Starting a business, expanding a business or changing to a different business are daunting decisions. Fear of failure, while valid of course, can often hold us back from reaching our potential. Seeing these from other people’s perspectives, especially those who have already been through it can help us make these hard decisions.
We have another store owner today to share her experience. Polly Blair owns a successful online wholesale paint business. Her story is very encouraging for business owners. She shares how she was able to take advantage of the opportunity that was in front of her and how she ended up having a successful wholesale business.
We are excited to share with you this interview from a long-time Wholesale Suite user and astute business owner. We hope you learn a lot from it!
Could you tell us about who you are, where you are located, and what your business is all about?
I’m Polly Blair, a former Interior Designer turned shop owner turned paint maker. I’m a southern gal from Tennessee who loves to create pretty and practical fun things.
I’ve done a little bit of everything in my career, and have now come full circle to discover that what I enjoy most in life, I really DID learn in kindergarten! The craftiness that is – the absolute freedom to create with no restrictions whatsoever.
My company is Blackberry House Paint and we produce non-toxic furniture and home décor paint. Our paint and accessory products are for everyone, even those who suffer from allergens like myself.
We strive to offer the very best products we can produce. I’m proud to say that our products are produced using exclusive proprietary formulas.
We started producing paint in 2012 in house to use in our store and became a full time dedicated paint company in 2013.
When did you start selling wholesale and what made you consider selling wholesale in the first place?
Around 10 years ago I decided to leave my career and delve into something where I could be free to be more creative and expressive. So, I opened a vintage and antique store.
During that time we had a need for good quality furniture paints but they weren’t available in our market. We had to drive over an hour to purchase it in a larger town, and they were very expensive.
After a few months of doing this I decided to start making my own paint. I tried every recipe offered online and wasn’t satisfied with any of them. I chucked all of those, began digging into my own resources, and eventually created a paint I was pleased with. It took 9 months!
Our initial goal was only to paint the furniture we sold in the shop. Almost immediately customers began asking if they could purchase the paint. We offered colors no one was offering at that time, and it was a huge hit. We began offering the paint in the store, and we sold out of around 400 containers a week! Then we knew we were on to something, so we began to focus more attention on that area.
In a short time, we had other store owners calling to ask if they could carry the paint – an avenue we hadn’t considered so early on. We decided to take that step, and in doing so, partnered with a factory to produce the paint. We spent three months tweaking the formula so we could offer a toxin-free, chalk free product.
Once we were all in agreement on the final formula, we began production and distribution of the first 12 colors. We focus tested our products with ten retail partners for another 9 months. Then began offering it to other shops and business owners publicly.
Word spread like wildfire and soon we had to make the decision to sell the store and continue exclusively in paint production. I often say this business found me because there was such a need for alternate paint options in our local area. During that transition, we stopped selling to the end-user and focused solely on building our wholesale relationships.
Is wholesale a big part of your overall business? How does wholesale fit into the bigger picture?
The wholesale business took over for us to the point. We had to put all focus on that area for the first 5 years. Currently, our wholesale business is around 80% of our sales.
We did finally have to build a website and start selling to retail end-users outside of the areas where we did not have retail partners. Being online pretty much forces you to have to open your doors to all customers.
Your wholesalers are always going to be your advertisers and cheerleaders for your brand. Every wholesale account you have is another avenue of advertising. That’s marketing gold you can’t refuse.
If you could wave a magic wand, what would be the thing you’d make instantly better in your wholesale paint business and why?
Oh boy…..I have so many of those “if only I had done this or that”.
For me personally, I would hire more people to perform the duties I charge myself with. I would loosen the reins of control and have more people in my circle who could manage our website daily, deal with supply chain issues, and handle all of our online marketing. And, I would hire a couple more reps to reach out to new wholesale accounts.
For others getting started, I would say, if you know you want your business to actually be a business, a primary financial provider for you, and not just a hobby, I highly encourage you to consult with an accountant and your local state agencies. Be sure you have a checklist of things you need to do before you begin.
Hire a bookkeeper YESTERDAY. They will save you so much money as you start. Their advice is priceless. Another thing is to be sure you have the working capital to start. At least enough to run your business for a few months while you build and get the kinks worked out. I cannot stress enough to be PROactive before you’re forced to be REactive.
In my case, the business grew so fast that I feel like I’m still catching up to it 8 years later and finding myself doing necessary things after the fact, so to speak.
Prepare yourself for fast growth just in case you experience it. Know what you need to do every step of the way if you grow fast. If you have to hire employees, get a payroll service immediately.
If you’ll be selling online, don’t always use the free service “just to get started” and expect that you’ll have time to upgrade if you need to. You most likely won’t have the time to make those changes if you’re growing so fast. You need them, so start with a plan built to grow with you.
Get a tech service on retainer if you aren’t tech-savvy. They are worth their weight in gold when you have issues with your site. They can offer you the best ideas for setting up your website properly from the start. You cannot over plan for the successful launch of a business.
What is a great way you’ve grown your wholesale paint business that you could share and recommend to others?
Since we’re in a very competitive business, we’ve had to be a little creative in reaching out to wholesale prospects. It seems everyone in our industry has paint, so finding the ones who don’t already have it in their shops takes more effort.
One thing we do that’s very successful is using our retail end-user customers as a means of advertising. When we receive a retail order online that comes from an area where we do not currently have a retail partner, we put a postcard in their order encouraging them to tell their favorite store about us in hopes they may be interested.
We offer them the chance to give us the name of their local store in case they prefer us to contact them, but it always better to hear it from a paying customer. We’ve gotten several new wholesale accounts this way.
Another thing we do is have a rep go through local guides calling shops to see if they have paint, and what brand. If they don’t carry ours, then the rep introduces it to them and sends them samples. With everyone marketing in the same manner these days, you have to be creative in a way specific to your industry.
If you offer a wholesale program, make it clear on your website. Have an FAQs section about partnering with your company, and have an application they can fill out online. Make it easy for them to access you. I have a lot of industry peers who also sell through programs such as Faire, Abound, etc. For makers, these sites connect you with buyers, so that’s another avenue for gaining new accounts.
If you had to start it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would hire a bookkeeper first, and a CPA to guide me through setting up a business. Then hire a tech person to build my website and make sure it was stocked with plug-ins that would grow with the business. I would put an email marketing campaign in place immediately. Start building interest in my product and start sending out samples to influencers much sooner.
I wouldn’t waste time second-guessing and researching every decision so thoroughly. I would just get moving and follow my gut.
I’d set up my business pages on relevant social media outlets before I launched. Be sure to include Google My Business (a huge referral to my website).
I would hire any help I could afford and start training them in every aspect of the business. You need someone to stand in your stead if you ever need it, and you will need it. Don’t be the only person in your company with all the knowledge. It restricts you more than you know.
What’s in store for Polly Blair & Blackberry House Paint for the rest of the year?
Our next move is start a subscription box. We’re putting together all of the details and are excited to get going on it. I won’t give too much info now because I don’t want to spill the beans about what it’s going to be!
We’re also getting ready to start adding outside partners to our affiliate program. I hope it increases marketing for our brand by noticeable marks.