Lindsay Stephenson had one foot out the door for a family vacation when she got her first email from Indigo saying they’d like to place an order.
“The date they wanted it happened to be when we were on vacation at the cottage,” says the entrepreneur, who creates and sells art prints under The Penny Paper Co. moniker. “I said yes, there was absolutely no problem, I could fill it. That’s my philosophy—you don’t say no, you can’t say no to these opportunities.”
Over the course of her vacation, Stephenson trekked back and forth between her cottage and Toronto to put together the massive order. The effort paid off. Today, Stephenson’s prints are available in massive retailers like HomeSense and Indigo.
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The success of The Penny Paper Co. is testament to the evolving nature of retail. E-commerce platforms like Etsy and eBay have made it easier for savvy entrepreneurs—lifestyle brands especially—to take a bite out of major retailer’s sales. But big box companies like West Elm, Indigo, HomeSense and Urban Outfitters are turning the proliferation of entrepreneurial ventures to their advantage, collaborating and stocking bespoke products from niche brands.
Getting your product on the shelves of a major retailer requires careful planning and execution. Here are three key steps you need to take.
Look the part
When Stephenson launched The Penny Paper Co. a decade ago she received a valuable piece of advice: people purchase from who they know.
“I started building an online presence through my blog,” she says. The platform helped her connect with her e-commerce customers and gave them insight into her process. What she couldn’t know was that the company’s online presence via social media would lead HomeSense to her work. The retailer eventually connected her to the art-publishing house they buy from.
Having a well-designed website and packaging is key for wooing big box retailers according to Stacey Davis of Lovefresh. Davis started her all-natural skin care line out of her kitchen, and her revolving staff of 10 produces products that are sold at Indigo and Urban Outfitters.
“At some point you have to invest in (your branding) in order to get into those stores,” says Davis. “They have a bunch of product lines to choose from and if you’re not up to their standards there’s no way they’re even going look at you.”
Find an in
Stephenson admits she has a bit of an obsession with Indigo. So when it came time to pitching them on her prints, she had already grasped the company’s brand essence.
“I found the category buyers for the home decor section on LinkedIn, and I reached out and asked them if I could send some samples,” she says. Although she didn’t hear back, she did some creative googling to find their contact information and sent along some prints. While it may not be the best approach for someone with cumbersome or large products, Stephenson says sending a small sample doesn’t hurt.
Davis took a different approach, taking her product to Pistachio, the now-defunct Indigo giftware offshoot.
“I didn’t know at the time that Indigo owned Pistachio but I sold a ton of product to them,” she says. “That became my cue to say, You know what I did really well at Pistachio, let me try Indigo.'”
Aiming higher paid off. “They looked at the numbers and [said], Let’s give it a whirl.’ That first order put me in all the stores across Canada,” Davis says.
Davis points out that big box stores often have high turnover rate for buyers. “I think it’s important to know [that] it’s not the person you’re pitching to, it’s the company,” she says.
Make it easy to work with you
Having the necessary staff to step in on large orders and the infrastructure to deal with any kinks in the ordering process will improve your odds of successfuly courting a big company. “The last thing they want to deal with is a vendor who has a lot of questions or can’t fulfill an order in time,” says Stephenson.
Lovefresh leverages warehouse space, storing batches of product to replenish orders at some of the larger retailers it deals with. There’s a bit of overhead but it’s the cost of doing business with the big players.
Davis says small businesses should use their agility to their advantage, pivoting to meet the needs of retailers. “If a big retailer is approaching us for a big order we just have to make sure we’re in a position to flip that switch and say everything is on hold let’s get going on this order,'” she says.
Stephenson echoes that sentiment. “Don’t create hassles for the company,” she says. “Be true to you style but be very respectful of other people and their time regardless of what their role is in the process.”
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Do you supply a big-box retailer? How did you land the company as a client? Share your experiences using the comments section below.