If your invention is done, functional, and ready for sale, congratulations! You have reached a plateau that few inventors ever see with their own eyes – a finished product that is destined for store shelves. But now, it’s crunch time. You want to be in stores 30 days from now. What do you do to prepare? That is the focus of today’s article.
If you want to sell in stores, there is a rule you need to know front to back, inside and out: “Show me the inventory.” That is the mindset of buyers and managers at nearly any store worth selling in. A BeadingTimes.com article called “Selling to Stores” explores the issue further:
“Forget catalogs – store owners want to see the merchandise. Your sales will increase if you approach them with samples in your hands. Sales will increase even more if you have inventory to leave with them at that moment. While some stores will pay cash for their merchandise, most prefer terms of thirty days net.”
What this means in practical terms is that you had better have the capacity to create and store inventory. This is no small issue, and it should command your full attention if you are even thinking about getting into stores. Do you need to hire people to help you? Do you need to rent storage space to keep a certain number of units on hand? Do you have enough room in your house? (Make sure your wife and kids are on board before saying yes, it only creates problems later if you don’t!) The point is that keeping inventory will be a necessity for getting into (and staying in) stores. Do not approach the matter lightly.
Another consideration is that you probably cannot get your invention into huge, big-name department stores right away. An Entreprenuer.com article called “Selling Your Invention” explains the more likely reality:
“Unless you’re very lucky or very connected, you probably won’t launch your product directly into mass-market retail stores like Target or Wal-Mart. Instead, there’s a product sales lifecycle you should follow that basically takes you from the ground up, allowing you to build sales in a smart, methodical fashion, starting with small independent retailers and moving up to the big guns.”
Instead of staking everything on the ill-premised hope of “Wal-Mart or bust”, the article outlines a more reliable and time-tested approach to getting – and staying – into stores.
o Start by selling directly to end-users. This’ll give you confidence in selling and create “referenceable” customers. You can also get their feedback on the product and packaging to make improvements before expanding your sales efforts.
o Once you’ve ironed out your product and packaging wrinkles, begin selling to local independent specialty stores and online stores. For instance, if you’ve designed a line of greeting cards, approach your local gift shops. Become successful with these retailers, and you’ll have the leverage and negotiating chops to go on to the next level.
If you take this kind of approach, getting into stores within 30 days becomes a realistic goal. However, you must still make sure that the invention itself is prepared for the store environment. Primarily, this is a matter of packaging. This should not be overlooked either, because packaging can add both weight and cost to your product. If it weighs more, it is more expensive to ship. And if the packaging itself costs a lot of money, that gets added to your costs as well, making your break-even point higher.
For this reason, it makes sense to use as little packaging and excess as you can get away with. Early on, cash is king, and you cannot afford to squander it on grandiose packaging that does nothing but make your invention seem big and flashy.
If you have figured out the answers to your inventory questions, set realistic goals for your in-store launch, and square away the matter of your packaging; you are just about ready to get your invention into stores.
What remains is a solid and easy-to-use system of keeping records. Once you start selling in stores, you will encounter a whole new series of record keeping issues relating to taxes, receipts, inventory statements, sales records, and all kinds of other paperwork. Without a reliable way to keep track of all this, your life will be considerably more difficult.
Therefore, you should invest the time to create one before your invention hits the shelves. That way you establish habits of organization before things spiral out of control and leave you in a mess of random papers.
If you do not have the capacity to get your product store ready yourself, you may want to consider licensing or selling your patent to an entrepreneur, retailer, or manufacturer who does.
With all of these matters taken care of, you will be better positioned to push for store shelves. Remember the strategy: avoid big stores at first, and build your track record at smaller outlets. It is a recipe for success that has been tried and battle-tested.
Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of IdeaBuyer.com, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.