Being a Retailer
While some companies are able to do both retailing and wholesaling, it is actually hard to start that way. Usually you will want to choose whether to do wholesale or retail, and there are fundamental benefits and challenges of being one or the other.
As a retailer, you are one of the many faces of fair trade directly interacting with the public. The interaction you will have with people is far greater than that of wholesalers or third party organization (like TransFair USA), and it is important to use this face-time efficiently to introduce people to fair trade. You can also educate people about the benefits of fair trade, and make them feel good about their purchase.
This added face-time you have with the community also makes it easy to organize events with schools, churches or other groups of people. If you do a good PR job, the community will respect and appreciate your store because of your sustainable image.
Who do you buy from?
There are various routes you can take when deciding who to buy products from. However, it can be narrowed down to buying from producers or buying from fair trade wholesalers.
If you decide to buy from producers, you have to invest time into finding an individual or a group of artisans/farmers. You must also know how to communicate with them, travel to where they are, and invest in a positive relationship with them. You should also help them achieve sustainable development, and maybe even finance some projects that will help them achieve these development goals. The Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization can help you find artisan groups. TransFair USA can help you find farmers.
Because of the amount of time and resources that go into working directly with producers, many retailers opt to buy from wholesalers who already invest in producer groups. If you choose to go this way, you must make sure the wholesalers are committed to Fair Trade practices. Again, the Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization can help you find approved crafts wholesalers, while TransFair USA can help you find wholesalers of agricultural products.
Once you decide to be a retailer and decide who to buy from, you will then need to know who your target market is. This will help you decide what kind of products to carry.
Generally, the groups of people that buy fair trade are middle-aged women, college students, well-traveled people, “enlightened” people who do Yoga or Meditation, religious people and educated/intellectual individuals. All of these fall under the category of “conscious consumers”, since they are aware that by choosing to buy Fair Trade they are leading a sustainable lifestyle and making a difference in the lives of many people.
As a retailer, you can see your markets’ tastes, ask for their opinions, and get a good idea of what the conscious consumers are needing or wanting. You should relay this information back to your wholesalers, who can then work with the producers to provide what the market is asking for.
A challenge of being a Fair Trade retailer is that many of the items you might want to carry may not have sustainable alternatives. You will have to do extensive research to get good-quality products at reasonable prices, that also serve a purpose in the lives of your customers. Fortunately, many fair trade producers and wholesalers are realizing the need for functional products, and are trying their best to introduce them to the market. As a retailer, you can offer great insight/market information to wholesalers so they can provide you with the best products for your market.
In addition, sometimes products are not consistent (since many are handmade), and you have to be able to explain this to customers. Sometimes you might be carrying products that are from a new artisan group, and you must take the risk to see if the quality holds or if your customers will be interested in them.
A third “challenge” is to help the Fair Trade industry grow. Your face time with customers is very important, since you can teach them about fair trade and encourage them to look for ethical alternatives to meet their needs. Moreover, you should be open to attend or participate at Fair Trade fairs from student groups or churches, be available to teach young children about fair trade, and in general encourage your community to start using green and fair trade products.
Finally, a big challenge when starting a retail business is financing. Many fair trade businesses are self-financed. Nevertheless, there are options. This is better explained in this Fair Trade Federation Financing Page.