How to get your product onto a retailer’s shelves
By Pauline Muindi | May 27th 2020
If your business sells consumer products, one of your dreams might be landing a spot on a major supermarket chain’s shelves.
Getting into the big leagues has many pros, including faster movement of your product, greater brand exposure and consumer reach, and bigger orders.
The downside, however, is that you will have to share your profits with the retailer. If you’re not well-prepared to expand your small business into supplying to big retailers, this move might be detrimental to your growth.
That said, if you dream of seeing your products in big retail shelves, here are some basic principles to guide you.
1. Evaluate your business
Before making the jump into partnering with retailers, make sure your business is able to handle the transition.
Ask yourself some hard questions. Is the demand for your product high enough? If you land a deal, can your business handle the extra production volume? What will your profit margins look like? Are the payment terms agreeable?
Big retailers usually have standards that suppliers must meet. For example, they might require that you have product liability insurance, pay a certain amount of money (often non-refundable), pay for cost of refrigeration if your products needs it, employ merchandising attendants for the stores, and ensure your products comply with all product and food safety requirements.
Before you even think of approaching these retailers, make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Simply put, you must be what the retailer looks for in a supplier.
2. Network with the gatekeepers
When you’re relatively new to entrepreneurship, the dream of getting into big retailers might seem nearly impossible. Your lack of networks to get an audience with the decision makers can be quite frustrating. The market can be highly competitive and close-knit.
Luckily, thanks to social media, the decision makers might be easier to reach than you expected.
Use platforms such as LinkedIn to discover how your current contacts can help you connect with the gatekeepers. A personal introduction is the best way to get the decision makers to listen to you.
You can also contact the buyer or category manager on their official phone number or email and pitch your product. Ask about their policies and procedures for new products.
3. Fill out a vendor application
Once you have ascertained that you meet the requirements, fill in vendor application forms. You can get these forms from the retailer’s office, on their website, or request for them to be emailed to you.
Once you’ve submitted the form, wait for a few weeks before following up. Don’t make incessant calls or send numerous emails – this can be very annoying to the recipient. You can ask for a specific date on which to expect feedback on your application.
Some retailers might have specific monthly, quarterly or annual open vendor days where they meet prospective vendors.
Showing up on such days will give you an opportunity to showcase your merchandise and express your desire to do business with them. If the meeting goes well, they might ask you for another meeting or sign a supplier deal.
4. Prepare your pitch
If you’re invited for a meeting to pitch, you should be prepared to give your best presentation. Depending on the nature and size of your business, you can decide to do it yourself or hire a representative to pitch for you.
If your product line involves frequent changes, such as a clothing line, it might be a good idea to have a manufacturer’s representative to pitch your line. They usually pitch your product line among others that they represent for a commission of sales.
If you decide to do the pitch yourself, make sure you familiarise yourself with the industry terms that are likely to be discussed. You must know what terms such as conditions of sale, discounts, credit, shipping and allowances mean. In addition to researching online, it might be helpful to talk with other entrepreneurs who supply retailers for some tips.
Before going for the pitch, prepare a sample of your product, including its packaging, barcode and pricing. It is also helpful to have a product catalogue and price list, manufacturing information, your business history, a list of other retailers currently selling your product, and your business card.
Be sure to discuss how you will help in product marketing. Big retailers like it when suppliers put in the effort in marketing with points-of-sale displays, in-store demos, and in-store attendants.
5. Increase production volume
Once you sign the vendor contract, it is up to you to make sure that you meet the increased demand for your product. If you’re not able to sustain the supply, you might lose your spot to another business.
As you work with your manufacturer to meet the demand, make sure that you maintain quality. If your product quality goes down, the retailer might drop you. Additionally, you might lose your customers.
The bottom line is, don’t be intimidated by big retail – if you’re equipped with the right information and your business is ready for the transition, you can do it. Your dream of seeing your product on supermarket shelves can become a reality.
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