From the Buyer’s Perspective: Top 3 Traits of a Successful Product Entrepreneur

Friday December 19thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

Man, this is meaty topic. In my 15 years in the consumer product and retail space, I’ve seen a lot of product companies thrive and fizzle. And I have my own tech product entrepreneurial experience to draw from. Needless to say, I have strong opinions on this topic.

I would agree with Romy  that being Strategic, Persistent and Accountable are all traits critical to success. I would add the following three traits to that list.

1. Bias for Action – As they say, anyone can have an idea but execution is king. Execution is what sets your idea apart from competitors.

The first line in the job description of an Entrepreneur should be “problem solver”. Every day on the job, you’re faced with different problems to solve. The first problem you solve as an entrepreneur is the one your very own product provides a solution for. And this problem solving continues with putting out fires and blocking and tackling all the issues that arise in your day to day operations. So being solution-oriented is an important trait to have as you embark on the marathon of entrepreneurship.

And by the way, retail buyers look for vendors who are decisive, can anticipate problems, come up with 3 solutions to each, and execute the solution seamlessly and without delay.

2. Quantitative – Be numbers-driven in every decision you make. You don’t have to be good at math. Just be comfortable enough with it.

Many companies make poor financial decisions because they never “ran the numbers”. That will always be my “go to” response for any business decision made. I’ve seen entrepreneurs price their products too low, thereby squeezing their own margins making it virtually impossible to continue their business. I’ve seen companies agree to high costs of goods without any thought to how it might inflate their retail prices and end up sitting on inventory that no one wants to buy. I’ve seen vendors agree to markdown coverage that results in them earning no profit on a wholesale order. I can go on, but you get the idea.

As a buyer, I would avoid working with vendors who did not show their ability to crunch or analyze numbers. Even now, I shy away from clients who don’t demonstrate this competency. It sets no one up for success. This trait is crucial.

3. Long-term focused – Being long-term focused means making decisions that won’t close doors on opportunities in the future. It means making decisions that are good for the long term health of your company, even if it means making less money today. That may seem like it contradicts my point above about “running the numbers” but it doesn’t. Being long-term focused means evaluating not just one, but multiple data points before making a decision. And among the multiple data points you will consider, one will be the numbers you run. Another data point will be the long term effect on your brand or business. And there will likely be many other data points to consider in combination with these, such as the interests of your investors or your exit-strategy. Being long-term focused prevents you from making decisions in a silo.

Making decisions in a silo happens a lot.  Here is a dramatic example to illustrate my point:

Many first-time product companies don’t know to manage their pricing and product portfolio across various retail channels (google: Channel Management or Channel Conflict). They’ll sell the same product with the same price at Nordstrom as they do at Target. And while they will make more money today selling in both stores with the same SKU, they will soon begin cannibalizing their own sales at Nordstrom and eventually lose Nordstrom as an account. At the same time, no other prestige retailer will want to work with them either. And if their volume and profitability at Target and other mass channels can’t offset the profits they lost by eliminating the prestige channel…well, you see where I’m headed. So don’t make short term decisions that bankrupt your money-making opportunities for the future. Be strategic, like Romy says, and anticipate how your decisions will play out over time.

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Top 3 Traits of a Successful Product Entrepreneur

Tuesday December 16thTips for Retail Success, Uncategorized Category

There are many attributes that I would consider to be critical to a product entrepreneur’s success; however, the following are my top 3 picks.

Are your decisions well thought out? Are you willing to go the mile? Can I count on you?

  1. Strategic. Without a sound business strategy, you will be distracted by all the “shiny objects” dangling in front of you. There are always going to be many opportunities before you; however, which ones you choose to pursue are going to be critical. Make sure that those opportunities are in alignment with your goals.
  2. Persistent. There is not a day that goes by that is “easy” as an entrepreneur. Even when things are going super well, there are challenges, even if they are good ones. And when the going gets tough, the tough need to get going. The most successful entrepreneurs are going to dive deep…they are going to evaluate the problem and find creative and strategic solutions.
  3. Accountable. If you tell someone you are going to do something, do it. If you are unable to follow through on that commitment, be proactive and explain the situation succinctly ALONG WITH your proposed solution. Providing clear expectations leads to trusting relationships.

From the Buyer’s Perspective: Ways to Share Gratitude With Your Retail Buyer

Wednesday December 10thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

Retail buyers don’t often times show their gratitude to their vendors. But trust me, they are grateful. They may just show it differently or not have the opportunity to express it. I’ll give a tip at the end of this post on how you can finagle a “thank you” from a buyer.

It’s unfortunate that some buyers don’t show their gratitude more. Because our success relies heavily upon our partnership with you, our vendors. Your marketing wins bring us sales.  Your clever product launches bring us category growth. Your strong brand sales bring us job recognition from our Senior Buyers and DMMs – and in some cases, year-end bonuses and promotions.

Let me share a story about vendor gratitude. I had many great vendor relationships while working as a buyer. In fact, we are still friends to this day. This one particular vendor was a fantastic one because we worked as a team – this included taking risks as a team. Some risks paid off handsomely which benefited both of us/our companies. Some risks backfired. When they backfired, I had to have the hard conversation of  “markdown coverage” . That meant I had to put them in a difficult spot and ask for a sum sometimes as high as $1 million. That feels really crappy. But despite it all, we liked working with each other and still do to this day.

In my humble opinion, the reason this vendor and I still have a strong working relationship is because we express gratitude for each other along the way. We celebrate wins *together* which makes it a little easier to swallow the setbacks *together*.  In my experience, vendors and buyers who don’t express gratitude for each other are short-changing their relationship. It is not intentional on anyone’s part. Some people just forget to be appreciative. I’ll write more on how to remind them in just a second. When gratitude fails to exist, there is no commitment to one another. There is no motivation to dig deep and find a mutually beneficial outcome.  That leads to untapped potential and short-term (zero-sum) solutions.

So yes, you can benefit from expressing gratitude to your buyer. Tell them how much you appreciate that they took a chance on you. Or simply thank them for their time or for that valuable piece of feedback.

And to echo Romy’s words, buyers are human too. My mom passed away unexpectedly during my time at Target (which is the reason I left my awesome job to return home). There were a handful of vendors that showed compassion and grace with a few kind words. I remember each and every one of those vendors and their words. And I am forever grateful for them. Did they earn special treatment from me after? Not consciously. But I bet I was more lenient on them than other vendors who merely saw me as an obstacle to get through.

This leads me to my tip on how you can earn gratitude from your buyer. It’s simple. Express your gratitude to them first. Point out the successes the two of you have achieved together and acknowledge them. Chances are, they will acknowledge you back and thank you in return. See? Super simple. Gratitude works that way. Give, give, get.

Happy Holidays, friends. We are grateful for you, your interest and your feedback. Thank YOU for reading our blog and best wishes for a wildly successful 2015.

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Ways to show Gratitude ALL YEAR and Why This is Important In the Retail Setting (or Any Setting)

Monday December 8thUncategorized Category

It’s that time of the year when many people feel added pressure due to the holidays. Whether the additional stress is compounded by health issues, meeting or achieving personal and/or professional year-end expectations, or getting ready for upcoming visitors or travels, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that someone else likely has it worse than we do. Be patient. That person who just irritated you is likely going through something. Breathe. And keep breathing through the situation. It likely will result in you feeling better about yourself because you didn’t react. This amazing gift that you are giving to others and yourself can be carried forward ALL YEAR.

Why is this important to you? Besides the fact that it’s just the right thing to do, it means better relationships, and these relationships matter to your business. These relationships may be the difference between you having your product on the store shelf, or not. Buyers are super busy (one of my buyers once told me she received 400 emails daily), but they are people with feelings, too. So, show that you CARE so the buyer WANTS to read your email, answer your phone call, meet with you in person, and/or give greater attention to your product than he/she would otherwise if they didn’t know you cared.

5 Ways to Show you Care

  1. In your daily/weekly/monthly communications with your buyers, show your human side. You can certainly start off each email/phone call with a kind salutation and/or personal note. It takes just a few seconds longer and it’s far more engaging Examples: Happy Friday! Do you have something fun planned for the weekend? I am taking my 12 year old son to see XYZ game; how is your daughter doing post knee surgery? Did you have a nice visit with your grandchildren? Show that you CARE. You will be amazed at how a relationship can develop if you SHARE just a tad about yourself and ASK questions. Keep it succinct (as I mentioned above, they do receive 400 emails daily, after all!), but show your human side.

Personal Example: I am teaching my 12-year son who is navigating the pre-teen years that it’s important to ask questions of others. It shows his friends that he cares about them and that the result will be deeper relationships. My last conversation was just last night when I asked him whether his “girlfriend” had a Xmas tree. He said he didn’t know. I said that it was nice that he was sharing a picture of our tree with her, but that it would be nice to find out from her if she had a tree or would be getting a tree, and what their family tradition may be around getting a tree, and that he could share some of those details with her about what we do as a family. I am trying to teach him to get beyond just surface details.

  1. Honor their schedule. When you ask for a phone call or meeting, suggest a timeframe – and stick to it. Example: “Can we talk next week for just 15 minutes? What day/time will work for you?” And, whatever you do, stick to the timeframe that has been suggested or allocated. At the designated cut off time, you can state, I realize we are at our cut off time, shall we stop and I will follow up with you via email? You are showing the buyer that you are mindful of their busy schedule. If they want another 10 minutes of your time, awesome. But let them make that choice.
  2. Say your “pleases” and “thank you’s”. Who doesn’t want to hear those words?! When you ask and receive, do you say those simple words? Personal example: I just had to make a request of one of my distributors which would result in her having to do work for me that she likely didn’t want to do. My request to her thanked her in advance for her willingness to help. I received a reply within a few minutes. The result: I received forward and timely action. I am not her top priority, or even close to it! But, my request was probably stated a whole lot nicer than others may have asked. Do you want to do things for those who ask nicely or those who don’t? Yup.
  3. Send a simple gift or hand-written note card to your buyer (or his/her assistant!) expressing your gratitude. This can be done during the holidays, but it can also be done in March and/or August. Note: some larger retailers have strict gift policies. The buyer may not be allowed to accept any gift, or a gift valued at more than $25, as an example. You should have received an email from the corporation advising as to their gift policy.
  4. Pick your battles. Be effective, not necessarily right. We all want to be effective and right, but there are times when we can not have both. So, the question becomes, which is more important to you? That may mean compromises on your part and/or letting go of your ego. I am not talking about compromising on your values. You can and should always honor those, but there are many things that you can let go of that are simply not to your benefit to argue. LISTEN to your buyer. Hear what he/she is telling you and then work through the issue without placing blame. You and your buyer ultimately want your product to be successful on his/her shelf.

 

 

Retail Buyer Decision Fatigue: It’s a real thing!

Thursday November 13thPresentation Pitch, Resources & Recommendations, Tips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

We’ve all joked at one time or another about how tired we are of making decisions. It’s a REAL thing! “Decision Fatigue” is a term coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and very much affects how we make decisions and our moods.

Case in point, a few months ago when I was in the throes of wedding planning, I was overwhelmed by the volume of decisions. “Blush-pink or ivory-blush napkins? Do you want the same shade table linens or a contrasting color? Do you want to match your flowers or complement? Will your cool tone shades clash with the gold mercury glass candle holders?” and on and on. I was paralyzed by the sheer volume of options in front of me and I just stopped caring. I told the vendors to pick. And then I’d go home to my fiancé cranky, stressed and tired. Not fun for anyone.

Can you relate?

Well, this dynamic happens with retail buyers too. Especially during their buying cycles. Imagine having to select 100 SKUs for your shelf assortment. To arrive at those 100 SKUs, you probably have to sift through 500 SKUs just to narrow your options. Compound that with the number of vendors who send samples and pitches unsolicited. That’s easily another few hundred additional SKUs pouring into my inbox or the mailroom. Shoot me now.

It got to the point where I was too tired to make a decision on what to eat for lunch. I would stand dumbly at the expansive Target cafeteria hoping someone would just direct me on what to eat.

Get what I’m saying?

So considering the overwhelm a buyer encounters. What can you do to facilitate their decision making? What can YOU do to DIRECT THEM ON WHAT TO BUY?

As a vendor, your best move is to take the onerous chore out of sifting through pitches and help the buyer figure out which ones are truly worth considering. Take the buyers’ guesswork out of determining whether your brand represents good sales potential. Only YOU have the POWER to limit the number of questions a buyer has to ask to narrow in on the information he/she needs to make a decision.

You may think you have done that already. But have you really? Are you opening as many retail accounts as you thought you would have by now? Are you getting a response (yes or no) from retail buyers? Are they buying?

If you cannot confidently say yes to those questions, then you are not presenting your pitch in a way that facilitates decision making.

And based on my years as a retail buyer, only 5% of all submissions I’ve received presented the information in the way I needed it to make my decisions. So chances are, you could do a better job.

My job, and mission, is to teach as many small product companies as possible the right techniques in hopes that 5 years from now, retail buyers see a significant difference in the quality of pitches they receive. I will reduce their “decision fatigue”. And I will increase the number of stores your brand is sold in, meaning more sales for you.

So help me with my mission – and check out more information about how we can do this together

 

This was originally posted on www.retail-path.com/blog/retail-buyer-decision-fatigue-its-a-real-thing

 

Fishing for some Shark Tank entrepreneurial lessons?

Tuesday November 11thResources & Recommendations Category

My guess is that you answered yes if you are still reading.

So, dive deep. Today in The Huffington Post I’m quoted (in slide 3) in an article called “Shark Tank Contestants Share Their Top Lessons Learned.”

Enjoy!

–Romy

 

 

 

 

[VIDEO] From the Target retail buyer: What it really takes to get into big box retailers

Friday November 7thPresentation Pitch, Resources & Recommendations, Tips for Retail Success Category

Yesterday, I did a video interview with Tamara Monosoff. Many of you know her as the best-selling author of Mom Inventors Handbook. It was a fun video with great energy and meaty content. As you’ve come to expect from this blog, we don’t skimp on content. We don’t hold back information. We share it all. So along those lines, it is my honor to share this content with you. Enjoy!!

This video interview covers the buyer’s perspective on the following FAQs:

  • What makes a brand attractive to retail buyers?
  • How often is a large retailer placing new items in their stores?
  • When a buyer is considering a new item, what is their biggest concern?
  • What are the common mistakes made when approaching buyers?
  • How is a retail buyer’s performance measured?
  • What things will retailers want to see financially from vendors?
  • What elements of a brand’s story or founder’s background stand out when buyers are researching a brand?
  • Is it necessary to have a sales rep?
  • What are the different tiers of retail?
  • What does the ideal pitch package contain?

It’s our birthday: RetailTable.com turns 3!

Friday October 31stResources & Recommendations Category

RandV

Happy 3rd Birthday to Both Sides of the Retail Table!

To celebrate our 3 years since launching in October 2011, for your reading pleasure, here are the top 4 blog articles by page views:

  1. From the Buyer, 5 Must-Have Items For Your Retail Pitch
  2. From the Entrepreneur, 5 Must-Have Items For Your Retail Pitch
  3. From the Buyer, Tips for Securing A Meeting With A Retail Buyer
  4. From the Entrepreneur, Packaging Tips To Move Product Off Shelf

We are proud of how we have helped the product entrepreneur community in our 3 years of blogging. Readers have studied our blog articles and taught themselves the simple but smart ways to get retail-ready. Many have implemented our feedback to earn meetings with and, subsequently, win shelf placement in stores across the US.

One reader emailed us to say, “I wanted to say thanks for being so generous with your experience on your blog, Both Sides of the Retail Table. I run a fashion accessories brand and owe you great deal in helping me land my first account with Karmaloop, a large retailer in my space.”

Knowing we have made a positive impact on product businesses keeps us going, especially as we balance this blog with our primary businesses. So thank you for the feedback and for following our blog!

Other fun facts:

  • Every one of our posts are original content.
  • We have written 95 blog articles since launch. That’s about 2.6 blog posts per month (see? we don’t clutter your in-boxes!).
  • We have grown our user base by over 4,700% since December 2011…and we had a strong following right out of the gate!
  • We celebrated our 3rd anniversary with a fun photo shoot! See pictures above and in About Us.
  • And this October isn’t just our 3 year anniversary, but also the month in which Vanessa got married! And of course, Romy was in attendance. The best part of business is making great friends along the way.

 

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From the Buyer’s Perspective: How to continue the momentum AFTER your meeting with a buyer.

Friday October 31stPresentation Pitch, Resources & Recommendations, Tips for Retail Success Category

This is a common question. Many find that after the initial flurry of conversation with a retail buyer, the buyer suddenly goes radio silent. You send an email; but no response. Frustrating!

Do you wonder how often you should follow up before feeling like a pest?

Here’s my advice:

1) Build your communication cadence around the buyer’s timeline. In the initial conversation with retail buyers, ALWAYS ask when they will be making decisions AND how often they reset in stores. Between these 2 questions, you can ascertain the lead time on each reset and the decision timeline on each of those sets. This allows you to wisely choose *when* to follow-up with your buyer, as well as when to give up and move on. Knowing their timelines will save you tons of time and effort (and aggravation). In general, there are at least 4 pieces of information you should always get from the buyer in your first conversation that will set you up for success – and build momentum. Timelines are one of them. More on the other three in a future post.

2) Use newsworthy updates as a reason to follow-up. There is no rule of thumb for how long you should wait before following up again. You should only follow-up when you have something to share that is important to the buyer.  There is nothing more unimpressive to a retail buyer than getting the same email content over and over again. If a buyer hasn’t responded to your previous emails or follow-ups, it’s because it lacked something noteworthy or time-sensitive. In my experience, both as a retail buyer and helping clients land retail placement, the ideal newsworthy update is one that announces upcoming marketing activity. It gives retail buyers a sense of urgency to buy *now* as opposed to buy *later*. Here are some examples of emails to buyers that have prompted a response because it instilled a sense of urgency. http://www.retail-path.com/letters/

So to continue the momentum after your meeting with a buyer, don’t send emails that look like:

“Hi Buyer, I am following up to see if you are still interested in carrying X in your stores.”

or

“Hi Buyer, I am following up on the samples you asked me to send you. Do you have any feedback?”

or

“Hi Buyer, we spoke a couple months ago after you expressed interest in our line. Are you still considering us for your Q4 assortment?” 

or emails that re-explains your product and looks virtually identical to the first email you sent them.

Instead, send follow-up emails and communication similar to these examples.

 

May I have 3 seconds of your time and support?

Friday September 12thUncategorized Category

We’re halfway there! Please take 3 seconds and vote for Psi Health Solutions to win a $150K grant so that we may bring nausea relief to so many more deserving people through education and awareness. We need only 125 more votes to qualify for the next round. Simply go here http://bit.ly/1lSbWC8 and click “votRomy Mission Ste now”. Thank you so much for your support!