5 Things Sonja Picard Learned When She Cut Back on Wholesale



The blog post I wrote on Wednesday inspired a healthy discussion on Facebook, leading Sonja Picard to share a fact about her business that has some growing appeal among others. She has abandoned trade shows and has nearly given up wholesale altogether.

“I left the wholesale model of going to the shows because they were expensive, and even after many years of doing them, I only picked up four or five stores,” she told JCK in a phone interview yesterday. “When you start crunching numbers, it was like $80,000 to get one account. I decided to stay local and work with Canadian retailers and eventually cut out consignment—another losing battle. I don’t even offer terms anymore. I now only accept cash on delivery (COD). Business is business is business, and if I lose stores, I don’t care.”

Whoa! Talk about brutally honest! Picard has absolutely turned the tables on retailers and the way much of the wholesale business is done today. And, she’s not alone. Lots of designers weighed in to the Facebook conversation—though I’d like to remind everyone that you are welcome to chat here by way of the comment section, as this is where the conversation started—saying they dropped wholesaling for the same reasons.

Now these conversations are not intended to pick on the retail community but to open dialogue about issues that affect all sides of industry. Of course there are many fabulous retailers who buy into lines—and I would love to hear from them, email me at JHeebner@jckonline.com—but there are also plenty who will take lines in on consignment only, making it difficult for those artists to pay bills. Many designers want to get into stores to build business, but there seems to be a growing movement who think similarly to Picard and have decided to woo only the end consumer. Here’s a summary of Picard’s experience and what she ultimately learned by trying out several different business models.

1. Trade shows were expensive and not producing enough business. This is her first point, and after six years of shows she decided to stop participating. “I hardly got anybody looking at the line and thought, ‘This is weird,’ ” she recollects. “All these people are coming here to present work, and no one is interested because no one knows who I am yet…you get sucked into this vortex. Sure, store owners are exhausted, but I was going into debt, and it just didn’t work out as a business model.”

2. Running a retail store was too demanding. Picard opened her own retail store, as she was the best salesperson for her line. But, like many retailers, she struggled to find good sales help, to find time to create her jewelry, and, in general, just had no time for a life outside of work. She closed her store.

3. She built up her presence on social media and started selling directly to consumers. “I sell 40 percent or more of my jewelry through Facebook and Instagram,” she says. “And because I have a strong following, I have a little weight behind my name.”

4. Picard started doing pop-ups in stores without any financial obligation to them. This is what fascinates me most: Picard reaches out to select stores and pitches them on the idea of a pop-up shop in their location and she will bring in her fans—ones acquired via social media—and in exchange the store must reciprocate on social media promotion. The store doesn’t get a dime of her sales.

“I bring anywhere from 25 to 75 customers over a three-day period,” she says. “I’m the one people are following and having conversations with clients, and I’ll bring customers into your store. There are a few stores that I give a percentage to, but why would I split it when the store doesn’t even represent my work?”

5. Picard is telling retail accounts they have to hit a certain sales quota and pay COD (no terms) in order to carry her work. “It’s not smart for me to do otherwise,” she says. “I’ve spent time, money, and effort, why should I finance stores—which is what they ask buyers to do, they are essentially asking you to give them a business loan.”

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Sonja Picard’s Instagram account brings her consumer shoppers.

In all, Picard firmly believes that pop-up sales are a good future direction. Savvy online buyers looking to connect directly with artists are making this a viable option for sales.

“There was a time when you wanted to do anything you could to get wholesale sales, but at what price?” she asks. “When do you start making money? It took me 16 years to figure that out.”

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