In 2009, Molly McGrath put her architecture career on hold and started selling her own laser-cut jewelry. It was a decision that paid off—now Molly has lines of housewares, art, jewelry and stationary that she sells through 200+ shops in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. She’s one of the most popular and widely represented makers in west elm’s LOCAL program, so we asked her how she built such an amazing network of shopkeepers. Here are her tips for finding great stores to represent you.
1. Know yourself and know your stores.
Make sure there’s a synchronicity between your work and the store. You need to like the store owner and take a genuine interest in what they’re trying to achieve for the relationship to work.
I subscribe to the philosophy of Wiener Werkstätte—an alliance of artists, architects and designers who worked together in early 20th century Vienna. They believed that living is a synthesis of the arts, and I look for stores that share that belief. Whether it’s a museum store, a gallery or boutique, I seek out shopkeepers who value art and craft.
2. Meet other makers & ask your community for referrals.
I’ve met so many makers over the years at craft fairs, retail and wholesale shows, and online. It’s one of my favorite parts about this work—connecting with such an awesome community. All of us share our favorite shops, and we warn each other about difficult stockists 😉
It also helps to attend trade shows. I met west elm at NYNOW, and we still see each other twice a year at my booth in the handmade designer/maker section.
3. Do your research.
You probably have other designers you love and look up to. Look at their stockists pages. Follow them on Instagram and read their blogs—see where they’re selling. If a store is near you, go in, shop there and introduce yourself to the owner. When I travel, I tend to visit as many interesting shops as I can and even make an introduction if the timing is right.
The first place I ever sold my stuff was a small boutique on Polk Street in San Francisco. I had canvased the neighborhood looking for stores that were a good fit, and the shopkeeper and I really hit it off. She tipped off Daily Candy and they wrote a feature, which really helped launch my business.
4. Know your numbers.
Before you approach a store, make sure you know what you’re going to need for minimums, wholesale pricing (usually cost times two), suggested retail pricing (standard is wholesale times two), payment terms (usually 30 days or less) and shipping costs (depends on your product). It’s not exactly fun, but it’s really important. Plus, being a successful business means you can grow and then hire people to help with production and sales while you focus on product development.
5. Provide retailers with product samples and packaging.
If you’re just starting out, retailers will often want to get a sense of what your product looks and feels like in its packaging, plus it’s good to have samples on hand for other things too, like photo shoots or press. Not all stores want samples, but larger retailers usually do—they need to understand if it’s giftable, where and how they might merchandise it, etc. I also have a wholesale website, which makes the ordering process very easy. For many products, I include packaging photos.
6. Invest time in marketing and social media.
Most stores today research makers and products through online and mobile platforms like Instagram and blogs. Professional photos, a great website and an active presence on at least one social media site can have a huge impact on whether or not a store wants to stock you. Plus, they can get a sense of who you are by checking out your Instagram account or reading your website bio. I have all my press up on my website, as well as my stockists.
Typically, retailers are looking for information on best sellers, what’s new, etc. I know several makers who send a beautiful announcement to select stores when they complete a new collection. It might include samples, a lookbook or a piece of graphic design. It’s such a surprise to receive snail mail these days—a physical object of beauty can be a great way to make an impact.
Ilustration by Kristen Solecki