Recently I was asked by Winifred of California: How can a small business owner/inventor get their product into retail stores, particularly national retail chains?
Below are answers from the Young Entrepreneur Council, a nonprofit organization that provides young entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, community and educational resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.
1. Develop a retail pitch plan
Gain access to national retail chains by developing a quick and dirty retail list of stores you'd like to approach. Make sure that your product aligns with their current merchandising plans. Then reach out to buyers and distributors and share a pitch package that includes a cover letter, press kit, and product samples.
2. Get straight to the point
Buyers from national retail chains will only give you a limited time to pitch your product, so it is imperative to be well prepared with a concise presentation. Skip the story telling and get straight to the point. Provide critical data on your products—price points, product warranties, manufacturing capabilities, and data on consumer needs.
3. Know their needs
You'll have an advantage if you do your research to know what stores carry your competitors' products. It's also good to find the chains that don't know they need your type of product yet. Regardless of whichever situation it is, understand how the stores would benefit and make sure they realize it as well.
4. Brand yourself
One of the best ways to get into national chains is to build a solid following via social media sites, before you ever go in for your first meeting. Make a name for yourself, so they know your brand equity before you step foot in their building.
5. Sell at independents
Start small and sell at independent shops and even Web shops. The more exposure and sales you get the better, creating legitimacy for your product, so you can approach the big retailers and say, "I sell 10,000 widgets a day, perhaps you'd like to sell them, too?"
6. Reach out to the gatekeepers
Networking is the fastest path into tight-knit, highly competitive markets. And there is nothing that gets attention faster than a personal introduction. Sometimes, decision makers are easier to reach than you might expect and may only be one or two levels removed from you. Use LinkedIn and other platforms to discover how your contacts can help you into the gatekeeper's center of attention.
7. Slow and steady wins the race
Start off with growing your business and building your brand, get the product into enough local stores before going national. Make sure your business is ready for the large margins and low volumes they will demand from you just to be in a "national" store. Once you feel your company can support that structure work through regional managers and then continue to work your way up the ladder.
8. Does my product need to be in retail stores?
I don't have a product that would sit on a retail shelf, but I deal with hundreds that do. It's my experience that setting your product on a retail shelf only makes it harder for it to stand out. The Internet is such a huge place and offers so many opportunities to sell a product and be overwhelmingly successful.
9. Prove yourself
The biggest issue for many retail chains dealing with a small business is whether the supplier is going to be able to keep up. That's why many businesses start by supplying smaller stores. It's not impossible to skip that step, but you have to be able to show that you'll be able to keep up with demand and handle working with a big chain.
10. Eat and sleep with procurement
Most retailers, especially the national ones, would have a procurement/ buying department. These are the people who decide what to buy, from whom, and at what price. Mostly, the individual stores have very little say in such decisions, so your best bet is to—eat, sleep, and be best friends with the procurement folks at the retailers.
11. Conduct interviews
Schedule non-sales informational interviews with key decision makers. Offer to take them to lunch or invite them to an industry related event. Prepare 3-7 key questions and inquire about the process from a purely information place. Learn all you can and apply it. Then you'll be positioned to approach them with a well thought-out plan.
12. Try, try again
Every industry and product is different, but the one constant is those with persistence consistently have better odds of success. Try every angle, meet every person possible who can help you succeed and I promise you your passion will be rewarded eventually.
13. Guarantee success
Tell stores you'll guarantee sales—it is no risk for them by letting you go in there and demoing it until your product sells out. Start with one store, sell it out, go to the second, etc. It's important to build that buzz/confidence with retailers so they invest in you by pushing the product themselves into the other stores.
14. Find the right distributor
Distributors already have relationships with the large retailers. Put them to work for you, using their relationships to place your products. Large retailers don't like to waste time, they want someone who knows the system. Find a distribution partner who understands what type of customer you are targeting and has the relationships with retailers that serve your target market.
15. Creating comfortable relationships
It’s all in the pitch and doing due diligence to know who you will be presenting to. As a partner of the brand Vision Vodka, I watch my team prepare for meetings with different liquor stores to take our product. Most liquor stores are mom and pops and only care about the person you put in front of them and if they feel confident the product will move.
16. Big margins, quick Turnover, small footprint
The best retail products have the highest margins, fastest turnover and smallest footprint—for the retailer. That means they make a lot of money selling your product tons of times in a small area. If you don't have a product with that criteria you don't have a product for retail.
17. Create a YouTube video tailored to one person
I know an author of a book who convinced a national publisher to sign him on because he created a well thought out video as to why they need that book. This video was made for one person only and it was clear it took him some time to do. Needless to say he caught her attention and got in the door. Sometimes the hardest part is getting in the door and this could be a good way to get through.
18. Be unique and different
I was able to get into national retail chains with my first business because I had something no one else had. We sold customized sports apparel. We knew what the market wanted and since they were our custom designs they were only able to buy them from our company.
19. Don't be afraid to reach out and sell yourself
Dont be afraid to research who the approriate point of contact is for the retail establishment and persue them! Call their office, e-mail them, find out when they are reviewing new vendors, what they look for in products and their placement, and any special programs that they may have throughout the year that are applicable to you whereby they highlight new companies even if just on a trial basis.