The Secret to Winning Over Retail Partners: A Guide for Artist Shop Owners

For Artist Shop owners looking to elevate their designs and presence in the retail space, the journey might seem daunting. However, with the right strategies and some patience, this venture could unlock additional revenue streams for your brand. (Plus, seeing your art in popular stores and online catalogs is an incredible feeling!) As a part of the Threadless community, you’re already surrounded by resources and opportunities to expand your horizons. Let’s explore how you can make the most of them with seven tips for winning over our retail partners.

What Winning Over Retail Partners Could Look Like
Can you imagine your original designs displayed in your favorite stores? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

1. Know What Makes You Unique

In a world teeming with artists and creatives, what makes your designs stand out? Think of your Artist Shop as your portfolio for retailers and follow these practices to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

✓ Have a Strong Point of View (POV): Every design tells a story, and yours should echo your unique voice and perspective. This not only sets your work apart, but also resonates with a specific audience that our retail partners may want to target.

✓ Be Consistent: While experimenting is crucial, maintaining a consistent style allows your audience to recognize and connect with your brand effortlessly. Also, don’t forget that your Artist Shop is fully customizable! Incorporate similar design elements and colors in your shop logo, cover photo, and homepage so retailers can fully experience the spirit of your brand.

Steven Rhodes Artist Shop
One of the most classic examples of a Threadless artist who developed their own unique, instantly recognizable style is Australian designer Steven Rhodes. His vintage-style illustrations reimagine old children’s activity books in hilarious and nightmarish ways, making them popular among fans of horror, offbeat humor, and the occult.

2. Follow Retail Trends

The ebb and flow of retail are dictated by trends. By staying updated and actively engaging with the zeitgeist, your designs can remain both fresh and in demand.

✓ Stay Updated with Threadless: We do the homework so you don’t have to! Keep an eye on our social media platforms and newsletters. We regularly spotlight upcoming trends, successful design elements, and consumer preferences.

View this profile on Instagram

Threadless (@threadless) • Instagram photos and videos

✓ Go Offline: Digital insights can get you far, but there’s irreplaceable value in physically visiting local stores. Examine the aesthetics and notice the patterns and colors gaining traction. Physical stores often provide tangible insights into what’s trending.

✓ Participate in Threadless Design Challenges: These aren’t just competitions—they’re learning experiences. By participating in challenges, especially in the licensed ones, you get a clear idea of what themes and styles are gaining popularity. Plus, it’s an excellent platform for feedback and exposure.

Winning Over Retail Partners - TMNT Licensed Design Challenge
Here’s an example of a recent licensed Design Challenge presented by our friends at BoxLunch. This challenge called for artists to create new designs inspired by the classic version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

✓ Celebrate Seasonal Moments: Every season or observance presents an opportunity. Whether it’s festive holidays, Mental Health Awareness Month, Pride, or even niche observances, there’s potential to design something special. But remember: it’s essential to approach these moments with genuine respect and authenticity. Your audience can discern genuine enthusiasm from mere opportunism.

3. Retailers Love Options

Variety is the spice of life (and retail). Upload a plethora of content, experiment with different designs, and regularly refresh your portfolio.

✓ Increase Your Discoverability: Regularly uploading and publishing new designs to your Artist Shop is one of the fundamental steps to growing your merch brand and becoming more visible in the Threadless marketplace (if your designs are selected). This not only increases your visibility to our customers but also to our retail partners, naturally leading to more sales.

✓ Give Retailers More Options: If a retailer is interested in carrying your designs, they’re more likely to do so if you have a wide variety of designs to choose from. This enables them to promote you as an artist with a cohesive collection that appeals to their customers and expands over time with new releases.

✓ Have at Least 12 Designs in Your Shop with a Cohesive Style: This is the minimum number of designs our partners require to create an artist-specific full-on branded collection.

4. Share Your Story

The narrative behind your artistry isn’t just about where you’ve been, but also where you plan to go. Let your audience in on your journey with a detailed About Page for your Artist Shop. It adds depth to your brand and creates a personal connection that may resonate with retailers and their customers.

✓ Narrate Your Evolution: Describe your growth as an artist, how your style has matured, and the experiences that shaped it. Our retail partners might find inspiration in your journey.

I Heart Guts About Page
Visit I Heart Guts to read a great example of an About Page that explains the brand’s concept and origins. Their bio is inspiring and humanizes their brand, which helps in winning over retail partners.

✓ Share What Drives You: Whether it’s nature, urban life, personal experiences, or social issues—let people know what fuels your creativity.

✓ Add a Personal Touch: Maybe you sketch at dawn with a coffee at hand, or perhaps you’ve converted your garage into a studio. Little anecdotes make you relatable and memorable.

5. Enroll in Threadless’s Earn More Program

Through our partnerships with third-party retailers and licensors, our Earn More Program can connect you to an array of distribution opportunities outside of your own Artist Shop and the Threadless marketplace. If you’re selected and approved for the program, it could help you significantly grow your earning potential and build your rapport with retail partners.

✓ Offline and Online Retail Opportunities: If your shop is selected, our list of retail partners—including Target, Hot Topic, Spencer’s, Kohls, Tillys, and more—may add your designs to their online virtual catalogs for print-on-demand manufacturing. There’s also a possibility your designs could be sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

Earn More - Offline Retail Opportunities
Here are just a few examples of offline opportunities our retail partners have been able to offer Artist Shop owners in the past. Our list of retail partners continues to evolve and grow.

✓ Licensing Opportunities: Through our recent partnership with the digital IP licensing platform Spaceport, your selected designs could appear in digital worlds and metaverse platforms worldwide. That includes digital ecosystems such as Roblox, Fortnite, and Unity. Our longtime licensing partners may also select your designs for use on real-world products like drinkware, greeting cards, digital goods, and stationary.

Visit your Artist Dashboard to apply for the Earn More Program.

6. Engage with Fans and Share

Building a loyal fanbase is integral to winning over retail partners. Engage with your followers through social media, share behind-the-scenes content, and keep the conversation flowing. This creates a community that’s passionate about your brand, and helps to prove your commercial viability.

✓ Social Media Interactions: Reply to comments, conduct polls, and even host Q&A sessions. It makes followers feel valued.

✓ Behind-the-Scenes: Showcase your creative process. Time-lapse videos of your design creation or photos of your workspace can intrigue and connect with your audience on a deeper level.

✓ Share Milestones: Celebrate your achievements, big or small, with your followers. It not only showcases growth but also builds a community that rejoices in your success.

7. Be Patient

The retail timeline can be longer than you might expect. While it’s exciting to want immediate results, remember that building a solid retail presence requires time and persistence. While instant success is a dream many of us share, the retail world often has its own pace.

✓ Quality Over Speed: Instead of rushing to churn out designs, focus on creating high-quality, timeless pieces that resonate for years.

✓ Stay Committed: Every artist faces ebbs and flows. Commitment and perseverance are key. Remember, every design, interaction, and feedback is a stepping stone to your retail success.

Getting your designs into brick-and-mortar stores and your favorite online catalogs is a journey of passion, patience, and persistence. By staying unique, engaging with trends, and utilizing the vast resources at Threadless, you’ll increase your chances of winning over retail partners while growing your earning potential in the process. If you’re interested in having your designs featured in the retail space, read more about our Earn More Program.

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