Journey to the (Wholesale) West

Journey to the (Wholesale) West

I met Michelle aka @mtamdoesart in 2019 on Instagram shortly after I launched my online store with only 3 sticker designs. She reached out to me with 1000% extrovert enthusiasm saying she really liked my work and that she also sold stickers.

If you sell things, you know that it’s nice when your family and friends buy your stuff, but it’s so much more validating when a total stranger finds you and willingly spends money or sends a nice message.

I already had a lot of internet friends in the design community back when Slack communities were cool and Dribbble was exclusive, but Michelle became my first “shop friend” and I owe a lot of my success to her encouragement.

a selfie of me and michelle the first day we met inside Japan Center Malls

Journey to San Francisco

I visited San Francisco in December 2021, and Michelle and I finally got to meet IRL. By then, I had taken her earlier advice to start selling on Etsy, I had expanded my product catalog to include pins, art prints, and apparel, and I had been doing pop-up shops at Canal Street Market.

Michelle and I got lunch in Japantown and then went to Maido, a stationery and gift shop. There, I spotted a pin from an artist I followed on Instagram and my brain exploded.

A real person out there made a thing and now it’s in a real physical store that I am standing in and the store is selling it?!? YOU CAN DO THAT?!?!?!

Through shrieks of excitement, Michelle and I discovered that we could have our designs on real store shelves. We went to the cashier and very nicely asked them if they’d be interested in checking out our shops. I gave them some freebie stickers, showed them the pins on my bag, and left my email with them since they said they would reach out.

They didn’t reach out. BUT IT’S OKAY. Fast forward.

Journey to Los Angeles

In April 2022, I got a message from Chunky in Los Angeles asking if I’d like to be included in their upcoming “Memories from Childhood” art show. It was my first time creating new work to sell at an art show! Imposter syndrome was brewing, but I was also so proud of myself for getting noticed by them.

Chunky also happens to be a gift shop stocking lots of small businesses and indie artists. I had made no progress in getting my products into stores since my trip to Maido, but here was an opportunity presenting itself to me.

I nervously shot my shot via dm asking if they would be interested in stocking my products. They said yes! They explained that they usually do consignment meaning if Chunky made a sale, I would get paid, and they would take a small cut. Chunky became the first store to sell my products.

My stickers and pins on display at Chunky

In May, I made my way back west to visit LA and see the show in person. During my trip, I went to a store called Bunkado in Little Tokyo.

While browsing the shelves, I saw a sticker — a sticker that seemed to be made by a real person (as opposed to a nameless figure in a giant corporation). Stickers from a real person on a real shelf in a real store. Cue a flashback to SF!

I nervously went over to the elderly man at the register.

“Hi, I’m Christina, I’m an artist from NY. I have a shop selling stickers and pins and I was wondering if you would be interested in selling some of my things in your store?”

The man lit up. He excitedly rushed around the counter and told me to wait while he got the store manager. Then I was directed to go upstairs to meet Dane.

Learning from my trip to SF, I made sure to pack some stickers to give as samples. I gave Dane a sample pack and he also lit up. He told me he loved my stickers and that they would go great in the store. He also explained that COVID was making it difficult to import goods from Japan so it would be great to have a US-based vendor.

Because my only experience being in a store was with Chunky doing consignment, and because I hadn’t thought of a plan before I decided to go knocking on store doors, I nervously told Dane we could do a low minimum and consignment. He laughed and said “Why? You don’t do wholesale? Don't you want money up front?” I replied, “Well in case you’re worried about it not selling.” He laughed again and said, “Don’t worry, it’s gonna sell.”

Like meeting Michelle, this interaction was a key moment of encouragement I will never forget. It also unlocked a new vocabulary for me: wholesale. (Of course, I knew what the word wholesale meant before this, but I never thought of it in the context of my shop where I would be wholesaling to a store!)

I told Dane I would email him a catalog as soon as I arrived back in NY. He then had me send him an email while we were standing in the store to make sure it went through and that he had my contact. During my week-long stay in LA, I went door to door asking stores if they would be interested in stocking my products. I collected some emails, but none of the interactions went as well as they did with Dane.

After I came back to NY, I emailed all of them but got no responses. No worries though, because I now had Bunkado as a highly interested retailer, and a cherry on top: I had just sold my first artwork at the Chunky show. Level up!

me and amy sitting at a table outside Chunky's storefront window with a sign that says "May 13- June 12 Memories from Childhoos Art Show"

Journey to Canada

During a road trip in August to Canada with friends, we stopped by Ithaca for lunch and happened to stumble upon P&L Supply, a super cute shop owned by the very friendly Phil. He was very interested in stocking my products and when I sent him my catalog, he said he would definitely put in an order soon. A month had passed and he hadn’t sent a follow-up with an order. But it’s okay because I figured out why! More on that later.

Like in LA, I went door to door in Toronto asking if anyone would be interested in stocking my products but had even less luck. At least I had a nice vacation. Now back to the fun stuff.

Journey to wholesale

My catalog was a PDF with pictures and prices of each design. I manually created invoices and kept track of things in a table on Notion. It worked for Chunky and Bunkado, and it worked for Yu & Me Books, NYC Chinatown’s hottest new bookstore, but it posed a big logistical headache.

Retailers had to manually type out which designs they wanted and sometimes I didn’t have enough in stock. It was emails back and forth, rushed restocks, and dealing with USPS’s terrible online experience.

In October 2022, I signed up for Faire, a wholesale platform for retailers to shop from vendors like me. This changed the wholesale game for me. I didn’t realize that this was how retailers operated. They were all already on Faire!

I reached out to my existing retailers and explained that I would be moving to Faire. I reached out to Phil from P&L Supply with the link who immediately placed an order. Making it easier for the retailer to buy from me meant more sales more frequently and less work, less headache for me.

Amazing, love it, LGTM.

The way Faire works is anyone you bring to your online storefront via your direct link gets locked in at 0% commission. Anyone who finds you through Faire’s marketplace has a 25% commission taken out of the first order, and 15% on all future reorders.

This meant I would get discovered by new stores I wouldn’t think to reach out to, but I should still make an effort to outreach on my own so I could collect my full paycheck without commission taken out.

Journey to being proud of myself

I remember being so impressed by the brands I saw selling in stores in the beginning, but now that I’m doing it myself I’m just like “oh yeah it’s not a big deal”.

I’ve convinced myself that anything I do is no longer impressive because I, a mere mediocre mortal was able to do it. But I’m working on fixing that mindset.

At the start of 2022, I made it a goal to wholesale to stores, and now a year later, I’m in 16 retail stores across the US and in Canada and that’s something I deserve to feel proud of.

Now I’m one of those people that gets to pack a big order all at once and ship my babies off to live on real shelves in real stores until they get adopted into the homes of real customers.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for reading my first blog post about my journey to wholesale! In my next post, I’ll give some advice on how to decide if wholesale is right for you, how to find retail stores, and other things I’ve learned about wholesale.

I don’t know the direction this blog will go in, but I hope to provide some encouragement for anyone like me. Talk soon!~

— Christina :)

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