How To Get Your Products Into Stores

Monday, August 4, 2014

It takes patience and dedication to get your products in stores for the first time, and another type of skill to convince retailers to keep your products on their shelves.

This applies to people just starting off with a new product, as well as to established businesses, looking to reclaim territory they once had.

With a decade of sales for a major firm, and eight years of wholesaling her own line of women's accessories to draw on, Jenny Spring now helps many small business owners get their products into stores.

The first steps for aspiring wholesaler and suppliers require some research and imagination, before launching into action. "Understand the profile of your 'best customer' and then identify stores that serve this person," she advises. "Then use social media to investigate those stores and build a store profile, as well as begin to build a relationship with the store."


Warm welcome, not cold calls

Spring cautions against just walking into a store with samples and a catalogue, and pitching.  "That's not appreciating how busy the retailer is. Most aspiring wholesalers and suppliers make the mistake of not understanding the perspective of the retailer," she says.

Her advice for approaching a business for the first time is to use a personalised email, showing that you know what problem you're solving for the retailer and their customers, explaining how a decision to carry your product will increase their turnover.

"You need to solve their customers' problems together, and it's that relationship that most suppliers, importers and wholesalers don't get."

Experienced store owners such as Dale Pruser, owner of a successful costume shop in Melbourne, echo Spring's advice.

"Most retailers don't want to miss out on the next big selling item. The hard part is predicting what will sell," Pruser says. "I'm always impressed with a wholesaler who can back a product with statistics: how many units they've sold, if it's sold overseas well, if its price point is lower than a competitor or it's linked to an upcoming movie release."

"To get your products in stores, a sales rep should start off with a quick phone call to introduce themselves and a request to email a brochure and prices. Then follow up your brochure or email with a quick call to see if we are interested – we'll tell you if we are," Pruser advises.

It’s important to work at the relationship, she says. "The best wholesalers are those willing to go an extra mile for you, who ring to let you know when a popular item is back in stock or who will happily turn around a rush order for you. After all, customer service is key."

And if you can't manage all that, Spring says, then find a sales agent who can.


Find an agent

Sales agents are motivated to sell your product and keep relationships running. They will be objective about the strengths and weakness of your product, too, so be prepared to hear them out on what works and what doesn't when it comes to finding the best way get your products in stores.

"A sales agent is just like a member of your staff, but on commission," says Spring, who adds that a good sales person isn't afraid to introduce wholesalers to retailers, in order to build a lasting relationship. And be wary of those who won't do that, she warns.


Back in business

Husband and wife team Shane and Eugenie Pepper had a different problem: they had to get their children's and baby clothing sleepwear and accessories, sold under the Plum brand, back into the major stores where their products had once thrived.

The couple run a family business, Sunny Textile Industries, started by Shane's grandfather in the 1950s. The firm had evolved its product range over time, but by 2011, when they took over, the competition from a crowded market and cheap products from China had sent sales into decline.

"Many of the bigger retailers like Myer and Big W had stopped buying the brand and were focused on their own private brands," says Eugenie.

The Plum brand, which had been going for 15 years, was mainly being sold to boutiques, and under threat of being sidelined as "old hat". The first marketing and promotion campaign in the firm's history was launched.

"We took advantage of social media, to create a following with our end consumers, started collaborating with other businesses and developed new products," says Eugenie. Sponsorship of Kids with SIDS by Plum also made the large retailers take notice, too, she says.

From the start, Shane took on the firm's most important clients personally, leaving their sales agents to focus on boutiques and smaller retailers.

His efforts to build personal relationships with the buyers, and to willingly produce garments that are the right fit for the big stores, are paying off. Plum once again is back on the shelves of the major retailers, such as David Jones, Toys R US, Baby Bunting, and Big W, and is exporting products to the US, Europe and elsewhere.

It is not enough anymore to just have a good product, however, says Eugenie. To stay in business, repeat orders are essential.

This means making regular visits into the stores to make sure the products are physically on the shelves, while keeping in touch with their end customers via direct marketing promotions and via social media.