How to Get Top Dollar Sales at Wholesale Markets

by Kelly Rand

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Wholesale markets are a very large business expense and one that handmade businesses shouldn't take lightly. So how can you ensure to not only make your investment back, but get as many sales as possible during your time at your selected markets? It takes a combination of marketing, customer service, and merchandising to achieve your sales goals and it all starts with selecting an appropriate market for your products. If you're not at the right market, you more than likely won't make sales.

Before committing to a wholesale market you haven't exhibited at before, it is vital to walk the show. Walking the show means to attend the market allowing you to see who is exhibiting and who else is walking the floor. While there, take note of how many handmade exhibitors there are and how many are in your same product category. Will your products stand out or become lost in the crowd? This is invaluable information which will help you select the best show for you.

Another thing to consider is the enormity of some wholesale markets. The American Craft Council wholesale/retail show boasts 350 exhibitors, the National Stationery Show highlights 800, and NY NOW hosts 2,500 exhibiting companies with 600 in the Handmade section alone. With these types of numbers, it's important to do everything you can to set yourself apart and you can start doing this before the show even takes place.

Pre-show market prep
Pre-show marketing is a great way to help boost your sale numbers. You can accomplish this a couple of different ways by marketing to your own store list and/or by taking advantage of pre-show marketing that your wholesale show may offer.

Katherine Watson, an artist and printmaker from Hyde Park, Vt., sells her block print stationery at the National Stationery Show (NSS). Before exhibiting at NSS, Watson will send out a pre-show mailer to stores that already carry her line, as well as stores she believes would be a good fit for her products. This mailer lets the stores know about her participation at NSS. ''I've always had a good reaction [to the mailers],'' she said, ''Not [from] a huge number of stores, but the people that do respond are usually really excited and seem more motivated.''

You can also look into a wholesale show's specific marketing to their buyers. For example, those exhibiting at NY NOW can opt to email or send a mailer to NY NOW's buyers via clearinghouse. Scott Kramer, NY NOW co-director and vice president, explained how this works. He said that exhibitors can choose a certain geographic location, store size, or interest in product type, which the clearinghouse will then mail your information to retailers matching the selected demographics from their list.

Along with alerting buyers to your presence at a particular wholesale show before the show takes place, you can also notify them of any show special you may run during the market. This could be free shipping, a percentage discount, or free item with a minimum sale purchase.

Show specials can entice buyers. ''It helps people make a decision right then and there,'' Kramer said. But Watson has a differing opinion: ''My first year [doing NSS] I offered free shipping on all orders placed at the show, and my second I believe I offered a free product if you ordered over a certain dollar amount, but I haven't offered any sales since then.'' After her initial success with show specials, Watson realized her show specials weren't enough to make a sale. ''I haven't found that they motivated buyers enough to make it worthwhile,'' she said.

Do you have what's new?
The number one thing buyers are looking for when walking any wholesale show is anything new. This can't be emphasized enough. Being a handmade vendor you'll have an advantage because most likely, your work is unique. Buyers who are interested in the handmade market love one-of-a-kind products which make your job a little easier. But don't let the handmade factor of your products be the only thing you rely on for sales, especially if you're surrounded by other hand-makers at the show. Make sure your brand is ever-evolving and that you keep creating new product to ensure that at each show you can show off your latest and greatest to keep buyers interested.

Merchandising Matters
Another way to attract buyers is through exquisite merchandising of your booth. Setting up your booth to draw the eye of passing buyers is vital. ''The hardest part is getting people to stop and take a look, so I always try to have something in my booth that will make people take a second look. Last year it was a big floral mural that really stood out and made people look twice,'' Watson explained.

Kramer also advises the use of lighting and simple signage to draw in buyers. ''Lighting is what makes the difference that will always draw people's attention,'' he said. Kramer also believes that simple signage is key. ''If your signage isn't simple and attractive they may turn and look the other way,'' he explained.

Carefully consider the layout of your booth and construct an inviting atmosphere. Kramer likes booths that buyers can walk into versus those that set up their display along the aisle. When a booth's display blocks the space, it keeps buyers on the aisle. When you do this, Kramer explains, ''You're not inviting the buyer into your personal space. You want it open, you want it inviting.''

Sell service with a smile
Once you've caught the buyer's attention, you're halfway to a sale. It's important to employ some basic customer service while staffing your booth. Don't be on your cell phone, or laptop, or eat your lunch while in your booth. When a buyer enters you want to be courteous and curious. Engage buyers in the niceties of the day, and ask questions about their shop and what they're looking for. Being curious and asking questions will help you better able to guide the buyer to appropriate products for their specific shop. It's also important that you and your booth helpers know and love your products. ''If you can excitedly describe what makes your products stand out or why they would sell well, buyers are more likely to pay attention,'' Watson said. Don't forget to highlight your show special to help close the sale.

Follow-up to avoid a flop
Once the show is over, don't worry too much if your show total is lower than expected. Many sales can happen after the show is over. ''I've had large companies take a look at the show, but not become seriously interested until several months later once they've talked it over with their teams,'' Watson explained. Smaller stores usually have more flexibility in their ability to say yes to a sale during the show, while larger stores will sometimes need to go back and review with a team. So it's important to conduct a follow-up with each buyer whose business card and information you took. Kramer also believes that post-show follow-up is vital and encourages exhibitors to extend their show specials a week to ten days post-show. By employing these tips you'll be well prepared to stand out and on your way to making top sales at your next wholesale market.