How Determination and Relationship Building Led to Hazelmade’s Wholesale and Retail Success
When Susan Hazel Rich started her brand, Hazelmade, she didn’t have much more other than a desire to create something that was her own. With no outside investment, Susan slowly built the business, first selling greeting cards and eventually expanding into home goods. A few years and a lot of hard work later, Susan had made Hazelmade such a success it became her full-time job.
Hazelmade’s products are all designed by Susan from her studio in Kent, Ohio. The items are proudly Midwest made from USA sourced materials. Using bright colors and floral designs, Susan puts modern twists on classic themes, making her products a wonderful addition to any home.
Hazelmade products are currently available in over 400 stores across the United States and United Kingdom. If you’re interested in buying Hazelmade products wholesale, check out their Handshake profile.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Handshake: I would love to hear about Hazelmade and why you decided to start a business.
Susan: So Hazelmade is about to turn eight years old next year, and it started as a transition. My background is in graphic design. After I graduated from college; I worked for some agencies, different design firms, and publishing companies, and the sort. And then, I started my own design company, creating logos and branding, mostly for design clients. I did that for about eight years, and then I wanted to create something that was my own, so I started creating illustrations on the side. I’m almost entirely self-taught with illustrations, but obviously, an extensive design background helped. I built Hazelmade slowly with all my own time and money and hard work, and about three years ago, Hazelmade became my full-time job.
Hazelmade was about creating a space where I was comfortable expressing myself creatively, creating work that I was interested in, and just creating items that are for your home and about connecting with other people.
Handshake: What did Hazelmade look like in the beginning?
Susan: It started with the greeting cards. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I started just drawing black and white outlines. I would scan them and print them on cards with my own little printer in my office, and then I hand-colored them.
When I started, I had never heard of wholesale. I didn’t understand where this was going. I never made a business plan. I did everything wrong [laughs]. But a woman saw the cards – she owned a shop – she said, “Come by, and I would like to place a wholesale order.” I really didn’t know what that meant, so I showed up with a box of these hand-colored, unpackaged cards, and she was like, “This is not how you do this.” She gave me some tips, and I went home and got it together, and she placed my first wholesale order and it grew from there.
Handshake: What does Hazelmade’s offerings look like now?
Susan: So just last year, I started creating these design collections that feature similar design motifs and colors. That’s been a new pivot point for Hazelmade; it’s been really popular.
As far as the specific products, tea towels are my number one best selling product, followed by my little note sets which are small enclosure sized flat cards. And then I also do notepads, pocket notebooks, tote bags, zip pouches, art prints, and then greeting cards as single and box sets.
Handshake: So after that first wholesale deal that you sort of stumbled into, did you decide to do more wholesale, or was it more slow and progressive than that?
Susan: It was really slow. The first five years of Hazelmade, I did wholesale the good old-fashioned way. I would go on the internet; I would find stores through Googling, I would look through their website to see if my work was a good fit for their shop, handwrite a note, and send a catalog out. The return was really small because these stores get so much information, and a lot of their connections are found in these trade shows like NY NOW.
Looking at the numbers, I am just impressed that I kept going. Everything was so time-consuming, and it felt so out of reach, and I just felt like I didn’t know, but I just kept working hard, and I learned. Finally, in year five, I had established maybe 80 stores that I had built all on my own, which is completely incredible, considering how I was doing it. And then I went to the National Stationery Show and then that just completely launched me, it changed overnight. I’ve come a long way. I’m in, I think, 400 stores nationwide and in the UK now.
What I think’s been interesting about this pandemic is it’s forced us to kind of reconsider. I love going to NY NOW, I love it. [With the pandemic] everyone had to kind of pivot – even Shopify coming out with Handshake, even those shows have gone digital. It’s just been kind of nice to try new approaches.
Handshake: And what’s the split now with wholesale versus direct-to-consumer?
Susan:My wholesale is probably 70 percent and the rest is direct-to-consumer through my website.
Handshake: What are some of the challenges that you’ve found with wholesale that you really don’t have when you sell directly to customers?
Susan: I don’t have a proper way to take wholesale orders directly online, I’m ready to make that investment, but then I saw Handshake is coming out with a shopping cart, so I’m kind of holding my breath on that. [Ed note: we’re happy to report that checkout is now available on Handshake!]
Just finding that online platform where wholesale buyers can be separate, their pricing can be separate, where they can log in, and I can track their sales and tracking their inventory. I enjoy connecting with buyers and creating relationships, and that’s what’s nice about something like Shopify is you’re just in the background. It’s Hazelmade all upfront, and you’re just providing that platform. So just having access to [something like] that, that is affordable has been really the biggest issue, but it sounds like maybe that will be solved soon with the shopping cart.
Handshake: Where do you get all of your inspiration for your ideas?
Susan: Really, that comes from being outside and traveling and being outside of my studio and definitely disconnecting from digital. So I take a lot of walks, I always have. More so now that that’s the only thing left in life with the pandemic.
I’m always taking pictures of plants, flowers, textures, even urban textures, like in architecture and things like that. My one friend, she’s a printmaker, she says that you should notice what you’re noticing, and I think that’s really where the inspiration comes from. Like, the way that the tile is laid on the floor, or the way that the leaves look, or just whatever it might be. I always think about that.
Handshake: In all of the years that you’ve had Hazelmade, do you have any proudest moments? As small or as big as they might be.
Susan: I love that you asked the question that way, because I have always believed from the beginning that every accomplishment, every success should always be celebrated. You cannot wait until that big thing is achieved, because you’ll lose steam, you won’t make it.
I think I’m most proud that I’ve made it this far. I am proud of this business that I’ve built. And I love getting the chance to say that out loud, I don’t think we say that enough about ourselves.
And I guess maybe one of the bigger things would be that I’m really proud of being able to go to New York to exhibit. I saved and I worked, and I got myself to New York City and I shared my work, so that was a big deal.
Handshake: Is there anything else you wanted to share about Hazelmade or wholesale, that you feel people should know.
Susan: I guess, maybe two things. One is that I’m really proud that my entire line is Midwest-made and USA-made. All of our sourcing is, whenever possible, with USA-made materials, and then it’s all handcrafted, mostly here in the Midwest, but definitely in the US. So that’s a really important point to me and to my wholesale buyers as well.
And then, I don’t really know the context of this, but I’ve always loved building the relationships. I think that’s been the most fun part for me. So getting to know the shops, which is why I like [trade shows like NY NOW], you meet the people, you know their face, and then you email with them, and it continues to grow. I’ve always loved that relationship-building, but I think with the platform that you guys are creating, I’m really excited that it’ll give me a point to just improve that relationship that I build directly with my customers, because it is important, so I’m excited about that.
It’s not my goal to get in as many stores as possible, it’s my goal to foster those really good relationships.
Hazelmade products are available for wholesale purchase from $150. Find the entire range of available wholesale products on Hazelmade’s profile page.
Photos with thanks to Caleb Dane Young.