Kate Morrow is the owner and founder of Resurrect in Oakland, California. They’ve been open for seven years and stock clothing, accessories, jewelry, gifts, and apothecary. All of their goods are ethically made in either the U.S. or with Fair Trade principles at the forefront of their business model. We sat down with her and asked her to explain how she decides what to stock.
R: What inspired you to start the store?
K: Opening a store that supported artists and designers was a dream of mine since I was really young. I went to college and got a degree in fashion merchandising, and then I worked for a consignment clothing store from the bottom up for several years to gain experience.
I started as a part-time sales assistant and moved all the way up to an area manager, managing 6 stores. So I trained hundreds of employees, learned how to buy for the public, and saved up money to open my own store. I am also a clothing designer and maker myself and have been sewing since I was very young.
R: Do you feel like that experience gave you a leg up on how to have your own store?
K: Definitely. I worked in retail for a long time, and I think having experience is the key to success.
R: How often do you get new products?
K: We are constantly looking, and I’m always adding new inventory to the shop. Since we’re in California, we really only have two seasons, so two to three times a year, we change over our entire inventory. But we’re also getting in new things weekly, so deciding what to stock is a big part of my job.
R: How do you look at a product and make your judgment on it?
K: I definitely have a certain aesthetic that I look for, as well as a price range. But for me, it’s a little bit more difficult because I look for products that are ethically made by more small-time brands.
Also, it kind of depends on the area, new vendors email us all the time about apothecary items. But I have a pretty small space for them, so I’m selective.
It’s got to be made with natural ingredients, smell great, but then also the label should look really exciting and interesting. I feel like there are so many products out there right now with plain white labels that are super boring.
Even if it’s a great product, if the label isn’t eye-catching, I don’t know if it’s going to sell well.
R: So was the decision to work with smaller, US-based makers an ethical decision, a business decision, or both?
K: I’m really passionate about it. I think if you can keep money within your local community or other artists and designers that care about what they are making then that’s really great. Also, I feel like Amazon is starting to take over the world, and I think supporting other makers and keeping money in that community is really important.
R: Do you feel that choice gives you a business edge, especially being based in the Bay Area, or do you feel like you’d have more success if you were more price-focused?
K: You can definitely make more money selling a bunch of cheap crap from overseas, but that’s not what I’m all about.
I do think people in the Bay Area appreciate Resurrect’s store concept, and I don’t know if I could have this store other places. So I do think that people appreciate it and shop with us for that reason, but I also think that you have to carry great items at accessible prices when you decide to stock indie makers.
R: What’s the relationship like between you and your artists?
K: Since our products are handmade, before we decide what to stock, we take time to learn about each artist and their process. Many of the artists/designers we work with I consider friends. Our customers are really interested in where and how our inventory is made and want to know about our artists and products we carry.
R: There are a lot of artists and makers that are starting out, but don’t have any business experience. What would you say are the minimum business requirements people should know before they’re ready to pitch to you?
K: I’d suggest making a line sheet. That’s really helpful. It has pictures of your products, your retail prices, minimums, and what your wholesale price would be. Sometimes people will come to me, and they don’t have that quite figured out.
Also, I like to see some sort of basic website. Even if it’s an Etsy site or even an Instagram account.
R: Are there any absolute red flags, where you’re just like, no way. Whether it’s entrepreneur personality, business experience, or the product itself.
K: I would say flakiness. I’ve had some people that contact me and say, ‘I’d love to get my product in the store,’ and I say, ‘Okay, that seems like a great fit.’ And then I don’t hear from them for like six months, and they contact me again with the same story.
So I think if you’re going to contact retailers, be ready to go.
R: What are all the ways that you get introduced to new products? Do you find they’re coming to you, or do you go out and look for them as well?
K: It’s a little bit of everything when I’m deciding what to stock. I go to some local art events, the art murmur, farmers markets, and when I’m traveling sometimes I’ll pick up new artists. A lot of customers give us great suggestions about some of their favorite designers.
I also go to Magic twice a year, which is a huge trade show that people from all over the world attend. Within that trade show, there is a show called Pool. That’s my main focus because it has smaller artists and designers.
At the shows, I find new vendors, and I can see the spring and fall lines of the vendors I already stock, and order there in person.
I also find a lot of great new designers on Instagram, as well as different wholesale portals.
R: When you’re looking at Instagram, do you have a minimum number of followers or posts that you want to see, or is it just the products?
K: It’s really about the products, you know Instagram is so wacky right now with the algorithm. I think there are a lot of great people out there that don’t have a lot of followers, and then a lot of people that don’t have that great of products and they have thousands and thousands of followers.
So to me, I’m not that stuck on how many followers you have, as long as you have something I think my customers will love.
R: Do you have any exclusivity rules for your makers?
K: I just have a rule that artists/designers can’t sell their products in my shop’s neighborhood, which is called Piedmont Avenue.
Some store owners have a five-mile radius, but I don’t have anything like that. I also do try to find products that are not in every shop in Oakland.
R: What’s your favorite and least favorite part of buying products?
K: I really do enjoy buying and deciding what to stock, but my least favorite would be just making decisions on large orders. When you have a small store like mine, you have a much smaller budget to work with.
Even if I don’t end up ordering anything, it’s fun to see people’s brands that are out there and sometimes I can refer designers to other local stores where their products may be a better fit. I want us to all help each other out.
R: Do you feel like at this point you pretty much know how a product is going to do, or are there still surprises?
K: I usually know how well the product will do. I would say after seven years, I have a good feel of what my customers want and what they are willing to pay. So yeah, I would feel like there’s not a lot of surprises.
R: What are the things that your customers want the most?
K: I sell a lot of jewelry, T-shirts, and dresses. Those are my biggest sellers.
R: Is there any advice you have for makers?
K: Definitely have a wide array of products. Sometimes people start off and they just have one or two things to offer, like with jewelry, for example. But it’s nice to have a larger collection to choose from when I’m deciding what to stock.
Also, you don’t want to have a minimum that’s too high, especially with certain products. That’s one thing that comes up at times when I find a product I want to try out, but there’s a $500 minimum. I’m probably not going to buy $500 worth of candles the first time I buy them. It really helps if there are fair minimums for smaller retailers.
If you’re selling something that requires a lot of shipping, be really upfront with your shipping policies. I’ve gotten burned with that before with ceramics. I didn’t realize it was going to cost that much to ship them from the Midwest, and basically, it wasn’t worth it for me.
I’d also say be cautious about pitching your products by coming into the store. Sometimes we’re pretty busy, and I mostly just work on the weekends because I have a baby.
New vendors come in and want to show me their products right there, which is not always ideal timing as we have a busy store. I prefer getting an email. I don’t want to suggest never coming in, because sometimes that is how you can get people’s attention, but send an email first.
Just keep in mind the people are running a store, so calling too much and/or coming in to discuss your products may be more of a hindrance.
I would suggest sending one email that introduces yourself, your products, and attaching your line sheet. And then if you don’t hear back send one follow up email after a few days to a week of your first. If you haven’t heard from the buyer, then it’s probably not a good fit.
Of course, I’m just talking for myself and every buyer and company is different. I do try to get back to everybody that emails, but you really do get contacted by a ton of vendors.
R: Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.
K: No problem! Good luck to all the makers out there.