How to con your way into a boutique

A great way to break into stores is to offer your products on consignment. I did this when I first started my handbag line, and again when I launched Simply Sarah.  I wanted to be in Jennifer Kaufman, Lisa Klein and Fred Segal (hip stores in Los Angeles) so badly that I offered them consignment and it worked!  They were totally on board since they didn't have to lay out the cash for my bags, and when they started to sell like hotcakes, they became lifelong paying clients.  When launching Simply Sarah with my Handy Hold All, I had a lot of explaining to do about the product so sometimes it was just easier to send 6 units and let them see what their customers had to say – worked every time.  

If you are willing to stand behind your product, and really believe in it, so will the buyers.

  1. Here are a few things to be aware of to be sure you get paid when doing consignment:
  2. Be certain of the stores target market and give them the proper items so they sell well – not all designs sell well in every store.
  3. Be sure to make a real invoice for your items so it is clear what you expect to be paid.
  4. Make arrangements to follow up after 30 days and that you expect to be paid at that time for what has sold.
  5. If sales are going well, then restock the store and start again with a clean invoice each time.
  6. Only con is that they can be slow to pay, or that the items are all returned to you because they didn’t sell.

All in all, I see it as a win win – if they do sell, you have a lifelong customer, and if they don't you, you probably got eyes on it anyhow which will pay off eventually!

What are your dream stores?

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    Written by Sarah Shaw

    There are 9 comments

  • These ae great ideas Sarah. I wonder however if you used a consignment agreement to cover you in the event of theft or loss? If not, how was this handled?

  • Andrea says:

    Great advice. sometimes it can be hard to get your products into new venues. Consignment puts all the rrisk on you, which will make stores more willing to give you a shot.

    thanks Sarah


  • Anne says:

    Sara, this is the first time that I DON’T agree with you. I always enjoy reading your advice, but I’ve never had to “con” my way into any retailer, nor do I think that is always the best or cost effective way to build your brand or business. I think selling your product to retailers starts with knowing your own product line and being realistic about your competition, where you product stands in relation to others who are out there peddling the same. You need to know the retailer, their reputation, history and market niche, and you need to be aware of your own as well.

    Analyzing both sides is the key to realizing your potential for growth in working with retailers. There are stores that I would like to see my product in, but realistically, with the level I am at, I know that shooting for the stars too soon, can hurt more than climbing the ladder one rung at a time.

    Instead of pushing, I step back and look at maybe what I need to do first to attract such a market or retailer. In the last year, I was stressing over the fact that I hadn’t pursued many retailers and saw other artisans who had their product in local retailers, but then I studied the other artisans and seen that my mix of business priorities was not the same as theirs. I was doing 18 shows a years and averaging $4000 a show, where they were building consignment deals in local retailers and “hoping” for sales and then only getting maybe 60% of those sales over who knows what time period. I was building a reputation on the street in major show venues, and they were just trying to build a list of stores of where their product was at. I realized fast that what I was doing was not necessarily the wrong approach and quickly my stress subsided and I again focused on my own plans.

    Well, fast forward through that year and now my line is building even more, my repeat business from customers is about 30-40% and I have retailers from the west and east coast CALLING ME saying “we want to carry your product”. I’m starting to see that like growing as a woman, I’m “coming into my own” so to speak in my business and I can feel that now is my time.

    In a nut shell, I’m trying to say that everyone’s idea of building a business is different and every artisan is not in the same place as far as their own personal mix of growing their business, and sometimes, instead of “conning” your way in, perhaps an introspective approach and good market study is the key to launching your line into your dream retailers at the right time. Does that make sense?

    I think an artisan finds that if they have a good line and continue to improve and develop and study their competition, their market, then opportunities will come their way without having to consign at all out of a maybe misguided or misinterpreted need to be in a “dream store” because sometimes those stores end up not being where yan artisan’s product sells the best.

    I don’t know, that’s my take today. I enjoy reading your blog and your advice! Thanks for listening back!

    Oh, and in regard to consigning, if you are going to consign, definitely have a consignment agreement, preferably your own. It’s not a rule that the shop’s agreement is used (if they supply one at all). As with any contract, they can be written in favor of the retailer or the artisan, so find one that is favorable to both sides or if the retailer doesn’t have one, then make sure you provide them with your consignment agreement. If they say they don’t want/need one or don’t have them, again, provide one and require it for them to carry your line. Explain it is for their protection as much as yours and they will respect you more for it.


  • Sarah Shaw says:

    Hi Anne,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response! Love it when people speak their mind and encourage that always. I think you may have misunderstood the “Con” part in that I was only referring to consignment as a way to get your foot in the door with the “on the fence” potential buyers who just were not sure about your product line. I didn’t say, and would never suggest that someone actually con their way in the door in any way.

    While a straight sale is always preferable, consignment opened HUGE doors for me even when I was selling $80K at trade shows and doing close to $1M in annual gross sales…….sometimes the stores think they know better and you have to give a little “something” when trying to convince them to try your line.

    Glad to know your business is thriving!

  • Sarah Shaw says:

    Hi Ris,

    I knew the owners so I felt that my invoice was sufficient to be covered in the event of loss. They accepted responsibility for the products once they signed and I left the store.

    But of course, you can use any standard agreement if that works better for you.


  • jacci says:

    To Anne: I think you are absolutely on the market. Having product in a dream store can hurt your business if the product doesnt sell well, they might not want to carry again. It depends on what is important to you in business… the bottom line of how much money you actually make… or the chance to brag about what stores you are in. Also, I have found that many consignment items arent sold as much because the store owner didnt have to put out cash for it, and they usually push the items they did pay for.
    With consignment, they’ve got no skin in it.

  • olivia says:

    Wonderful advice! I just recently placed my earrings on consignment in a retail store on a trial basis, and they sold out. I just shipped off an additional 6 pair on a trial basis, and if all goes well, my earrings will be sold in all 7 of their locations.

    The one thing that helped me was actually going to the store to get an idea of which designs I thought would sale the quickest.

    Thank you Sarah

  • Cynthia says:

    i just took a step in growing my business last month. My online sites are not up. I do shows but business is down with the economy as it is…
    I sell Japanese anime theme hats that I design and create.
    Any ideas for how I should get into retail stores, like what kind of stores, etc?

  • sarah is the best thing for your product based business I adore her style and I cant wait to go further, I breathe this site..I come to it everyday!

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