Savvy Sell-Through Tips to Keep Customers Coming Back for More – Part One

One of the headiest experiences for an entrepreneur is landing a big order from a retailer. It validates everything you’ve been working toward, and in the way that counts most: Someone else believes in your product, and thinks consumers will, too.

But getting your products onto store shelves, even at Wal-Mart or Home Depot, is only the first step for retail success. Now you have to try just as hard to be sure your products move, well enough to give the retailer the confidence to place more orders with you.

Repeat after us: Positioning, positioning …

It should go without saying that just where your product is displayed in a store can make all the difference between selling through and not even getting close. The bigger the retailer, the less say you have in positioning, and the more limits on how much of a “merchandising zone” you can create in their store. However, because both you and the retailer want to move product, it’s not impossible to get a fair hearing.

Contech Electronics was able to get Home Depot to place its ScareCrow motion-activated sprinklers in the pest-control section — where CEO Mark Grambart wanted them — instead of the lawn sprinkler section. ScareCrow startles deer and other critters by squirting them with water when they show up, so Grambart suggested placing his products where they’d offer a specific solution to Home Depot customers with a specific need.

The chain also allowed Contech to place point-of-purchase displays demonstrating how ScareCrow works. “With our product, you have to communicate what it’s all about to aisle surfers, and these displays do the trick,” Grambart says.

Larger companies certainly do this. When prune-juice giant Sunsweet Growers wanted to expand its line with a less “medicinal,” more everyday drink, it came up with PlumSmart, still using its bread-and-butter fruit, but juicing it instead of drying it into prunes.

However, when it came to supermarket placement, the Yuba City, Calif.-based farmers’ cooperative decided against trying to squeeze PlumSmart into the already dense-packed refrigerated juice section. “We thought about it, but our strength is in shelf-stable juices,” says Steve Harris, vice president of marketing. “And we focused on being unique in that part of the grocery store.”

Give retailers a sell-through tool kit

The more you can help retail employees understand and appreciate your products, the more comfortable and enthusiastic they’ll be in sharing their knowledge with customers. So Contech created training materials — both on paper and online — for floor personnel, telling how to explain its $80 ScareCrow to customers.

You can go a step farther and create flyers, business cards or other leave-behinds that sit handily nearby your products or can be passed out by store personnel. When she was publisher of a trade magazine, Joyce Gioia reprinted the mag’s positive reviews of its advertisers’ new electronics products. She gave them to her ad reps to hand out to retailers, who kept them handy to give to customers.

“That’s the kind of value-added marketing and merchandising you need to make sure your products don’t just sit on the shelves,” says Gioia, now president of the Herman Group, a Greensboro, N.C.-based business-consulting firm.

Show why your product is better than the other guy’s

When a new product shows up in stores, shoppers compare it to existing ones. Use this curiosity to your advantage by creating an obvious, favorable in-store contrast between you and the competition. Unique packaging is one way to do it.

So is aggressive pricing. Consumers have made Pom Wonderful pomegranate-juice products a hit in supermarket refrigerator cases nationwide. But they’re pricey. So in offering a healthful new drink line made from watermelon juice, Brad Oberwager priced his Sundia-brand products $1.99 to $2.99 for a ready-to-drink bottle, about half of Pom’s prices.

Our Bottom Line

You have to do a lot more than just fulfill your retailers’ orders – you have to help them sell your products through to consumers. If you come up with good ideas to place and support them, retailers can be persuaded to go along.


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