If you have a product, or are thinking of going into retail, your number one concern might probably be the length of time it takes to get your product to sell. At the end of the discussion, our resident Office Hours Expert Timothy Bush answers that number one question product launchers ask. He will not give you false hopes, but instead enlighten you with his full transparency on what it truly takes to get your products into big box retail. He dives into core sales and marketing information to consider and prepare for, which will mean the difference between product launch success and failure. Get in touch with Tim by sending your questions about product retail sales.
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Tim Bush here from TLB Consulting. This is my first solo expert Office Hours. It is going to be just as good no matter what. The information we’re going to talk about, you’ll be able to put into practice or at least it’s going to give you some good things to think about if you have a product or you’re thinking about a product or you’re just wondering whether you should even create a product to go to retail. The number one question everybody asks me constantly, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, “How long is it going to take to get my product into retail?” The reason that people ask that question is simply because a lot of times, they’ve already done all this work. They’ve created and thought of the product. They figured out how to make it. They’ve had it fabricated. They’ve produced some product and they’re super proud of it and now, it’s completely stacked in their garage. They can’t move, and their spouse is all over them, “When are you going to get rid of this?” Once they get to me, then that’s their biggest question, “I already think that this product should be selling in retail. How long is it going to take?”
We try to address that, and we try to be transparent when we do just so there’s no false hope over there. There’s nobody thinking the red carpet’s going to roll out, the velvet ropes are going to part, and I’m going to be welcomed with open arms into big-box retail and all will be well. I’m not here to tell you that that’s not going to happen because I have a story that that did happen. There’s a wide range of how long it could take you to get your product into retail and a lot of factors that go into it. I have thirteen things to talk about that could be factors for you and your product and your company that will affect the time it’s going to take to get you into retail. If you don’t know me and if you don’t know who I am, go back to the Meet Tim Bush interview that I did with Tracy and that will tell you everything that you need to know about me and probably some things that you didn’t need to know. If you want to know more about me directly after this, go over there and everything you’re going to need to know about Tim Bush and TLB Consulting will be there.
Please join me on my Office visits because we’re going to get deep into it. We’re going to get deep into everything that you’re going to need to know to be successful in launching a multiple product or a single product campaign into big-box retail. I am going to give you the recipe to coke, that’s the bottom line. Don’t even miss one episode, but if you do, you can find the recording.[Tweet “A groundbreaking product is your brainchild. It’s something that you came up with that nobody has ever seen before.”]
First thing that I take into account when I’m talking to a client and they’re asking me how long it is going to take, I take a look at their product and I ask myself two questions. One, what type of product is it? Me, personally, I have categorized all my products into two categories. I haven’t found a product yet on the market that doesn’t fit into one or two of these categories. They are groundbreaking products and enhancement products. The first thing that we want to do and the first thing you’re going to want to do is try to figure out, “Which one of these categories does my product fit into?” Groundbreaking. This is a product that nobody has ever seen before. You found an issue or a problem or a niche, and you created a product just to fill this niche or problem or issue and nobody has ever seen before. Nobody even knows what it is. When they see what problem it’s going to solve, they’ll probably go, “I totally get it.” However, it’s never been on the shelf before. There’s no category for it. It’s completely new to consumers and to buyers. A groundbreaking product is your brainchild. It’s something that you came up with that nobody has ever seen before.
Second, enhancement product. It’s a product that is an enhancement over something else. There was a product out there, you saw it, you said, “It’s okay, but it’s missing the mark in these different ways, so I am going to enhance that and create a new product that’s better, faster, easier, cooler,” all those things. The big difference between an enhancement product and a groundbreaking product is an enhancement product does have a retail category. It does have some sales trend behind it. It does have some pricing history behind it. When buyers are looking at these two types of products, they will more easily get the enhancement product because you’re going to know that that’s the right buyer because they buy that category. They’re not going to be wondering, “Is this my category? Should I be taking this on?” They’re not going to wonder any of that.
They’re going to know it’s their category. They know where it goes, they know what the trend is in the category. They know what the pricing trend is in the category. They just have to now find some room for it if they like it, if they think that people will actually pay for this enhancement that you created. There’s a quicker, easier, more defined path for enhancement products compare to a groundbreaking product where buyers will generally or could potentially pass it around thinking, “No, this is not mine. No, this doesn’t fit into my category.” You will have to spend some time finding out who the buyer is and who is going to take ownership of this product. Then you’re going to have to help them figure out where it goes. You’re going have to talk to them about pricing and the pricing is going to have to make sense because there’s no trend on it. There’s no trend in this category.
Your job with a groundbreaking product is to sell the product and sell the need and the unique because without that you’re dead in the water because there’s nothing else behind it. You’re going to have to sell this product. Whereas, on an enhancement product, you have to sell the category and the category already exists. If the categories are starting to die and you have this unbelievable enhancement that’s going to pick the category of up, that’s going to make sense. That’s going to make sense to a buyer. The road with these two types of products could be quite different based on what type of product you have.
Number one, ask yourself, do I have a groundbreaking product or do I have an enhancement product? How you approach the buyer with those two different types of products are going to be very different. Groundbreaking, enhancement. Figure that out. Pricing. No matter whether you have one product or ten products or 100 products, and for the purpose of this talk, we’re going to say that you’re just hitting the market with these products. I would recommend that you do a pricing strategy that goes across all categories. If you’re selling to, let’s say big-box. I still think you need to do a pricing strategy for club store, for grocery, for specialty, for eCommerce, for Amazon.
The reason I recommend that is because you don’t know where you’re going to want to sell your product five years from now, three years from now, six years from now. You don’t know. You haven’t thought that far ahead or maybe some of those opportunities have presented themselves to you yet. You have this idea like, “This product is perfect for Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target.” That’s where you’re going for. Let’s say you’re online, you’re on Amazon. That’s where you started. We have a lot of clients that we’re bringing off Amazon now into regular mainstream retail and they only ever price their product just for Amazon. A lot of times we try to price it for big-box and it doesn’t work.
Before you get your product on the market, no matter where you’re going to get it on the market at, it’s key to price it out in all of those different categories. I would say price it out in each channel that you can so that you know that it works across a multi-channel, grocery, big-box, eCommerce, specialty, club store, even drugstore could go in there as its own channel. Make sure that it works across all of those. Down the road, we may do just a deep dive into pricing and I can bring up some of the TLB Consulting pricing worksheets that we have that will help you with that. In the meantime, if you have an issue, you know, go ahead and type it out and send it to me. That’s why you’re in this program. That’s why you’re taking advantage of this opportunity because you have access to us, you have access to me. You can just ask the question. It doesn’t cost you anything more.
Current sales, do you have any sales on your product? That’s going to be a big factor. In retail today, they don’t want to be first. I don’t know why. They don’t want to pull the trigger and take a chance. They’re going to say, “Where are you selling now?” If you have some sales data, that’s going to be better, that’s going to help. Even if that sales data is just Amazon, at least that’s FaceTime with your customers. Just because your family and friends have bought your product, doesn’t mean that that’s all you need to do before you go to big-box retail. FaceTime with your customers is not mom, it’s not dad. What I suggest is even if it is just your own website, even if it is just Amazon, those are still customers that you don’t know. They’re buying your product on its merits and they’re going to tell you very honestly if it’s good or if it’s not or if it’s good, but it this issue or if it’s bad. They’re are going to be brutally honest and this will be hard for you because this is a piece of you, you birthed this product. It’s going to be hard for you to take that information dispassionately. I want you to detach from the person that birthed this product and sit up here and look down at what these people are telling you so that you can act accordingly.
It’s a mistake not to listen honestly to the feedback that you’re getting. When you’re talking to a big retail buyer, if you can’t say that you have sold hundreds of these online or there are hundreds of people other than your relatives that have bought this product and kept it and liked it enough to type some review and talk about how it was great, that’s key. That’s better than not having that at all. I’m going to say this is better than not having it, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t have it, that you’re dead in the water. If you don’t have it, go out and get it. If you don’t have an Amazon account, go get an Amazon account. Let’s get your product started selling on Amazon or set you up your own website. If you don’t have it, that’s an opportunity to go get it. Current sales, current distribution falls into current sales too, so where is your product distributed at? Who’s distributing it? Do you have a distributor? Are you selling direct? What retailers are carrying it? Who’s buying it and are they liking it? Are they keeping it? Distribution and sales are the same thing.
Category, what type of category are you trying to sell? Let’s say you have some coffee and chocolate, very commoditized products in the US. If you’re trying to bring chocolate to market, I’m going to tell you that you’re going to have a tougher time. Not because your chocolate’s not good, not because it’s not the best chocolate in the entire world, but simply because chocolate is the most sold product in the US. Then there’s coffee after that. I’ve sold coffee before and there are a million people out there selling coffee, so you’re in that big sea of people and it’s going to be more difficult for you to stand out. Category is key and only in context of how long it is going to take you. Not that you’re not going to get there, but the question we’re talking about is how long is it going to take? If you’re selling chocolate, it could take you longer than if you were selling let’s say yoga socks, earthworms. That’s not the most commoditized product in the US, so it could take you longer.
Category matters. What category you’re selling in and it helps you prepare your strategy and your overall assault onto retail understanding full well that you’re up against a tremendous amount of competitors. It helps you arm yourself. If you already know that you’re going up against hundreds of other vendors trying to get chocolate into the market, it helps you understand, “I already know this is going to be tough. I’m going to arm myself with this, this and this.” Just understand that at the beginning. If you have questions about tough categories two things, you can do. One, you can reach out to me or you can just go onto Amazon and take a look. If you pull up a certain type of product and it has 137 pages of that one item, you’re going to know that that’s a deep category that a lot of people getting in there. Feel free to reach out on that.
Competition falls right into category. Who are you up against and right underneath competition I have uniques. If you’ve ever listened to my podcast or we’ve spoken personally, you know that I talk all the time, if you can’t speak to your individual uniques of your product, then you need to get that down. That’s part of your elevator pitch. That’s part of what’s going to set you apart and it’s going to set you apart from your competition. One of the first things that buyer’s going to ask you is, “I have this, this and this. These are the things that we’re selling in your category. What makes yours different? Why should I carry it? What’s going to set it apart?” Those are uniques and you need to have between three and five solid uniques so that you can fire right back, “We have this, we have this, we have this.” I’m going to caution you here that pricing and saying you have a better product for a lower price is not necessarily a unique. Why that product is better is a unique, not that it just is better, because that can be an opinion. It’s your baby. You’re going to think it’s better, but why it’s better. Can you quantify that? Can you speak to it? Can you explain it in?[Tweet “If you can’t speak to your individual uniqueness of your product, then you need to get that down.”]
Let me give you a good example. I have a client that makes a cover for a soda can. That’s not a unique product. You can go on Amazon and find a hundred different covers for a soda can, but his clips onto the soda can and then inside the little ring it pops open, so you don’t have to take the whole thing off and on when you want to drink from the soda can. That’s a unique. Secondly, if you like to drink with a straw from a soda can, that straw can actually be closed in the lid so that when you’re ready to drink it again, the straw still there. You didn’t have to toss it and then go find yourself a new straw, unique number two. Number three, before we even showed it to anybody or even put it on Amazon, I sent him to an independent lab because I wanted to know with his lid on there how much longer the fizz lasted compared to just not having anything on it. 58% longer. There may be other lids on the market that do that or better, but they don’t say it. They don’t have an independent lab tested white paper result. We do. He can put everywhere on his website, on his listing, anywhere you want and especially with buyers, “Fizz, last 58% longer than if you use nothing.” Unique number three.
There are a couple more uniques, but those are some of the key ones. It makes a difference and so if you have to go out and get an independent lab test, I say do it, especially when you already know that it’s going to be good. A lot of people don’t go to the effort to do it. It wasn’t that expensive. It’s a white piece of paper from an independent lab that says something that makes people’s eyes go, “58% more. That’s crazy.” We can back it up. That’s what I’m talking about uniques. It’s not a guess, it’s not an unsubstantiated statement. It’s a fact. You can close a straw in there. It’s a fact that you don’t have to take the whole thing off before you can drink. It’s a fact to fizz lost 58% longer. Those are all facts, they’re not guesses. A lot of times when passionate people, about their product, you question, they tend to throw out thoughts and they may not be substantiated with facts, so your uniques have to be substantiated. They have to be something that you can actually speak to.
They can’t just be, “It’s better. It’s a better price.” If it was always better price that retailers were looking at, they’d be constantly switching products because anybody can get to another factory somewhere in the world that can make something cheaper. That’s not what’s most important. This should be key to your understanding of how you’re going to stay in retail. Retailers will not just kick you out because somebody showed up with a better price. That should give you a lot of comfort. Anybody can show up with a better price. Somebody will always take less margin than you are and show up with a better price. It’s not just that.
In order to get you kicked out, one, you have to be greedy so your price was so high that it was ridiculous and somebody is coming in so far lower, but it’s also product uniques, different things about your product that make it stand out. Be that person. Go find those different things about your product. The same product as all other products and maybe you have it a little bit cheaper, I would challenge you to make it better, to give it something that you can hang your hat on. Retailer targets. This is a big important category too. One of the very first things that we do with our clients after we do pricing, which we do first. Number one is pricing so that we see if we have any pricing issues, we make a retailer target hit list. Who are we matching up for this product? What retailers do we want to go after for this product? I have my client do a list and then I do a list and then we match those lists together and we see if we’re on the same page as far as what demographic of customer would buy this. Is this retailer or a good place to enhance your brand?
The retailers you choose are going to affect your brand for a long time. Here’s an example of how that might work. Let’s say you’re at a trade show and a buyer from HomeGoods or T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s stopped by your booth and they were super excited about your product. You guys decided on a price and you shipped them in two containers and you’re like, “I’m in retail.” You’re in retail but you’re in discount retail. You’re enclosed out retail and if that product is a closeout discount product, well done. If you were at some point hoping that that product was going to be in Costco or in a Bed, Bath & Beyond, or even Target, in mainstream non-discount retail, you’re going to have to have a different product for that. You’re going to either have to enhance it or change the packaging or do something different to take that. It’s not ideal and retail, buyers won’t generally want to have the same product being sold at regular retail in Bed, Bath & Beyond and then sliced and diced over at T.J. Maxx. That that doesn’t work. It’s important to find out where you’re going to sell your product, what retailers are right to enhance your brand, what retailers are going to help grow your brand. That’s where you want to go.
Also, in the topic of how long it is going to take, buyers that connect with your product based on their consumer demographic are more likely to buy. If you’re coming after a retailer that’s not right for your brand, that’s like trying to sell, let’s say a $69 dog collar to Walgreens, probably not a good match. They’re going to say no. Nobody shopping at Walgreen’s going to be buy $69, maybe a couple of people but in general, no, dog collars at Walgreens, $19.99, $14.99, not $69. Who you picked to go to also will determine how long it’s going to take.
Social media involvement. If you listen to my podcast or you’ve ever spoken to me or seen me speak, you know that I am a big proponent of social media. This is what’s driving product. This is your free advertising platform. It’s not always free, but it can be free. It’s way less than putting advertisement in People Magazine. This is how products get out and go viral. The biggest demographic in the entire US, millennials this is how they communicate. If you’re trying to sell your product but you’re leaving out the biggest demographic in the entire US, probably not a good idea. Get yourself involved in social media right now. Don’t wait another day. Don’t wait until you pass go. Start it right now.
A lot of my clients will reach out to me during the fourth quarter and say, “I want to put some promotions out through social media.” You don’t have any social media followers because we haven’t done anything with that all year. You can’t drive promotions through social media if you don’t have anybody to drive it with. How does that affect buyers? How does that affect your ability to get into retail? For the first time ever in the last maybe eighteen months, buyers are consistently asking, “What are you doing on social? How can we tie into what you’re doing on social? How are you driving your product on social media and what platforms are you on and how can we tie into that?” Social media, they’re asking and you don’t want to say we’re doing nothing because then they’re going to understand that you’re not up to speed. You’re not a par, this is not somebody we want to do business with.
I went with a client to sell his Jalapeños to Costco a couple years ago. We sat with the buyer and the buyer loved the product who is a totally unknown brand. They said, “We’re going to have to cut these against some of the other people were looking at.” If you don’t know what ‘cut’ means, they’re going to try them with Del Monte and whoever else are looking at. A couple of weeks later, they say, “We tested it. It’s all the people were looking at and your guys were the clear winner.” We’re the clear winner. My expectation was we’re going to PO tomorrow. Let’s do this, let’s get this thing done. I didn’t hear from the buyer again for nine months. We had already passed almost a month and a half since our visit when they called us to tell us that they loved it and they wanted to do it. She kept emailing me saying, “Just a little bit longer.” No, zero, zilch, not a word, and I kept following up. Nine months later, wet an email, “We’re ready to cut a PO.”
What happened? Why nine months on a product that they loved? Priorities. She was busy. She was launching. She was in the middle of this. She had to visit to China. She had to go here. She had a bunch of vendor visits. It’s hard to know what she was doing during those nine months. She didn’t give me her schedule, but I know that it was more important than bringing on new Jalapeños. It had to be. She, at some point, got to it and sent me a PO and off we went. Sometimes you can do everything right and they can say yes and then still from start to finish, from the time that he got the appointment to the time that the products, we’re on the shelf was just over a year on a product that they absolutely loved.
Imagine on a product that you’re having to sell to them and they’re considering it, they’re wondering about it, they want to test it, they want to do this, it can even go further than that. Contrast that with a driver’s ed. company that we wanted to do a gift card promotion for on the floor at Costco also. I emailed the buyer early in the morning, maybe 10:00 AM, I received an email back from the buyer at 2:00 PM, and that product was on the ground in Costco in just over 32 days. That’s a mic drop right there. Thirty-two days in on the floor in Costco. Can that happen? Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve seen it happen. I rode that roller coaster. The average time I would say from start to finish that it takes to get a product into retail if the buyer’s interested, eighteen months will be average. Some will be less, some will be more. If you’re just starting out, you are going to need all of that time to get yourself ready. I always let my clients know, “Be careful what you wish for because if what you’re wishing for happens all at the same time, you can’t handle it.” It’s not right.[Tweet “Your uniques have to be substantiated. They have to be something that you can actually speak to.”]
Things unfold how they’re supposed to unfold. If you’ve never sold to a big-box retail and you hook into the video, you hook it is a big guy, you’re going to want all that eighteen months to get yourself prepared and knock it out of the park because the last thing you want to do is get your products in there and then have something go wrong, have some issue with your packaging or your product. That’s not what you want.
You can take the stuff here, groundbreaking, enhancement, product pricing, current sales, distribution, category, competition, uniques, retailer targets, and social media, you can take all of that information to make yourself as ready as you can possibly be. We’re going to talk about so many different aspects that taking your product to retail. We’re going to talk about buyer meetings and how to set up the room. Everything you need to know about how they get it done is going to be on this Office Hours. I know you’re excited. I know you’re thinking, “This is a great start,” and it is. I want you to take all these things here and I want you to be honest with yourself and put yourself and ask, “Where am I at with all these things? Where am I at? How do I really stack up?” If there are areas that your weak in, that’s a good thing to find that out right now. Let’s share those things up. Let’s get those things taken care of. I’m here to help.
You know where to reach me if you want to ask me any questions if you have any things that you might not be sure of or you want to find out or ask additional questions from the meeting. How long is it going to take to get my product into big-box retail? It could take 30 days or it could take eighteen months or could take somewhere in between but either way, the time it takes is what’s going to be right for you. If you want to make it quicker, take a look at some of the things that we talked about here. Those are going to help shorten that time frame.