For an inventor, getting your product on the shelves of a Walmart, Target, Best Buy and other mass merchants is an attractive idea. While selling in a big-box store isn’t necessarily the right route for everyone and every business, getting your product on their shelves can put you on a fast-track to commercialization and becoming a household name. For a small business or single inventor, breaking into the big-box stores and landing a large purchase order can catapult your brand into success.
It’s a lofty idea that few small businesses are able to do, but, once you do, you have to deal with a completely different set of issues.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
To start, before even approaching the mass retailers, you need to have a developed a solid base of smaller clients you are supplying your product to. Having a steady and consistent supply going to other clients can show that you have the ability to satisfy purchasing requirements.
For some retailers, getting a meeting with them is as simple as filling out their online vendor application. Both Walmart and Sam’s Club have a portal for current vendors and potential vendors that allow you to get a better idea of what they’re looking for, their minimum requirements a vendor must reach, standards for suppliers and the application. For other retailers, such as Home Depot or Target, they ask potential vendors to send them an email with your proposal. They may even have a vendor day where all the potential vendors can come show the functionality of their product and discuss their proposal in person.
Writing the Proposal
The proposal is an important part of landing a purchase order with any large retailer. The resources put out by Walmart can be used to help guide you in writing your proposal. When writing your proposal, you will need to include:
- Universal Product Code (UPC) – The UPC is a barcode that contains a unique identifying number for your product; the UPC is to products as a social security number is to people. They were originally created to speed up the checkout process and control inventory. Now, virtually every product has a UPC code. The codes are issued by a private agency, the Uniform Code Council (UCC), and in order to obtain this code you will need to become a member and pay an annual fee. In addition to applying for a membership, you will need to provide your company’s current revenue, the number of products being identified with the UPC and the number of locations you will serve.
- Product liability insurance – In the event a customer is injured using your product, you will need product liability insurance. Most major retailers require this to be in place before putting a product on their shelves to protect themselves once they assume the liability of carrying your product.
- Other accounts – Supplying the name of other accounts you fulfill orders for can help establish your credibility. Big-box stores don’t want to invest time and money into your product and have your business go under. With the names of other accounts, they can see a proven track record and history of supplying your product on time. They also want to know that no more than a third of your total business will be coming from them. If you’re asked to supply the names of other major retailers you’ve supplied your product to, don’t lie if they would be your first. Instead, directly address their concerns about your ability to deliver your product on time by providing references and showing your track record with smaller retailers.
Increasing Your Chances
Big-box stores are a little skittish about taking chances on new products, single inventors and small businesses. Buyers at major retail locations see a new vendor as a risk because buyers are the one held accountable when a vendor can’t deliver. To increase your chances of being selected as a new vendor, there’s a few things you can do.
First, you can generate some discussion around your product. Generating PR through newspaper articles, TV appearances and online in blogs or chatrooms can help a buyer take notice of your product. Even advertising, as your budget allows, can help a buyer take notice.
Other ways to show buyers you are a lower risk is to expand your product line. This can be done through launching new products yourself or teaming up with other inventors to pitch all your products under one vendor application. Processing new vendors is a lot of work for major retailers, so it can be helpful to them when multiple products can come from one vendor rather than spread out across several.
Choose a major retailer that already has products that fit the niche you’re looking to sell to as buyers are looking for products that fit within their current line. You also will want to make sure you price your product right, buyers will want your pricing to be within their current range and not act as an outlier. Make sure you can supply them with the products at the price point they’re looking for while still allowing yourself to be profitable.
If big-box stores are not right for you, there are other outlets you may consider.
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.