We have all watched an episode of Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank and saw eager entrepreneurs pitch their unique products and businesses to the panel of successful executives. While most of the products that are pitched on Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank are viable ideas, the majority of novice entrepreneurs come to the shows asking the Dragons and Sharks for help getting their products in the stores and on the shelves, so they can grow their business.
Developing and creating a marketable business is only the first step in the long process of bringing a product to market; and while many sleepless nights are spent perfecting your distinct merchandise, figuring out who to talk to about bringing your product to a brick-and-mortar store can be even more challenging.
For those of us who aren’t able to travel to Toronto to meet the Dragons or to Los Angeles to meet the Sharks, there are a range of guidance points that can help to get your product on the shelves and in the hands of your customers. These are several of the most helpful guidance points.
- Think Small
While all entrepreneurs dream of success, few have found it overnight. Developing relationships with smaller retailers and mom-and-pop shops can get you the retail experience large chains demand of the companies they do business with.
“Start small and sell at independent shops and even Web shops,” notes Danny Wong of Blank Label Group, Inc. “The more exposure and sales you get the better, creating legitimacy for your product, so you can approach the big retailers and say, “I sell 10,000 widgets a day, perhaps you’d like to sell them, too?”
- Leverage Existing Relationships
Let’s face it, there are going to be things that even the most seasoned entrepreneurs don’t know or needs help with. Using your network of friends, colleagues, distributors and mentors to help guide your business through the crucial expansion stage can provide that extra boost of confidence and extra knowledge you need.
For Brad Kendall, co-founder of innovation incubator Digihedron, the relationship between a business owner and their distributor can be especially beneficial when trying to get a new product to market.
“Distributors already have relationships with the large retailers. Put them to work for you, using their relationships to place your products,” advises Kendall. “Large retailers don’t like to waste time, they want someone who knows the system.”
- Offer an Exceptional Product
When researching the retailers where you would like your product to be sold, be sure to find out if your product aligns with the rest of the merchandise in the store while offering something unique or special.
This is most easily achieved by ensuring the product you are offering is exceptional. When Toronto’s David Weiss, for example, began manufacturing and distributing retail watches in the 90s, he knew he was competing with well-known luxury brands, as well as smaller more affordable brands. However, Weiss was able to grow his watch business in a short time by exceeding industry standards and focusing on customer satisfaction.
This emphasis on attention to detail led Weiss to distribute his watches to top retailers across North America. In order to set his time pieces apart from everything that was already out there, he strove to offer exceptional value at an affordable price point.
“When I first started manufacturing watches, I ensured I was sourcing the best and most durable materials,” said Weiss. “It was also important that each watch had a battery that not only met the standard for the industry, but exceeded industry standards.”
From there, he began reaching out to medium-sized retailers to see if they would be interested in selling his watches.
“In those early years, the reputation of the watches and the word of mouth that was spreading really helped me to get the time pieces in more retail locations,” added David Weiss of Toronto.
- Develop an Exciting and Concise Pitch
Buyers and suppliers meet with hundreds of people each year and they don’t want to sit through a boring spreadsheet presentation or suffer through a presentation that hasn’t been well planned. Develop an exciting pitch that can motivate and interest buyers. If your product doesn’t excite you or the buyer, how will it excite customers?
Also, ensure that your presentation includes easily digestible facts and figures about sales to date, product margins, targeted goals and so on. You may only get one opportunity to pitch to a large retailer make sure you don’t waste it.
With more than 27 million entrepreneurs in the United States alone, it’s imperative that your product stands out and apart from the thousands of new merchandise that is introduced to store shelves each year. Retailers have limited shelf space and limited budgets to spend on introducing new products that’s why having a well thought out product and business plan is so important.