How to Get Your Product in Stores

Say you have a great, unique product you've managed to make and maybe have available for sale online and in a handful of retailers. Then what? Making the jump to the big retailers is never easy, but entrepreneurs can learn a lot from these three case studies to help guide the way to success.

IntelliGender
IntelliGender was started in 2006 by two moms, Rebecca Griffin and Teresa Garland, who over lunch one day came up with the idea for a home gender prediction test for expecting mothers -- a fun and affordable way to bridge the gap between conception and sonogram.

The test was first available online only, which helped Griffin and Garland learn about their customers and grow their business slowly. The next step was to work with a few local maternity stores. The product was so popular at these shops that the founders decided to exhibit at baby and maternity trade shows, which got them a deal to sell their product in regional chain supermarkets. This exposure eventually caught the attention of national retailer Walgreens ( WAG).

It was such a success at Walgreens that other national chains like Rite Aid ( RAD), CVS ( CVS) and Target ( TGT) soon wanted to sell the product also. For Griffin and Garland, trade shows allowed them to step up to the next level.

Lesson Learned: Trade shows are a great way to introduce your brand to retailers. Buyers walk these shows looking for unique goods, so being at the right show can open doors for you and your brand.

When considering trade shows, take the following factors into account:
  • Choose trade shows that showcase brands of comparable quality to yours, which attract the kind of buyers you want to meet.
  • Select who will represent your brand at the show very carefully. Only the best will do -- and unless you have a dedicated marketing staff, it's probably you.
  • Decide how to display your product to maximum effect. Plan a demo if your product works best as a hands-on tool.
  • Think realistically about the cost of attending a trade show. They can be expensive, but you can offset certain costs by doing such things as sharing a booth with another product. Also, remember that the exposure a trade show can provide can lead to a vendor relationship that could last a very long time.

Urban Therapy Twisted Sista
Launched in London, Urban Therapy Twisted Sista is a multi-ethnic range of hair treatment products formulated to guard against the stresses of modern city living with UV filters, plant proteins, antioxidants and shine enhancers.

Urban Therapy's American manufacturer and distributor, Potter & Moore, presented the brand to Duane Reade, a New York-based drugstore chain with more than 250 locations. The firm felt Duane Reade had the same target demographic as Twisted Sista -- multicultural and urban -- and was a good fit.

A presence at Duane Reade has been huge for Urban Therapy. It has since added Target and Rite Aid to its sales locations, and will launch in 8,000 Walgreens stores next spring, truly a dream come true for the brand.

Lesson Learned: Working with a distributor is a proven way of getting national your product out there. There will be a fee involved -- probably a monthly retainer plus a percentage of sales -- so for certain businesses this option will be cost-prohibitive.

In some cases, however, these costs can be offset by saving on an in-house sales team. Also, because of the brand growth a good distributor can provide, this is an excellent option for brands looking to scale up.

When considering partnering with a distributor, take the following factors into account:
  • Reputation: You are putting your brand into the hands of someone else. Check their references.
  • Fit: Does this distributor know and understand your key demographic? Does it have a track record with the retailers you are targeting?
  • Terms: Make sure you can make money with the model they propose.

Lush
A self-described "cosmetics deli," Lush makes products for the skin, hair and body out of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, fine essential oils and ingredients that are ethically and sustainably procured from around the world.

Lush launched 13 years ago with a handful of freestanding stores. Its next goal was to secure a retail partner on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, so a Lush representative approached Marshall Field's directly in 2005. A few conversations later, an unoccupied part of a local Marshall Field's store became the home of Lush's first store-in-store concept.

Macy's bought Marshall Field's in 2006 and because of LUSH's success in the Michigan Avenue store, Macy's decided to expand the idea to other locations. Today there are 39 LUSH locations at Macy's ( M) stores throughout the U.S., and they look forward to further expansion in the upcoming year.

Lesson Learned: You can always go directly to the retailer, but a meeting can be tough to secure if you are not known in retail circles. If you've already achieved some recognition and distribution, you will be in a better position to get a meeting with the buyers at your target retailers.

Just remember not to approach a large retailer until your company can handle rapid growth. A botched growth strategy is not only a setback, but can ruin your relationship with retailers for good.

When considering a direct approach to a buyer, take the following factors into account:
  • Be prepared: Do your research to anticipate what questions the buyer will ask, and come armed with compelling responses.
  • Bring visuals: Create a PowerPoint presentation, bring displays, bring press clips -- anything that will communicate what is special about the brand so you can make a big impact in the short time allotted to you.
  • Be proactive: Familiarize yourself with the retailer to the extent that you can present relevant suggestions on how and why your brand will succeed in their stores.

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