Wholesale is a significant source of sales revenue for many retail brands. Bulk selling products can help your business distribute your items to new regions and sell to customers it might not be able to reach otherwise.
Wholesale is also a widely used and ever-expanding sales technique. According to the US Census Bureau, wholesale inventories reached $932.9 billion in December 2022, while the global wholesale market is expected to grow to $65,613.18 billion in 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1%.
Not sure where to start with your own wholesale strategy? Learn how to give your business a boost and increase sales revenue with these wholesale strategy tips for executing and managing bulk selling customer relationships.
📌 GET STARTED: Only Shopify comes with built-in features that help you sell B2B and DTC from a single store or platform. Tailor the shopping experience for each buyer with customized product and pricing publishing, quantity rules, payment terms, and more—no third-party apps or coding required.
What is a wholesale strategy?
If you want to sell your products to other retailers in the hopes of growing your brand faster, a wholesale strategy is a must. But what does it entail exactly?
Wholesaling products typically involves selling larger quantities of products at a lower price than you’d sell them directly to consumers via your website or brick-and-mortar store.
The wholesale buyer then sells your products to its customers via its retail store or other sales channels.
Developing a wholesale strategy can help you build brand awareness faster than if you only sell products via your website, at events, or via one retail store location.
But it’s important to make sure you set wholesale prices that still allow you to profit and sustain your business.
If your margins are too low, it will be impossible to survive.
1. Define your target market
The first step in creating a wholesale strategy is deciding to whom you want to sell. Do you envision your products sitting on shelves at department stores, specialty retailers, discount stores, or online shops? What kind of wholesale vendor makes sense both for your business and your own target customers?
📚 FURTHER READING: Get inside the head of your customers by building buyer personas.
Look at the type of items each store carries and make sure your products fit their mix. If you sell denim, you don’t want to spend time prospecting potential wholesale clients that only sell swimsuits.
2. Set your sales goals and budget
Creating quarterly sales projections can help you stay focused and work toward your goals. It can also help you understand what you can afford in terms of operating expenses—the saying that it takes money to make money is accurate when it comes to growing your brand and increasing sales revenue.
How many units are you hoping to sell each quarter? What is your forecasted quarterly sales revenue, and what will you have to spend to reach those goals? A few things you might consider budgeting for include:
- An independent sales representative (or multiple representatives who cover different regions)
- A showroom that works with various retailers in your target market
- Trade shows focused on building relationships with your target market
- An in-house sales representative to help drive your wholesale marketing efforts
Be sure to crunch the numbers and understand how much revenue you need to bring in to cover your operating expenses and still make a profit.
📚 FURTHER READING: Follow these five steps to price your products for both retail and wholesale to cover your operating costs.
3. Manage your customer relationships
Existing and prospective customer relationships can be tracked with a spreadsheet or a third-party customer-relationship manager (CRM) like SalesForce or Insightly.
A spreadsheet can include the following columns:
- Store Name
- Buyer Name
- Email Address
- Phone Number
- Status (the last time you followed up and next steps to be taken)
Keeping track of each touch point will make it easier to stay on top of your accounts and secure more wholesale orders.
While it can be difficult to juggle both wholesale and retail customers, we’ve compiled some techniques to help you service B2B clients without losing your loyal D2C customers.
4. Create a website
Even if you don’t plan to sell your products directly to consumers, creating a simple website with your branding, logo, and product photos and descriptions will make it easier for potential wholesale buyers to get familiar with your brand. And if you also sell DTC, use Shopify to manage all your sales channels—online, in-store, and wholesale—from one place. With the Shopify Plus plan you can set up a wholesale channel where buyers can submit their orders for you to review, or they can pay for their products at the checkout within your wholesale store.
Having a website also makes it easier for potential wholesale buyers to find your brand through Google search, making it a great tool to help you grow your wholesale business.
📚 FURTHER READING: Want to learn more about the benefits of wholesale opportunities? Read our guide to bulk selling.
5. Find buyers and connect with them
There will likely be a countless number of potential buyers for your product, so start with a list of your top 10. From there, working in increments of 10 or 20 at a time will make the task less daunting.
As you work through the first 10, you’ll learn more about what approaches get you the positive response you want and which ones don’t.
Follow these steps to find and approach potential wholesale buyers:
Step 1: Who do you want to connect with?
You may already have a list of stores you want to sell to, but there are a few easy ways to expand that list:
- Create Google Alerts that notify you of stores or boutiques that carry products similar to yours. For example, if you want to find boutiques in New York City that carry eco-friendly activewear, you can search “Eco-friendly Activewear Boutique New York City.”
- Check your competitors’ websites for lists of the retailers they work with (also known as a “stockists” page) and use those names as leads (see Step 2 below for a how-to).
- Walk or drive around your neighborhood and surrounding area looking for stores that might carry your product. Hand out business cards and request contact information for the store’s buyer so you have a name to follow up with.
Step 2: Survey your network for connections
Before you start reaching out to buyers, see if you know someone who knows or has a connection with anyone on your list. You can start by searching the buyer’s name on LinkedIn and looking for common connections.
You also can send prospective buyers a direct message or email letting them know you’d like to connect and share more about your brand. Some retailer websites will list contact information, but you may have to settle for a general mailbox if the buyer’s address isn’t listed publicly. Be sure your subject line includes “ATTN: Buyer,” the store name, and your brand name to make conversations easier to track.
Another option for prospecting smaller retail stores is to interact with their social media channels like Instagram and Facebook. In many cases, small boutique owners manage their own social media. Spend a few days or weeks engaging with their content, and send them a direct message introducing yourself—this might help you make a warm introduction versus a cold email that comes out of the blue.
When you’re ready to send emails out to buyers, you can start with a template similar to this one:
Hello [buyer name],
My name is [insert your name]. I’m the founder of [link your brand name]. I found your shop on Instagram [link your Instagram]. Thank you for getting back to me and providing me with your email address.
I’ve been following you for a while and love your product assortment. I’m hoping to connect with you to share more about my brand—I think your customers might like it.
[Include a quick brand bio—three sentences at the most—and tell the buyer why your brand is different.]
I have attached our line sheets for your review and would be happy to tell you more about [your brand name] over the phone. Do you have availability this week or next?
I’d also be happy to send you a few samples of our bestselling styles for review if you’re interested.
Please feel free to call me at [your phone number] if you have any questions.
All my best,
Step 3: Be persistent
The most powerful tool in your wholesale strategy is persistence: You’re going to get many rejections before, during, and even after you get a yes. Self-promotion can be difficult, but if you stick with it and continue to follow-up with buyers, you should eventually start to see your hard work pay off.
If a buyer isn’t interested immediately, it doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the future.
If they say no but you truly believe your product would make a great addition to their store, you can respond with the following email:
Hello [buyer name],
Thank you so much for getting back to me to let me know you’re not taking on new brands at this time. If it’s OK with you, I’d love to keep in touch and share my new product launches with you as they occur.
If anything should change on your side, please feel free to email or call me at [your phone number].
All my best,
Include the phrase “Follow Up” in your subject line—it alerts the receiver that you’ve attempted to connect before, and should result in more responses.
6. Get on the road
Once you’ve connected with retailers, see if you can make appointments with a number of buyers in the same region to show them your products in person. Pack up your samples and schedule time to meet with each retailer you’d like to build a relationship with—this is sometimes referred to as “road sales.”
Attending trade shows is another good way to meet buyers on the road. Be sure to make connections with buyers before a show, and to follow up after.
If you’d like to cover an area broader than your immediate region, you can look into hiring outside sales representatives.
7. Attract new wholesale customers with special offers
As with your regular customers, wholesale clients often respond well to special pricing and promotions. Create an incentive to encourage new wholesale accounts to place an order, such as 10% off on their first order, or free shipping if the buyer spends a specific amount.
8. List your brand on wholesale marketplaces or directories
Listing your products on wholesale marketplaces like Faire or Tundra is a great way to get your brand in front of potential wholesale buyers that are actively looking for new products to stock. As potential wholesale customers browse the marketplace, they can find information about your brand and get in touch with you to learn more or place their first order.
9. Nurture your existing wholesale accounts
It’s much harder to acquire new customers than it is to nurture existing ones. A good rule-of-thumb to live by is that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.
Give your existing wholesale accounts a discount from time to time. Promotions can be in the form of a special holiday deal or 10% off after they’ve made their fifth consecutive order. Treat your wholesale buyers the same way you treat your direct customers.
Check in with your wholesale accounts throughout the season to see how your products are selling.
If something isn’t moving for them, offer to swap it out with a different product. Do what you can to keep your wholesale customers happy, maintain your relationship, and continue to partner and grow together.
10. Make product recommendations
Most retailers carry a variety of lines and products in their stores, and reviewing line sheets for each brand they stock can become overwhelming. Anything you can do to help a buyer decide what to purchase will make the process easier for them—they want your help and direction to buy the right products for their store.
You can recommend your bestselling styles, but also ask them what styles or product categories they’ve had the most success with.
Research their website or go to their store before you make recommendations. Their success is your success.
11. Streamline the ordering, billing, and shipping process
You can use third-party software to help you streamline your orders, billing, and fulfillment process. Three software solutions that integrate well with Shopify are Singuli, Emerge, and Apruve.
Alternatively, you can use your Shopify checkout page and manually apply a discount to each item, marking them down to wholesale prices before sending the buyer your invoice. Using your Shopify checkout page can help you eliminate any extra fees you may incur with a third-party solution.
💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS comes with tools to help you control and manage your inventory across multiple store locations, your online store, and warehouse. Forecast demand, set low-stock alerts, create purchase orders, know which items are selling or sitting on shelves, count inventory, and more.
12. Provide fast shipping and on-time delivery
Don’t make your customers wait. Once you agree on a delivery date, make it happen. Many specialty boutiques make small in-season orders known as “immediates”—or stock on hand that can be shipped at once. Try to ship within three business days at no additional cost to give your wholesale buyers instant gratification. When retailers know they can rely on you, they’ll be more likely to buy from you.
Larger retailers, such as department stores, will give you two dates—a ship date and a cancel date. If you miss the cancel date, the store has the option to cancel its order completely—another reason why it’s crucial to ship on time.
13. Create a wholesale referral program
With some incentive, happy wholesale customers can become brand evangelists and help you gain new wholesale accounts. One wholesale strategy to consider is creating a referral program for your existing wholesale buyers. You could offer them a 10% discount or free shipping on their next order each time a new wholesale customer they referred makes its first order. Or, if it works for your business model, you could offer an ongoing incentive—for example, a commission on each order you receive from a wholesale account they referred to your business.
Having existing wholesale accounts spread the word about your brand is a great word of mouth wholesale strategy that can help build trust, grow your wholesale business, and encourage your existing buyers to stay loyal.
14. Consider international markets
Selling your products to retailers in another country might feel daunting when it comes to customs and international shipping requirements, but as an entrepreneur, you’ve figured out many other challenging parts of starting and running a business, you can do this too. It’s worth the learning curve.
Expanding your brand internationally can greatly increase your potential wholesale customer base.
And selling to international retailers can also help you distribute your products more widely to end-consumers. After they discover you at their favorite local boutique, they might buy directly from you via your ecommerce website.
📚 FURTHER READING: Ecommerce International Shipping: Guide to Delivering Worldwide.
Moving forward with your wholesale strategy
An important takeaway for any customer acquisition strategy is to build relationships. If people feel a connection to you and your story, they will feel a connection to your brand, and they’ll want to support it. Using the wholesale strategy tips listed above will help you stay organized so you can focus on nurturing customer relationships and achieving your goals.
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Wholesale strategy for retail FAQ
What is a wholesale strategy?
A wholesale strategy is a business model in which a company sells products to retailers who then resell them to the public. This strategy involves selling large quantities of goods at a discounted rate to retailers and distributors, who then add their own markup to the products and sell them to consumers. The goal of this strategy is to increase the reach of a product and to increase the company’s sales.
How do you create a wholesale strategy?
- Research your market. Understand who your potential customers are and the competitive landscape. Consider the size of the market, current market trends, and potential opportunities.
- Establish distribution channels. Establish relationships with distributors that can help reach your desired target customers.
- Set pricing structure. Develop a pricing strategy that is competitive and attractive to customers.
- Create promotional campaigns. Develop promotional campaigns to reach target customers and generate interest in your product.
- Develop support services. Create support services for customers, such as product training or technical support.
- Monitor performance. Track key performance indicators to measure the success of your wholesale strategy.