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Having actually built a national bestselling brand, we know from painful personal experience what it really takes to get your product on the shelf and, more importantly, keep it there. We didn’t just study the subject, come up with a new word, or debate what works in academic terms. We actually did it. And it was tough!
The biggest surprise for us was the realization that even if we were fortunate enough to get into a big chain, that the distributor and the chain itself could care less if we succeeded. They would allow run outs, mistakes in coding, and actual blocking of our products to take place and then blame us for poor sales! And even worse, threaten to discontinue us if sales didn’t improve!
Here, then, is our best advice on how to get your product on the retail shelf, and keep it there:
1. Dress for Success
Your entire package, carton, label, logo, name, and marketing materials must be designed with the harsh retail environment in mind. You must realize that the retail shelf does not allow you the luxury of all possible worlds and that the way your product appears is more of a solution than a creation.
Pay very special attention to being in compliance with legal and corporate demands for information on your package. Respect the height, width and lighting requirements of the retail shelf. Go to great lengths to make it clear what you are selling and who you are. And make sure your name, logo, and contents are visible from at least 4 feet away.
2. Understand the Cost of Sales
Most consumer product producers are clear on the cost of goods. But where they make a fatal error is in understanding the cost of sales. Do you know what it costs to make the sale happen in this state or that metro with these taxes and those shipping fees? And what it costs to make sales happen in that supermarket or box store with their unique packaging requirements and their demanded margins? All retailers and all markets are not equal! You want to get a good cost accountant to show you what you are up against before you commit to expanding sales in any new territory, especially in your early days.
Another huge cost of sales often overlooked by new product producers is the cost of customer service. How much does it cost to have a representative in the territory to ensure that your products are merchandised and reordered?
3. Be a “Hot Mover”
Long before you tackle the big chains, get the reputation of being a “Hot Mover.” We advise our clients to start small with a few stores that will take your product, and then watch them like a hawk. You will learn huge lessons about the realities of the marketplace, what’s wrong with your product or package, what materials work and what don’t, and how often you have to visit to keep sales going. What’s more is even though these sales are small, and limited to just a few stores, you can take your hot mover reputation with you when you expand.
When it comes to retailers and distributors, we like to say, “Everyone wants to milk the cow. Nobody wants to raise the calf!” This means that they don’t want to take the risk by building your brand. They want to see that another retailer has already done that and succeeded, and then they will “jump on the bandwagon.”
4. Sell Service and Turn
When you do finally get in front of that big buyer, spend less time talking about the features and benefits of your product and more time talking about how fast your product will sell and what you are going to do to make that happen. They will be more impressed by your marketing materials, temporary price reduction programs, and your assignment of a field representative than all the whistles and bells.
They want to move product. Their biggest fear is that they will get stuck with yours and have to move it out at a loss. What you are going to do to prevent that from happening wins the day and gets the shelf placement.
5. Celebrate Later!
So you’ve done everything right and you are on the shelf of the big chain store with hundreds of outlets! You’ve made it, right? Time to celebrate, right? Wrong! This is the biggest mistake new inexperienced consumer brand builders make.
Before you were in the big chain, you could not be discontinued from the big chain. Now you can! And if you do get discontinued, your competition, hungry for your space on the shelf, will feel compelled to tell all the other chain buyers that your product is a slow mover and a non-starter.
So instead of celebrating your chance at bat, you should be hitting a home run! Get into each and every one of those stores. The clock is ticking. You must perform within 90-120 days or you will be out, and out forever! There’s very rarely a comeback from a discontinuance. Put every person you’ve got into that chain to remove all the sales stoppers and get customers from the neighborhoods surrounding those chain outlets to come in and buy your products.
So, do you still want to put your product on the retail shelf? Congratulations! At least you know what we found out without having to suffer the pain as we did! Good luck and remember, no one will sell your product but you!
And by the way, your product has to fill an existing need and be absolutely terrific! We never said it would be easy, but it is doable.