2 sales mistakes: pitching wholesale buyers by email

There’s two central mistakes in how designers sell to wholesale retail buyers. The first is framing the message, meaning they don’t understand what the buyer wants to hear. The second is unique to email itself. Because email is so inexpensive to pitch potential buyers as compared to traditional editorial or advertising, designers go overboard with copy (mistake #1) and artwork that misses the mark.

Designers tend to frame their sales pitch to a wholesale buyer or retailer the same way they’d pitch to a consumer and it doesn’t work. Designers don’t do that because they’re stupid, they do it because they’re consumers and this is the framework of messages they are exposed to in the marketplace. But there’s a critical difference between consumer and wholesale buying. As consumers, you buy products because you like or love them but it’s a fatal mistake to assume a buyer will buy it because they like or love it too. It’s much safer to presume your buyer hates your product, meaning you’ll go to greater lengths to strengthen the points that truly matter in making the sale. Especially through email -where the majority of horrid mistakes are made.

Paraphrased from this entry, don’t make the mistake of treating buyers as the middleman when the retailer is your customer. Your goal is long term; ideally you become a known quantity to the extent that customers set aside a portion of their buy budget before they’ve seen your latest collection. The end consumer is not your customer because they don’t plan their purchases the same way. They do not think “I need to save X dollars of my clothing allowance to buy new Suzy Couture Artwear tops and bottoms for this summer’s wardrobe”. Of course there are a few crazies that actually do but there are not enough of them to make yours a viable operation.

This was a topic I originally broached in the forum where it was promptly hijacked, rebuffed and got little traction. Pouting and slightly miffed at being ignored, I’ve decided to inflict it upon you. It was inspired by one (of many, no slight intended) who have wanted to know what to tell buyers in addition to these things:

  • Line Profile
  • Line Philosophy
  • Line Sheet (w/ prices included)
  • Bullets about manufacturing and sourcing

…whereupon the topic gravitated to successfully imparting one’s brand image to retailers etc. I said to skip all that. Nobody cares at this point. Nobody and I mean nobody cares about your line profile, your inspiration or philosophy to the extent you wish they did. And the only thing they’ll care about with respect to sourcing is how soon can they get it and what’s the turn around on re-orders. Buyers care less about provenance and more about margins.

The sum of a buyer’s interest, particularly via email can be summarized as terms, price, delivery, minimums, what’s selling, merchandising the line, continuity, etc rather than a brand story. The problem is, because email is so inexpensive as compared to PR and editorial, DEs go overboard on pitching their brand at the expense of what matters. From a retailer’s perspective, a successful branding effort is what got the customer in the store in the first place. Any other alternative means you’re expecting the retailer to transmit the value of your brand for you and they have enough to do as it is.

If all the above elements (price, terms etc) are solid, then a brand song and dance is nice to close the show if it’s a clear message that can be easily conveyed to the customer. But a brand story pitched to a buyer isn’t going to make the sale. A short mention (2 ten word sentences) of the manifestation of your branding efforts (editorial in X publications for example) at close or opening (if it is truly brief) is more important than the story itself because you can’t assume a retailer has the time to do the storytelling for you with each customer who walks in the door.

By way of example, here’s an email pitch I got from Unnamed Corporate Entity. Go look at it. It’s kind of ugly and not very slick. But guess what, it’s a great email pitch because it hits all the high points and it loads fast with no attachments. Pretty is over rated in these sorts of transactions. The piece included:

  • Line sheet
  • Purpose (special offer)
  • Product description
  • Price (regular)
  • Special price (promotion)
  • Order instructions (by phone or email)
  • Contact info, phone and email
  • Order by date
  • Delivery date
  • Order form broken down by style, color and size
  • Minimums
  • Terms

The one thing it didn’t contain was a spiel about how wonderful the company is -hurray! Most pitches I get have four paragraphs of song and dance up front and none of the details, or so few details as to make it not worth the hassle of ferreting out the information from the website considering you usually have to apply for a password and give up all your contact information for something you may not even be interested in.

If you must promote yourself in the email, it should be one short paragraph at close because this is a transaction not a love letter. You’re not selling to a consumer with an appeal in how it would fit their lifestyle and tastes. You’re selling it to a buyer who’s (hopefully) buying a whole bunch of them and may not even personally like it so the pitch must hit how it would fit in their store.

You can include merchandising suggestions and information such as, style X is popular but only if it’s true. Just as you expect your suppliers to advise you well on products you buy from them even if it is counter to their financial interest, you must do the same for your buyers. Don’t try to sell them a shoe that won’t fit just because you’re stuck with inventory. If you try to hook them for something that isn’t moving, you’ll never build credibility.

And don’t just say “it’s popular”, be specific. Mention if it’s been re-cut, if it’s a signature piece, regions where it’s selling well, colors that are popular and even which consumers are buying it (teens, working women) etc if it’s not obvious. If it’s a special offer like this email example with such a deep discount, there’s no need to say “this is a dog I’m off-loading” because the selling proposition is that it’s a low cost fill-in for their holiday marketing mix.

Here is another sample pitch intended for media outlets (print and online) from a PR firm. It’s not a perfect example but I tend to view it favorably because it includes a URL to the designer’s site. Many PR people omit that. Really, they do. But most importantly, this email gave me enough information to know I wasn’t interested. That is critically important. The object here is not to entice everyone because you can’t, but to allow the people receiving your messages to quickly sort and sift through the barrage they get daily so you can more easily hit the people who will be interested. This PR person doesn’t annoy me with a song and dance routine so I haven’t unsubscribed.

Related: Please omit the branding routine with your sourcing and service providers. Do you want us to buy it or make it? Like that of retailers, our decision to take your work depends on terms and conditions that are not related to consumer appeal. But that’s a whole other story.

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18 comments

  1. Cathy Murphy says:

    I am a fashion handbag designer and have just launched my own Company, and found your article very interesting, you have some really good, valid points, and I have taken alot into account. As I too made mistakes on what you should email to buyers to gain response and recognition.
    Thank you
    Cathy

  2. Stacie May says:

    Kathleen,
    I’m so glad I found you, your site, and purchased your book! Your advice is amazing and to the point just the way I like it. I’ve only gotten a little bit into the book but it’s already been helpful just knowing there is experienced advice to pass on to me and others in my position wanting to be successful in the business

    Stacie May

  3. Rachel says:

    I just found this site and it’s fantastic! On Thursdays I put together a Roundup of links for handmade business owners and I’ve found a few articles on here that people can learn quite a bit from. I’ll be linking and subscribing.

  4. sarah says:

    I made some of the mistakes and some of the better practices. Not bad for a first time. I try to do my homework on this stuff and get advice where I can. I emailed in waves as my understanding evolved so I could rework my correspondence. Guess it’ll go through another round of hacking…Thanks for another amazing post!

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