Whether you are interested in selling your product to a small independent “mom & pop” shop or to a large national retail chain, selling to retail stores can be tough if you don’t know how to speak their language.
I’ve listened to countless product pitches working at Macy’s in the Buying & Planning departments for apparel, accessories, and home goods. I could tell within just a few minutes of speaking to someone whether or not that person was experienced (and labeling them as such in my head would shape how I handled the meeting from there on out.)
To give you a better idea of how buyers are able to do this — have you ever spoken to someone and noticed immediately that the way they say things just sounds… different?
It might be a hint of an accent. Or maybe you notice certain words that don’t sound as familiar. Whatever it is, you can tell almost immediately that they are not from “around here.”
Just like you can tell when someone sounds foreign, buyers can tell when a vendor sounds inexperienced too. They can pick up on subtle nuances in how a person pitches their products. It might be something as small as word choice or something more obvious like how you respond to a particular question. Either way, they are very capable of assessing your experience level just from an initial conversation.
There are 3 very important reasons why you do not want to come off as inexperienced (even if you are a new company just starting out) when you are selling to retail stores:
- The buyer will most likely negotiate harder. It’s easier to negotiate against someone who doesn’t know how or when to push back.
- The buyer may lose confidence in your ability to execute. The truth is that you are more likely to make mistakes when you lack experience. The retailer won’t want you making mistakes on their dime if they can help it.
- The buyer might avoid you just to avoid babysitting. Most buyers don’t have the time to walk new vendors through every nook and cranny of the buying process. If they know they’ll have to hand-hold, they may choose to work with someone else just to lessen their own workload.
It’s important you don’t become a victim of this. To make sure you’re ready for that first buyer conversation, we’re going to cover how to speak numbers and product the way the buyer wants to hear it.
WHAT TO SAY TO A BUYER WHEN SELLING TO RETAIL STORES (and what exact words to use)
There’s a science to putting together a pitch that is both enticing and confident. Like a recipe, follow the instructions below to ensure you sound ready to land an order from a major retailer.
INTRODUCE YOURSELF BRIEFLY AND INCLUDE A PHOTO OF YOUR PRODUCT
All the buyer needs to know right now is your name and from where you are writing. You can write something like,
“Hi [buyer name],
My name is [your name] and I’m the owner of [your company name]. We sell [product type]. I’ve attached a photo of our best-selling items for your reference.”
Skip the storytelling and get straight to the point. Do not write a long story about yourself or your company's history. You need to get right to talking about THEM.
MAKE A VERY SPECIFIC ASK
You want the buyer to know right away why you are reaching out. A specific ask can be for an in-person meeting, permission to send samples, or for an appointment at an upcoming tradeshow. Whatever it is, the point is to ask for it upfront. Don’t make the buyer read through five paragraphs just to find out what you’re emailing for.
Providing proof of concept early in the email gives the buyer the assurance they need to keep reading. You’re providing a “hook” that gives them a reason to care. You want to share anything that proves your product or company has traction. Some things you can talk about are:
- Strong sales history (“Our larger retailers are having weekly sell-throughs over 15%”)
- Recent press releases (“Our product was recently featured in [PUBLICATION NAME]”)
- Distribution (“We’re currently in 100 stores across the country”)
APPEAL TO THE BUYER’S NEEDS
Regardless of what your product is, the buyer will always want to know that you are logistically capable of working with a large retailer and that you can make them a lot of money. Remember, the point of this email is to show how you can help them.
Here are some of the most common needs a buyer has and how you can address them with your product.
“I need to increase my sales & margin.”
Driving sales and profit margin is all the buyer cares about at the end of the day. If you can show how you were able to drive sales or provide solid margins to another retailer, you will be very attractive to the buyer. Utilizing sales data is best for this!
Keep in mind that buyers are looking to drive incremental sales which means they don’t want your product to compete with (or cannibalize) the sales of a product they already have. They want your product to add to their existing sales.
TIP: Demonstrate that your product is (a) appropriate for the retailer’s customers and (b) unique enough to drive incremental, non-cannibalizing sales.
“I’m running low on inventory and I need something that can ship NOW.”
Most large brands require that retailers place orders far in advance from the date that it will actually ship to stores. Buyers usually plan for this but there are times when they have an immediate need for more inventory.
Sometimes shipments from other vendors don’t arrive as planned or sales performance could have been much better than expected causing the stores to be low in stock.
These two scenarios happen often!
If you can provide buyers with immediate shipments, you will be servicing a need a larger vendor probably cannot service. This is a great way for gain an edge over a larger competitor.
TIP: If you are logistically capable of shipping right away, highlight that!
“I don’t want to place an order with such high minimums per style (MOQ).”
At the end of the day, buyers have bosses they must report to. How “good” a buyer is depends on how much they drive in sales and how profitable those sales are. Because their performance assessment is so results driven, buyers can sometimes shy away from trying a new product that they think is too “risky.”
This is especially true with new products that have high minimums.
If, for example, the minimum order on a $30 item is 2500 units, then the buyer must be willing to invest $75,000 just to test the item out. This may be too much of an investment for the buyer to gamble with, but if you could provide lower minimums like 500 units, then the investment to test is much lower ($15,000) and therefore, less risky.
TIP: Offer lower minimums per style to entice the buyer to “test” your product.
“I need new products that will make my assortments look fresh.”
Buyers are always competing to find the best new product to put in their stores. Customers won’t make it a habit to visit a retailer if the stores always have the same products sitting there. They want to have new items that will attract customers to visit them regularly.
TIP: Show that your product is different and will get customers into their stores.
CONCLUDE WITH KEY POINTS
When selling to retail stores, finish off your email by reminding them of why you are reaching out and how your product benefits them. You can say something like,
“Let me know if you would like to review some samples – I’d be happy to send them over. I think our product would be a great addition to your current [product category] assortment.”
Remember to sound confident.
One of the biggest mistakes I see from inexperienced pitches is a tone of desperation.
And don’t forget – if your product helps the retailer grow its sales, you are doing the retailer a favor just as much as they are doing you a favor.
Are you having trouble getting in touch with buyers when selling to retail stores and finding the right thing to say? Let us know in the comments below!
This is a guest post from Maria Catapano, an entrepreneur, consultant, and co-founder of CATAPANO GROUP, where she teaches businesses how to grow their product sales. To get actionable tips and advice on selling your product to large retail stores, enroll in her free 6-day email course Retail Rundown™ here.