How to Get Retail Ready

How to Get Retail Ready

Castle on a hill

Prepping for the big buyer meeting

You’ve got high-quality products that people love, with good sales through local and independent retailers. You’ve reached a level of scale and operational excellence that enables you to meet those small retailers’ order volumes. And you’ve put in the hard work to create a great opportunity to introduce yourself to a big-box, national retail chain in hopes of securing some large new orders. But you’re not sure if you’re prepared.

There are a lot of open questions on your mind. Is my packaging strong enough? Is my brand memorable? What’s going to make the retail buyer want to stock my products?

In helping small- to medium-sized brands make this giant leap into a large retail space, we’ve learned what to focus on and where to spend the most energy. Short story: Make sure you understand your retail buyer and show them how you’re taking care of their customer. Here are six steps to help you get the most out of your big meeting.

Understand the buyer’s problem

Generally speaking, all buyers are asking the same big question: “If I put this product on my shelves will it sell better and faster than competing products?” Because, at the end of the day, their job is to select and stock items that will provide value to their shoppers and sell fast enough to help their retailer generate good profit.

Beyond this general concern, buyers have a myriad of specific concerns relative to their retailer, or to their department, or even to a specific shelf. You will only succeed with the buyer if you’ve clearly understood their specific needs and can show how your product addresses them.

For example, a buyer could be looking for a food-tribe version of a product (i.e. gluten-free, keto). Or perhaps a competitor’s variety set is too narrow and they want a product that offers more options. And sometimes it’s just about being on-trend, as buyers are constantly seeking to keep their retailer in line with the desires of today’s shoppers.

Understand the ideal target shopper

When your packaging shows that your product is the perfect fit for a specific set of shoppers, it demonstrates that you know who your target shopper is and that you’ve developed your product and packaging to squarely address their needs—ultimately bringing new value to your buyer’s customers.

8-bit wizard

Understanding shopper needs at this level requires human-centered, empathy-driven research. Get out there and talk to your best customers and find out why your product is the perfect fit for them. Go to the buyer’s store, see what the target shelf looks like, and watch how shoppers shop that shelf. Do they quickly select and move on? Do they linger over options? You’ll want to address these kinds of in-the-moment needs on your packaging and you can only do that by observing what those needs are. (See How to Find Your People for more.)

Define your uniques

With a clear understanding of the needs of both buyer and shopper, you’re ready to show yourself off. This is where your packaging starts to do the heavy lifting. Your packaging must clearly and succinctly communicate the unique value(s) that your product brings to the shopper. Defining your uniques is a two-part exercise:

Part One

Do a critical review and self-assessment of your product’s best qualities.
Define which of them are unique in the competitive set. Figure out which of these uniques your packaging should communicate as the special positives that the shopper truly cares about. (See The Fine Art of Being Different for more on identifying your uniques.)

Part Two

Prioritize your uniques in the Stop-Hold-Close framework.
It goes like this… Stop: Your packaging should catch the shopper’s attention so it can communicate the unique characteristics of your product. Hold: Those uniques will hold the shopper’s attention and keep them exploring more with you to confirm that your product truly does meet their needs. Close: This is your chance to communicate the final details that address any other qualities that would move the product from the shopper’s hand to their cart! (See Stop, Hold, Close: How to Win the Aisle for a more complete description of this framework.)

Define your unmatched emotional connection

Guess what: Unless you’ve invented a completely new product, there are already a host of competitors out there selling pretty much the exact same thing. On top of that, there’s already a de facto category leader that dominates the category and defines “the rules”—product claims, marketing channels, etc.—by which all competitors compete.

The harsh reality is that you can’t unseat the category leader by following their prescribed rules. The leader is too big, and they have too much money. But you can compete in new and different dimensions. These must be one or more characteristics which:

  1. 1) Are wholly original to you
  2. 2) Can’t be matched by the category leader
  3. 3) Emotionally connect with your ideal target shopper


To get to the answer, ask yourself: What emotional need does the target shopper have which the category leader is unaware of and fails to meet? How might your product be positioned to deliver on this need and make you the new, fresh, innovative leader in the category?

Figure it out and put it on your packaging in a quick-hitting way using both words and visuals. When you find your unmatched emotional connection, double-down on it because it’s your ticket into big-time retailers.

Do a competitive review

Your competition is using their packaging, positioning, and product claims to battle it out in hopes of capturing shopper attention. Make sure to give your shelf-mates a thorough audit analysis.

Grab one of everything. Line ’em up. See how they compare against each other. What is the market position that each one claims? What is their visual style? How does each use messaging differently or the same when communicating product features/benefits?

8-bit chests

Your goal is to walk the fine line between fitting in enough to feel like you’re a reasonable part of the category while differentiating yourself enough that you capture the shopper’s attention in a fresh way. Put on your tight-rope walking shoes—it’s a tricky balancing act!

Move to pro

Finally, if you’re trying to get onto the shelves of major retailers, it’s time to move from amateur to pro. It’s time to move past that moment where people pick up your product and think, “Yeah, that’s a mom-and-pop brand.”

We’ll say this now so that you’re not surprised by it later: This is the part of the process where it’s gonna get a little uncomfortable for you. You’re extremely, ridiculously, weirdly close to your brand, and every nuance of your product packaging. This is because you are the one who made the decisions that got your brand to the place where you’ve booked a meeting with the buyer. Congrats!

But now, it’s time to grow…

There are a number of “sacred cows” in your brand and packaging that need to be sacrificed on the altar of truly addressing buyer and shopper needs. Things you’ve always done and always said, but don’t really hold up when reviewed under the bright shining lights in the major retailer’s store.

This is something to address with a trusted branding and design partner. Find a partner who understands you, wants what’s best for your success, and has the creative skills and track record to make you look like a serious pro when you finally have that moment you’ve worked so hard for. Find the team that will help you get ready to proudly and confidently sit in front of the buyer and show off the best possible version of your brand.

8-bit man and castle

We truly want you to be prepared for your big meeting, to completely WOW the buyer, and to have great success in your brand’s journey to the big-time. Like the success we’ve seen helping a beverage company secure a nationwide travel contract or helping an upstart pizza brand launch in the biggest retailer in the world. An opportunity to impress buyers at the next level doesn’t come around all the time. We hope you use these tools to make sure you make the most of this one.