PLH 78 | Big Box Retail Product

Is your brand ready to be a big box retail product? Tim Bush of TLB Consulting says you should make sure that you are ready because if you hit up a buyer and things don’t go well until that buyer swaps out and changes positions, you are going to have a tough time going back to that buyer. That’s where you’re at it unless something majorly changes. Tim shares some things you should be looking at when you’re getting your product ready for retail such as pricing, packaging, sales, the uniques, your customers, your target retailers, and marketing plan to push your product forward. He goes in-depth each one of these seven key items to give a better understanding of their significance in getting your product ready for big box retail.

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It seems like it’s been a long time since the last time I’ve spoken to you. A lot has happened and we moved. We are going to talk about, “Is your product ready to go to retail?” I know it’s a weird topic because of course you think that your product is ready. You think that everybody should be looking at your product. You think that it’s fast as you can get it to retail buyers, that’s what you should do. Let’s go over a couple of things and make sure that you are ready. Let me tell you from experience that if you hit up a buyer and things don’t go well, until that buyer swaps out and changes positions, you are going to have a tough time going back to that buyer. If something happened, you weren’t quite ready, they said they’re going to pass on the product, that’s where you’re at unless something majorly changes. Generally, the thing that changes is that buyer moves on, switches out. I want to make sure that when you get ready to take your product to a buyer, that it’s awesome, that you’re ready, that the buyer is wowed and you’re not going to have any issues when it comes to not being ready.

The first thing I’m going to ask you about is pricing. There’s a ton of stuff out on the web about pricing your product for retail. I’m not going to get into an entire pricing show. The one thing I want to make sure that you’ve done and the one thing that we want to mention here is have you priced your product across all channels? Let’s say you’re getting ready to send your product to Costco and you’re happy with it. We don’t all have a crystal ball, we can’t all tell right off the bat if Costco is going to be the only place that we ever take the product, the only place that we ever go with your product.

You want to price it across all the different channels to make sure that it works across a wide range of retailers before you start selling it to and lock in your price. Once you start selling it in one channel, that’s your price for that channel and everything else is going to either go down off that or go up off that. Before you lock yourself in, and maybe some of you already have on Amazon because Amazon is an eCommerce channel and whatever price you’re selling it on there for is where your retail is. Even if you say, “It’s just on sale,” it’s on sale all the time on Amazon. Whatever price that is, that’s what the retailers are going to think that your price is.

PLH 78 | Big Box Retail Product

Big Box Retail Product: Packaging is an important part of you selling your product because you’re not going to be there in the retail store every time going, “Check out my product.”

Whether it’s Clubstore, whether it’s Big Box, a grocery, a drug store, a specialty or an eCommerce, you want to make sure that your product pricing works well across all those different channels. Don’t lock yourself into one channel with one price. I guarantee you down the road, you’re going to regret that. Price it across all those channels and make sure it works. Number two, packaging. If you’ve listened to my podcast at all, if you’ve gone all the way back to the beginning, they still have good content and one of those was about packaging not being a do-it-yourself project. Just because you have a friend who can sketch, or you have a friend who does graphic design that doesn’t mean they know packaging.

Tom and Tracy will tell you this a hundred different times in a hundred different ways. This is an important part of you selling your product. You are not going to be there in the retail store every time going, “Check out my product.” Their packaging is going to have to do that for you. There are a couple of different things that you’re packaging has to be able to do. Number one, it has to be able to stop people. People have to be, “What’s that?” They have to stop. You have like a tenth of a second to capture their attention. What about your packaging that is going to do that? What is going to make them stop?

Number two, it has to make them pick it up. Once they stopped there has to be something engaging enough that they want to pick it up. The third thing is there has to be a call to action. You have to solve something on the packaging to get them to put it in their cart. Number one, I’ve got to stop, “I’m strolling down the aisle. I’m on my way to pick up the one thing that I know I need for sure and all of the sudden I’m “What’s that?” I stopped right in my tracks because your packaging is so engaging. It made me stop. I have to stop and look and say what is that? On the box it says something like nosebleeds, “My son has nosebleeds all the time. Scoop it up.” It says, “All natural, organic, nosebleed remedy.” “I like organic, all natural. My kid has nosebleeds. I’m going to put that in my cart.” You’re not going to get that by guessing. You’re not going to get that by Uncle Johnny who does some graphic design doing that. You’re not going to do that with iPhone pictures. That’s not how that works.

If you’re going to put some money after you build your product where you can put some money into something, put it into your packaging, that’s your silent salesperson. Without that, probably it’s just going to sit there. Number one, pricing across all channels. Number two, packaging. Make sure that it’s engaging. It’s not a do-it-yourself unless you yourself is a packaging expert. Number three, sales. It’s a double-edged sword. You can’t get into a retailer until you get some sales. You can’t get some sales until you get into a retailer, but there are ways to get sales before you start showing your product to a big box retailer.

Amazon, number one. I know what you’re thinking. I know your parents like it, your family likes it and your friends like it. They’ve tried it and they say it’s the best thing. That’s not a vetted product. Family and friends can’t be all you do. You have to start selling it by the hundreds. You need to get deep into this like 100, 200, 300 units sold to people that you don’t know. People who don’t live next to you. These are the people that you need to sell the products to because they’re going to be brutally honest. If it doesn’t work, they’re going to tell you, “This thing doesn’t work or it doesn’t work well. I don’t like it. It’s the wrong color, or it falls apart or it’s awesome.” This is the best thing. I don’t know how I survived without this. Those are the feedbacks that you need. Believe me, bad feedback is not bad. Bad feedback is only bad when you sold 250,000 units to Target and now you’re getting some feedback that things are going wrong. That is bad.

Having a cheaper product or a better product is not enough. It has to be different. Share on X

When you’re selling one, two, three at a time, ten a day and somebody says, “Put the brakes on, something’s going wrong with this.” You dodged a bullet because you can fix it, put it back out there, make sure that people are buying it and it’s all going well. Then you can sell it to a big-box retailer. You can do couple containers, loads and feel comfortable about it, but please don’t go to a big-box retailer and tell you have vetted this product and it’s sold multiple hundreds of units across a certain type of channel. Whether it’s on your own website, on Amazon, on another eCommerce site, someplace where you can control inventory and you’re not selling thousands and thousands of units to one person and expecting them to sell it when it’s un-vetted.

There are people around you that think your product is awesome. We need to get some people that you don’t know to say that same thing. Sales vetted, pricing, packaging. Number four is unique. I know that you think your product is unique and it probably is. Being unique and having uniques are not the same thing. When you talked to a retail buyer, they’re going to want to know, “Why do I need to buy this product?” You need to have some unique, some specific things that make this product unique enough to sit next to another like-minded product and either do better, do different or even take that one off the shelf to replace with yours. Having a cheaper product or what you would consider a better product is not enough. It has to be different. It has to be unique. That could come in the form of colors, color choices. It could come in the fact that there’s some new tweak that you made to it.

People are getting silly, rich on Amazon, taking regular products and making some unique changes. I have people that come to me every single week and say, “I can do that product better and cheaper. Therefore, the red carpet is going to come out and the velvet ropes are going to park and it’s going to be beautiful.” Once the retailers are already locked into a product and that company has a vendor number, it’s a lot of hassle to get rid of them and to take you on. It has to be more than a better product for a better price.

What’s unique about your product? What sets it apart? It has to be tangible. It can’t be just, “It works so much better. It looks so much better. It acts so much better.” Those aren’t tangible things. “This particular USB drive that has some new technology in it and the download speeds are twice as fast.” That’s tangible. Something we can grab onto. Not only that, but that’s something that you can write on the packaging that’s going to make that person put it in their cart. Some of the uniques, what do you want to tell the consumer on your packaging that’s going to be like, “I’ve got to get this.” That’s what that is. That’s exactly what you’re going to tell the buyer.

PLH 78 | Big Box Retail Product

Big Box Retail Product: Once you figure out who your customer is, then you got to figure out where they shop.

Number five, who are you selling your product to? This does not have anything to do with your product in it being ready for retail, but before you go to a retail buyer, you need to figure out who’s buying your product? What type of consumer are you wanting to sell to? Let me give you an example. I have clients that come to me and they’re wanting to go to Costco, but they’re currently selling at TJ Maxx. The customer that shops at TJ Maxx might also shop at Costco, but those are not technically the same customer. The demographic at TJ Maxx is not the demographics at Costco. It’s not the household income of $80,000 plus, not a membership shopper.

TJ Maxx is where you go to get great name brands that are closing out at great prices and sometimes something that you don’t even need. It’s a good price. Those two people are going to shop at those stores, but they’re not the same shopper technically. You can’t sell TJ Maxx and the same product at Costco within the same time. You’ve got to decide who’s your customer? Who are you selling? Once you figure out who your customer is, they’re women between the ages of 35 and 65, they have kids, they’re mothers, they have household incomes. They are professionals. Once you figure out who that is, then you got to figure out where do they shop. Where does that person shop? Those are the retailers that you want to start to target.

This leads us to number six, creating your target list of retailers. You can’t start throwing out a net willy-nilly and whatever the retail buyers get caught up in that net, where you’re going to be like, “I pulled that net in. I’ve got like six retail buyers in there.” You’ve got to be strategic about this. Who are you selling your product to and then where do those people shop? That’s your list. In that way, when the buyer says, “Why us?” You can say, “Your target customer fits within the demographic of my customer. We have synergy with who are shopping at your retail stores and who buys my product.” That’s definitely info that you want to have. Sometime at some point, you might want to take a survey of the people that have purchased your product.

Remember when I told you that you needed hundreds of sales, 100, 200, 300 sales? Maybe at some point you need to survey those people, find out who they are. What they do, where they shop. In that way, when the buyer asks you, “Why us? You can say, “Because those are my people.” Last number seven on our list. Marketing is a big word and so I don’t want you to get lost in thinking advertising and putting your product in a magazine or something like that. Marketing also speaks to how you market your product to people to help the sales and the retailers that you got into. How are you going to market your product this year? That’s something buyers are going to want to know.

There are a lot of ways that you can look at it. One arm of that needs to be social media. We have the big social media presence. We’re talking to our customers on social media. We’re interacting with our customers on social media. Remember, social media, your customers and your contact with them is something that these retail companies desperately want. It’s something that they can’t buy. They can’t go to China and get your customers. They can’t go to Korea and get your contacts on social media. They certainly can’t buy your relationship that you have with your customer. They want access to that. Why shouldn’t they? That might be part of and that will be part of why and how they might purchase a product from you.

Trade shows, ECRM, houseware show, fancy food show depending on what product you’re selling. You’ve got to put some money in your budget to go out and market your product. You can’t sit back and say, “I want to build some product, send some emails and get my product into a retailer.” I tell people this all the time. In fact, it was one of my probably first three podcasts, which is, is it harder to get products into retail or is it harder to get the product to sell once they’re in? The answer is it’s harder to get products to sell through once they’re in. That’s right. Getting your products into retail is not the hardest thing. Getting them to sell through and getting a reorder is the hardest thing and you have a big part in that. You can’t just sit back. “They’re in. I’m good. It’s time for the golf. Time to hit the course.” That’s when the real work starts. That’s when you have to get after it.

You have to figure out your product and what you’re going to say to people as they walk by. Share on X

That’s when you have to hit the social media. You’ve got to hit the trade shows. It’s available here, it’s available there. That’s when you have to start marketing it. Money in your budget. Trade shows, stuff like ECRM, houseware shows. Places where you get in front of people, social media. You can do some print. I’m not saying that you can’t do some print, but you can also take advantage of some of the promotional opportunities that are available to you at the retailers that you’re in. They love that. When you go to them and say, “What promotional vehicles do you have available this month?” I want to take advantage of some of that. Promotional vehicles through your retailers, social media, trade shows, those are all different ways that you can market your product. You were going to want to set some money aside for that.

Let’s recap. Pricing across all channels. Packaging, make sure it’s speaking to the consumer. Sales, make sure your product gets vetted and there are no major issues. Number four, uniques. What are the uniques and are you going to call those out on your packaging? Number five, who are you selling to? Figure out who your customer is. Number six, target retailers. Once you’ve figured out who your target customer is, where do they shop and that’s where you need to go. Then seven, marketing plan to push your product forward. Tim Bush, TLB Consulting.

Tim, that was a great overview of all these different considerations. I wanted to ask you, what do you think that most people come to you who are trying to get into big-box retail out of all those seven are they least prepared for? Where are the biggest landmines that people think they’re ready, but they’re not?

Those seven are all landmines. These are all key things. If I had to narrow it down, a lot of people who come to me don’t have adequate sales. They don’t put the time in online to get that figured out. They may come to me because they want me to do that, but they need to understand that, “Then we’re going to have to take baby steps to get to where we’re going to approach Target.” Sometimes they come to me and say, “I want to go for Target. I want to go for Costco.” No. We have to start at eCommerce. We’re going to have to build you a site. We have to start on Amazon and I’m sure you’ll agree with me, 200 to 300 pieces before you can figure out whether your product is okay.

Definitely, you’ve got to get some market proof one way or another that shows that people want this product. There is a market for it. How big is that market and how quickly do you go through those 200 or 300 products too?

We’ve been selling for ten years and we hit the 300 mark. That’s okay too but if it’s taking you ten years to sell 300 units, then go down to number seven. Talk about it to yourself about marketing. Marketing in general, getting on social and spending some money, putting some effort behind that and then getting out to some trade shows, getting in front of people. People get turned off at trade shows because they don’t know what they’re doing. They buy a 10×10 booth and they spent $3,500 on meals and all of this and then they just stand there. People go by and then they get soured on it and say, “I did a trade show and lost a lot of money. It was horrible.”

You didn’t have a plan for what you’re going to do with that trade show or how you’re using it as a tool really.

Maybe you’ve been marketing to some big buyers but you didn’t let them know where you were. You didn’t try to set up any appointments and didn’t create some targeted pitches. When people are walking by, you have to say one thing to them. I had a client for a while who had an electric composter and basically, we can take an entire bucket of stuff in the house and compost it down in three hours. That was my pitch when we were at a trade show, “We can compost your leftovers in three hours.” That would give people, “What do you mean you compost anything in three hours?” That would get them to stop and at least, “What do you mean?” Ask a question. You have to figure out your product and what are you going to say to people as they walk by? If you’re shy, you got to get over that. There was this one guy when I was at a True Value Trade Show and he talked low. He would go out to people and whisper to them. He would steal everybody. I asked him, “What are you saying to those people?” “I’m not telling you.”

PLH 78 | Big Box Retail Product

Big Box Retail Product: Everybody thinks that their product is unique, but tangible things that you can hold onto are key.

The low talker was succeeding?

I don’t know what it was because people were trying to understand them, so they would stop. We were both selling some bug spray. He had a plan and he attended trade shows, so he knew his plan was working.  All of these are big uniques. Everybody thinks that their product is unique, tangibles, things that you can hold onto are key. Like you and Tracy, that’s part of what you guys do and you can help people figure out what’s unique about my product or you might be able to tell them. “There’s nothing unique about your product.”

That’s the tough thing sometimes to tell people that we always talk about how we’re telling people their baby is ugly. We don’t want to do that. The reality is if you don’t have a product that’s significantly different from someone else, you’re going to have a very hard time doing it or you’re going to have to throw a whole lot more money at it in order to get attention. There are all sorts of pros and cons and different factors, but I like what you said earlier too about the packaging. How long do you get on the retail shelf with somebody walking by to grab their attention?

A tenth of a second. It’s so quick that you can’t even count it and sometimes to me, the fact that anybody stops at anything at all is amazing. People are good at that. I’m not one of those people. I’m not going to do your packaging for you, but I do know if I’ll look at your package. I can tell you because the first half of my career was on the sales floor places like Bed Bath and Office Depot. I know how to merchandise. I know what will look good on a shelf and whether people are going to stop. Then the big question is once you get them to stop, then what are you going to tell them then?

The only other thing I was wondering about are the different retailers who each have a different economic model that they operate on. It’s very different at Costco than it is from Target or someone else where you may think I’ve got this product and you’re the vendor. You’ve got this product, you’ve got your margins all figured out, but you haven’t planned for selling it at Walmart versus Costco. It’s an entirely different thing and maybe it shouldn’t even be the exact same skew. Isn’t that something or people often not prepared for the different margin makeups and all the different factors involved and what adds up to be the shell on the shelf price?

Here’s the two that get people into trouble. If your product is selling at Target, you can probably sell it at Bed Bath & Beyond or someplace, other like-minded big box retailers. If you started online and you started discounting online, started selling your product and you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m still making 100% margin on this product or 80% or 70%. I’m still making good money.” A lot of people are coming off Amazon. They want to go into mainstream retailer but there’s not enough margin in there because all of a sudden you have to add another twenty, 30 points to your model and all of a sudden it’s not working.

They’ve gotten so used to discounting deep on Amazon because it’s this sea of I’m beating you by like two pennies. I’m winning the buy box. You may have to discount now and again on Amazon, but you better know what your other prices are going to look like. The other place that they get in trouble is in Clubstore because even though the club stores, like Costco only requires fourteen points a margin. People think I’m going to go buy a new ski cabin, but there are all these backend program costs that they require or that you need to be ready for, that gets you into trouble.

Getting your products into retail is not the hardest thing. Getting them to sell through and getting a reorder is the hardest thing. Share on X

I always say you’ve got to have an expert who knows the lay of the land at that retailer. You are definitely our go-to person.

When you’re trying to survey this type of thing and get your product into retail, there’s something that you’re good at. If you built a product, then that’s what you’re good at. You had an idea, you were able to facilitate that idea and turn it into a product, but you’re not going to be generally good at everything. A lot of times people burn through a ton of money trying to be good at everything and then they figure out that they need help. By the time they figured out they need help, they don’t have any money left. My advice to people is figure out what you’re good at and do that. Then, when you still have funds available, go find some other people that are good at the things that you don’t know anything about.

You’ve got to play to your strengths, hire your weaknesses and recognize you have weaknesses. Nobody’s great at everything. Thank you so much, Tim. That was fantastic. I’m sure that’s going to be of great value to our members.

You can always email me on the platform. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. Tom, thank you always for making it available. I hope everybody gets a lot out of it.

It’s our pleasure to have you. Thank you for doing it. Until next time.

Tune in to Tim’s next Office Hours. Connect with and find out more about Tim in our Experts Directory.

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