Selling in a brick and mortar; a cautionary tale

this post was originally written for and published on the EcoEtsy Team Blog

Seeing your work on the shelves of a popular store is a really great feeling. However, that feeling can fade rather quickly if you are unprepared for the ups and downs of the world of retail. Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way, shared in the spirit of making it a little easier for everyone else.

a great supporter if indie craft

First, choose your store wisely. Just because you like to shop there doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for your products. In fact, the store that sells your items the best may not even be someplace you’d consider entering. Do some research, go shopping at a few different times and see how busy the store is and who’s actually making purchases. Ask employees what a typical sales day is like, and find out if they work on commission.

Once you’ve gotten a target store or two, google the heck out of them. See if they have an Etsy presence, including seeing if other sellers in the shop might be Etsians. Convo the other sellers and ask about their experiences. Read reviews on Yelp if you have this service in your city. Find out if there is a list of disgruntled former sellers or if buyers complain about shoddy goods or poor customer service. One or two random complaints may not mean anything but if you’re seeing a pattern, steer clear!

Each store has their own criteria for submission, so I’m not going to cover that here, let’s just skip ahead to that joyous day when you drop off your merchandise.
Here’s a list of things you really need to know the answers to before you hand over those items you’ve worked so hard on.

1. How are items inventoried? You need to make SURE you have a detailed list of the items you left with the store, complete with dates, descriptions, and pictures if possible. This list needs to be signed by the store owner. I know that seems really basic, but especially when you are re-supplying, it’s easy to just walk back out without this when the store’s computer is down, or management is busy. Get it in handwriting if you must, but never, ever leave merchandise at a store without a signed record of it in YOUR hand.

2. No matter how well staffed and well run a store is, items will get damaged, and items will go missing. Find out what their policy is on this. I honestly don’t know what the norm is here, I’ve had store owners pay me half the value, I’ve had store owners just shrug their shoulders and not even apologize. Only you can decide what you are willing to put up with, but whatever that is, you don’t want it to be a surprise.

3. You may run into some ethical issues. Things I’ve encountered in the past include a shop which removed my labels and sewed in their own, and shops where the owners and employees expected to be gifted pieces in exchange for promoting wares to shoppers. I’ve had friends contact shops after not getting checks for a while, only to find out their jewelry lay tangled in a forgotten box in the back room. I’ve had stores change management and refuse to honor the terms I originally consigned under. In one case employees were required to wear store merchandise, but weren’t held responsible if they damaged it.
These aren’t necessarily things you can ask about beforehand, but the lesson here is to check in frequently and make sure you’re still getting a good vibe.

4. The last thing you need to think about is clearance sales. Will the store notify you before putting your items on clearance? Do you have the option of picking up your merchandise, or swapping it out for something more seasonally appropriate? If it will be a problem for the store to sell your item well below cost (some stores do 50, 75, even 90% clearance sales) then remove your merchandise before the sale.

Brick and Mortar stores are great, and I highly encourage people to shop locally and support all the amazing indie boutiques out there. At the same time, I want sellers to stay happy and be prepared for the ups and downs a conventional store can bring. Above all, the best advice I can give is to stay in communication with the stores you choose to work with, it will make all the difference in the world in your experiences!


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