Behind the Shelf: how to get a product on the shelf

Sep 22, 2016 | Innovation Resources

When you walk up and down the aisles of any store these days it seems like your choices are endless for almost any

product you need to buy. Need a sponge? Scrubby on one side or plain? Ergonomic shape or rectangle? Blue or

Green? Package of 1, 5 or 10? For those shoppers who just need a sponge a simple shopping trip quickly turns into a

decision, for the consumers who love choices the available options in stores today makes them feel like they are getting

exactly what they want.

The fact that so many consumers want more choices is good news for any inventor/entrepreneur who wants to get a

product onto the store shelf. With 1/3 of Americans indicating they have had an idea for a product, who wouldn’t

dream of seeing their product on a big box shelf like Walmart, Target or Home Depot? I know I have with each of my

product ideas. To learn more about what it takes to sell a product to a big box store I talked with Randy Hanson,

Manager of Research and Development at PPG (formerly Homax) who develops products and sells to major retailers

throughout the world.

As we start talking about his experience, which includes over 20 years of marketing and product development work, he

tells me an interesting tidbit he learned at a recent event with 6000 Home Depot store managers, “Did you know a

buyer can receive over 1000 emails a day?” The overflowing inbox is not only a challenge to independent inventors, but

the companies with existing product lines. Randy gave a little chuckle before explaining, “We do millions of dollars in

product with big box stores, but buyers are always changing and just when we think we’ve got it – we have to start over

and build a new relationship.”

In order to get the attention of buyers, it requires the inventor/entrepreneur to get creative in their approach. “Buyers

truly are looking for the next big thing and there is a lack of it.” He continues, “Inventors have an edge because they

think big change, companies tend to do more incremental changes that often aren’t important enough.” So if the idea

is new enough, I asked Randy how to get a buyer to pay attention to it amongst all the other people vying for shelf

space. “Inventors need to remember there is more than one customer. There is the end user and then the customer, if

you are selling a product to a store buyer they are your customer.” He goes on to explain how to talk to the buyers,

“Make it easy for them, how is this product the right decision for them? Clearly explain your product and what makes it

different than what’s already out there.”

In addition to thinking about the buyer, the inventor/entrepreneur needs to think about the end user. This means they

need to consider the marketing strategy early. Randy explains, “Too often ideas are not vetted out on the marketing

side and it’s important to approach it from a marketing perspective.” He suggested that inventors really need to think

about their packaging and what it says about their product. “What would happen if they put their product out on a curb-

because that’s like the shelf space- how is someone going to see it and understand it? The product packaging has to

speak for itself, because in the store no one else will.”

Before we finish our conversation Randy takes the time to remind me why it is important to not take any setbacks

personally. “Meetings get cancelled or rescheduled all the time. We’ve flown across the country only to have a meeting

cancelled. That is going to happen and inventors need to be prepared for it.”


This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.

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