Don’t let the forest block your view of the trees

November 15, 2013By Behind the Shelf Blog, Brand Marketing

by Amy Kasza

I once worked with a small manufacturing account that was new to the OTC field. They had big dreams, like most brands. In their minds’ eye, they saw multiple facings of their blockbuster product on every Wal-mart, Walgreens, Target, and CVS shelf from coast to coast. So convinced of their product’s value to consumer health and so committed were they to realizing that big dream, they lost sight of the little picture.

That’s right. The little picture. The one every new brand has to paint in order to convince retail to open shelf space for them. It’s a paint-by-numbers picture, where all the numbers have dollar signs in front of them.

We all know that retail runs on wafer-thin margins. So thin, in fact, that most of each calendar year is spent in the red until – everyone hopes – holiday shopping time rebalances the ledger. No retailer in good conscience can or should add a product to their assortment without proof of performance. Too many millions of retail jobs and thousands of ancillary businesses are counting on retailers making the right decisions for every inch of shelf space.

But the manufacturer in question was looking only at their veritable forest of impressive qualifications: “My product is great! It’s backed by clinical studies! I have satisfied customers! My packaging shows before-and-after pictures! No one else has this technology!” An unsuccessful meeting with a chain retail buyer provided the reality check that without proof of performance, a new brand has a steep climb indeed to earn credibility with big retail. In other words, their forest was missing a critical tree.

It is not easy to build a sales story to take to a retail buyer, but it can be done. Has the product seen sales growth in another retail channel, such as online? That data can help convey the product’s potential for success. Can the product be introduced in a smaller venue, such as independent pharmacy? Consumer health products in particular can often find a home in the independent channel that serves as a springboard to their entry into large chain retailers.

Before rushing headlong into a meeting with a retail buyer, take a moment to put yourself in that buyer’s shoes. Ask yourself (and answer) questions such as “Is my brand a safe bet? Why should a retailer remove other products to place my brand on shelf? How can I demonstrate the potential for sales success?” A buyer who hears a supplier talking his or her language of dollars and cents is much more likely to be receptive to the overall message.


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