It can be really intimidating trying to get your small business in front of a major retailer. You might be selling on Etsy right now and thinking of approaching a store like Anthropologie or Bloomingdale's so that you can scale your volume.
Maybe you've invented a brand new product all together and you're hoping to launch it at a mass merchant like Walmart, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, or elsewhere to maximize its reach.
Either way, you should know that getting your product sold at a large retail chain is possible even if you are a small business, solopreneur, or a one-man-show.
Getting your product sold at a large retail chain is possible even if you are a small business, solopreneur, or one-man-show.
I've personally gotten my own products into large retailers following the advice below. I took the necessary steps to make sure I validated the demand in the market for my products, protected my intellectual property, and got in touch with the gatekeepers directly.
Here's how I got my product into large retail stores like Walmart, Target, and more.
1. I focused intensely on our products.
I hunted down customer reviews on places like Amazon.com, Toys R Us.com, Walmart.com and more.
I realized customers were not only rating products online, but talking A LOT about them. This applied to both my products and my competitors’ products. So I listened carefully.
For example, we thought that the bulk of our customers were moms. Why? Because usually mom shops for her baby. So we designed a giftable item that said “Mommy Loves Me” on the front of the dress. It did ok - nothing awful, nothing amazing.
It was only by reading reviews on Amazon of all our products that I realized the majority of comments said things like, “I bought this for my granddaughter” or “my granddaughter loves this!”
Aha moment – the majority of our customers were grandmas, not moms. You would think this was obvious information to us, but it wasn’t. So the following production run, we tweaked the item to say “Grandma Loves Me” on the front just to test out what would happen. And we more than tripled our sales. All that time wasted thinking we knew who our customer was.
Listening is key. This proved to me that there really is a scientific method to constructing an awesome product.
2. I did my legal research.
When you are running a small business, it is so tempting to cut corners to save on expenses. Please do not do that when it comes to finding a good lawyer.
We use a phenomenal patent, copyright, and trademark attorney who made sure all of our intellectual property was securely protected and registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
We spent around $1,500 to file a copyright on just one of our best items ($300/hour in legal time, plus filing fees and more. They even charged us for photocopies!)
Needless to say, that $1,500 investment ended up winning us over $150,000 against another company who infringed on our products. I cannot tell you how thankful we were to have protected our intellectual property from the start.
3. I emailed buyers daily, but I never begged.
Reflecting on my experience on the buying side, I remembered exactly what we liked and did not like about vendors. Who sounded desperate and who sounded exclusive. Instead of writing emails that went on and on about who we were, what our product was, our company history, and so on, I cut right to the chase. My emails were mostly just,
My name is [YOUR NAME]– I’m the [TITLE] at our company. I’ve attached a deck here to show you a product that I think would be a great fit for your stores. Our sell-throughs at comparable stores are 85%+ and above and our retailers are netting at least a 50% gross margin.
We have stock domestic available for immediate ship. Our import orders are running on 60-75 day lead times. Let me know if you have 30 mins to chat and I’d be happy to stop by your office with some samples.
Here is what worked with these emails.
I didn’t elaborate too much on our history. Why? If they are curious, they will click on your website link or Google you. Do not waste email space on this stuff. It’s not about you. Hone in on how you can help THEM.
I got right to the stats. Buyers talk numbers. Most new people really don’t realize that from the outside. I quoted real and impressive sell through percents and margins. I gave actual lead times and let them know I’m ready for orders right away. By using the same lingo they use, I was subliminally saying, “P.S. this is not my first rodeo”.
I ended the email with a call to action. I asked to meet and I specifically quantified how much time I wanted. Rather than just saying “can we have a meeting?” which can sound like a big commitment to a busy buyer who doesn’t know you, I made the meeting sound bite-size and easy. Everyone can find 30 minutes somewhere.
4. Last but not least, I never gave up.
There were moments when it was so hard to feel motivated. I thought to myself, “should I just quit now?” or when we would develop new products, I would get insecure and think, “someone definitely has this product already! I’m too late!”.
I had this non-stop anxiety that just because other people were selling similar products, I shouldn’t. But the reality is, you do not need to own the whole market. Our company is a tiny blip in the world of toy manufacturers, yet we are still able to do millions of dollars in sales a year.
Remember, you don't need the whole pie - just a piece is enough to build a substantial and sustainable business.
Have you had success pitching large retailers? Tell us a little more about your story in the comments below!