Moving from ecommerce to retail is a big step for any business to take. The payoff could be huge—big wholesale orders, new customers, and getting your products into destinations they’ve never been before.
Getting your product into stores sounds exciting, because it is. But it’s also a move that requires strategy to pull off just right.
We recruited an expert entrepreneur to give you the details on how to get your product into stores and the benefits of taking the leap from a website to store shelves.
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Meet Mike D
Michael De Los Santos is better known as Mike D, since that’s the name you’ll see on his line of barbeque sauces and rubs.
Mike discovered BBQ on a trip to North Carolina as a kid and went on to start a BBQ sauce blog while working at a food truck. As he reviewed sauces, he just couldn’t seem to find the perfect one. So he decided to make it himself.
Now, Mike D’s BBQ can be found all over the eastern United States. Mike started online, grew into his own store in Durham, North Carolina, and now his sauce can be bought at dozens of retailers—one as far away as northern Wisconsin.
Mike has won multiple awards for his sauces and rubs and was even featured on Discovery Channel’s I Quit series, where he shared how he turned his business dream into reality.
Mike says getting into stores is an important step for entrepreneurs because it gives new customers a way to discover your product beyond word of mouth or finding it online.
“It’s been an important part of growth, because if you’re limited to how many people can find your product and order, you’re limiting yourself,” he says.
“But the fact that they can walk into a local store and grab some, that introduces us to a whole new market of people.”
How to get your product into stores in 6 steps
- Understand when you’re ready for retail stores
- Know what makes your product unique
- Perfect your pitch
- Join online wholesale marketplaces
- Consider trade shows (are they worth it?)
- Don’t rely on retail stores alone
Mike knows a thing or two about how to get your product into stores, and he’s here to share his best advice for other entrepreneurs.
1. Understand when you’re ready for retail stores
Getting your product into stores isn’t something to rush into. In fact, Mike waited until he knew his business could support retailers. But how do you make that call?
The most important thing to consider is whether you have enough product to support both your own ecommerce sales as well as wholesale to retailers. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you can’t ship your own sales because of fulfilling wholesale requests, or not being able to supply retailers because you’ve sold too much online.
“You need to make sure that going into stores works for you at that moment,” says Mike, adding that scaling too quickly can just lead to “disaster.”
Take a hard look at your manufacturing process and assess if it makes financial and logistical sense. Can you scale up to meet anticipated wholesale demand? Are there supply chain issues that would make production difficult? Are you already having difficulty filling online sales?
Mike knew he was ready because his production was in a stable state and he knew he could handle filling orders online, in his own store, and at events, and still have room to produce for wholesale.
Pricing is also important. If your profit margin is already slim, setting an even lower wholesale price might not be sustainable unless you can lower costs or increase prices overall.
Sit down and do the math before making the leap into retail.
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2. Know what makes your product unique
Before you pitch your products anywhere, you need a strong message about what makes them different from anything else a potential store is selling.
If you have a product that you’re selling, you’ve got to differentiate yourself from everyone else in the market.
For Mike, his selling point was his sauce. In North Carolina, BBQ sauce is typically either tomato- or vinegar-based. For his line, he combined those two bases to make a whole new product. He also took inspiration from both his African American and Latino heritage for the flavors and spice. Altogether, that makes for products that stand out in a crowded market.
“I had to have a unique selling point that was different from other products in my niche,” Mike says. “If you have a product that you’re selling, you’ve got to differentiate yourself from everyone else in the market.”
That uniqueness is exactly what you’re selling, he says. Potential distributors want whatever you’re offering to be something new—something they don’t already have on offer. It will also make your pitch more memorable.
- How your product compares to your top competitors
- If you use specialized materials or ingredients
- If you fulfill speciality niches, like vegan, organic, or free of allergens
- If you can offer a lower price point than your competitors
- If your products appeal to a specific demographic
You should be well-versed in what makes your products different and able to recite and sell those differences at a moment’s notice.
3. Perfect your pitch
Mike’s first pitch to get his products into stores actually didn’t go so well. But he learned from his mistakes, and so can you.
On the first attempt, Mike walked into a local store and asked who was in charge of acquiring new products. When that person wasn’t available, he simply left some information and product on a table. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t hear back.
“We never got the face-to-face conversation we needed to get that going, but I learned from that,” Mike said.
Having an in-person conversation is key to getting into stores, especially local distributors. You should come prepared with a pamphlet or other materials that explain your product, what makes it unique, and your price points. And, of course, some samples to leave for the manager.
The next time, Mike was able to give a pitch in person and leave samples and information. He then stopped in again the next day to check in. That store ended up ordering two cases of each of his products.
“That personal approach worked, but that first stop was a disaster,” Mike says.
Do some research beforehand to figure out exactly who at the store you’ll be pitching to, when they’ll be available for a pitch, and if there are particular times of the month or year when they consider adding new products.
In that pitch, you should also talk about your current sales and if you have other hype surrounding your products, like a strong social media following. Add in what sort of people buy your products—it might be a demographic the store is trying to attract.
Lastly, you need to show the store that you’ll be able to deliver wholesale orders in full and on time.
“To prepare for those meetings, it’s really about making sure you have those things checked off,” Mike says.
After a pitch, Mike says you should stay in contact. He checks in the next day, then waits a week, then waits a week again.
“After that third follow up, if they say they’re still not interested, I tell them thanks for considering the product,” he says.
4. Join online wholesale marketplaces
As an entrepreneur, going in person to make a personal connection is always your best bet for smaller stores and chains, but as you grow, there are other ways to reach potential retailers.
There are a number of online wholesale marketplaces where you can list your products for potential distributors to find.
Mike has his products listed on Shopify’s Handshake platform. On this marketplace, brands can list their products along with descriptions and pricing information. Retailers are able to log in and search for products and contact business owners. The best part is that Handshake is fully integrated with your shop’s back end, so you can manage it all within your existing shop, without extra commission or fees.
People are looking for products to sell, especially with supply chain issues.
These wholesale marketplaces are especially advantageous right now, as distributors are looking for more local options to avoid pandemic-related delays with overseas suppliers. That means you should consider online marketplaces like Handshake sooner rather than later.
“Don’t be afraid to do that, even if you’re new to making personal pitches,” Mike says. “People are looking for products to sell, especially with supply chain issues.”
You may also need to go online if you’re hoping to get into the biggest retailers. Walmart, for example, requires you to apply using its online supplier system.
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5. Consider trade shows (are they worth it?)
Trade shows are a traditional avenue for entrepreneurs to get face time with distributors. They can potentially connect you to dozens of stores, but they can also be a gamble.
Mike recommends attending a trade show before considering buying a booth at one. That can give you an idea of what products are featured, who your competition will be, and how many buyers actually attend. Talk to vendors and see if they’re actually making meaningful connections.
You also need to keep costs in mind. Trade show booths can run thousands of dollars a day, so you should be certain that your investment has a high chance of paying off. For that reason, you should only consider trade shows when you’re committed to selling in stores as part of your business strategy.
An alternative to trade shows is to set up your own pop-up shop and invite local retailers.
6. Don’t rely on retail stores alone
Getting your products into stores could be a huge boost for your business, but it can’t do the heavy lifting for you.
Once you’re in stores, it’s your job to make sure your customers know where they can find your products and maintain relationships with store management. You also need to keep your online business and marketing game strong to keep up demand.
If you put in the work, getting your products on store shelves can be the big break that takes your business to the next level.