Trade Marketing Insights

How to approach retailers: Buyers from Tesco, Virgin and John Lewis give essential advice

Posted by Callum Hornigold on 14-Nov-2018 13:11:57
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how to approach retailers

Knowing exactly how to approach a retailer can significantly increase your chances of getting your product ranged.

With buyers receiving a deluge of emails from brands pitching their products, your email can often be lost in the crowd.

WrightObara recently attended Virgin StartUp’s Doing Business With Big Business’ event and sat down with buyers from Tesco, Virgin Trains and John Lewis, to discuss how smaller brands can best approach them.

The buyers were kind enough to share their insights on how to grab their attention using effective trade marketing strategies.

Beth Farrar, Buying Manager Commercial (Toys and Nursery) at Tesco

“Just ask the question, ‘When are you planning a range change?’”

Beth manages a team of Toys and Nursery buyers and oversees a multi-million range portfolio across various product categories at Tesco. For Beth, getting her attention is all about timing.

“It’s got to be approaching the point where the buyer is doing their range change,” Beth tells us. “Over the course of the year you have all these categories and they’re all resetting their range for each week of those 52 weeks of the year. For example, ours is in March. The best thing to do is send an email asking when the buyer is planning a range change and when it’s best to contact them again.”

With large retailers holding multiple categories, Beth says the frequency and volume of range changes is highly dependent on the product category.

“I plan my range change about 52 weeks out so I’m already buying for next Christmas. But with food, for example, obviously there is a much quicker volume churn and a faster supply chain. If their range is changing next July, they’ll probably start looking at it about six months out.”

Beth also advises brands to be readily prepared with a solid marketing plan to support the product.

“It’s all about their content and digital plan. For me it’s toys, so I want to know what’s their TV or digital plan. The more I can understand their marketing strategy, the better.”

Kimberlee Robertson, Business Development Manager (Fashion and Beauty) at John Lewis & Partners

“Building a two-way conversation is important, so attend as many events and trade shows as possible.”

Kimberlee owns the development of Fashion & Beauty within John Lewis & Partners. She is responsible for setting the trading strategy for the area, managing capital investment and delivering projects across all categories. Kimberlee previously worked at Tesco, where she was a buyer within Health & Beauty. 

When it comes to understanding how to approach retailers, Kimberlee is keen to highlight that simply firing off emails to buyers about your product isn’t necessarily the best method of grabbing their attention.

“It’s tough. Imagine you’re the beauty buyer for John Lewis — the inundation of requests that come your way. It can quickly become a full-time job simply trying to manage those. So events like Virgin StartUp’s ‘Doing Business With Big Business’ are a great opportunity for buyers to go and talk to new businesses and discover new products in a different way — it feels less like a one-way conversation.”

Trade shows are also an effective strategy for getting in front of the right buyers. Kimberlee tells us that often buyers have a good idea of what they want before attending, so it’s important your trade show stand communicates how your product is in tune with the latest trends.

“Buyers in fashion will be going to the latest fashion shows and trade shows,” says Kimberlee. “They’ll also have a keen eye on what the macro trends are. For example, there might be a macro trend for reducing packaging in certain areas or making things plant-based instead of chemical based. Buyers always start with the customer need and then find the brand or product that is closest aligned to fulfilling that customer need.”

Julie Harper, Food & Beverage Proposition Manager at Virgin Trains

“Understand the retailer’s brand values and show how your product is aligned with them.”

Julie is responsible for the Food & Drink strategy of First Class & Standard onboard services as well as First Class lounges. She drives leading research and insights to define the Food & Beverage Customer Proposition.

With such a strong brand, it’s important that the products served on board reflect Virgin’s core values as well as appealing to its customers.

“Firstly, know the target market and demonstrate how your product is the right fit,” says Julie. “Equally, understand what that businesses priorities are as a brand. For example, if sustainability is a brand value then be sure to build that into your pitch.”

While getting your pitch correct is imperative, brands still need to get in front of the right person beforehand. Julie advises using LinkedIn for networking opportunities.

“I would firstly use LinkedIn to find the right buyer or see if someone within your network can link you to the right buyer. You could go to Procurement, but they usually have a very specific brief, so unless your product fits that then it will be very difficult. A good idea is to find someone who’s looking at NPD (New Product Development) and new innovation for their business and customers.”

Julie also has a word of warning for brands that are planning to send in samples.

“If you’re going to send samples in, don’t just send samples with a note saying, ‘Here’s my new product. Please try it and let me know what you think.’ Everybody does that. You need to do your homework so you can explain why your product would fit the company’s target market and also think outside of the box. Do something different in terms of what it looks like and how you present it.”

Are you looking to get your products ranged in retailers? Download the Ultimate Guide To Trade Marketing for the best trade marketing strategies and real-world examples.

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Topics: trade marketing, product pitch

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