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How to stop being scared of shopkeepers

By Clare Yuille

Creative people are often scared of pitching their work to stores. That’s a pity because indie retailers and artists make a great team. Together we bring creativity, distinctiveness and variety to the high street. Stocking your work allows me to offer an experience customers can’t get online or at a big shopping centre. In return, I can give you access to an audience which values quality, skill and craftsmanship.

Sounds good, right?

The problem is we’re never going to be able to work together if you’re too scared to get in touch. So how about we take a quick look at what’s making you break out in a cold sweat.

Is it this?

"I don't know what to say when I sit down to write an email to a shopkeeper. I don't know what you expect, or how things work. What if I make a mistake?"

Most artists and designers don't know how to pitch their work to retailers because no- one ever taught them. If you went to art school, you might have learned about sixteenth century embroidery techniques and the finer points of brushwork, but I bet no-one ever said "By the way, here's a bunch of stuff on how to actually, you know, RUN YOUR BUSINESS when you graduate."

Or maybe you're self-taught. Perhaps your interest turned into a hobby, your hobby turned into a business, and now you're here, wondering what the heck to do next. In both cases, understanding what retailers want can help you feel much less scared about pitching us your work. Here it is in a nutshell:

Retailers need to know who you are, what you sell, how much it costs and why their customers will care.

Answer those questions as simply and clearly as you can. Show me bright, clear pictures of the lovely thing you make, provide all the relevant details, then stand back and let me make a decision.

There are lots of ways to tip the odds in your favour, but in its simplest form that's what shopkeepers want from you. And you know what else? We actually want you to get in touch. Seriously, we do. We want you to waltz into our inbox and blow our socks off.

If your product is a good fit for my customers and your pricing allows both of us to earn money, you just made my job (and my life) a whole lot easier. Indie shopkeepers are rooting for you. We’d much rather say “yes!” than “no.”

Two things are guaranteed to increase your success rate:

Target the retailers you pitch to with pin-point accuracy

If I shook you awake in the middle of the night, shone a torch in your eyes and whispered "Why did you write to that indie shopkeeper last Tuesday?" you should be able to give me at least three reasons right off the top of your head.

Those reasons might be to do with style, price, location, the store’s philosophy or how your product fits into their existing collection. Doing your homework before you get in touch is crucial, but lots of artists and designers just don't bother. Make sure you do.

Use a tone of voice in your pitch email that's friendly, professional and actually sounds like you.

Knowing what to say and how to say it in a pitch email can be hard.

If you’re struggling, think about how you talk to your customers, friends or teachers about your work. The way you naturally express yourself when you aren’t under any pressure is the tone of voice to use in your email.

At the moment, this particular tone voice might run off and hide under a bush when you ask it to help you pitch to a store. It will be coming out to play somewhere in your life, though, so track it down.

My final thought on taking the fear out of writing to retailers is this.

If you make a good product and send it out into the world in the right way, the buyers will come.

Your work will find its right people. The shopkeepers and customers who naturally love what you do will be attracted your way. It'll all get so much easier. But in order to get to that point, you need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It takes time. It takes energy and consistency, and it also takes you doing the best you possibly can on a daily basis.

I know that's scary too. But good scary. EXCITING scary. And I really believe you can do it.

Clare Yuille owns Merry + Bright, an award-winning lifestyle store in the Scottish Borders. She's also the founder of Indie Retail Academy, where creative people learn how to sell their work to shops. Her students work in all disciplines and range from start-ups to established suppliers with dozens of stockists. Clare's been teaching artists to sell their work to shops since 2012, and her programmes have been taken by over 10,000 artists.

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