When you’ve succeed in manufacturing your invention and doing all the necessary research to make sure your product will be a hit, it’s time to find some distribution channels. Your goal is to find as many distribution channels as possible that fit your brand to let your customer interface with, learn more about, and (hopefully) buy your product. The idea is to constantly find new and prosperous channels to sell your product while avoiding channel conflicts that can undercut sales in existing channels. The most common roadmap inventors take is selling direct to consumers, moving up to small retail outlets before distributing through major retailers. This means you should prepare for your distribution channels to change over time as your product sees more success.
There are six common distribution outlets you might find works for your invention.
1. Direct Sales Methods
Direct sales is a way to get the product directly in front of the consumer through outlets such as mail ordering, Internet and telephone sales. Selling direct can even mean setting up your own brick-and-mortar location. Selling direct can seem more profitable because you’re cutting out the middleman but it can be a costly and time-consuming way to reach customers. There are only so many hours per day and, with direct sales methods, the amount of customers you can reach is finite. When selling direct, you have to be a constantly active participant in your company’s sales to get anywhere. However, selling direct is a great way to familiarize yourself with the marketplace your looking to reach with your product to discover the tactics that do and don’t work in your particular case. Direct sales can help you develop market traction and assess initial market response.
Part of your direct sales strategy can be direct mailing. Direct mail campaigns are a long-standing method of marketing that can encompass traditional postcards and newer digital methods such as emails. It can be expensive, paying for the paper and stamps, but can be very effective. But, it’s important to remember some people view direct mailers as “spam” and quickly toss them in the trash (real and digital), ignoring the product.
2. Big-Box Stores
Breaking into a big-box store can be difficult if you’re not prepared, but there’s no disputing the allure of getting your products onto the shelves of a mass retailer like Walmart, Staples, PetSmart and more. Landing distribution with a major retailer with stores across America (and possibly across the world) can put you on the map instantly.
But, it can be difficult to get there. You have to show your product is good and will generate sales. They’ll also be looking to see if you have the ability to satisfy their purchasing requirements. To get your foot in the door, it takes some research on each stores’ preferred method of contact. Some have a section on their site for prospective vendors to apply. Others invite all would-be sellers to email them with a proposal. And others have vendor events where they allow new vendors to come and apply in person.
Before submitting a proposal to a big-box store, make sure you have:
- A Universal Product Code (UPC)
- Product liability insurance
- Names of other clients you’ve supplied orders to
3. Trade Shows
There’s a trade show for almost every industry. If you can think of it, there’s probably a trade show for it. If you have an industry-specific invention, you’re going to want to attend at least one trade show for it. They can be expensive, but they can also help generate leads and interest. There is the option to attend the show as an exhibitor or as a buyer. Some pros to attending a trade show as a buyer is the decreased cost and the ability to be more mobile instead of being locked into the booth space. You can meet new contacts and show off samples of your product. However, some trade shows don’t allow this practice as it can be unfair to exhibitors who have paid thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars for their booth spaces. It’s also a generally unwritten rule that buyers shouldn’t be soliciting manufacturers during a busy show. When it slows down, most are okay with the solicitation and will welcome the dialogue.
If your product is novel or you can showcase your product in a dramatic or eye-catching way, it may be beneficial to to exhibit at a booth. However, if your booth involves a bunch of pamphlets and reading materials, it may be best to go as a buyer.
4. Local Shops
Lately, there’s been a huge push to shop local and people are specifically asking for local recommendations. Small Business Saturday is even a day dedicated to shopping at local small businesses. When you’re pitching your product to local shops, it’s a different ball game than specialty retailers and big-box stores. Local shops with a location or two can’t compete with the chains on price. Their competitive advantage is quality and selection. Their goal is to sell what’s hard to find and more stylish than what you can find at Walmart or PetSmart.
You’ll also want to bring a sell sheet with you when you pitch your product. A sell sheet is a one-page brochure that you leave with the retailer that gives them a run-down of need-to-know information for when they stock your product. Your sell sheet should have:
- Product images
- What your product will look like on display
- Ordering information
- Customer testimonials
- Partner testimonials
- Your contact information
5. Web-based Markets
The Internet is a great place to sell– but it can be difficult to break into. Think of online stores like Etsy or Amazon. When you search for something simple like “wallet”, you’re likely to get hundreds of thousands of results. Customers can narrow down their selection further by colors, keywords, materials, shipping costs and times, price and more. But, what are the chances your product will make the cut?
Another option is to launch your own site and sell from there. Of course, there’s countless sites selling something similar to you and you’ll still have to compete with giants like Amazon and Etsy that are easy to find and navigate. Launching your own website and trying to get it to rise to the top if the search engines can be a time-consuming and costly task. It also presents a catch-22. It your product contains frequently used search terms, a lot of your competitors will also show up. And, if their sites rank higher than yours, they may take prospective customers. If your product is truly novel with different, out-of-the-box keywords, you’ll land higher on the listings so long as your customers know what search terms to use.
Paid Internet ads, like Google AdWords, can be helpful to break into the Internet market for a relatively inexpensive fee. But, if you’re not careful, these Internet ads can get expensive.
6. TV Shopping Channels
QVC and HSN are arguably the largest home shopping channels on TV and they’re great ways to boost product sales for inventions that don’t have the financial means to be displayed on mainstream television. In fact, airtime on QVC, the largest shopping channel, is free. Even with the lower costs, there are some risks to consider when placing your product on home shopping channels. Prior to airtime, you have to be able to deliver a large amount of product to their warehouse for quick order fulfillment. You also must be willing and able to transport all the unsold inventory back after your spot is over.
It’s also important to think of what demographic your product will appeal to. QVC’s main demographic is middle-aged women with an average age of 54. Most are very loyal, affluent and repeat customers. If your invention is something this group would love and find value in, QVC might be a great place to try selling. And, with airtime that goes on 24/7, they’re always looking for products to fill time.
Of course, home shopping channels won’t just take any product, they evaluate prospective products like any other retail store might. These channels are looking for quality and value. If you’re wanting to approach channels like QVC or HSN, ask yourself these questions first:
- Is your product priced appropriately for channels like QVC or HSN?– These channels prefer items priced $15 and up. If your product is below that, it mostly likely won’t be considered a good fit.
- Will your invention appeal to their viewers?– The demographics that watch home shopping channels are women with an average age of 54. As stereotyped as it sounds, products like jewelry, cosmetics and products that will solve household problems tend to do the best. QVC also does not accept feminine/personal hygiene products, firearms, fuel additives, products related to gambling, real fur, sexual aids and tobacco-related products.
- Does your business have the funds to fulfill a purchase order even if you don’t sell out immediately?– You have to order enough product at the home shopping channel’s warehouse to fulfill quick orders while your product is on air.
Finding the right outlet is important. The goal is never to oversaturate the market… You want to build reliable retail partnerships to further your invention’s branding.
At Alotech, we partner with you to find creative ways to help you navigate the manufacturing world. Because we work with inventors with a range of products and needs, we have the resources and knowledge to help you be successful. Contact us today by calling 919-842-3599, or visit our contact page and fill out the form.