Your Product’s Journey From Home To The Shelves Of Convenience Store Chains

July 01, 2014

Congratulations on your new product. You’ve invested a lot of time and resources in the development phase. You have also spent a lot of sweat in getting the product ready and you know it is ready to hit the shelves now.

It looks good and you know it will deliver great value – that’s why you developed it in the first place. You’re sure that the new product has what it takes to become a huge hit. After it secures a place on retailers’ shelves, that is.

Now, if only convenience store buyers could understand the beauty of your new product just as easily and as profoundly as you do. Life would be great then, wouldn’t it? The problem is, convenience store buyers can be a tough lot to please. Especially, for first-time product developers and first-time business owners.

Here are seven quick tips to help you in the process

Know your product. Thoroughly

Agreed the product is your brainchild – your baby, and you are sure you know everything about it, but how thoroughly are you prepared to answer questions related to the product? You have the features and benefits memorized. You know your USP, but how well can you justify them? What will your reply to “why should I buy this?” be?

A good idea in this regard is to think of all product-related questions convenience store buyers can ask you and write down their answers in a notebook. Practice answering the questions so that you do not stutter or rattle unnecessarily when meeting potential buyers.

Ensure that you know all answers related to features and benefits, costs and specifications, payment terms, return policies, minimum order quantity, retail/wholesale price as well as expiry, without having to look into your notes. Retailers may want to know which other convenience store chains carry your product (if applicable) and you must be in a position to answer how many units from each store have been sold.

Know your convenience store buyers

Research, research, research. You want to contact retailers from your niche who will be a good fit for the product. While you can always turn to the good old yellow pages for making a list of suitable convenience store chains and small retailers, turning to the Internet will be easier and less time-consuming. Online directories provide industry-wide listings and you can easily download a C store list, grocery store list and list of convenience store chains at Attend conferences, convenience store trade shows and other industry related events to make direct, in-person contacts with buyers. Home Depot and Walmart for example, host events where you can pitch your products to a targeted audience.

Such events provide opportunity to make personal connections and learn about the needs of the buyer. Understand the different tiers of distribution in your niche. Do big retailers buy from distributors only? What is their approach to smaller businesses? You’ll find that most convenience store chains use a softer approach with smaller businesses than they do with multinationals. So don’t be intimidated. If you have a great product, which can offer value to the market segment they target, go ahead and contact them.

Dress your product for the buyers

After obtaining a C store list, dress your product to suit the buyers in your list. Visit the stores to see how items for sale are placed. Know which aisles on which floors carry products similar to yours. How are they placed? Are they stacked? Do they hang? Dress your product accordingly. Show them that your product will be a good fit.

A good rule of thumb is to package the product such that it takes up as little floor/shelf space as possible. Further, see if you can offer any promotional items. Point of purchase posters and displays that attract consumers will be appreciated by convenience store buyers since they have to spend less time in selling your products.

Prepare your pitch

You want to use the time you have wisely, when pitching. Prepare a pitch in advance and practice, practice, practice before pitching in front of a potential buyer. It is important to stay on topic, talk about the benefits, the USP, and what the buyer has in it for him, from storing your products.

Don’t forget to make it personal. Add a quick, interesting story of how the product came to be . Load your pitch with brag-worthy stuff – testimonials, press releases, industry awards and so on. Include points related to category management and competitive pricing.

Make an offer they can’t refuse

When pitching the product, make an offer that is difficult to refuse. Ensure that you know all details of the product and its placement, when making an offer. This will help you answer buyers’ questions and tackle their objections on the go, increasing your chances of being accepted.

When it’s time to bring an offer to the table, put your best foot forward. “Risk-free trials” where they can return unsold products to you, or consignment deals minimize risks for buyers and make them more open to accepting your offer.

Know your true cost per unit. It will help you bargain better. True cost per unit includes all expenses related to production, packaging, shipping and so on. Further, have your universal product code (UPC) number and related details acquired beforehand. The UPC is a unique 12-digit number assigned to different variations of any product and big buyers look for products that have their own UPC numbers. You can join GS1 US or have a broker sell you a code.

Be prepared to deliver asap

Have products handy, so that you can ship them as and when asked. Keep order forms, catalogs and shipment supplies ready. You do not want to be given a chance only to fail. Before approaching large convenience store chains, ensure that you have the money and inventory to complete as well as finish bulk orders on time. If you don’t, strike off such stores from your C store list and get back to them when you have scaled up.

Build a network

Buzz. A social circle will get you into places, which simple pitching won’t be able to. Set up social media profiles, talk about the product on your personal profile, get friends to talk about it. Find bloggers and reviewers who can sample the product and discuss it online. The buzz you create will help you make a strong case in front of buyers. It will also help you gain connections with industry insiders and take your business forward.

All seven steps should be a part of your monthly or weekly, retail marketing plan. Begin with signing up for online directories, make a list of the buyers you’d want to target first and get started on your product’s journey to retail shelves.