How to Score a Distribution Deal with a Superstore

Getting your merchandise onto the shelves of a major superstore or supermarket could help your business to skyrocket. But how does a small company get its products on a corporate buyer’s radar? Try these four strategies for scoring a distribution deal with a big-box retailer.

  1. Develop a custom prototype. Study the inventory of each potential distribution partner to get a sense of what appeals to its buyers. Do the products and packaging follow traditional standards, or do they appeal to a particular aesthetic? Think about the demographics of typical shoppers at that chain. Nieman Marcus, for instance, targets luxury shoppers who value quality over low costs. If designing a handbag prototype for the retailer, you’ll want to use high-quality materials and stitching to appeal to the brand’s high-end aesthetic. Study each potential partner’s brand to see how your wares fit in, then create a custom product line specifically for the one or two that seem most promising.
  2. Find the department buyer. Once you have a product prototype ready to show off, track down the employee who’s responsible for buying goods for the corresponding department. Online tools like LinkedIn or ZoomInfo may help you find their contact details. Don’t be afraid to be persistent: Mei Xu, CEO of Chesapeake Bay Candle Co., told CBS that she left messages with a buyer at Target at least once a week for more than a year before managing to get a meeting to show her products, which she finally sold to the company.
  3. Demonstrate how you can fill the retailer’s needs. If and when you get a meeting, it’s likely to be short, so prepare a compelling elevator pitch. Make it clear that you understand the company’s brand: Talk about how your product fits into its aesthetic and fills a void in its market offering.
  4. Be prepared to scale up production. Scoring a distribution deal with a big company is great news, but note that your work isn’t done. Big companies often order higher volumes of product than you’re accustomed to manufacturing. Make sure that you have the money and labor available to scale up to meet demand. You typically won’t receive payment until after you deliver the goods, so you may need to secure a loan to help with initial production costs.

About Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is a principal at the content marketing agency Eucalypt Media. She's written about business, marketing, and entrepreneurship for publications including BNET, TheAtlantic.com, Inc.com, and owns and operates the positive news site Gimundo. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynhawkins.
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