FORTUNE Small Business:

Get your clothing line into gift shops

A designer checks in with Ask FSB for tips on cracking the hospital gift shops market.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I have created a line of clothing that spreads a positive message of love, encouragement and manifesting one's destiny. I would love to have this clothing offered in hospital and school gift shops. Also, I believe that they would be very uplifting and perfect for charities and other groups that cater to those with illnesses or the less fortunate. Please tell me where I should start. What's the most efficient way to present a product to these buyers? Do I have to approach them one by one?

- Harold Ryan Pierce,

Dear Harold: Approaching potential shops and organizations one by one is definitely not the most efficient way to go, according to Linda Williams, president of Endicott, N.Y.-based Advantage Program/Williams Associates, a retail consulting service specializing in healthcare gift shops.

"Unfortunately, there's not a 'clearinghouse' for hospital stores," she says. "Find trade shows where you can connect with as many people as possible. Plus, a lot of hospitals have state organizations, and schools and hospitals have educational conferences with vendor fairs where you can rent a table."

Williams also suggests researching companies that own several outlets, such as Dallas-based Lori's Hallmark, the nation's largest chain of hospital gift shops.

One trade show you might not want to miss is run by CBA: The Association for Christian Retail, based in Colorado Springs. "The International Christian Retail Show has more than 2,000 stores exhibiting," says Nancy Guthrie, the organization's public relations specialist. This year's show will be held in Orlando in July.

Another strategy would be to hire an independent rep, suggests Tony Calderone, former national sales manager for Russell Athletic, who now counsels entrepreneurs through the SCORE program of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Huntington Beach, Calif.

"It might sound crazy, but when you're starting out you want to find a rep who has goods that are competitive with yours," he says. "That way, you know that rep has an entre into the stores where you're looking to sell. You can piggyback on their existing lines. Find someone who has, in their 'bag of tricks,' lines that would be carried in stores you'd like to approach." To top of page

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