Are you feeling like the time is right to grow from online sales to retail sales? Bravo! That’s an exciting milestone for any small business owner. Expansion into retail space gives more widespread access to potential customers and can significantly increase your volumes of sales. The increased brand exposure that comes along with retail can also be a game-changer for entrepreneurs.
Take a readiness pulse
As eager as you may be to expand, you’ll want to make sure you are ready to do so before charging ahead. ATB Financial Entrepreneur Strategist, Aimee Parker advises entrepreneurs to take a hard look at whether they are ready for expansion.
“It’s really important to have a firm foundation to accommodate for growth. Clear systems and processes need to be in place for every operational aspect of their business, from marketing to supply chain to production. They should have a proven model in the market they are already in.”
Know your story and share it widely
Your business has a killer story just waiting to be told. Be authentic in telling this story, and don’t hold back! Communicating a clear and consistent brand allows your company to start building relationships with prospective customers, suppliers and partners digitally in advance of ever interacting in a sales capacity.
“Having a concrete understanding of your why is so critical,” Parker explains. “What need are you fulfilling, what problem are you solving, who is your customer? Retailers will not do your storytelling for you.”
Think like a retailer
What do brick and mortar retailers look for in their ideal products? Big margins, attractive packaging, speedy turnover and solid marketing are the stuff of retailers’ dreams!
Parker points to the single biggest mistake that companies make when looking to work with retailers. “Assuming that the product will sell itself once it is on a retailers' shelf. This is why it is so important for a business to plan and have actionable systems for supporting retailers with marketing and promotion. Training retailers and their staff, promotional plans, marketing support, product/brand education and systems in place for communicating and checking in on retailers are all things to consider.”
Running low on product is never a good thing - give retailers peace of mind by demonstrating solid supply chain and inventory management practices, including quality control and having back-up supplier relationships in place.
Anticipate the retailer’s needs and arm them with the tools for success.
Scope out your future partners in business
In our consumer-driven society, there is a myriad of ways to acquire goods and services. From farmers markets to trade shows, boutique stores and big-box chains, there are numerous retail options for business owners to consider.
“Good partnerships are crucial,” Parker advises. “It’s important when looking for a partner to choose the right fit – this retailer is an extension of your brand and often is a consumer’s first introduction to you and your product.”
Which retailers are you most keen to work with? Consider factors like what their competitive advantage is, what are their values, who are their clientele? Identify these potential partners and then get to know them. Follow their social media accounts (don’t forget LinkedIn). Sign up for their newsletters. Engage with them online (share, comment, like). Research them. And don’t stop just at the companies themselves, but also get to know their decision makers. Leverage mutual connections for personal introductions – LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for this.
Who the decision maker is may vary based on the size of the retailer.
“With larger retailers, you may be looking for a product or procurement manager, or for a smaller retailer, it may be the owner who is making the buying decisions.”
Parker recommends creating a plan to connect. “This could be cold calling, emails….the more you can do to get in front of that decision maker, the better. Visit their store, do the groundwork to educate yourself on their products, brand and customers. The more personalized you can make it, the better for building a strong relationship.”
The Shop Local movement in Alberta continues to gain momentum and is stronger than ever, giving an advantage to local entrepreneurs with a compelling story that is connected to their community.
“Retailers are looking to create ties in their communities. Blush Lane is one example of a retailer that does a great job of showcasing local producers.”
Perfect the pitch
Getting product space on retail shelves can be challenging. Retailers have a finite amount of shelf space, and the product lines they carry need to align to their brand and values criteria. Do your due diligence when approaching retailers, and build the business case for them so they can’t say no.
Parker shares some of her must-do’s for pitching to retailers:
• What differentiates your product?
• Why should you be taking up shelf space vs other competitors in your space?
• Have a thorough promotions plan and spell out what kind of support you offer.
• And finally, do you have a really clear, credible and compelling story?
Data is king and can be incredibly persuasive. From social media followers to statistics that demonstrate customer need in the area, the more critical data points you can include, the stronger your business case.
Your pitch package should include a cover letter, a press kit, visuals and product samples. Shopify shares recommended press kit essentials and samples in this article, including:
• What is your story?
• Basic company facts such as your sales volume to date and how long you have been operating
• Introduce your executive team
• Press releases and media mentions/interviews
• Awards and recognition
• Social media data, both qualitative and quantitative
• Quotes from leadership and customer testimonials
• Frequently asked questions
It’s time to negotiate
Now that you have won over your retail partner(s) of choice, it’s time to come to consensus on terms.
“Know your numbers,” Parker advises. “Have a clear understanding of what your growth margins are. Be in a position to negotiate based on volume.”
Payment terms, minimum orders, return policies and turnaround times are all elements that should be reflected in the contract.
Spread the news - this is a win, so let your customers and social media followers know about this milestone. Keep the lines of communication with your retailer partner wide open, and solicit their feedback on potential product or process changes that could increase sales - their staff can bring forward some valuable insights from frontline discussions. And finally, enjoy that amazing feeling of accomplishment when you first see your product displayed on retail shelving!
If you’re ready to grow your business to the next level, reach out to our entrepreneur strategists for deeper insights and strategies that can help you build on the incredible foundation you’ve already created.