Mistakes small businesses make supplying retail outlets

small business success secretsAre you a start-up or small business supplying products to retail outlets, and frustrated with poor sales?

Here’s a few possible reasons and some strategies around them.

The retail outlet just doesn’t know enough about you and your product.

Note: First check your product is properly displayed and the retail outlet is happy with how it’s packaged.

Do some secret shopping. You can get a friend, colleague or myself to call or conduct an actual visit to the shop, and ask if they have an XYZ that they can recommend. Then the fun begins! If they recommend a competitor product I quiz them on why they recommended it (and this is gold and very important to remember) and then I’ll say, “what about this one?” and pick up my clients product and wait to hear what they say about it.

This is the really useful part of the exercise. I love to hear what they say about my client’s product. It’s not uncommon for the staff to:

1. Not know enough about your product and why it is better than a competitor product, especially one that might be cheaper.

2. They don’t know you or your story and therefore it is just a ‘product’ whereas your competitor may be well known to them, they have met them and they like their ‘story’.

3. Your product has a flaw, a weakness that is killing it and it will never sell well. Better you know sooner than later and fix it or dump it!


If they don’t know enough about your product, ask them if infosheets, handouts or personal instruction would work best to help staff. I highly recommend FIRST talking to them to see what type of info they need and in what format they prefer. Don’t waste time and money producing something and then taking it to them.

For example they may want a one-pager summarising key benefits and your story. Don’t give them more than one page unless they specifically request it. For one of my clients, we made laminated one page info-sheets that were attached to his displays and they worked very well.

It is super important that you note the benefits they tell you or don’t tell you about your product and your competitors products. Use this knowledge to decide what to include in any info you give them. And if you know a key benefit they don’t realise or know about, make sure you tell them!

There is a lot of misinformation out there. I’ve had competitors tell retailers complete lies about a client’s product, for example it doesn’t last or doesn’t meet a certain standard or can’t be used in certain situations. All completely false but staff believed it to be true and wouldn’t sell the products – so beware. You want to be able to counter or beat or at least equal the benefits of your competitor products.

Caution! It is not uncommon to become complacent with our own products. We become insensitive, over exposed to them. We may overlook a benefit as being too small to mention. However customers, or at least some might consider this benefit a reason to select the product!  Better to mention the benefit than leave it out.

Be ready to offer info to attach near your product or with it. They may want brochures/handouts to give customers interested and it’s cheap these days to provide an in-store ipad/tablet with video demonstrating key features and how it works. But again, before you spend time and money doing this, check with the store first to confirm if necessary, how big, how many etc.

And staff change! So be prepared to do this every 6mo or more frequently!

Your Story
If they don’t know your story, get in the store and put a face to a name and share your passion for the product and how it came to be, and the care, passion and quality that goes into making it.

It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. If you bother to take time out of your day to visit them, they will feel you care about them, and they will care about your product. It will raise your product in their memory…providing you can make a good impression! Let’s be honest here. If you are not an extrovert people person that presents a suitable image, this task may not be the thing for you to do in person. Go with your strengths and recognise your weaknesses and find ways around them.

Give the store updates with any good news about the product, alternative uses for it, tips on how to use it, and especially how popular it is. We all gravitate to ‘popular’ items the masses trust – make sure they know it’s popular and selling well and loved by others! Assuming it is…

Your product has faults?
And if they are honest and admit it has flaws, weaknesses that are really preventing it from selling…workout if you can fix them (and please check regularly with the seller and the customer about the fixes and if they are good fixes – don’t develop fixes in a vacuum sitting in your office or factory!).

If you can’t come up with cost effective fixes, consider dumping it or selling it in a different outlet, different city, different state, or online, whatever.

Caution! I have to raise my red flag! So many times I meet business owners in love with their product especially after putting so much hard work and money into it, and they can’t let it go. And they keep spending money trying to make it a success.

You can’t buy more time in life. Unfortunately. A year wasted can not be regained. 5 years pushing a dud product can not be regained. When you also factor in ‘lost opportunity costs’ if you had changed to a better product sooner you are really behind by more than 5 years. Fail fast and fail cheap is my motto when it comes to developing and pushing products. Pivot points are something I’ll discuss in another newsletter.

It’s not the product but the payment or delivery method
Make sure you talk to the retail outlet owner or whoever is responsible for ordering your product. Check they are happy with your payment terms, delivery schedule, ordering system etc. Any of these could be souring your product and reducing their enthusiasm to sell it.

Caution! Don’t ever ever…ever…assume they will tell you these issues. Often they think you won’t change or can’t change the way things are. And they probably keep forgetting to mention it. Keep in mind your product is the centre of your universe but for them your product is one of thousands!

As always, here if you need help.

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