Every season I try to get out and about to central London to visit all the big stores such as Liberty, Selfridges, John Lewis and many more. I spend more or less a whole day walking around the shops trying not to buy anything. I do this to keep up with retail trends, store displays, and to see what brands are stocked where. Even if you don't go to London regularly you can easily replicate this in a town close to you. I also try to visit independent stores whenever I pass one and I take lots of pictures.
I find that it helps me when I chat with buyers over the phone, in meetings, or at trade shows and sometimes it helps me approach retailers I had not thought about or to approach from a different angle. This is called Comp Shopping or Comparison shopping.
It's something that is done by most retailers to find out what the competition is doing in regards to pricing, new products, new themes, visual merchandising, store layouts, customer service, and much more.
As a small business owner who wants to or who is wholesaling you should be doing the same to see what price-points various retailers are selling similar products at, how they display them, what fragrances, colours, and looks seem to be popular. How many designs they are taking from other small brands and if there are any areas of the stores that you can pitch to that you had not originally thought about. It can not only help you from a sales perspective but it will hopefully inspire you for when you develop your next product range, look out for clever and attractive packaging, different finishes, and new materials, I'm not saying that you should be copying what others are doing but you can definitely take inspiration.
It can be great to be different but if you want to sell to large retailers it's important to think about where things will be displayed as perhaps making your packaging wider or taller will mean that your products can't be displayed next to the competition because they won't fit on the stores standard shelving etc.
Below are a few images from my recent store visits with a few notes.
I spotted plants in several high-street retailers this spring, Liberty, Urban Outfitters, Selfridges, and Paperchase. If you make any pot's, vases, or other products that could fit in with a plant range this might be a great way to get into the stores of some larger retailers.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know what buyer to contact as departments are very varied and mixed nowadays. Pay attention to the department you just went into to try to figure out which buyer might be responsible for the area.
In 'We Built This City' you can find books, games, ceramics, dog toys, and pens all mixed together.
In Liberty's stationery department there were art prints displayed with cards, notebooks, and magnets and books with Liberty print soft furnishings.
In John Lewis's gift department you can find mugs, plant pots, gardening gloves, make-up bags, tea towels, and watering cans all on the same display stand.
In Anthropologie, there are kitchen utensils, candles, water bottles, stationery, books, and cards displayed all together.
Large retailers stocking smaller brands
Everyone is trying to add more personality to their range and this means that larger stores are now looking to stock smaller brands to make them appear to be in touch with smaller businesses and hopefully bank in on their loyal followers and fans as well as their more sustainable approaches to business.
I spotted little signs in Paperchase, Heals, Liberty, and John Lewis telling the story of smaller brands or designers they have worked with and I'm sure these areas will grow. Even if you don't stock large stores you can replicate this for your stockists by providing good quality point of sale signs that tell your brand story.
Urban Outfitters now stock a small range from Sun Day of London, showing that you don't have to have a large range to be stocked in some of the more well-known retailers. Some large retailers will take smaller ranges for their flagship stores where they have more room to try different and new product categories and suppliers.
Selfridges stock a decent range of The Completist notebooks and a few other independent brands.
In the Liberty stationery department some of the displays give the impression that the items displayed are from smaller independent brands and that might very well be the case.
Queue barriers or displays
Pay attention to what types of products are displayed by the queue barriers or on the tills as these are likely to be really good sellers that the stores have invested more heavily in as they always drive volume. Pay attention to what sort of price points they stock by the tills and take pictures.
If you chatting with a buyer and think your products could fit into their barrier it's definitely worth mentioning it, you won't have any say of where your products are displayed but you can certainly make suggestions.
Even if you don't feel ready or don't want to be selling your ranges to these larger retailers it's good to keep up with what they are doing and what seems to be selling well and what gets a lot of prominent retail space.
If you want to start to wholesale this year but you're not sure of where to start then one of my group training programs might be good for you. If you're not sure if they are the right fit, get in touch and I can help. You can find out more about all the services I offer here. I also have a free Facebook group, Let's Talk - Wholesale where you can find lots of free advice and get help from other small business owners that are already wholesaling or who wants to start.