Retail 101: 3 Key Steps and A Few Tips for Getting Your Products on Shelves
Making the leap from direct-to-consumer sales into mass retail can feel daunting. There is so much to learn that one might be tempted to think it all must be mastered quickly. However, a brand’s journey to retail is as unique as its origin story. There is no one-size-fits-all. Your industry/type of product and specific brand will inform some aspects of the process. Nevertheless, a few one-size-fits-most tips can help as one scales into retail. New Voices has amassed a wealth of knowledge on this topic through our New Voices Learning Lab LIVE webinar series. Based on and referencing those resources, here are our top tips for getting your products on shelves:
#1 Understand What You’re Getting Yourself Into
During the New Voices “Are You Ready for Mass Retail?” and “Food & Beverage Retail 101” Learning Lab LIVE webinars, full-service consumer brand, and sales agency, Portu-Sunberg, painted a full picture of what companies looking to scale into retail should understand before moving forward. The key points to remember are:
- Money matters: there are some common business costs that you must account for when attempting to enter the retail space. Moving into retail is not cheap.
- Supply chain is paramount: any brand making the transition into retail should focus on inventory planning to ensure they have the capacity to fulfill retail orders. This means both from an inventory and processes perspective. The supply chain process is about having the required amount of inventory needed and being able to transport it in a timely fashion according to contract obligations. Many brands mistakenly enter into mass retail agreements without fleshing out or fully understanding their supply chain process. Having a third-party logistics (3PL) partner that can help you manage the shipping of large orders could be very helpful. Availing oneself of the resources needed to set up proper processes can save a lot of money and stress when transitioning into mass retail.
- Labeling can be very important depending on your product category: for food and beverage as well as beauty companies, there are detailed FDA, private labeling, and retailer labeling requirements that must be met. For example, cosmetic labeling includes FDA-regulated font sizes, the way in which the ingredients are listed, etc.
- Patience is a virtue: mass retail is as much about patience as it is about preparedness. You’ll be sorely disappointed if you think that just having your processes in place is enough. Every stage of the process requires patience. The timeline from the point of presentation to getting an order can take between 9 to 12 months. This will be repeated in other parts of this article— patience is a huge part of scaling.
#2 Start the Journey to Retail
Every journey starts with a single step. Through in-depth conversations for the New Voices Learning LabTM LIVE webinars, “Food & Beverage Retail 101 Interview,” “Are You Ready For Mass Retail? Interview,” and “You’re in Now What? Retail 101 interview,” CEO & founder of Partake Foods, Denise Woodard, CEO & founder of ROSEN Skincare, Jamika Martin, and CEO & founder of The Lip Bar, Melissa Butler, gave valuable insight into their companies’ transitions into mass retail and here are few steps to get you started:
- Establish healthy partnerships ahead of time: when looking for partners—3PLs and brokers/agents, one has to be comfortable asking for what you need. Open communication and responsiveness are hallmarks of a functional partnership that should always be in place before moving forward into mass retail. A less-than-ideal relationship with a 3PL partner can derail your mass retail journey before it begins because you may run into shipping issues and/or miscommunications around your timelines. One way to avoid this is to establish relationships with one or more third-party logistic companies on a trial basis through your direct-to-consumer business. Ensure that you feel comfortable and secure with the partnership before transitioning into retail.
- Get an agent/broker: Ideally, finding an agent/broker who understands your business and the mass retail landscape will help you navigate the retail space much easier. It is helpful to have someone on your team/ side who understands the various aspects of what you are trying to achieve and the space you’re attempting to enter because you don’t know what you don’t know, but they might. Brokers/ agents in the retail space work with specific retailers to place products in their stores. You may need to build relationships with multiple brokers depending on which retailers’ shelves you want your product on.
- Look for an opening: understand that a brand-retailer relationship is mutually beneficial. A brand’s value proposition should clearly align with the stores being approached. For example, Butler mentioned that The Lip Bar would not pursue high-end makeup retailers because the price point of their product would not support placement in those spaces. Looking for an opening is not only about how and whom one approaches, but proving the company’s vision to potential retailers.
- Take it slow: plan to test out if mass retail is a good fit for your brand by doing one or two small-scale retail partnerships in your region to get a feel for the process and how it works for your business. Sometimes, business owners move into retail because they believe it is the logical next step for their business. However, not every business should or needs to move into mass retail to thrive—it is a choice. Allowing your business to ease into retail incrementally will help you decide if it is not just the next logical move, but the next right move for your business.
- Be patient: not only with how you approach scaling, but the overall process of entering the mass retail space, in general, is a slow one. You should be prepared to pace yourself. From making contact with buyers, possibly finding an agent, doing line review meetings, and finally getting an order, slow and steady is the expected/ usual pace. As stated before, patience is the real secret sauce for scaling.
#3 Master Your Retail Line Review Meeting
Once you’ve established contact with retail buyers, they must decide if your product is a good fit for their store. At that point, they will set up a line review meeting to see all of the products your brand/ business can add to their shelves. This could be a new retail relationship or an expansion of an existing relationship wherein you want to introduce new or different products into a retail store in which your product is already on shelves. In the New Voices Learning LabTM LIVE webinar, “How to Prepare for a Retailer Line Review,” co-founder of Luna Magic Beauty, Mabel Frias, walked us through the key aspects one should have prepared for such a meeting:
- Be succinct: this is NOT the time to ramble on about every detail of your brand. By the time you’ve reached the line review meeting, the buyer should be well acquainted with your brand in terms of who you are and what you do. This meeting is specifically about how you can complement their existing offerings. Respect the buyer’s time and focus on how your brand or SKUs fit on their shelves.
- Be aware of your unique value proposition and your competition: help the retailer visualize your product on shelves and the consumer that will come looking to buy it. Do your research to clearly and concisely articulate how you line up against your immediate competitors that are already on their shelves and what makes you stand out enough to sway a consumer to buy your brand versus others.
- Photography is an investment: good photos and packaging can help your brand stand out in a crowd. This is paramount not only for your line review meeting but also for catching the attention of consumers and buyers in general. Good imagery helps buyers and consumers alike to picture your products on their shelves or in their homes.
- Have a note-taker present: don’t go to your line review meeting alone. Carry a team member with you. This person’s only job is to take notes. You want to be fully present and engaged in the presentation during the meeting. However, you want to capture all the feedback given so you can review it after the meeting. The notes will be key in your follow-up communication with the buyer.
- Be upfront about your supply chain process: at this point, you’re probably thinking, “supply chain, supply chain, supply chain—I get it,” but do you? Establishing healthy partnerships with a 3PL and understanding the ins and outs of your supply chain process are key to securing retail partnerships. You need to be able to reassure the retailer of your ability to deliver in a timely fashion.
In this piece, we’ve outlined three key steps and more than a few tips to help you get your products on shelves. No matter where you are in the process, the most important thing you need to remember before scaling into retail is to be patient with yourself and the process. For more tips and tricks to getting your products on shelves, check out the New Voices Online Resource Center.