Scaling The Wal

Selling Points

Savor your success for a moment . . . then get ready for the next challenge: "Just because [your product is] in Wal-Mart doesn't mean it's going to sell," says Cantrell. At least, not without your help.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about how long a product stays on Wal-Mart's shelves; Wurzel has one client whose product has weathered 13 years. Suffice it to say, though, there's stiff competition for those slots. Wal-Mart buyers review each product's performance on an ongoing basis and make suggestions for how to improve sales. But that doesn't mean you can sit back and let them do all the work. This is a partnership, and you've got to take an active role.

Start by monitoring what is going on with your product. One way to do this is through Electronic Data Interchange, which allows the exchange of purchase orders and invoices between Wal-Mart and vendors, or through Wal-Mart's Retail Link, a software program that provides a direct link to the company's merchandising and sales data. Also, visit stores to see how the item is merchandised and whether it looks appealing. Pretend you're a customer: Are the product's benefits clear? Can you tell what it is? Does the packaging make you want to buy?

Don't expect the consumer to learn about your new product through Wal-Mart's advertising. "Advertising, for Wal-Mart, means their monthly circular," says Cantrell. "They're not going to put a new, untested item in there because that's not their strategy. Their strategy is to convey that they're the low-price leader--and if it's a new item, there's nothing to compare its [price] to."

Besides the monthly circular, Cantrell notes, "there aren't a lot of avenues within the Wal-Mart structure for anyone, even a Procter & Gamble, to advertise." That means you need your own advertising strategy--and budget. Cantrell, for example, is planning a six- to 12-month ad campaign on cable television that will show the Utilitote in action.

If your product hits a slump, think about ways to remedy the situation. "Is there a giveaway, promotional activity or special event that can help?" asks Tahir. "Offer to go in and work the shelf space yourself, hire someone to do it, take another flight to headquarters--whatever is necessary."

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Scaling The Wal.

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