Let’s face it: Finding the right stores – really, the RIGHT stores is one of the biggest pains we face as makers trying to crack the wholesale code. It’s tricky. After all, you can’t go to every store in every city in every state. What if you’re just starting out, and don’t have a phalanx of sales reps? What if you don’t want sales reps… How do you have eyes everywhere? Leaving it to chance, word-of-mouth, who you’ve heard of, who’s hot, lists of stores from whoever, that kind of thing (sound familiar? yeah, I thought so..) In the words of the doctor, How’s that workin’ for ya? Yeah, thought so too. Not so much, huh?

I’ll let you in on my trick that’s worked for… well, for a very long time. Since I had to use the yellow pages to pull it off. Follow…
 
Identify brands that are similar to you
 
First you need to identify brands that travel in the same biosphere as you. By that I don’t mean labels that do what you do, but labels that have a similar aesthetic and feel, and a similar pricepoint. Lines that you could see cozying up to your line in a display case – lines that you would feel good about being merchandised with. This is essentially what buyers do all day long, find lines that work well together. If you’re a jeweler this may be other jewelry lines, or it may be apparel lines that you complement especially well. It doesn’t matter: whatever you travel well with is what you want on this list.
 
Find them in magazines, blogs, stores, word-of-mouth. It doesn’t matter how you find them. Weed out anything cheap or off-shore. Put these lines into a spreadsheet. You want at least 50 different line to have a good sample.
 
Yes, I know it’s a lot of work. You’d pay a fortune for this kind of market research if you hired someone to do it.
 
Go to the brands’ websites
 
Next, go find the websites of these lines – you want the page that lists their retailers. Stores, Stockists, “Where to Buy”… it might be called several different things. Enter these stores onto your spreadsheet. If your line has been crafted with a clear point of view, you will see a pattern start to emerge, and you’ll see the same stores begin to pop up again and again on your spreadsheet. By the time you’re done you’ll have a massive list. If the work becomes too much, you can hire someone on UpWork (formerly eLance) to comb through the sites for you. YOU have to select the lines, but you can farm out picking through the retailers pages if need be.
 
Sort & Study
 
Once you have your spreadsheet, sort it geographically, first by state, and then by city. Start locally, and work outward from where you are – Go and actually visit the closest 10 stores. This is not a sales call, this is a reconnoissance mission. You want to get a feel for how these stores are displaying  the lines you saw online and in the magazines. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see everything that you expect to see – retailers pages don’t get updated as frequently as they should. Soak in the feel, make note of other lines you didn’t expect… Would YOUR line fit in here? Could you see your pieces nestled in the display cases next to…..?
 
Target
 
Back to your spreadsheet. Select about 30 stores that will make up your first Targeted Hit List. Work out from those closest to you. Don’t worry about overlapping because you won’t get everyone, but do be picky. You only want the RIGHT venues. Now you want to hit up the websites and social media accounts of the stores on your list. Start liking and following, become part of their conversation. Don’t worry if you can’t get there, that’s okay. Get to “know” them via social right now.
 
Refine
 
Once you have your lists narrowed down, you may want to take another look at your collections and linesheets to see if there is any tweaking you want to do before you make the big calls and actually start connecting. You should have a pretty good idea of how your look and feel meshes with your target stores now – after all, they wouldn’t BE your target stores if they didn’t mesh, would they? But sometimes a few small adjustments are in order. You may want to add a little something here, or emphasize a little something there.
 
Use this method to break into any new market segment. All you need to get a foot in the door is one or two lines that service the market – then just start researching. I used this pattern back when I had to thumb through paper yellow pages and city magazines to find what I needed. I used to grab the yellow pages out of every hotel I stayed in. Had quite a collection by the time they became obsolete. The internet is ever so much easier.
 
Here’s your plan recapped:
 
1. Identify like brands
2. List stores that carry those brands
3. Find the patterns in those stores
4. Follow on social & study
5. Target likely businesses based on profiles
6. Refine your line (if necessary)
7. APPROACH!
 
 
Happy hunting!
 
 
a note:
 
A lot of artists will shy away from spreadsheets, say they don’t “get” them, or that they’re too much trouble, too confusing.
 
Please, please, please…. make friends with them.
 
You need spreadsheets for far too much in your business to be leery of them, so if you’ve been avoiding them – time to stop. Microsoft Office365 (which includes Excel and MS Word) is about $10/month, and ExcelOnline is free with a Microsoft account. Learn it. Your business will thank you.