One company handed out samples at an upscale retailer and earned enough credibility to go into small specialty shops.
Lentils and I. Magnin don't seem to have much in common, but in its start-up days, Buckeye Beans & Herbs conducted a daring demo of its dry-bean soups at the upscale retailer's Walnut Creek, Calif., store. "We handed out samples as people walked in," recalls Jill Smith, who founded the Spokane, Wash., company in 1983. "We sold out of product that day." So Buckeye went on to crack major supermarkets nationwide? Wrong. The big grocers charge "slotting fees," which can devour 10% of a marketer's sales. Instead, Buckeye used the I. Magnin exposure to gain entry to small specialty shops. "Being in a high-class department store gave us credibility as a company and as a product category," says co-owner Doug Smith. "We made sure our brokers knew about it; they'd tell distributors, who'd tell retailers."
The demonstration -- conceived at a trade show -- opened many doors. A decade later more than 3,300 specialty stores carry the soups, giving Buckeye 1993 revenues of $4.1 million.
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For the bootstrapping gourmet: From Kitchen to Market, by Stephen F. Hall (Upstart Publishing, 800-235-8866, 1992, 190 pages, $24.95), is a good step-by-step guide.