One of the best things about being part of a community of other professional makers is that there are people who have BEEN THERE and DONE THAT. We are blessed to have members with a wide variety of business experiences here at Academy of Handmade. Veteran maker and wholesaler Amy Chin shares with us today her wholesale wisdom-- born of smarts and trial and error. We hope you learn from how she's navigated the wholesale world.
Q: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your business.
A: My name is Amy Chin. I’m a graphic artist, and the owner and creative director of Sassypants Design. I work with my good friend, Stacy Dymalski. We are a team of two - a graphic artist and a comedian - that makes greeting cards for people who think outside of the box and love quirky humor. Our cards are hand drawn and produced in our San Diego studio.
Q: When you first stepped into wholesale, what was one of the bigger challenges you faced?
A: When I think back on those cringe-worthy days of starting out, I’m so grateful to the few shops that took a chance on us. Our product has always been high quality, but beyond that, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into with wholesale.
There was so much that I did not know. I’m not a fan of operating that way. I prefer to know exactly what I’m doing before I take too many risks. But in this case, I essentially built the plane while I was flying it.
Although I faced a plethora of challenges, in the early days, I’d say that the biggest one by far was finding the right shops and selling to them. Frankly, I still find that challenging.
I’m not a natural sales person. At all. I can’t emphasize that enough. Not only that, I had always viewed sales as a sort of sleazy business. Of course, I was wrong. After an attitude adjustment, I now know sales can be a positive process. I believe that:
- Shop owners are always looking to find new and exciting products.
- It’s ok, even helpful, to get in touch if you are respectful, personal, and not pushy.
- It’s all about them, and not about me. How can my products enhance their shop? When you think about it that way, it doesn’t feel sleazy at all.
The other piece of this puzzle for me was the marketing collateral. To give you an idea of how green I really was, I called a shop to find out the buyer’s name, and the person on the phone instructed me to email a line sheet and catalogue. I thought to myself, “What on Earth is a line sheet?”
My first rendition of the catalogue was visually appealing, represented the product well (funny greeting cards), and was sprinkled with our brand of humor. All of the essential information was there, such as pricing, terms, “about us”, and how to order.
But for some reason, I intuitively knew it wasn’t working well for me. Our greeting cards are high quality. They sell well. But something was missing. The catalogue did not seem to evoke much reaction from potential wholesale buyers. If I were being graded on it, I would probably receive a C+. Not bad, but not incredible. I sent emails to prospective shops with a link to the catalogue, and had a low rate of response. I knew something was missing, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Q: How did you improve your wholesale catalog?
A: I was able to figure out what was missing by taking a course on creating a compelling wholesale catalogue. I had many “aha” moments, and was able to finally figure out what was missing. The neglected elements that are now in my catalogue include:
A personal introduction, with actual pictures of Stacy (my comedian friend who writes all of the funny captions) and me. It is welcoming, warm, and is signed by me.
Lifestyle shots: I had digital images of each card, but I did not have very many actual lifestyle photographs of the cards. And the few I did have were not cohesive, nor were they even very interesting. My current, much improved lifestyle shots include images of the cards, all with the same background to add continuity, and varying props with the same vintage, organic, natural feel. I made sure to put one of these images immediately after the introduction and table of contents in order to pique the interest of the reader right away. I also included an image of two people reading the cards and laughing, someone holding a card, and a few others that are similar. This helps the buyer to imagine the cards being used in real life.
Testimonials: I had testimonials in my first catalogue, but I think it was hard to see them. This time around they are hard to miss, and they are sprinkled throughout the catalogue. After flipping through a few pages of funny cards, the reader encounters the first testimonial. Finally, on the page facing the “How to Order” page is another one (to remind the reader that buying these cards, in fact, is a good idea). I want a potential buyer to know that we are honest, fast, dependable, and that our cards sell!
Prices on every page: I had a price list, but it was near the end of the catalogue. My current catalogue shows the price of an individual card, the minimum order requirement, and the carriage paid amount in the header on every page (except where there is a lifestyle shot that obscures the header). This way, the potential buyer doesn’t have to dig around for it. It’s always there.
More merchandising of the products: I have added little stickers on a handful of the products that say, “Top Seller”, and “New”.
Collections: This is huge. I originally offered shop owners who were too busy to select their own cards the option of having us do that for them, and I’ve had a few buyers that were quite happy with this arrangement (and still are). But I have since created 4 collections (starter packs, if you will), with images of the cards contained in each one. Although these collections do not meet the carriage paid requirement, I offer free shipping for first time buyers if they start with a collection. Each collection contains best sellers and a few new cards. I think it’s important to make things as easy as possible for buyers, especially the first timers.
Clear “How to Order” page: All of the information was contained in the first catalogue, but I have condensed it to one simple page. It spells out the various ways to order, methods of payment, shipping information and returns information. And guess what? It’s called…drum roll, please…“How to Order”. Nothing cute and obscure to make the buyer work hard to find out, well, how to order.
Awards or recognition: I wish I could say that I have received awards or recognition. I haven’t (yet!) but if I had, you can bet they would find their way into the catalogue, much the way the testimonials did. (Not in a wordy way.)
Although I think I had the next two points pretty well covered with the first catalogue, I think they are worth mentioning, in case someone is reading this who is first starting out.
- The catalogue should be about the retailer, more than about me. Yes, of course it should convey information about Sassypants Design, but the retailer really wants to know, “What can your products do for me and my store?” “How will I benefit from buying your stuff?” They care much less about where I learned to do my art, or what placing an order will do for me.
- The catalogue should be cohesive throughout in terms of branding. It should contain consistent colors and fonts, on all pages. And the voice should match the products. Our greeting cards are funny, so the catalogue is friendly and casual (with a little humor thrown in).
Q: What effect did the changes have on your business and how long did it take to see the change?
A: The effect was immediate. I’ve gotten a much better response all the way around. They don’t always place an order, but they often respond in a positive way. And sometimes they order.
As an example, I was out of state very recently, and visited a beautiful store that felt like a great match for our cards. I came home, emailed the shop, and had an order the next day. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s proof to me that my catalogue is working now. I believe that when the stars are aligned, meaning I find the right shop, and they are looking to buy, my catalogue is up to the task. Finally!
Q: What did you take away from this experience and how do you apply this to your business now?
A: One thing I know for sure is that I always have room for improvement. I honestly thought my catalogue was pretty good before. It was visual, creative and funny. But obviously, I had much to learn about what elements a wholesale catalogue really needed in order to be effective.
What this tells me is that every area of my business can be improved (including my current catalogue). I think it is dangerous to ever assume one has all of the answers or that there is no need for learning, growing and changing. I created our website and I’m on my third complete redesign. Each time has been a big improvement.
Having said that last bit, I think it’s worth mentioning that this can get hugely out of control. The 80/20 rule states that about 80% of effects come from 20% of effort. I have a lot to learn about prioritizing my efforts!
Q: A lot of makers are afraid to jump into wholesale because they're intimidated by the idea of building a catalog. What advice would you give these makers?
A: Wow, you’ve already done the hard work of creating your amazing product. That’s awesome! What a shame to miss out on the wholesale side of your business. My advice would be to take some great photos of your products – both white box and lifestyle. Go on ISSUU to look at how other folks have put together their catalogues. You’ll get tons of inspiration from them. And don’t just look at your own industry. Look at different kinds of catalogues. Some of them are amazing.
Then figure out what software you will use to create your catalogue, and dive in. If you get stuck, seek help, be it in the form of a class or an online resource. Ask for feedback from someone you trust. And get someone to proof read your text when you think it’s perfect. I asked my husband to do that and he found things I simply had not seen, even though I had read it over and over. And over.
Q: Where can we find you?
A: I’m located in San Diego, California. My site is sassypantsdesign.com and you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please email me anytime. I love helping people!