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So many of you write in looking for advice on how to get your product in stores.

Like most entrepreneurs, you’ve spent months, maybe even years turning your idea into a real, shelf-ready creation. You’ve been through sketches, patterns, prototypes, samples, more prototypes, more samples and finally, the finished product.

So just how do you take your concept to your consumer and get your product in stores? Read on for what I call the “Retail Details”.

Know the retailer

Know everything about them, their customer, their service, their standards, their pricing, their locations, their preferred communication method (email or phone), etc.

Know which retailers would even carry a product like yours — the best way to do this is to Google some competitive products and see which stores come up in the search.

Then, compile a list of stores you’d like to approach and go directly to those websites. Learn everything you can about the store—what is their niche? Who is their customer, a bargain shopper or an upscale trendsetter? What’s their “specialty”, customer service or huge selection?

Once on the retail websites, it sometimes takes some digging around to find information about their retail guidelines—look for things like “product submission” or “for retailers”. If you can’t find anything specific, email the retailer at their general “info” address and very briefly ask for retailer guidelines.

Know your product

Be prepared to thoroughly discuss the features & benefits of your product, how it is better or different than similar products on the market and why a retailer would want to carry it.

It’s sometimes tough for an inventor to be objective about her creation — of course you think it’s the best idea since the iPod. But an unbiased look at your product is a must before approaching any store. Play “Devil’s advocate” with your product so you’re very comfortable with any possible question or opposition that may come up while pitching it to a retailer.

Google your competition

That is, if there is any competition, and learn about their products. Read reviews of competitive products — what are customers saying? Do they love the product? Is there room for improvement? Maybe the one thing the competitive product lacks is the one thing your product has.

Figure out what single thing differentiates your product from the rest and then capitalize on that — it might be price, it might be benefits, it might be selection, it might be durability, etc.

Know your “retail details”

I’m talking about things like minimums, wholesale price, suggested retail price, shipping costs, packaging specs, payment terms, returns to vendor, etc.

This is pretty standard in the retail world–generally, your wholesale price will be double what your cost is and your retail would be double what your wholesale is. (Ex: if your cost is $5/each, your wholesale would be $10 and your retail would be $20.)

Payment terms are typically 30 days by check. Offer retailers a discount if they pay by credit card — a total “win-win”. This saves time by preventing your accounting department (probably YOU!) from having to hunt down retailers if they’re past due and gives the retailer something they love, a discount.

You may also like to create a wholesale shopping cart on your website where retailers can place their own orders using their credit card or a purchase order number. At the very least, provide a downloadable order form that retailers can print and fax to you.

Discuss what promotional items you provide with opening orders

Do you provide display stands, signage, gift with purchase, samples, etc?

Retailers will want to know if you provide a point-of-purchase (POP) stand that holds a dozen products or if you supply a poster featuring product information. The less work they have to do to merchandize and sell your product, the better.

Provide product samples in retail packaging

You don’t necessarily HAVE to provide samples–but be ready to if they request them. Some retailers need to see, feel and smell a product before carrying it. It is acceptable to charge for samples, especially if they are big ticket items or those that are difficult to ship.

Retailers will want to know what type of packaging your product comes in because they almost always have very limited space to work with — is it a bag with hanging hook or is it something they will have to put on a shelf? Is it “gift ready” or will it need to be wrapped?

Big-box retailers (like Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, etc.) will definitely want to see the product AND the packaging. They are VERY specific about their store image, their customer and their available “real estate”. They want your product in their hands for review before proceeding any further.

Provide any press clips, awards or accolades your product has received

You will want to show them these things because oftentimes, these things will SELL your product for you. Favorable press shows a retailer that your product is “worthy” of being on their shelves, that it has real salability. A magazine review might answer every question a retailer has about your product. Also, some retailers are very into “mom invented” products and products with a celebrity following.

Consider hiring an independent sales representative

A sales rep can help you negotiate with big-box retailers who usually have very specific guidelines, price requirements and shipping manuals.

Usually, independent sales reps work on commission–typically 10-15% of any sales they land for you. You can usually find sales reps on industry trade websites, trade publication ads or through word of mouth. When all else fails, do a Google search for sales reps.

Get Savvy

Last, but certainly not least, gather all the information you can from credible sources.

Follow these steps and you’ll be rocking the retail scene in no time. 

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