No matter how great your product or service, no business can be successful without customers. But customers don’t just appear – you have to get out and find them. There are lots of ways for small businesses to do that: social media marketing, traditional marketing, and word of mouth are all great tools. However, those all require your customers to come to you. It’s even easier to grow your customer base and get the word out if you can get your products on the shelves in places where people already shop. Make it as easy as possible!
But how can you actually get your products into stores? In some cases, especially with local stores, you can just walk in and ask. For bigger stores, that won’t necessarily do the trick. But it’s still totally doable! For example, check out how Gina Hollingsworth, owner and founder of Southern Okie Gourmet Spreads, got her start with Sam’s Club Road Show!
Learn more about how to build brand awareness and secure the financing you need to grow your business in this recorded webinar with Gina, Sam’s Club supplier Grant Hignight and Small Business Majority:
Getting Your Product in Front of Customers
Getting your products out there in front of potential customers is a big deal – that kind of exposure can really kickstart your growth. Gina Hollingsworth, owner and founder of Southern Okie Gourmet Spreads, got her start with Sam’s Club Road Show. Southern Okie was established in 2013 when Gina started the company right out of her own Oklahoma kitchen.
Southern Okie offers five different flavors of gourmet fruit spreads. Gina came up with the idea for her spreads when she was at her former job. Her employer offered fresh fruit every week and Gina came up with her apple spread recipe to use up the abundance of leftover fruit.
When Gina’s husband’s work took them to Oklahoma, Gina found a market for her product. She signed up as a vendor at a holiday market and made her apple spread. To her surprise, her homemade fresh apple spread sold over 500 jars! Gina then realized that she had a product that people wanted, so she decided to launch her own gourmet spread business.
After Gina put her idea into action, she had to take steps to start a real business. Her next question was, “How do I get my product from my kitchen … to right onto the grocery shelf?”
Why do “Big Box” Stores want Small Business Suppliers?
Today, consumer tastes are changing. People value new and novel options. They also like to be able to support local businesses and more artisanal products, rather than always sticking to mass-produced items. That gives small businesses a strong argument for why a store should carry their products.
Even the biggest retailers are picking up on these trends. For Sam’s Club, that has taken the form of their Road Show Category. Members at Sam’s Club are looking for products that are different from what is currently available in the mass market. Road Shows give Sam’s Club the ability to offer members a constant selection of new items.
The Road Show program creates an opportunity for Sam’s Club to work with small business suppliers to introduce merchandise that is sure to excite its members by creating an event around their product in club locations. The typical event lasts several days and provides special space within a club to feature a supplier’s product.
The model allows local small businesses who couldn’t fulfill a 100,000 Unit PO to get their foot in the door at the warehouse. Sam’s Club gets the benefit of offering novel products to their customers and the small businesses get the benefit of sales and a ton of exposure.
Gina’s Path to Success
Gina knew she had to take steps to establish a real company before she could sell her product in a broader market. Gina first established her company name and logo, then filed her LLC, and finally, trademarked her company name and logo. To learn more about running a business, she enrolled in a bootcamp workshop at a local university called “How to Launch a Food Business in Oklahoma.” In other words, she did her homework. That’s good advice for any kind of business at any stage!
Once Gina received the necessary certification from the FDA, as well as state and local officials, she was ready to take her product to the next level. Gina partnered with two local family-owned businesses for her manufacturing and labeling needs.
Her first opportunity to sell her freshly-branded product was at a craft fair called the Affair of the Heart show in Tulsa. Gina sold over 700 jars of Southern Okie apple spread! Gina recalls that her experience in Tulsa proved to her that there was a market for her unique product. Just like getting into retail stores, putting your product out there at craft shows and local markets can give you great exposure. Just remember to choose shows that fit your business – a farmer’s market is a good choice for artisanal spreads or baked goods but probably not the right move for graphic t-shirts.
Gina expanded her business with regional opportunities in Arkansas, where she first met a rep from Sam’s Club. Gina said the rep stopped by her booth and asked if she’d like to sell her fruit spreads at Sam’s Club. Later, Gina asked the Sam’s Club rep what made her stop at Southern Okie. The rep replied, “Your packaging is very attractive, your story is great, and your passion is just fantastic!” So, Gina built her exposure through a few local craft shows until she drew the attention of an even bigger fish.
According to Gina, Road Show has been a wonderful opportunity for her business. It allows her to set up her booth and sell her product at any Sam’s Club. She says that Road Show “exposes her to Sam’s Club membership, the volume of which is fantastic!” And since the sales are consignment-based, she gets a check every week!
Gina’s recently been able to expand her business with funding through the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA). According to Gina, SUSTA’s “job is to get your product into other parts of the US.” Gina reports that Sam’s Club boosted Southern Okie’s potential sales by 150% in 2016.
Getting the Word Out
To build your business, you need to build your customer base. Of course, that’s easier said than done. You need to get your product out in front of your consumers – make it easy for them to buy! And doing that just takes some leg work. Get out and talk to your local stores about putting your products on their shelves. Hit those local events (block parties, craft shows, and fairs are all good options). And don’t be afraid to aim high! You may just end up with your own spot at Sam’s Club.
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