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3 Ways to Grow Your Craft Business Without a Trade Show

by Megan Auman
craft & maker, featured


When it comes to getting your products onto the shelves of your favorite store, one of the fastest routes to success can be exhibiting in a trade show. After all, trade shows bring in buyers who are looking for new products, and there’s nothing like networking with stores face to face and having them see your products in person.

But I also understand that, especially when you’re just starting out, exhibiting in a trade show can be overwhelming and potentially prohibitively expensive (between booth fees, travel costs, and building out your display, it’s not uncommon to spend several thousand dollars, or more, on your first trade show).

Just because a trade show isn’t in the cards for you in the near future doesn’t mean you can’t focus on growing your email list. Here are three strategies you can use to help market your work to stores and grow your craft business without setting foot inside a trade show.

1.  Do a postcard mailing.

When it comes to marketing to stores, this is my favorite strategy, regardless of whether you’re doing a trade show or not.  Sending a postcard with an image of your work to a list of stores is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to make sure that buyers are actually seeing your product.  (Unlike email, where you have to hope that your subject line will make a buyer curious enough to open.)  One of the biggest challenges of doing a postcard mailing is building your store list (but it’s something we talk about extensively in Sell Your Products to Retailers) but once you’ve built a list, you can use it to reach out to stores once or twice a year and let them know about new work or best sellers.  When it comes to designing your postcard, I recommend including a fantastic image and your business name or logo on the front (that way they know who sent it if it’s hanging on a bulletin board) and a simple but clear call to action on the back.  (Such as, email me to see the new line sheet.)  And if you really want to take your marketing to the next level, you can opt to send buyers full catalogs instead of just postcards.  

2.  Email stores directly.

Of course, there’s not denying that, while inexpensive, postcard mailings do have some cost.  If you want to go the completely free route with your store outreach, nothing beats email.  Just as with the postcard list, you can build up a list of stores emails simply by spending some time doing a little research.  Once you’ve built a list of emails, resist the temptation to send a mass email to every store on your list.  Instead, draft a simple but customizable template that you can use to email stores one at a time.  Since this can start to feel like a lot, I recommend setting a goal for yourself, like emailing ten stores every weekday morning.  (And don’t forget to follow up!  If you haven’t heard anything in two weeks, feel free to reach out again.  After that, I’d give it about six months before your next email.)  One maker told me that simply by following this store email outreach strategy (which we cover in more detail in Sell Your Products to Retailers), he was able to pick up fifteen new wholesale accounts! Not bad for a marketing strategy you can do in your pajamas.

3.  Schedule sales appointments.

When it comes to making a sale, nothing beats having a buyer see your work in person.  (That’s why trade shows are so effective.)  But that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways for a buyer to see your work.  If there’s a local boutique that you’re interested in or you’re planning on traveling to another city with stores that are on your prospect list, you can actually set up sales appointments to come in and show them your work.  Now I want to be clear here – this does not mean just dropping by a store unannounced and flinging your work onto the counter during business owners.  (This is the fastest way to make a buyer really angry.)  Instead, start with a simple email letting the buyer know when you’ll be in the area and requesting an appointment.  If you don’t get a response by email, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.  It’s still a preferred method of communication for many store owners and buyers.  Setting up sales appointments can be a lot of work, but it can also be a great way to reach out to buyers without doing trade shows.  (And can give you the ability to write off your next vacation.)

Whether a trade show is out of the reach for you financially or you’re just feeling like trade shows aren’t having the impact you once were, don’t despair.  There are plenty of other ways to market your wholesale business, especially when you’re willing to get creative!

Want to know more about launching and growing your wholesale business?  Join us on April 24th for Wholesale Week – we’ll be kicking off the week with a live chat about the state of wholesale, followed by great classes to help kickstart your wholesale business from Kate Hunt and me!  Click here to RSVP now!

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Megan Auman

Megan Auman designs for women who want to be effortlessly bold. Trained as a metalsmith, but constantly inspired by textiles and fashion, Megan believes that the right accessories can change not only our look, but our mood and attitude.