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Advice from the experts: Working with retailers

Aug 12, 2015

by Sarah Sandiford

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Emily Rubner, E-commerce Buyer for the Royal Academy of Arts, shares her expert advice for Etsy sellers who’d like to see their products on the shelves of some of the UK’s most iconic museum shops.

When it comes to pinning down what will catch the eye of the Royal Academy’s buying team, there are no hard and fast rules – individuality is key. We’re constantly on the lookout for stand-out products that are truly creative and original, and which represent the finest quality in both form and function, from jewellery to home furnishings and everything in between.

Creative flair is only half of what it takes to build a successful business, and in the words of Andy Warhol, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art”.

While the product creation is up to you, we can share our tips about what to expect and what to bear in mind if you want to see your products stocked in shops like ours…

Royal Academy gift shop

© Benedict Johnson

1. Developing your brand and packaging

Give plenty of thought to your brand name and logo, which should be distinctive, memorable and offer the longevity to allow your brand to grow and develop in the future.

Give almost as much attention to your packaging as you do to your products. Imagine how the item will look on the shelf, alongside competitors – it’s the packaging that will be critical to making it stand out. Think about what your key selling points are and who you’re targeting, and then hone your message until it’s as clear, focused and appealing as possible.

2. Product photography

Most retailers will require high-quality photography in order to stock your product online. A helpful guide is to provide 1000 x 1000 pixel images @ 300 dpi as this will allow for a wide variety of uses.
Ideally, create cut-out shots on a white background as well as styled shots showing the product in an attractive contextual environment. Portray your product in a way that is appropriate to its purpose, and keep props as neutral as possible to stop them distracting from what’s being showcased.

3. Pricing

It goes without saying that your pricing structure should be properly worked out from top to bottom and back again. Remember that you need to allow the retailer a workable margin (usually at least 50%), and unless you’re selling VAT-exempt products like children’s clothing, you’ll need to factor in the VAT that the retailer will add even if you aren’t VAT registered yourself.

Always pay close attention to the fine print when negotiating payment terms – for example will you be asked to contribute to the mark down if the goods don’t sell through at the predicted rate and need to be discounted?

4. Approaching and working with buyers

When contacting retailers remember they are approached by hundreds of companies each week, so do your research. Find out the name of the decision maker rather than going through a generic email or mailing address, make sure whatever you send stands out, then follow up with a friendly, personalised email later.

Ensure you prepare well-designed, clear and concise information sheets summarising the details of your product lines and prices. This is important to have ready so you can immediately react to information requests; take too long responding and the buyer may move on elsewhere.

We sometimes ask sellers to tweak their products slightly to make them a better fit for our audience (usually just a superficial change to the design or packaging). Don’t be concerned if a buyer makes this type of request; it’s common practice, and allows you to benefit from their experience and knowledge of the market.

However what works for one retailer may not work for them all so you will need to judge whether you want to apply these changes to your whole line or offer the tweaked version as an exclusive.

5. Production and supply chain

It’s extremely important to keep in regular communication with your suppliers and manufacturers. Make sure they keep you updated with their stock situation and production schedule, and if anything changes make sure you pass on information to your retailer if relevant. Most will want to order little and often, so the quicker you can replenish stock the more likely you are to receive repeat orders.

6. Next stage product development

Don’t be afraid to diversify – think about product categories which can be cross-merchandised and consider how to add interest. If you’re a surface designer, try and come up with new and unusual applications for your designs.

It’s good to always have your customer type in the back of your mind. For example, is your product more likely to be bought as a gift or by the end user? Thinking about who buys your product and why will better inform your product design. Go shopping: watch what people buy, look at what they pick up, see what people engage with and work out why.

And finally, never forget why you started the business in the first place. It’s important to maintain a creative head-space and allow yourself to enjoy what you do – that’s when your imagination can let loose and your true individuality shine through.

Royal Academy

© Benedict Johnson


The Royal Academy of Arts is paving the way in supporting young and emerging British artists through their RAted open call scheme, offering the rare opportunity for makers to showcase their design work in the RA retail line. Each product included in the RAted range is carefully chosen in line with the Royal Academy’s buying criteria and curated on the merits of aesthetics, originality, form and function. Keep an eye out on the Royal Academy website or sign up to their newsletter here for details on the next RAted open call, soon to be announced!

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