For any aspirational food and drink brand, gaining a national listing signifies a major milestone and credibility to the rest of the market. As much as I’d like to reveal some industry secrets to gaining a national listing for your product, I’m afraid that’s not the case.
We, at Rejuvenation Water, compete in one of the most fiercely competitive markets in the world, the drinks market. The buyers at the big nationals are well aware of the power they have over the fledgeling brands and this is reflected in the way they do business.
We had opportunities to launch with two nationals from the very outset, but the terms that we were offered simply didn’t make commercial sense. I’ve seen many small brands launch with these companies (I can only suspect at the same commercials as we were offered) and needless to say a large proportion have disappeared into the wilderness.
After a year of trading, we were in a much better position to negotiate. Building up over 200 listings gave us the proof of concept buyers require as a prerequisite. We had hard sales figures to show initial traction, growth and consistency of sales. In all of this data, the rate of sale is key. This can be extrapolated to create sales and revenue assumptions for the national retailer.
From launch, it took us over a year to agree our first national listing. I initially met the John Lewis buyer at our soft launch in September 2015. I kept her up to date periodically with our progress as a brand throughout the year. Finally, in December 2016, I was invited to meet the buyer in the Oxford Circus Food Hall. I was informed I’d be getting a listing there and then.
In all of this data, the rate of sale is key.
Our first international listing was very straightforward. Spinneys, one of Dubai’s largest supermarkets, requested samples. They liked them and decided to list all three of our products.
However, even when you agree a listing with a national, fill in all the stringent paperwork and get the promise of an initial order, don’t celebrate just yet. We’ve had a listing with one national for over nine months and they are yet to place one purchase order.
My advice to other startups
As all brands will likely admit, dealing with large retailers isn’t an easy task. The key for us was, and still is, persistency. The trade buyers will in inundated on a daily basis with trade presentations, emails and calls. It’s easy for you and your brand to get lost in this noise.
Know your market and know your buyer’s market. Buyers will usually have to find space on their shelves to fit you in. This means delisting other products. Make sure they know where your product fits in their portfolio.
Also, as part of a commercial proposition, buyers will want a marketing commitment. Be very careful that you don’t over commit here. You’ll end up with a national listing that yields no commercial benefit. This could be fatal to your overall cashflow. Use your sales revenue assumptions to agree a marketing commitment based on a percentage of revenue.
At each stage, leverage your traction and successes to take your business to the next level. Once you get one listing at a major retailer it makes others take note. Use this to your advantage and act quickly. Just because you are on the shelf today, it doesn’t mean you’re going to survive the next category reset. This will also allow you to reduce dependency on one national retailer.