professional woman giving presentation
From developing a clear pitch to understanding the retailer's own needs, there are several key things to consider when pitching your business to a retailer. — Getty Images/Cecilie_Arcurs

For small retail businesses, one of the fastest paths to growth is getting their products picked up and sold by major retailers. Landing a deal with a big-box store like Target or Walmart can instantly increase exposure, sales and consumer trust for a brand.

Entrepreneur Jesseca Dupart experienced these benefits firsthand when her product line, Kaleidoscope Hair Products, began appearing on retail shelves across the country.

"Naturally, our sales have grown from being in Target and Sally Beauty Supply, but I believe our brand is [now] viewed on a larger scale," said Dupart. "Consumers know where to find Kaleidoscope products."

"There is a certain credibility that a brand garners when a big box store puts faith in [you] by putting [your products] on their shelves or on their floor," added Lindsay Schleis, vice president of business development at POLYWOOD.

[Read: 8 Store Trends Poised to Reshape How You Shop]

The benefits and challenges of pitching big retailers

Retail deals don't just "happen." Just as you would with a potential investor, you'll need to pitch a big retailer and convince them your product is worthy of being carried in their stores.

If you haven't considered this path before, here are a few smart reasons to start pitching your product to a retailer.

  • Greater sales volume. In-store placements can add tremendous volume, especially if you've only been selling your product online. Schleis noted that depending on the seasonality of the business, you may be expected to ship sooner than normal in order to allow the products to appropriately flow through the entirety of the distribution networks of big-box stores.
  • Customers can see and experience your product in person. Few things build brand confidence like getting to “try before you buy,” said Schleis. An online photo may be worth a thousand words, but getting to touch and feel products before making a purchase creates an instantaneous relationship and can even lead to word-of-mouth referrals. As Schleis pointed out, "People talk about what they see and get to experience in-store."
  • Internal business growth. Dupart noted that her company's retail deals were a catalyst for internal restructuring: "With the expansion came the responsibility to learn more and build bigger teams," she said.

Of course, preparing and executing a successful pitch isn't easy. Every retailer is different in the way that they operate their business, said Schleis, so small businesses may need to contend with product differentiation from competing brands, implementing special software to process orders, meeting the retailer's unique marketing methods and requirements, and logistics and distribution challenges.

"The solution is to have teams that are agile and able to adapt standard operating procedures (SOPs) to launch and build a successful major retailer program," Schleis told CO—. "Be patient but ready and able to move. Timing is everything here."

[Read: Smart Strategies for Presenting Your Business Plan]

Providing a unique product or service for a specific retailer, for example, can demonstrate the value your brand brings to the partnership.

Lindsay Schleis, vice president of business development, POLYWOOD

How to pitch your product to a retailer

Ready to start pitching? Follow these tips to improve your odds of landing a deal.

Develop a clear, attention-grabbing pitch

Dupart noted that one of the biggest challenges of pitching retailers is being noticed and having a clear planogram (visual merchandising) pitch. Today, her company has seasoned sales and trade marketing professionals to help build those bridges, but she admitted she struggled with retail pitches in the past.

"Without knowledge of what's needed or what to present, it's difficult," said Dupart.

If you're unsure of where to begin, take a page from Dupart's book and consult with professionals to develop a great pitch that checks all the boxes a retailer might be looking for.

Listen and respond to the retailer's needs

Getting a big box retail contract is all about listening to the needs and wants of the retailer and being flexible enough to adapt your business to fit those needs, said Schleis.

"Ask yourself how your product can not only fit those needs, but add value and revenue to their business," she added. "Providing a unique product or service for a specific retailer, for example, can demonstrate the value your brand brings to the partnership."

Take yourself seriously and focus on your branding

According to Dupart, the secret to successfully pitching retailers is proving that you're "ready to play ball."

"Having the liquidity to balance inventory demands, a strong consumer following and a strategic marketing calendar will help retailers understand you are serious about your business … and can handle being on retail shelves," she said. "Building a brand that people love and seek will cause those big businesses to inquire about you."

[Read: Branding Your Business for Every Stage of Growth]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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