Brendan Synnott knew his snack company, Bear Naked, could never compete with the likes of General Mills. But he realized that if he could break into Kroger--or any retailer, really--the business would have a shot. After bombarding the grocery cart pushers of Darien, Connecticut with free products and lines such as, "Hey, want to get Bear Naked?", it wasn't long before Synnott and co-founder Karen Flatley were moving granola in more than 10,000 retail stores, including Sam's Club, Target, and Walmart. 

Now, products from his new pet care company, I and Love and You, can be seen in major retail stores across the country, such as Unleashed by Petco and Kroger. Here, Synnott, who has earned a reputation as a branding guru, breaks down what it takes to get your product onto the shelves. 

Make a Connection 

"The first time you sell something is based on your relationships and whether or not somebody likes you," Synnott says. "After that, to me, it's always about selling your success from the past and selling data." In 2002, around the time Bear Naked was founded, Synnott began cozying up to store managers near where he grew up. "I asked, 'Hey, what's your number one cereal? How many units does it do per week?' and I was like, 'OK, I want to beat that.'" Immediately, they were willing to take him on. 

Quantify Your Success 

Whether you're selling cereal or hotcakes, nowadays you have to be able to back your success with data. Twenty years ago, relationships were key, but today it's all about numbers. "When I went to expand, I didn't even sell the story of Bear Naked," Synnott says. "I sold the story of being [Number 1] in a cereal category of a primary retailer and said, 'We can do that for you.'" To that end, think about how your product will improve a category and set goals to do it. How many units do you need to sell to be a significant contributor? Again, Synnott emphasizes, "It's about selling your success, not your product."  

Start Small 

Companies don't care if you have a product into 100 stores, Synnott says. They care how well your product has sold in each one individually. He says not to focus on getting broad distribution "until you've nailed your proof of concept and know exactly how you can make it successful in one store." Even once you've done that, "don't try to go to 1,000 stores until you're set that your product's super-successful in a small segment of stores. As soon as you go broad too quickly," he warns, "there are too many variables for you to analyze how or why you're actually successful."

For instance, the reason you're flopping in Texas might be because of the flavor, whereas in Vermont it could be because the store manager forgot to put the price tags on. The other issue with rapidly scaling up distribution is that it makes it very hard to get the little things right. "You end up wasting a lot of capital," Synnott says. 

Published on: Sep 12, 2014