If you’ve been around Porchlight for any period of time, you’ve heard the phrase, “In retail, every product has to be sold twice.” Even though most products are designed for consumers, we know all too well that retail is a B2B2C world. Before a product ever reaches a shelf, it’s been purchased by a retail merchant. For this reason, merchants are some of the most influential people in retail. And succeeding in retail starts with nailing the merchant pitch. We’re here to help get you prepared.
Getting in the Door with Retailers
Before we dive too far into the merchant presentation, let’s talk a bit about how you get in the door in the first place. For smaller companies, this can be a bit of a struggle. Big brands have access to merchants and typically are on the radar to begin with. However, smaller brands that want to get access often hire consultants to help them navigate the process. Grassroots product manufacturers are often on their own, relying on open buying days or cold communication for their opportunities.
Thoughts on Brand Strategy
Once the door is open, and a pitch is on the horizon, you may feel compelled to start pulling a presentation together immediately. But there are a few key questions to ask first. Most importantly, you’ll want to consider your brand strategy. Are you going into the pitch with an existing brand, an emerging brand or a brand opportunity?
If you’re building a brand or invested in your brand, our advice is to be prepared to demonstrate that credibility. If you are an emerging or opportunity brand, consider communicating that to the merchant. Signaling to the merchant that you are open to their feedback extends the process and creates more opportunities to be in front of the merchant. Likewise, if you are open to launching your product under the retailer’s private label, that’s critical information to share.
The Best Approach for Merchant Presentations
As soon as you’ve solidified your brand strategy, you can move onto the merchant presentation. Over the years, we’ve helped dozens of brands with their merchant presentations and product line reviews. In that time, we’ve seen that merchant presentations which demonstrate a solid understanding of both the consumer and the retailer’s needs are more successful. Likewise, the pitches that include home improvement insight and ready-to-go merchandising concepts move faster.
In an ideal world, you’ll have several weeks and a creative team at the ready to help prepare. In the real world, you may not have such resources. That’s when it helps to have an experienced partner or a thorough list.
Driving Consumer Demand
Merchants need to know that your product strategy, pricing and positioning are driven by consumer needs. As such, your merchant pitch should reinforce the demand you can bring to their category.
Your merchant presentation should convey your product positioning. Where does it fall in the category? Is it the opening price point, the best-in-class or somewhere in between? However your product is positioned, the merchant needs to get it and know that consumers will, too. Don’t count on the retailer to bring buyers to you, show the merchant how your product will generate demand.
- Features and Benefits
In addition to your product positioning, it’s important to convey to a merchant what your product has to offer. While it’s tempting to talk about all the things your product can do, it’s more important to relay them in the context of consumer concerns. Every feature should be balanced with a benefit, and every benefit should be backed up with a product feature.
- Packaging Mockups
Whether you are pitching a product for sale online or in the store, packaging matters. Packaging is the physical presence of your product, and as such, it should address an array of consumer concerns as well as stand out against the competition. For a merchant to commit to a product, they need to handle your product and see how it looks alongside the competition and how it adds value to their category.
- Consumer Feedback
Have you done any user testing of your product? Do you have an ecommerce site you can pull reviews from? Whether you’ve paid for testing or need to solicit some targeted feedback, it’s important to demonstrate to the merchant that consumers have validated your product’s efficacy and positioning.
Addressing Retailer Concerns
As pivotal as the consumer is to the pitch, the merchant has their own set of concerns, responsibilities and stakeholders to satisfy. When you address the needs of the retailer in your merchant pitch, you demonstrate that you appreciate their role and are easy to work with.
- Price Point
Your pricing strategy goes hand in hand with your positioning. Where positioning is about consumer value, pricing strategy requires more consensus-building with the merchant. After all, they are responsible for pricing the entire category. Pricing is a great opportunity to engage the merchant and demonstrate respect for their expertise.
- Merchandising and POP
A key piece of advice we always share with clients is to give the merchant options. If you’re counting on a place on the shelf, make sure you show the merchant how you plan to support that spot with POP. Then again, why not supplement your pitch with some optional quarter pallets for in-aisle purchasing. Once you have some sales on your side, you’ll be better positioned to move up in the category food chain.
- Product Photography
If you don’t have images or renderings of your product, it’s time to go get them. While you may know your product from every angle, the merchant needs proof that your product is what you say it is. In our experience, photography is one of those services where you get what you pay for. A professional photographer will provide you with detailed, high-quality, well-lit and retouched imagery that can be used in a variety of formats.
In our experience, most product manufacturers are keenly aware of the competition. Obsessed may actually be a better term. Knowing your competition and how you compare is important. It’s also important to acknowledge that the merchant may have a relationship with the competition. They may be invested in your fiercest rival, and that’s okay.
Recognize the competition. Demonstrate your differentiation in a way that addresses category optimization, manufacturing efficiencies and value. Don’t diss the competition.
- Audience Research/Market Preferences
As with consumer research, it’s helpful to provide the merchant with data to support your product positioning. This is especially critical if your product is targeted towards a specific market or audience segment. If you are pitching a pro tool targeted towards Hispanic contractors or a roofing shingle specifically designed to address humid conditions, be prepared to explain your market strategy to the merchant in a way that benefits the retailer.
- Manufacturing Confidence
Given the supply chain disruptions that are affecting all of retail at present, we’d be remiss if we didn’t reinforce this point. Merchants need absolute confidence that you can deliver the product you’re asking them to sell. If you have the supply you need to deliver product for three months, six months or longer, you’ll want to be transparent with the merchant about how you plan to deliver on their investment.
Demonstrating Home Improvement Industry Expertise
In addition to the list above, our client presentations demonstrate a working knowledge of the industry and the retailer’s environment. We know that the most successful pitches often show products and product collateral that can go in stores tomorrow. This requires access and understanding of retailer brand guidelines for merchandising, packaging and POP.
If you have a merchant presentation scheduled, take care that your product collateral is designed for the retailer. Unless you have a strong relationship with a merchant and have been advised to do otherwise, pitch allowable concepts. In our experience, clients that pitch far-out concepts run a greater risk of having the merchant take the product and take over the merchandising. If this isn’t your strategy, play inside the guidelines.
Nail Your Next Merchant Presentation
Face time with retailers doesn’t happen every day, so get prepared with our Must-Haves for Merchant Presentations checklist. With this handy list of questions, you’ll be on your way to nailing your next retail opportunity.