How to Break into Small Retail - Wholesale Supplies Plus
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How to Break into Small Retail

While whipping up product batches brings you joy, you need only so much sugar scrub and lip balm lining the shelves of your linen cabinet, so you give it away like any devoted crafter would do.

Do the lucky recipients come back asking for more? Or drop hints that their birthday is coming up? Well then, perhaps it’s time to turn your hobby into a moneymaking business. 

There are many things to consider before making this commitment--how and where to market your products are amongst them. When businesses fail, it’s often because the entrepreneur hasn’t devoted enough time to planning and research, so if you want to go pro, now is the time to plan for your vision. Hopefully you’ll gain some insight from these tips as you begin to create your strategy.

Build proof-of-concept with small boutiques.
You must have proof-of-concept in place before you approach large retailers. Part of that proof is a solid history of sales in the retail space (online sales help as well). 
I asked Dianna Fischer, an independent manufacturer’s rep and founder of Creative Performance, Inc., if she believes that starting small, with independent boutiques, is the way to go for those just entering the market place. “Absolutely,” she said. “Use your experience with smaller boutiques as a learning tool and work out the kinks before approaching large retailers.” As the scale becomes larger, the risk of being penalized with chargebacks is great if you don’t perform correctly. “Something as simple as a missing packing slip, or not having a UPC code on your packaging, will prompt a penalty,” says Fischer. “Large chains want to know you can fulfill orders on a timely basis and that you have plenty of inventory on hand before they’ll consider doing business with you.” 

Develop a savvy sell sheet. 
A sell sheet is an attractive one-page brochure that covers the facts and highlights about your product and business. You will leave this behind when you visit boutiques. Make sure your sales sheet reflects your brand; avoid cheesy, poorly designed layouts. It’s best to hire a professional designer for this. Some things you need to include are:
  • High quality product images, including pictures of your in-store display. Again, professional product shots are a must.
  • Ordering information. Emphasize the simplicity of placing orders; remember these shop owners have little time and sometimes little patience. 
  • MSRP price. Fischer warns that your costs to sell will vary from retailer to retailer. “You can never raise your price, you can only go down, so don’t fence yourself in by offering a pricing sheet up front,” she says. 
  • Once you’ve been on the shelves at a couple of boutiques and achieve a good sell through rate, ask for testimonials from the owners. Partner and customer testimonials go a long way, so include them on your sell sheet. 
  • If your products are patented or trademarked, emphasize it for uniqueness. Why would a retailer buy your product? What’s different from competition? 
  • Provide social proof. In addition to testimonials, include awards, seals of approval, endorsements from influencers and experts, and certainly any media attention you’ve received. A small mention in a local newspaper or community magazine speaks volumes.
  • Finally, add your contact information, including email, phone and website.

Visit boutiques in person.
When I owned a retail space I rarely returned calls to marketers—I was just too busy. But, when a manufacturer’s rep or business owner stopped in, I always took a moment to speak with them. Frankly, if I felt a connection to the person I would listen harder. It’s wise to develop the know, like, and trust factors first, and sales later. Show interest in them, as well as their shop; don’t hesitate to let your shining personality show through!

Create an irresistible offer.
Small retailers want and need strong margins and any help they can get in marketing. Show them that you will become their marketing ally. In addition to offering occasional specials and other cost-saving measures, Fischer recommends offering in-store meet and greets, where you come in and demo your products to customers. You can also teach their sales personnel about your line. Build up a strong social media presence so you can promote their store and share their ads. You can even do contests in partnership with your retailers.

Help them remain competitive in the marketplace.
Boutiques cannot compete with large retailers on pricing, so they rely on unique, high quality products to gain the competitive advantage. You can help them by delivering eye-catching packaging and point of sale displays, favorable terms and high margins, a fast, no-brainer ordering process and great customer service. Avoid giving them displays that take up too much space, glitchy online ordering systems or an overly talkative sales rep. This may feel like a ton of work, and it is. But, this groundwork will be with you for a long, long time. Good luck out there!

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