PLH 005 | On The Shelf Retail

The number one question that On The Shelf Retail Expert, Timothy Bush gets is,”How long does it take?” As entrepreneurs get inundated with a ton of planning and preparation, they can get flustered with the influx of work involved with product launching. For those that work in the real trenches of retail, trying to launch a new brand, whether it be retail goods or a huge celebrity takes time. Success does not happen overnight. Tim understands that measurable success requires intensive planning as well as proper guidance from industry pros who know the ins and outs of branding and retail. Timothy helps people overcome roadblocks so they can get ahead of the competition.

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Tim, I’m so glad to have you on this show and get everyone on Product Launch Hazzards to get to know you.

Great to be here. Great to finally get going.

We’ve been planning this a really long time. You and I agree on this. We have so many people that we wish we could help. There are just not enough hours in the day to talk to them all.

There’s definitely not enough hours in the day just to get everything done let alone talk to everybody that needs help and wants help and is looking for some expertise for sure.

That’s really what we’re here for. We’re here to try to find a broader audience that we can reach out and that they can get some help when they need it, that they can help themselves and really get to know which experts really make sense for where they are and what stage they’re in. That’s I think a big evaluation. I’m sure that you get this all the time because I call you the On the Shelf Expert every time I talk to people, which is the name of your podcast. It is also actually what you are. You are an absolute expert at what will work in mass market retail, how to sell into mass market retail, how to get on the shelves just about anywhere. When we look at that, there’s a point at which most people are like, “Am I ready yet?” or “I think I’m ready and they may not be.” I’m sure that is like the number one question you get.

I think the number one question and if I’m not mistaken, my next one of these is actually going to dive into this, but it’s how long does it take? That’s probably the number one question I get. I think that entrepreneurs are people that are trying to get their products on the shelf or just created a product, they don’t struggle through the questions of am I ready? They need actually somebody else to tell them you’re not ready or you are ready. They always think they’re ready. They’ve gone through this process of birthing a product and now they’re just like, “The carpets are going roll out and everybody’s going to love it.” I think the one thing that they struggle with or wonder the most, and it’s the very first podcast I ever did and whenever I go back and listen to it, like, “That’s a little rough,” because I didn’t know what I was doing at all. It’s still one of my top five podcasts listened to every month and that is how long is it actually going to take?

I’m so glad and it does it maybe it’s time for that to be discussing it a little bit of updating because people think that the speed has changed because the speed of commerce has changed. The speed of retail really hasn’t and you and I know that from the inside out.

PLH 005 | On The Shelf Retail

On The Shelf Retail: If you have a hurdle that you can’t overcome right then, the buyer is going to put you on the bottom of the stack and then they’re going to go on to the next.

I think that it’s still pretty consistent unless you’re George Clooney trying to launch a new item or a huge celebrity. I think that for those that work in the real trenches of retail, we know that it’s going to take a certain amount of time. Buyers are a little bit more burdened now than they’ve ever been. Things don’t get quicker. They get more backed up. It requires us to be more prepared, really understand what the buyers are wanting from us so that we can have that stuff ready. What I do is help people take all the little roadblocks out that could get them put down under the pile. I call it always under the pile because when you’re talking to a buyer, you’re on the top of the stack. If you have a hurdle that you can’t overcome right then, the buyer is going to put you on the bottom of the stack and then they’re going to go on to the next.

You got to work your way back up again.

What we do is we try to minimize the hurdles and take out all those little things that are going to get you put on the bottom of the stack so that you’re more ready when you’re actually having those conversations.

Let’s set that up because what I just referred to was that you are an insider. You’ve been doing this a long time just like I have. You’ve got a lot of inside data and inside information. There are so many landmines, there are so many hurdles, there are so many hazards. There are so many of those things and that’s why you’re invited on this platform. That’s why you are my first expert that I reached out to. There are so many of these things that we know. Let’s dial back in and let everybody get to know you and talk about how you got started in selling the mass market retail and how you got started in this industry?

Depending on how far you want to go back. The beginning of my career actually was in retail. I work at the executive level of companies like Toys “R” Us and Bed Bath & Beyond and a Barnes & Noble and Office Depot. I really learned firsthand back years ago where a store manager or above really had a lot of control over their own building and how you merchandise products and how you really taught people how to buy certain things. I’m also an expert in merchandising and how to get people to buy and where you place stuff and how you build a pallet and how you build an N-CAP and why all this stuff is important. I moved from that, and there are some little things in the middle, but I moved from that into wholesale because I really wanted to learn and have a well-rounded business. Where do the products come from? How do you get them over here? How do they get built? How do they actually get sold to retail?

I did that for several years and really the way TLB Consulting was created, was I got fired. I think at the time, there was myself with around 200,000 other people in 2009. I was working for a large robotic massage chair company and I got laid off along with all the other executives. I had just built a business for this company with Costco from $2 million to $16 million in just two years. I know I wanted to do something and help people with how that actually gets done and how you can actually work with Costco. I created a company, but I hooked up with a buyer from Costco who was having trouble with a couple of vendors. They don’t have time to teach them this or teach them that and they asked me, “Would you just work with these guys?” Here I am two days out of getting laid, I’m like, “Sure. I’ll do that.”

I didn’t realized that how much our careers overlapped there because it was right about 2009 that we started our current formation of the business and it started in an office seating for Costco right at that moment.

Both of these companies got in to Costco, but neither one of them made it past testing, which is common, but they both learned a lot. It dawned on me that at the time, 2009, nobody was really teaching people how to do business with Costco. I read some articles and built a business around that. What I soon found out was that most of the people that were coming to me weren’t ready to go to Costco. Instead of just discarding them, we started building different services that like Total Sales Solution, which right now is our biggest service bar none which is where we act as if we’re an outsource VP of Sales. We really build a strategy and help these small and medium size companies take their products to all the major retailers that makes sense for their brand.

I call that embedded services. That old-style journalism of being an embedded journalist right where you are right in there in the trenches with them. I find that has always been my biggest item that people want. That is the most in demand and it’s also the one that requires so much of my time that I’m very picky and do the least of or take the least clients in because of it.

We started doing that and that instantly became a huge part of what we did. We still do Costco work and consulting, but it became evident at the time that even though we thought some products were just out of the park home runs, its timing might not be right. Not everybody gets in. I started turning away a bunch of people is because I just knew that the product would struggle or might not be right.

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It’s like every time I turned them away, I would be like, “I hope they’re okay out there.” I would worry about them.

What we did is we created an evaluation program. We created our own scale and we have eight things that we look at. It allowed me to take everybody. We didn’t have to turn away anybody. Whether you just carve something out of an idea out of the piece of wood, we can still evaluated it and tell you in the end how it’s scoring right now based on the whole big picture and what you need to do to really get there. It allowed us to stop saying no and we can say yes to everybody. The people that go through the evaluation are the happiest people because everybody wants a roadmap. What do I need to do next? That’s what it created for them. That’s what we’ve been doing. I started the podcast in October of 2015 as a way to give away more information and help people that just wanted to do it. It’s really a DIY, do-it-yourself. You always have those people that are saying, “You’re giving away too much information” or “You’ve given it away for free.” I’m like, “I’m doing that.”

Because the percentage that do something with it that really take action, that really follow the advice and that when they don’t know, they do reach out to the right experts at that time, those are the ones that succeed. If you get 1% or 2%, that’s awesome because you’ve just put a great successful product onto the market. That’s how I feel about it.

Even if somebody just followed all the steps and did it on their own. My very first article, and I don’t know whether these articles wipes away your views and then starts it over. They did that for mine. Based on where it’s at now and where it was, it has been viewed almost 100,000. That used to be the number one referrer business and I wrote that back in 2009. It was one of the very first. It was the Eleven Steps to Getting Your Product into Costco or something like that. It’s still a huge referrer and again, it’s giving people the right answers. What I have found is people are doing the research. They don’t always want to call you because they think you’re taking your time or you might charge him just to ask you a simple question. The podcast is a way that people that have this dream, that are just starting their research can start to really understand what it’s like and hopefully just avoid some of these huge pitfalls that drain money during the accounts when people make a mistake here and a mistake there.

That’s something that we’ve had a few conversations over the years, is that it breaks my heart to see the amount of money that gets drained doing just the wrong things in the wrong order and the wrong resources a lot of times too. That drives me crazy. I want to circumvent that and just say, “Here’s the map. Do them in this order because it really makes a difference and you’ll spend less money. You’ll get there faster. You can’t skip ahead because there’ll be all these steps you didn’t do and you’ll fail and you’ll have to go back to the beginning again.” I feel so strongly that all the prep that you provide, all the free stuff, the podcast and that’s what has made you very, very valuable to your clients, to your listeners and you’re going to be so valuable here on the platform as well. I encourage people to really make sure you do not miss Tim’s Office Hours. It always got golden nuggets in there. It’s always got things that are going to save you money and make a difference in whether or not you can make it because some mistakes are fatal in retail. You don’t get a second chance all the time.

For sure you know with certain buyers, once they say they’re going to pass, you got to wait until somebody else has that seat. Take the time to do it right. The fun thing about this Office Hours is I don’t do a lot of live things. I don’t know if it’s just that, but to set it all up and not have it just look super rinky-dink or whatever. I don’t do a lot of live things and so this is a chance to a listen in live and interact live. I think that that’s going to be super valuable. I think that sometimes you have questions in the moment then they lose steam later on. I think that that’s going to have big value. I’m super looking forward to interacting with people in a live setting.

I think this has been one of my favorite things about doing so many events that I do every year is that when I get to do the live mentorships, when people sit at my table and have lunch with me or something like that, it’s been one of my favorite things. The questions in the moment are much more relevant than we can do on our podcasts, than we can do in an article that we can do separately. Also, those questions help so many other people who are thinking the same things or in similar places. Most of the questions we get are very common. They come up again and again maybe in different orders or they get thought of differently. Asking questions and participating in this platform is going to be so powerful for everyone involved. You really want to make sure that you take advantage of that as much as possible and pick Tim’s brain. Tell us a little bit about the retail landscape. Why do people still need sales reps? It sounds like an odd thing. I think that that’s really a case at sales representation, that understanding how it works at the retailer is critically important. It’s something that people think, “I could just do this. I can send an email.” It doesn’t work like that. Talk a little bit about that because I think that’s an undetermined job description.

I don’t know whether people need sales reps or people to do things for them. I think that’s valuable. Even me, if somebody can get it done faster than I can myself, I’ll hire somebody myself to do it. I think what’s most important is to get advice or to have a mentor or to have a consultant. Somebody that can help you look beyond what you’re looking. I think that buyers want to know things that you don’t know that they want to know. They want to know things from a different perspective and then all of a sudden it gets personal because you created this product and how could they possibly say that or say this. You have to be ready for that. You have to be ready what’s that buyer meeting going to be like? I’ve been in over 100 face-to-face buyer meetings worldwide. I’m not generally surprised, although maybe ten or fifteen podcasts back, I did a podcast on a buyer meeting that just went totally wrong. The reason I put it out there because all I ever talk about is all the things that go right. I think it’s important for people to know that I can even walk into a buyer meeting and it can just go terribly wrong.

I had one of those happen where when you just don’t know what’s going on at the corporation and you walk in at the wrong time and there’s obviously been some mandate that it hasn’t been announced yet and you’re knocked sideways. You go, “What just happened there?”

I won’t get into that on here, but I think the retail landscape is more onerous on the supplier these days than it’s ever been. The suppliers have to be smarter. They have to be more educated. They have to know what they’re doing and what they’re getting into. They have to understand the landscape. They have to understand their competitors because a lot of times the buyers for no fault of their own, they don’t know any of that. They’re deep into the numbers. They’re crunching numbers now. They look up and they see you sitting there and they need your help with, “Who are your main competitors and why are you even trying to get into this market? What are the uniques that your product has?” I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when I used to go into a buyer meeting and it was like, “Look at that. That’s awesome. We’re going to buy a couple of containers and just see how it does.” They were just cowboys. Let’s just take it in and see how it does. That’s just not the way it is anymore.

There’s so much hierarchy testification, floor space is so valuable, the pressure to make sure that it’s going to turn before you put it on the floor. There are countless things that they have to take a look at and then there’s the dichotomy of online and in store.

I don’t always want to paint a dooms day because the good news is that you can be that educated. You can be that standout supplier that knows what they’re doing and knows how to get it done and has the information that the buyer wants. When you’re that way, you’re going to stand out and your product’s going to stand out. People think that retail is dying because we lost 7,000 retail doors last year in Toys “R” Us. I’m just about to do a podcast called Goodbye, Toys “R” Us because everything I learned about merchandising, everything I learned working for Toys “R” Us. This podcast is only going to be filled with anecdotes from working there and the crazy stuff that would happen. It’s going to be fun. People think that retail is dying, but it’s not. The biggest demographic in the US, the millennials, they actually want to go to stores and touch stuff and have people help them.

PLH 005 | On The Shelf Retail

On The Shelf Retail: Figure out what your customer experience is with your product.

Here’s the little unpaid nugget before we even get this thing whole rolling. Figure out what your customer experience is with your product. Whether the customer experience is there in the store while they’re holding it, or maybe it’s when they unwrap it or unboxed it at home. If that experience is exceptional, then the retailer looks good, you look good and everybody wins. If for some reason that experience is poor, the retailer loses and you lose. Before you even get there, I think it’s important to think about, “What is the experience I want my customers to have when they see it, look at it, open it, play with it, and use it?” That’s the most important thing right now.

We have to say unassisted, self-explanatory experience no matter how badly you want to sell your product and you’re there and you’re the champion for it. When it’s on the retail shelf, it has to sell itself and people have to become self-aware about it. They have to experience it for themselves and if they don’t get it, then you did something wrong. It’s not about the product itself, it’s about the communication of that product and it’s not just messaging or boxing, it’s the whole using it. If it’s not self-explanatory, at the same time you failed in the mass market retail process. That’s just how it is. I always say it’s very, very different from a sales standpoint as well. Putting something online has a different proposition than it does on the shelf. That’s really why understanding the differences and understanding that your product may need repositioning, redesign, reboxing thing, re-user experience as you put it. Just because it’s great online doesn’t mean it’s going to be great in a store. That’s also a difference that I want people to be aware of and you’ll be able to bring to them because you do lots of evaluations. You have lots of ways to describe why that’s not working there.

I always tell people, “If you have to explain your product to a friend twice, then you’re never going to explain it to a consumer.” If you can’t just tell somebody that you know intimately one time and have them get it, then nobody’s going to get it. I have people that try to explain stuff to me six ways from Sunday and I’m like, “If I’m still not getting it, then the chances that somebody’s going to get it on a retail shelf is slim. We got to work on that. We got to work on the who, why and what, but like you said, that’s your part.

They really go hand-in-hand, because if you’ve gotten through and worked through the user-experience and what it needs to be and what that store is expecting and where that store is, because the store has to exist. They have their position, otherwise the way of Toys “R” Us. They have to have their own mission, their own differentiator, the only thing that is driving in those millennials and those baby boomers that are retired and whoever it might be, that is our focus. They have to understand that too and when they don’t, that’s when trouble happens. It’s a hard time to get explained through to the product that’s at the beginning. It’s really a lack of clarity and that process just starts to degrade the whole success wheel itself.

We’re going to have some fun diving into every aspect from your products inception to how to prepare it, to your first email to a buyer and what you should and shouldn’t say to. Just setting up the room. This is a big deal. Getting to a meeting early and setting up the room for your own advantage. A lot of times people don’t even think about that. Where’s the buyer going to sit? Where’s the buyers assistant going sit? What do you want them looking at? What do you want in front of them? I always want to be between them and the door so they have to go by me get out. If they want to run for the hill. Those are all positional things that most people don’t think of. What to do if you freeze? I went to a meeting with a guy who opened his mouth and nothing came out. Nothing came out of his mouth for the whole meeting. That’s the whole reason he hired me just in case that happened. Luckily, we were there. It was a Costco meeting, but it happens. What to do if that happens? You don’t have me there. We’re also going to talk about sales and selling and sales techniques. If you’re going to get yourself in front of a buyer, you’re actually selling. I know it doesn’t seem like that, but you are actually selling something. If you’re writing an email that you want somebody to do anything, “Click on this, click on that,” you’re selling. We’re going to talk about that.

That is so true. The other thing that I think that you touched on, is that when you have an opportunity to be in front of a retail buyer, you have to make sure everything’s in order. You want to maximize that opportunity because you may not get a second one ever. That doesn’t matter how big you are, it happens to big brands that they don’t get a second chance. Small brands, they don’t even know you.

I think it happens to everybody and I think even big brands are more susceptible because they take a certain part of the meeting for advantage thinking that, “I don’t have to do this or I don’t have to do that because I’m me,” but you do. The meeting will start out as a fifteen-minute meeting. When it goes 30 minutes, you’re doing great. If it goes close to an hour, you knocked it out of the park, but every minute starts out that it could be over in fifteen minutes.

You better maximize every minute you have so that you can get that next minute. I think you are going to be one of our most in-demand experts here because I think that there isn’t a part of the process and that’s the case. There’s some of our experts who really is like, “Unless you’re ready to patent, do you really have questions for a patent attorney?” Unless you’re questioning that. There is so many places along the way and that’s one of the real key things we wanted to provide here at Product Launch Hazzards is access to someone so that you know when the right time is to bring them in for a consult when you know the right time is to do that. Maybe you just have a little question. Having access to that means you won’t make a critical error that makes it harder later for Tim to help you, for him to consult with you for, for these things to happen and the right timing, just because you asked this little question that you got, you thought you kept on the right path. Continuity is going to be so important.

Getting into a group like Product Launch Hazzards says that I want to be proactive, not reactive as I launch my product. Click To Tweet

In this platform, I think it says that I want to be proactive, not reactive. I get once a month and it’s been for a lot of years that I get these people calling me that are losing money in retail. Everything looked fine, but there was all these hidden costs that they didn’t know about and they sign this contract. That’s where you get a lot of people saying, “Big retail is screwing me,” and I’ll always ask them, who’s the last person that signed the contract?” That would be you. I’m so glad that you’re doing this because this is going to give people the opportunity to figure out all those things that come before you sign the contract and how you can really help yourself and not be one of those people that calls up later and says, “I’m losing money. My sales are great, but I’m losing money. How do I fix that?” That’s a hard question.

I’m very sure that you and I at some point will probably do a few together because it’ll just happen at some point. Pricing, that’s one we definitely both need to do together at some point. It’s part designed in and part planned in. You have to have lots of margins and stuff built in because that’s where it goes terribly wrong later when you find out you’re losing money. We definitely should do that together because we got two sides to that coin on there.

It’s huge. In the totality of this whole platform is the benefits to the people that are going to be here or are going to be the insider line, that insider track. You might just find me on the internet and start listening to my podcast and you’ll have this one track of information. Being here, allows you to be in one place and get this multitude of different tracks of insider information. Probably more stuff that any one person will ever really want to know. It will all become relevant. Sometimes, I don’t even think people are listening, but just last year I had a guy that I hadn’t talked to you in a year called me up saying and he had written down all this stuff that I had told him and then I never heard from him for a whole year. He had been a year working on all the things that I said and now he has come back and he’s all ready to go like, “Let’s do it, man.”

I had a little tea with this young woman who’s doing a wonderful baby product brand. It’s fantastic and I was so impressed with her process and the way she absorbed information, the way she researched. She sent me a follow-up email and said, “I just want to recap that this is my order of things that I should attack and work on,” and she sent it to me within 24 hours of our tea. I was like, “Wow.” Not only that but I saw, “You missed a sub-step here, add this and it was just one tiny little tweak,” but it’ll make the difference between her spinning her wheels for a few months or being successful and coming through. It was simply because she reached out to me and sent a follow up thank you email. I was more than willing to look through it and do that. When I was looking at it, I was like, “I hate to be that salesy person, but like, I have a person for this one and I have a person for this one and they’re all in the platform and you can ask them questions every single month.” I really have to do a better job of being pushy to you about my sales because the value is so here. You are a critical part of that who could touch on so many different aspects of the overall process. You have a bigger view of it, like I do. You have this broader view of where all these things fit together and it really is hard to see that when you’re launching your first product and maybe even your sixth product. When you’ve launched your 250, I don’t even know what your number is, but it’s probably way up there as to how many you’ve worked through and getting through launch. What is your number? Do you know?

We do so many different things. Sometimes people hire us just to listen in on a buyer meeting and then explain it to them after.

You might have touched on thousands of products. It’s hard. It’s hard to put a number against that.

I didn’t even really thought about what my number is.

Somebody made me quantify it. Early on when we were starting to market our business for the first time back in 2009, we didn’t do that. Everything was just referral, but once I started reaching out and doing speeches, the people were like, “How many products have you touched?” It was a very common thing. When I went to quantify it, I was like, “It doesn’t sound like a real number. It sounds too high.” It’s the same thing as you. You don’t understand when you touch the aspects of that, what impact that has overall on it.

Everything is this big ecosystem. Hopefully, Product Launch Hazzards, we’ll be this big ecosystem that doesn’t survive unless you really listen to everybody’s information. If you’re going to take the time to be part of it, it would be a shame if you didn’t take advantage of every single aspect that’s in there.

That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward seeing how active some of our members are and how much they participate and how much they get out of it. I really think that we’re going to find much faster success path because of their activity level and their interaction with all of you. I am so glad you are on this platform, Tim, and I look forward to personally listening to many, many of yours as well, Office Hours, and sitting in if I can, because I always learn something when we do a podcast together, when we interact together. It’s just a good to have a broader experience to making sure that, “I could design that better because Tim says this is important.” It’s a learning experience for me as well.

I’m excited to interact with all the different people that are trying to do something that I have a huge passion for. Doing podcasts and talking to people and answering questions is not really like work for me. As you know, I like to talk and have people listen to me so.

I also just want to make it before we go and just makes sure that everybody realizes that you have a very, very broad range of category experience as well. I always joke that I don’t really do food or fashion. I do fashion accessories but not fashion because the seasonality of it is too fast and the margins are too low and food is just not my experience. You have a lot of food experience. Are there any categories that you don’t play in? I don’t think so.

PLH 005 | On The Shelf Retail

On The Shelf Retail: My business is all about business model. It’s not about having an in with this buyer or an in with that buyer because those buyers change in a heartbeat.

I don’t play a lot in apparel. I probably don’t take on apparel to sell it myself, but I certainly can advice on it. These days, my business is all about business model. It’s not about having an in with this buyer or an in with that buyer because those buyers change in a heartbeat. It’s about understanding the different retailers’ business models on how to actually take your product and fit it inside that or see if it will. We’ve sold everything from earthworms to robotic massage chairs.

You’ve had a couple of unusual like food stuff, haven’t you?

Jalapeños, really, really good Jalapeños and salsa and we we’re doing some baby products now. Luckily for us, that’s the fun thing. My daughter thinks I have the coolest job in the world because it’s like free stuff, samples just keep coming. If you were just an infant, you could be playing around on that baby mat right there, but you’re not so you can’t. We have to find somebody who has a baby. It all goes to good use. We get some baby products and it turns out that somebody in our sphere of influence just had a baby. They get to try out the product and give me feedback or however it goes. You just sent me somebody that’s sending me some samples. I’m anxious to try those and see how that works.

This is exactly how we want you guys to work. We want you guys to just question him, ask him lots of things about his background. If you want to know about categories of products, each category has its own nuances and that’s why business model is important and some retailers are better than others. These things matter and that’s why this opportunity is so golden for you because the podcast, you can’t cover every category. You can’t cover those nuance questions. When someone can go in and say, “What’s the deal with juvenile products?” They have a longer screening time, for instance, because safety is important. There’s more caution there. How do you handle that?

Product liability insurance is way up there.

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

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