What types of Retail Pitches are there and when do I use them?

This week, I've been training my new consultant, who is FANTASTIC by the way. And her insightful questions have unveiled topics that I haven't covered in my blogs and should! 

So without further ado, here are the different types of retail pitches any product entrepreneur will find themselves using at any point in time. I'll explain why you need to know these at the end.

Tier 1: “Elevator Pitch” Retail Story.  Objective: To gain the initial interest of retail buyers. Length: 30 seconds

Usually this short-form Retail Story (AKA Retail Pitch) covers just the basics. It is a short description of your 1) product, 2) current retail distribution,  3) sales numbers and 4) past marketing success.

For example, "(Target Market) will use (Product X) to (solve this problem). (Product X) is currently sold in (Retailer 1), (Retailer 2) and we are in discussions with (Retailer 3). We average (X) Units Per Store Per Week in sales. Our last marketing feature in (Media Vehicle) drove sales lifts of 150% for our retailers. Do you have a few more minutes to discuss whether our line is a fit with your stores?" 

This might be what you use at a trade show when you greet a buyer, sales rep or distributor that visits your booth. Or what you say when you get a buyer on the phone or come across the store manager in a boutique. 

Tier 2: “Coffee Pitch” Retail Story. Objective: You have now piqued the buyer’s interest after the Elevator Pitch and have bought a few more minutes with the buyer to discuss further. Imagine you are having a quick informal discussion over coffee or you've bought a few more minutes of the buyer's time during that initial phone call or trade show booth visit. Length: 5 minutes.

The goal here is to offer more context or color commentary on the Elevator Pitch PLUS add a quick reassurance that your vendor execution is up to snuff. 

For example, "(Product X) delivers the benefits of (benefit 1) and (benefit 2) and is different from current products in the market because of (Point of Difference). We can deliver these benefits better than our competition because of (Reason To Believe). (Product X) retails for (SRP) and we offer retailer margins of (x%). As for sales, our sales turn of (X) Units Per Store Per Week at (Retailer 1) is higher than the category average and higher than (Competitor 1). Sales have grown (X%) versus last year and we project it to grow another (X%) this year. We have the ability to support sales at shelf with our marketing plan. Past features include (list 3 to 5 key media vehicles) and our next feature will be (media vehicle) on (date). We are reliable vendors and execute well; our vendor scorecard ratings are all in the (% range). I'd love to sit down and walk you through what we propose for your store. Can I set up an appointment?"

Tier 3: “Presentation Pitch” Retail Story. Objective: You have earned a formal appointment with the retail buyer and will now go through a longer, more detailed Retail Story. In this format, you are making a formal business case for how you'll benefit retailers. Length: 30 minutes

The goal here is to go into detail on your sales history and forecasts, the recommended assortment for that retailer, plus your detailed marketing plan for how to support sales at shelf. You'll also align your proposals to their merchandising objectives and growth goals with analysis such as 'how you will add incremental sales to their assortment and not cannibalize current items on shelf', or 'how you build basket size through either multiple purchases or cross-purchasing with complementary items'. You will discuss at length vendor execution, inventory management, ship dates, and product testing. You will discuss pricing - SRP, wholesale cost and margin. You may also spend time talking about how to differentiate your product assortment from other retail channels. 

I don't have an example for a "Presentation" Retail Story because it is unique to the retailer you are presenting to and to each business' strengths and weaknesses. But you can see what a template looks like here. My clients typically send the Retailer Pitch Deck to retailers they are cold-calling or are lukewarm. It's amazing how often we convert retailers interest with the Retailer Pitch Deck

Finally, why is it important to differentiate these different pitch types in your proverbial 'sales tool kit'? You have to select the right level of information for the situation you are in. Obviously. But you'll be surprised how often buyers get turned off because the right information is not succinctly presented to them. Us buyers are impatient folks who get pitched to constantly. Cutting to the chase actually engages us. The categorizations above ensures you tailor your message to the buyer's frame of mind in the various occasions you might encounter them for maximum engagement.

I cannot tell you how often great brands get told "NO" because they don't tailor their message and just rattle on with information that is not relevant for that particular moment. Buyer's evaluate brands in stages. It's a filtering process. So help them filter by organizing your information in a way that aligns with their thought process. If there is one way you can make a buyer's life better ( and I'm pleading after years of frustration with bad pitches), it is to organize your pitch and tailor your message to the buyer. 

This post also appears on Both Sides of the Retail Table (www.retailtable.com).

VIDEO: 5 Tips for Nailing Your Retail Pitch

What are the 5 ways to motivate a retail buyer to consider your product line? Watch our video to get examples and ideas for how to deliver on these 5 key elements.
1) Do your homework. Read 10K reports, walk their assortment, interview other vendors, be a category expert.
2) Speak in terms of sales and profits
3) Tout your current retail distribution
4) Talk about sell-through and turns
5) Instill a sense of urgency to buy NOW versus buy later by doing [watch the video for more]


Product testing is a biggie. Here are some things to know about product testing:

  • Virtually all big retailers require product testing. Even if you have done your own independent testing already or tested with other retailers, you will still have to undergo each and every big retailer’s product testing process that you sell in.
  • Smaller retailers’ product testing requirements vary across the board. Some will require that you show proof you passed product safety testing, others may just take your word for it. Others may not even be up to date on the latest safety regulations.
  • It’s *your* job to be educated on your product category’s safety regulations and all ongoing changes.
  • And it’s not just product safety testing you need to submit your product for. Many retailers require product durability testing to ensure that it doesn’t break from and/or can withstand reasonable use (i.e., drop testing, stability testing, etc.) and transit testing (i.e., your product doesn’t damage in shipping). Then there is product safety testing like CPSIA testing for lead, phthalates, and labeling requirements.
  • Many of our readers operate in the juvenile industry. So it is important to know that infant, toddler and children’s products are among the most scrutinized product categories and the testing regulations are strict and always changing.


By Vanessa Ting 

What a great problem to have! No, really – it can be a problem.

Last week, I was at Target HQ to present a line that recently launched in market. How they were invited to Target for a line review is actually a crazy story. They launched in Spring 2014 at a trade show at which a Target buyer stopped by their booth and collected information. Fast forward a couple months later,  out of the blue, they received a call from (a different) Target buyer inviting them to Minneapolis to present their line for consideration for the 2015 assortment.

Bonus Material -- Online video course: How to Create a Brand Desirable to Retailers

By Vanessa Ting Docstoc (recently acquired by Intuit) invited me to present an online video course on How to Create a Brand. Watch this series of short, digestable videos at your leisure. Once you're done, you'll be armed with tools to scrub your brand and identify the juicy bits that woo retailers and their buyers ~ and, more importantly, your target consumer!

It's free to watch.  Docstoc.com is a treasure trove of online video courses to help small business owners learn any business topic they seek to educate themselves on, so it's worth checking out.

Here are some recommended videos below.

Watch the rest of the video series here: http://premium.docstoc.com/course/78/simple-steps-to-create-a-brand

From the Buyer’s Perspective: Do Retailers Want To See The Market Research I Have Conducted?

By Vanessa Ting

Buyers don't necessarily want to see the results of your market research, but rather, they want to know you have validated your decisions and the product itself. Decisions like product name and concept, packaging design, packaging copy, product claims, marketing messages, formulas and flavors/colors. For example, conducting in-use testing (a consumer takes your product home and uses it for a week, then answers questions about their experience) assures that your product delivers to the promises and claims your product makes. This helps reassure retailers that if they put your product on their shelf, customers will enjoy the experience thereby making their experience at that store favorable. No retailer wants to be known as a store that carries products that don’t work.

Market research is not a check box and it does not have to be formal or cost anything. Plus, it is actually helpful to your business! Just getting out there and talking to potential consumers to get feedback is the best kind of market research. Do it early, do it often.

When you can show a retailer you’ve done this kind of homework, whether it is communicated in a slide or bullet point in your presentation deck, it will give a buyer one less reason to say "No."

Other helpful ways of incorporating market research data into your retail pitch is using it to prove the market opportunity of your product. This is called market sizing. It’s looking at the potential population of consumers out there and determining what percentage of that population will buy your product. This reassures buyers that you chose your target consumer carefully and that enough people out there want your product. Another way to use market research is in building your volume forecasts. By buying market research data, you can learn the market size, how many people typically buy this type of product, and the market share each competitive brand owns, you’ll be able to figure out a good estimate for the potential volume of your brand in total and your brand in each of your retail accounts.

Have you conducted informal or formal market research for your product?  Did it pay off? Let us know!

For Market Research Tips on the Cheap, check out an older post http://www.retailtable.com/tips-market-research-on-the-cheap/

From the Buyer's Perspective: Do I Need to Hire a Sales Representative if I Want to do Business with a Large Retailer? Where do I Find One?

If you want to succeed, yes, hire a sales rep.  Here's why.

As a buyer, I was called on by the following three groups of people:  Sales account managers, sales representatives (also known as vendor reps or manufacturer reps), and proprietors of smaller product companies.

What is the difference between these three groups?

Sales account managers are typically employed by large manufacturers that have a pre-existing relationship with a major retailer.  These are companies like Proctor & Gamble, Munchkin, Hasbro or even lesser known names.  They have years (decades, even) of experience selling to large retailers and have teams dedicated to each retail account.  They usually have a satellite office near the HQ offices of major retailers so they can meet with the buyers at the drop of a dime.  They have data and resources dedicated to supporting that retailer's business.

Sales representatives resemble sales account managers in almost every way except they are not employed by the manufacturer.  Instead they are hired by the manufacturer and typically represent several manufacturers.  They key thing to note about both account managers and sales reps have the experience to know what buyers look for and can help develop sell-in strategies.

Proprietors of smaller product companies are probably folks like you.  They are just breaking into national retailers or figuring out how to.  They have a very lean sales support or do the sales yourself.

Did I work with all three?  Sure.  But who did I prefer to work with?  Account managers and sales reps.  Why? Because they know their sh....tuff.  They know retail lingo, timelines, processes, how to forecast and measure sales...and a relationship with the buyer that has been built over time.  I trust them.   I know they won't screw up our business and if they do, they will have the ability to get it back on track.   So for these very important reasons, I avoided working with rookies and people with no big retail experience - even if they had a great product.

But did I work directly with smaller product companies?  Yes, on occasion.  And after vetting out as much risk as possible.  And even then,  rarely were those relationships without grief.   Without prior big retail experience, smaller manufacturers are typically less able to understand buyer's needs, how to navigate the complexities of big retail, inventory management, and how to build strategies to grow sales at shelf.  The small companies who were successful did their homework, got up to speed quickly, and hired the necessary people and resources.  Like Romy!

So should you work with a sales rep?  If you want to stack the cards in your favor, then you absolutely should.  It's worth the investment.  It is also worth the investment to figure out how to position your product line to meet the needs of a buyer - which is the ultimate way of grabbing their attention and building trust.  Finding a sales rep is all about who you know and word-of-mouth recommendations.  There are a lot of dishonest sales reps out there, so be sure to get a referral.  And like Romy said, before contacting them, you should have your ducks in a row and be prepared to present to them as if they are the retailer.



By Vanessa Ting For a buyer, the ideal situation is one in which a manufacturer has one hero SKU with a strong sales history.  But in addition, that manufacturer would ideally have a line of other products in the pipeline ready to ship once a buyer agrees to add new SKUs of your brand.

One product is enough for the short term, but to build longevity with a retailer, you will need to offer a line of products that can make a strong brand statement at shelf.

This is an extreme case.  But take the laundry detergent aisle as one example. Detergents are brand blocked as far as the eye can see.  Tide, All, Gain are all merchandised in clear, vertical statements.

And while Tide has enough volume to warrant 4 facings of the same SKU, you will not at the beginning.  And building a brand block will require multiple SKUs of single facings.  But keep in mind, a buyer will not just accept any additional product you send his/her way.  Each new product launch has to build incremental sales (not cannibalize current sales) and offer unique benefits.

Also, as a buyer you work with many vendors.  For example, if I have 100 products on my shelf, I rather work with 4 vendors who can supply me with 25 products each, as opposed to 100 vendors who supply me with 1 product each.  4 vendors versus 100 vendors – which workload would you choose?  So for cost and time efficiency, buyers prefer working with fewer vendors with a robust line of proven sellers.

Readers, what kinds of decisions do you struggle with as you think about how to grow your line?


By Vanessa Ting You are ready to pitch to your first retailer when you can say “I've done it!” to the following:

  • You have conducted market research with potential users and retailers to qualify the concept, price, product and packaging.  Potential users should consist of more than just your friends and family.  You want objectivity!
  • Your product meets an unmet consumer need and delivers product benefits in a unique way.
  • You have ensured your retail price is within range of your competitors, but also occupies a distinct price point to create differentiation.
  • Your retailer markup is in line with retailer’s expectations.
  • You have a product margin (your company’s margin) that is healthy and sustainable.  Get those cost of goods down (COGS) – even if it means producing overseas.
  • You have tested your product with a "guinea pig" (also known as "Test and Learn") retailer to make sure EVERYTHING has been road tested – including your sales pitch, retail promotions, and shipping/fulfillment logistics.
  • You have created a brand that is ownable and memorable.  And have built a multi-prong marketing plan to help build awareness and drive purchases at shelf.
  • You understand the basics of inventory management.
  • You have a retailer pitch deck. This includes sales history or a sales volume projection, and an explanation for how you will drive sales for your intended retailer.

Generally you know whether you are ready to advance to your next tier of retailers when you’ve been selling in your current tier for 6 to 12 months and have collected sales data that demonstrate steady sales growth over time.  If your sales are not growing in 80% of your stores, then it’s time to pause and diagnose the problem.  Until you figure out why sales are not growing, you are not ready to advance to the next tier.

A note about tiers: A good retail distribution strategy paces your retail growth into stages or tiers.  These tiers are specific to your business and designed to help you reach your ultimate dream retailer.


By Vanessa Ting Use a “no” as an opportunity to get more information to improve your pitch.

Never receive a “no” without following up to ask “what would you like to see done differently?”  Remember, a “yes” means that you have satisfied the buyer’s requirements in three areas:

1)      Product, pricing and packaging are all in order

2)      Your supply chain, inventory management and customer support operations are all in order

3)      You have a marketing plan for how you will build awareness and drive sales to shelf

So if you hear “no” then find out which of the three areas above need improvement.  Being mindful of the buyer’s limited time and with diplomacy, press on for more details on where your product and pitch fell short.

Be open-minded when receiving the feedback.  Don’t use it as an opportunity to argue or be defensive.  Just take it all in and take good notes.  At the end of the conversation, ask kindly if you can contact them again after you have investigated the feedback and have improvements to share.

Timing also matters.  There have been times I said “no” for 6 straight months and then one day, a spot on my shelf opened up or consumer trends shifted – and all of sudden that “no” became a “yes”.   Because timing is a driving force, it is important to stay on top of business changes occurring with that retailer and the industry.  Do this by reading industry news daily, talking with your peers and following experts on Twitter.  As the tide shifts, opportunity for your product may emerge.  It’s your job to recognize it, jump on it and use it to your advantage.  Romy is successful because she is good at finding relevant news-bites and business updates to create dialogue with buyers.  This keeps her brand top-of-mind with buyers so next time a spot opens up, they think of her first.

For more on this topic, you can stream an audio clip of an interview I gave on this topic.  Move the marker to 23:08 to skip straight to the juicy stuff, “What to do when the retailer says no”.


By Vanessa Ting It’s not just PR exposure that retailers care about, but your overall ability to build brand awareness and create demand for your product.  And PR is just one lever to use to create demand for your brand.

Romy offers great tips on how entrepreneurs can generate PR for themselves.  I will add to that by suggesting what you can propose to retailers to supplement your PR efforts, especially if you're on a limited budget.

If you're unable to drive customers to those retailers through PR, pull other levers at your disposal such as:

  • Use that customer list you have built over time.  Offer to drop a direct-mail postcard or email announcing the launch of your product to your customers in your retailer’s geographic area.
  • Leverage social media. Tell retailers you will create programs that direct people following you on Twitter or Facebook to their stores. Combine it with a promotional offer (as mentioned above) to sweeten the deal and get people running to those stores.
  • Strike strategic partnership deals with complementary manufacturers who have the PR muscle for co-branding or cross-purchasing (e.g., coupons) initiatives.
  • Focus on driving impulse purchases among shoppers already in the store. You can do this by making sure your packaging gives you a noticeable presence and clearly communicates what you're selling. Work with the retailer on giving you prominent merchandising space (may be hard if you can’t sweeten the deal with additional funds). Or use your limited budget to create distinct POP displays or shelf signage. Or create a promotional offer (that you fund, not the retailer) such as “Buy 3 and Save” or “Buy One Get One Free”.
  • Show your sales history. If you can show these potential retailers that you have been achieving strong sales in your current stores, this may encourage them to give your product a try. Nothing speaks louder than a proven sales record.
  • Get creative with solutions. If these retailers are reluctant to take a gamble on you, offer solutions that mitigate some of their risk and shows your confidence in your product. For example, you can offer consignment deals or a limited time store test.


By Vanessa Ting Selling to major retailers is a strain on cash flow.  There are many fees and charges you will be exposed to within the first 6 months of getting a “Yes” from stores like Target, Walmart, Costco and other national retailers.  These costs will be covered in more detail in a future post, but for now, here are the cash flow considerations you should investigate further.  Since Romy covered the risks to positive cash flow, I've taken the approach of suggesting cash investments you should make now versus later to increase your appeal to retail buyers (and improve your cash flow down the road).


Invest in funding the “right” Suggested Retail Price

Avoid artificially high retail prices.  Many first time product entrepreneurs are unable to get favorable costing because of their small production orders.  As a result, they price their products (both retail and wholesale) artificially higher to offset the high production cost per unit.  Make sure you price your product strategically (e.g., good, better, best) and based on what the market will bear.  Obviously it is important to price for your own profitability too, but at the beginning, you may need to “invest” in your business by taking a smaller per unit profit.  This obviously reduces incoming cash flow, but if you are realistic about your breakeven point and manage your financials methodically, it will pay off.  You want to avoid having fluctuating retail prices in the market or artificially high retails that can hurt your sales volume, thereby making you less attractive to retailers.  And unless you have built a strong brand, often times your product cannot justify the artificially high retail price.

Invest in formal or informal product usability testing

Shop your prototypes around for feedback to as many consumers and retailers as possible before you commit to production.  Nothing is worse than bringing to market a product that has not received “buy in” by these two important stakeholders.  Getting as much input now will save you from the buyer rejection, the cost of consumer returns or complaints and the expense of unsold inventory.  Avoid relying on friends and family feedback – it will always be biased.  Leverage entrepreneur networking groups, stop shoppers as they walk out of your targeted stores, invest in focus groups, contact retail buyers for a “preview” (which will NOT hurt your future chances or ruin the “wow” factor – big misnomers!).  Get creative; there are many cost-effective ways of getting this input.  Major consumer goods companies spend a disproportionate amount of their budgets on product research and usability testing prior to launch.  Obviously you don’t have their big budgets, but you should take their cue and spend a little money up front to save you money later – and prevent blowing your first and only chance in market with retailers and consumers.


Invest in branding early and often 

To be attractive to buyers, you need to have built a brand that distinctly targets a consumer segment.  This is more than designing the colors and logo (visual brand identity), but having a brand strategy.  Building a brand effectively occurs over the span of time and cannot be rushed, so start now.

Building a brand requires a financial investment, both in defining your brand now  (research, strategy development, identifying key messages) and in executing the marketing tactics later (advertising, sampling, event marketing, packaging, social media, retail promotions).  Without an attractive brand that can drive store traffic and sales, buyers will find your product less valuable to them (and at worst to you, buyers will turn to a current vendor with similar manufacturing capabilities to knock off your idea at a cheaper cost.  Strong branding can prevent this!).  Branding is a large up-front expense, as well as an ongoing cash flow requirement throughout the life of your product(s).


Hire Vendor or Manufacturing Reps

They are usually required by many major retailers.  And it is usually to your advantage to use them to help you make contact with buyers, sell in your products, navigate the new vendor set-up process, provide customer service, and buyer relationship management.  Often times, these reps take anywhere from 5% to 10% of net proceeds after you receive payment, which reduces your incoming cash flow.

Final thoughts: In general, all cash flow considerations “now” should strategic, forward-thinking, and prioritized by the potential payoff (the investment horizon will be longer).  Invest up front to avoid last minute changes or redesigns that can be costly.  Cash flow considerations “later” are more operational in nature with more immediate ROI.

From the Buyer’s Perspective: What are the Inventory Control expectations retailers have of vendors?

By Vanessa Ting I covered this in an earlier post so I won’t belabor the point much more except to say this:   It’s important to only ship as many units as the retailer can sell.  Always aim for a 95% sell-through.

Retailers, both small and large, expect you to help them manage their inventory levels.  They expect you to speak up if you think they have placed too large of an order.  They expect you to challenge back if they have placed too small of an order.  But how do you know what the right inventory level is?  Read about it this old post.

Making Inventory Management Mistakes are Expensive It is common practice for large retailers to ask for a concession when you miss your volume projections.  If your product underperformed, major retailers will chargeback the cost of the unsold inventory or worse yet, additionally charge you the margin dollars they lost when your product didn’t sell.  If your product oversold, and you couldn’t replenish inventory fast enough, the retailer may chargeback the loss sales based on a daily sales rate.

Not only is it important to get the right amount of inventory to buyers’ stores as mentioned above, it’s also important to get it there on time.  If your product arrives too early, your inventory will incur unexpected storage and handling costs.  In this case, a larger retailer may chargeback that additional expense.  If your product arrives late and the shelf sits empty, a larger retailer will charge you for those days of loss sales.

Smaller retailers are not in the practice of charging back for making inventory mistakes.  Mostly because it requires too much work on their end to enforce chargebacks.  Instead, they will cut your products out of their assortment altogether and not work with you again if your mistakes are costly.

Inventory Control When Manufacturing Overseas If you are shipping product from overseas, managing inventory becomes even more unpredictable.  With ocean freight lead times, cargo capacity and shipping priorities, and/or customs clearance - sometimes your shipment will not arrive on the date your factory or expediter quoted.  This impacts the date product will arrive at retailers’ stores.  For this reason, it is advisable not to sell to retailers until you have product in-hand and in your DCs.  This is often times not ideal for small businesses, but it will help your vendor performance and help you achieve a high rating on your vendor scorecard.

Vendor Performance Scorecard Yes, in addition to sales performance, vendors are measured on inventory management and shipping performance.  Some inventory and supply chain measures include:

% on time delivery

% fill rate

% receipt efficiency

% shipping compliance

Here is a sample scorecard that covers the full throttle of vendor performance metrics:

By now, you realize that selling to retailers is not just about having a good product, strong marketing and sales support, and a strong financial rationale.  It’s also about delivering the product in the most efficient way.  The larger the retailer you sell to is, the more you are expected to be sophisticated with inventory control and supply chain management.  While you do not need to have an in-depth understanding of this when selling to independent boutiques and small chains, it will behoove you to start thinking ahead for when you do finally scale up.




From the Buyer’s Perspective: Will Selling at a Major .Com Help me Get Into Major Retailers’ Shelves?

By Vanessa Ting The short answer is no, except in one unlikely situation.

The long answer is....

Major retailers are more concerned with the sales traction you have built in other brick and mortar stores.  And the more established those stores are, the more impressive your sales results.  It is important to note that how a product sells online does not directly transfer to how it will do in-store.  This is why selling in the .com channel doesn’t do much to win over the store buyer.  Even if it is Amazon.com.

However, selling in a .com environment may be helpful in the following case:

Many large stores have .com sides to their business.  For example, Target has Target.com and Walmart has Walmart.com.   In these situations, it can sometimes help to first get into the .com side of the business.  By doing so, you can prove – using Target as an example – that Target shoppers (at least the online Target shoppers) have an appetite for your product.  It’s a little easier to translate sales performance from Target.com to Target stores than it would be from Amazon.com to Target stores.

Once in a while, those Target or Walmart store buyers will scan the list of  their company's .com products to find hot-selling items that are not being carried in stores.  In exceptional cases, they will bring those items into their store assortment.   Stores buyers are typically different than .com buyers, but they do communicate.  So in this scenario, it is conceivable that you can win a place at shelf by selling to .com first.  But this is more so the exception than the norm, so I would not recommend this as part of your sell-in strategy.  Your best sell-in strategy will always be to prove your sales in other stores first before approaching the top-tier stores.   

Ultimately, selling at .com will not hurt you - as it helps drive your company sales and profitability.  Romy makes excellent points on the upsides of selling on .com.   So why not do it?!   Just make sure your .com retail prices do not undercut your brick and mortar retailers.


Bonus Material: Q&A with Founder of a Company Seeking Distribution in Target and Babies R Us

Extra! Extra! We have a special treat for you.  As bonus to our readers, here is a Q&A between Vanessa, our Buyer, and the founder of a DVD content company that fills the niche of childbirth classes and labor preparation.  Currently, their hero SKU is the number one top-selling item in its genre on Amazon.  In their first year, they hit six figures in revenues!

Here are the founder's questions and Vanessa’s answers on what buyers at Target and Babies R Us look for.  Is this applicable to your business?

Question: Honestly, can you see my product fitting onto a retail shelf at Target or Babies R Us...or do you think we need to support it more with a kit, per se, that includes a birth ball and more items that feel like goods rather than services?

Answer:  The challenge with DVDs/CDs/Books for retailers these days is that it is a dying format.  These sections in the store are projected to go away in the next 3 to 5 years – and be replaced either by kiosks that sell digital files or other store merchandise altogether (e.g., clothing, household commodities, etc.) unless industry can find a way to stop the bleed to Amazon, iTunes, etc.  That said, I think this is a big threat to your business – and any business in this area – and you’d be remiss in not getting ahead of this change.  With this dynamic being the reality, Target and large retailers are very reluctant to take in unproven or new DVDs/CDs/Books like they may have before.

You are on the right track by co-merchandising it with other more tangible items like maternity wear or maternity exercise equipment.  The problem then becomes – where in the big box store will it sell?  And which buyer will get credit for those sales?  The DVDs buyer or the maternity apparel buyer?  It’s ridiculous that something as non-business related as organizational structure should prevent you from selling a kit but unfortunately, it does.  It causes complications that the buyer doesn’t want to touch.  This strategy might be more useful in smaller boutiques and chains where organizational structure is less rigid – and more freedom exists on the sales floor.  For national distribution, I honestly do not think mass or drug is the right place for your products.  Maybe at Barnes & Noble (where they specialize in books/dvds) or Babies R Us (where it is in their interest to carry a wide variety of mom and baby products) – but not at Target, Walmart, Walgreens, etc.  Your biggest bet is selling direct-to-consumers online and via mobile apps.  This is where growth in your media format is projected; not in traditional brick and mortar.

Question:  Do you feel that it is advantageous for suppliers to appear in print to retail buyer audience magazines such as "Baby Shop" or "Baby Maternity Retailer" magazines?  Do buyers really browse them? 

Answer:  I often reference a framework for deciding which marketing activities suit your products, which I think applies here.  First, diagnose what the marketing problem is that you are trying to solve.  Is it building brand awareness?  Is it driving shoppers to a specific retailer?  Is it garnering trial?  Is it building repeat purchases?  The answer to questions like these will help dictate the right tactic.  Then, employ the tactic that will help you achieve those goals.  In general, a buyer DOES want to see a marketing and promotion plan.  They want to see a calendar of activities detailing how you plan on building your brand and directing people to their stores.  It is not enough to put a product onto shelves.  You also need to provide a sales support plan.  Buyers do browse trade publications, e-newsletters and websites.  It is part of how they stay on top of industry trends, competitive activity, new product launches and news.  So, to answer your question more directly…yes, you need to do something to promote your products.  But I can’t answer what the right tactic is unless I know more about your business challenges and consumer.

Question:  [At trade show, I have found that] buyers respond to things that are "cute" or "soft" so I actually started a designer baby blanket company...but my buyer's rep says "It's almost impossible to get a new line of blankets or bedding into buyers because they prefer to limit the number of vendors they carry."  Would you agree with that statement or is it worth showing off our beautiful faux fur designs with gathered satin ruffles to buyers anyway?

Answer:  I agree with your buyer’s rep.   It’s a crowded marketplace, one in which it is hard to differentiate yourself and find a competitive advantage.  And blankets/bedding have been so commoditized that if a buyer sees a print/pattern/fabric they like, they can easily turn to their favorite current vendor and say --- go find out if there is a patent on this product and then go make it for me.  A buyer is always goaled to reduce the number of vendors in their assortment.  It not only makes it easier and efficient to manage the business, but also provides cost savings through lower supply chain costs and vendor management expenses.  I don’t know enough about your designs to recommend whether you should show it to buyers.  At minimum, it would have to be noticeably different than competition.

Was this Q&A helpful?  If you want more, submit questions or topics that you would like covered and we would be happy to oblige.


From the Buyer’s Perspective: Common mistakes people make when pitching to a buyer!

By Vanessa Ting Avoid these pitfalls during buyer appointments and you'll be better off than 99% of your peers.

Tip 1:  Not walking through the store one last time and doing a quick homework refresher.  When I was a buyer for Target, nothing turned me off more than a vendor who showed up to meetings without having done their homework or step foot in my section of the store.  It was plainly obvious when vendors failed to know the brands I currently had on that shelf.  If you are trying to unseat a current vendor, you better know who they are, what their retail price is, how many facings and SKUs they have and why you are better!  So before you meet with your buyer, study and cram like this is the biggest final exam of your life!  In a prior blog, I give homework tips.

Tip 2: (SUPER IMPORTANT) Do not try to push more units to the retailer than they need.  It is dangerous to not understand the fine line between selling (shipping) as many units as possible versus shipping as many units as the store will sell.  When you’re pitching to a retailer, your first inclination is to sell as many units you can to lighten the load in your warehouse.  The buyer asks you for an order of 10,000 units and you jump for joy because it will clear out your old inventory.  Before you get too excited, think about the implications.

For ease of math, let’s assume this retailer only has one store.  If this retailer is buying inventory for a 20 week program, and your average sales is 100 units per week.  It will take 100 weeks to sell through that purchase order.  That is 80 weeks longer than the 20-week program.  That is a lot of inventory that will go unsold and will either get returned to you or incur storage and holding costs making this product less profitable for the retailer.

As a result, 1 of 2 things will happen:  1) Because the order didn’t turnover for an ideal sell-through of 85% to 90%, the buyer will assume shoppers dislike your product and that it’s a dud – and will never order it again.  2) Or, because you let the buyer place an order of 10k units without warning them it would not sell within the 20-week period of time, this buyer now thinks you lack credibility and are a poor business partner – and will not order from you ever again.

Note: For purchase orders not for a limited time program but for an ongoing basis, build your suggested order quantity by taking into account the retailer's Weeks of Supply (WOS) targets and in-store lead times in addition to their sales velocity (Sales Per Store Per Week).

Much of this also answers the question of how to stay on shelf once you get there.  But is just as important to know the first time you meet with the buyer and present your *accurate* volume forecast for how you think your product will perform in their store.

Tip 3:  Failing to address how your products will benefit the retailers’ business.  It was always a turn off to talk to potential vendors and hear, “Target is perfect for my product!”  Great.  Glad to hear.  But what is in it for me?  Don’t forget to answer this question within the first 10 minutes of your meeting. Revisit this point from an old blog.

Tip 4:  Do not misuse the buyer’s time.  If you have been given 30 minutes, then make sure your presentation can be delivered in 20 minutes with 10 minutes to spare for questions and discussion.  Get the important stuff out in the first 10 minutes.  Don’t waste time giving the buyer the history of your company and its background.  We get that you’re proud of what you’ve built, but this is not a point relevant to why your product will drive sales.  Leave this background information in the appendix of your presentation deck and let the buyer read it on their own.  Use the time saved to explain information that drives decision-making - how the product works and why it is different than competition, the sales history, proposals for marketing programs, etc.

Tip 5: Bring enough samples!  We like to open the package, feel the product, play with and take it apart – and keep a few unopened samples to later play with at our desks or in the planogram (POG) room.

Do you have any wisdom to share based on your experiences meeting with buyers?



From the Buyer’s Perspective: Five Must-Have Items For Your Retail Pitch To Buyers!

By Vanessa Ting Before you are ready to pitch to a buyer, there are “must-haves” you should first have in place.  These “must-haves” are all components of a larger business case you are building to convince buyers they need your product in their assortment.  And these components take time to build, which is why it is important to address them in our blog now!

In short, the big question to answer before pitching to a buyer is – how does your product benefit retailers?  Here are the 5 “must-have” items needed to build your business case and prove why your product meets the needs of retailers.

  1. Demonstrate your product or brand will drive the retailers’ financial performance.  Buyers representing large retailers are goaled on the financial performance of their assortment.  This means they make buying decisions based on how it will earn them more revenues and profits.  For you, this means knowing the margin requirements of each specific retailer you want to work with, as well as an understanding of their pricing strategy and how your product fits in to this strategy.   Also, having proven sales history in other reputable retailers demonstrates your potential selling power and will enable you to build volume projections that demonstrate the market opportunity of your product.  Your pitch presentation should include a slide that shows your sales history at other retailers and the sales forecast you have projected for this retailer.

  2. Defining your consumer target.  Knowing who your target audience is - from their demographics to their attitudes, shopping behavior and preferences (this is when doing consumer research pays off) - helps you show the type of shopper your products will bring into the retailers’ store.  Align this with the retailers’ shopper strategy and you’ve checked another box in building a compelling business case.   In your pitch presentation, include a section that profiles your target consumer.

  3. Build your brand’s awareness.  Having a good product is not enough.  It needs to be backed by strong branding and effective marketing.  Good branding lends itself to future line extensions which give buyers’ confidence that this buyer-vendor relationship has longevity and can drive future business.  Strong branding creates shelf presence and makes it easier to shop the shelves.  And this fuels category growth, which translates to more shoppers and revenue for retailers.  Also, any marketing tactics like advertising or promotional deals you can offer will help drive traffic to stores – either through new shoppers or more frequent or bigger store trips.   You can demonstrate this in your pitch presentation with slides showing the success metrics of past marketing and promotional programs and recommendations for the programs you will create to drive customers to their stores.   Also include a slide that shows all the media outlets that have featured your brand to demonstrate your broad reach.

  4. Mitigate risk.  Buyers are risk averse, especially anything that may erode sales or damage their stores’ reputation.  In addition to mitigating sales risk through consignment deals, consumer testing, having a proven sales record, it is also important to make sure your product meets product safety and quality testing criteria.  I have seen many vendors lose shelf space and business because they could not meet the stringent testing criteria many major retailers require.  If you manufacture a children’s product, make sure it meets CPSIA standards, but also the retailers’ criteria for drop testing, transportation testing, and the list goes on.  Sales reps, other product entrepreneurs and retail consultants can help you figure out what these requirements are.  A simple slide that shows the testing and safety standards you meet will quickly wipe away any concerns a buyer might have.

  5. Spend money.  Getting into major retail is expensive.  You need to have the infrastructure built and sufficient cash flow.  More on this in an upcoming blog.  But be prepared to order hundreds of product samples before your first order.  You will need samples on hand to send to buyers, testing labs, vendor reps, retail consultants, magazine editors, PR reps, for product sampling programs, and more.  Often times these samples are expensive to produce in low production quantities.  Don’t skimp here; this is a necessary cost of doing business with retailers.  Also spend the money to get your branding and packaging right the first time around.  Changing these things mid-stream will not make your consumers (or buyers) happy. Make sure to bring samples of products to your pitch presentation and have enough to leave behind for everyone in attendance.  

From the Buyer's Perspective: Five essential tips for getting the attention of a retail buyer!

By Vanessa Ting

The common tips you might hear include:  Hire a sales representative, go to trade shows, have your friends and family make requests at the store.  These are all effective tips, but there are a few more ways to be resourceful.

Tip 1:  Be at the place of influence of your targeted retailer.  Whether they buy for the big guys (Walmart, Walgreens, Kohls) or small independent retailers, buyers are out in the market place and shopping competitors to stay on top of trends and get new product inspiration.  Try and find out where they shop.  Often times they are shopping small boutiques and stores – since many new trends start there.   Then, using this intelligence, get your product into that store.

Tip 2:  Research that retailer and determine what is important to them.  If they are publicly traded, read their annual reports and listen to quarterly earnings calls to learn their strategic focus. Knowing this, you can spin your retail pitch to align with their strategies.

Tip 3:  Shop their stores.  Notice how they merchandise your product category.  Observe price points, how they organize brands, piece counts.  Form opinions and recommendations on how they can do things better to grow their business; and those recommendations should also include adding your brand.  Adding value and being a credible source of unbiased industry intelligence will earn you ten more minutes with that buyer than if you were calling just to pitch your product alone.

Tip 4: Another way of grabbing attention is showing your product has selling power.  What is its selling history in other retailers?  Have sales been growing steadily over time? Sales is THE most important metric to grab their attention.

Tip 5: Lastly, take a step back and make sure you have a tight elevator pitch.  30 seconds.  Be succinct, clear, and persuasive.  Give them the information they want to hear.  No more.  No less.

What tips do you have to share with our community?  We would love to hear what has worked for you, so please share in the comments section below!

Next, Romy and I will tackle the common question, "What things do I need for my retail pitch?"  Check back with us soon!