10 Tips for Getting Your Product Into Major Retail Stores

by Guest on March 5, 2013

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This is a guest post from Julie Cole, mom of six and co-founder of Mabel’s Labels.

Getting your product into major retail stores is a dream many mom entrepreneurs have. This dream just came true for Mabel’s Labels.

We recently launched a product that’s now available in Walmart stores across Canada and will soon be sold at Target throughout the United States.

For a small company that sold our products exclusively online, moving into retail was a big step for us. Before we pitched our product to Walmart buyers, we did our homework, including hiring a professional research firm to study the opportunity and advise us on it.

We learned a few lessons along the way, and we’d like to share them with you.

10 Tips for Getting Your Product Into Major Retail Stores

1. Don’t be intimidated.

While the world’s largest retailer may seem intimidating, you have something of value to offer. Don’t lose sight of that.  Walmart’s and Target’s approach with small companies is much different than how they deal the big multinationals.  If you have a solid offer that fits their customer, they’ll work along with you to make it successful.

2. Know your prospective partner.

Walk the store, learn to speak their language and understand their brand.

3. Understand their customer.

Will the customer who shops at that retailer love your product? Does their customer look like your customer? Does your existing product and packaging need to be altered to appeal to the target consumer? Entering the retail market is a huge investment – you don’t want to see your product gathering dust on shelves.

4. Be proud of your business.

You may be small, but big retailers are interested in the little guy. Your quirky beginnings and funny start-up stories are part of your charm. Don’t feel like you have to hide them or be embarrassed.

5. Be honest.

The due diligence and number of references a partnership will seek are extensive. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Practice honesty in business. Always.

6. Bragging is allowed!

Go into your pitch loaded with customer testimonials, press hits, business awards and other brag-worthy points.

7. Practice your pitch.

Use your time wisely, be prepared and stay on point.  Buyers are extremely time crunched so put your big selling stories up front, they’ll find more time for you if they’re interested in what you’re saying.

8. Don’t know what you’re doing? Get help!

Contract someone who knows about retail and has experience and connections. Ask all your friends involved in retail what and who they know. Remember, there is no such thing as a silly question.

9. Be flexible and accept feedback.

Many buyers have extensive experience in the categories they manage.  Be prepared to entertain changes they suggest and always ensure you have resources available to take advantage of merchandising programs they may offer you.  “All in” is fine in poker, but not at retail.

10. Have all your ducks in a row.

If you get a “YES”, then you’d better have a product to give your retailer. You need to understand all of your production, supply, distribution and costing issues so that you can deliver on your promises.

What questions do you have about getting your product into major retail stores? Ask away in the comments below.

About the author:

Julie photo JJ RBC 09Julie Cole is a mother of six children and the co-founder of Mabel’s Labels Inc. Read her blog at www.mabelhood.com and follow her on Twitter @juliecole.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Megan March 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm

A great reminder of what is within reach. Thank you.

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2 Alison Hodd March 13, 2013 at 12:12 am

Hi Julie!

Just seeing your article today! Congratulations on your recent abundance. I’m in Oakville, ON and have a huge amount of admiration for you for quite some time! Probably as long as I’ve looked up to Heather! I love hearing women encourage women business owners. Awesome stuff. With gratitude,

Alison

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3 Dali March 7, 2013 at 12:10 am

I would also like to know what to expect from retailers as far as shipping and packaging. For example, if my product ends up at William Sonoma, will they want shipping boxes that have their name on the boxes or my own? What about bar codes/upc codes, etc?

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4 Heather Allard March 7, 2013 at 12:12 pm

These are great questions, Dali! I’m actually working on a follow up post with more specifics and hopefully, tips from big box buyers. :)

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5 Julie Cole March 5, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I was asked for tips, not a thesis or text book!! LOL!! :) This is a huge topic and people obviously need to read, talk to retail consultants, and do LOTS of their own research. Fun stuff! What a learning curve!

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6 Heather Allard March 6, 2013 at 9:18 am

Thank you, Julie! Your tips are awesome, encouraging and appreciated. :)

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7 Vera March 6, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hi Julie,

may I ask what is the reasonable price for retail consultants?

Thanks

Vera

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8 Sandy Dell March 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Interesting article from Julie, but I was disappointed to see that she did not address the main differences between selling to large retailers vs. smaller retailer — and what producers need to know to be prepared to deal with larger retail outlets

Producers looking to go this route need to know about the stocking policy (is there a slotting fee?); who is responsible for damage in the warehouse or store; how about Vendor Protocol, and terms and conditions the vendor has to follow?

I am sorry, but just smiling and telling your story isn’t even the tip of the ice burg when dealing with large retailers!

Heather, I would love to see you have a follow up on this story from someone who is willing to reveal the good, bad and the ugly of selling to large retailers!!

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9 Heather Allard March 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Hi Sandy – Julie’s products are currently only sold online OR at Walmart + Target, so she doesn’t have the sales experience with both small and large retailers. And, as far as the “good, bad + ugly” of selling to large retailers…I’m not sure who would be able to write that article while still maintaining a professional relationship with said retailers. ;) The point of Julie’s article was mainly to offer tips and encouragement for mom inventors/entrepreneurs who are dreaming of big box selling. Thanks for weighing in!

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10 Sandy Dell March 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I understand Heather, but I would hate to see people read that post and not know the full story. Could be disastrous!!

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11 Heather Allard March 5, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Maybe someday we can have someone write “The Complete Guide to Big Box Selling”. LOL. :)

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12 Sandy Dell March 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm

LOL!!!

13 Dali March 7, 2013 at 12:08 am

Sandy,
Your post is insightful. I have no idea what a slotting fee is and you make a great point about the responsible party for damaged goods. This topic interests me because I may one day have to deal with this. I do hope to see a part two of this topic in the future.

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14 Sarah Barrett March 5, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Thanks so much, Julie! I have followed your company from when you sold in holiday boutiques in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley! I’m so excited for you to be in big box stores!! Congrats and thank you so much for the advice!!!

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