Pitching Large Retailers – Is It Worth It?

Pitching any retailer, large or small, takes time, energy, strategy, preparation and, as you all know, money. So when it comes to larger retailers versus brick and mortar, independent retailers, would it be fair to say that there is more of each of these things involved? In a word – yes.

Many wholesalers dream of the day Target or Bloomingdale’s will want to carry their line. In fact, many only pitch and sell to the smaller retailers to use as a stepping ladder to get to the big dogs. Unfortunately, this strategy isn’t always effective. It takes more than a handful of independent retail stores carrying your product to get a meeting with a large retailer. Here’s the catch – you may have no retailers under your belt and they might see you OR you might have a hundred on your account list and they still won’t see you. Each product and each retailer need to  align themselves up right on track to make a good match, and often this takes years of effort with no full proof strategy as to how to get there.

Are you tired yet? If you are in it for the long haul, stay awake and keeping trying. But be ready for a lot of obstacles that most small retailers don’t throw your way. This includes:

[tweetmeme]1. Vendor agreements. Forget about the contract you give to your indie stores… Large retailers have their own rules, terms, deadlines and more that often exceed twenty pages in detail. If you can’t meet each of their outlined demands, the deal is usually off before it even gets started.

2. Extended payment terms. COD? No way. Payment when the order is made? Forget about it. Most large retailers will pay their vendors anywhere from 30 to 90 days out, on average. If you need this money to get your production started, that’s your problem – not theirs. So be prepared to front some money if that huge order you have dreamed of is finally place.

3. Charge backs. So your dream came true and a large retailer bought your product. Yeah! But what happens if your product doesn’t sell? Be prepared  for a request of money to “charge back” what isn’t selling. Retailers have different terms to identify this, but essentially they are asking for money to make up for what didn’t sell.

4. Advertising dollars. Want to make the cover of a Nordstrom catalog? Definitely! Then again… you might have to pay for that. Not all advertising in a retailer’s promotional ads, catalogs and TV spots come for free. They may even write it into your vendor contract that you have to pay them a certain amount for advertising with no guarantee of how your product will be featured.

5. Warehouse and shipping details. A whole new understanding of deadlines will open up to you here. Retailers will want very specific dates on shipping as well as very specific details on how things will be packaged and shipped. This may mean a whole new way of doing things for you.

6. People, people and more people.Do you love the relationships you have with your small retailers? That small town, friendly “hi, how are you” type relationship? Forget about it. While buyers of large retailers are certainly nice people, they are also very busy and have numbers to crunch all day long. After all, they work for corporate America. Be prepared for buyers to call you once or twice, then get prepared for associates, anaylsts, marketing execs and more to be hounding you.

7. Insurance. Have it? For most retailers, you’ll need to if you don’t. It’s all part of their vendor contract.

8. Travel. Unless you are lucky enough to live close to the large retailer you are trying to pitch, it’s possible you may have to travel to see them. A face to face meeting is exciting and essential to build a partnership, but it costs a lot of money. Are you prepared for this overhead? Make sure you plan for future travel to visit your key retailers, as well. This all adds up!

9. In store marketing. Have you thought about this at all? Hope so – because your retailers may ask you. Do you have point of purchase displays (POP)? Do you need them? How about hang tags? Depending on your product, your target retailer may have specific requests as to what you need for them to help market your product in the store.

10. Passion. Unless you are truly dedicated to your product, your dream and often working twenty hour days, then large retailers may not be for you. But once you get there and stay there, it can be a dream come true! Just know that not everyone gets there and survives. It can crush your business financially if you have only dedicated your time towards large retailers and then realized the small guys are valuable, too. Stay strong, stay dedicated and stay passionate to succeed.

Finally, be realistic with yourself and your pitch. Are you truly prepared? There is nothing worse than landing a phone call or meeting and then realizing you weren’t ready. Make sure you are comfortabe with the hurdles  they will give you before you dive in. But if you are ready for that swim, swim hard and swim long. The end result can be amazing – just don’t forget the indenpendent retailers along the way!


  • lara
    May 10, 2010

    Great article! I was so excited when QVC decided they wanted to sell my product, and they operate much like a large retail store. One of the other things I was not prepared for was how many of my small retailers would leave when they heard QVC was now selling the product. I discovered quickly the small retailers don’t like it when you take your product to big retailers!

  • Anna
    May 11, 2010

    I had my jewelry line in a catalog and I was constantly asked for large discounts. Overall the experience was great for branding.

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