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How to Get Your Products on Mass Retailers' Shelves

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Four tips for getting mass retailers to sell your product
  • The importance of having a solid business case for your product

You have a good product and great branding, but how do you get the buyers of large retailers to notice your brand?

Common tips you might hear include the following: Hire a sales representative; attend tradeshows; and, encourage friends and family to request your product at the store. Those are all effective tips, but here are four more ways to be resourceful when trying to get your product on store shelves.

1. Build a business case for how your product will drive sales for the retailer

A business case is a tightly woven story that demonstrates the selling potential of your product by showing the product's sales history. A business case needs to answer the questions, what is your product's selling history with other retailers? and have sales been growing steadily over time?

Sales is the most important metric to get retailers' attention. A common way that metric is presented is in units per store per week (i.e., how many units of your product has sold in one store on an average week). Serving up your sales history in that format will enable buyers to more easily compare sales numbers across different retailers and channels.


Also, your business case needs to fit into a retail strategy. Is your product a trip driver or a margin driver? Is it going to expand customers' basket size, or is it going to cannibalize products already on the shelf? Have you clearly answered the question, what is in it for the retailer?

Developing a business case with sales data, and aligning it with the retailer's goals and objectives is key to getting the attention of a buyer. Without that, a Target or Wal-Mart buyer, for example, will not even give you the time of day.

2. Scale your business slowly

You need to build your sales history in other stores before going to large retailers. Large retailers are risk-averse; they will not try a new item without seeing how it has performed for smaller retailers. Also, they want to see that your product has maintained a healthy sales rate over time—usually 1-2 years' worth of sales history at another retailer.

Therefore, slowly scaling up your business over time will work to your benefit. You are not going to go from having your product available at zero stores to having it on Target shelves overnight. Instead, you have to start small with boutiques and independent retailers, and then add stores slowly—adding bigger retailers each time.

Some people think they can get their products into large stores overnight. But to properly manage risk and cash flow (both on your end and the retailers' end), you should not want to get into Wal-Mart overnight.

3. Shop and analyze retail stores

Notice how retailers merchandise your product category. Make observations about price points, brands (and how they are organized), and piece counts. Form opinions and recommendations on how retailers can do things better to grow their business. And, by the way... those recommendations should include adding your brand.

Adding value and building your credibility by being a reliable source of objective industry intelligence will earn you 10 more minutes with a buyer than you'd have if you just called to pitch your product. And being a reliable and credible vendor is more than half the battle.

Romy Taormina, founder of Psi Health Solutions, implemented this tactic in a meeting with one national retailer. In the meeting, she presented an analysis of the anti-nausea category, its purchase drivers, and recommendations for how to grow the retailer's overall category sales.

Taormina presented ideas for growing not only her brand sales but also the sales of the entire category, which is what the buyer cares about most. Taormina showed her objectivity and understanding of that buyer's business goals. As a result, the national retailer added Psi Bands to its product line in more than 300 stores across the US. (Taormina, along with the author of this article, is a contributor to the Both Sides of the Retail Table blog.)

4. Manage your inventory smartly

Selling as many units as possible is different from selling enough to meet consumer demand. Large retailers manage their inventory precisely. One unit too many incurs unnecessary inventory costs. One unit too few, and the retailer just lost a potential sale. You have to get the right number of units into the right stores at the right time. Blow this step, and you'll have damaged your credibility in managing your business.

Also, if you sell a retailer as many products as you can get it to accept, and those products end up sitting on a shelf for a long time, retailers will think you have a bad product and they won't reorder. So, as tempted as you may be to sell everything in your warehouse, don't... unless you know it will all sell in the time frame you are given.


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Vanessa Ting is founder of Retail Path, which guides product companies through the process of developing and expanding retail distribution. She has worked as a buyer at Target Corporation, and she regularly contributes to Both Sides of the Retail Table.

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