I recently discovered The Proprietress, a blog written by Kate Logan Fulford, founder of the successful San Francisco boutique ooma. Kate ran her boutique for six years before selling it to like-minded owners in order to spend time with her son.
Now she’s branched out to help other indie boutique owners (and aspiring owners, like myself!) with her blog The Proprietress. I figured since she ran a boutique for so long stocking independent designers, that she might have some helpful tips on how emerging designers can get their work into stores. I know that many of you run your own small businesses, so I hope that the following guest post by Kate helps those of you that are looking to get your goods into more stores!
When I opened ooma, one of my primary goals was to help new & independent designers get their start. It was a mutually satisfying goal because I was new at running a shop and wasn’t sure what my clients would like – and the designers I worked with wanted a place to test their ideas on the general public.
As time passed, I began getting a better idea of who my clients were and what they wanted to buy. This helped me further tailor my merchandise selection (after all, a store’s primary goal is to sell merchandise). My shop became more and more popular, receiving great press and being voted the best shop in the city. Designers were literally banging down my door in an effort to get their merchandise on my sales floor.
Oh how I would have loved to carry all of their collections! But alas – a store is generally limited on space and/or budget and I had to pick-n-choose. Owners are also very limited on time. Given these restraints, here are some tips to help get your designs in front of a boutique buyer so you can up your chances of showing your line and getting a PO!
**note – not all buyers are the same! This is just from my perspective – which is likely shared by other shop owners.
1. Do your research.
It may be easier to just contact every store in a city and hope for the best – but a buyer will appreciate it if you seem to know their store. If you can’t physically walk into the store – it’s as simple as looking at their website or reading online reviews. Then when you connect, you will actually know that your line is a good fit.
2. Make an appointment.
If you are in the same city as a store where you’d like to sell your line – send a note requesting an appointment to show it in person. Since you’ve done your research, you can indicate why your line would be a perfect addition to the store (I notice you carry “X designer” – my line is very similar, but with a twist…) Email should be your first line of communication. Small boutique owners tend to run the whole show – and phone calls can disrupt the flow of their day. Emails are much less obtrusive.
3. Follow through.
I can’t tell you how many emails I’d receive each day from prospective designers. I often made some really great discoveries too! But as the day went by and I’d be taking inventory, helping customers and everything else that comes with managing a store – those emails may have fallen too far below the line. The persistent ones would write again and remind me that I was interested in their line. Just because you don’t hear back right away, doesn’t mean there isn’t interest. Be savvy and smart with your communication – no one wants to be pestered. But you’ll find that gentle reminders are generally welcome.
4. Simplicity is favored.
You may want the glamour of a fancy lookbook with professional models running in meadows and perfect sunlight gleaming on their hair as they frolic in your dresses. Don’t waste your money – these are almost always recycled immediately. Buyers need information, not marketing. Linesheets with simple line drawings and/or straightforward photos of the merchandise works best. Make sure that all your info is included on the same page (color choices, size runs, prices) to make it easy for a buyer to write a PO. Online linesheets and photos are great too – you can save a ton on printing costs and easily update availability, etc.
5. Provide a trial.
Is your line new and untested? If a buyer is hesitant to try a new line (in tough economic times they may be less inclined to take a risk), offer to provide your merchandise on consignment for a period of time. This will get you into the store and allow you to gain feedback on how your items are received by the public. A 50/50 split seems to be fair for consignors. Make sure the boutique has a system in place to pay their consignors and ensure you have a written contract.
If you have any more questions about how to approach boutiques – let me know! I am here to support both independent designers and boutiques. You can reach me via email: hello (at) theproprietress (dot) com. Good Luck!