How to sell to retail stores – 27 tips

April 22, 2013

How to sell to retail stores - 27 tipsA little while ago we reached out to you, our Launch Grow Joy readers, and asked you to share with us your best tips on how to sell to retail stores. So many of you answered (THANK YOU!), so we decided to create a list of your best tips on how to sell to retail stores.

Whether you decide to sell to small independent or local boutiques or to large national retailers, you’ll find some great tips here. And if you have a tip that you’d like to share, make sure to leave a comment below to let us know.

How to Sell to Retail Stores – Your Best Tips

Don’t be afraid to go after the big retailers early in the game.  This is a particularly good strategy if they have a supplier diversity program that you qualify for.  Although a lot of variables come into play when it comes to a buyer making a decision about including your product in their assortment, at the end of the day, it really boils down to whether they like your product or not.  The buyer that happens to love your product could work for Walmart, or a local mom and pop, so I recommend going after big and small retailers simultaneously.  Usually it takes a bit longer to secure the buyer appointment with the larger retailers, so while you are waiting for that appointment, you build your sales history with the individually owned and operated retailers where you can get your product in a lot faster.  - Thanks to Jennifer Zachery from The Bead Barrette

Niche marketing and doing PR via SEO, Facebook and all the avenues of social media is one of the most effective and cost effective ways to sell to retail stores. We took our product offering and tailored items to different kinds of people. We had things like The Wizard of Oz, Popeye, and Betty Boop which hit children, but was also retro to hit adults. We did a whole food themed line to interest people who love chocolate, people who love wine, BBQ, Cupcakes, Coffee, etc. We added KISS for the rocker group and even religious ones. Now we returned the rubber duck industry to America where it all began and are the only ones making them here again….once again…great niche and great PR opportunities! - Thanks to Craig Wolfe of CelebriDucks

The most effective quality I have found to sell to retail stores is persistence. One must call on established and new accounts via direct mail, email and phone on a regular ongoing basis. Use the buddy system! I have a colleague in Los Angeles, she and I stage a “contest” to motivate one other to call on new accounts (cold calls). We are not really competing although we challenge each other to see how many accounts we can call in an hour by staging the so-called contest. - Thanks Joy Light of Joy Hand Painted Silk

Our wholesale business has grown the most by exhibiting at select trade shows that deliver high volume qualified traffic, and then engaging prospective wholesale customers with passionate enthusiasm for our product. - Thanks to Julie Buzby of Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips for Dogs

Develop a distribution network for your products.  Depending on your product and its use, your distribution network may be retail establishments and or retail service providers that may use your product in their business.  By establishing a distribution network you will expand your products footprint and develop a sales force for your products without having to directly pay for the sales.  Offering a multi-tiered distribution program that rewards a distributor with lower wholesales prices based on the amount of product sold, can help to create incentives for the distributors to use products. - Thanks to Brian Smith Omni Containment Systems

Think Outside of the Box!  Because I have a very niche product, fashion accessories for medical walking boots, I can’t go any of the “traditional routes” of selling wholesale.  Instead, I went to LinkedIn and found the companies who already sell the boots to the orthopedic offices and pharmacies.  The products go hand-in-hand so it’s a win-win.  It gets me directly to the people who sell the boots and it gets the sales reps into their existing accounts or potential new accounts with a new product.- Thanks to Christina Daves of CastMedic Designs

Attending trade shows has been a great way to initially get wholesale accounts.  That way I knew what I was doing, but after a year or two in business I have found just calling up stores has been extremely effective!  People love to hear directly from business owners.  Have a great catalog and easy ordering system. - Thanks to Betsy Johnson of SwimZip

At the most basic level you need to understand the type of buyer who will benefit from carrying your products and focus your efforts toward that group when you sell to retail stores.  What industry are you truly in – are you apparel or souvenir resort wear for example?  Are you looking to sell to independent stores or larger corporate buyers?  These can be entirely different strategies. Industry trade shows are still perhaps the best way to get in front of store buyers, even though this can be very expensive.  There are also “online sales reps” for many industries that will sell your product for a commission.  Many of the wholesale accounts we have obtained have become excellent, long term buyers.  Many small and independent stores like to shop this way because they can order from many merchants at one time and each merchant gets a separate PO. - Thanks to Jon Kurtz of Dog is Good

To sell to retail stores, you should get the name of someone at the company you wish to sell to.  Sending blind letters, samples or emails rarely if ever, gets your product into the right hands.  It doesn’t have to be the right person.  If you ask politely, often someone will tell you who the right person is.  You can even use that “wrong” person as a reference.  For instance, “John in accounting told me I should speak to you”.  You can look online or just call and ask who you should contact.  Social media such as LinkedIn & Twitter are also great resources.  Once you’ve found the right contact, don’t just contact them once and forget about them.  Without being a pest, follow up periodically. - Thanks to Gary Castelle of Magnum Plastics Inc

The most effective way to get new business and new accounts is to attend trade shows (like ENK Coterie and Intermezzo), combined with the use of Social Media to generate interest in our products. We have been attending these shows for the last several years and find that buyers in mass come to them to see whats hot, whats trending and to conduct business face to face with the manufacturer. Buyers like to touch and feel the clothes. - Thanks to Julie Brown of Julie Brown Designs

The most effective strategy to sell to retail stores we have had is offering an online application to potential wholesale buyers and than providing they are approved they are given login information to our site which allows them to view their wholesale pricing in real time on our online shopping cart and to purchase online. We also allow companies to purchase on credit providing they are eligible after filling out our credit application. Many large companies (who would purchase in whole sale quantities) require the ability to purchase on terms for their accounting so by allowing this you are opening up your company for sales to these large corporations or government agencies. - Thanks to Nathan McBride of Absolute Automation

Our best tip to sell to retail stores if you don’t have the funds to travel around to every trade show (which most start ups do not) is to find the trade show that makes the most sense for your products and types of buyers you are looking for and attend so you can not only gain orders right away but you will hopefully leave with several warm leads.  You can also get a buyer attendee list that you can begin following up on as soon as you arrive back home.  Trade shows are also a great way to network with other manufacturers and share resources.  Aside from trade shows (because not all may be worth your time and money) we make spreadsheets with all of the retailers we would like to target, we then start going down the list reaching out.   Don’t get frustrated – this process can be deflating at times – but persistence does pay off! - Thanks to Lyssa Surface of LillyBit

My best tip for selling my product wholesale is meeting new Vendors who own Boutiques at Events. I have networked with many new vendors who love my product and wanted to sell to their customers. This has been one of my best ways to meet and make money, along with meeting and networking my name to others I would not have met. Its a great way to get my name out and people   to visit my website. - Thanks to Carleen Swingler of SwingBagz, LLC

My best tip for how to sell to retail stores is Direct Contact. It is much easier to sell my baked goods when I can speak to the buyer directly and tell them why my Biscotti is so unique, and give them a sample on the spot. Being able to touch, feel, smell or taste anything makes it much more appealing. And if I don’t make a sale, the person I am speaking with is usually very willing to refer me to another person or company who may be. - Thanks to Katy Kassian of Buffalo Gals Bakery

Develop relationships with the buyers. Give them small samples of something you think might do well at their store/dept. and ask for their feedback in scent choice etc. No one knows their customers like they do. – Thanks to Roberta Perry of Scrubz Body Scrub, Inc.

I’ve found that introducing your product to store level managers or department buyers leads to finding out who the state or region wide buyer is. If you can first succeed at getting an individual store to take a look at your product and then commit to spending the time and effort demoing your product, you will likely be granted the opportunity to present your products to the state or region.  Sometimes, larger chains only deal through their corporate/regional headquarters and in that case, do you best to gather support from the local stores. Try to get a number of local stores to say that they would be interested in carrying your product and take those comments to the regional buyer. Doing this will save the regional buyer a lot of work because you have already proved that there is potential support for your product at the store level. But remember, getting your product on the shelf is only the first part of the sale. You then need to have a plan to sell that product off the shelf to the consumers! - Thanks to Mike Schultz of Sedulous Foods

We only sell on-line, so getting notice on the web can be a challenge. Blogging has been a large factor in our company getting notice on search engines. We have also found that testimonials of our product are a huge contributor. As a result, we sponsor product giveaways from time to time on large lifestyle blog sites.  The owners of these sites have large loyal followings and their followers take their advise. So when a blogger tells their readership that they have reviewed the product and that it is a value, they listen. The blog writer also likes the giveaway as it is a way to give back to their devoted followers and gives them something to write about. - Thanks to Steve C of Vero Linens

The most effective way on how to sell to retail stores and get into a buyer’s office is through a referral or an existing relationship.  It is so important for the entrepreneur to put themselves in the buyer’s shoes.  They are usually inundated with new products, new companies.  Do you have something that is going to make the buyer “look good?”  Does it fit with the buyers’ business model, is it retail ready (good packaging and pop) is it in the right price range, etc.  Do some research on potential customer. – Thanks to Gail Sanders-Luckman of Kumfy Tailz

The most effective and efficient way for our company to sell our products wholesale is to be an exhibitor at one of the top trade shows in the country for our industry. The one we have been attending is called SuperZoo in Las Vegas. This is a trade show closed to only retailers, wholesalers, distributors and groomers. So instead of us approaching retailers individually and spending a lot of time and money, retailers come to our booth. Big box buyers who are usually very difficult to get hold of are there at the trade show too. So we managed to secure an appointment with one of them during the trade show which later turned into many ongoing purchase orders from them. We are not supplying to the TJX Corporation of companies which consists of TJMaxx,
Marshalls, HomeGoods, Winners Canada and Homesense Canada. - Thanks to Athena Yap of Jackboy’s Dog Bakery

We are a new company that launched our product last summer at the Americas Mart Gift show in Atlanta. It was a tough show for us as traffic was down from previous years and we were not sure that we were in the right location for our product.  We have been doing a grass root sales effort ourselves in order to sell to retail stores. Our best leads come from our current customers. We ask them to mention us to their colleagues or for their suggestions of other stores they think we should call on. Something else that goes along with this is that we look at our most successful stores and the lines they carry. We then will do research on other stores that carry the same lines and either call them or email them. These strategies seem to be the most effective for us. - Thanks to AnnDee Beckerman of Infinity Headbands

Direct contact to our best e-commerce customers to try to convert them into small-scale retailers if they are a stylist that owns a salon, beauty blogger, boutique owner, etc. Do you do trade shows, contact buyers in person, buy lists, contact buyers via email, etc:  We do most of our distributor trade shows (Jinny, Bens, Seven Dollar), we do beauty buyer outreach to open new distribution outlets via phone cold calls, mailings and emails. One thing that has been effective for you in getting wholesale accounts: Direct outreach to salons and e-commerce customers that purchase heavily.  Leverage their interest in the brand by giving them retail opportunities that will increase the profitability of their businesses. - Thanks to Angela McTair of Nutress Hair

How to sell to retail stores? Make it as easy as possible to work with your vendor accounts…have your price points good (know what your competition is charging too!), your turnaround time is good, willingness to exchange things if necessary, etc. We also offer to send out samples and pick boxes, so retailers can try things out, see how things sell, etc., and know that they won’t lose out in trying us out. - Thanks to Bonnie Riconda of Calico Juno Designs
Selling Balls of Steel whiskey drink coolers wholesale was at first a challenge, it was difficult to connect with the right buyers in the right industries. We began by going to trade shows and having a strong, tested, Point of Purchase (POP – the displays manufactures can offer retail environments to aid the selling process). However, the cost of customer acquisition far outweighed the retention value. Then we clarified that Balls of Steel whiskey drink coolers we’re available for wholesale on our site and focused on advertising with paid methods like Google PPC and partnered wholesale sites. This decreased the cost of B2B customer acquisition and the vendor attrition rate as the quality per lead went up. Ultimately, make your wholesale program very visible on your site, customers won’t be bothered by it and you never know what buyer may be on your site. - Thanks to Grant Vollmer of OriginalBOS

One of the best ways I’ve found to sell to retail stores is through cold calling. It’s also free. My biggest mistake was spending tens of thousands of dollars on trade shows before I even learned how to sell my product. If you actually pick up the phone and connect with a live person you will quickly understand what their needs are and if they’re even looking for a product like yours. Sometimes, even if they like the product, the timing is wrong or they already have too many products in your category. That’s when you do your homework and find out if there’s a better time to call them back or if they are simply the wrong place for your product to begin with. You can get current and free leads by looking in the search engines for keywords that fit your product. You’ll end up finding stores and markets you didn’t even know existed. - Thanks to Julie Austin of HydroSport

We’ve been working with buyers from major e-commerce stores for at least 10 years, and we haven’t seen the buying/merchandising process change at all. It’s still the same old process – tons of spreadsheets, tons of repetitive tasks, mismatches between suppliers and retailers, etc. It’s very inefficient and costly in terms of time and resources. We’ve developed a proprietary personalization algorithm to show the buyers only what they want. We’ve built social features into our site so that buyers can collaborate with each other and see the latest product trends. We make the buyer’s life much easier and help them do their job more effectively and efficiently. - Thanks to Duy Huynh of Lookboard

If you want to sell to retail stores: First, give them a great wholesale price with minimum orders so they can test the market comfortably. Second, give them a chance to promote their business as well.We kept the graphics on our product to one side only so any retailer/customer can place their own sticker on the other side to promote their own business while helping us reach the public. It’s a win/win with a Made in America product! - Thanks to Diane Carpentieri of My Kool Dog LLC

I prefer wholesale because it allows me more time to do what I love to do: creating! Wholesale means that I don’t have to put as much work into marketing myself (even though I still do), and can spend more time designing. It also provides a steadier source of income. There’s also, of course, great validation in having your products in a brick-and-mortar shop – it’s very good for your self-esteem! - Thanks to Michelle Lin of Putting the “hand” back into “handmade”
Do you have a great tip on how to sell to retail stores? If so, please leave a comment below and share your best tip on how to sell to retail stores.

7 Comments. Leave new

Is it a good idea to send a retailer free products to try at the trade shows they attend ?

rob rivers III, M.E. & ceo
January 22, 2014 1:23 am

Well, i agree its very difficult, but we had a little help from the TV show called Shark-tank. I never did accept going on the show, but the letter received from Shark Tank “Heather” help a lot. To date… we now have over 900,000 grips in circulation and growing. No…i don’t have the big store yet, but i’m trying. I think I need a marketing expert person on board. :)
Rob.ceo

"How to sell to retail stores – your best tips" | Rosebuds Reps
May 9, 2014 7:40 pm

[…] Launch Grow Joy posted this article featuring tips from readers that I thought might be helpful if you are thinking about starting to sell your jewelry at the wholesale level. […]

How One Paper Designer Made the Leap from Wholesale to Omni-Channel Retail | GoForTips Blog
August 18, 2014 11:04 am

[…] a 2nd storefront. Before getting started, however, do your homework. Launch Grow Joy collected even more tips from its readers on the subject and there are several other excellent resources to help you […]

Great article. I’m now 6 months into starting my online clothing store and I must say that it was very difficult to sell anything at first and after attending festivals and markets things have picked up very fast. We’re now looking to get into wholesaling our product because we want to take our company to the next level. Thank to this blog we are definitely on the right track. Thank you for sharing these ideas. Keith Smith CEO

I’ve learned that you must be prepare to give samples of your product out for FREE.
This is how growth happen for our company. :)

Rob, ceo

This was an awesome and helpful article, thank you very much to everyone who contributed their advice and knowledge. And the those at Launch Grow Joy who put it together.