Do you remember those posters where you are asked to find Waldo hidden amongst thousands of other cartoon characters? That is your product in a retail grocery store.
Last week I had the chance to walk a few stores with an industry friend who is trying to expand the distribution of his brand. We stood in the middle of an aisle that had cliff-like shelves running down both sides of an expansive span of polished concrete. It felt like the grocery version of the Grand Canyon. It was overwhelming.
I paused and asked him, “Tell me, if I was unfamiliar with your brand or its products, how would I discover them here in this aisle?” I’ve written about the fact that getting on the shelf is the battle, but getting off it the war. Distribution without discovery is deadly. It remains the most repeated mistake made by young Natural Product brands.
As a founder, you need to prioritize discovery over distribution. Assess the fit of every new opportunity for retail expansion by asking these simple questions:
1. How are my products going to be discovered?
2. What can be done to drive trial?
Discovery is both an investment and a partnership. When you launch into new retail outlets, you must be prepared to invest in driving awareness and trial. This investment can be in many forms; social media, trade spend, events, demos, and more. It is also a partnership, and this is something often overlooked. The retailers hold some responsibility for discovery, and you should only work with those who understand that it is a shared objective.
Most retailers have tools that aid in discovery. These include merchandising opportunities such as end caps, secondary placements, and impulse fixtures. They also include digital and physical ads and other promotional vehicles. None of these are free, but having access to them is crucial. Part of any negotiation on the rollout of product into stores should include a conversation around these tools and an agreement of which will be used and at what cost. The hope being that the retailer discounts some of these weapons to help stack the deck in favor of a successful launch.
Here is where discipline comes into the equation. If you are confronted with the opportunity to expand into a retailer that either does not offer you access to these tools or prices you out of them, say no thank you. I understand that might not be easy. It may be a retailer that you want, one that follows a review schedule that will require you to wait another year to try again. However, until the brand is ubiquitous, you don’t want to go into any new distribution without having every possible arrow in your quiver to help create discovery and drive trial. It is just not a risk worth taking.
Retail expansion is alluring. It is hard not to get caught in its tractor beam. However, again, distribution without discovery is deadly. It is all but sure to increase your burn rate, decrease your average velocity, and put your brand at risk. Don’t bet your brand’s future on the consumers’ ability to find Waldo.