From the Buyer’s Perspective: How Do I Find Retail Buyers’ Contact Info?

Tuesday August 19thResources & Recommendations, Tips for Retail Success Category

This was a popular post on Buyerly’s Facebook page and blog. So I wanted to share this information with you.

Here is a quick video on how to find a Retail Buyer’s name and contact info. And below the video is how to get their email address.

HOT TIP: Need to find the email address format for the retailer you are seeking? One customer recently tested http://www.email-format.com. After finding the retail buyer’s name on LinkedIn, she used this site to guess the email format and…success! She got in contact with them!

FROM THE BUYER’S PERSPECTIVE: DO RETAILERS WANT ME TO DO A SHOW LIKE “SHARK TANK”?

Monday July 28thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

Of course! Any exposure on national media is always welcomed by buyers. It drives foot traffic to stores, which converts to sales. Plus those reruns are known to drive additional sales lifts when they re-air.

But just landing Shark Tank is not enough. You need to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of it.

Here’s a handy dandy checklist.

After you have taped your show and your air date is assigned, there will be much to do and very little time to do it. With that air date in hand, quickly do the following:

  1. Announce to your current retail accounts your air date. Check their inventory levels to make sure they are set up to capitalize from your appearance.
  2. Ask past Shark Tank entrepreneurs what their average store sales lifts were. Cite this data (don’t use company names unless you have permission) to retail buyers. This helps retail buyers determine how many additional units they need to stock to fulfill demand.
  3. Tell retail buyers you have been courting about the upcoming Shark Tank feature and the date. Give them ship dates (hopefully you heeded Romy’s advice and stock-piled your inventory levels) and order lead times. Tell them what date to send the PO for product to arrive prior to the air date.
    –For retail buyers who are “on the fence” about your product line, I would call or send a personal email.
    –For retailers where no relationship exists, send them an e-newsletter blast or post card. Don’t forget to inform retailers of their deadline for when they need to send their POs to get shipments in time.
  4. After your appearance airs, measure the sales lift. Look at your sales on Amazon or your company website. Ask your retailers what sales lifts they got. Measure, measure, measure. You will be citing these results to future retailers as you court them.

To those of you pursuing Shark Tank, good luck!

 

From the Buyer’s Perspective: WHAT TYPES OF RETAIL PITCHES ARE THERE AND WHEN DO I USE THEM?

Friday July 25thPresentation Pitch, Tips for Retail Success Category

I’m going a little rogue today. Instead of following Romy’s post about Shark Tank with my own (which I will post soon), I’m sharing this post that originally appeared on my website.

Source: http://www.retail-path.com/blog/what-types-of-retail-pitches-are-there

 

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. And maximize their 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.

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Do retailers want me to do a show like “Shark Tank”?

Monday July 21stUncategorized Category

Your buyers/retailers care about their bottom line, as they should.  If that means you are driving sales to their doors, then yes you should consider a show like Shark Tank that has approximately 7 million  viewers and can create some amazing brand awareness, thus driving consumers to your retailers’ doors.

That said, your chances of making it on air are very slim due to tens of thousands of others applying. Additionally, your readiness to appear on air has to also be closely managed. Timing is sometimes everything – you want to make sure that you are fully ready to leverage such an opportunity and that means having a solid infrastructure and inventory readily available (i.e. you have the resources to produce that inventory).

So, are you ready to apply? Consider the following when answering that question. Do you have the time to apply? If you are already strapped for time, the answer may already be no and you can stop reading this blog post. The process is time consuming. If you apply and are invited to go to the next round(s), they include submitting a video, a ton of paperwork, researching the Sharks (you want to know who you are pitching to), familiarizing yourself with your financials so that you know them inside and out, practicing your pitch, a lot of communication with your assigned producers, travel, etc. If you film (and there are no guarantees that you will film even after going through the above steps), there is the time between filming and airing (and there are no guarantees that you will make it on air). Between the time of filming and airing, you will need to prepare for many steps (keep reading) – and you will have to make a leap of faith that you will air because there is not enough time to wait until you “know” that you will air. You will likely be given 2-3 weeks’ notice that you will appear on air. With this short lead time, consider the following short list readiness factors:

  • Is your web site prepared for the traffic (highly likely not) so you will need to get this all dialed in.
  • Do you have the inventory on hand to sell directly from your web site and/or ready to ship to your retailers should they request some in advance and/or wait to post airing and then suddenly want your product shipped pronto? This means investing in the inventory. Do you have the cash to do so? No one wants to wait for product. Not consumers and not retailers. Don’t put yourself in the situation of being in “reactive” mode and aggravate everyone in the process.
  • There are a lot of emails, social media posts, and phone calls that will follow in the days and weeks post airing. Do you have the support staff to handle these communications and stay on top of your day to day operations?

Ask yourself: Do you have the bandwidth to leverage and fully maximize these opportunities?  Opportunities include inquiries from press, retailers, distributors, investors, etc. It’s super exciting! But, would you be better served applying to the show next season? That’s for you to answer.

Building a brand is an ongoing effort though. So, whether you have a great platform like Shark Tank to spread the word, most companies won’t have this unique opportunity. So, like everything, stay the course and build your brand over time. Create a story and build upon it. Your retailers want to know that you are a partner for the long term. Show them visually how you are generating awareness for your brand over time. Example: http://psibands.com/press.html

From the Buyer’s Perspective: I have all these retailers who want my product line. How do I prioritize?

Tuesday July 1stTips for Retail Success Category

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.

Let me be clear. This rarely happens.

So what does a new brand do when a huge retailer is knocking on their door?

I’ll answer that in a second.

While my clients were excited by the prospect of selling in Target stores in their first year in market, I was afraid for them.  As we prepared for the meeting, they began to realize what selling to any large retailer would entail. They had to figure out:

  • How to negotiate lower ingredient costs to meet Target’s margin requirements
  • Get a new manufacturer who could handle Target volume and do so with short order lead times.
  • Get a new warehouse, fulfillment, logistics and distribution system set up without any shipment history to base price quotes on. And get those costs down to meet Target’s margin requirements.
  • Get an expert in supply chain and inventory management on staff to manage operations.
  • Get EDI compliant.
  • How to battle the low brand awareness typical of new brands and how to scale up their marketing quickly in order to support national retail distribution
  • $$$$ to: fund these large inventory orders, pay for all supply chain partners, fund their marketing plan, and to hire their supply chain expert.
  • And after all that, their profit margins were shockingly slim.

All of a sudden, selling to Target sounded like a scary and financially risky idea to my clients.

And this is why it is rarely good to sell to a large retailer immediately. In fact, not only does it behoove brands to hold off on big retail, but to scale up smartly, slowly, and be choosy about which retailers you sell to and when.

What is a smart way to prioritize retailers?  In short, a smart way takes into account:

  • Diversifying your cash flow so that you are not dependent on one retailer to be providing your cash flow
  • A retailer that allows you to grow your brand building momentum and is well matched with your current brand awareness levels
  • Retailers that will give you sales history, which is the “currency” needed to sell to larger retailers.
  • Retailers that are within range of your infrastructure and operational capabilities.

I have a framework called a Strategic Retailer Roadmap that is appropriate for brands 0-3 years old.  One feature of the Roadmap is that it breaks retailers into 3 broad categories or Account Types:

  1. Prestige builders (retailers that are pre-trend and get your product in front of influencers, but may not have high store count)
  2. Revenue drivers (retailers that have a lot of doors AKA store count but may not be brand enhancing for your products. They are not brand diluting either)
  3. Key accounts are retailers that hit the sweet spot between the above two categories.

I’m simplifying things here for the blog. In reality, the Strategic Retailer Roadmap has more facets to it. But each brand needs to identify the right level of penetration within each Account Type for each stage of growth (e.g., Phase 1, Phase 2, etc). I create these Strategic Retailer Roadmaps for clients who are getting tons of calls from retailers but don’t know how to prioritize them or for brands trying to decide which retailers to go after first. It has helped provide them with clarity, has broken the growth stage into smaller digestible steps, and minimized the feelings of overwhelm.

retailer roadmap

Example of a brand’s growth plan. These numbers are for illustrative purposes only and do not apply to all brands.

So brands, if there is a takeaway from this blog post, let it be this: Build a plan for how you will grow your retail distribution and reference it often. When a retailer calls, see where they fit in the plan and do the math to see if you can handle the financial risk of taking on that account. And do NOT be afraid to say no. Ultimately, saying “no” is the defining difference between smart profitable companies and companies that seem like “overnight successes” but then crash and burn.  Which one will you be?

 

 

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: I have all these retailers who want my product line. How do I prioritize?

Tuesday June 17thUncategorized Category

Retailers lining up at your door. What a great problem to have, right? Maybe. If you are prepared. Let’s start with prioritization and then conclude with some preparation considerations.

You can help to prioritize who you do business with by examining a number of key factors.

  1. Know your target audience. If you know who you are trying to sell to, then you have a better idea of how to communicate to them (through packaging and marketing), how to reach them (marketing and distribution location), and what price they are willing to pay for your product (because you have researched their demographics).
  2. Partner with retailers who align with your pricing strategy (i.e. who will sell your product at your MSRP…and you know what your MSRP is because you have done market research to determine at what price your product will sell and how it needs to be priced against your competition).
  3. Study your competition. Where are they selling and where are they not selling? Both provide insight. If your competition is selling at certain retailers, maybe you need to be there, too, or maybe it’s too saturated at that particular retailer and you should go look for other possibilities where that retailer has little or no competing products but where you think you stand a very good chance of selling well (i.e. in more niche retailers and/or where your competition has yet to break ground).
  4. Spread out your distribution.  There are many ways to accomplish this …online, in store in boutiques, regional retailers, and/or mass retailers, and/or internationally.  Mix it up so that your business is not dependant on one or two accounts.
  5. Can you fund the inventory? Are you prepared to drive sales? Can you meet the demands of the retailer? Are your systems ready to go? … Read below.

Get Prepared – Questions to Ask Yourself

Do you have the inventory to fulfill demand? If not, you will likely have disappointed retailers. And disappointed retailers does not bode well for sustaining long-term relationships. Retailers are risk averse. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are unable to fulfill on orders. Additionally, some larger retailers assess chargebacks if you can’t deliver on those orders because they reserved shelf space for you and you are costing them money. Be honest with your retailers/customers on what you can and can’t do.

  1. Can you front the cash for the inventory that this retailer is requesting? You are likely looking at MONTHS before you actually get paid (i.e. timeframe considerations: from the start of manufacturing to delivery at your warehouse to delivery at the retailers’ DCs to the net 30, 60, 75 or 90 day net terms that they offer you).
  2. Do you have the systems in place to support these sales? For example:
  3. Do you have someone on your team who can manage the order fulfillment process from order acknowledgment to the actual fulfillment to the invoicing? Are you set up on EDI?
  4. Do you have product liability insurance that may be required by the retailers? What will this cost you?
  5. What marketing programs will you implement to drive sales and stay on the store shelf? And what will this cost you in time and/or cash?
  6. Are you prepared and educated in how to negotiate with these retailers? They speak their own language (ie. do you know what I am saying when I say “markdowns”, “TPC”, “UPSPW”, “POG”, “chargebacks”).  Many large retailers charge a hefty noncompliance fee if you do not ship within the specified shipping window, if you are missing a label, the label is incorrectly completed. If you are not well versed in this retail lingo, are you going to hire a retail sales consultant &/or rep (you may need both) to help you navigate these negotiations to help minimize your risk and increase your margins, and actually seal the deal? That, too, costs money in sales commissions and/or upfront consulting fees.

From the Buyer’s Perspective: What product safety testing do I need to conduct for retailers?

Friday June 6thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

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.

In my experience, product safety testing is the most misunderstood by vendors because of the depth of testing and constant change in regulations. But once vendors figured out the requirements, how to stay on top of changes, plus created an ongoing testing protocol, subsequently it was easy for them to remain compliant.

But it is durability testing that vendors most often failed, despite all efforts. During my watch, many products, especially those at low price points or manufactured overseas, frequently failed durability testing during my watch for reasons that aren’t surprising to those in the manufacturing business.  To combat this, retailers do routine surprise factory inspections and randomly pull sample from production runs for testing. And these are all things you have to stay on top of. It’s your job to ensure you pass those surprise visits and tests with flying colors.

What happens when you fail any of the aforementioned testing? You lose your spot in that retailer’s assortment. Often times you are given a second chance to make corrections and retest, but usually timelines are so tight that even if you pass the second test, you will have missed your ship date. Retailers will have little sympathy in this situation and cancel your order.

So what’s the lesson here? Be a master of your industry’s testing requirements and err on the side of caution. Like Romy said, join trade associations who are at the forefront of regulation changes. For example, Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) is the leading trade organization for infant, toddler and children’s products and offers educational programs and certification services to keep you compliant. I recommend all vendors join a trade association, not only to get this product safety requirements but because of the many other upsides it provides for your business.

Lastly you can ask your large retailers which labs they test with and those labs (and the retailer’s QA department) will tell you the requirements you need to pass. For example, at Target, we used Bureau Vertitas regularly.  For smaller retailers, ask them for their product testing requirements and what documentation you need to show them. You may find that all they require is product testing certification by trade associations.

 

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: What product safety testing do I need to conduct for retailers?

Wednesday May 28thTips for Retail Success Category

There is no easy and straight forward answer to this question. This is largely dictated by the product type and retailer. So, it’s time to start asking questions, and the earlier you start asking, the better so that it saves you time and resources to determine if the product is one you even want to invest in and/or if the retailer is one you wish to do business with.

For example, when Psi Bands appeared on QVC a few years ago, they made us perform and pass a qualified “drop test”. The drop test was to ensure that if during shipping and/or fulfillment the package were to drop (be kicked, tossed, juggled by the shipping carrier), that the package could withstand some banging around without breakage. While you might not consider this a “safety” issue, the point is that you might encounter tests that you never even dreamed you might have to pass as a pre-qualifier to doing business.

Who to ask about product safety requirements:

  1. The association that governs your category, if there is one. For example, if you are selling/wish to sell into the juvenile channel, visit the JPMA website: http://jpma.org/
  2. Ask other entrepreneurs selling in the same category. Email them, connect on social media, or walk a tradeshow as a guest (you don’t have to be an exhibitor). At the tradeshow, go introduce yourself to fellow entrepreneurs, who for the most part love helping other entrepreneurs (but do it when their booth is empty of potential buyers. i.e. be respectful of their space/time. If they are constantly busy, then ask if you may have their business card and be in touch with them post tradeshow). Also, association members may have a booth so reach out to them there.
  3. Ask a rep in the same space as the one you are selling/wish to sell in for their input. If you don’t have a rep, ask other entrepreneurs for introductions to one of their reps so you have a better chance of receiving a reply.
  4. Ask the buyers themselves who you have a relationship with or meet at a tradeshow.

FROM THE BUYER’S PERSPECTIVE: DOES IT PAY TO GO GLOBAL?

Tuesday May 20thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

Going global is great for younger companies because it helps grow your sales and creates cash flow. But one risk in going global is the inability to control your brand reputation. And brand is what creates value for your line and company financials, your retailers, investors and potential acquirers. Overseas, you may not have a say in which stores your distributor will sell your line to and that is a scary thing. It’s all the risks of managing your brand stateside, but without the advantage of being in that market to immediately know when things go sour. Plus, do you have the ability to market your brand in that foreign market? Often times, large companies have global brand managers to help them navigate the nuances of the local market. Consider the management time that international distribution could require.

As for US retailers, do they care about the sales numbers you are pulling in from your international distributors? For one, it is unlikely your distributor will be able to get you point of sales data. Secondly, even if you did have access to point of sales data, U.S. retailers will not give it much weight. Why? The markets are different: Different consumer, different purchase interests and habits, different set of competitors, and momentum in other countries rarely have any “halo effect” on the US market.

So pursue global cautiously. Wait for the right partner. Ask the right questions (provided in Romy’s blog) and then use the cash from international distributors’ better payment terms to hold you over during the longer payment terms imposed by US retailers. And make sure your company is staffed up to handle a global business.

FROM THE BUYER’S PERSPECTIVE: Q’S TO ASK WHEN INTERVIEWING A SALES REP

Monday May 19thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

Without angering my clients who pay me for this valuable advice, I’ll offer this one valuable tip, plus a few example questions to get your juices flowing.

Valuable tip: Make sure the sales rep you are interviewing is grilling YOU. He/she should be asking you the tough questions a retail buyer will be asking them. Without doing so, they will not be prepared to sell your line. If they sound too eager without doing their due diligence, I suggest you end the conversation and move on.

Other questions to ask sales reps:
• What can you expect in terms of purchase orders and by when?
• What types of tools do their retailers expect you to provide? It varies and your sales reps will know best what works in their retail stores.
• Will their retailers provide POS data to you?