For some small business owners, seeing their products on national store shelves would be the ultimate dream. A true sign they have made it.
Of course, getting there would be a battle; the journey marked by sacrifice, sleepless nights, rejection and loads of personal investment.
It’s not a quest every business survives. There are, however, a few things entrepreneurs can create or do to have better success.
Products that are on-trend have a good chance at making it to store shelves, whether it’s a sought-after type of clothing or something technology-based, says James Miller, Florida Retail Federation’s communications director. Problem-solving items can be even more reliable.
“If you can produce something that makes people’s lives easier in some way, shape or form, or works with businesses, it can be sold any time of year,” Miller says.
Small business owners should also meet with local organizations that can help them hone expansion plans and connect with buyers. The Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University—which helps businesses form a competitive edge in their respective markets—is one such example.
While these are good places to start, there is no one-size-fits-all success method for getting from point A to point B. However, we sat down with a few local businesses who have found success in the mass retail world to see how they did it, what challenges occurred along the way, and what lessons can be learned from them.
Building up Buttercup
Company: Betsy’s Best
Top executives: Betsy Opyt, Ron Nordmann
Products made: Gourmet nut and seed butters
Products sold nationally: Peanut, cashew, almond, and sunflower seed butter
Sold in these stores: Kroger, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, Albertsons and more
How they did it: Betsy Opyt, president and CEO of Betsy’s Best, says the brand’s butters are “love at first bite,” but the Fort Lauderdale-based Whole Foods buyer she met with in 2015 did not even try it before offering her a state- wide rollout in Florida (23 stores at the time).
Opyt asked him why.
“I don’t need to,” he said. “You have the packaging right, your story is tremendous, you worked with a developer and designer, and you’re a dietician. It’s going to sell itself.”
The story behind the boldly labeled butters was certainly there. Betsy’s Best began with a booth at the Shoppes at Vanderbilt Farmer’s Market. Opyt, a dietician by trade, and Ron Nordmann, chairman of the company, remember selling out of their 200 to 300 jars of butters at the event each time.
Consumer response told the duo they could make it in mass retail, but in order to do it, they needed to expand their team. After meeting with Whole Foods, the two enlisted the help of a co-packer and distributor to feed the masses, plus two consultants—one in the sales industry and one in the marketing industry—to help Opyt call on more stores.
By the end of 2015, Betsy’s Best made it into California-based Bristol Farms and continued growing well into 2016. The brand is now in 27 retailers in 35 states across the U.S.
Challenges: The brand itself was built with health in mind, Opyt says, so there is no sacrificing on sometimes pricier all-natural ingredients to make ends meet quicker.
“So many companies in the food industry, in order to make margins and profits, they com- promise ingredient quality, and source chemicals that will extend shelf life,” Opyt says. “I won’t do that.”
Advice: Opyt says it takes the “four Ps” to grow any product: “Persistence, patience, practice and planning.”
A Sweet Opportunity
Company: Pyure Brands
Founder/CEO: Ben Fleischer
Products made: Organic, non-GMO stevia-based sweetening solutions
Products sold nationally: all-purpose and bakeable blends, liquid sweetener
Sold in these stores: Whole Foods, Wegmans, Walmart, Target and more
Number of stores: 7,500
How they did it: Dissatisfied with the “bitter” taste of stevia products, Ben Fleischer set out to make a more palatable alternative. What he created was the first certified-organic, non-GMO, sugar-free sweetener.
It didn’t take long for the product to pique the interest of natural food store chain Whole Foods.
Pyure scored a national roll-out with Whole Foods with coast-to-coast distribution. “From that point on others came on-board … it was really a domino effect,” Fleischer says.
Challenges: Fleischer developed Pyure when food and beverage companies were seeking healthier sweetening solutions, as few existed in the market. “At the time Splenda was the big artificial sweetener,” Fleischer says. So Fleischer spent a chunk of time educating retailers about stevia and its benefits.
Pyure has had to go up against multi billion-dollar sugar companies, but Fleischer says the business has earned its success by expanding its product line and not compromising the integrity of its ingredients.
“We’ll lead with innovation. We’ll be disruptive in small ways where other companies are trying to be safe,” Fleischer says.
Advice: “Being able to differentiate yourself is imperative,” Fleischer says.
Determination is also key. “You’ve got to be persistent. You’ve got to call the buyers, and you’ve got to work hard and just keep grinding it out,” Fleischer says. “As long as you’re in the space playing, you will get something; if you’re on the sidelines watching, nothing is going to happen.”
Growth that Came Natural
Company: Alikay Naturals
Founder/CEO: Rochelle Graham-Campbell
Headquarters: Fort Myers
Products made: Hair and skin care, bath and body, soy candles
Products sold nationally: Hair care and bath and body lines
Sold in these stores: Target, Sally Beauty Supply, Bed Bath & Beyond, CVS
Number of units shipped: 50 to 60 thousand units per month
How they did it: By the time a broker had introduced Alikay to Target in 2014, the company had already seen success online and with independent buyers. “We were already one of the fastest moving e-commerce online natural beauty brands,” founder Rochelle Graham-Campbell says. They were also in about 120 independent stores.
But Target was a whole new game. In order to meet the company’s demands, Alikay had to increase its production capacity, which meant hiring more staff, purchasing more equipment, and moving from its 1,200-square-foot space to a larger unit.
Graham-Campbell accepted the bare minimum amount of Target stores—107 locations—to “get our footing right, prove ourselves, then ask for more stores.”
As sales increased 33 to 35 percent each year, Graham-Campbell felt comfortable taking on more stores. Today, the brand is in some 1,050 Target locations across the U.S., plus a few additional chains, like Sally Beauty Supply.
Challenges: When Alikay first entered mass retail, Graham-Campbell admits to being swayed by too much outside influence. It ultimately led to a package redesign that did not fit her vision.
When the newly designed products debuted on store shelves, she was so dissatisfied with the end result that she had the items re-released with a few minor changes to their original packaging.
“It worked out great because when customers saw [the original packaging], that’s what they loved. They love us for who we are, and that we’re not necessarily trying to look like every other mainstream brand on shelves.”
Advice: It’s important for entrepreneurs to listen to the opinions of others, Graham- Campbell says, but ultimately trust their own intuition.
Business owners should also refrain from measuring their success with the level of stores they sell to.
A better bet would be to track where the business’s customers are shopping and focus on being the best in that arena, she says.
Something to Wag About
Company: Dogs Love Kale
Founders/CEOs: Paula Savarese and Dawn Ward
Products made: Healthy pet treats
Products sold nationally: 12 crunchy and soft treats
Sold in these stores: Kroger, Wegmans and more
How they did it: Business partners Paula Savarese and Dawn Ward were baking kale chips in the kitchen, when suddenly they noticed their pets going wild over the scent.
Then it dawned on them: What if they could make dog treats with kale baked in?
By late 2013, they had launched their first flavor, Peanutty, with a local retailer. Soon after, they received a call from Bark Box, a subscription dog treat service. They requested 30,000 bags.
“At the time, Paula and I were rolling these things out on a rolling pin and using a cookie cutter,” Ward says. They partnered with a co-packer to help fulfill orders.
New to the pet-food scene, Savarese and Ward routinely visited trade shows to help get their foot in the door. Kale was not yet big on the radar, Ward says, but letting potential clients know about their successful team-up with Bark Box helped spark interest.
In, 2015, Dogs Love Kale landed its first national distributor with Phillips Pet Food & Supplies.
“After that, we had sales reps coming to us wanting to rep the line,” Savarese says.
The brand is now in 2,800 retail stores across the country and sold internationally.
Challenges: Since Dogs Love Kale’s main ingredient—kale—was not widely used in dog treats when the product first launched, “it took a lot of convincing” to get people on board.
In the meantime, Savarese and Ward tried other ways to make their product more appealing: They added more flavors, and Ward took to social media to share real reactions of dogs wagging their tails in approval of the treats.
Advice: The duo says it’s important for business owners to know the market and promote their brands wherever possible. And, of course, having the power to persevere in the face of uncertainty is a must.
“If you just sit around and wait for people to look to you and order your product it’s not going to happen,” Savarese says. “You have to keep going. If you believe in it, it’s going to happen.” GB