By John Styring, Co-Founder and CEO, IglooBooks

Getting your first break and building a strong relationship with the supermarkets takes hard work and more than a little planning.

One of the best achievements in business is that first deal with a large buyer. When we started IglooBooks in 2003, we were a handful of people sat in a small room with a dream. Our company has since grown enormously and it goes without saying that getting our product into the mass market has helped us get to do that. As a retail business, the supermarkets and other mass market retailers can open doors to enormous business opportunities and help make fast growth a reality.

It’s no secret that getting your product into a supermarket can take time, perseverance and a lot of attention to detail. It can take months to even get hold of the person you need to speak to - let alone convince them your product is right for them.

In the early days, when IglooBooks was a smaller company, it was often hard to persuade major retailers that we had something unique to offer. To break into the supermarkets and achieve mass distribution, you have to first demonstrate to buyers that your product will sell.

One Shot

To start with, you have to have a unique product to offer the supermarket buyers. If you don't, no amount of persistence and effort will work. As a business, make sure you have a USP – something that makes you stand out from your competitors. Your product has to have its own identity in order to jump off the shelves but more than that it has to meet the quality standards that customers expect supermarkets to deliver.

At IglooBooks, quality is one of the core principles that underpin everything we do. This means that our products - our books - have to meet our own very high standards and quality checks. The supermarkets need to be confident in your product. They want to know that your standards are equal to or higher than theirs - that you’ve got a product that will sell and that won’t bring with it any unnecessary risk. You can get a head start by showing them that you understand the importance of quality.

When dealing with the supermarkets, always remember that in many ways an offer to a new supplier is a sign of good faith. It’s their way of saying ‘Not only do we understand that you have an exciting product, but we also trust you to do your best to protect our reputation’. With this in mind, a supermarket will want to see any certifications you can get to verify the quality of your product. Supermarkets build their reputation on their products so demonstrate clearly that your product is a safe bet.

Pitch Perfect

Even the best product in the world can fail to get onto the supermarket shelves. Before you can realise your dream of supermarket success, you need to contact the people with the buying power to make it happen. Finding the buyer at each supermarket who deals in your particular sector is a good place to start. A store will have buyers for specific types of product so target the right one to get your foot in the door.

Before making the all important pitch, make sure you have done your research into the supermarket’s customers. The customer is always the priority for supermarkets, so as a potential supplier you have to show that you really understand their target market and its needs. Get to know the supermarket through market research and demonstrate that your strategy has their target customer firmly in mind. In other words, supply them with a product that you can show their customers want. This might not always be possible for everyone but inform them as much you can. Think of this as a team venture, a partnership where you bring your knowledge of the market as well as your product to the table.

When making your pitch, supermarkets will expect you to know your product and your market really well. It’s not enough to just know the right people, you have to really know your own business. This sounds simple, but when faced with a new supplier, a buyer will want to know everything about your business and why it offers an opportunity, not a large financial risk. Show you can deliver, and expect checks on everything from your finances to every aspect of your supply-chain. It is that attention to detail that can spur you onto success.

The Price is Right

Consumers want quality and value for their money. There is no reason why affordable can’t also mean high-quality. Manage your cost margins wisely and balance the relationship between affordability and the interests of the consumer. Give the customer a product they want at a price they can afford to pay and the sales will take care of themselves.

Of course, in lots of ways this is just good business sense. And this is no coincidence - much of what makes relationships with the supermarkets work is the same as in most business relationships. The supermarkets just want to see that the product is reliable, that your company isn’t going to make any overzealous or financially unsound decisions – and most of all - that speculating and taking a small gamble on you will help them drive performance and results.

On Time, On the Ball

Having the right product at the right price is no good if you don't have the systems in place to supply the quantity that a supermarket wants. We found that as growth intensified we had worked ourselves into a position where dealing with the supermarkets was the logical next step. You need to consider when the timing is right for your business. The supermarkets are precise in their requirements and they expect prompt delivery. As a supplier you have a responsibility to ensure that every order will be met. There is nothing worse for a supermarket than a product running out. Any empty space on the shelf reflects badly on them, and you get very few second chances in this business. For this reason, it is vital you get your supply and distribution chain firmly in place.

The supermarket needs to feel confident your business is run properly. It must also have the necessary infrastructure and support. If it had just been me selling books from my living room, no one would have been interested.

Going the Distance

Even if your product is taken on and proves successful, the key is not to rest on your laurels. Be ready to meet any follow-up orders immediately, and have working capital in place to bridge any gaps between paying your own suppliers, and being paid by the supermarket.

Beyond that, you have to show that a partnership can work on a long-term basis. Demonstrate that you respect deadlines and distribution requirements and – most of all – that you are committed to making the relationship work. If you get a chance, make the most of it – it might be the only one you get.

When you’re starting out, making it into the supermarkets often seems an all too distant ambition. It involves hours of planning and hard work. Breaking into the supermarkets is not easy but if you put the hours in, stay true to the values that made your business successful, and, remember that getting your product onto the supermarket shelves is a journey and not a destination, it doesn’t have to be an impossible task.