Is Your Brand Ready to be Listed with a Major Retailer?: Things to Consider so Your Dream Doesn't Become a Nightmare

Phil McMahon | B2B

Is Your Brand Ready to be Listed with a Major Retailer?: Things to Consider so Your Dream Doesn't Become a Nightmare

Phil McMahon | B2B
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Breaking into a major retailer is an exciting prospect for any start-up FMCG brand. For those with strong ethical and sustainable values, this presents an especially timely opportunity, as consumer demand for responsible products grows and retailers seek to meet this trend. It's a chance to introduce your brand to a broader audience and boost sales. But before you jump in, a reality check is essential. Ensuring you're ready — both in capability and in setting the right expectations — will help transform this opportunity from dream to sustainable success.

  • Honest Self-Evaluation: The first step is introspection. Understand your brand's current capabilities. Can you handle potentially very large orders which may be regular or irregular? Do you have the infrastructure in place to deliver on time at local, regional, national, and potentially international levels? Before reaching out to buyers, ensure you have a clear picture of what you can and cannot do. Remember, it's okay to start small and scale up; overpromising and under-delivering can damage your brand's reputation and trustworthiness.  Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day… but it was built.

  • Product Quality and Consistency: This is non-negotiable. Major retailers place immense value on the consistency and quality of the products on their shelves. Can you ensure that every product, from the first to the hundred-thousandth, is of the same high standard?  Make sure, if applicable, that you have a shelf-ready packaging solution (be warned, this can be a deal-breaker). Ensure all necessary health, safety, and quality certifications are in place. And if your brand claims specific ethical or sustainable practices, having certifications to back these claims can be invaluable.

  • Financial Stability: Securing a listing with a major retailer often translates to larger volume orders, which can be a windfall for your business. However, this often comes paired with extended payment terms, sometimes spanning several months. This lag can strain your cash flow, especially if you're simultaneously managing production costs, employee wages, and other overheads. It's crucial to assess whether your finances can withstand these extended payment cycles without jeopardising operations. Be frank and honest with retailers about any concerns you have; this builds trust and prompts them to consider how the terms of any agreement can be arranged to ensure the greatest chance of mutual success.  After all, it is not in their interest for any deal to expose your business to a disproportionate level of risk.  Given the intricacies of the FMCG sector, seeking guidance from a financial advisor familiar with start-up challenges in this domain can be a prudent move. They can offer insights and strategies to navigate and optimise cash flow during this growth phase.

  • Capacity to Scale: When a buyer suggests introducing your product to a vast network of stores, it's essential to be transparent about your production capacities. If a buyer wants to put your product in 1,000 stores and online, don’t let your excitement overwhelm your ability to think critically or voice genuine concerns.  Overcommitting and falling short can tarnish your brand's credibility. If currently unable to meet substantial orders, provide the buyer with a clear and realistic projection of when you anticipate being able to scale up. Ambition and caution are not mutually exclusive. Using tools such as Really Good Culture’s Audience Report can definitively pinpoint the regions where your product is most likely to succeed at any given retailer, and buyers are likely to be impressed if you can present this strategic data at an early stage. Outlining a strategic growth plan not only demonstrates your commitment to the partnership but also underscores your brand's responsible and forward-thinking approach.

  • Promotions and Marketing Support: Retailers will want to know how you plan to support your product in their stores. Be prepared to demonstrate your commitment to actively drive sales and enhance in-store experience. Outline plans for in-store activations, such as product demonstrations or storytelling sessions highlighting your brand's ethical journey. Consider the appeal of offering free samples to captivate customers. Detail any broader advertising campaigns, especially those directing traffic to their stores, and underline your digital strategies, like social media campaigns or email marketing. Above all, ensure your promotional proposals are actionable, aligning with your brand's capabilities and the retailer's objectives, to foster a mutually beneficial relationship.

  • Open Communication: This cannot be overestimated - be upfront with buyers. If you feel a proposal might stretch your capabilities, discuss it. Overcommitting and underdelivering can not only strain your resources but also jeopardise the relationship with the retailer. Buyers value transparency as it allows them to gauge risks, manage in-store expectations, and strategise accordingly. By being candid, you signal professionalism, reliability, and a genuine interest in forging a sustainable, long-term partnership. In the competitive FMCG landscape, such transparency can be a differentiator, setting your brand apart as one that's trustworthy and committed to mutual success.

Securing a listing with a major retailer can feel like a dream come true, but it's essential to approach it with a grounded, realistic mindset. Being sincere about your capabilities and communicating transparently with buyers won't diminish your brand's value; on the contrary, it establishes your brand as reliable and trustworthy. The journey of scaling up in the retail world is a marathon, not a sprint (but do push yourself). With honesty, preparation, and clear communication, your brand can find its footing and flourish in this new venture.

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