Photo Courtesy: Justin Gignac Qrapping Paper

How to sell to retail stores during the holidays

Make the most of this window

These are strange times for retail. Stores are filing for bankruptcy right before the holidays. Why would you they do that before 4th Quarter, the biggest shopping season of the year?

If you dig deeper, it’s only the big box stores.

Independent stores have a different story. Only 3% of of the stores on SKUE closed this year.

In fact, several stores increased business.

One of our favorite shops Jill Lindsey is ready to open a second location in Tribeca.

7 On Locust moved to a larger space in Marin.

Oakland Supply Co moved to a more trafficked location on Jack London Square. Their sales have doubled.

The 2016 Deloitte Survey confirms this trend. 56% of shoppers prefer one-of-a-kind selection at their local store. According the report, the unique element beats ease of buying online and dealing with delivery.

It’s clear that shoppers are moving away big box retail.

The smaller independent stores are winning because of proximity and newness.

Planning for shopping season

Shopping habits have changed beyond this shift from big mall retail.

Close to 40% Americans start holiday shopping by end of September. Thought it was Halloween but wrong, again.

“More customers walk into my store requesting giftable items starting last the week of September”, says Katie.

Shopping peaks between Thanksgiving and Dec 15th (last day to ship presents by ground shipping)

To pre-empt this wave of shoppers, most stores finish their main buying in July and August.

After August, stores switch to Holiday shopping mode.

How stores plan their buying

Wholesale is roughly split into two seasons:

Spring is when buyers are looking for a refresh. Customers want to see new stuff when we’re all looking for a fresh start and making new resolutions. I forgot what mine was.

Fall is when buyers add new assortments to existing collections. They reserve a smaller budget to try out something new.

So rule of thumb:

Spring is for introducing a new collection.

Fall is for enhancing that collection.

NY NOW in August is the last big tradeshow in fall.

Retailers reserve the rest of the season for smaller items. So capitalize on this window by offering retailers unique goods tailored for the holidays.

These items are in the mid to lower range:




Smaller gift sets of bigger items

Small home decor


Seasonal items such as cards and ornaments.


Pre-made gift sets give retailers less to think about.

The idea is to create a specialty version of products for the holidays. And goods at a reduced price for a set.

Some examples are jewelry with several pendants or charms. Soaps or candles with different holiday scents.

You can also offer best selling items that go together.

a prewrap example from Yuzu Soap

Does your product qualify for prewrap?

Here’s a checklist to see what part of your collection you should focus on.

  • Small giftable items
  • Under $50 retail if possible. ($100 for larger items)
  • 2–5 products depending on your category
  • Items fit well with packaging
  • Can see the product through the packaging (unless you leave out a sample for customers to see)
  • Picture, description, graphic used to show contents of gift

Overall the idea is to focus on best sellers.

How to Pre wrap

There are two ways to prewrap.

Create new packaging to fit with holiday gifting. That would mean a custom themed wrap or packaging which is more expensive and time consuming.


Revise your existing packaging to make a more festive holiday wrap.

“Simple ways to do this is add a gift wrap, belly band, ribbon or twine to add festive element,” says Katie.

Elements you can use for pre wrap are:

  • Tins
  • Plastic boxes with crinkle wrap
  • Custom wrapping paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tissue paper
  • Twine
  • Natural elements
  • Holiday themed designs and prints
  • Stamps
  • Gift tags

These are the foundations for getting creative with your packaging.

For example, use festive print cut cloth like a Furoshiki or tie a wreath onto the gift box.

Adding ribbon or twine and a festive hangtag or card can create a similar effect.

Custom boxes can cost a lot and have long lead times so using what you have saves time and money.

Find sources that allow lower minimums for packaging supplies. Uline and papermart are good sources.

Daiso is also a great source.

Talk to your retail accounts to see what they might want. This is a good time to reach out.

Pre wrapping your product can also refresh some of your over stock items. Adding festive elements changes the perception for retailers. They also feel like you have their best interests in mind.

Follow up: What the reps do

Since stock moves fast during the holidays, buyers need to refresh their stock. With hundreds of things to do, they forget to reorder.

So take a page out of what reps do.

Reps visit the stores they know have fast selling items. If they notice an item is low on stock, they book reorders.

If you’re local, you could do that too

Walk into the store and take a look at your inventory at the store. If you think it’s running low, it’s a great excuse to send a note to ask about a refresh.

Or if you can’t walk in, use your retail sales cycles to gauge how fast stock runs out. Then do a quick follow up.

When spring comes around, retailers will know who to turn to.

If you can get a product into a store during the holidays you are at an advantage. Your brand will be fresh in the retailers mind when Spring comes along.

Ok that’s a lot to take in.

What strategies do you use for the holidays?

This essay was written in collaboration with Katie Gaertner of Whistle during our last workshop. For full details with examples, check out this podcast

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Vinit is co-founder of SKUE, where makers sell to stores with input from the world’s best retailers.

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