You’ve been pushing your t-shirts through your online store, making sales and building a name for yourself online. Now that you have some sales under your belt and you’ve gathered a bit of a following, it might be time to start thinking about getting your t-shirt label into retail stores.
There is a huge group of t-shirt lovers who simply wouldn’t consider shopping online and buying gear without feeling and trying it on. So, when you get your tees on racks at retail stores, you also gain access to that market – and that can mean big sales and big exposure for you and your brand. But how do you go about getting your shirts in the window of your favourite clothing store?
1. HAVE A RETAIL QUALITY PRODUCT
I know this sounds obvious, but I often see people asking about ‘going retail’ on forums only to see very average designs crappily printed on dodgy blanks. I’m sorry to be harsh here, but the chances that any retail store is going to pick these up is pretty slight. So, the first step is to have a solid, retail quality product. That means unique and sellable designs, professionally screenprinted on high-quality t-shirts.
2. KNOW YOUR MARKET
The potential profits and exposure that comes along with retail can be very enticing. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to start hustling every shop owner in your area. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Remember your target market and sit down and think about where they shop, how much money they are willing to spend in store and what stores stock similar brands to yours. These are the stores you want to target – not only are they more likely to take your label on, but you’re also more likely to see big sales.
3. TIME YOUR APPROACH
Timing is everything. Although there are plenty of brands out there that have had a lot of success getting their gear into retail shops right after launch, I honestly think holding back on retail for a little while is the best idea.
Imagine a retail store that sells boutique streetwear and is frequented by hipsters with a lot of money to burn. Two brands that have identical designs set up a meeting with the store owner hoping they’ll stock their lines.
The first brand has just launched. They haven’t got a website with much info on their brand yet, and they have only made a few sales through their BigCartel site. They’re planning on selling mainly through retail and making a name for themselves through that avenue.
The second brand has been around for 6 months. They’ve put together a solid website that sells their brand and story. Through social media marketing and consistent branding, they’ve gained a small following and are making good sales online.
Now imagine both brands hit the store owner up to be stocked – which one do you think they’d rather take on?
Basically, that’s a long winded way of me trying to say that sometimes it’s better to sit back and work on your branding and build a buzz around your brand. When you approach a retailer with a bit of experience under your belt, you’ll have a decent idea of sales, your demographic and the future direction of your brand – as well as a solid package to present to the store owner.
3. BE PROFESSIONAL
Professionalism goes a long way. There are a few ways that you can make yourself come across as polished and professional, even with little experience. The first thing is obviously to ensure your product is of retail quality. Secondly, how you present the product is incredibly important. If you check out the websites of some of your favourite brands you’re likely to come across what’s called a Lookbook. This is basically a branded designed collection of photographs of your t-shirts. For example, if you sell punk tees, your lookbook might consist of 5-10 professionally taken photos of models wearing your gear at punk gigs, or band practice or something along those lines.
[I've posted a separate article all about creating a Look Book for your brand here]
The next thing I recommend is a Line Sheet. This is basically a 1-2 page catalogue that shows each of your designs, their information and costs. If you really want to look professional, you’ll also include an order form on the back for the store owner to fill in.
[I've posted a separate article all about creating a Line Sheet for your brand here]
Showing up to a meeting with these two items is a great way to present your brand as serious and with lots of direction.
4. YOU ARE AS IMPORTANT AS THE PRODUCT
When approaching a retailer face-to-face, the way you act and present yourself is just as important as the way you present your t-shirt designs. The thought of approaching strangers and asking them to believe in your brand is daunting, I know. But I’ve put together a few tips about doing it right:
- Be a familiar face When you target a certain store you think will be a perfect fit for your brand, go into the shop, chat to the sales staff, check out their brands and purchase something. This way when you ask for something, you’ll be recognised as someone who is friendly, knowledgable and genuinely interested in their business.
- Be flattering Everyone likes a compliment, so why not tell the owner why you like their store and what it is about their business that makes you want to see your t-shirts in their windows?
- Dress to impress We’re in the t-shirt business, so there’s no need to go overboard here. But showing up in your flip flops, torn jeans and dirty shirt isn’t a good idea. Think about this as a job interview and dress yourself accordingly. This means clean clothes, brushed hair, clean fingernails and no body odour
- Make your t-shirts look good I think it’s a great idea to wear one of your own designs so they can see it on a real life person. If you feel that’s a bit too salesy or cheesy, try wearing something you picked up in their shop. They’ll recognise it and it’ll be a good talking point.
- Remember your manners Be respectful and polite, but still be yourself. You really do want to sell your personality to the owner, as well as the designs themselves.
5. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
When you approach the store owner, you should know your figures. That means know (off by heart) the cost of making your shirts, the wholesale price you’re willing to sell at and the retail price you think your shirts should go for. If you have information on the number of sales and income you’ve made from selling online, that’s great to bring along too.
6. DON’T FORGET YOUR DESIGNS
The last point also seems simple. But it would suck to sit down with a retailer and impress them with all your knowledge, passion and professionalism only to stare at them dumbly when they ask to see the designs. Bring a bag with you with one of each of your designs in poly bags. This way they can feel the quality of the shirt, the print and get an idea of colours and sizing then and there.
Getting your gear into a shop can be a real step up for your brand – a chance to reach a larger market and make some serious cash. I know this was a bit of a long post, but I hope you find it useful and it helps you be confident and prepared when approaching retailers. GOOD LUCK!
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