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Selling Wholesale to Superstores

You've got a great product. It's time to convince superstore buyers to buy it.
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Q: I've found a product in another country that I would like to sell in the United States. How do I find buyers for companies like Bed, Bath and Beyond; Linens 'n Things; Marshalls; Target; and Wal-Mart? And what would be my first step in contacting them?

A: Winning shelf space in the retail superstores is a wholesaler's dream. First, you'll need a great product that's priced to move quickly off the shelves. It should be packaged to grab the attention of shoppers and facilitate sales, and it should be coordinated with effective point-of-sale displays. Before approaching the superstores, you must also be prepared to communicate via electronic data interchange (EDI), because most chains dispensed with paper orders in the early '90s. And be ready to meet quick delivery deadlines, because it's not unusual for major retailers to demand turnaround times of three to five days.

While buyers for some major chains still expect the president of the company to call them directly, most prefer to work with established sales representatives. Choose a rep firm with expertise in your product area. I did a basic search on "manufacturers rep firm" on Yahoo! and got 16,900 Web page matches. When you narrow down your search based on your specialty, you'll still have plenty of options.

You and your reps will approach prospects via phone to schedule meetings, and at trade shows where you have product booths. When you finally contact the corporate headquarters of each of your prospects, it will be vital to pinpoint the right buyers and know exactly what they're looking for. You may have to make many phone calls before you get a single call back, but when you do, make sure you're prepared with solid knowledge of your competition and customers. Getting in touch with buyers at specific times of the year can be critical, because while smaller chains and independent stores may decide to stock a product at any time, superstores may make decisions by the end of the first quarter for the entire year. So if your product isn't on their lists by then, you may have to wait another year for another chance.

And consider this-getting the first order is often just a test. Whether you deliver to those superstores on the second and third go-rounds will determine future sales growth for your company.

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