You’ve put in the work, and you managed to secure yourself a meeting with a large retailer, you’ve celebrated this milestone, but now you’re not quite sure of what to do next.
In this post, Catherine from The Resilient Retail Club and I answer the most common questions from both the sale and the buying side to help you prepare for your wholesale pitch meeting.
BEFORE THE MEETING
What do I need to prepare before the meeting?
T: Establish what season the buyer is buying for; large retailers buy several months before the products hit the stores.
Make sure that all your sales materials are up to date; this will include your catalogue, line-sheets or price-list and print them in full colour if you don’t have a professionally printed brochure. If you have any new lines launching in the next few months, make sure to include them too if they are relevant to the season you’re pitching for. I always have a duplicate copy for myself as I find it difficult to make detailed notes while presenting, having this allows me to mark the product the buyer is showing interest in.
Prepare your samples, if you have a broad range of big and bulky items you don’t have to bring every single product. I bring an in-flight sized trolley bag, and I pack it carefully so that the catalogues and sales materials are the first things out of the bag and then the products I will be showing first.
As a little thank you for the buyer’s time, I always bring some treats, cupcakes or doughnuts and they always go down well and are a nice little ice-breaker if you’re nervous.
C: Remember that the people you are meeting will be incredibly busy so make sure that you are on time.
If you’ve got a slot in their diary, it might be the only one they have free all day, so if you’re late, don’t expect that they’ll be able to fit you in. Do a trial run if necessary, so that you don’t get lost – often head offices have doorways tucked away in back streets, so it’s worth finding out exactly where you are going first!
On the other hand, be patient if you have to wait to meet with them – head offices are often hectic, and you never know what kind of emergency might spring up on the day that could keep your meeting from running on time.
What research should I do before a wholesale pitch meeting?
T: If possible, visit the store, visualise where your products could sit. Think about what product is going to be the most relevant to the retailer, what colours would work the best, how they might display them.
Spend some time on the retailer’s website, read articles about their business, check how many stores they have, what other similar brands they stock, think about how your products offer a point of difference and how they would sit alongside your competition. Consider who their customers are and how this fits in with your customer profile. Note how they price their ranges, are they rounded up to the pound £10, to 99p or 50p? You might not use any of this directly in the meeting, but it will help you feel prepared and confident, and it will show that you’ve done your research before the meeting.
C: This is key – make sure that you have an excellent understanding of what their product handwriting is like. Think of which of your products are most likely to appeal to them, and lead with those.
Do your research – but be genuine as well. I once worked for a clothing retailer, and someone who was pitching to us turned up in head to toe clothing from that company – shoes, jewellery and bag included! It was half flattering, half over the top.
Everyone enjoys a compliment, but they’ll feel it if you are insincere or excessive.
Another good idea is to understand who will be in the meeting with you. You may get a list of attendees from the buyer beforehand on a meeting invite, so if you get just a name but no job title, try looking them up on LinkedIn so you can get a sense of their job role.
As well as the buyers, they may bring along a member of the merchandising team. These are the people who manage the budget, so even if you won’t be working with them directly on the orders, it’s worth making friends with them too!
Similarly, always treat the junior members of the team with respect – they handle all of the admin and paperwork, and they are the gatekeepers for the whole organisation. Being polite and respectful to these members of the team is not only the decent thing to do, but it also makes excellent business sense too!
What questions might come up in the meeting?
T: Pricing and what discount you can offer, especially if they buy in bulk. Before you quote any firm price, consider asking the below:
What sort of quantities would they be interested in?
How often do they re-order?
Can they provide a sales forecast? (this would help you plan out your workflow but remember that a forecast is not a firm order)
What are their trading terms? Large retailers often ask/demand longer credit terms.
Do they have any special requirements such as labelling and nominated carriers? Often this is costly, especially for a small business so either ask before you provide any pricing or quote subject to you having gone through their supplier manual.
Do they take any settlement discount? Often 5-7% but some fashion chains ask for over 16%, it’s important you know this before you quote any prices.
You also need be clear on your lead-times, your production capacity and your minimum order should be your carriage paid value or higher (most large retailers do not accept mixed carton deliveries and will order by the outer carton size) as most large retailers will expect you to cover this cost.
C: When a big retailer is looking to work with a new brand, they will want to feel comfortable that you can meet their demands.
Be clear about what you can achieve, and never over-promise. Be realistic about what you can produce and in what time frame. Retailers often have to wait up to 6 months for Far East production and shipping, so don’t be afraid to quote them your most pessimistic lead time. It is far better to tell them it will be four months for delivery and be ready in three months than the other way around. Nothing will sour the relationship with a retailer quicker than you making promises that you can’t deliver.
They should be able to provide you with a document known as a supplier manual that will give you a vast amount of detail on their packaging and labelling requirements, as well as any samples they require for photography and testing.
Also think about whether you would be prepared to offer them exclusivity on a particular product (in other words, agree that you will not provide it to another retailer). You can also think about whether or not you can offer collaborations – exclusive products that you develop especially for that retailer.
Get a sense of where they are planning to send you products. Do they see it more as a flagship/top store range which would be smaller quantities, or would they consider sending it to more stores? What would you suggest if you were in their shoes? Is your product more niche or could it go everywhere?
What should I wear to the meeting?!
T: This depends on the retailer; fashion buyers are often more casual than the John Lewis buying team for example. Look at how the shop-floor team dresses as it will give you a good idea of their dress code. If you’re unsure, a dress with a cardigan or smart jacket will always work.
If you make any accessories or are a fashion brand wear your products and make sure they stand out.
C: It does depend on the brand you are visiting. Just be aware that head offices often have either ferocious air conditioning or none at all, so it’s worth having a layer you can take on or off.
Probably as important as what you will wear is that your look is both professional and pulled together in the same way that you would for an interview.
DURING THE MEETING
Do's & Don'ts at the meeting
T: Don’t unpack all the samples at once, you will lose control of the flow of the meeting, and the buyers will grab things that they find appealing, and you might miss your chance to present your bestsellers.
Do, ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers. I find meetings, where I lead the conversations by asking questions but do less of the talking, are more successful than if I waffle on about the products for too long.
Don’t agree to anything you don’t feel comfortable with even if you’re put under pressure. you can always say that you will check and come back.
C: Buyers have well-honed commercial instincts, and they are often very clear about what they do and don’t like. They see hundreds, if not thousands of products every week, so will very quickly be able to identify what they are interested in for their business.
Don’t spend a lot of time talking about your competitors or the market for your product – if you meet a notebook buyer, for example; they will know pretty much everything there is to know about notebooks, including who your competitors are and the marketplace.
Do not attempt to change their minds when they express an opinion about your product. Even if you are convinced it will sell in their stores, if they don’t agree then you will only alienate them by insisting that it sells everywhere else.
That said, they will look to you to understand how your product is selling in general and what your best sellers have been. They like to know what is new and exciting – like everyone else; they are looking for the next big thing.
Don’t be afraid to guide them through your range, but if they aren’t reacting to something, best to move on.
What should I expect at the meeting?
T: Most meetings are either 30 or 60 minutes, and they are not what you see in Dragons Den. They are much more casual, and generally, you will sit around a table and have a two-way conversation about your product range.
I begin with a few minutes of casual conversation before moving on to a few points about the brand; its story, key selling points and what sort of customers the brand appeal to before moving on to showing the product range.
I always plan out in advance the order I will be presenting in. Be intuitive and listen to the buyer, if they are not interested in a product move on to the next. Keep the meeting moving forward and ask for feedback throughout.
Ask if they have any questions and when they are likely to reach decisions. Make sure to thank them for their time and summarise if there are any samples you will be sending etc.
C: The meeting will typically take place in a conference room which could be any size from tiny to quite big, depending on what is free!
Don’t be alarmed if the buyer disappears off halfway through to grab someone else to come in and take a look; this is often a good sign. If they like your products, they may want to show them to a more senior buyer to get their buy-in.
The meeting will be informal, and possibly a little chaotic, so don’t let that throw you off! Relax, be yourself and who knows, it might even be fun!
AFTER THE MEETING
What happens after the meeting?
T: Follow up within 1-2 days and thank the buyer for their time, including a summary of agreements during the meeting and any complementary information you promised. If there’s any information you will be provided later, provide a timeline and list what information you’re expecting from the buyer.
C: Being polite and proactive go a long way with buying teams.
As Therese has already outlined, if you’ve promised to send them something, make sure that you do and that you include all the information in one email, bullet-pointed. Make it as easy and as simple as possible for them.
What should I do if I haven't heard back?
T: If you hadn’t heard back when you were supposed to, send an email to chase, or phone the buyer. Selection meetings can be moved, so it’s not uncommon to not hear back right away. Be persistent, if you got this far you are too close to let it go just because it’s uncomfortable to send an email or pick up the phone.
C: Buyers receive hundreds of emails a day, so if you don’t get any response from your emails, it’s worth calling them.
Although there is every reason to believe that a positive meeting with a retailer could lead to an order, don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t happen on this occasion. The fact that you got as far as meeting with them is a massive vote of confidence in your products.
There are hundreds of reasons why a buyer might not place an order with you – from budget constraints to another department covering off a similar product, to the retailer deciding to change direction entirely.
If they do not decide to go ahead with you, there is nothing wrong with asking them for feedback.
Remain positive and stay in touch. Ask if you can come in again when you have your new season range of products and follow up.
Keep nurturing that relationship, and your chances of getting an order from them in the future will be substantially higher.
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