How Retailers Buy

Vendor Tips with Skue

OK, Google. How do museum stores buy…? If your goal is to confuse complex machine algorithms, ask this question. Independent retailers rarely have a formula for buying, the most you’ll likely hear is “we look for things that are unique and different.” Not much help is it?

But let’s see how close we can get to what guides their choices.

We teamed up with our friends at Renegade Craft to dig deep into the minds of our favorite retailers in San Francisco. Matt Bissinger of Maker and Moss and Shane Salvata, buyer for SF MOMA. We also requested feedback from some of our top rated retailers on our wholesale platform SKUE.

First, the top-line stuff
Shane Salvata a buyer for jewelry and accessories for SF MOMA talks about the top three things she prioritizes when sourcing product.

Three things. Contemporary. Under $1000. And exclusives. Museum stores are notorious for setting trends for stores around the country so we’re keen to learn more about what influences Shane’s tastes. Maybe in a post to come.

Let’s dig deeper

Matt Bissinger, owner of Maker and Moss, a Hayes Valley store that sells hand crafted furniture, home decor, and ceramics believes that his taste has expanded over the years. And so has his willingness to take more risks.

The one thing he looks for across the board while buying is designers with consistency and longevity.

While sourcing on SKUE, Matt needs to know that makers have enough products in their collection. If it’s a one off piece, slim chance for getting on his radar, no matter how good it is.

Personal Preferences

Once you get past the first few filters, we encounter the next line of defense: personal preferences. Now we’re at product level and things start to get really interesting.

Let’s look at the Palatine Ring by Oru posted for feedback on SKUE. A handful of retailers shared their thoughts.

“I love the way you styled the photo by wearing two rings back to back, one of each metal. I would want that look and therefore buy two!” says Erica Skone-Rees of Rare Bird, an eclectic store in Oakland with a western, bohemian edge.

Sylvia Parker of Upper West Side boutique Magpie was taken by a different feature.

“Really unusual — love the process and delicate detailing,” says Sylvia.

Katie Gaertner’s of Inner Sunset store Whistle shares her reason for liking this piece by Brooklyn jeweler Sweet Hyena.


“Nice variety of mixed metals. I always like when designers offer unisex items as they can add to the overall appeal and offer an opportunity to sell more,” says Katie.

Now you know, if you want to get sourced at Whistle, unisex appeal will improve your chances.

And Finally, Subjectivity

Once you get past the basic criteria, things get subjective and frankly, beyond a designer’s control. One element of a product that appeals to one store may not fancy another buyer.

Take this Alentejo Planter by Newd Elements, a designer with a focus on upcycling and sustainability.

“I like the idea of upcycling cork,” says Lily Chau of Mission Store Acacia. The band of color round the top edge and the muted shades are nice.”

“While I understand that the cork pieces are from wine bottle stoppers and that’s part of their signature and provenance, I wish that the cork did not have the markings, because it makes the vessel look busy.”


A buyer across the street may LOVE the markings, but may not be into color bands, or a particular shade.

You can broaden the appeal with variants. You also have the choice of creating a special collection with the store of your choice. But at some point you have to keep those fingers crossed.

This is why the life of an emerging designer is both challenging and exciting. And why established people like Tom Dixon prefer to be called up and coming designers.

Always changing, always trying new things, always knowing that everything isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

In our next post, Lily Chau will elaborate on her approach to product development and how designers can plan for different audiences and price points. Stay tuned!

Vinit is co-founder of SKUE, a wholesale marketplace for premium handmade goods co-created with retail experts.


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