For many manufacturers, one of the earliest markers of success is their products hitting retail shelves. Unfortunately achieving this is not as straightforward as many would hope and for people who have up until that point been devoting all of their focus and energies on manufacturing, the sudden and unexpected difficulty may appear more challenging than it is. Whether you manufacture foodstuffs or grow fresh produce, getting on store shelves is not that difficult. Compiled here is advice for anyone who wishes for their product to be carried by supermarkets.

Differentiate your products

One of the best ways of improving the chances of your product being accepted by a retailer is differentiating it from what the store is already selling. It would be quite difficult to convince a store to carry your product when it already has the same product from a supplier whom they have grown to trust. You must, therefore, find a way to set your product apart from what the other suppliers are offering—be it through the packaging, branding, look, quantity or price.

Pitch in person

Calls, letters, emails, filling in forms and using other prescribed channels are all fine ways of trying to get a retailer’s attention but to improve your chances you have to pitch your product in person. Visit as many of the stores which you want to carry your product as possible and drop off samples. Try to set up meetings with decision-makers, specifically those who make procurement decisions. I say “try” because most of these people are notoriously elusive.

Cold call and email

Look for the email addresses and phone numbers of retailers on websites and online listings. Call and email as many of these with your proposal as possible. Instead of immediately launching into a sales pitch, you can use such publicly available contact details to enquire about the procedures for getting your product on that store’s shelves, who to talk to and so on. Just remember that it is not only the success rate which is low when using this approach but the likelihood of getting a mere response itself.

Attend trade shows

You can also win over retailers by gaining more exposure in an environment designed specifically for this purpose. You can attend trade shows like ZITF either as a brand or an individual. Besides promoting your brand you also get a chance to the network which will serve you well regardless of your success (or lack therein of) in wooing retail bosses.

Start small

Everyone wants their product to be carried by the two-letter retail giants (TM and OK) but you can start with their smaller counterparts and maybe get a little bit of practice and experience along the way. To begin with, smaller retail chains have less intricate organizational structures. As a brand just starting (and with your relative lack of experience) you don’t want to get entangled in all the red tape that comes with bigger organizations. These stores will also be less sympathetic to your lack of knowledge of how their systems work.

Pitch local

Instead of travelling to a retail chain’s headquarters, you can start with pitching to the manager at your nearest branch. These people are more accessible than their superiors and if you are lucky, some chains give their lower managers the power to do some of the sourcing for their branches. At the very least if you manage to win him/her over, the local manager can then advice or refer you upwards.

Reach out to buyers and distributors

Bigger supermarket chains have departments whose role is specifically that of sourcing stock. Reach out to people who work in such departments; platforms like Linkedln are handy for this purpose.

Reach out to gatekeepers

Secretaries, P.As and receptionists may be low on the totem pole of an organisation but if you are desperately trying to gain access to their superiors, they hold massive amounts of power over you. Everyone wants to become Facebook friends with the manager of company XYZ but few ever seem to figure out that one of the easiest ways of improving the chances of that happening is reaching out to her receptionist. Even if you may not get a face introduction you can still gain a wealth of information from such gatekeepers.

Offer attractive deals

Retailers love products with high-profit margins, those that move fast and those that take up minimum space. A product like that is an easier sale, so when your product has any of these qualities, do not hesitate to point it out during your pitch.

Reach out and sell yourself

At the end of the day, there is no one correct way of doing this; sometimes a little bit of clumsiness is inevitable and maybe even necessary. For instance, you can research the appropriate points of contact and then reach out and sell yourself using any channel which you think will work like a phone, email, Facebook, Twitter etc.

Be persistent

In business persistence pays dividends. Keep trying, if you fail with one store move to the next or better still, try again. Don’t pout and give up because that one decision-maker you are looking for is always “busy”. When they say they’ll think about it or they’ll get back to you, reach out with a reminder once or twice (or even more).