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Cat’s How To… approach shops and galleries

by Camilla

How to approach shops and galleries

Selling your work to shops and galleries can be daunting, especially if you’ve only ever sold through your own online store or markets. From wholesale prices and mark-ups to lead times and cut-outs, it can feel like you need to learn a whole new language. We asked Cat How from design shop Howkapow to talk us through the process of selling to retailers. In the first of Cat’s How To series, Cat shares her tips on how to make that first approach to a shop…


One of the best things about running Howkapow is all the new content and creativity I see every day. A large part of my job is hunting out new and emerging illustrators and designers who might not have products available for retail but whose style I can see working on a product or print and who I can then commission on to do exclusive pieces for Howkapow.

Of course, it’s always amazing when I’m approached by someone who not only has a unique yet commercial style and great products all made up and ready to go; but also someone who has a clear idea of their wholesale and retail price, lead times and great photography. It makes my job a lot easier, and, most importantly, saves me time which is the most important thing of all!

First impressions are key. Oscar Wilde once said that “only superficial people don’t judge by appearances” and I’m afraid this is very much the case with the daily submissions we get. It agonises me that I can’t get back to everyone who sends us an email (I used to, but found I was spending hours a day on it!), as I believe anyone doing anything creative deserves a humungous high five. So now we are only able to get back to people whose emails and pitch really stand out from the crowd.

Here are a few pointers on what we look out for, and what puts us off…


A well-written email

Going against most advice that calling people up is the best approach, I would actually say a well-written email with all the right information in it is the best way to get anywhere when submitting work to a shop. Phone calls can seem a little full-on, especially when I’m not sure a designer’s work will actually sit well on the shop, so I would recommend going for the softly softly approach at first.


Image sizes

Make sure your email is no more than 5MB – ever! If your work is of interest to a shop, you can always send higher resolution pictures to them later via WeTransfer or Dropbox, but there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a 20MB email from someone you don’t know that crashes your inbox :(


Make it personal

Make sure your email is personalised and tells a shop a little bit about yourself, how you heard about the shop and why you think your work would suit them. A generic round-robin mail out with ‘hello there’ can be spotted a mile off and gives the impression that you haven’t been selective about the shops you are targeting. So always try the personal approach – it goes a long way!


What to include

Make sure your email isn’t too long, but gives all the right information about you. This should include the inspirations behind your work and links to your online shop or website. If you don’t have an online presence, then a selection of small images should be attached to give a flavour of your style.


Your prices

Every email should have a line sheet or wholesale price list with all your products listed in order with pictures of them and their corresponding RRP (recommended retail price), wholesale price and lead times. A catalogue too with nice lifestyle as well as cut-out shots of your products is always a nice addition and gives a flavour of how your work would fit in the prospective shop of the buyer. (I’ll discuss photography and wholesale prices in a later post.)


Be everywhere

The best way of increasing your chances with a shop is to be in all the places that they might happen upon you in the first place. Then you don’t have to worry about any of the above! Job done. I find a lot of my illustrators and designers by trawling websites such as Folksy and Etsy. Funnily enough, I always prefer Folksy as an option (no, I’m not being paid to say this!) but because we are a UK based shop, it makes a lot more sense for me to buy from UK designers. I am also a little scared sometimes by the monster that is Etsy! It’s always a minefield having to find out whether someone will ship internationally, let alone navigating tens of thousands of pages of products. I also find a lot of people on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, graduate fairs, local and national exhibitions and design shows, so make sure you are linked in with as many of those as you can.


Things to be mindful of…

The most obvious is email size, but other things to look out for are not putting any images at all in an email. If you are pitching your work, always make sure that you have pictures of this work included – quite a lot of people forget this. As a buyer it is also great to have a price for your products to work with from the start, so always include a wholesale and retail price (taking into account a 2.4 mark up) no matter what. Never subscribe people to your mailing list without their permission either, that can be a real turn off!


Most importantly

Be friendly, concise and professional and don’t take it personally if you don’t get a reply. It’s good to develop a bit of a thick skin when submitting your work (even though it can be very upsetting putting yourself out on show creatively and not getting any response – I know, I’ve been there myself!). But even if you do, and it is a rejection, then take it on the chin and remember to email back an acknowledgement – perhaps asking if the shop could keep you on their radar so that you can keep a good professional relationship going. Most often it is not your work that is necessarily bad, it just might be that it doesn’t quite fit the ethos or brand of the shop, so never take rejection as failure – you are doing a stirling job!

Cat x

Catalogue, Howkapow, typical page
A typical page from a catalogue showing a product shot, product name, wholesale price, retail price, materials and dimensions.


Cat How studied English Literature at Bristol University and Communication Design at Central Saint Martins College. She worked as a professional journalist and graphic designer, but made jewellery as a hobby and sold it at artist markets on the weekends when she lived in Melbourne and London. In December 2010 Cat set up Howkapow with her husband, Roger How. Howkapow is a colourful design shop which supports and promotes the work of independent designers and illustrators. Follow @howkapow on Twitter. 


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Molly Glass March 16, 2014 - 10:18 am

Thanks for this excellent information. I have been wondering about how to approach shops and this has given me some ideas about how to go about it. I’m on Folksy and Etsy and have sold a few pieces from my facebook page but not many. One of the problems may be is that my products are quite textured and that does not always come across in a picture. It is also a technique not widely known to Britain. This all means that I feel perhaps a ‘real’ shop may be the place to be so thanks again for your article. Molly

Tony April 17, 2014 - 9:38 pm

Selling to shops is all well and good but your pricing has to be so keen to allow for their 2.4 markup that you can end up slaving away into the wee hours for less than minimum wage. I sell through nine shops my stuff sells well but at a price . If the prices of my materials goes up and the new price means the goods won’t sell for that much then it’s me who has to come up with a lower price not the shops they won’t take any less markup not matter what. So you work for very little or pack in.

Anita March 30, 2015 - 5:07 pm

I always wonder about following up with a buyer. Quite often they answer my email back saying they are definitely interested, but they are waiting, for a variety of reasons. I want to remind them, and I do. But I don’t want to seem pushy, and how many times is too many before I should give up on them?

Sarah Timmcke March 16, 2016 - 12:19 am

Thank you for writing such a thorough article! You have no idea how helpful this is to me. I am just getting ready to approach retailers and had no clue how to go about any of it. This pinpointed every single aspect that I was concerned about and taught me so much, particularly with what to include in the initial email. I would have gone about it all wrong.
Thank you again!

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