Brand to Retailer Connection: Core Strategies for Success

December 8, 2017

In the rapidly growing arena of natural beauty and wellness, it’s getting more difficult to stand out from the crowd. Retailers have limited shelf space and targeted budgets, and their goal is to ensure that the products they place in front of customers are purchased, enthusiastically and repeatedly without returns or complaints. Our CEO, Mia Bell, shares how you can shine and show you know what it takes to make retail partners and their customers happy.

  1. happy-handshakeDifferentiate yourself. I can’t stress this point enough. It’s no longer enough to be THE “cruelty-free”, “natural” beauty brand as there are just so many products available now that fit this bill. There are a lot of ways to still be unique in the space. Perhaps you want to focus on fair trade ingredients, look at your price point, or choose a product niche with less competition and room for innovation such as products for teens or men, hair care or period care (to name a few). Skin and body care are naturally dense and plentiful categories, so you’ll want to find a unique edge (and expertise) to stand out if you’re committed to building your brand in this product arena. What hasn’t been seen yet?
  2. Invest in packaging. We all know ingredient integrity matters when claiming CLEAN, but for better or worse, so does packaging. It’s the first thing retailers and consumers see and connect with on an emotional level. Consumer tastes and market preferences change over time so it’s important to remember there is a possibility that you’ll need a future package or brand redesign to match the times. So make it easy for yourself. Plan for the long game, not the short game. Inspiration is everywhere. Subscribe to industry publications to stay in touch with happenings in your category or glean new ideas. A favorite indie publication of mine is Beauty Independent. A really great read!
  3. Understand the value of social media. There’s no denying the power of social media, particularly in the space of beauty and wellness. Retailers want to see that you’re doing the best you can to build a name and following that will ultimately help them get customers in the door to shop for your fantastic products. Knowing that your brand has fans will make them more confident that selling your product will be successful. As a business owner yourself, you know that marketing takes significant time and effort, as well as consistency. So stick to it. It will pay off! Instagram is by far the most popular avenue that well brands use to connect with new followers, not surprisingly. It’s an incredibly visual medium to communicate your brand story. Both Twitter and LinkedIn can be great avenues for connecting with PR outlets and others in the complementary businesses. And Facebook is another way to visually engage with a wider audience. Even more powerful? Conducting informational LIVE streams and product demos. With video becoming the prominent captivator on all social platforms, consumers are pre-conditioned and eager to engage with your brand and products in real time. If you don’t have the time or interest, it’s worth investing in paying someone to take this work on, but be sure to find someone you trust. This is your brand and ideally, you will want to work with someone who understands the industry.
  4. Have an attractive and informative brand website. This is related to the social media point above. By having a strong and beautiful web presence, retailers can feel confident that you’re taking the brand seriously. When it comes to information, particularly in the natural space, retailers would rather not have to hunt down critical information. Having complete ingredient listings and product descriptions are vital. One of the requirements for a brand to be listed on Opal Avenue (a first of its kind online retailer-to-brand connector) is that it must use verified safe ingredients and disclose full ingredient lists on the brand’s individual product pages. Retailers (as well as conscious consumers) must have this information readily available so they can make quick and informed purchasing decisions. Any other information about you and your brand story can further enhance your connection with retail buyers on Opal Avenue and beyond.
  5. Respond to your emails in a timely manner. Do whatever you can to respond to emails quickly (ideally within 24 hours or less). If you’re on vacation or swamped with production, set up an out of office email so they know they when they can expect a response. It’s important to make sure that retailers know you’re on top of your business and communicating in a professional manner is key.  Retail buyers tend to work within strict product consideration timelines. Purchasing needs can change FAST. Don’t miss a great opportunity by not responding promptly.
  6. Be prepared.  You’ll need to set wholesale policies and requirements for your brand so retailers can immediately understand what it will take to work with you. This information also serves to help them determine if you are a good fit for their stores. Set your wholesale minimums, case quantities per item (if desired), wholesale pricing and margins, payment terms, shipping procedures, and important online resale policies such as MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing). This creates a base foundation with which to initiate retail relationships. It’s also never too early to have a tentative plan for scaling. You may not be working with a manufacturer yet, but you may want to start doing this initial research and have contacts in your back pocket for when that big order comes in.
  7. Do your research on the market. Saying you want your products to be sold in every possible retail distribution channel can lead you down a frustrated and unfocused path. This is known as a “buckshot approach”. The anticipation that you’ll hit your mark by going in every direction. Where direct focus goes, energy flows. Get specific. Do you think your brand is better suited for natural grocery? Specialty or luxury retailers? Independent boutiques perhaps? Maybe they’re best for spas, salons and wellness studios. Or a combination of the above? Understand why you want to get into a certain market and target your energy toward knowing that purchasing space and its needs really well. I recommend also finding out what reputable sales entities work within those retail channels and start a conversation. You may be surprised at what you learn from these professionals! And above all, show how your brand is unique. Make it loud and clear.
  8. Get out there! It’s time to connect with shops. There are many traditional ways to do this.  Hiring a sales brokerage or firm can be an option if you have the bandwidth and budget to support their sales efforts on your behalf with consistent samples stock, printed marketing collateral, account support, and rep training. They become an active extension of your business (and staff count). You may want to hire a dedicated in-house sales assistant or be personally tasked with reaching out to buyers on your own. Historically, tradeshows and showrooms were the preferred option for both young and established brands to gain market exposure. It’s no secret, however, that times are changing. Thanks to technology, there are now more cost-effective and streamlined ways to connect with the right opportunities at the right time. Targeted, online platforms like Opal Avenue can be an additional, evergreen, supplement to a brand’s existing retailer connection efforts and enhance buyer visibility 24/7. 365 days a year. Making outreach less about cold solicitation and more about warm, mutual match-making. Regardless, set a realistic budget, timeline, and strategy. Operate with what works best for you. There is no one right answer for everyone. And most importantly, do what you can with what you have.