Getting on the Shelf—and Staying There


March’s Maker Meetup, hosted by New Deal Distillery, started with a special announcement: Director Jim Hassert, having taken on the role of CEO at maker brand betsy & iya earlier this year, is handing off his Portland Made duties to Meghan Sinnott.

Sinnott introduced herself, detailing her involvement with organizations such as Travel Portland, The Moth, Pedalpalooza, and the World Naked Bike Ride.


After announcements, the night’s presentation on wholesale sales started. Panelists for the evening included Nick Johns, Independent Dealer Account Manager at Showers Pass; Chris Chase, Founder of Otter Wax; Maya Mori, Founder of Frankie & Coco PDX; and Tom Burkleaux, Founder of New Deal Distillery. With such diverse product lines the panelists detailed very different relationships with wholesale sales, ranging from being almost entirely dependent on wholesale for liquor (Burkleaux states that roughly 80% of New Deal’s sales are through wholesale channels due to OLCC regulations) to somewhere in the middle for Frankie & Coco and Showers Pass, who both say about 65% of their sales are wholesale, to focusing almost exclusively on direct-to-consumer sales in the case of Otter Wax (Chase states his wholesale sales function as advertising for his brand).

None of the makers were shy about sharing some of their rookie mistakes. In particular, Chase noted his eagerness to sell to everyone led him to lose control of the curation of his brand. Once he was a bit more established, he was able to take a step back and assess: Did he really want to be on the shelves at “Rite Aid-esque” outlets? One way to circumvent this mistake, Mori says, is to bring along suggestions for how to merchandise your product. If the retailer is receptive to your ideas, it’s much more likely to be a good fit. If not? Probably better to move on.

Johns noted that another way Showers Pass has protected the brand is by doing away with third-party Amazon sales. They believed these sales to have  a detrimental effect on the perceived value of their product, so eliminating that line of business allowed them to re-establish their reputation as a high-quality retailer.   

In addition to protecting your brand, the panel offered another major piece of advice: Connect with the employees at retail outlets, and not just the buyers you negotiate with. How does one do this? Free product goes a long way, and Johns likes to bring along Showers Pass socks and gloves to hand out when he visits a new retail partner. Not only does this establish a more personal connection with the staff, it allows them to speak knowledgeably and honestly about your product with customers.

After the presentation, attendees were treated to complimentary cocktails, courtesy of our host for the evening, good conversation with other makers, and a tour of the stunning New Deal facility.

Join Portland Made for two events in April!

Maker Meetup, April 23, will be presented by The Good and will focus on conversion rate optimization. Also on deck, communications expert Nicholas Kessler will be leading an elevator pitch workshop on April 18, teaching makers how to better talk about themselves and their products. Learn more here.


Words by Katey Trnka

Photography by Sarah Toor