JOINING THE CHAIN GANG
The founders of Chozen ice cream learned how to break into retail stores.
Getting a product onto the shelves of a major—or minor—retail chain is no small feat for a startup brand. That didn’t deter Ronne and Meredith Fisher, the mother-daughter team behind the year-old, all-natural, Jewish-themed ice cream Chozen, who have already managed to get their product into Whole Foods and Kings stores. Their secret? Tenacity, says daughter Meredith Fisher.
“We started by visiting stores, bringing samples and blindly calling, asking for the frozen food buyer,” said Ms. Fisher. “We focused on smaller, independent chains, like Fairway and Garden of Eden, which gave us greater access to the buyer and the store managers.”
Here are some more tips for other small businesses aiming to break into a retail chain.
NETWORK LIKE MAD.
The founders of Chozen reached out to anyone they knew who might have a grocery store contact. The company is based in Manhattan and to get into Kings, which has supermarkets in both New York and northern New Jersey, Ms. Fisher had to show her willingness to do in-store demonstrations, advertising and promotions in as many locations as possible. “Buyers want to see that you are committed to supporting your product,” she said.
BE PREPARED FOR LOTS OF LEGWORK.
To break into Whole Foods, the entrepreneurs followed the company’s written protocol last November for submitting a new product. But they didn’t stop there. They followed up by calling and emailing managers at the company 10 times over the next two months.
In February, Chozen also signed on with a distributor, and Ms. Fisher quickly passed along the news to Whole Foods, sending ice cream samples once again. “At the end of February, we had the OK,” she said. The brand is now carried in about 12 Whole Foods stores in the tristate area.
PUT YOURSELF IN THE RETAILER’S SHOES.
Pay careful attention to any challenges the retailer mentions—and position yourself as the solution, urges Mark Payne, president of Fahrenheit 212, a Manhattan “innovation consultancy” that creates new products, brands and businesses for Fortune 500 companies. “If you’re selling cat litter and the buyer’s problem is that packages have gotten so big the retailer is suffering from a loss of margins, how does your product help solve that problem?” asked Mr. Payne. “Solve their problem and they will solve yours, too.”
By Eilene Zimmerman
Crain’s New York, July 8, 2011