There are a lot of myths and lore about how to get your product into convenience stores. There are all kind of blog post, books, tweets, and advice. The best advice I have ever found is from the guys who have done it. There was nothing spectacular for most of them it broke down to two things.
Relationships VS Cold Calling
Gaining a relationship by finding a relationship. You can drive yourself nuts with looking for the chicken and egg and which came first. What I mean is the relationship approach puts someone that has a relationship with a buyer, that they took time building, and causing them to place that relationship on the hook with the convenience store buyer. If your product flops they will always remember that. That relationship is built on having more wins than losses in the products that sell category.
So when you are counting on finding the right relationships you have to contact a lot of people and convince someone on taking your product on and marching into their top accounts. Then you are counting on them pushing it with enough conviction to get a sell. This is not very likely. The relationship method is a lot more effective once you have a proven track record. For the mean time we have to figure out how to get those sells and get the product onto retail shelves.
Cold Calling is a tough thing to do. You have to basically use brute force to talk to people. You have to be mentally sharp. There are ways to attract buyers to you while you are cold calling.
If you had to boil the process down, what are the three most critical steps of getting your products into a big box store?
One: Get your product out there! We highly recommend trade shows in one’s industry to meet the appropriate buyers. Two: follow up, follow up, follow up! An important buyer probably receives hundreds of e-mails a day. We always recommend taking the time to send a handwritten thank you note, to develop a more personal relationship with the buyer. Three: Work with the buyer to make the relationship a win/win. To get a first order, you may have to work with the buyer to give them special pricing, a free display, or waive shipping costs, but it will be well worth it to develop a solid relationship for the future.
Like many of us cold calling sounds awful. If you are not making the dials and putting the effort into getting your product out there then no one else will. You can hire Check Stand Program to do a test and then take on a portion of the marketing role but even then we know that no one can touch the buyer the way you can. Your passion that fueled you to create the product, raise money or stake the product, and then move to marketing the product are all symptoms of the passion needed to close many deals.
How many sells do you really think are made on the first sales call? The second? Map out a plan of follow ups that you and your team are going to use every time you make contact with someone you need to follow up with. I have seen this process flow something like this:
- Meet and get their contact info
- Ask for their social media info in a clever email – 1 day after meeting
- Connect on social networks – thanking them publicly on all profiles – as soon as info sent back
- Send a hand written thank you note – 3 days after meeting
- Make 2nd contact – again just moving process along – ask for appointment to present – within 1 week of meeting
- Forward a useful article based on conversation – 10 days after meeting
- Call again – 11 days after 1st meeting
- Email with info graphic about product – 14 days after 1st meeting
- Call again asking for meeting – have 2 quick facts with a funny story – 18 days after meeting
The process went on after that. They had 21 points of contact before adding them to a once a month call list. The entire time they were keeping up with notes like number of family members, interest, and work habits. This was all kept in detail in a simple crm like nutshell.
Be Relentless and Ready!
It’s unlikely that one meeting will clinch a deal with a buyer, so be relentless in your follow-up. Likewise, be prepared to stand true to your business plan, if you think the retailer is selling your product cheap, step back and review your options. Other retailers may be more willing to give you the margins you need.
Look for ways to earn your buyer’s confidence, you need to demonstrate that you are ready to scale. Are there any areas you need to invest in before you make your pitch or sign on the dotted line. For example, investing in technology that will allow you to accept and process larger orders or better manage your inventory.
Relentlessly following up with buyers can feel like you are bugging them. You are. If you didn’t then they would never notice you. Learn to become witty and pleasant to talk to but always put the fact that you are trying to move the relationship along and are calling about business be the point of the calls. Don’t get to friendly.
Sometimes just asking for the appointment does the craziest thing.
I talked to one company that actually said they sent the buyer an appointment card with three spots available. Then they followed up with an email that had the same thing. Then they called the buyer asking them which appointment time they chose. Craziest thing happened. The buyer said he hadn’t made a choice but booked a time. They got the appointment. That was it. Never forget that you need to ask for what you really want in order to get it very often.
He then had to find manufacturers who could faithfully reproduce his family’s recipe and who could meet demand—small and large orders alike. Lefty’s started out supplying large containers of flavorings and mixes to other restaurants. The retail business took off in 2008. That same year, Lefty’s Spices won Best in Show at a trade show event held in Baltimore by DPI Specialty Foods, a distributor. That honor got the company attention as well as a free booth at the food show in 2009.
People lined up at the door of the convention center for free samples of food cooked with Lefty’s spices, attracting the attention of Giant Food Stores, which now carries Lefty’s barbecue sauces and seasonings.
“That was how we got into grocery retail,” says Nash.
Plan properly for meetings. You need to be ahead of the game and have proper presentation materials ready to go. That means samples, power points, handouts, and business cards. That obviously means you need to have the sales sheets with all numbers marked up and explained ready as well. A success story or two about your company and its headlines obviously needs to be on top of the stack. It is a business presentation and one that you need to build for.
So, when is the best time to submit your product if you wish to have it in stores by the end-of-year holiday shopping season? For most major retailers, their buyers review and choose products for this most busiest time of the year starting as early as January and almost always complete that process by April or May!
The basics of getting your product into convenience stores are very similar to the basics of any sales job. Research courses like Tony Robbins Sales Mastery and other gurus like that. They can give you processes and thoughts that you can get a leg up on the competition with. Enjoy and happy hunting.