How to Get Your Product in Stores Like You’re a Fortune 500 Company (Without Being One)

Got a product? Want to know how to get it into retail stores? Getting a product into a big box retailer or even a mom and pop is what a lot of inventors and entrepreneurs dream about. No wonder, there are fortunes to be had. But you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to get your product into stores. As a former Fortune 100/500 executive, I’ve placed thousands of products into thousands and thousands of retail stores. Here are 8 Lessons I Learned While Getting Products into Stores for Pillsbury, Johnson & Johnson, Frito-Lay/PepsiCo, & Whole Foods Market:

1. You Don’t Have To Be a Fortune 500 Company To Act Like One. Start by doing your homework. You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs I talk to that don’t want to take the time or invest the money to do the most basic things to assure their success. Fortune 500 companies don’t launch products blindly. Understand your consumer, your product, and your customer. Does your product help your consumer solve his or her problems? Is your product unique? Visit several stores where you can “see” your product. Now, ask yourself: If I were the buyer for this retailer, why would I buy my product and put it on that shelf?

2. Create a Superstar from the Start. Your product should be unique, a bestseller that makes you money. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But I’ve seen the big boys fall flat on their face forgetting this simple concept. Here’s what you need to do: Make sure the consumer not only needs but wants your product. Price your product competitively so there’s good profit margin for you and your retailer. (Biggest losers are only fun on television shows, right?) Create packaging that excites your consumer. Then create promotions that will motivate the retailer and the consumer to buy your product.

3. Build Your Team Wisely. Stop pretending that you can do it all by yourself because you can’t. You need shortcuts and someone to show you the way. Invest in your business. A consumer product expert, consultant, or information marketer may have a home-study course or group consulting. From product experts to manufacturing reps, brokers to distributors, there are knowledgeable people out there to help you. Find the ones with solid know-how and experience. They’ll save you years of time and tens of thousands of dollars.

4. Challenge Yourself to Grow Smart. Get your product in your first store, then build from there. When you get your product in stores, you build a track record. Retail stores don’t want sprinters. Show them that you’re a marathon runner. Big box retailers love vendors with endurance. So build a track record and prove that you can run with them for miles and miles.

5. Commit to Continuous Improvement. Fortune 500 companies are constantly searching for better ways to do things, how to make their products and teams stronger. Evaluate what is and isn’t working with your product and your business. You can’t have one part of your marketing mix right, like the best product, but not have the right promotions.

6. Do What Your Retailers Ask You to Do. Each retail store has their own policies, procedures, and processes for accepting new products. Find information about your targeted retail customer on their website, call or email, or make personal contact. You’re going to have to find out who makes the decisions about products like yours, how, and how often. Some companies, like Walmart, have very specific processes. Yet, they allow regional distribution, too. Same with Whole Foods. And some have open vendor days.

7. Be Prepared for the Presentation of Your (and Your Product’s) Life. Do your homework before you walk into that meeting with that big box retail store buyer. Know their language. Familiarize yourself with industry terms, such as categories, conditions of sale, discounts, EDI, and allowances. You will need a sample of your product, barcode, brochure, price lists, marketing plans, and specifics about your distribution and competition. You must have the precise information your retailers need and want to show that you can be a player.

8. Maintain That Small Company Mentality Even When You Become a Big One. One of the things that will give you a competitive edge is that you won’t have all the bureaucracy of a Fortune 500. Red tape and sludgy big company processes can kill new product innovation. Believe me, I know. Use your nimbleness as your competitive advantage. You can use a variety of savvy online and offline marketing techniques too, like websites, blogs, social marketing, mobile marketing, coupons, ads, and public relations, ways to touch consumers that use your entrepreneur’s cutting-edge to your advantage.

Here’s the good news. You can do this if you keep moving forward. Take action. With a little smarts, good sense, and effort, you can get your product in stores and onto shelves. And you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company. Everyday people just like you get their products into retail stores. All big businesses, even the Fortune 500 companies I’ve worked for, started with just one idea and usually one person.