Note: The Specialty Shop Retailing blog has been weekly (more or less) for over 15 years. I’ve recently been considering changing it to biweekly, but instead decided to alternate new posts with some of my favorites from the 750 already online. I’ll update them whenever necessary, of course. Do you have a topic you like to see covered? Please drop me a note at [email protected]. And now, on to today’s post:

One of the top factors in choosing a line of merchandise may be that old retail adage usually applied to leasing: location, location, location. The cost of freight is of course one of the considerations in giving preference to a supplier that is not located on the other side of the country, but another major advantage of buying from a local vendor is being able to provide merchandise that differentiates your store from the big box and online retailers we all compete with.

Consumers are looking for locally produced merchandise, and in fact at one time Canadian-made goods ranked #2 in a survey of what Canadian retailers were seeking. If you can narrow your focus down from the national level of Made in Canada or Made in the U.S. to merchandise from your region, you will make your store even more unique.

Where do you find locally made goods? For a start, you should attend a gift show in your area in addition to any national show. Let your sales reps know that you are focusing on goods made in your region, and ask what they’d suggest. We also find it worthwhile to go to local arts shows, farmers’ markets and crafts shows to look for merchandise. If you buy from Faire, you can do a search under your state’s name.

If may find potential vendors who are not used to selling wholesale, some education may be necessary. Be sure that they agree to sell you their merchandise at a price that will allow you to set a retail price the same as what the artisan is selling it for. We often meet with a craftsperson willing to work on developing some products made for us exclusively. Cards, jewelry and soap are examples of items that can be made in small quantities so that we can say they are only available through our store.

Be sure to have signage available drawing customers’ attention to your regional goods. We have a variety of shelf-talkers that start with “Made in the U.S.A.,” then “Made in the Midwest,” “Made in Wisconsin,” and finally get down to “Made in Madison.” Both visitors and residents appreciate finding goods that are unique to our store, and also being able to do good by helping to support our local economy.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder