In conjunction with our application period for our seventh cohort for the District Ventures Accelerator program, we sat down with a major grocery retailer in Western Canada, where he shared his biggest piece of business advice for new entrepreneurs. We interviewed Gary Hughes, one of the Local Business Development Managers for Sobeys West.
YouInc: What kind of research or preparation would you expect a company to do before meeting with you?
Gary Hughes: I would expect them to know as much information about the category as they can. It is important that they know their market and who their competition is. A supplier needs to know what sets them apart from the competition as it is a very competitive marketplace that is continually evolving. They need to be able to keep up with the changing consumer demands and expectations.
YI: What are some of the questions you would ask companies when they are requesting a meeting with you?
GH: Is your product carried by any other retailers? Which retailers? How long has it been there? Does your product meet all labeling requirements? Do you have NFT labeling and UPC? What is your product? How are you able to service our stores? How is your product shipped? What would be my cost? What would be a suggested retail price? What is your capacity for production and delivery?
YI: What are some of the deciding factors when determining to list a new product? Does the product stand out in the category?
GH: What benefits will this item bring to the category? Does this product/company align with Sobeys values and direction? Is your product on trend in the market?
YI: How much focus do you have in growing start-up and new emerging companies as part of your overall strategy?
GH: I think this is key to support and help the small start-up companies as you never know where the next big thing will come from. Consumers are looking for locally-produced items more and more, all the time, so this has been a huge focus for us in recent months to the point we have created teams across the country to focus on working directly with local partners.
YI: How long does it normally take for a retailer to know if the product/item will be successful?
GH: True success is typically realized in 6-12 months. Getting a product into a store is a form of success; however, staying in the store and proving that there is a market for your item, and through the reorders and growth of a product/item, is truly where we start to see the success of these items.
YI: What are the qualities or what typically stands out for the best performing products?
GH: Items that have a great story and that have someone that is willing to share that story is a huge part of what makes an item perform; however, all of this really needs to align with what consumers are looking for in the market. Doing your homework is key to ensure you are capturing what consumers want and filling a gap in a category that might exist today.
YI: What's the average process / timeline from growing from one store/local presence to a national listing?
GH: This timeline can really vary. Some items will never make a national listing while some items just take off and may hit the national listing status within 6-8 months, if everything lines up and there is a need. We review locally listed item sales weekly and really work with our partners to grow with them at a rate that is sustainable for everyone. We never want to put a supplier in a bad situation or create a situation where we are setting up to fail. It is more about taking the time to do things right than rushing to that national listing status.
YI: What are three things a company should know about the overall retail landscape before deciding to partner with a retailer?
GH: 1) Trends. 2) End-to-end costs. 3) Requirements of the retailer. The key is to do your homework and surround yourself with experts that can help guide you along the way.
YI: What are the top reasons companies fail with a retailer?
GH: 1) Lack of follow up and support once a product is listed. 2) The supplier cannot keep commitments of supply/distribution/costs. 3) Integrity - open communication is required from all parties.
About Sobeys Inc.
Proudly Canadian, with headquarters in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Sobeys has been serving the food shopping needs of Canadians since 1907. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Empire Company Limited (TSX: EMP.A), Sobeys owns or franchises approximately 1,500 stores in all 10 provinces under retail banners that include Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, and Lawton’s Drug Stores as well as more than 350 retail fuel locations. Sobeys, its franchisees, and affiliates employ more than 120,000 people. More information on Sobeys Inc. can be found at www.sobeyscorporate.com.