Mabel's Labels recently launched a product that is now available in Walmart stores across Canada. For a small company that sold products exclusively online, moving into retail was a big step. We did our homework, including hiring a professional research firm to study the opportunity before pitching our product to Walmart buyers. Here are a few other lessons we learned along the way:
1. No need to be intimidated. While the world's largest retailer may seem intimidating, you have something of value to offer. Don't lose sight of that. Walmart's approach with small companies is much different than how they deal the big multinationals. If you have a solid offering that fits their customer base, they'll work with you to make your product successful.
2. Know your prospective partner. Walk the store, learn to speak their language and understand the brand.
3. Understand their customer. Will the customer who shops at that retailer love your product? Does their customer look like your customer? Does your existing product and packaging need to be altered to appeal to the target consumer? Entering the retail market is a huge investment – you don't want to see your product gathering dust on shelves.
4. Be proud of your business. You may be small, but big retailers are interested in the little guy. Your quirky beginnings and funny start-up stories are part of your charm. Don't feel like you have to hide them or be embarrassed.
5. Be honest. The due diligence and number of references a partnership will seek are extensive. Don't pretend to be something you're not. Practice honesty in business. Always.
6. Bragging is allowed! Go into your pitch loaded with customer testimonials, press hits, business awards and other brag-worthy points.
7. Practice your pitch. Use your time wisely, be prepared and stay on point. Buyers are extremely time-crunched so put your big selling stories up front; they'll find more time for you if they're interested in what you're saying.
8. Don't know what you're doing? Get help! Contract someone who knows about retail and has experience and connections. Ask all your friends involved in retail what and who they know. Remember, there is no such thing as a silly question.
9. Be flexible and accept feedback. Many buyers have extensive experience in the categories they manage. Be prepared to entertain changes they suggest and always ensure you have resources available to take advantage of merchandising programs they may offer you. "All in" is fine in poker, but not at retail.
10. Have all your ducks in a row. If you get a "YES", then you'd better have a product to give your retailer. You need to understand all of your production, supply, distribution and costing issues so that you can deliver on your promises.