Often, if you’re new in your eCommerce business, you’ll start approaching your favourite brands that you want to stock and receive a lot of knock-backs. 

It’s not uncommon to be told things like, ‘we only take brick and mortar stores’, or ‘we aren’t taking on anymore online stores’. 

Sometimes that’s a genuine situation, as brands want to take care of their existing retail stockists and if your online store looks very similar to another one then they might perceive it to be a conflict of interest. Or, they might simply not have manufactured enough stock to be able to supply a new retailer just yet. 

And sometimes it might be something they say to let you down gently if they don’t think you’re a good fit for their brand. And if that’s the case, then listen in as we discuss some strategies for winning them over and approving you as a new stockist.

Basic requirements:

  • Existing web store (ie don’t approach brands without a web presence – a Facebook shop alone will not land you quality brands)
  • Registered business name and ABN, or equivalent business registration details in your country.
  • Ability to pay for product up front, at least to begin with. The brands may extend trading terms later down the track, but they’re usually not available to begin with.

The next thing you need to demonstrate is your point of difference in the marketplace.

  • What is your own retail brand positioning? A clear point of difference in the marketplace compared to other online stores selling the same brand. This one trips a lot of start-up online retailers, as it can be super easy to fall into the trap of copying an existing successful store. But what you really need to do is to work out how you can position your own retail brand differently, otherwise why on earth would a customer buy from you?
    How would you describe the personality of your retail brand? For example – past client that sells baby and kids clothing used to have a mix of brands that were cheaper, more expensive, fun and colourful vs muted and ‘pretty’, and they weren’t really appealing to the same customer.
    Let me tell you a story to illustrate…. 

“Let me tell you a story (don’t all great stories start that way?)

There were 4 blondes who walked into a bar… Haha no that’s not the story we’re telling!

Let me tell you the fairy tale about a group of online stores who sell similar products, with totally different results. Some are raking in the sales and some are struggling to meet their budgets.

There is so much traffic and so much happening on the internet that as a business, you really need to stand out from the rest to encourage customers to stop awhile and check out what you have. And then you have to convince them to buy.

Pretty much every business has the basics happening: quality products, an attractive shopfront (aka website), they’re doing some marketing and good customer service. So why the difference in their sales figures?

Many of the shops jostling for business online check each other out regularly.

Louise checks out Marjorie, who watches Sophie closely, who keeps a close eye on the activities of Kate and Helena. You get the picture.

When one has an influx of orders, the others notice that she is offering free shipping. Of course! Why didn’t they think of that? So they do it too.

Then one has the incredible idea of doing a once-in-a-lifetime sale! “Brilliant!” they all cry. “I must do this for my customers too!”

You can imagine what happened when one of them starts to hustle really hard on social media. They were all onto it quickly and convinced that it would lead to the influx of customers and orders that they had been waiting for. That finally their infamy and success in ecommerce was assured.

But it wasn’t.

None of the strategies was the magic solution they hoped it would be and the traffic continued to flow past on the Information Superhighway. Sometimes someone would slow down to look a little at their products, but they rarely stopped long enough to buy as often as the businesses needed them to.

Sure, with each strategy they gained a few extra orders, but it was often the only time that customer stopped by. “Why?” these businesses lamented at their virtual counters. “Why don’t they come back? I have everything they could want!”

The Louises, the Marjories, the Sophies, the Kates and the Helenas occasionally meet up to network. They are all out of ideas as to how to attract customers from here. They feel like they’ve tried everything, but this is their business – their livelihood – and they are desperate to make it work. 

And, as I’m sure you have guessed, there was a business a little further along the Information Superhighway that offered similar products to these businesses. And their sales were going gangbusters.

Why the difference? Location was certainly not a huge factor.

“Why are customers bypassing us with our free postage, discounts and fab service to shop at Bonnie’s? What is she doing so differently down there?” The businesses were at a loss to explain it, so they dropped by the successful business to observe what was happening.

Customers were browsing and filling their shopping carts in droves. They were lining up to check out. And they were leaving with bags full of products and huge smiles of satisfaction on their faces.

Why weren’t customers doing this in their stores?

The truth is, they assumed that all they needed to do to stand out to their customers was low prices and shouting the loudest on social media. Not to mention, copying what they observed the next person was doing.

They couldn’t have been further from the truth.

So what was going on at Bonnie’s business that was drawing all the customers in?

She knew what they wanted because she had engaged with them and sought their opinions. Then she had used that information to modify the shopfront and streamline her business practices.

She had a plan for her marketing that was targeted to her ideal customer (that’s right! She targeted her ideal, not every single person!)

She invested time in effective strategies that were proven to work.

She offered additional value to her customers that did not devalue or discount her products.

She was accessible to them. She offered her story and her values to them and these resonated with her customers. They had a relationship with her and this kept them coming back to her. They wanted to support her endeavours.

She made their shopping experience exciting and pleasurable. Customers couldn’t wait to shop with Bonnie again!

But then, all this couldn’t be seen by just observing. What Bonnie was doing couldn’t just be grabbed and copied by the Louises, the Marjories, the Sophies, the Kates and the Helenas because it was all so personal to her business.

They could see the effects, but couldn’t put their finger on how it was all happening. Their perception of improving their businesses bottom line was focussed on copycat strategies which only ever resulted in them becoming Brand Bland.

No personality or exciting shopping experiences = no customer experience = not many customers stopping by to buy.

So Bonnie’s business grew and grew and she cemented her store into the fabric of the Information Superhighway, with dedicated, loyal customers who not only came back to her time and time again, but also recommended her business to all their friends.

And the others? Well, they really just hoped for the best. It was all they could do.”

Yes I completely made up that story, but hopefully it gets my point across! You need to work out what it is about your online store that would appeal directly to your ideal customers. Think about the look-and-feel, the tone of voice, the personality of your online store. Go and study ecommerce retail stores like Birdsnest and The Iconic and Stylerunner and Vinomofo and work out how they present their own retail brand, and then take a look at your own industry and try to categorise your competitors, before looking at your own retail brand and deciding what you can do to create a unique brand position for yourself in the marketplace. 

I’ll link to a free download as well – how to identify your own unique selling proposition, which is basically how you position yourself in the marketplace, differently from your competitors. I’ll link to this on the podcast shownotes so you can download a copy of it for yourself.

How to work out the right brands to approach to stock in your store: 

  • Do your research to make sure the brands you want to stock are a great fit for your own customer base
  • Don’t take an ad-hoc approach to this – it’s not just about what’s hot or what some other boutique is stocking. 
  • Figure out who your ideal customer actually is (refer to episode 19 – how to identify your most profitable customer) 
  • What other products and brands does this ideal customer also love to buy? You want to curate the right mix of brands and products that appeals to your ideal customer

What you should be able to demonstrate when you approach a brand:

  • Great customer experience on your website. Basically you need to make sure a potential customer lands on your site and immediately knows what you sell, who its for and how to get it. Over 80% of customers say their experience shopping with you is AS important as the product, and nearly 2 thirds will stop buying from you if the experience was bad. Good customer experience includes the act of browsing your site and shopping – how easy is it to find what they’re looking for and check out? It also includes things like communicating with your customer service, on any channel, receiving and unboxing their order, and then any other interactions they may have with you ongoing. I think a fantastic example of great user experience is Birdsnest.com.au – they have such an easy-to-navigate website, it’s easy to shop, it’s FUN to shop on their as they use great fun language, tone of voice, and show lots of images of the products they sell modeled on women of different ages, sizes, and nationalities.
    An audience ready to buy – this one’s a big one, and I realise this can sometimes feel a bit like “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Do you have an existing email list and regular website traffic that demonstrates you have customers ready to buy? Have you worked on your SEO and can show you have regular traffic coming to your store? Have you cultivated a strong social media following that demonstrates you have an audience ready and willing to buy a new brand from you? Refer to Podcast episode 15, How to build an audience of raving fans with Lou Duggan from Cake to the Rescue.
    If you are getting started from scratch and you have NO website traffic, no email list and no social media followers, start with the Brand Positioning exercise I just went through. You will need to have your online store already designed and ready to go, so you look like a legitimate business that is serious about selling product. Then, come up with a list of brands that you ultimately want to have in your store. Definitely approach them all, but you might want to start with the smaller brands first as they are probably more likely to say yes to anyone who approaches them.
    You might find these products by attending a trade show, or by researching on Instagram or in other stores.
    I would also recommend doing some research into google search terms and seeing what brands customers are searching for the most. If you can land some of the better-known brands that are super popular, and you can work on your SEO for those brand names, then your organic search traffic volumes will increase and your sales overall will go up.
    Also make sure you pay attention, when searching for brands, for the brands that are really aggressive with their own marketing direct-to-consumers. I’ve seen a few big name brands that will release a new collection to stockists and then immediately go on sale themselves, making it really hard for their retailers to actually sell the product at full price, and if their stockists end up having to discount all the time just to keep up with the brand, then they won’t be making a profit and that makes it almost pointless stocking the brand in the first place.
    Before you start approaching brands you want to stock, though, keep listening to the last couple of points I want to make today.
  • Passion for the sorts of products you sell, demonstrated by the kind of content you create on your website, your social media pages, your email marketing. For example, our client The Little Kidz Closet is really passionate about curating a range of unique and creative, educational toys for babies and kids, and she creates content such as play guides and gift guides tailored to different age ranges. Another great example is from an interview I listened to a while back about Stylerunner, who made it their business to become the best possible representative for any brands they stock, and they did this by creating original photography and other content that would showcase the products to the right customers and demonstrate how to use the products to get the best results.
  • How would you become a great custodian for their brand? What marketing strategies would you employ to promote their brand and generate sales?
    This one is an important one, especially if you’re approaching bigger brands that already have several ecommerce stockists.
    In my experience, a lot of small retailers have no idea how to go about marketing the brands they stock. If you can show that you have a plan ready to roll out, to help sell through their products without constant discounting, this will make you look much more attractive as a stockist.
  • Couple more points: if you can show that you’re prepared to invest with a brand, and spend money to stock their range in a deep way, ie stock many lines and sizes from their range and commit to a decent sized order, AND if you can pay up front, you will definitely appeal to a brand.
  • Additionally, if you do have payment terms, like 30 days from receipt of stock, with ANY of your suppliers, make sure you pay them on time or in advance. Brands talk to each other, and if you have a great reputation with other brands you stock as someone who works hard to promote their brand, sells through without frequent discounts, and pays on time, then that reputation will precede you and you’ll find it much easier to land bigger brands down the track. 

Download my free Campaign Planning Guide + Template.

Before we go, don’t forget that we also have a free Facebook group to support this podcast, which is called Rockstar Productpreneur.

I’ll link to it in the show notes, and encourage you to join if you haven’t already.

It’s a group of experts and like-minded peeps who totally understand your dreams!

People who can answer questions, give feedback and provide support.

People who are here to talk you off the ledge if you feel like giving up.

And most importantly, this group is for Productpreneurs who are hell-bent on commercialising their brilliant idea and building up a lucrative, profitable business to sell it to the world!Last but not least – if YOU have a burning question that you’d love to have answered on this Podcast, please email us at hello@productpreneurmarketing.com with the subject line ‘PODCAST QUESTION’.