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How to get your product on a store shelf
Many people start off creating a product for themselves, their family, or their friends. After years of gushing comments about how great their product is and how they should go into business - many finally do. They learn how to translate their homegrown product into something that can be mass produced. For food products, this may mean renting time at a commercial kitchen or contracting the manufacturing. For other products, it can mean outsourcing production to or even working with product designers and engineers. Regardless, the process to take a product from a kitchen or garage to the real-world of manufacturing is only the start.
Once you have a product, the real challenge appears
You’ve invested time and money into perfecting your product. You’ve bought packaging, gotten the proper permits or licenses, and ordered your first test run. It might be a hundred pieces or it might be thousands - it all depends on the minimums required. Regardless, you now have your products, neatly packed in corrugated boxes, stacked some place in your home or office. Now what?
Hopefully, you haven’t been waiting around for your finished products to arrive before you hit the bricks and started selling it. By the time you’ve outsourced or geared up to produce your items - you should already have a track record of sales and the basics of a company and a brand. Your sales may originate from local flea markets, farmers markets, or via online through your website or ecommerce platforms (such as Etsy, Amazon, eBay, etc.).
All of these initial sales channels can be initiated while you’re still creating your product at home or in low quantity. More importantly, they’ll provide your valuable feedback into how to sell, what’s the “right” price point, and if there’s actually demand for your product. Now comes the tough part, trying to sell your product through others.
First, prepare to be rejected again and again. It’s going to happen, but you have to keep pushing forward. Also be prepared to answer questions about your product - how much is it? How does that price compare to the competition? Why is yours better or how is it different?
Do your research
Before you approach stores make sure you’ve researched them, their customers, and the other brands they stock. You want to be a good fit for the store and their shoppers. And you’ll want to have an idea where your product should appear in the store. Try not to leave it up to the store manager - suggest a location that will offer you the greatest opportunity.
Attend or exhibit at industry trade shows
If you’re new to your market or industry you need to learn as much about it as possible. And the best places to do this quickly is at a trade show. You may not jump into becoming an exhibitor at first - but you should attend a few shows that target your product niche. You’ll be able to learn what buyers are looking for and how others are presenting and selling. It’s likely you’ll be able to survey your competition too. And you’ll have the opportunity to meet suppliers, buyers, retailers, and all manner of connections.
Then once you’re ready, you can invest in exhibiting at a show. Most shows have options for start-up brands that are affordable. Just be smart, don’t go overboard on trade show materials, but don’t skimp either. Make sure you have materials to hand out to interested parties and that your booth clearly identifies what you’re selling and why it’s better.
You can try to arrange meetings by phone, it works sometimes. But often, the most direct route is the quickest. Walk into your local store, ask to talk to a manager or owner, and see if you can demonstrate your product. If it’s food or something that can be sampled, if they’re unwilling to stock it, ask if you can hold in-store demonstrations or tastings to prove it’ll sell. Be prepared to repeat this process over and over.
Make sure the stores you approach are a good fit. Don’t approach a big-box or chain store if your product is gourmet or premium priced - not until you can demonstrate a sales history and present an argument as to why it’ll sell in their stores. And even then, you might need to present it to corporate.
Concentrate on niche market opportunities or regionally based or managed stores. Whole Foods is a good example - local managers have the ability to stock products on their shelves. And their stores are broken up into regions - so if your product appeals to a certain regional demographic, you’ll have more of a chance of gaining one store and then perhaps additional in that region.
Make sure you already have buzz
If you’ve been hawking your product at flea marts and farmers markets you may already have a strong following. As you’re selling capture emails for customers. Ask them to follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook. It’s a lot easier today with smart phones and tablets. You can have an iPad set up where they can enter their email - perhaps for a $1.00 off savings?
If you can show a retailer you have a customer base and fans and provide a sales history you’ll have a better chance of convincing them to stock your product. And you’ll be able to help support them. You can offer to announce the availability at their locations to your fans and customers. Demonstrating you can help support sales through marketing and existing customers is a tremendous advantage.
If it’s appropriate, enter competitions
It’s helpful to have awards and accolades to support your product. It helps to differentiate your product. But more importantly it can gain you free press coverage and exposure. Festivals and competitions are usually covered by the local news. Editors are likely lurking about looking for new brands and companies to feature - or you can take a win and pitch it to an industry publication. So while you shouldn’t put all your efforts into winning competitions, it’s helpful to play the game (provided you win).
Put everything on your website
Make sure your website is a marketing engine. Every event you go to should be captured and discussed. Grab videos of tastings or trials. Have folks tell you on camera what they think - and have a model release ready to sign (to allow you to use the video). Take pictures. Share it all via social on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Pinteret, etc. And carry it all over to your website.
Each new store you sign-up should get a listing and be mentioned on your blog, on a page listing retail locations, and be announced via social and email. You need to actively build brand awareness and cultivate your own buzz. Reach out to bloggers and online retailers in your niche. See if they’ll write reviews. Or perhaps they’ll sell your product online - even if you have to drop ship it for them.
Promote yourself continuously
Don’t be shy about sending out product samples to local news anchors. Look for opportunities to send your product to the glitterati. Oprah may be unavailable now but you can still focus on other stars. Contact daytime talk shows and see if you can give-away your product. Again you can start local and then aim higher.
Consider a broker
A broker usually has industry connections and can help break down barriers and speed-up sales. They can help you reach into regions or niches you couldn’t and even help you support them by coordinating in-store demos. The dilemma is identifying them and then negotiating their fee. Again, trade shows can be a good resource here. Or as you’re talking with store managers - ask them for recommendations.
Distributors generally come later in the process. You can approach them at anytime, but if you’re already in stores and moving product, you’re more attractive. And since you’re not a risk and you have a sales history you can better dictate your terms. Distribution can also be a double-edged sword if you gain distribution too early - you’ll have to manufacture substantial product to support it - and the money will come out of your pocket initially. Selling via distributors also produces the least amount of profit per sale, though it can make up for it in volume - it carries the risk of over extending you.
You’ll need to walk a fine line between pest and enthusiast when you’re contacting stores, brokers, and distributors. They’re inundated with pitches so you’ll need to standout and have a compelling reason for them to sell your product. So do your homework, hone your elevator pitch, and have things organized and at the ready. If your product truly is good and you’re persistent there’s a good chance you’ll make it. But you’ll encounter a lot of “no’s” before success happens. Don’t give up, and good luck.
Jun 29, 2013
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