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Selling your T-shirts to Retail Stores – A Complete Guide

Do you run a clothing line or T-shirt printing business and you want to get your clothes in stores/boutiques? If YES, here is a complete guide to selling your T-shirts to retail stores.

Have you been able to design t-shirts so beautifully unique and original, far from what is obtainable in the markets today, but you have no idea of how to market them? Having provided you with a:

  1. T-Shirt Printing Industry Overview
  2. Market Research and Feasibility
  3. T-Shirt Printing Business Plan
  4. T-Shirt Printing Marketing Plan
  5. T-Shirt Printing Name ideas
  6. T-Shirt Printing Licenses and Permits
  7. Cost of Starting a T-Shirt Printing Business
  8. T-Shirt Printing Marketing ideas

We will consider what it takes to sell your T-Shirts to clothing retail stores or boutiques.

For almost all designers, their ultimate joy is to walk into a mall or one of the well-known departmental stores and see their clothing on the racks. This is also very achievable for a startup. Now the question is, how does one go about that?

If you happen to come across any successful brand owner and ask them about the secret of their success, they really wouldn’t have anything to say because it is not like there is a magic formula that automatically gets your products into the stores.

What they will tell you is that you need to persevere, do not be dissuaded by rejection, and see every turn down as another step closer to the store perfect for your brand. Also be capable of manufacturing t-shirts in large quantities because retail stores don’t stock in small amounts.

If you believe that your product has what it takes to be on clothing racks in malls, here are some key tips to get you there.

10 Guaranteed Tips for Selling your T-shirts to Retail Stores

  1. Be Proven

Let your past sales speak for you. Retail stores are looking to stock up on t-shirt brands that already have a reputation for selling out and also have a budding fan base. If you lack a proper sales history and you only have samples of your t-shirts, you would have to prove that your brand is worth being put in stores. It is like a model trying to land a job at Milan fashion week when she can’t even nail editorials for her hometown’s local magazine.

You can prove yourself by following these tips:

  • Sell within your personal network-: Being able to get feedbacks so you can amend your t-shirts is an essential part of the preliminary market research. It is always good to have productive customer reviews and a sales history when approaching stores. Set up a table at a local event or a summer show, approach family and friends, sell to individuals and get reviews on your brand.
  • Set up a Catalog-: Invest in a good photographer. Human beings are highly visual, hence if you go to a mall to pass out catalogs of your brand and the picture quality is grainy or blurred, it will fail to grab the interest of whoever is viewing the image. A good quality image can make your product sell itself. Your catalog should include models wearing all styles of your t-shirts. This allows retail stores and potential buyers to have a sense of the fit of the t-shirts and what your target demographic is.
  • Give shirts to influential people-: Market yourself and see if you can get a couple of celebrities (local or if you have the reach, national) to wear your t-shirts and give your brand some exposure. Gain their permission to include photos of them wearing your t-shirt into your catalog. This will boost your brands marketing capabilities and credentials which would let retail stores know how serious you are with your business.

2. Be retail-ready

An essential part of a retail store is their packaging, and if you plan on getting your brand in retail stores, you equally need to have your packaging set up right. This includes customized bags, shirt tags and the likes. Paying attention to every detail no matter how minuscule might be just what sets you apart from the crowd.

3. Have a line sheet or look book

A lookbook is a collection of photos of your t-shirts worn by models in different ways. This shows off the diversity of your clothes. While a line sheet is a PDF file that has your brand’s collection and information such as product size, color, names, specification, item number, pricing and other unique details about your product.

4. Do your homework

Get as much information on the stores you want your product to be in. Ensure that your product is not out of place with other products if it will be displayed in the retail store. Know the buyers. Inquire about whom makes the purchases for the store and set up an appointment where you get to give them your samples.

5. Talk to other brands who have made it

One way to avoid mistakes is to learn from the experiences of others. Go into the stores you want your brand to be in and create a list of all the brands that the store carries. Proceed to do your research on those brands; find out who is in charge of their operations, know how long they have been in business.

Set up an appointment and introduce yourself to them and possibly get an interview where you would be able to ask them specific and knowledgeable questions about their experiences. If digging up contacts or any information about the brand seems impossible, the chances are that the brand is simply a subsidiary of the store carrying the products.

6. Go to trade shows

Trade shows are good networking arenas. You get an opportunity to meet brand owners, retail buyers and consumers at these events. It also gives you a feel of what styles are trending in the present season. Part of your long term goal should be eventually having your booth at these shows.

7. Hire a sales representative

Having someone who has experience selling clothes to retailers on your payroll makes things easier for you since they have done it for some time and it is their area of specialty. They possess the contacts that brand owners want but can’t seem to lay their hands on and also have good relationships with retail stores.

8. Bring samples

Before purchasing a product, sales representatives, retailers and customers alike would want to see the product and get a feel of it. Always bring samples along to every appointment concerning your brand, that way they get to view the product for themselves and see how much time and effort you put into ensuring all details of your product are perfect.

9. Be professional yet personable

Passion and conviction; these two things are very essential for marketing your brand. Buyers like individuals who are passionate and sure about their products. They enjoy creating working relationships with people they are comfortable with, individuals they feel are trustworthy and dependable. You as a brand owner need to be able to sell your products with strong conviction and if you feel unable to deliver that, hire a sales rep.

10. Be persistent and follow up

Don’t go contacting every store in town and expect to get an immediate response. Keep in mind that thousands of people are trying to achieve the same thing you are. But this shouldn’t be a reason for you to give up, instead create a list of all the stores you have contacted and when you would likely need to follow up. Remember that there is a fine line between persistent and annoying, your aim is to sell your products not make retail stores blacklist you. In this business, if a retail store tells you NO, chances are slim to none that they will change their mind so don’t push it because your reputation is everything.

3 Alternative Places to Sell your T-shirts Apart from Retail Stores

a. Sell at Local Boutiques and consignment shops

Stop by your local boutique and ask if they would be willing to carry your brand on consignment. Sit with them and set up terms but keep in mind that you only get paid if the shirt sells. With that, the shop gets to keep a small percentage, and this would give you the experience of selling in a shop.

If your t-shirts don’t sell as much as you would have liked them to, just view it as a marketing experience for your brand. It will allow you be able to make market research and find the store that caters to the same customers your brand speaks to. On the other hand, if your t-shirts do tremendously great at local stores it might be time to move on to bigger stores.

b. Sell at National chains and Department stores

If you want to sell your t-shirts at chain stores like Journey’s, Hot Topic, Urban Outfitters or Sears you need to be in contact with their sales representatives. These guys are always at trade shows, scouting for the next hot product. However, sometimes you don’t have to go looking for them since they will come to you but this only happens if you have a large following already. The sales representatives would get to be informed about you through word of mouth. It happens a lot as long as your product is in line with what the stores are planning to build on or have in stock.

c. Working with Distributors

Working with a team of distributors enhances your reach capability. For instance, places you might not have access to on your own can easily become accessible through your distributors. Distributors also grant you more exposure and help you in the manufacturing of your t-shirts.

A distribution deal can be likened to signing an endorsement deal with Pepsi, everybody knows Pepsi, and soon enough everyone would associate your face with Pepsi. Remember that the same way you are trying to make money, the distributors are also looking to make a profit and some might have an “you need me more than I need you” mindset and try to take advantage of your brand. The ideal thing to do is to go through the contract the distributor would give you in detail and if you find anything that doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to address it.

A reasonable distribution firm would be willing to compromise and settle on a deal that is beneficial for both parties. If they aren’t willing to compromise, do not worry about missing out on a deal that might bring you more exposure but leave your bank statement in the red, instead of bringing you profit. There are other distributors out there, and one would be the right fit for you and your brand.

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