How to Get Your Product Into Big Box Stores
The Bonnie Marcus Collection "where fashion meets paper" is a stylish stationery and gift company founded in 2002 by New York City wedding and special event planner Bonnie Marcus. She launched the Bonnie Marcus Collection from her dining room table in Westport, CT, when pregnant with her first child and the designs were soon featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, USA Today, and New York Magazine as a "Best Bet." The buzz machine hasn't slowed. Ten years and three children later, Bonnie's fashionable designs can be found in more than 3000 retail stores worldwide, including Bloomingdales, Bed Bath and Beyond, Whole Foods, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrods of London, and most recently, an exclusive line for Target. She spoke with Marla Tabaka about how she did it.
If you had to boil the process down, what are the three most critical steps of getting your products into a big box store?
One: Get your product out there! We highly recommend trade shows in one's industry to meet the appropriate buyers. Two: follow up, follow up, follow up! An important buyer probably receives hundreds of e-mails a day. We always recommend taking the time to send a handwritten thank you note, to develop a more personal relationship with the buyer. Three: Work with the buyer to make the relationship a win/win. To get a first order, you may have to work with the buyer to give them special pricing, a free display, or waive shipping costs, but it will be well worth it to develop a solid relationship for the future.
What were the most unexpected developments when you were accepted by your first large retail chain? Were there unanticipated costs, restrictions, or any other surprises?
After participating in our first major trade show 10 years ago in the National Stationery Show, we were thrilled to receive orders from a number of large department stores. Our biggest surprise was that following the exciting orders, in came the 50-page books of shipping requirements. Each major retailer has its own shipping specifications, so we quickly learned the importance of reviewing the documents very carefully, as charge-backs are a common occurrence with major retailers if an order is not correctly labeled, shipped in the correct cartons, with the correct shipper, and on the correct date. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to do business with large retailers, but it is also important to be aware of the time and effort working with them entails, and to make sure that your company is well-prepared to handle all of the orders that may be coming your way. Also, your product will need UPC codes and appropriate labeling, as well as EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) capability. If your company doesn't have the manpower to handle these requirements, I would recommend hiring someone who could help set you up properly for the future, so you don’t incur unexpected fees and charge-backs.
What are the most challenging parts of a product launch?
Once an order has been received and the product shipped, we've found that it is extremely important to actually go to the retail store and see how the product is merchandised on the shelves. You may have the best product around, but if it is on the bottom shelf, it may not be seen by consumers, and therefore the sell through numbers won't be as great as anticipated. It is important to work with the store buyer to make sure that your product will be merchandised appropriately at retail. As a manufacturer, our goal is not just to get an initial order, but to get continuous re-orders. We are not striving to just sell a product, but we want to build a successful brand with our retail partners.
What is your best advice on building and maintaining a great relationship with a retailer?
Consider your relationship with your retailers as a partnership. Don't just communicate with your buyers via e-mail, take a trip to meet with them or invite them to visit your facility. Send a special card on their birthday or for the holidays. In this difficult economy, price point is extremely important, but so are personal relationships. We also have found that partnering with our retailers on a variety of social media, marketing, and PR initiatives has been wonderful for business. I commonly attend launch parties as well as do special appearances at retail stores. We believe that an initial order is just a building block for a long-term successful relationship.
Marla Tabaka is a small-business advisor who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate and start-up ventures and speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness.