How We Got Our Product Into Every Sephora Store As a Team of Two With No Outside Funding
After many months, maybe even years, tinkering on nights and weekends, your product is ready to be launched and shared. If your sales strategy involves wholesaling to retail stores, chances are you have a dream big-box retailer that is the holy grail of "making it." Pitching your brand to that store can not only seem daunting, but prohibitively expensive. You may think, I'll get there someday, but that someday seems light-years away.
It doesn't have to be.
In 2013, that holy grail for us was Sephora. When we first envisioned our fragrance brand in stores, we pictured it on the shelves of Sephora. My husband and I launched Nomaterra in December 2012 and by August 2014 we could walk into any Sephora store in the country and spot our product on its shelves. Without any outside funding at the time, or any former relationships with buyers at Sephora, our tiny team of two accomplished a feat reserved often only for the giants in the beauty industry.
You can see your products on the shelves of your dream retailer sooner than you think. Here are our firsthand takeaways for emerging brands pitching and selling to a major retailer:
1. Have a unique point of differention.
Define what makes you different from your competitors. Are you using an innovative form of technology or a new formula? Was it founded by a celebrity?
Consider also how your product fits into current trends. Is there cultural momentum your product ties in with?
As avid travelers, we knew there was a major shift building in millennials focusing on experiences over things. Therefore, we created a fragrance wipe -- a wipe that delivers five spritzes of perfume uniformly on the skin -- ideal for the on-the-go lifestyle. It was a product that didn't exist on the market, and we saw potential for demand because of the growing travel trend.
Big-box retailers are eagerly searching for the next big thing that will drive in-store sales and traffic to their sites. They're also risk-averse. If your product is a double threat -- innovative and trendy -- and is on brand with their brand, you're halfway there.
Still not sure whether your brand stands out? Walk the aisles of the store. Make a note of the product offerings and categories, and research the bestsellers.
2. Get their attention.
Here's the truth: you don't have to spend thousands of dollars on trade shows and sales reps to get the attention of buyers. Get creative and gutsy!
Send them a beautiful package with your product. Include your catalog and a short, handwritten note (it's an appreciated touch).
Pick up the phone and call them. Or send an email. Yes, it's that simple and costs you nothing. Write an email that is to-the-point and includes your brand's most impressive stats -- sales, social media, press clips, distributors and awards, anything that ensures buyers your the brand would sell.
In your email, begin with an attention-grabbing subject line. Introduce yourself in one sentence, put your brand or product's key differentiation factors in bullets, and highlight nameworthy press features and retailers where your brand can be found. This legitimizes your brand's success and makes it less risky for them. Link to your site, catalog and social media platforms. In one or two sentences, highlight why your product suits the retailer right now. This approach can also be applied to a phone call.
Surprise and delight them. Help them visualize your brand with GIFs in the email, or with a punny gift to go along with your package.
We went to the fragrance section of our local Sephora, took a few bottles off a shelf, put our fragrances on and quickly snapped photos of our product nuzzled among bestsellers. We then inserted that image into our PowerPoint presentation for our meeting with the buyers in San Francisco. It was a risky move, but they ended up noticing and liking our audacity to stand out.
While we ended up using this strategy for our in-person meeting, you can use this for any stage of the pitching and buying process.
3. Stay persistent.
We know, we know, you've heard this one before. But, let's break this down in terms of the buying process.
1. If you send the buyer a package with your products, it's your job to follow up. This is where most people make a mistake -- they spend hours preparing a beautiful package, drop it in the mailbox and think their work is done. Now the real work begins. Wait four to five days after the package is delivered, and follow up by email or phone. Confirm the buyer received the product and kindly ask for her first impressions.
2. Already have buyers' interest, but suddenly stop hearing from them? Don't give up. Perhaps you haven't been around enough and they need to see you in the media more. Or maybe the buyer you were talking to no longer works there. This happened to us. Things were moving along swimmingly and all of a sudden we stopped hearing from Sephora.
There was a buyer changeover, but we just continued to circle back every two months or so with anything newsworthy about our brand -- press placements, new product launches, brand collaborations and store openings. One such email got Sephora's attention. We got on a call that week and reignited our sales conversation with the new buyer.
3. Even at the stage where your product has been approved, continue to follow up until you get that written purchase order (PO)! We had gotten a verbal "yes" a couple of times, and were confident that was it. Then things got delayed or something fell through. We had to follow up to finally get it in writing, and only then did we move forward with production.
When you're pitching a big-box retailer, ultimately, it's all about the long game. So stay the course, follow up and be persistent. It will pay off.
4. Build a relationship.
Networking experts are always advising us to build relationships before asking for favors. The same goes for relationships with buyers.
Most people go into the sales relationship one-sided -- they focus on their wants first, instead of the buyer's needs.
This is an uncomfortable start. Whether you're speaking with the buyers on the phone, in-person or via email, try connecting with them on a personal level. Congratulate them if they've been promoted, share a favorite restaurant in a new city they are traveling to or ask about their holiday plans. It's the simple things that can form a bond over time. Get to genuinely know them and the dynamic will instantly change.
During our in-person meeting with five Sephora buyers in a stuffy conference room, it wasn't until my husband cracked a few jokes that things lightened up and got more friendly. Over the course of the meeting, the slides became much less important as we began to bond.
When you've formed a relationship with the buyers, you feel like you have a support system at that retailer, which is crucial for a young brand. Not only will the buyers advocate for your brand's success, but you can run launch strategies by them and negotiate better terms for your business.
If you're looking to get your product into a big-box retailer, you can. While it certainly takes dedication, it's completely achievable for a young brand that's willing to be scrappy and creative. With a quality, timely product, grit and hustle, and conscientious relationship building, you will get there in no time.