The road to success isn't easy, and Kjestrup worked hard to get the SandScrew into big retail stores. Here are some of the steps he took:
Learn the industry. Kjestrup's first advice for entrepreneurs seeking success in a new market is to educate themselves. "Our product is seasonal, and most of the sales for the following summer are made by November," Kjestrup explains. "This is different from the sign business, where orders come in every week. [Retail] stores also mark our product up by 100 percent, while sign shops typically only use a 50 percent markup." Kjestrup also learned that building strong sales in smaller regional stores helped ease mass merchants' resistance to taking on a one-line company.
Find the key. Research showed Kjestrup that packaging was the most important factor in selling his product. "Without [the right packaging], SandScrew was just a steel tube with a hole," he says. In fact, Kjestrup spent nearly a year perfecting his packaging before he pursued retail stores.
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Don't count on help. At first, Kjestrup attempted to find a broker to market the product through a series of agents nationwide. But that strategy flopped. "The agents didn't make enough money from our product, so they didn't spend any time on it," he says. In the end, Kjestrup and his sales manager had to promote the product themselves. Kjestrup hopes to use agents later, once there's a proven demand for the product.
Be patient. Buyers place most orders for seasonal items during just two months of the year, and many like for products to be around for a while before giving them a chance. The result, says Kjestrup, is that "you have to make a commitment to the new product and give it at least two or three years to develop." That's quite a contrast to the immediate impact on sales Kjestrup can often see in the sign business.
Don't expect size to matter. "People in this new market didn't care that we had been in business and had substantial sales," says Kjestrup. "They just saw us as a one-line company. The only time our size mattered was in Wal-Mart's final evaluation, when [the retailer] wanted to be sure we could deliver a large order."
Don't ignore your initial market. While innovating his new product, Kjestrup continued to pay attention to his original customers. He still seeks out new ideas for the real estate market. In fact, his customers suggested the idea for another product, a clear box with a pull-down front that sits atop the "home for sale" sign and holds sales fliers. That latest invention's in the running for an order from Home Depot.