Webinar: Getting Your Certified Product to Store Shelves
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) helps to connect LGBT business owners with corporations, retailers, and other buyers that are looking to source their products or services from diverse suppliers. But just what does that process look like, and how do LGBT suppliers get their products on the shelves of stores like Walgreens and Target? These were among some of the questions that moderators Sabrina Kent, Senior Vice President at NGLCC, and Alicia Greene, Director of Supplier Diversity at NGLCC, asked panelists during our Webinar Wednesday programming on August 5. Panelists included Andrew Lee, Founder & CEO of Certified LGBTBE® OTIS Dental, Ben Conard, Founder & CEO of Certified LGBTBE® Five North Chocolate, Lee Zalben, President & CEO of Certified LGBTBE® Peanut Butter & Co., and Jessica Lozano-Williams, Director of Supplier Diversity at Target. Here are several major takeaways from their dynamic conversation.
1. What does the corporate process for identifying potential goods for stores look like?
According to Jessica, Target’s process for identifying potential suppliers and goods for store shelves is very buyer-centric. Guest insight data is a valuable tool in determining what products go on the shelves and which come off. Corporations must determine what exactly their customers want and what their shopping habits are during this process. As for products, they look for suppliers with new and innovative goods. Suppliers are sourced from industry shows, SDI shows, and expos across the country. LGBT suppliers - be sure to keep an eye out for these! It could be your chance to end up on the shelves of Target. Certifying organizations like the NGLCC help corporations like Target to identify which suppliers are diverse. After selecting a supplier, research is conducted on their brand and product.
2. What are some of the largest changes suppliers have had to make to pivot to in-store sales?
Andrew of OTIS Dental cited packaging changes as one of the largest shifts his company had to make when they were first selected to be on the shelves of Walgreens. He had initially packaged products in a container “Birchbox-style,” but then moved to a more commercial approach for Walgreens. He said that adapting to the retail community meant making sure they knew his product existed on the shelves.
“Retail is a different beast you have to tackle,” he said.
Aside from changing his packaging, Andrew also cited a change in the cost to make his product, as well as gaining new experience in getting the adjusted supply chain working. Similarly, Lee of Peanut Butter & Co. cited price as the biggest change for him as a startup business. He explained that it is important to understand retail pricing theory and how expenses may shift during the move to retail before even walking in the door to meet with anyone. Ben of Five North Chocolate focused on the significance of having a good understanding of his own margins and pricing and being malleable with them, as different retailers operate in different ways, which in turn affects price points.
Jessica emphasized that large retail companies may not always be the best starting point for suppliers, as retailers may demand a price for the product that is below what companies require to meet their financial needs. A good match with a retailer is one where the agreed price point is a win-win for both entities.
3. What were the earliest meetings about getting your products in stores like?
For Andrew, his earliest meetings with retailers involved a series of meetings he had to travel for at different stages in the process. Through this process, he expressed appreciation for the support he received from thorough category managers that aided him. Especially with the high volume of travel, Andrew emphasized that this stage of the process is about how badly you want it - a serious amount of effort can be required to get your products on store shelves.
Ben took a different route, choosing to focus on the initial pitch meetings to a potential customer. He said he brought too many chocolate samples to the meeting, leaving the representative a bit overwhelmed with his product.
“Less is always more,” he said for the pitches.
4. How can suppliers stay on the shelves and continue to connect with potential buyers?
Jessica discussed the fact that anything going onto the shelf meant that something else would have to leave the shelf. With this perspective in mind, it’s important for suppliers to know what makes their brand and product special and different. This is especially true when suppliers are already on the shelves - can they stay there? The panel agreed that it’s much harder to stay on the shelves once you already have your foot in the door. Shelf space is gold, and making sure products continue to sell over time is crucial to maintaining that valuable spot.
As for continuing to talk with retailers in the future, the panel discussed using the NGLCC network to its fullest to connect with SDI representatives and corporations. Aside from the formal network, which is visible in events like matchmaker programs, Sip and Pitch, and more, the panelists showed a strong appreciation for the informal NGLCC network. The NGLCC family has connected a vast array of LGBT professionals from all over the nation, which in turn can help to ink new shelf deals down the line! Remember that the supplier diversity representatives you meet through the NGLCC network are your advocates and can help you as an LGBT business owner understand points of entry to retail companies.