I work with many handmade jewelry designers who want product photos for their website. However, I find that very few of them work with retailers and sell their jewelry wholesale to boutiques.
This introductory 10-step guide will help designers start thinking about why wholesale is important and how to break into that market.
Why Should I Wholesale My Jewelry?
A retail website requires a significant advertising budget to drive traffic (who will buy) to your site. Unless you are a marketing expert, chances are that you will spend a lot of time and money trying to get people to your site. Plus, customers expect good service i.e. email responses, accepting returns, etc., which is time consuming. Even if you’re great at engaging potential customers on Facebook and Instagram, these sites still charge you to show posts to all your followers.
Wholesale helps you overcome some of these challenges and will enhance your retail sales too. There are three main reasons for why wholesale is important for your business.
- Visibility: Have you ever come across a new brand that you liked while walking around a big retail store like Bloomingdales or Nordstrom? The same applies to you too. By selling wholesale to boutiques, customers who have never heard about you before will come across your product. And when they want your designs again in the future, they may google you and find your site i.e. you get more retail sales too.
- Wider Distribution: This is the same as what bigger companies do too e.g. think of brands like Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and others who sell via major retailers like Bloomingdales but also through their own site. By selling via retailers you have a wider reach / audience for your products.
- Credibility: Designer and blogger, Mei Pak, the founder of the blog Creative Hive Co. says that “When you start getting into the wholesale business, you also automatically gain instant credibility. Your peers, competitors and current customers will perceive you as being professionally in business”. This means that when someone wants to buy from you again, they won’t hesitate coming directly to your site to buy. If they have never seen your product before, they will think twice before ordering from you.
With wholesale pricing, you make less money per sale. However, your order quantities are bigger. So you spend less time to sell more product at a lower cost. And you also learn what’s selling so you can make more of those types of products.
Here are 10 steps to get started…
1. Test it out
Before you jump in completely into wholesale, test out if you’re getting any interest. Here are a few things you can do:
- When you sell at craft shows or other offline events, just put up a sign on your table saying you take wholesale orders too. Does anyone respond to that? What questions do you get?
- If you sell on etsy or your own site, put up a link to wholesale inquiries or mention it in your product pages.
- Go on Yelp and find 10 boutiques near you that you think would be a good fit for your product. Send them an email with link to your products and ask if they would be interested in buying your product for their store.
When people approach you, you may not have all the answers but you can tell them you’ll get back to them with more details.
Once you’ve decided it’s time to jump in, you need a business license and a sellers permit.
A business license is needed to tell the government that you’re a business – this allows you to deduct business expenses when you file your taxes. Start with a sole proprietor license. This means you’ll file taxes as an individual just the way you already are. It means that you are solely responsible for your business. If you have a bigger business, then you should consult a CPA for more information.
A sellers permit is needed so you won’t pay sales tax when you buy supplies to make your products. This can add up to a decent saving if you live in a high tax state like California (sales tax is 10% here). More importantly, wholesale suppliers won’t sell to you unless you have a sellers permit because they only sell to businesses, not individuals.
Each of these is available at your city or state government office. Just Google ‘business license application your city/state’ and you’ll find the info you need. Same for sellers permit.
3. Wholesale Pricing
To determine your price, first calculate how much it costs you to make the piece. Most makers stop here – they add a margin to the material cost and that becomes the price. Not so. You need to add the cost of labor. As Katherine Swift of Resin Obsessions says “If you were paying someone to make these for you, by the time you pay for supplies and labor, there is nothing left for you”.
So, how much would it cost to hire someone with your level of expertise? Once you come up with an estimate of an hourly labor rate, the formula would be:
Cost of materials + ‘time to make each piece’ multiplied by an hourly rate you want to charge for your time
For example, if your materials per piece cost $5, it takes you 20 minutes to make a piece and you want to be paid $60/hr. Your cost per piece is:
$5 + [20/60 * $60] = $25
Wholesale price is typically double your cost: $25 * 2 = $50 Note: the margin here includes some fixed overhead cost like office supplies, your computer, etc. etc. You can’t calculate how much these cost on a per piece basis so either estimate a small addition to the cost here or just absorb it in the margin.
Suggested retail is double the wholesale price: $50 * 2 = $100
Of course, you need to be reasonable here. Would you buy your jewelry at the price you arrived at above? If not, then you’re not being reasonable with your pricing or you need to figure out how to reduce your costs.
Pricing is tricky. There is no right or wrong way. Just make sure you account for all your material costs, labor costs and include sufficient profit to make it worth your while. For example, if we were to tweak the example above where the cost of materials was $50 instead of $5, maybe a 30% margin to wholesale would suffice (in dollar terms that’s still higher than doubling the lower priced product).
What is your minimum order? Do you require advance payment? How much is shipping? Do you ship internationally? Customization options? You timeline i.e. how long before you can deliver their order? What are your return policies? What if a piece is defective? These are some of the questions you need to think about because your potential customers are going to ask you for this information.
On timing, you can either make a set quantity and deliver orders within a few days, similar to retail. Or I’ve seen some designers display a sample and take wholesale orders for the next season. So you’d have 2-3 months before you need to deliver to the boutique.
5. Product Photography
Unless you plan to sell physically in trade shows, you need product photography for your website and/or wholesale marketplace listings and later on, maybe for catalogs. Either learn to DIY it or hire a photographer.
At a minimum, you should have a tag on the product. This helps you brand yourself and creates awareness about your business. Imagine buying something that has no label or brand identity on it. Create a simple logo and get it in printed at an online printing service like Vistaprint or your local store.
As your qualities increase, consider branded display cases to showcase your product. If a store orders a sufficient quantity, you can include these with their order and you’ll get more visibility in the boutique. Here is some sample display stands from Rustica Jewelry – they make the display cases too so if you like these specific styles, you can order from their site.
7. Create a wholesale order form.
This makes you look professional and helps you keep track of order details. You can easily create an order form in Microsoft Word or Google docs. Include your policies on the order form so the store owner can easily reference them.
8. Marketing: How to Start Finding Retailers for your Jewelry
One on One Pitches
Determine which stores your products will sell in and start compiling a list of store names, websites, and contact info.
Research your market by browsing Yelp. Or search Google for ’boutiques near me’ to get a listing of stores you can explore.
Check the sites to see if your items are similar to ones that are carried. If you don’t see anything similar to your jewelry in their stores, you could email the owner with information about your product. Only contact stores that are a good match for your jewelry – or it would seem like you’re spamming.
Customize your email to each store owner. Talk about their collection and why your product would be a good fit for their customer base.
Sales pitches like these are time consuming but since you are being thoughtful about which stores you’re pitching to, it’s likely that you’ll hear back.
And since you are doing the legwork, you don’t have to pay any monthly fees or trade show fees or commissions.
Online Wholesale Marketplaces
Online wholesale marketplaces help you reach a wider variety of stores – stores that you may not have reached out to otherwise. Costs are lower than offline options like trade shows but typically, there is a monthly fee and/or a transaction fee involved. Still, it’s low risk because you can test it out for a few months for a small amount of money.
Many of the good marketplaces are approval-only so make sure you sell yourself. Have a brand story, your design inspiration and if your technique is unique, share details on how your products are made.
Here are a few wholesale marketplaces to explore that cater to the handmade/maker community.
- IndieMe.com: formerly wholesalecrafts.com, they’ve been around for a while. You have to apply to sell with them – for jewelry, their requirement is that most of the pieces in your collection need to be priced at $80+ (wholesale price). If you are approved, you can list in their wholesale marketplace. Retailers can then view your line and place wholesale orders online. Monthly fees start at $39/mo, plus a one-time setup fee of $150. More: pricing info, artist qualification info
- Skue.co: They are a relatively new site – it’s more than just a marketplace – they help you with your listing and present your line to retailers during their buy cycles. They currently have intro pricing of $14/mo, which includes unlimited listings and guarantees feedback from retailers on your products. Skue currently works with 300+ retailers and is growing fast. They are approval only too. There is no commission on sales.
- Etsy Wholesale: There is no monthly fee but they charge a 3.5% transaction fee on each order. They only allow vetted retailers to buy on the wholesale site so you won’t get consumers trying to buy from you at wholesale rates. Definitely worth considering if you are already successfully selling on Etsy.
Be sure to track your costs and how much sales you’re getting, the types of retailers who are ordering from you (are they paying on time? are they reordering?) and the overall experience / customer support you’re getting from the site.
Consider a trade show once you’re more established in the wholesale space. With booth fees, travel, transporting your merchandise, booth displays, etc, traditional trade shows can get expensive.
However, while starting out, consider partnering with a few other designers you know and share the costs of a booth.
Here are a few links that give you more information.
- 10 Lessons from a First-Time Trade Show Exhibitor
- Trade Show Directory (this may not be a complete list but it’s a good start)
Even if retailers don’t place an order immediately, there is still value in participating in trade shows for the leads and contacts you will leave with. Many retailers collect information and place orders weeks after the show. And you get feedback from prospective buyers.
And as with any marketing, track your costs and how much sales you get from it.
9. Maintaining a Wholesale Relationship
Getting your first big order is exciting. Now, you need to execute and then maintain the relationship with the retailer.
Execution: Make sure your orders are done quickly and correctly. If it’s too much work for the store to work with you, they will simply move on.
Getting repeat orders: Once you have fulfilled the first order, continue to stay in touch and build the relationship. Email them now and again asking for feedback on the line and what’s selling and what isn’t. It’ll help you while designing new styles. And then follow up to get repeat orders. Don’t overdo it. A friendly message every now and then to remind store owners that you have new designs will help you stay on their radar.
Stay professional. Once you’ve established a working relationship with a store owner, it becomes a lot easier to ask for the sale again when it’s time to reorder. Some of the basic things you need to do are: responding to emails quickly and politely, provide clear invoices, deliver their order on time and of course, if there are any issues with an order, fix it promptly.
10. Next steps: Preparing for Growth
As your business grows, you’re going to have to change the way how you do things. You’re going to be overworked, not organized enough, and start missing out on having a life. These are good problems to have.
Here are a few things that you’re going to have to think about.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant: This is the first step to getting help. A virtual assistant works part time remotely doing various online tasks for you that will free up your time. A virtual assistant can help with posting on social media, doing online research to find stores to pitch to, responding to customer service emails, and also personal tasks like finding a babysitter or planning an event. You can find one on sites like Zirtual (US based part-time help) or Upwork (good if you are open to working with someone overseas for a lower cost)
Hiring your First Employee: Here is a great post on hiring your first employee by
Buying supplies in bulk: Consider purchasing materials in bulk to lower your costs. There are many online options like RioGrande and FireMountain Gems. The next step is to team up with other sellers and purchase supplies together to take advantage of higher bulk pricing – also, look at Alibaba Wholesale to buy direct from overseas manufacturers.
Selling your jewelry wholesale requires planning, effort, and consistency. Most artists aren’t comfortable with being salespeople but you have to be – you are the sole advocate of your brand. You need to believe in your work and sell it with passion – talk about your techniques, the materials you use, design inspiration and follow that up with good execution and customer service. Then continue pitching and putting yourself out there. With your drive and the right strategy, you’ll have your jewelry selling in the best boutiques around the country.