Founder, How We Grow, LLC
We’ve all experienced the “meet the parents” moment, whether as the nervous date on the hot seat or the parents on the love seat. The setting is no different, as you’re presenting your new product line to a buyer. This may be your only shot to win them over and remember, even if you do, it will cost you when you get married. Any founder, sales manager or representative of a CPG company should always be prepared to be peppered with questions to make the buyers comfortable that you’re committed.
What makes you so special?
Everyone’s family has their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and the whole neighborhood loves them. If you’re gutsy enough to believe the cookie buyer has a gaping hole for four new facings of your grandma’s cookies, remove that thought before your ring the doorbell. They’ve heard this story over and over, so it’s best to focus on key differentiators from the products currently in their stores. Who are you (what’s your story,) what are you made of (your ingredients) and how are you going to make this world a better place (your philanthropic focus.)
Brands come and go, constantly, and thousands of SKUs are launched every year. Very few have stood the test of time and there is a reason they’re never at-risk during category reviews. Consumers are committed to these products, which is equally important to the brands commitment to the retailers that merchandise them. Be prepared to respond quickly to your buyer’s requests for slotting fees or free fill for initial orders, annual promotional funding calendars and company specific marketing events. It’s easy to have a buyer fall in love with your story and your product, but much more challenging to stay committed to each other.
Does your belt match your shoes? Package design, functionality and sustainability are key components, as buyers are forming their opinions. New brands need to stand out on a crowded shelf from the tried-and-true brands that have dominated the commodity class for years. Logo design, color scheme, graphics…all of the above. Be creative and unique, but always stay focused on how your branding resonates within other forms of marketing. Consumers should feel comfortable that the packaging has protected the food and kept it fresh. Now more than any time in history, the environmental effects from packaging are highly scrutinized. Always err on the side of recyclable packaging, if the option exists.
How deep are your pockets?
Building a brand is an expensive undertaking, but it’s even more costly to grow and retain your customer base. A solid financial foundation means having much more money in the bank than you think you’ll need. Depending on your commodity class, some buyers may require you to guarantee the product if it reaches its Best By date. You will experience deductions for processing fees, slotting and some expenses may even pop up arbitrarily, creating conflict and challenging your commitment to the partnership.
Timing is everything
Some of the greatest ideas are ahead of their time (insect protein.) Others are too late to the party (so much salsa, such little shelf space.) Understanding consumer demands for new products is top of mind for all retailers and drives their decision to expand product offerings. Establish rapport with buyers for order and replenishment timelines, so you can include them in your production plans. Do you have enough fresh product on hand to begin shipping a small, regional grocer in the next 30 days? Does the national supermarket chain have annual category reviews, and did you miss this year’s opportunity 30 days ago? Best to have a growth model with Plan B ready.
Serial entrepreneur and consultant, Howie Sher, St. Louis, MO, has the unique distinction of being both buyer and seller. As a former supermarket owner/operator of Hart Food & Drug and Park-N-Shop Supermarkets, and Founder & Head of State of snack food brand What-A-Ya Nuts?! ® he delivers his perspective on how to make a great first impression.