Don’t really know what the best ways are to approach buyers, and how to get pass the buyer’s PA?
Do you think you are ‘too small’ to sell to big retailers? Or are you worried about how to make the jump and be able to price and get your work made in the quantities they might require?
Concerned about showing your ideas to retailers in case they might copy you?
Need some tips on how to present yourself successfully and negotiate with ‘the big boys’?
If you want to learn how to get ready to sell to (big) retailers, how to present yourself successfully and land a big deal, then How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market is the book to get!
Clare Rayner, also known as The Retail Champion, has created here a very practical, detailed book about how to sell to retailers.
She shares in this book so many commercially useful insights, based on her many years of experience as a retail consultant and buyer, that this is a must read if you want to start or improve your wholesaling success.
Who is this book for?
The tag line to this book is ‘The secrets of getting your product to market’ and indeed this is obviously aimed at any small business who wants to sell their products or services to retailers.
But I highly recommend How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market even if you are only vaguely considering selling to retailers (as the implementations will take time), if you are doing trade shows already or sell to retailers currently, or if you want to work with larger online retailers too.
This book is mostly aimed at selling products at retailers, but also deals a little with how to sell a service (e.g. Web, graphic or app design, or royalties based designs such as surface pattern or stationery) to retailers.
I have got rather a lot of retail experience myself. My mother had an independent gift shop and gallery in the Netherlands, and i used to go to trade shows from an early age. Over the last 15 years I have advised and supported many designers getting ready for consumer and trade shows, such as Inhorgenta, Ambiente in Frankfurt, Milan Furniture Fair, 100% Design, Top Drawer and the like. But still, even with my experience I really got loads out of this book.
Clare’s writing is very practical and straight forward. She uses many client case studies or examples from her personal experience.
And I love how Clare has brought it all together, well organised in a step-by-step plan that is easy to follow.
Who isn’t this for?
One big warning: you will need to start making major changes to your design or craft business. This isn’t a book for people who want a quick fix!
If you really want to get the most out of How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market you will need to start implementing strategic changes which will take time, energy and dedication. You need to build up quality, long term relationships with the buyers and the business itself.
If you want to succeed in selling to big retailers then you soon will find that ‘the devil is in the detail’, and that you can’t cut corners.
The book goes through a very thorough 12 step plan, each stage building on the previous steps. You will need to read the book from start to finish, filling in the very handy worksheets as you go along. This isn’t a book that you can easily ‘dip in and out of’.
I would recommend you read it through first to get a good overview, and then start again at the beginning doing the exercises and implementing changes into your design or craft business step-by-step.
A 12-step plan
How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market is divided in 4 parts: Look big, plan big, pitch big, get big & stay big. each of these are divided into 3 chapters, creating the 12 step plan. At the end of each chapter there is a very useful check list, that helps you to identify where you are now and what you need to work on. It’s very handy that all these forms are also available online for readers, so you can do them again and again.
1. How to look bigger?
The first part is about ‘how to look bigger’. As large companies usually prefer to buy from other large businesses, this part is about how you as a sole trader or micro business can come across as a credible, fairly risk-free, capable business that can punch above your weight.
The first chapter is about ‘identity’ and has one of the clearest explanations of how to create a useful mission statement I have ever seen. Clare explains very clearly the 4 parts that should make up your mission statement or intro:
- what do you offer,
- who do you offer this to,
- how do you deliver the customer promise or create value,
- what is the outcome or are the benefits for your customers.
She also gives some great examples of actual mission statements and how to use it and make it come alive. You can use your mission statement as an intro for your home page, or when somebody asks ‘What do you do?’, but also to introduce (freelance) staff or suppliers to what you are about, and crucially to help you with (longer term) decision making to keep you and your business on track.
Very reassuring to read about the retailers concern about ethics and the importance of having an ethical policy. Retailers are very concerned about negative publicity so it is essential you have got this covered.
In the first chapter Clare also explains clearly how to position yourself. Extremely useful, even if you don’t want to wholesale! Where do you fit on the scale of product quality, pricing level, presentation and branding, and customer service?
If one of these is out of sink you will struggle to be understood by any clients, retailers or consumers.
As Clare states: “When your brand makes promises, implied or explicit, these set expectations with your customer. If you fail to deliver on those promises, you will fail to deliver the expected customer experience.”
She gives some great context why competing on price is not advisable (very relevant for designers and makers!), as there will always be somebody to undercut you, and you need to reflect your skill and creativity in your positioning and price to create a sustainable business. Her advice is to have a good brand, high quality and original products, with exceptional customer service.
The second chapter is about ‘presence’, and how to create that all important ‘good first impression’.
Some hard truths here, with getting even the most detailed aspects right!
It’s all about how to increase your credibility as a risk-free, professional business. Some really good detailed stuff on social media here too.
The third chapter is about ‘people’ – from leveraging the calibre and capability of people (associated with and) in your business, to testimonials, focusing on a niche to adding substance to your team with adding key experts.
Some great tips in this chapter on how to raise your professional profile online, and how to become the ‘go-to expert’ in your niche.
2. Plan Big
The second part is ‘Plan Big’ and how you can live up to those expectations created from part one. This is about identifying your ideal or target customer, your competitors and your ability to deliver and scale up to the demands of larger retail clients.
Clare really explains very well how to identify your ideal end user and retail client. She shows that it’s not the features of your product that counts, but how important it is to focus on the benefits (which are different for the end user and the retailer!) And you need to show that you really understand the end user’s and the retailer’s needs and wants in great detail if you ever want to have a chance to sell to them.
Clare shows you step by step how to research and identify your ideal retail buyer and what influences them. What’s in it for them? What is their reward structure? Why would a retail buyer buy from you if that means they need to make space on their shelves by taking something else off? Some sobering questions for you to consider.
One of the most brilliant parts of this book is how Clare explains product price calculations. She explains clearly the various prices (Recommended retail price, cost price), costs and margins ( retailers markup, retailer’s margin, your margin) that are relevant to the wholesaling process.
Might sound a bit boring and too mathematical, but will make all the difference to your and the retailer’s bottom line! Very handy again is that readers of the book can access this price and costs calculator online so that it automatically calculates so e of this key information.
And knowing the professional price and cost terminology when dealing with professional buyers will definitely don’t do you any harm.
The fifth chapter is about the ‘competition’. Clare explains briefly the theory behind ‘Porter’s Five Force analysis’, which is probably a little too strategic and theoretical for many creative sole traders. But what is extremely useful is the part on understanding your competition. Really practical overview of:
- what you need to know about your competition,
- how to get this information
- what you can use it for
The sixth chapter is about ‘scalability’, and how to ensure that your entire business is ready to take on larger orders. Many designers and makers worry about this, and it stops them from working with larger retailers and the opportunities that might bring. If you have any worries like this, get this book! It will save you loads of sleepless nights.
Clare really explains very clearly and in a practical way what is involved in scaling your business. From creating repeatable processes and developing internal systems, minimising risk, to planning your supply chain, managing your all important cash flow, and protecting your brand and ideas.
Clare gives a great overview here, but scalability is such an important part of starting to wholesale that this chapter could be a book on its own! (I might have just given her an idea there …)
3. Pitch Big
Part three is ‘Pitch Big’ where you get (finally!) into action to present to your identified retail buyers. Indeed it does take a lot of preparation if you want to succeed, and the first two parts therefore make up most of this book.
Chapter 7 is about ‘preparation’: researching your identified retailers in even more detail so that you really understands what matters to them, and why this retailer needs your products or services so that you can prepare a professional proposal and create your sales presentation.
Clare’s big tip here is to identify your ten most ideal target retailers and to approach your number 10 first!
She really gives some great real life insights here in how much you can learn from doing different subsequent sales pitches, and what you can learn from targets who say ‘no’.
I love the case study of Emma Wimhurst of Diva Cosmetics who pitched her entire makeup range to New Look, but only managed to sell nail varnish at her first pitch, and was very disappointed with that result.
In hindsight she says:
“This was the best thing that could have happened. It taught me how to approach future presentations to retailers, by putting myself in their shoes and in the shoes of their customer.
I was now better equipped to sell an initial trial with the plan for subsequent roll-out, subject to success. This was far more palatable to the retailers.’
To help you with your detailed research for your top ten retailers Clare gives a very detailed overview of the kind of information you need to know, why you need it and where you can find it. From detailed financial information and performance, margins achieved and expected, profits per square foot, the key decision makers in the buying process (not all of whom might be present at your potential meeting!), to current strategy and direction, the wants and needs of their customer to exactly what ranges are on offer.
This then will help you to explain the benefits of your products and why this retailer should buy from YOU.
Each potential buyer will get their own uniquely tailored presentation.
You need to be able to answer any potential major questions and objections the retailer might throw at you (and this is often where the pitch either fails or succeeds!). The best way however is to answer all the main questions in your presentation, before they are being asked.
This will show your attention to detail, understanding of their market and challenges, the buyer’s personal challenges, and the joint interest in creating a successful long term commercial relationship. It will also show your professionalism and will give you much more confidence.
Clare also makes a very good case that at the start of building a commercial relationship (when you need to build trust and credibility) it is essential that the Director (e.g. You!) must be responsible for sales, as you are the most passionate, knowledgeable and expert of your products.
Later on when things go well you can delegate, but at the start YOU are the best person for the sales job!
Chapter 8 is about ‘selling’– the entire process from securing an initial meeting to closing the deal. Clare shows you the various steps and what needs to happen at each different stage.
She breaks it down to ensure that you don’t try to close the deal at stage one, as you will dramatically fail (doing the deal is stage 7!)
Remember: selling is about building a relationship and you need to be patient and build trust!
The 5 selling stages are:
1. Make initial contact: you are selling the concept here over a cup of coffee to get to know you better
2. Exploratory meeting: learn about the details of the retailer’s or buyer’s preferred buying process (the subsequent two stages might be in a different order or there might be additional stages. Up to you to find out at this stage!)
3. Submitting a proposal
4. Formal presentation: where you sell your expertise, your team, products and brand.
5. Following up
(And after this comes the negotiation phase and hopefully you get the order!)
Clare explains each of these stages in great detail, with very helpful tips and to-do-and-not-to-do-lists.
She explains for example how to overcome your first barrier ‘the gate keeper’, who is often the PA to the buyer.
And what the best way is to make that initial contact (phone, email, letter, social media, trade show or referral?)
She explains how to follow up without making a nuisance of yourself.
Are you worried about the prospect of having to negotiate with big retailers? Dreading to have to comply to complicated delivery terms? Worried that they will bully you into terms that you can’t actually deliver on?
Chapter 9 on ‘negotiations’ is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever seen on how to negotiate. Just for this chapter purchasing How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market is worthwhile! Even if you never will actually sell to a retailer!
In a very practical way Clare manages here to explain what a negotiation actually is. She shares a great case study explaining how a small misunderstanding and non-understanding of terms and conditions can potentially really damage your relationship with a retailer.
She gives some great advice here:
‘A requirement that seems petty at first, once understood by the supplier, seemed entirely reasonable.
Another key point about a negotiation is to take the time to really understand the reasons why you are being asked to conform to the retailer’s terms of business, as then you’ll be better informed as to what you can challenge and what aspects are unlikely to be open for discussion.’
Clare includes a fantastically useful listing of negotiation points that may be requested from you and how to counter them – from cost price and exclusivity to payment terms and Sale or Return. Really useful to prepare yourself – for any sales negotiation!
It also gives a great overview of negotiation points that you might want to raise.
And she finishes this chapter with why ‘walking away’ isn’t always as bad as it seems, and how you can do this most professionally.
4: Get Big, Stay Big or how to keep growing without loosing the plot!
For many designers and crafts people the first 3 parts of this book is all that they ever want to read about and use. The fourth part is about ‘Get Big, Stay Big’ which is all about continuing to grow into a larger business.
The last 3 chapters of the book are a really useful introduction (only 37 pages in total) for those designers and makers who are really ambitious and want to create highly profitable creative businesses, and ultimately would consider the sale of their business.
Chapter 10 is about ‘Expansion’ and deals mostly with how to secure customer loyalty and encourage clients to return, and how you practically can leverage press and marketing to grow your business.
Chapter 11 is about ‘Replication’ and how you can recreate the most valuable aspects of your business and make your systems as efficient as possible. It also talks briefly about your evolving role within the business you created (I have seen this as a business adviser many times how painful this can be as your business will change and you will have to change with it, or potentially leave or be booted out).
And the final chapter is about ‘Paranoia’ – about always being slightly nervous about your competitors, about your clients going elsewhere and that you always can improve …
It’s about constantly changing with your client’s needs and the market, with the technology and opportunities out there …
I love it how Clare ends How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market with a one-page conclusion. Indeed as she says, there is here a full step-by-step guide to start selling to big retailers, but unless you actually do something with all this information, nothing will be sold at all!
You can purchase How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market from Amazon by using this link, or you can purchase it directly from Clare herself if you clink the link here.