I had the privilege of adding a new client to my rounds today: the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Store & Cafe here in Norwich, VT.
It’s my fifth location for my products, so by now I’ve learned a few things.
* Build a trusting relationship with the buyer.
Mike Gray is running King Arthur’s cafe’, and we met over the last decade when I was working to strengthen the local food and farm system (Vital Communities) and he was chef at the Hanover Inn. Because we already have trust and mutual admiration, it was so easy to bring my products in today.
If you are bringing products in to a buyer you don’t know, spend time getting to know that person. It helps to understand who you’re working with, so you don’t end up with some crazy infectious misunderstanding. Ask other suppliers how to best work with that buyer, never opening the door for any gossip or bad-mouthing (and certainly not participating in any!): should you be a little chatty, or all business? Make suggestions or follow their lead? What expertise of theirs should you draw on?
* The first day a product goes in, there are always bumps.
Allow in your schedule a good hour for the first encounter, yet expect that the buyer has no time at all but is squeezing you in to a busy day.
Check the payment terms, the retail price, the shelf location. At one launch my partner store mistakenly had shelf tags offering my food at $1 less than my SRP. They graciously treated it as their “introductory sale” price for a few days; if they hadn’t, and couldn’t change the tags, then of course I would have offered to eat the cost, even though it would have been very hard for me. Better to start off on a good note than to be right.
Verify that your pricing system/bar codes will work with their equipment and that the bar codes have been run through their system.
If you aren’t thrilled with the location they offer (lighting, visibility, proximity to high-trafficked areas), it’s hard to ‘complain’ the first day – but better to try to get an upgrade right away; busy schedules and so many demands can make it hard for buyers to make changes later. And if you move your product after a few weeks, you’ll confuse your customers. Most of the stores I work with have happily offered me great eye-level locations with great lighting and perfect cooler temperatures. It’s a great vote of confidence when a buyer hands you their finest real estate. Be appreciative. Today Mike put us in a great location: a grab-and-go cooler right near the checkout, under the “Vermont Products” sign. Thanks, Mike!
* Learn their rules.
Ask for a clear description or even run-through of the delivery procedure. What hours can you deliver, and through which door? Who checks you in? Where will any returned merchandise be? Remind each other of who covers the costs of those products.
Any contracted agreements should have been worked out long before, but you may want to verify anything out of the ordinary. In our area, our markets don’t have slotting fees (an extra fee producers just about everywhere else pay, just for the privilege of using that shelf space), or I probably would never have gotten into this business. But all possibly sticking points should be worked out today, on day one.
There is usually a rule about children accompanying you into the receiving room, which can be a challenge for mommy entrepreneurs like me; since I learned this, I now have my girls scoot in the front door and meet me in the aisles so they can help me stock, then they meet me back at the car. But the little stores are the best: my girls carry in the little cooler, use the price-gun and help me put ‘our’ food on the shelves – and thereby earn their dollar.
Whatever the store manager needs, happily adjust yourself to their rules.
* Plan together for successful marketing.
It’s your product, and your story; and their location, and their customers. Work together to sketch a picture of what will work.
They know their customers and when and how they shop. Ask also how many are tourists and how many are locals. Ask what is their average market basket amount? When are the best hours to offer free samples? What capacity does your staff have to promote my product without me?
I got to talk with Bonny Hooper today about what days and times I can sample Yummy Yammy at King Arthur, and I took time to educate her on my products. Happily, she had attended a sampling I held at the Hanover Coop and bought some of our Zingy Peanut Sauce, so again, we weren’t starting completely from scratch. I left her some extra tubs of product that she can put out for customers this weekend, and I left her several more that she is giving out to the KA staff. I want the staff to love my products. If they love them, the customers will hear about them, and once you try my food, you will love it, too. So the staff are key for me. Mike knew the best shelf to show off my food, and he had bought display baskets to put it in its best possible light. Hurray for skilled, experienced buyers!
* Be unfailingly patient and polite.
These people are running a business. Be a pest and it will be very easy for them to move on without you. Any time there is a customer, step out of the way and let the employee/owner make their customers the priority.
That decency must extend all the way down the aisle of the store, in the checkout lane (when you are buying your sandwich, and yes, do spend money in their store), in the parking lot, in the receiving room, and in your vehicle. When you’re running late on deliveries, it’s tempting to want to screech into the nearest parking space, but in most communities, word gets around fast. Probably endangering the lives of your customers’ children is not a top strategy of your business plan. Be patient instead. I have often helped a customer myself in the aisles of stores I am supplying.
Smile. Say hi.
* Take every natural advantage to market your product.
Of course you are going to offer channel tags, of course your labeling is already professional and eye-catching.
I always wear my company t-shirt when I deliver. By the time I leave a delivery, everyone around me has seen it, and since it is fun and sparks interest, probably 10 people have noticed it before I go.
Also, when I deliver I always bring extra stickers for the kids. Politely I ask, “Does your son/daughter like stickers?” (remember, parents make decisions about approaching strangers, so don’t offer something directly to a little kid). Since the answer is universally “oh, yes!”, I then offer the little one/s a free sticker. One day a woman was pushing a stroller with a bawling child in it, and as soon as she took the sticker she stopped crying abruptly and I could see the relief on that mother’s face.
If you have something fun you can give away to everyone in your radius, do it. On my first day at King Arthur today, I should have brought stickers to give away to the staff, but I was too shy. Next time.
Lisa Johnson, Y’Ambassador