Wholesaling to large retailers uses a different strategy than selling to smaller independent stores. It was fairly easy for me, during my road rep days, to visit a store and connect with the buyer on the spot.
Larger retailers, in contrast, typically have off-site buyers who purchase from office in their corporate headquarters. Before I became a sales rep, I worked as a book manager to a larger book-video-music chain store and had the authority to buy local books for our store. Once I began my sales rep career, I found this practice to be true for other chains. Often, if you can gain traction for your products in one or more local chain stores, you have a better chance of introducing your products to the entire chain.
Artsy Shark published an article, How to Wholesale Your Work to Major Retailers, that addresses this issue in more detail. Here are some excerpts from the article:
How to Connect with Major Retailers
Trade shows. Buyers for major retailers often attend trade shows to see new products and connect with their regular suppliers. If you exhibit at a show, you may be fortunate to be approached by buyers for large retail chains.You may want to include them on pre-show mailings to attract interest and invite them to your booth.
Online portals. Sites like Faire and IndieMe are “virtual trade shows” that never close. They offer artists and makers a place to show their collection to retailers who are looking for new lines.
Direct contact. Identify chain stores that you feel would mesh well with your brand and your (line of products), and find out names of buyers you can reach out to. These may be owner/franchisees, who would be easy to contact by calling the individual stores. In the event you are reaching out to regional or national buyers, you may be able to ask a local store manager for the contact number of their buying office.
Persistence is key in soliciting national chains. Buyers can be very difficult to reach; their time and attention is in great demand, and they may not return emails or phone calls.
Pursue trunk show opportunities. Occasionally, department stores and other chains will invite artists and other entrepreneurs to apply to participate in trunk shows, or “store within a store” opportunities. This allows the artist to introduce their line to the retailer’s customers and make sales. If your line does really well, your chances of being considered as a wholesale vendor are greatly enhanced.
Use sales reps. Reps make it their business to land store accounts. With large retailers, “national account reps” are often the people who pitch lines to the corporate buyers. If your small business has territory reps, they may be able to call on chain buyers in their area on your behalf, or reach out to regional buyers.
Before deciding to pursue larger retail chains, research the store online. Check out the entire chain — their buyer list and contact info — and read their policies and procedures to becoming a vendor.
Each chain may require different procedures including specific instructions and requirements for purchase order and payment terms. As always, do your research FIRST before jumping into a sales arrangement with a large retailer.