So you've got a homemade pancake mix that you just know is ready for Aisle 5. How do you jockey for position alongside the likes of Aunt Jemima? The key, as in many David-and-Goliath industries, is to exploit weaknesses. The big brands will always be, well, big, but with that ubiquity comes an inevitable consumer fatigue, opening the door for much-needed alternatives. "I think there's a real disappointment when people travel to a different town, a different state, a different country, and see the same products," says Wharton professor Barbara Kahn, author of The Grocery Revolution. Here's how to get buyers at the major chains to allot you some of their precious shelf space:
Don't be bashful. Entrepreneurial companies, by their very nature, tend to have compelling stories. Use yours to impress buyers by integrating it into clever packaging and eye-catching displays.
Work your way up to Wal-Mart. Don't be afraid to start out in independents and lesser-known chains. Not only are they easier to talk to, but you may find that their approach meshes better with your own style.
Gather in-store intelligence. Talk to store managers about what's on their shelves and where they see holes. Then develop this old-fashioned shoe-leather research into a marketing plan a few pages in length.
Wait until you're ready. Smaller suppliers often struggle to meet demand and absorb returns -- that's something the big boxes are wary of. So never promise more than you can deliver, and if you can't promise enough, consider holding off until you can.