How Retailers Can Create and Execute a Wholesale Strategy

Wholesale strategy for retail | Shopify Retail blog

Wholesale is a significant source of sales revenue for many retail brands. Bulk selling products can help your business distribute your items to new regions and sell to customers it might not be able to reach otherwise.

Wholesale is a widely used and ever-expanding sales technique as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, wholesale inventories reached $644.6 billion in Sept. 2018 while wholesale revenues in Canada hit $42.8 billion in 2015.

Not sure where to start with your own wholesale strategy? Learn how to give your business a boost and increase sales revenue with these wholesale strategy tips for executing and managing bulk selling customer relationships.

FURTHER READING: Want to learn more about the benefits of wholesale opportunities? Read our guide to bulk selling.

Define Your Target Market

The first step in creating a wholesale strategy is deciding to whom you want to sell. Do you envision your products sitting on shelves at department stores, specialty retailers, discount stores, or online shops? What kind of wholesale vendor makes sense both for your business and your own target customers?

FURTHER READING: Get inside the head of your customers by building buyer personas.

Look at the type of items each store carries and make sure your products fit their mix. If you sell denim, you don't want to spend time prospecting potential wholesale clients that only sell swimsuits.

Set Your Sales Goals and Budget

Creating quarterly sales projections can help you stay focused and work toward your goals. It can also help you understand what you can afford in terms of operating expenses — the saying that it takes money to make money is accurate when it comes to growing your brand and increasing sales revenue.

How many units are you hoping to sell each quarter? What is your forecasted quarterly sales revenue, and what will you have to spend to reach those goals? A few things you might consider budgeting for include:

  • An independent sales representative (or multiple representatives who cover different regions)
  • A showroom that works with various retailers in your target market
  • Trade shows focused on building relationships with your target market
  • An in-house sales representative to help drive your wholesale marketing efforts

Be sure to crunch the numbers and understand how much revenue you need to bring in to cover your operating expense and still make a profit.

FURTHER READING: Follow these five steps to price your products for both retail and wholesale to cover your operating costs.

Manage Your Customer Relationships

Existing and prospective customer relationships can be tracked with a spreadsheet or a third-party customer-relationship manager (CRM) like SalesForce or Insightly.

A spreadsheet can include the following columns:

  • Store Name
  • Buyer Name
  • Email Address
  • Website
  • Phone Number
  • Address
  • Status (the last time you followed up and next steps to be taken)
  • Notes

Keeping track of each touch point will make it easier to stay on top of your accounts and secure more wholesale orders.

While it can be difficult to juggle both wholesale and retail customers, we’ve compiled some techniques to help you service B2B clients without losing your loyal D2C customers.

Where to Find Buyers and How to Connect With Them

Wholesale for retail, customers buying apparel | Shopify Retail blogThere will likely be a countless number of potential buyers for your product, so start with a list of your top 10. From there, working in increments of 10 or 20 at a time will make the task less daunting.

As you work through the first 10, you’ll learn more about what approaches get you the positive response you want and which ones don’t.

Step 1: Who Do You Want to Connect With?

You may already have a list of stores you want to sell to, but there are a few easy ways to expand that list:

  • Create Google Alerts that notify you of stores or boutiques that carry products similar to yours. For example, if you want to find boutiques in New York City that carry eco-friendly activewear you can search “Eco-friendly Activewear Boutique New York City.”
  • Check your competitors’ websites for lists of the retailers they work with (also known as a “stockists” page) and use those names as leads (see Step 2 below for a how-to).
  • Walk or drive around your neighborhood and surrounding area looking for stores that might carry your product. Hand out business cards and request contact information for the store’s buyer so you have a name to follow up with.

Step 2: Survey Your Network For Connections

Before you start reaching out to buyers, see if you know someone who knows or has a connection with anyone on your list. You can start by searching the buyer’s name on LinkedIn and looking for common connections.

You also can send prospective buyers a direct message or email letting them know you'd like to connect and share more about your brand. Some retailer websites will list contact information, but you may have to settle for a general mailbox if the buyer’s address isn’t listed publicly. Be sure your subject line includes “ATTN: Buyer,” the store name, and your brand name to make conversations easier to track.

Another option for prospecting smaller retail stores is to interact with their social media channels like Instagram and Facebook. In many cases, small boutique owners manage their own social media. Spend a few days or weeks engaging with their content, and send them a direct message introducing yourself — this might help you make a warm introduction versus a cold email that comes out of the blue.

When you're ready to send emails out to buyers, you can start with a template similar to this one:

Hello [buyer name],

My name is [insert your name]. I'm the founder of [link your brand name]. I found your shop on Instagram [link your Instagram]. Thank you for getting back to me there and providing me with your email address.

I’ve been following you for a while and love your product assortment. I’m hoping to connect with you to share more about my brand – I think your customers might like it.

[Include a quick brand bio(three sentences at the most), and tell the buyer why your brand is different.]

I have attached our line sheets for your review and would be happy to tell you more about [your brand name] over the phone. Do you have availability this week or next?

I’d also be happy to send you a few samples of our bestselling styles for review if you’re interested.

Please feel free to call me at [your phone number] if you have any questions.

All my best,

[your name]

Step 3: Be Persistent

The most powerful tool in your wholesale strategy is persistence: You’re going to get many rejections before, during, and even after you get a yes. Self-promotion can be difficult, but if you stick with it and continue to follow-up with buyers, you should eventually start to see your hard work pay off.

If a buyer isn’t interested immediately, it doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the future. If they say no but you truly believe your product would make a great addition to their store, you can respond with the following email:

Hello [buyer name],

Thank you so much for getting back to me to let me know you’re not taking on new brands at this time. If it’s OK with you, I'd love to keep in touch and share my new product launches with you as they occur.

If anything should change on your side, please feel free to email or call me at [your phone number].

All my best,

[your name]

Include the phrase "Follow Up" in your subject line — it alerts the receiver that you’ve attempted to connect before, and should result in more responses.

Get On the Road

Once you’ve connected with retailers, see if you can make appointments with a number of buyers in the same region to show them your products in person. Pack up your samples and schedule time to meet with each retailer you’d like to build a relationship with — this is sometimes referred to as “road sales.”

Attending trade shows is another good way to meet buyers on the road. Be sure to make connections with buyers before a show, and to follow-up after.

If you'd like to cover an area broader than your immediate region, you can look into hiring outside sales representatives.

Attract New Wholesale Customers With Special Offers

As with your regular customers, wholesale clients often respond well to special pricing and promotions. Create an incentive to encourage new wholesale accounts, such as 10% off on their first order, or free shipping if the buyer spends a specific amount.

Nurture Your Existing Wholesale Accounts

It's much harder to acquire new customers than it is to nurture existing ones. A good rule-of-thumb to live by is that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.

Give your existing wholesale accounts a discount from time to time. Promotions can be in the form of a special holiday deal or 10% off after they've made their fifth consecutive order. Treat your wholesale buyers the same way you treat your direct customers.

Check in with your wholesale accounts throughout the season to see how your products are selling. If something isn’t moving for them, offer to swap it out with a different product. Do what you can to keep your wholesale customers happy, maintain your relationship, and continue to partner and grow together.

Make Product Recommendations

Most retailers carry a variety of lines and products in their stores and reviewing line sheets for each brand they stock can become overwhelming. Anything you can do to help a buyer decide what to purchase will make the process easier them — they want your help and direction to buy the right products for their store.

You can recommend your bestselling styles, but also ask them what styles or product categories they've had the most success with. Research their website or go to their store before you make recommendations. Their success is your success.

Make Ordering, Billing, and Shipping a Seamless Process

You can use third-party software to help you streamline your orders, billing, and fulfillment process. Two software solutions that integrate well with Shopify are Emerge and Apruve.

Alternatively, you can use your Shopify checkout page and manually apply a discount to each item, marking them down to wholesale prices before sending the buyer your invoice. Using your Shopify checkout page can help you eliminate any extra fees you may incur with a third-party solution.

Provide Fast Shipping and On-Time Delivery

Don't make your customers wait. Once you agree on a delivery date, make it happen. Many specialty boutiques make small in-season orders known as “immediates” — or stock on hand that can be shipped at once. Try to ship within three business days at no additional cost to give your wholesale buyers instant gratification. When retailers know they can rely on you, they’ll be more likely to buy from you.

Larger retailers, such as department stores, will give you two dates — a ship date and a cancel date. If you miss the cancel date, the store has the option to cancel its order completely — another reason why it's crucial to ship on time.

Moving Forward With Your Wholesale Strategy

An important takeaway for any customer acquisition strategy is to build relationships. If people feel a connection to you and your story, they will feel a connection to your brand, and they’ll want to support it. Using the tips listed above will help you stay organized so you can focus on nurturing customer relationships and achieving your goals.