OTS 174 | Retail Buyer


Many retailers get too excited in bringing their products in front of buyers only to have that conversation not go well. While having that initial talk with buyers can be exciting, it is important not to dive headfirst but instead prepare. In this episode, Timothy Bush is back to take us deep into the ways we should be approaching buyers. He lays down the three things you can do before, during your communication, and after the direct communication with the buyer has ended. You’ll be surprised and satisfied with the way he connects companies and their products with these crucial tips. Join him in this conversation and understand how to make that retail buyer meeting successful.

Listen to the podcast here:

What To Do Before, During & After A Retail Buyer Meeting

I can’t believe how long it’s been since we spoke to each other. I’ve had some people reach out to me saying, “Are you still doing the show?” I hadn’t even looked at how long it’s been in. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s been a long time. We’ve been jam-packed with a couple of things. Quick catch up on what’s going on at TLB Consulting and On The Shelf. Our VIP Group is off the charts. The information that we’re talking about that’s relevant to what’s going on. Real retail deals that are happening now are what I share with the VIP Group. I always take out the actual product and portions of the names to protect the innocent, as far as the verbiage that buyers use, the emails that they send, the things that they ask for, problems that come up and issues that arise.

Somebody just entering into this selling your products into retail, an email that would seem to that type of person, devastating, end of life, everything’s over. I was able to break that email down with the group and show them, “It’s not the greatest email, but it’s not by any means end of life. Things aren’t going off the rails because we were prepared.” They already knew that because we’d been talking about getting prepared for a long time. If you’re not part of the VIP Group, go to the website, TLBConsulting.com, scroll down on the first page to VIP Group, and click on that. It would be well worth it. If you’re interested in checking it out and seeing what it’s all about, all you have to do is email me. I’ll send you the link. We meet every single week. You can come and join us for one of our sessions to see the type of stuff we talk about and how it is before you jump in. We will be happy to have you come in and join.

Along with that, we’re onboarding clients onto Walmart, QVC, Best Buy, Home Depot, Do it Best, Costco, Kroger, Mid-States Distributing, DAS Distributing. We have so much going on. The big thought out there is, “The pandemic and COVID. Things are falling.” Retail is booming. This is the best time to push yourself forward. Get yourself to that next step. Don’t think, “I’m still going to wait and see how things shake out.” Things are shaking out. You do not want to be buried underneath as things shake out. You want to be on top of it and make sure that you’re getting in front of buyers, showing them your product, talking about how it’s irrelevant, and how you can bring them to increase sales.

First and foremost, let me apologize that it’s been so long but there are two things that exist in my show. One is I have to have something relevant to say. Otherwise, I’m not just going to fill up this time that you come, and you spend with me with irrelevant content to do that so that I remain consistent. That was a promise I made to myself, “Make sure that the content is relevant and that I have something to say.” Two, my clients always come first. The things that I’m doing in TLB Consulting always come first. Things have been busy there. I’ve added that third element, the VIP Group, which we focus on a lot. It’s a great group of people. I feel like in that group specifically, we’re making a difference because these people are learning something that you can’t learn anywhere else.

You can’t spend time with anybody that’s going to say, “I just got this email.” I put it out in the group. I show them what the buyer is saying and we talk about that. There have been times that during the actual group, I receive an email from a Costco buyer or another buyer. We put that up on the screen and talk through it. This is something you can’t learn. These people are going to be so much farther ahead when they’re in the nitty-gritty of working with buyers. They’re going to be that much further ahead with regard to how they can approach, what they understand, their understanding and knowledge of what the buyer is asking for. I’m proud of that group. It’s been taking up some time.

Most buyers cannot buy anything on the spot. They are fact-finding. Click To Tweet

We’re onboarding a lot with retailers. I’ve been doing some work internationally, at least by Zoom. That’s also been taking up some time. I had a great time talking to about 180 Brazilian companies via Zoom and about 240 companies from the UK. We did a Zoom training, and that’s been super rewarding. You’re all caught up with what’s been going on with us. I’ve worked from home for many years with TLB Consulting. Being sequestered at home during COVID is not a big deal for me, not a big change. Nothing I had to get used to. My daughter is a competitive skater. Can you believe it? She’s out of high school. She graduated a year early from high school. Since the grade of seven, she went to an online academy because of the travel that we had to do for skating.

All these people who are dealing with being home and having kids going on online school, we’ve been there, and done that. There’s not a lot of changes for us as far as how our lifestyle goes. We did have to make some significant changes because we’re the caregiver of my wife’s mother. We have to be extra cautious on our own for the things that we might bring into her environment. I’m glad to see the vaccine getting out there. I’m glad to see people feeling a little bit more comfortable, a little light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not over by any means. It’s not going away by any means but just the light at the end of the tunnel is nice. It doesn’t hurt.

I think people have had the wrong first goal. When suppliers think about taking their products to retail, the very first thing they think about is, “I got to get myself in front of a buyer. How do I reach buyers? How do I talk to retailers? How do I get in front of a buyer, talk to a buyer, email a buyer, communicate with the buyer?” That’s their goal. They go to trade shows, ECRM, and contact the retailer directly. They come to people like me at TLB Consulting. This is what they want to do. They want to get into retail. They think the first thing they need to do is talk to a buyer. More and more I’m realizing that’s not the first thing.

That’s not even close to the first thing. I know it seems like it would be because it’s like moving forward. If I talk to a buyer, I’m making progress. I’m showing them my product. They’re going to be excited and going to place an order, or probably not. I’ve put together three main things that you can do in the whole aspect of approaching buyers, three things that you can do before, during your communication with the buyer, and after the direct communication with the buyer has ended. These are assuming that we have a meeting, a phone call, a Zoom meeting as far as our communication goes. That’s what everybody’s wanting.

“I want to get myself and my product in front of a buyer because magic is going to happen and it’s going to be a great thing. Over and over again, I talked to people that are disillusioned. They’ve had that meeting and it hasn’t gone well.” They haven’t had any contact with the buyer after. They still haven’t sold their product, or the buyer is asking for things and they don’t know what to do, so things are on hold. That’s what I’m talking about. We need to be prepared to see the buyer, then we need to be prepared to talk to the buyer, and then we need to be prepared for what comes after we talked to the buyer. Those things are more important. That preparation is more important than talking to the buyer. I know sometimes we don’t think that, “Get me in front of the buyer, and it’s all going to be good.” It’s not all going to be good. They have a limited amount of time, and you got to be prepared.

OTS 174 | Retail Buyer
Retail Buyer: Retailers think the first thing they need to do is talk to a buyer when it’s not.


Let’s go through these nine things. This isn’t all-encompassing. This isn’t everything that you need to know by any stretch of the imagination, but I had to cut it down to three things that I think are relevant in your prep, during and after. I’m happy to have a discussion with you to come into the VIP Group as a guest of mine. Let’s talk about some of these things and hash some of these things out. I’m happy to do that. In the meantime, I’m going to put those out here on the show, and I appreciate your feedback.

Before: Gain Interest, Not Sale

Number one, before you go, and you talk to a buyer, before you reach out to a buyer, I want you to ask yourself this one question, “What is it that you want out of this connection?” Not like in the long-term, but when you talk to, communicate with on the phone, via Zoom or in person. When you communicate with this buyer, “What is it that you want to leave that meeting with?” I can already hear it rolling around in your head. You’re saying to me, “I want to come away with an order. I want to do some business. I want them to buy my product.”

First and foremost, that cannot be your number one want, because if it is 90%, 95%, 99% of the time, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to think you did something wrong. You’re going to think there’s something wrong with your pitch, with your product, with your campaign to go to retail, because they didn’t buy from you. Most buyers cannot buy anything on the spot. They are fact-finding for when they are going to make changes in that planogram or in that category. They’re going to bring in new products or going to get rid of old products.

They are in the process of looking at products. Nobody’s going to see a product from a major retailer and go, “Let’s do that. Let me whip you out a PO now.” That’s not how they work. If your goal going into that meeting is to get that, then you will subconsciously push further than you should, say things that you shouldn’t, agree to things that you don’t know to try to accomplish this goal that you’ve set for yourself because you think that goal is out there. What you will do is agree to things that you shouldn’t have, you’ll say things that you shouldn’t have, and they still won’t give you a commitment right there, but those things are now out there, that quote that you gave them thinking that it could seal the deal is now your quote.

It causes you to do things that you shouldn’t or don’t want to do. I would submit to you for your consideration that instead of wanting to get a sale, you want to gain interest in your product. Interest is what changes everything. Nothing else matters. No question that the buyer asks you, no roadblock that they throw up in front of you matters if they don’t have an interest. Interest seems like a far cry from selling but it’s not. It’s the beginning of your collaboration because that’s what selling into retail is. It’s not closed the deal. You’re not selling speakers in the parking lot here. You’re asking this retailer to onboard you as a vendor, and then create a program, and sell your products for you to their customers that they spend millions of dollars curating and bringing into their stores.

Interest is what changes everything. Nothing else matters. Click To Tweet

Interest is the beginning of that collaboration that could end in them buying your product. There is some selling. You’re talking about your product, but in the end, once they agree that they have interest, you metaphorically move around to their side of the table, and now your buddies. You’re trying to figure out, “How are we going to get this thing done?” Not, “Are we going to get it done?” Instead of saying to yourself, “My goal is to sell something,” you say, “My goal is to create or get the buyer interested in my product, so that was going forward, I can move from selling to collaboration.”

Before: Collaboration

Number two, are you ready? Let’s say you move into interest and then collaboration, and the trip from collaboration to them wanting to onboard you is quicker than you thought. Let’s say it’s 1, 2, 3 weeks. Are you ready to start that process? Can you afford to produce the product that will be needed? Do you know how to get funding if you don’t have the cash? Are you ready to be flexible? Are you ready to change your packaging? Are you ready to do a test? Is your logistics solid? Is your factory solid? I’ve been working with some companies that thought their factories were ready, but when it came down to producing 20,000 or 30,000 unit order, there were some problems. The last place you want to figure out that there are issues is while you’re trying to produce this first PO for this retailer. Are you ready for that retailer to say yes?

Before: Meeting Requirements

Lastly, do you understand the general requirements of this channel of retail? If you’ve never talked to this retailer before, you may not know their specific requirements that will be made known to you in their vendor agreement. Do you know the general requirements of doing business in big-box retail, club store retail, drug store retail or grocery? If you do know those requirements, can you meet those? One big thing that comes up, again and again, is as simple as product liability insurance. Do you have it? Is it enough coverage to meet the requirements of most of the retailers out there? $2 million per occurrence and $4 million aggregate is going to get you to buy most of the retailers unless you have a children’s product. It will be more then. Do you have a $1 million policy that’s $1 million across the board? It’s not going to be good enough. Do you even have product liability insurance? Have you even gotten a quote for it? It doesn’t take long. Once you get a quote for product liability insurance and you’re working with somebody, once you pull the trigger, you can be covered in a matter of days. It doesn’t take that long.

If you’re not selling a product anywhere, then you’re probably not going to be talking to big-box retail anyway, but if you’re selling a product online on Amazon, on your own website, you should have some product liability insurance. It only takes one claim to wipe you out. Do you know the requirements? Those three things are not all-encompassing, but there are three key things I want you to consider. One, “Do you know what you want?” Two, “Are you ready?” Three, “Do you know what the requirements are or the basics of the requirements?” Let’s say that all the answers to all those questions are yes. You move forward, you connect with the buyer, you set a meeting. What are the three things I want you to consider during your meeting with the buyer, Zoom, phone call, in-person, trade show?

During: Sales Story

Number one, what is your sales story? Some of you may have heard me talk about sales story. It’s a term. I didn’t create the words sale and story. I probably didn’t even create the term sales story, but in terms of how I use it. I did create that. It’s not the story of you and your product, and how you came to be. It’s the story of the progression of sales of your product. That’s your sales story. A sales story is what allows you to be in front of the buyer right then? It’s your road to success. It’s like your badge of honor. These are the things that your product is done. Let me give you a quick example of a sales story. I conceived my product in 2016. We launched it on our own website and on Amazon in 2017. For the next two years, we saw we’re going to be crazier, 200% month over month growth over two-year period of time.

OTS 174 | Retail Buyer
Retail Buyer: Interest is the beginning of a collaboration that could end in buyers buying your product.


During: Specialty Retail

From there, we decided to move it into specialty retail. By specialty, I’m talking about independent retailers, very small retailers. We started introducing it. We’re now in about 200 independent retailers, and our reorder rate, the amount of times that they sell through a product and want more is about 70%. We felt that was a good number. We started to go into bigger retailers, some regional retailers, big-box retailers, over 10,000 square feet that have ten locations or more. We’ve also had great success there with over 50% reorder rate. That’s what’s landed me on your doorstep, Mr. Target buyer, Ms. Costco buyer. Without all that, why are you there? It’s because you want them to take a chance on you? You want them to put their job on the line for your product? That’s not going to happen.

If you have your product on Amazon, then let’s start getting it into some specialty retailers, some regional retailers. Unless you’re a celebrity people, there’s no shortcut. Nobody is going to discover your product waiting in line. You’re not Chevy Chase. Nobody is going to discover you in line at the movies and say, “Let’s put that on the front shelves of Target.” You have to have a systematic progression of sales to be saying, “That’s why I’m here in front of you.” If you have that, you all of a sudden become far more interesting to that buyer than, “I’ve been on Amazon. We’re doing good on Amazon. I’m doing good on my website.” Is that enough for me to onboard you?

Let’s tangent for a second and talk about onboarding. A lot of times that seems like this simple thing, “We’re onboarding with this retail,” I mentioned that we’re onboarding with 6 or 7 retailers for our clients at one time. Let’s take Walmart for instance. We’ve been onboarding with Walmart for 90 days. It has been this long process getting into their system, getting the SKU and the PDQ set up. We’re now to the stage where we’re about to cut POs, and the buyer has said, “We’ll talk to this person about cutting the POs.” That person emailed me right before I jumped on to start this show and said, “This is the first time I’m hearing this.” Now I feel like we’re going to have to backtrack a little bit. It’s been over 90 days.

Onboarding onto a big retailer is no easy task. It’s no small thing. They’re going to invest as much time, effort, money into getting you onboard as you are going to be on board. They don’t just do it lightly. They’re all like, “Let’s do this and see how it goes. Let’s wing it and see what happens.” They want to see that you’ve progressively moved up and your product has progressively had success. That’s why you’re talking to them. That’s tangible while you’re talking to them. “What’s your sales story? Number one, what sets your product apart? I know we talked about this a gazillion times. What are the uniques? What sets your product apart?”

All I want to talk to you about and for your consideration in this whole thing is to make sure that you separate features from uniques, features from what sets your product apart, features are something your product does or is. Uniques are something that it does differently than anybody else or most of the competitors. Generally, when I asked my client when they first come on board, I’ll say, “Send me five uniques about your product.” What I get is four features and one unique. If you want to know what’s truly unique about your product, look at your reviews. Your customers know what truly sets your product apart. That’s why they buy it.

A sales story is what allows you to be in front of the buyer. It’s your road to success. Click To Tweet

During: Next Steps

Lastly, “What are the next steps?” In this meeting, you’re going to want to talk through your sales story. “This is why we’re here, Mr. or Ms. Buyer.” You’re going to want to talk about your product. What sets it apart? “This is why you should purchase my product.” In the end, you’re going to want to know, what’s next. Are there more things to talk about during the meeting? Absolutely, but we’re not going to cover those now. This is a key part that a lot of people miss. I’ve sat in on hundreds of meetings with clients, consulting clients, and listened to the pitch to retail buyers. The one thing that they don’t do a lot of the time is at the end say something like, “On my end, I’m going to go ahead and send you those samples. I’m going to get that pricing over to you, but can you tell me what is next on your end? What should I expect next from you guys?”

It’s important that you ask this question because it sets up your expectation for what’s coming. A lot of times, you’re going to think if you don’t ask that question, and this has never discussed, you’re going to think that they have nothing else to do when they get back to their office or when the meeting ends, but catered to you. They’re going to be waiting with bated breath to get the info that you send them in. As soon as they get it, they’re going to review it, evaluate it, and they’re going to get right back to you. That’s not how it’s going to happen. They’re doing the same thing with hundreds of people. The more organized you are and the more you can respond to them, great, but you should ask them, “What can I expect?”

Maybe what they are going to tell you is, “First and foremost, I’m off to China next week. I’m going to be there for two weeks visiting some factories. When I get back, I’m going to have to catch up. You’re probably not going to hear from me for about six weeks.” That might disappoint you, but don’t let it. That’s a great thing for them to let you in on what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what you can expect. Does that mean that you don’t communicate with them for six weeks? No. That means you still get them the things that you wanted to get them, get them the samples, keep them informed of where you are.

The last thing you can do is, “Is it possible for us to get a meeting on the books for seven weeks from now?” They give you a week to get back. Check out this, check on a product, pricing and all of that, “Can we get something scheduled now?” Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t, but always ask for it. Get on the books right now. You ask them what’s next and what you can expect from them. When they tell you, try to set that meeting right then. It’s so much easier to set it right then, have them look at their calendar, then try to get that going over the phone or through email.

After: Prompt Follow Up

During, what’s your sales story? What sets your product apart? What are each unique? Lastly, what can you expect next? After the meeting, these are not all-encompassing, I’m just picking out three things, prompt follow-up is number one. If you said you’re going to do something by a certain date, do it. Don’t let that go by. It’s going to be an indication of what kind of partner you’re going to be. You’re either going to be a partner that’s on time. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on time, meet their deadlines or they do the things that they said they were going to do. All that matters is you do the things that you said you’re going to do.

OTS 174 | Retail Buyer
Retail Buyer: If you want to know what’s truly unique about your product, go look at your reviews. Your customers know what truly sets your product apart. That’s why they buy it.


After: Answer All Questions

Number two, answer all the questions that they had that you didn’t know the answer to. If you said you were going to find out something, you didn’t know the answer, you didn’t know how many nanometers it was or millimeters, does it fit, does it harm plants, whatever it is that you might not have known, don’t guess in the meeting. Follow up and make sure you answer any outstanding questions. Lastly, always be providing further insight into the category and into your product. As things in your product change, as things that you notice about the category, don’t hesitate to drop the buyer an email in-between saying, “I want to let you know that it looks like this particular fabric that we make our product with is being all gobbled up to make N95 masks.”

After: Provide Further Insights

This is a true story. I had a client that had a product that some of the material that they made the product out of got gobbled up in China by the government to move into making N95 masks. We immediately let our retailers know, “I want to let you know, this is a situation going on right now. We’ll keep your abreast of it.” If you notice that there’s an increase in the category or things are shifting in the category. Anything that you tell them should be, in some way, favorable to your product, but don’t be afraid to send them little insights. Buyers need that.

They can’t constantly be up-to-date on everything. It’d be like a doctor knowing every single cutting-edge technology that’s coming online every single moment, at the same time that they’re taking care of hundreds of patients. They can’t possibly. They can either take care of their patients and know a little or not take care of their patients and know a lot. They’re not a researcher. They’re in the middle of caring for people. Buyers are a lot like that. They’re in the midst of bringing on a product, caring for product, doing promotions, driving sales. They can’t possibly know every industry trend, but if you let them know, that will be helpful to them.

There are some things that you can do before, during, and then also after your meeting. Don’t get yourself in a meeting with a buyer if you’re not ready. Don’t get yourself in a meeting with a buyer if you have zero sales story. Don’t get yourself in a meeting with the buyer if you don’t even know the basics of the requirements of the channel of the retailer that you’re talking to because you’re going to get surprised. You’re going to agree to things that you shouldn’t. I know it’s not all-inclusive. There are hundreds of things that we could talk about, but I wanted to break it down into three things for your consideration. Think about those things and ponder on those things. Ponder is a word. Nobody’s using it anymore. Ponder means to think. I told my daughter, “In order for you to ponder something, you’re going to have to set your phone down, concentrate, and think about these things.” It’s rare these days to see anybody setting aside some time to think without emails, pings, and all this stuff going off in the background. Take some time to think about that.

If you have questions, contact us, we’re happy to help. It’s good to talk to you again. I hope the information is relevant. I want to make sure that when I’m coming to you, it’s for a reason and I have something to say. I’m not going to promise this because I don’t want to promise something I can’t deliver on, but I wanted you guys to be aware that I am going to do a little bit of a series that’s going to become more basic. There are going to be a couple of episodes coming up that are dedicated to people that are just starting in the journey.

It may seem a bit repetitive but I started this show in 2015. I realized over the years that we’re at a place right now where I feel like I’m talking to people that are in retail, going to retail, we’re talking strategies. I understand also based on some feedback that people are finding the show that are just starting the journey and getting going. Therefore, we need also to address some of those needs. If I put out an episode in the future that’s too basic for you, do me a favor. Instead of not reading it or thinking that it’s a waste of your time, comment on it and talk about it.

Maybe talk about your experience in what we’re talking about. When I say basic, we’re going to talk through certain types of fixtures. “What’s an end cap, what’s a side cap, what’s a clip strip, what’s a base shelf, what’s a peg hook, what’s pegboard? How do all those things factor into your product and how it’s going to look or be merchandised on a shelf? What’s a buyer? What’s an assistant buyer? What’s an inventory control specialist? What’s a buyer deck? What’s a sell sheet? What’s a line sheet? What’s a wholesale line sheet?” All these things that you need to have and need to know, we’re going to start getting a little bit back to the basics. I’ll try to pepper them in so that it’s not a long series of back to the basic. I’ll pepper them with some other things.

I appreciate your indulgence in that. For those of you who just found us and you’re getting started, your comments, suggestions and feedback are going to be crucial to the content that we’ll put out going forward. Come find us on Facebook. We have a private group on Facebook called, On The Shelf Now. You can come and join that. We’re happy to have you there. You can find us on our website, TLBConsulting.com, and see all that’s available to you in your efforts to get your products on the shelves of retailers. You can email me at Tim@TLBConsulting.com or Tim@OnTheShelfNow.com. Either one, will get right to me.

It’s been great to spend some time with you. I hope that your journey through 2020 has been, I won’t say, a good one. I know that we’ve all had our challenges, but I hope that you’re persevering. I hope that you’re becoming stronger and more resilient. I hope that you’ve used this time to sharpen your saw, become smarter and more valuable. If you had downtime because you couldn’t work, I hope that you read and started to learn to make yourself more valuable. You took this time to get to know the people in your family again, and spent some quality time doing things that you can only do when you’re stuck together, playing games, cards, watching shows, bingeing this and some a real good family time.

There are enough negative things out there that are COVID-related, that are politically related. My hope for you guys is that you’ve been able to take this time, opportunity, business, and in some way, make it better for yourself. In some way, set yourself up to be a rocketship going forward. That’s my hope for you. I look forward to our next show. When that will be? I can’t tell you. I’ll to try to be a little bit more consistent, but I got to have something to say. Until that time, I look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, I look for the seeing your products on the shelf.

Important Links:

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the On The Shelf community today: