October 20, 2011
I wrote over almost a year ago about submitting my products to Pottery Barn Kids, and admited that my products did not get accepted. I have to admit getting rejected sucked, it was one of the last feathers I wanted in my JPD cap. I also blogged about a good friend that was much luckier than I was, she actually got contacted by them and they carry her products as we speak.
Just when I was not totally focusing on not getting in (kidding), I received this nice email in my inbox:
I stumbled across your blog one day and found it entertaining and informative. I have some business questions for you when you have time. In one of your posts you talked about submitting your artwork to Pottery Barn, how did you do that? How did you present to them?
Even though I did not get in, I can honestly say this has worked for other catalogs, websites and physical stores. Take it with a grain of salt, this may not be the correct way but 9 times out of ten it has worked for me.
So....without further ado I will give more details on my submission to Pottery Barn Kids or any other company with buyers, decision makers and leaders in the Chidlren's Industry.
Getting The Contact
Finding the right person at a company is key to getting your products into the correct
hands. Make sure you are not just sending them to the secretary that gets the mail or worse the shipping clerk. You need to do your homework either on the company website, Linked In, Industry contacts, Facebook or just Google. Linked In is a great place to start and I am betting you can find almost anyone in a place of power on that site.*
You can send an email asking for permission to send products or you can just send them to the buyer. It is also a good idea to find out when they are meeting to review new products and what they are specifically looking for. Sending products during the Christmas Rush (August though December) if not requested is usually a waste of time.
This is what I do/did/dione in the past:
1. Find the buyer and send an email asking if I can submit products.
2. If I do not hear back with in a week or two, I call the main office and try to speak to the buyer in person. I will leave one voice message and then if I do not hear back within 3 days I will continue to call but I don't leave another message. You do not want to annoy them. Also do not get mad or angry or take it personally. These people are very busy and probably get bombarded with submissions from vendors. Be patient.
3. If I get permission, I put together a package with my best products....and with Pottery Barn I made exclusive designs. I did my homework (even though it did no good) and I looked at what was best selling on their site. Do note that they are already onto the next year's products and what you send is probably NOT going to end up anywhere - but it let's them see what you can do and possibly the items can be tweaked to work with upcoming designs.
4. The package contains a very nice well written letter to the buyer and list what I am sending, what I can do and my prices. If you have any catalogs, postcards or publicity...include it. Be careful to not overwhelm them with your entire line (45 pices of pottery) and only send what you want them to consider. Again, do not waste their time with discontinued pieces or...um, crap.
5. I try to be patient but I do follow up within about two weeks. I mark it in my calendar every week or so to check in, again I don't send daily emails or bombard them with phone calls..... Do your homework and if you do not get a response...be patient. Or better yet when you have initial conversation, ask how they would like to be contacted and when.
6. My biggest regret is when PBK said no I did not ask why, if I had it would have answered lots and lots of unanswered questions.** If the answer is no....ask why. Take notes, be humble and learn from success and failure. It is good to know what they liked and what they did not. They may not tell you, but it is worth a shot.
There Are Always Other Options
If you get rejected, and you probably will....sorry but most companies that send their items to big companies get rejected. Don't be upset, do not give up! Try again, maybe a new line, a new color combination or better yet a new product. Keep up on industry news - anywhere you can find information about the company you are trying to get into.
You can also attend or exhibit at a trade show that the buyers are attending. This a total long shot but you may meet their buyers. I found that the bigger companies actually wore their badges backwards so that they were not inindated wtih requests. Another regret when I was walking the San Francisco Gift Show back in 2003 I saw the Nordstrom Baby Representatives and did not have the guts to introduce myself. Trade Shows are expensive and I DO NOT recommend them....but to each is own and you won't know till you try. Just realize that there are a lot of large costs.
If all else fails, maybe find a Representative that works with large companies. Gift Centers all over the country work with large companies....go get one. The best are of course New York and Los Angeles but Pottery Barn is based in San Francisco, so....they may have a rep in San Francisco...again do your homework! You can find other businesses in your industry (or close to it) and see if someone represents them, or maybe if they work with PBK.
One thing I would not suggest is to out right ask (been there) a stranger in your industry for their contact at a large company...big, big NO, NO. Imagine you spent an entire year (London of My Little Dish) getting into a great catalog and then had someone actually wants you to give them all your information just like that. It does not work that way. And...they are probably under contract to NOT give out the information.
Be Prepared....Be Overly Prepared
If you really want to be a small fish in a big pond, or you want to be play with the big guys....be ready. Be ready to take on huge orders at a moment's notice. Make sure you can make a profit and produce it in a timely manner. If you fail with a big company, I am guessing you won't get a second chance.
Also, know what you and your company can handle...again do your homework. Even if your dream is to work with Pottery Barn Kids, Land of Nod or any other super large company make sure you can do it well. It may sound all good and well but if you are a one man shop doing the work of 10 you probably can not handle 500 orders a month. But then again if you are an entrepreneur at heart I am guessing no one can tell you that you can not do it....or maybe that is just me.
*A search I did today on Linked In for Pottery Barn Buyer listed many buyers, however they were listed with just first name and last initial (Susan B.). It may be harder than it was for me a year ago, but I am sure you can still find the correct people who make decisisons at PBK.
**I found out almost a year later that the buyer did not dislike my work she hated that it was flat. She wanted hand painted, she liked to touch things and feel the bumps and strokes and she liked the hand painted look. I also recently found out she is no longer at PBK. In large companies people move around a lot....so just because someone said no once, does not mean the answer will always be no.