Preparing Your Product for Retail Sale
Two founders on getting their sauces into major grocery chains.
Placement in a big store can completely change a brand’s trajectory. But there’s a lot to consider before approaching or saying yes to a major retailer. Monica Salhotra, 2020 Tory Burch Fellow and co-founder of plant-based sauce line Do Anything Foods, understands both the benefits of store pickup and the pitfalls that some small companies can encounter when taking that next big step. Salhotra, along with her co-founder Allie Shanholt, joined our Instagram Ask Me Anything series and shared insight with our community about finding distributors, working with buyers and more.
Q: How did you land your first wholesale contract?
A: Sorting out your distribution strategy is key — do you want to self-distribute or work with a regional or national distributor?
nt to see that you have traction with a critical mass of retailers before they’ll bring you on, and retailers are hesitant to bring you on if you don’t work with their preferred distributor. We solved this by having a limited launch region and self-distributing there until we had enough proof of concept to get a distributor to bring us on. All along, we were reaching out to the distributors we wanted to work with, trying to understand what they would want to see from us in order to bring us on, etc.
Also, the bigger distributors have programs designed for emerging brands, where they give you a bit more hand-holding, and have lower minimums for opening distribution centers. We recommend those programs if you can get into them!
Q: What is a mistake you made while trying to land a partnership?
A: I think one error we made was growing beyond our self distribution capacity and not signing up with a proper distributor sooner!
Q: What is it that won’t let you give up or take no for an answer?
A: It’s the mission that keeps us going. There’s no sugar coating it; it’s a long, arduous journey that requires grit and persistence. Without something really meaningful driving us everyday, it would be really easy to burn out and give up. We also believe in making your own luck—reaching out and putting ourselves out there and asking for what we want. Whenever someone says “Well, let me know if I can ever be helpful” we almost always take them up on it, whether it’s expertise or intros. Having a clear mission also means we know when to say ‘no’ and when to say, ‘heck yes!’
Q: Did you feel like you needed to pick a certain type of customer? Or choose between wholesale and direct to consumer (DTC) only? They’re entirely different!
A: We’ve been able to make both work. Wholesale (i.e. selling through grocers) is a great way to reach a broad base of consumers. Our DTC customers are our most loyal customers and we learn so much from them. They’ll be the ones to try our new products first. DTC has also been a great channel to fulfill demand from customers outside of our retail footprint! [In addition], we’ve also engaged a 3PL (third party logistics company) who handles our e-commerce fulfillment. This helps us streamline the operational side of the e-commerce business.
Q: How can a founder get into retailers when the stores’ buyers don’t respond?
A: Ah, this is one of the hardest parts of the job! Buyers are so busy, and it can be really challenging to get on their radar. Here are a few tips that have worked for us:
- Figure out if they work on a category review schedule. If so, submit in the early part of the review.
- Keep your messages short and focused.
- Be persistent (but not in an annoying way!) Share a different facet or update in each reach out: for example, sharing customer feedback, or new distribution wins, velocity data or press.
- Put in the time to tailor your messages to their retailer: has the retailer announced large initiatives that your product fits? Take a photo of their shelves. Is there a gap in their assortment where your product fits? If there are events where you can meet the buyers (like expos, tabletop shows) or programs the retailers put on (innovation summits, diversity initiatives), can you get yourself an invitation?
To find the buyer, first look on the company website and see if they’ve got a formal submission process. You can also look on LinkedIn, call a store, reach out to customer service, or see if someone you know in the industry can get you contact info. Often, your distributors have account reps that call on accounts or can get your product in front of the right people, so lean on them as well! Good luck!
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