyers? How do they find you?
A: The most important thing when approaching buyers is to know your brand. This will help you find the stores that is the right fit for both of you. I will go into stores and research them online to make sure my brand will be a good fit before approaching them with my line sheet. People love if you know their brand when approaching them. Do research the same way you would do blogger research to reach out for press. When emailing a store I attach my line sheets, include a link to my website and you should always include what your best sellers are in your information. Since online you can't smell the candles, I find it helps people if I list out the top three scents to give them a reference. If you have samples or other items needed make sure you also note they are available upon request.
People also find us on Instagram and other social media. Using hashtags at events to share products has been great exposure. It has synced us up to customers, new stores interested in our candles, and most excitingly, put us in front of a major national retailer who we are working with for our biggest purchase order.
Q: Pricing is important with wholesale... how'd you determine yours/what's that been like?
A: PRICING IS IMPORTANT!
You have to be comfortable with the rate that you are selling things at. Each different type of item has a natural sweet spot in price. Sometimes you can have items that just would not sell at a responsible or sustainable price at wholesale. The book safes were a great example of a product that when we looked at the bottom line the price wholesale would make no money. We slowly had them offered at just craft fairs while we focused on candles elsewhere. Once we shifted focus to only candles we noticed that while the book safes were novel and people responded to them, that didn't always translate into sales. Sometimes the most important thing in business is taking that step back and making decisions that add to your business rather than continuing to do something that doesn't benefit you because you are emotionally attached.
Q: Any downsides to wholesaling? Things people should consider?
A: The times money is needed upfront for big wholesale orders. When that big order comes in you need to be able to cover supplies, shipping materials, and other things needed to complete the order. Also, you never know how long you will have to complete am order. You may need to hire additional help to fulfill the order. And you have to be comfortable not getting paid until 30 days after the order is complete. Not everyone can float that kind of money and it's hard to decide if a business load is worth it in certain circumstances. For some people it is and others it isn't.
Q: Anything else?
A: I've noticed there has been a shift where you don't have to do tradeshows to get wholesale clients. Buyers are walking craft fairs and it is easier to find people and their emails directly online to make connections without costly tradeshows.
The Esty "shop local" feature has been another great ways stores have found Pomme Frites Candle Co.
Interested in more wholesaling knowledge? Katie Hunt of Tradeshow Bootcamp will be giving you the lowdown on how to take your business from getting by to a consistent income!
Peek into the Pomme Frites Studio