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How do we get started offering art supplies to retailers?

We currently are a screen printing distributor, and we are developing our own screen printing products we'd like to push out to retail channels. To get started, we'd like to offer some of the inks we carry in smaller containers and bundles. We already sell these "poured down" products in our retail store and online. Starting from where we are now, what is the best way to move forward from being a small retailer to a wholesaler/manufacturer for the hobby/craft industry?

10 Replies

John Seiffer
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John Seiffer Advisor
Business Advisor to growing companies
The short answer is I don't know. But I suspect the people who run some of the hobby/craft stores in your area do. Start doing research - not selling - just ask the managers of as many local stores as you can how the buying process works. If they work for big chains, they may not know, but hopefully they'll introduce you to their district or regional managers and you'll move up the chain learning how it works.

When you find the right people, be sure to ask how they evaluate a product, what their payment process is, what they require for delivery specs etc.
Peter Johnston
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Peter Johnston Advisor
Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.
Key here is understanding the different buying patterns of your customers.

In the screen printing industry, you are talking to people who already know how to do it, have most of the equipment and are making purchases from you to fulfil their customer orders. They know what they want and price is their main reason for choosing you.

In the hobby market, more than half of purchases are for presents. Also often one-offs for someone with little knowledge or skill in the task being performed.

The package must look like it produces an interesting outcome, is easy, creative and fun to use and that, while skill may be rewarded, anyone can do it.

A second part of the market wants to take this on and learn. They want a starter kit and to know that extras, refills etc. are available. Training (You-tube videos), add-on kits, projects with instructions etc. are the key to making this sticky. You may even be able to sell subscriptions for new stuff every month/quarter, part-work style.

You must also remember that you are selling through retailers. Shelf space is precious and staff pretty much untrained and transient. It must be obviously profitable for them to stock and display. Selling through them by arranging demos (for them to do or via a roadshow), marketing which drives people to the store etc. will drive the market.A click and collect from your local retailer model may also work.Don't expect just to sell stock and for them to then make it sell.

Last but not least the hype is different too. You are in the toy market now and millions is spent on generating awareness by companies like Mattel, Disney and Crayola. You have to get to journalists and educate and incentivise them to mention you, understand what you do and - ideally - make your stuff go viral. Don't forget they love something new - the challenge is getting continuing coverage. A memorable brand name and packaging are key too.

Very different, isn't it? Higher margin, but higher risk too.

Neil Gordon
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Neil Gordon Advisor
Board Member, Corporate Finance Advisor and Strategy Consultant
Identify your target customers (either specifically, if they are big boxes, or generally by category, otherwise). Once you know who they are, do some research and learn how they buy (i.e., what their process is). Then come up with a plan that will insert you into the process.

You might try calling a non-competitor that's close to your niche and on the shelf, or try a distributor or rep firm. Also, no doubt there's an annual trade show. Attend as a guest; you'll find the whole industry (buyers, sellers, distributors and reps) there.
Gary Jurman
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Gary Jurman Entrepreneur
Screen Printing Industry (30 yrs)
@ John Thanks. That's one approach I was thinking, but I was also thinking to try several other avenues as well. I was thinking about nexus points where I can take a little more of a shotgun approach. The approach you suggest does have other benefits to it, though. As an example, I can research different possible retailers as I begin the quest.
Joanna Tong
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Joanna Tong Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur | Business Consultant
To catch the interest of craft & DYI consumers, offer small bottles or screen ink that can be applied by a brush or poured onto a srface(like a t-hirt). The bottles can be refilled at the craft store. Also have some info sheets on uses for the product with pictures of completed items.
Small trial portions of product.
Options to refill.
Educational info sheets.
Pictures of a completed craft.
These are key.

Gary Jurman
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Gary Jurman Entrepreneur
Screen Printing Industry (30 yrs)
@Peter We do already have an educational approach to our customer service model, but I do see your point about lack of information at the point of purchase posing a challenge. I think we can find a way to mitigate it. We have a lot of experience doing tech support for newbies to screen printing.

You are dead on in your assessment of the different markets.

Because we are producing our own screen printing kits, we do have "how to" videos on our website. The subscription model you suggest is another idea we have been bouncing around for the near future, after we build out the free content a little more.

I like your idea about the demos. I know places like Michael's do demos. That comes down the road when we release the screen printing kits that way. For now, we are talking about just inks --probably in spaces that already carry competitor products (such as Speedball). It does seem reasonable, though that we may need a smaller price-point product (cheaper than our $400 screen printing kit) to break into hobby stores that don't already carry any screen printing products.
Gary Jurman
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Gary Jurman Entrepreneur
Screen Printing Industry (30 yrs)
@Neil I hadn't thought about talking with a noncompetitor in an analogous niche. Thank you.
Gary Jurman
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Gary Jurman Entrepreneur
Screen Printing Industry (30 yrs)
@Joanna the craft project idea seems key. Agreed.
Randy Thompson
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Randy Thompson Advisor
IBM Corporate Client Care Executive at IBM
sorry -- not my area Randy Thompson IBM Corporate Client Care Executive Corporate Technology & Intellectual Property Cell: (262) 490-4727 [removed to protect privacy]
Joe Heaney
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Joe Heaney Advisor
Guild Mentor
Gary, Before attempting to answer your question: have you considered the impact of being a competitor to your new customers? What would be the impact If you had to close your online store? how are you going to assure your new customers that you won't undercut their price? If you are targeting the big box retailers such as Michaels and HobbyLobby reply to this e mail and I'll provide some specific advice. Joe Heaney
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