You have the world’s best hot sauce. Your customers are loyal and enthusiastic, and you’re ready to see it on the shelves of a retail store. Retailers will eventually seek you out, but for now, it’s up to you to find and convince them to buy your product. The secret to getting your first retailer is to do your research and be prepared.

Meet Tom. Tom also makes a pretty mean hot sauce. Tom is not prepared when he approaches his first retailer. He strolls in with just a bottle of his hot sauce and a smile. The buyer is busy, she’s frequently approached with new products, and she already has four hot sauces on the shelf that are just fine. She’s not interested. Don’t be like Tom.

Do your research.  

  • Find the right store. You already know what store you’d like to be in (you probably already shop there). Consider your brand’s target market, and make sure the store you’re considering has a similar target market. Ask other food producers what retailers they love. They might not want to divulge all of their retailers, but they might tell you which ones are easy to work with, move product, and pay their bills on time.
  • Display and packaging. Does your desired store already carry similar products? Think about how you can differentiate yours. How do they have products displayed? Consider creating your own point of purchase display. Does your packaging need to have a UPC code? It might be necessary if your desired store is a bigger retailer.
  • Price. You need to make a profit, so does the retailer. Many retailers want a 50% markup. Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t price yourself out of the market either. Retailers know their customers, and they’ll shy away when they realize your hot sauce will cost their customers $14 per bottle.
  • Contact. Who’s the decision-maker? It might be the owner, manager, buyer, or if it’s a bigger retailer there might be a local or regional buyer. Give a call to see who it is and, if possible, schedule a time to meet with them.

Related: How to Work as A Marketing Partner with Your Retailer

Be prepared.

  • Sell sheet. Proactively answer all of the buyer’s questions and grab her attention with an attractive sell sheet. Print in color on high-quality paper and include your company name, logo, brand story (who you are, your mission, where you source ingredients, etc.), professional product photography, testimonials, and contact information.
  • Wholesale pricelist. Include wholesale unit price, MSRP (suggested retail unit price), case size, minimum order, payment terms, call to action, and contact info.
  • Bring samples for the buyer and other decision makers to taste your product.

One more thing…

Small, local retailers might have additional questions or concerns that you should be ready to address.

  • “Do you have other retailers in proximity to my store?” Smaller retailers might lose interest if your product is found on every corner. They also might lose interest if you’re pursuing national retailers. If this is an issue, you can consider offering exclusivity within a limited geographic area.
  • “Do you sell the same product on your website?” Same issue. Retailers don’t want to compete with your website. Avoid undercutting retailers with the prices on your website.
  • “Will you do tasting events for my customers?” This is often required with bigger retailers, but it’s also a great way to support sales and show goodwill toward your smaller retailers. Click here for more information on working as a marketing partner with your retailer.

Tell us about what you did right (or wrong!) when you landed your first retailer.

Additional Reading: Make Your Startup Food Biz Look Big With These Special Tips

Julie Ciezadlo

About Julie Ciezadlo

Julie is a copywriter and social media manager at The Condiment Marketing Co. She is a Colorado native (a rare thing around here) and studied at the University of Colorado (Anthropology and English) and Cook Street Culinary School (Pastry).