Our regular column shining a light on all things retail changes things up a little, discussing the biggest challenge for all brands to overcome: how you get retail buyers to like you.
Some of my team and I are ex-retail buyers – even my wife was one – so I know a thing or two about how to get seen, and more importantly, how to secure some of that precious shelf space.
Retail buyers are incredibly busy and their performance is scrutinised. Every day the whole company can see how they are performing against budget and versus last year. If you’re not performing, you won’t last long. The level of stress and workload the buyers undertake, especially at the moment, is way beyond what the licensing industry understands. But have no fear, business is all about people. Retail buyers are people (most of the ones I’ve met anyway) who like to buy from people they know, like, trust and respect.
Getting into retail is the hardest and most import part of any brand or product journey, and I hope that some of these learnings will help you along the way.
This sounds obvious but buyers have very stressful jobs and unless you have a friendly tone you will be ignored. Never get angry/short/abusive with a buyer – it will never work regardless of how much they have overpromised and underdelivered (in your opinion).
Buyers are inundated with messages from suppliers pitching the next big thing. In some cases, they can receive over 100 new approaches a week. To stand out, think of something original. One of the best approaches I had at John Lewis was the Caterpillar luggage catalogue that was always sent with a KitKat and a tea bag with the message: ‘Take a break and review our catalogue’. I never bought the range but at least they got a response each season and I still talk about them 15+ years later.
If a buyer asks a question, any question, answer it as quickly as you can. Always keep on top of emails and have their numbers stored in your phone. They will only call when they need something urgently, you do not want to miss that call.
Don’t be afraid of exclusives.
Exclusivity is incredibly important for retailers to maintain their stupidly low net margins. Timed exclusives allow your product to get a great launch partner who will be excited to support the launch, and it can be a great way to work out which products will be the best sellers for when you roll out market wide.
Don’t talk nonsense.
Never say you can deliver something unless you can 100% deliver it. You have one chance to get your product listed, don’t muck it up.
Don’t be a nag.
Try to vary your approach. Start with an engaging email, then follow up with a call, then perhaps try targeting the assistant buyer, attend an event they will be at or share valuable content. Your aim is purely to get five minutes of their time to review the opportunity and make an impact.
Most ‘no’s’ are delivered with silence which can be frustrating. If you are lucky enough to get a ‘not interested’ from a buyer then be grateful and thank them for their time, maybe even ask for feedback. Buyers move very frequently. When a new buyer is in place, try again. Here is where LinkedIn comes in very handy.
Do what the buyer says.
The best way of securing any listing of any product at any retailer? Always do exactly what the buyer wants, in the format they want it, and on the timescales they want it. Simple, or maybe not?
Keep hustling and never stop believing. Retail is and will always be the key to unlocking brand affiliation and boosting growth. Get to know who you need to know and enjoy what can be created.
Will Stewart has an extensive retail career and is co-founder of Spotlight.1888, created in November 2021 to help brands and licensees with retail services, and retailers with licensing strategy.
Based on an extension of The Point.1888’s retail-first model, whereby new products are created based on the gaps seen at retail as well as what it thinks the brand’s target demographic might like, Spotlight.1888 works directly with retailers and brands to help them fill the gaps themselves using the agency’s retail team expertise.