From the July 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

Want to see your products on store shelves? We asked Caryn Neary, a buyer from Saks.com, how to sell your stuff to the big boys-without getting on their nerves.

Entrepreneur:What can vendors do to make your job as a buyer easier?

Caryn Neary: Have a clear business plan targeting the retailers best-suited to sell your products. You should prepare a press kit, including any important information about your product, press releases and a [high-quality] catalog of your product offering. You should then personalize the cover letter, explaining why your product will work in the retailer's store, how it will round out the total assortment and how you feel it targets the retailer's customer. Keep in mind, a buyer's main responsibility is to edit "assortments" to offer customers what they're looking for.

Once an appointment has been set, make it as easy as possible on the buyer, i.e., going to them instead of making them travel to you, or editing a large collection to focus on the elements best suited for the retailer.

What common mistakes do vendors make when pitching you?

Neary: Vendors most often cold-call or mail product information to a buyer without understanding the direction of that buyer or store.

What preliminary tasks should a vendor do before contacting a buyer?

Neary: Look at the retailer's selling space, adjacent vendors, price points, fixtures, etc. to clearly understand where your product would fit in and what void you can fill on their sales floor and for their customers.

How often, if at all, do you purchase from start-ups, independent companies or lesser-known designers?

Neary: The most important element of buying is ensuring we offer the right product mix for our customer. It's more important that the product, not the name of the product, is right. The retail business is always moving and changing, so it's important to add new businesses and products to the mix. In our business, we do have customers who feel most comfortable buying from brand names they know. However, we also have customers who are looking for the newest thing, so we have new offerings usually once a season.

What are your pet peeves with prospective vendors?

Neary: Name-droppers, people with overbearing personalities, vendors who are unprepared, someone who knocks competitors, unpunctual peo-ple and vendors who don't listen.


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