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How to Get in the Door of Major Retailers

Mar 22, 2008
For most inventors, getting their invention sold on store shelves is the realization of a dream come true. Something they conceptualized and worked tirelessly to bring into being is now available before the eyes of a mass market. Their brainchild sits on shelves next to established and cherished products. What could be better than that? However, there are some pros and cons when it comes to selling an invention on store shelves. In addition, there is a sequence of steps that inventors should follow if getting in the door of major retailers is what they aspire to.

Usually, you cannot get in the door of major retailers right away. Not if you are a new or unproven inventor. However, you can probably get in the door sooner than you think.

In an article called "Selling to Retail Stores" on BusinessKnowHow.com, retail consultant Allen Zell offered tips and advice on doing this. One of his offerings was strikingly clear.

"Whether one realizes it or not, selling to department stores can be a boon or a bust . . . heaven or hell."
By "department stores", Zell means places like Sears, Target, Penny's, Costco, and Wal-Mart, which are some of the prime targets for inventors. It rarely occurs to them that having their product in front of all those eyes could ever, conceivably, be bad! So how does one tell whether their decision to sell there will be a boon or a bust?

According to Zell, inventors are probably better off sticking with small chains at first. The reason for this is that the bigger a chain is, the harder the bargain they will drive when it comes to negotiating terms and discounts. Because of their size and brand name these stores believe they are free to dictate terms to inventors and product developers, and they often get their way. Bigger chains such as those named above are also extremely risk-averse when it comes to what they will sell on their shelves. As Zell explains, "they look to likes that are well established in their industry or merchandise category." This is so the store itself has to do very little promotion or advertising for the products they sell, since this weight is carried by the suppliers themselves.

The flip side? You guessed it: big chain stores often put the burden of advertising and promotion on new and unproven suppliers: such as inventors of new products. The bottom line for inventors is that selling to Wal-Mart and Target right away could mean huge promotion costs that they never bargained for. For this reason, inventors will have far more success if they start by getting their products on the shelves of smaller chain stores, who are less demanding and more willing to assist them in getting the word out.

A major part of selling your invention on store shelves, no matter how big the chain, is pleasing a store's buyers. These are the people who have authority to decide which new products a store will sell. Typically, inventors and product developers will meet with buyers, make their pitch, and wait for the buyer to decide whether the store will sell their wares. One big concern for buyers is whether the supplier (that is, the inventor in this case) can supply enough of their product to meet demand in the stores. For this reason, you should consider this carefully and have a convincing answer of how you will keep up to give to the buyer. As Zell notes, one of any buyer's responsibilities is to spend their firm's money as efficiently as possible, so if they seem to probe you about your productive capacities, they are simply doing their jobs.

Another possible opening into stores big and small is the use of reps. Reps are people who pro-actively approach stores and pitch them to sell various products. If a store agrees, the rep gets a commission of however many products the store buys to stock its shelves with. This is an excellent option for inventors, who may not be business savvy enough to get their products on store shelves through their own efforts. Instead, they should make a list of some stores they would like to sell in. Then, they should approach these stores and ask them who the best reps are that call on them to buy new products. You want to get their names and phone numbers. The next step is to interview them and see if the other lines they have could lead to them getting your product on the shelves. According to Zell, "[reps] are your best bet for getting into all types of stores both large and small, that is their profession. And lastly, don't begrudge the commission you pay them. Without them, you wouldn't have the exposure or sales you're enjoying."

In closing, you should proceed cautiously but confidently into the realm of selling your invention on store shelves. By starting with reps and small chains and working your way up to bigger ones as success dictates it, you will be putting your product on a path to sales growth.
About the Author
Eric Corl is the President of Idea Buyer LLC, a marketplace for new technology and products that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com. You can visit the site by visiting this address;
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