One of the top indicators that a brand has “made it” is when they’re able to get their products sold in retail establishments. Merchandise in stores like Target, Whole Foods, Walmart, and other well-known retailers enjoy the privilege of getting in front of a wider audience, which is why spots on their retail shelves are highly coveted.
If you’re dreaming about getting your product into retail stores, our latest guest, Allison Ball, has got you covered. Alli is the founder of Food Biz Wiz, a firm that helps brands craft a strong wholesale strategy so they can secure spots on retail shelves (both physical and digital).
A former grocery buyer turned wholesale consultant, Alli has seen firsthand how brands struggled with getting into retail. This was one of the things that drove her to start Retail Ready, an online course that teaches food, beverage, and taxable grocery brands how to attract the right audience, pitch to wholesale accounts, and grow their brands on the shelves.
We recently had a conversion with Alli and she shared numerous nuggets of wisdom on branding, wholesale, and retail. Have a look below and see how you can apply her tips to your business.
The 3 things brands must consider before going wholesale
Kicking things off, Alli says brands that want to go wholesale must first consider the 3 Ps, which are their Product, Pricing, and Promotional strategy.
It may sound simple, but those 3 components “can really guide you in your wholesale strategy,” she says.
Let’s look at them in more detail.
Nailing the Product component starts with determining if there truly is demand for what you’re selling.
“I think it's really easy for emerging brands to develop something potentially in their home kitchen or developing something that fits a need in their personal life,” explains Alli.
“We have lots of people who say things like, ‘I'm celiac, so I developed a gluten-free muffin or gluten-free granola or whatever it is.’ But when you go and look on the grocery store shelves, there are dozens of gluten-free options nowadays.”
As such, it’s important to be honest with yourself and discern whether or not your product solves a problem that isn’t currently solved by another brand.
When it comes to Pricing, Alli stresses the importance of having healthy margins right from the get-go. You need to price your products in such a way that you will truly make money and stay in business.
“So often we see people launch their product and think that the financials will fall in place. We see a lot of people who say things like, ‘Once I'm at scale and I'm selling more, I'll be financially stable.’”
This shouldn’t be the case, though.
As Alli puts it, “There is some truth to having better financials at scale, but it's really challenging if you're not making money from the beginning. The last thing we want is for brands to wake up two years down the line and realize that they have created a very expensive hobby, but not actually a business. So the pricing is all about determining whether you are starting a business that is financially viable.”
She continues, “Obviously there's a time and a place to make slimmer margins — for instance if you're going to run a strategic promotion or doing giveaways and things like that. But there has to be a clear path to profitability because, without it, you're just crossing your fingers that you’ll be profitable. That's not the way to run a business.”
The third P — Promotion — is all about marketing and sales.
“It's one thing to get on the retail shelf and it's a whole other story to get off the shelf and into shoppers’ baskets,” says Alli.
That’s why you need to have a well-thought-out promotional strategy for how you’re going to connect with retail shoppers.
How to pitch wholesale buyers
A critical step to getting into retail is to pitch and engage wholesale buyers for the stores you want to get into.
Alli says that there is a right and wrong way to go about this.
The right approach is to “craft a buyer pitch that is based on how your brand is going to help that buyer meet their sales goals.”
Her advice? DON’T lead a pitch with:
- “Hi, my name is Alli and I make the most delicious pickles ever.”
Instead, say something like:
- “Hi, my name is Alli and on average, my pickles sell 18 jars a week in Northern California Whole Foods.” (Or something to this effect.)
The key, she says, is to come up with a pitch that articulates the velocity and the sales strength of your brand in the buyer’s particular category.”
Alli adds that she often sees companies focusing too much on their brand’s story. And while this is a great strategy for engaging consumers, it’s not the best way to connect with wholesale buyers.
“One of the mistakes that I see brands make, especially when they're younger, is that they have spent all this energy developing their direct-to-consumer pitch… and they try to use those same product attributes and the same sales language and strategy on the wholesale buyer.”
“That doesn’t work. The wholesale buyer does not care if your product truly relieves stress or if your product has a low glycemic index. What they really care about is whether or not it will sell off the shelves.”
Packaging best practices for retail shelves
Alli also mentions the role of great packaging in retail success. According to her, the retail market has evolved so much, that lackluster packaging simply won’t work.
“Back in 2007 or 2008, it was acceptable to have your product in a brown kraft bag with a sticker on it... But today, it no longer cuts it to have that homemade crafty-looking packaging on the retail shelf.
She adds that brands need to realize that “what works at your farmer's market or direct to consumer when you're just starting out, really doesn't cut it on the retail shelf.”
For this reason, it’s important to invest in good packaging design. Alli warns that cutting corners on your packaging can lead to issues down the road.
“People try to cut corners by finding a designer on Fiverr or hiring a cousin who has studied graphic design. They spend a fair amount of money on that only to realize they have to redo their packaging a year later because it just doesn't cut it.”
She continues, “It's a hard truth to say that brands should invest in packaging design from the beginning. Those who succeed faster are the ones who make that investment in the beginning.”
As an example, she shares the story of a client who initially thought they had an impressive design but later learned that the packaging wasn’t a good fit for retail shelves.
“I worked with a client for a while who got packaging done on Fiverr and it looked pretty good. But once we actually put it on the retail shelf, we realized that the flavors of the packaging were displayed on the bottom quadrant of the box. And so when we put it on a Metro shelf that had a little lip on the shelf where the price tags go, each of the SKUs’ flavors were cut off from that audience.”
“And I just think it's that type of experience and attention to detail that packaging designers, in particular, understand for brands going into retail. Designers or Fiverr or just a graphic designer as a whole may not understand these things. They don't get that presentation on the retail shelf.”
Getting into retail stores can be a challenge, but it’s completely doable with the right strategy. As Alli teaches us, you must start with a solid foundation by nailing your 3 Ps — Product, Pricing, and Promotion.
From there, you need to craft a wholesale-centric pitch and ensure that your product packaging and presentation hits the mark.If you’d like to learn more about how to get your products into retail, Alli has a wealth of information offered through her website, Retail Ready course, and podcast. Check out her resources and you’ll be much better prepared to hit the retail shelves!