We recently sat down with Laura Incognito, Founder and Owner of Little Tucker, where she shared with us the lessons she’s learned throughout her journey as an entrepreneur and the advice she’d give to new entrepreneurs. Little Tucker's plant-powered energy balls are the perfect on-the-go snack, breakfast alternative, 4 o’clock pick me up, and pre or post exercise mouthful.
YouInc: What are the top three greatest lessons you learned when getting into retail?
Laura Incognito: I’ve definitely learnt a lot but I would say my top 3 are; establishing good relationships with your retailers and training their staff well, getting them to love your product so that they can act as mini sales reps within stores, and getting product onto shelves is only a third of the battle. Finding ways to get it off the shelf is what you need to be putting most of your energy into. Lastly, you need to put the time into building a brand that people love, recognize and trust before throwing it out into the mainstream market.
YI: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to approach retailers?
LI: I would tell them to just completely be themselves, and to be able to pitch their product quickly and effectively. Retailers have so many people come through their doors pitching their products, and often you only get to spend 10 minutes with them to persuade them on why they should carry your line.
Start by being personable and telling the retailer the story behind your brand. This allows them to get a sense of who you are, because the person behind the product is often the most important thing. They want to know that the person running the show can do so successfully.
You need to put the time into building a brand that people love, recognize and trust.
If it’s a big retailer, I often do a little homework before approaching them, by finding out which locations of theirs my consumers want to be able to find my product. Social media can be a huge help for this. This way, I can target these specific locations, and let them know I have customers who want to come into their store to buy the product so that the retailer knows that I have already begun creating the demand for them.
They want to be able to know that the product is going to move, and if you’re already telling them that people are asking for it, it’s usually an easier sell.
Also spend some time walking around the store and getting to know their layout before meeting, so that you can suggest to them where you think the product would do well. The more questions you can answer for them without them asking, the less work you are creating for them.
And lastly, just know your product well. They will ask you about prices, margins, promotions and deals, so just ensure you are able to quickly have these answers for them.
YI: What are some things to keep in mind for a beneficial company-retailer relationship?
LI: I always try to be their first point of contact when introducing the brand. This is a little easier when first starting out because you most likely don’t have a broker, so all contact comes from you. However, if you do have a broker, try and be at a lot of the first meetings so you can be there to pitch your product. That way you're not just another brand in a broker’s catalogue, but the retailer can put a face to the name.
The person behind the product is often the most important thing.
After that, I always make sure I check in every once in a while to see if they need any support, whether it be a demo, a change in merchandising, or even going into the store with an order sheet and just saying “Hey, I noticed your stock is a little low - is there an order I can get going for you?”.
There is nothing wrong with going into a store a few times a year and checking on how everything is looking and checking in with the grocery manager. I always make sure I go in and introduce myself and give them my direct contact details for if they ever need it. Bringing a couple of samples with you for staff to enjoy never hurts either.
YI: How is selling in grocery retail different than selling at farmers markets or independent retailers?
LI: In some ways, I find it a lot easier, but don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely different. I’ve found that with smaller, independent retailers, they rely on you a lot more for support. Often, you deal with these accounts directly, so it’s up to you to ensure they are stocked, they are re-ordering, the product looks good on shelves.
You must establish and maintain a much closer relationship, because independents really do rely on their local suppliers a lot. However, with larger retailers, a lot of this is out of your hands and they have systems implemented to ensure that shelves are never sitting empty. With my product in particular, I am finding I am having to push to get my product off shelves a lot more within grocery, because it is a fairly specialized product that has now been opened up to a mainstream market.
It’s a lot different than the moms that go to the Farmers Market to walk around for a few hours and talk to the makers, or the local organic grocery store once every two weeks to buy specialized items, you are now dealing with consumers who are busy and don’t take their time wandering around the grocery store looking for new local items, so you have to make sure your product stands out in a very large sea of similar products.
YI: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs when doing demos in retailers? Why are demos so important?
LI: For my brand, demos are vital. I would say that if you have a product that is a little different, needs consumer education, or is a little higher priced, then you absolutely need to be doing demos.
You need to put yourself in the consumers shoes - if there is a new product on shelves that you are interested in, but is higher priced than the brand you usually buy, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable making that purchase if a) you have tried it and know you will like it and b) meet the team behind the brand and get to know their story a little?
If you can’t be the one physically demoing the product (which I highly suggest you try do), then make sure you hire staff who will do a great job. Train them well, make sure they are passionate and energetic, equip them with the right tools to be able to answer any questions that consumers may have, but most importantly, make sure they know and care about your brand at least a quarter of the amount that you do.
No-one will ever do as good of a job of selling your product as you can, but at least find someone who genuinely loves the product so that it’s an easier sell for them.