How We Pitched A National Retail Chain—And Landed On Store Shelves

Getting a “yes” from buyers at the Sam’s Club’s “30 Minutes to Win It” event was just a first step in a long series of steps to building...

My sales director and I traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas earlier this year to pitch to Sam’s Club. We were invited to the Sam’s Club’s “30 Minutes to Win It” event, a way for small vendors to get in front of some of the most important buyers in the world, when buyers stopped by our booth at CES.

 

Glimpse Into Their World

So, I bought and read Sam Walton’s paperback autobiography during the trip. Visiting the Walmart museum downtown and reading the book helped me get a glimpse of why they are the largest retailer worldwide. It showed me the retailer’s point of view, from inventory turn to streamlining logistics.

Prior to the event, we started to fill out routine paperwork for all Walmart and Sam’s Club products, since they share some of the back-end logistics (e.g., vendor numbers and set-up forms).

The first night, Sam’s Club hosted everyone in a large auditorium to teach us the Sam’s Club philosophy, what to expect the next day and how to participate in the Sam’s Club cheer. Then we attended a networking event to talk further with buyers in our category. It was valuable time to cement faces with names for both buyers and vendors.

 

Do Your Homework

The next morning, we were scheduled for an 11 a.m. pitch presentation. Eight people were in the room, including some higher-ups. It was pretty low key, but they asked hard questions about competition, pricing and how we would bring value to their customers. They clearly did their homework.

They knew the breadth of the category, the specifics of the products and how the items might fit into their stores. They just wanted to see the product in person and check out the people behind the brand. They kept all of the samples we brought.

Sam’s Club implemented this event as a quick, systematic way of evaluating, educating and bringing on new vendors of all sizes. They promised to make a quick decision during the pitch, and they did. At the end of the half hour, they accepted our product.

These four strategies contributed greatly to our success:

 

  1. Focus on quality.

    Buyers are impressed primarily with the quality of your product. Even if you don’t have a nationally known brand name, a differentiated, quality product with a good price point and strong packaging can carry you a long way.

    We created our product using the best materials with strict manufacturing processes. We then designed high-end packaging to show it off. The care that we took in every step of the process showed, and the buyers could tell.

  2. Set yourself apart.

    Being prepared to defend our product against the competition was also crucial. This doesn’t mean simply addressing the superiority of our product features and benefits.

    You should be able to explain that you have a manufacturer’s warranty, a trained customer service department, fulfillment from the U.S. (rather than overseas) and a marketing staff that can work with the buyer to optimize in-store presentation. If there are any issues, you also need to take responsibility to help fix problems. You can’t just drop products into the store and walk away. It’s about teamwork.

  3. Show up when it counts.

    As the CEO, I don’t go out on a lot of sales calls. I have a lot of other responsibilities. But the fact that I showed up to make the presentation probably also reflected well upon our organization’s dedication to working closely with Sam’s Club. In fact, it’s the largest single sale we’ve made to date. So yes, it was worth my time to attend.

  4. Present the value proposition.

    Perhaps the most important point is being able to present the value proposition to the buying team. The value proposition is meant for the consumer, not necessarily for Sam’s Club. But any retailer’s customers are king — it’s who they answer to.

    I was able to present my well-worn Sam’s Club membership card to prove that I know their customer, because I am one. So, while they negotiated hard with us on the numbers, they were just trying to increase value proposition for their customer. Understanding that, you can be prepared to speak their language when you present your pitch and your numbers. Since we aren’t a nationally recognized brand, we have limited clout. We added value, took a price cut and sealed the deal.

Getting a “yes” at the Sam’s Club’s “30 Minutes to Win It” event was just a first step in a long series of steps. There were forms to fill out, computer hurdles, design processes, repackaging and numerous other investments to be made before the product reaches the stores.

Sam’s was a top priority throughout our organization, so we fast-tracked everything through every department. Even our vendors were eager to push our project forward, since they were excited for us.

With this work, our products will be in stores later this year, five months after the initial “yes.”

 

This article has been edited and condensed.

Dr. Wei-Shin Lai is the inventor of SleepPhones and RunPhones brand headphones, which help people live happier and healthier lives. Connect with @weishin on Twitter.

 

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